The French Girl – Lexie Elliot

I really enjoyed this. It starts from a situation we all recognise – not necessarily that holiday, but the blurred boundaries of friendship and sex/romance that happen in young friendship groups. It plays out through entirely believable character development. It’s nicely paced, and discomforting because it’s so believable. The past is reviewed, different angles are revealed, the story changes in the way that life changes with new revelations. Things fall into place.
I’ve read a few books recently that capture that slight insanity of youth, and it’s fun to be reminded of all that – and I have mixed feelings about whether I’d want to go through it again. This is particularly nicely written.

I will definitely pick up her next book.

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Book Review – The Wisdom of Sally Redshoes – Ruth Hogan

I wanted to love this book more than I did. It has so much going for it – an intriguing plot, a great character list, the whole swimming thing…

However, it was just too short. None of the characters got chance to grow. I was expected to care about somebody on the basis of a funny name and a couple of paragraphs. There were almost too many events, too quickly, and not enough connection in between them, and I think it tried to do too much. it could have been three times as long, and really explored some of the ideas and some of the characters much more. It all felt a bit glib.

The real problem for me, though, was that the really interesting bit of the story happened between the last chapter and the epilogue. That was the bit I was waiting for, and it was just skipped over! Not even skipped over – left entirely to my imagination.

I think Ruth Hogan needs to slow down, take her time, and let things develop. There are dark things here that could have been explored, and a really interesting story to tell.

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The Hourglass – Liz Heron – review

I liked this.
For a start: Venice. Beautifully captured.

What else? This is a very feminine take on the immortality problem. Even though it’s about a woman who has lived for 300 years, it’s not all as great as you might think. Liz Heron is very good on the losses entailed in living that long – the loss of lovers, husbands, children. She’s also good on the position of women through the ages. And the practicalities of disguise. There’s an irony to reading this in an age when we are all desperate to appear eternally young – for Eva, it makes life very complicated.

We get a glimpse of Venetian history, and get taken to parts of Venice the tourist never sees. We get rippled reflections of European cultural history. It’s a lovely read.

The only slight issue for me was that I wasn’t quite sure what Eva saw in Paul. I can see what he sees in her – she’s poised and elegant and beautiful and mysterious – but I didn’t get such a strong sense of him as a person.

Venice is her real lover, I think. It made me want to book a flight immediately.

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Embracing insomnia

That’s it. I’ve decided to stop worrying about my sleep. It’s not like it does any good. I’m not going to read any more books or articles about how lack of sleep is killing us. I’m not going to stress myself out over this.

I’m Wonder Woman. Well, a kind of wonder woman. I don’t need all that sleep nonsense. I can function perfectly well. I’m going to embrace my insomnia. Instead of lying in bed resenting the fact that everybody else is sleeping, I’m going to nourish myself in other ways. I’m going to appreciate the quiet, early hours when I have the house to myself – just me, and the birds, and the early morning light. Right now, the house is perfectly still, I’m drinking tea and eating toast and marmalade, and I’m sharing this with you. What’s bad about that?

I’m going to be one of those amazing women who has already done something beautiful before breakfast, even if something beautiful just means reading a great book (or even a slightly trashy one – it’s my time, after all).

Wish me luck. I’m re-framing this insomnia as a gift.

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Our Kind of Cruelty – Araminta Hall

I have just gulped this book down. It’s excellently done. I am a mental health professional, and sometimes I don’t quite buy the psychology of characters in books, but I absolutely believed in Mike, his experiences, and his responses to them.

Mike is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster. To a certain extent I think he was created by Verity, but that’s not what I mean exactly. He is a monster, he is scary, he is so delusional that you know things will inevitably end in violence, but you can’t help feeling sorry for him because he is so damaged by his childhood. He interprets everything through his delusional ideas about his relationship with Verity, and is incapable of seeing the objective truth about anything.

The final scenes in the court room are particularly well done. The double standards society holds for men and women are pulled open and demonstrated, and the fact that the law is not about finding out the truth, it is about winning a case.

Verity is ironically named. The truth in this book is slippery, hard to pin down, changes depending on who is looking at it.

Excellent read.

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Dear Mrs Bird – A J Pearce

This is set in WW2, and is about a young woman who wants to be a Lady War Correspondent, but ends up working on a women’s magazine under the most unsympathetic agony aunt ever.

The voice is fantastic. I am very fussy about the voice in historical fiction. If it doesn’t sound right I can’t read the book. I did just stop reading something because the heroine was eating pavlova in 1913. Research your puddings, my friend. Anyhow, I’m telling you that because the voice in this is perfect. Bright, chipper, chin up, putting on a brave face and the very last of the rouge.

I loved the story, but I’m not going to tell you about it because I really want you to read this book. And I loved Emmy, who is bright and funny, and trying awfully hard to make the best of things. All the characters in the book are really well drawn, their problems are real problems, things get messy, the out and out nastiness of war is shown in little moments, but also the excitement just of being young, and feeling that you are doing something worthwhile; the excitement of going out and having fun while the bombs are falling all around you.

It’s a lovely read. I recommend it. 

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The strings are the important bit

My son explained that he liked chatting to his internet friends (in Norway! in Hawaii! in Cheshire!) because it’s socialising “with no strings attached”.

Foolish boy.

He’s internet savvy. He’s cynical about what people say about themselves. He’s had internet safety drilled into him since his then best friend hacked his Moshi Monsters account back in primary school. I don’t think he’s going to get into risky situations, and I check in with him about what he’s doing, just to make sure. It’s a world he has to get to know, and I try and make sure he has the tools he needs to do that safely.

However, I think there is a subtler risk. I can understand the appeal of “no strings” socialising, but the fact is the strings are the important bit of a relationship. It’s the strings that bring someone round with lemon drizzle cake and sympathy when you’re poorly. It’s the strings that had my neighbour do a load of washing for me every week during my chemotherapy. It’s the strings that make you send the card when your friend’s mum loses their own father.

The strings are the bit that tie us all together. They are tangled, and sometimes inconvenient, and sometimes painful, but they are also the bit that makes it all worthwhile.

He’s had that drilled into him, too. Important duty of motherhood, passing on acquired wisdom, and waiting for them to fit it into their own world.

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