June, 2014

Jun 14

The Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw

Book: The Bookshop That Floated Away
Author: Sarah Henshaw
Publisher: Constable
Available: Out now
If you enjoy this book you might like: The Child That Books Built by Francis Spufford
Summary: In early 2009 a strange sort of business plan landed on the desk of a pinstriped bank manager, asking for a £30,000 loan to buy a black-and-cream narrowboat and a small hoard of books. The manager said no. Nevertheless The Book Barge opened six months later and enjoyed the happy patronage of local readers and a growing number of eccentrics. This account follows the ebbs and flows of Sarah’s journey as she sought to make her vision of a floating bookshop a reality.

Hi everyone,

Hope you all had good Mondays despite the rainy weather (perfect if you’re having a cosy night in with book and tea though!). I’ve just finished Sarah Henshaw’s The Bookshop That Floated Away, a book which is actually perfect for these types of rainy days!

For anyone who’s been on holiday on a canal boat, this book is very, very relatable. For anyone who isn’t a seasoned canal boater, Sarah’s hilarious descriptions of the locks, of the general lack of facilities and just basically trying to moor anywhere that isn’t inconveniencing someone are spot on. She even writes a chapter from the perspective of her boat, Joseph, which I really loved because it was a unique way of telling us a bit about the history of her boat.

I went on a canal holiday with some friends a while back and remember trying to work a series of locks while still in pyjamas, going through a town at midday and realising that in the outside world people were properly dressed and showered and generally not being as shambolic as I looked!

Reading Sarah’s book totally brought those memories back – her narrative is very funny, if a bit awkward at times. I liked that she didn’t hold anything back. She is always honest about her experience, and her frustrations as she tries to make a living from the bookshop. Her description of her break-up with boyfriend Stu is also heart-breaking. While her sadness isn’t at the forefront of the story, she makes it clear that she was going through a tough time.

I love the idea of The Book Barge – it’s a unique way of selling books, and meeting book lovers from around the country (And a bit more daring than me sitting on my sofa sharing my love of books via my computer). She admits that it’s a tough choice at times (for example when she meets up with friends and they comment that her hair is greasy and don’t 100% understand her decision), but she also talks a lot about her love for books. Every other paragraph she references a novel or story, her knowledge of such a wide variety of books is impressive – I hope to be like that one day!

All in all, I’d recommend this book to people who seriously love literature – you need to be, to understand why she happily gave up a stable income in order to essentially travel around the country surrounded by books!

What have you all been reading?

Julie xxx

Jun 14

This is Brazil: Home-Style Recipes and Street Food by Fernanda De Paula and Shelley Hepworth

Book: This is Brazil
Author: Fernanda de Paula & Shelley Hepworth
Publisher: Hardie Grant
Available: Out now, available at all good bookstores for £16.99

Hi everyone,

Hope you’ve been having lovely weeks. As much as I love novels, I wanted to try something a bit different, so this week I’m reviewing a cookbook!

Getting into the World Cup spirit, I opted for ‘This is Brazil’ by Fernanda De Paula and Shelley Hepworth. I have to be totally honest – I’m an awful cook, as in so bad I’ve given myself food poisoning more than once, so I didn’t cook the food myself. My housemate Nick is a big foodie so I let him do the cooking part, while the rest of my housemates and I happily agreed to eat the food.

We tried two recipes: the Salada De Beringela (Aubergine Salad), and the Frango A Passarinho (Deep-fried chicken with wine and lemon).

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The food was really delicious, and the portions from the recipes were decent sizes. I’ve had deep fried chicken before, but with the lemon and wine (we got Brazilian wine to stick to the theme), you could definitely taste the difference. The salad was equally delicious, although there was quite a lot for a side, you could probably have this as a main – great if you’re looking for a vegetarian option! There was a lot of variety in the recipes – one of my housemates has Type 1 Diabetes, and there was a lot in there that he could eat. There wasn’t anything left at the end of the meal, and considering I live with 3 boys (who eat a lot), that’s pretty impressive.

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Left: Cookbook chicken, Right: Nick’s chicken

I asked Nick afterwards how he found the recipes and he said that they were very straightforward, and that he’d seen plenty more he wanted to try. The only issue he did have was that some of the ingredients can be difficult to find unless you have a really big supermarket nearby, which limited the options of what he could cook. Overall he said he’d give the cookbook an 8/10.

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Left: Cookbook salad, Right: Nick’s salad

I’d definitely recommend this book if you want to try some exciting Brazilian dishes – not a cookbook if you’re looking for healthy options though…

I’ll definitely be reviewing more cookbooks, and not just because it means Nick will cook for me!

What have you all been reading this week?

Julie xx

Jun 14

A Part of Me by Anouska Knight

Book: A Part Of Me
Author: Anouska Knight
Publisher: Mills and Boon
Available: Out now
If you enjoy this book you might like: The Dead Wife’s Handbook by Hannah Beckerman
Summary: Amy and James have finally been accepted into the adoption process. Then, out of nowhere, a dark secret changes everything. Should Amy follow her heart and let the thing she wants most slip away, or carry on and live with the consequences?


Hi everyone,

Hope you’ve had lovely weekends and made the most of the gorgeous weather. Nothing beats sitting in the garden with a good book, a glass of Pimm’s with the sun shining!

I’ve been reading Anouska Knight’s A Part of Me, and it really caught me by surprise how much I loved it. Not being a mother myself, I often find it hard to relate to books about motherhood and what it is to be a parent, but Anouska’s novel was really, really touching. I even found myself being a bit tearful at times!

The novel follows protagonist Amy as she and her long-term partner James struggle through the adoption process. Central to the novel is Amy’s constant desire to have a family, having suffered through the loss of her first baby. Anouska’s writing is tactful, especially when touching on such a delicate subject – she gives you enough that you really feel for Amy and the pain she’s going through, but it’s not what defines Amy.

James is… not a likeable character. Although you feel for him because he’s gone through an incredibly traumatic and stressful process, he’s selfish (the more the book progresses, the less you’ll like him, trust me). Placing a lot of pressure on Amy, you can’t help but want her to break away from him. Amy’s mother pushes for them to be together and be the nuclear family, but Amy’s best friend Phil (girl, not boy) consistently admits that she doesn’t think they’re the best couple. Phil, by the way, is a great character – very witty, charming and definitely the voice of reason. Often I felt like she was the only one who consistently had Amy’s best interests at heart.

One character I have to mention is Rohan Bywater, a mysterious and hilarious man with whom Amy works with for most of the book (and yes, he makes for a great romantic interest). Anouska’s characters are original – I never found myself feeling like I was meeting characters I’d seen in other books. She has a really unique style.

I’d definitely recommend reading this book – it’s a great book for commutes because the plot is easy to follow, and the chapters are quite short so you don’t have to stop at awkward points when the train journey ends!

What are you all reading?

Julie xxx

Jun 14

The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me by Lucy Robinson

Book: The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me
Author: Lucy Robinson
Publisher: Penguin
Available: 19th June 2014
If you enjoy this book you might like: 

Summary: Sally is a woman of many (hidden) talents. She’s been working as a wardrobe mistress at the Royal Opera House, not telling a soul she’s an amazing singer. But then, she’s only able to sing if she’s shut inside her wardrobe, where she’s safe. But she’s made a promise to her cousin Fiona that she would audition for Opera School and, for complicated reasons, she can’t get out of it. Sally has a lot to learn, but will she figure out that stage fright is about more than forgetting the words?


Hi everyone,

Hope you’re having nice weeks!

I’ve been reading Lucy Robinson’s The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me, and while there are some funny parts, I have to admit that I didn’t really connect with it. The story follows Sally, a shy woman who is trying to fulfil a promise to share her incredible singing voice, despite having intense stage fright.

Sally is actually very easy to relate to as a character, especially as she tries to overcome her fears and insecurities. Lucy writes in a way that you do see her grow as a person, as she gains confidence and tries to take control of her life.

I think where I couldn’t really connect with Sally was when she started a fling with Jan Borsos, who by the way was a brilliant and hilarious character, but then suddenly began calling him her boyfriend. I felt like it was too sudden, and even though she is clearly trying to convince herself they’re in a relationship, I found it difficult to connect with them as a couple. Sally’s other love interest is the dashing Julian, who has an interesting backstory, but I didn’t find myself wanting them to get together.

I would have liked to see the love interests taking a bit more of a secondary role, as all of the opera stuff was really interesting, and I felt like Lucy really gives us a glimpse into a musical world that I personally don’t really know anything about. What is charming about Lucy’s novel is that the subject matter is so unique – opera singing isn’t something I’ve seen in a lot of books (if any actually), and I loved that side of things, I think Lucy did a great job at introducing her readers to something completely different.

Fiona, Sally’s best friend and cousin, was one of the most interesting characters, but I also found her incredibly frustrating. A very flawed figure, there’s times where she clearly takes advantage of Sally and I felt that it made it difficult to like her as a character, especially as Sally is so quick to forgive her.

What is interesting about Fiona is her struggles with her addictions, as she tries to come to terms with her traumatic childhood. There is an unexpected twist in the story – I won’t spoil it for you – but it definitely helped me feel more sympathetic to Fiona, although I still found her to be a selfish character.

While this hasn’t become one of my favourite books, I do think it makes for a great holiday read – it’s easy to follow and there are some really funny passages!

What are you all reading?

Julie xx

Jun 14

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Book: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little Brown
Available: Out now
If you enjoy this book you might like: The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Yes, same author I know, but I think she has a very interesting style of writing!)
Summary:Aged thirteen, Theo Decker survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld.

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Hi everyone,

Hope you had lovely weekends! I have been completely engrossed in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I’ve read mixed reviews about it, so I thought I’d give it a read myself. Be warned, it’s a hefty book but… it’s SO worth it. I think this has definitely become one of my favourite books!

The story begins when the protagonist Theo Decker is 13-years-old, and survives a horrific accident which tears his life apart. Theo is a complicated character – you want to like him, and be understanding because of what he’s gone through, but at times it’s so difficult because of his bad life decisions. Central to Theo’s character is his possession of a famous painting, which he knows puts him in grave risk of being sent to prison, and yet his obsession with its links to his past mean he can’t part with it. It feels a bit Dorian Gray  at times, but not quite as dramatic – Theo’s life isn’t defined by the painting, but it does have an incredibly strong hold on him.

One of my favourite things about the book was the way Donna throws information at you a few chapters after an event, completely changing your perception of what happened. It means that you’re never 100% sure that you can trust what you’re reading, because of the unreliability of Theo’s narration – the story isn’t really a thriller, but you feel like it is! I love books which are so unpredictable, and this was such a gripping read.

As well as a plot that keeps you guessing, Donna creates some really intriguing characters. Boris, Theo’s friend, is quite possibly the new Artful Dodger (In fact, I think he is described as that in the book itself). Despite quite clearly being  part of a disturbing, criminal world, we never really get his full story, which I felt made him one of the best characters – he’s always cheerful, friendly and never unkind to Theo, yet you can’t help but feel he’s got a threatening aura about him.

I would definitely recommend this book, great if you’re going away for a week this summer, or just looking for something to read.

What have you all been reading?

Julie xxx

Jun 14

Father’s Day book ideas!

Hi everyone,

Hope you all had lovely weekends! Father’s Day is almost upon us (Sunday 15th), and if like me you’re still searching for a great present, I thought it would be fun to put together a few book suggestions!

Whether you’re looking for a crime novel, or just a funny book to make your Dad smile, I’ve tried to find a bit of everything! Let me know if there are any you think I should add to the list.

The Nemesis Program by Scott Mariani (Avon books)

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Great for: Dads who love action and science-fiction.
Available: 5th June
Summary: Ben Hope is a man ready to leave behind the action and adventure of his past; a man ready to embrace a life of theology and marriage. But fate has a different path in mind and, when a woman from Ben’s past arrives in England fearing for his life, Ben is forced to turn his back on all he holds dear, to face his demons once more to save humanity.

Secret Warriors: Key Scientists, Code Breakers and Propagandists of the Great War by Taylor Downing (Little Brown books)

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Great for: Dads who love history
Available: Out now
Summary: Behind the trenches and brutality of the First World War, a scientific war was also being fought between engineers, chemists, physicists, doctors, mathematicians and intelligence gatherers. This hidden war was to make a positive and lasting contribution to how war was conducted on land, at sea, in the air and most importantly, life at home. Secret Warriors provides an invaluable and fresh history of the First World War in its centenary year, profiling a number of the key figures who made great leaps in science for the benefit of 20th Century Britain.

Confessions of the World’s Best Father by Dave Engledow  (Penguin books)

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Great for: First-time dads, or dads who love to laugh
Available: Out now
Summary: When Dave Engledow took a photo of himself holding his eight-week-old daughter, Alice Bee, like a football while squirting breast milk into a ‘World’s Best Father’ mug of coffee, he didn’t expect the reaction that followed. Instead of complaints and a call from social services, he found that his innocent attempt to capture the sleep-deprived idiocy of the first-time dad had the whole world clamouring for more. Unfortunately for Alice Bee, her father obliged – repeatedly.

Wilbur Smith: The Early Years Collection

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Great for: A Dad who has so many books you want to get him something literary but different
Available: 15th June 2014
Summary: Wilbur Smith is a literary phenomenon: he has published 34 novels into 26 millions, with sales in excess of 122 million copies. To honour 50 years in publishing, a special edition box set will be released, including a series of exclusive interviews with Wilbur, his early writing experiences and writing tips for aspiring authors, an audiobook set of his first novel, ‘When the Lion Feeds’. There will also be a special edition copy of his first published work, ‘On Flinders’ Face’.

Schizophrenia – Who Cares? A Father’s Story by Tim Salmon (Blackbird Digital Books)

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Great for: Dads interested in science/medicine
Out now
Better known as a travel writer rather than a campaigner for mental healthcare, Tim Salmon tells the moving story of his son’s twenty year struggle with schizophrenia. Dedicating his frank account to those finding themselves in the same boat, both sufferers and relatives, he delves into this illness which throws them into a what can be a bewildering and chaotic situation.

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