Book Review: The A-Z of Everything by Debbie Johnson

The A to Z of Everything by Debbie Johnson
Release Date: 20th April 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 432
ISBN: 978-0008150198
Buy: Paperback  Kindle
Rating:Image result for pink heartsImage result for pink heartsImage result for pink heartsImage result for pink heartsImage result for pink hearts

 

 

 

 

What’s the Story?

P is for Paris where it all began. J is for Jealousy where it all came undone. But the most important letter is F. F is for Forgiveness, the hardest of all.

Sisters Poppy and Rose used to be as close as two sisters could be, but it’s been over a decade since they last spoke. Until they both receive a call that tells them their mother has gone – without ever having the chance to see her daughters reunited.

Andrea, though, wasn’t the kind of woman to let a little thing like death stand in the way of her plans. Knowing her daughters better than they know themselves, she has left behind one very special last gift – the A-Z of Everything

My Thoughts…

Estranged sisters Poppy and Rose haven’t spoken in over ten years due to something that happened in their past that tore their relationship apart. However, when their mother, Angela, dies their lives are brought back together with the concoction of a very clever plan on Angela’s behalf. In the days before her death Angela compiled an ‘A-Z’ of tasks and challenges for the girls to complete together. From E is for Elvis to X is for X-Men, along with the help of good friend, Lewis, Angela takes her daughters of a fully-fledged trip down memory lane and encourages them to face up to the demons of the past, and maybe, just maybe, forge a future where they can get along. But the biggie is can they get past the scariest letter of the alphabet? F is for Forgiveness after all…

As a massive fan of Debbie Johnson’s previous books I was off-the-scale excited to get stuck into the A-Z of Everything. As much as I adore her light-hearted romantic comedies, I knew from the offset that this novel was going to be something just that little bit different, but I had by no means appreciated exactly how different it would be…
Another thing I had certainly not anticipated was being in tears before I even got to Chapter 2. This book really played with my emotions, it was beautiful yet heart-breaking, upsetting yet uplifting and I absolutely loved every minute of it.
Angela is such a bright, vibrant and loveable character who, despite not featuring in the present day, still shines out purely through the monologues, recordings and poems that she complies for her A-Z. I felt as though I built up a good picture of her in my mind of this flamboyant, sometimes outrageous lady who was full to the brim with love for her daughters. The way she saw the A-Z through, despite the end of her life becoming more and more imminent, was an inspiration and the longing that she possessed for her daughters to be reunited, despite not being around to see it for herself, will really tug on your heartstrings.
Poppy and Rose were both fascinating characters and easy to relate to – whatever your situation. Rose has found herself in a vicious cycle of overeating in a bid to conquer her unhappiness, whilst lonely Poppy fills the void in her life by sponsoring children in other countries (which there’s nothing wrong with…only she currently has 27 on the go…) There were times when I wanted to bash their heads together (and I’m sure Angela felt exactly the same way) I was desperate to find out what occurred in their lives all those years ago to cause them to fall out as spectacularly as they did.
I absolutely loved the idea behind The A-Z of Everything and it was unlike any book I’ve ever read before. It’s based on such a unique concept and you can’t help but wonder how you would react if you were faced with Rose and Poppy’s situation. The way in which the story is formatted helps you to build up a realistic image of both the girls past and present, as you piece together the mystery of how things ended up the way in which they did.
The overwhelming theme to this novel is, of course, grief. Debbie Johnson tackles this tricky topic with sensitivity and tact whilst sprinkling in a hefty dose of hope and warmth for good measure. Understandably Rose, Poppy and Lewis (who I loved, incidentally – it’s all about the tweed…) are going through a tangle of emotions and Debbie manages to portray their feelings so well, really getting to the heart of their emotions through her writing.
The other thing I took away from this novel is to never forget how precious time with loved ones really is. It’s all too easy to let petty feuds and arguments get in the way of what is really important and this book is a stark reminder that we should embrace and enjoy every moment we get to spend with the people we care about.
My favourite thing about The A-Z of Everything is that whilst the story centres around losing a loved one and the emotional upset that follows, it is also interspersed with humour. There are many moments where I found myself quietly giggling, as well as wiping away the odd tear (Angela on the carousel anyone…?!) Allowing the reader to take away the message that despite how dark things may seem there is always a silver lining hiding somewhere and we should never take life for granted.

I adore Debbie Johnson’s writing. She brings her characters to life in such a unique and understated way and I love the direction that her writing appears to be taking with The A-Z of Everything. You can tell that Debbie put a huge amount of time and research into writing this novel too, it’s so brilliantly executed and I honestly can’t fault it. It’s a real story about real people and one of those books that will have you crying both tears and laughter and tears of sadness. I always think this is a really tricky balance to achieve but Debbie does this with ease.
Debbie Johnson has firmly cemented her well-deserved place on my list of favourite authors and I can’t wait to see what she’ll bring us next…

A huge thank you to Felicity at HarperCollins for the opportunity to review.

A Visit to Peters Books

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you will know that I have recently started a new job working as a School Librarian. To say this is my dream job is an understatement…I am absolutely LOVING it. The school has only recently had their library fitted and so I have lots of blank spaces to fill and books to buy (which I see as a very important responsibility…)I am being given the opportunity to put my own stamp on the library and I desperately want to turn it into a place where the children want to spend all of their time, snuggled on a beanbag getting lost in a book…

I was presented with an out-of-this-world opportunity recently in the shape of visiting Peters Books in Birmingham. If you’re not sure what Peters is, basically they are a supplier of books and furniture for libraries and academies. Working at a public library I had come across Peters before (my colleagues once told me how they used to visit on book-buying sprees and be given free reign to fill up a trolley with stock. I was both in awe and slightly disbelieving. Surely a process such as that didn’t REALLY exist…? Did it…?)

Well…Yes.

On Tuesday I found myself heading into Birmingham, armed with questionnaire’s filled out by pupils detailing the books they would like for their library (David Walliams, Roald Dahl and Beast Quest were mentioned multiple times.)
To say I was excited is a teeny, tiny understatement. I was technically shopping for books and this was MY JOB.
I had all sorts of ideas in my head as to what this magical place would be like, but it completely surpassed my expectations. Whilst it may look like your average building from the outside, the inside of Peters is spectacular.
The first thing you see is, of course, books (and we’re not even on the ‘bookish’ floor yet…) book displays, book quotes, book-related signage. WOW. I was particularly taken with the Alice in Wonderland quotes…

Then when you get onto the floor where the magic happens (aka you buy the books) it’s like entering a calm, tranquil, gorgeous-smelling room of heaven. I could practically hear the harps playing and the fluffy clouds underneath my feet.
It was like entering the most gorgeous of bookshops and having it practically to yourself. We were greeted by one of the really lovely librarian’s when we first arrived who had a rough idea of what we were after and had hand-picked a few titles for us beforehand. It also being one of the hottest days I have ever known in my 27 years on this planet I was relieved to discover that Peters has first-rate air con. This is very important because I would undoubtedly get flustered as I was deliberating over the Angelo Saxon books.
But before the book-buying there was some very important business to be dealt with. Lunch. Yes…They even provided lunch in their gorgeous Reading Cafe which was filled with bookish quotes and the most enviable bookish cushions I’ve ever seen in my life.
Once I had scoffed my sandwiches and cake (book buying is hard work and requires sustenance) we were off.
Starting with non-fiction, the lovely librarian explained how things worked and pretty much left us to it. It’s such a dizzying prospect to be faced with thousands of books and deciding which ones would work best for your library. Whilst this was a hugely exciting task it was also pretty scary – I wanted to choose the right books. Books that the children would enjoy, books that would encourage them to read, books that would help them with their learning. It was really important to get this right.
I’m not fibbing when I say there were literally books about EVERYTHING. Some children had requested books on YouTube, tutorials, becoming a game programmer…well guess what – Peters had those…and every other slightly obscure topic you could think of. Every request that we had was satisfied.

To begin with I was conscious of over-spending and was analysing every book wondering ‘do we really NEED that!?’ Then when I had my first trolley totalled up and discovered I hadn’t even spent a quarter I really went to town and used my book-buying skills to my advantage… (This involved as many books as I could physically cram onto a trolley, then when that was full going back for another trolley) In all seriousness it wasn’t as Supermarket Sweep-esque as I’m making out. I’ll have you know I worked very hard making some crucial decision (e.g how many copies of Gangsta Granny should I buy?)

The time flew by in a blur of picture books, early readers, fiction and new-releases. My school being a first school I didn’t venture into the young adult section, which is probably a good thing because I know I would have wanted one of everything.
There was just so much to look at…and I’m not just talking books. There was furniture, toys, library-decorations…everything book related you could think of (I had to try SO hard to resist a Gruffalo hand puppet. In fact he’s still calling to me now…*clicks Amazon*)

The final total of books purchased was 701 and we came in £100 under budget, so all in all this was a hugely successful trip. Plus the lovely people at Peter’s will be labelling and cataloguing all of our haul for us so when they arrive they will be ready to be read. I cannot wait. I will be stood outside looking for a delivery van every day until they arrive…

I was also impressed with the amount of wonderful freebies on offer. I came out with zillions of colourful posters, cardboard display stands and a very cool Harry Potter trunk which I am rather excited about.

My experience at Peter’s was insane and I loved every minute. I still can’t fully believe that I was given this opportunity and I just hope that I selected our books well and they help to establish that all-important love of reading in the pupils.

As for me I’m off to stand outside the school gates looking for that delivery van…

 

  

 

 

 

 

Book Review: All the Good Things by Clare Fisher

All the Good Things by [Fisher, Clare]All the Good Things by Clare Fisher

Release Date: 1st June 2017

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 240

Buy:  Hardback  Kindle

Rating:
Image result for pink heartsImage result for pink heartsImage result for pink heartsImage result for pink heartsImage result for pink hearts

 

 

What’s the Story?

Twenty-one year old Beth is in prison. The thing she did is so bad she doesn’t deserve ever to feel good again.
But her counsellor, Erika, won’t give up on her. She asks Beth to make a list of all the good things in her life. So Beth starts to write down her story, from sharing silences with Foster Dad No. 1, to flirting in the Odeon on Orange Wednesdays, to the very first time she sniffed her baby’s head.
But at the end of her story, Beth must confront the bad thing.
What is the truth hiding behind her crime? And does anyone – even a 100% bad person – deserve a chance to be good?

My Thoughts…

When we first meet Beth she is undergoing counselling in prison. We don’t know exactly what it is she has done to land herself there, but when her therapist, Erika, tells her to write a list of all of the good things in her life she is doubtful. What if there aren’t any good things? And more to the point, does she deserve to have anything good in her life ever again…?
As Beth compiles her list we are taken on a heart-wrenching journey, full of loneliness, despair, anger, tragedy, pain, confusion interspersed with joy, that is Beth’s life. From growing up in foster care, to first boyfriends and jobs, we follow Beth on her tremulous journey through to adulthood before discovering what the bad thing that she has committed really is…

I deliberately avoided reading any reviews of All the Good Things after someone told me it was a difficult one to write about without giving too much away. I was determined that no spoilers were going to ruin it for me, meaning I didn’t really have any idea of what to expect when I picked up this innocent-enough looking novel on a sunny Saturday in my back garden…
I WAS ABSOLUTELY BLOWN AWAY.
All the Good Things completely consumed me. It took over my life for the two days that I was reading it and real-life became an inconvenience that was to be dealt with as quickly as possible so I could bury myself back within its pages.

I loved the format of the story, the title of each chapter being an item from Beth’s list and then we go on to find out the story behind what it was that made her happy (and some of these things were magical…Friends you can be weird with and Flirting on Orange Wednesdays were my personal favourites). It then plays out chronologically, each telling us a different episode from Beth’s life.
As the story progresses it becomes more and more difficult to believe that Beth is now only 21. She has been through so much in her short life, the difficulties starting when she was only a young child. Since then her life has been a catalogue of disasters and failings upon other peoples part as she is constantly let down…Whether that’s by the authorities, the people who are supposed to be there helping her, or, perhaps most painful of all, those closest to her.
A childhood spent growing up within the care system and constantly being uprooted leaves Bethany destructive and confused. Her real mother seemingly doesn’t want any contact with Bethany and this vulnerable little girl tries to find her way in life by clinging on to the things that she loves most; namely reading, making up stories and as she grows older – running. But she soon discovers that running away is not always the best thing to do…
I desperately wanted good things for Bethany. I didn’t know what the ‘bad thing’ was that she’d done to land herself in prison, but my heart broke for this young women who had no one. You can’t help but place yourself in Beth’s position throughout certain parts of the novel and I’ll freely admit that if I was in some of the situations that she found herself in I would either be a sobbing mess/terrified/ready to just give up. Yet Beth keeps on fighting, which is what drew me to this hugely complex and deeply affecting character. She felt so very real to me and has such a strong voice throughout the story.
When I discovered what the ‘bad thing’ that Beth had done really was, my opinion didn’t necessarily change. It shocked me, it frightened me, it upset me..but it also got me wondering – despite being ‘100% bad’ – wasn’t Beth really a victim herself?

Despite the awful things that Beth has been through and the battles she’s faced, this is still a story full of hope. It’s profoundly moving and one of those stories that I really can’t get out of my head. I find myself wondering what happens next for Beth, despite finishing this book over a week ago.
All the Good Things is one of those books that reminds me why I love reading so much. When a story can completely consume your thoughts and you find yourself becoming so involved with the characters that you are daydreaming about them when you’re supposed to be working you know that your books a good ‘un. And this really, really was. BIG STYLE.
I honestly can’t believe that this is Clare Fisher’s debut. Where did she come from? I sincerely hope that she’s writing her second novel right this second because I desperately need to read more from this hugely talented author.
I loved her style of writing, her characterisation, her unique voice, the way in which she makes the reader feel fully immersed in the story, the way she manages to correlate both the good and the bad, the unhappiness and the happiness, the sadness and the joy.  I just love Clare Fisher.

Just writing this review has made me want to re-read All the Good Things (in case there were bits I missed…You never know…) If you’re looking for a good novel to get into over the summer then this needs to be top of your list. Just don’t forget the tissues and be prepared to lose a day or two of your life to this superb story.

 

A huge thank you to Penguin for the opportunity to read and review All the Good Things.

 

 

 

Extract: The A to Z of Everything by Debbie Johnson

Chapter 3

Beacon C of E Primary School, 1986

‘I’m going to rub your nose in that dog poo, you stuck-up cow,’ says Jackie Wells, holding Rose’s face down on the grass by the scruff of her neck.

It’s Rose’s last year at little school, and she has committed the cardinal sin of being clever. She’s won all the prizes; she’s pretty and popular and even good at netball. Of course Jackie Wells hates her.

‘You don’t even have a dad, and if you did, my dad would beat him up,’ adds Jackie, sitting on Rose’s back. Rose has no doubt about that; Jackie’s dad looks like a Tonka truck.

She struggles, trying to throw her 11-year-old nemesis off her back, but only succeeding in wriggling ineffectually on the school playing field. She glances ahead, sees flat green grass and, not very far away, a lovely pile of dog mess is buzzing with flies.

If she was on her feet, she might stand a chance against Jackie – but unfortunately for her (and for Jackie), the child takes after her father and already weighs as much as that baby hippo they saw on the school trip to Chester Zoo.

Naturally enough, there are no teachers in sight, and the small circle of kids gathered around the spectacle seem to be enjoying it. The ones that aren’t – Rose’s friends – look twitchy and embarrassed and worried, but too scared of Jackie to intervene.

Rose tries to remind herself of her mother’s oft-repeated words, the ones about jealousy being the mother of all aggres­sion.

That might be true, Rose thinks, but it’s not much of a consolation right now. Not when her uniform is covered in grass stains and her face is smeared with soil and she’ll be eating poo for lunch.

She flails around, trying to kick Jackie with her Clark’s shoes, but can’t manage it. All that happens is that Jackie presses her face even harder into the ground, and for a terri­fying few moments, she can’t breathe at all. She can hear jeers and shouts and the brave, solitary cry of her best friend, Tasmin: ‘Leave her alone, or I’ll fetch Miss Cunningham!’

That is followed by a small, sad yelp, so Rose has to assume that Tasmin has paid the price for her courage.

Jackie pulls her head up, using Rose’s long, curly ponytail like a handle, and slams her face back down into the damp ground. She feels soil smash between her teeth and into her mouth, and again panics as the world goes dark.

Just as she is about to give up and accept her early death, there is an ear-splitting screech, and Jackie’s hefty weight is suddenly gone.

Rose takes a brief moment to suck in air, then rolls around so she can see what is going on. Poppy has arrived, in a blur of violence and fury, and is holding Jackie down while she punches her in the head. Rose has no idea how she is doing that, as she is not only two years younger than Jackie, but most of a baby hippo lighter.

‘Don’t!’ she yells, punctuating each word with a blow from her screwed-up fists, ‘Ever! Touch! My! Sister!’

Obviously, it’s at that point that Miss Cunningham arrives, and the group of spectators magically all disappear off to play football or collect ladybirds or talk about Zammo in last night’s episode of Grange Hill.

Miss Cunningham physically drags Poppy away from Jackie, who is left cowering and crying and, yes, Rose notices with some satisfaction, covered in smears of the exact same dog poo she was threatening her with just moments ago.

Poppy is trembling with anger, her long, scrawny body vibrating with emotion. She looks over at Rose, who is getting to her feet now, and is instantly calmed by her big sister’s smile. The smile that tells her that everything is okay, that it will all be fine, and that there is nothing to worry about.

Rose knows that Poppy is going to get into trouble for this. But she also knows, deep down, that she wouldn’t have it any other way. Rose might be the one who seems to look after them both – but when push comes to shove, it’s always Poppy who is willing to rush right in and batter someone. She’s her avenging angel, and anyone who crosses her pays the price.

Rose dusts herself down, and prepares the case for the defence. As soon as she is upright, Poppy flees from Miss Cunningham’s lecture, and throws herself into her arms. She’s so skinny, and she’s crying, and her hair is all messed up, and she looks a bit like a tramp.

Rose hugs her, and smooths her hair down, and whispers into her ear: ‘Thank you, Popcorn. And don’t worry – it’s all going to be okay.’

‘Mum’s going to kill me . . .’ Poppy mutters, the reality of the situation starting to sink in as Miss Cunningham prowls towards them, hands on hips and scowl on face.

‘Mum,’ replies Rose, 100 per cent sure this is true, ‘will completely understand. And she’ll probably take us out for tea to celebrate.’

 

P is for Paris where it all began. J is for Jealousy where it all came undone. But the most important letter is F. F is for Forgiveness, the hardest of all.

Sisters Poppy and Rose used to be as close as two sisters could be, but it’s been over a decade since they last spoke. Until they both receive a call that tells them their mother has gone – without ever having the chance to see her daughters reunited.

Andrea, though, wasn’t the kind of woman to let a little thing like death stand in the way of her plans. Knowing her daughters better than they know themselves, she has left behind one very special last gift – the A-Z of Everything.

‘Moving and uplifting all at once, I devoured this book about mothers, daughters, sisters and – ultimately – love’ Sunday Times bestseller Jane Costello

‘Funny and poignant – a celebration of life and the enduring power of love’ – Carys Bray, bestselling author of A Song for Issy Bradley

‘Heartbreakingly authentic, tender & inspiring. One of my top reads of 2017’ Irish Times bestseller Carmel Harrington

 

Click here to get your copy of the A to Z or Everything, released 20th April 2017.

 

Book Review: Wishbones by Virginia Macgregor

Book Review: Wishbones by Virginia Macgregor
Release Date:
18th May 2017
Publisher: HQ
Pages: 384
ISBN: 978-0008217297
Genre: YA
Buy: Paperback  Kindle
Rating: Image result for pink hearts Image result for pink hearts Image result for pink hearts Image result for pink hearts

 

What’s the Story?


Feather Tucker has two wishes:

1)To get her mum healthy again

2) To win the Junior UK swimming championships

When Feather comes home on New Year’s Eve to find her mother – one of Britain’s most obese women- in a diabetic coma, she realises something has to be done to save her mum’s life. But when her Mum refuses to co-operate Feather realises that the problem run deeper than just her mum’s unhealthy appetite.

Over time, Feather’s mission to help her Mum becomes an investigation. With the help of friends old and new, and the hindrance of runaway pet goat Houdini, Feather’s starting to uncover when her mum’s life began to spiral out of control and why. But can Feather fix it in time for her mum to watch her swim to victory? And can she save her family for good?

 

My thoughts…

When Feather Tucker’s mum collapses into a diabetic coma on New Year’s Eve, Feather realises that things have gotten a little out of control in the Tucker household.
Feather’s mum, Jo, is morbidly obese and refuses to even leave the house any more. She spends her days watching Strictly Come Dancing re-runs and binging on prawn cocktail crisps and pineapple syrup. When Feather hears the nurses at the hospital discussing her mum’s health and revealing that she could be dead in a matter of months, Feather decides that something must be done.
Along with the help of her best friend, Jake, Feather devises a complete lifestyle overhaul for her mum…However things don’t exactly go to plan, which isn’t helped by the lack of cooperation shown by Feather’s parents. Determined to get down deeper to the cause of the issue as to why Jo over-eats and refuses to leave the house, Feather ends up uncovering many a secret from her mother’s past…So what made Jo the way she is? As Feather comes to realise that things don’t just happen, there’s always a trigger for people’s behaviour, she is determined to find out what happened to turn her Mum into a fun-loving, passionate young women, to someone who can no longer fit through her own front door…
Throughout the course of her investigation there’s a new visitor to Willingdon. When teenager Clay arrives in the village, Feather is immediately drawn to him – however it soon becomes apparent that he has many problems of his own…
Whilst fighting to save those closest to her, Feather is also determined to succeed in the one thing she loves in life more than anything else – swimming. But can she focus on the Junior UK championships when she has other people’s problems to solve?

As a fan of Virginia Macgregor’s I was really excited when I heard she’d written a YA novel. I am LOVING reading YA at the moment, there’s been some fantastic releases so far this year and I was sure that this pairing would be a match made in heaven.
Wishbones certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s a hard-hitting read, packed full of energy and insight.
The novel centres around the sensitive issues of weight and eating disorders. At one end of the spectrum you have Jo; morbidly obese and slowly eating herself into an early grave. You then have teenager Clay who is suffering from anorexia. He refuses to eat and is constantly exercising. Having characters suffering from both extremes is hugely effective and it was both fascinating and heart-breaking to compare the difference in suffering. I also thought that it was very brave and clever of Virginia to create a male anorexia sufferer. I always feel as though male anorexia is something which isn’t discussed about nearly as widely as it should be, and looking at the statistics it’s a hugely prominent problem, but one that is often swept under the carpet. I really hope that this excellent and sensitively written novel helps to raise awareness of the condition; it certainly has for this reader.
Wishbones is written entirely from Feather’s perspective and this gives an insight into what it is like for those around eating disorder sufferers. My heart broke for Feather…She cared for her mum so much and only wanted what was best for her. The lengths that she went to in order to improve her mum’s health were incredible…and in doing so she regularly sacrificed herself and the things that were important to her. I honestly don’t know how she managed to carry around the things that she did AND compete in the swimming championships (I would have been an emotional wreck if I had half of what she did to deal with…) She is completely selfless and has a heart of pure gold. I don’t believe that there’s anything she wouldn’t do for anyone.  I really felt for her and at times I got so angry with her mum and dad. They were meant to be the ones looking out for her and all they appeared to be doing were keeping things from her and showing a complete lack of interest in her life. So many times I just wanted to give Feather a big squish and tell her everything was going to be ok.
However, I was massively intrigued to find out exactly what her parents were keeping from her…and why. I tried to piece together the clues but I couldn’t quite complete the puzzle. After barking up the wrong tree (quite spectacularly) a few times, all became clear and it certainly wasn’t what I expected. My opinions of certain characters then began to change…

I really enjoyed this powerful, hard-hitting novel. Virginia tackles sensitive subjects with tact and diplomacy and does a brilliant job of creating unique characters that you will genuinely care for. I took away a really important message from this book, namely how important it is to have the support of your family and friends when you’re going through a difficult time. So many characters in Wishbones were facing their own private battles and demons – but Virginia Macgregor shows that with the love and help from the right people, you can tackle anything.

A huge thank you to HQ for the opportunity to review Wishbones.