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Like every year, I made the resolution in 2020 to read more books. And not just children’s books either! It’s not always easy to find the time when you’re a busy mum, but I’m trying to carve out opportunities to read and to share what I’ve been reading here on Cardiff Mummy Says. In this post, I’ve reviewed a few books I’ve read over the last few months, plus I have also asked my parent blogger friends for books they have recently read and would recommend – you can see their suggestions here too.
I love writing these regular book round-ups – it’s so great to get personal recommendations from other book fans. The only problem is my wish list just keeps on growing and growing!
Would you recommend any of these books or what else would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your suggestions either in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummysays
You can see all my reviews and round ups of books for children and grown-ups on the Books section of Cardiff Mummy Says.
All Amazon links on this page are affiliate links, This means if you make a purchase via this link, I will receive a small payment, at no extra cost to you.
Mad Girl: A Happy Life With A Mixed-Up Mind by Bryony Gordon (Headline)
Bryony Gordon is one of the UK’s top journalists and columnists but behind the glamorous media life we saw in the papers is a lifetime of severe mental health illness – depression and anxiety, bulimia and drug dependency, and also OCD. Proper OCD where Bryony’s mind was plagued by severe intrusive thoughts that made her think she was a murderer or a paedophile. Just like the newspaper articles that came before this book, where Bryony opened up about her mental health, this is such a brave collection of words. I can’t even imagine how hard it was for Bryony to open up about her experiences and to relive them as she wrote; which is what makes this book so very important.
Mad Girl is painfully hard to read at times with such honest and detailed descriptions of Bryony’s worst experiences. My heart broke for her at times. But it also has a dry wit running throughout, the same quality I’ve always loved in her writing, which makes even such a difficult subject very readable and a page turner in its own way. Although there’s still so much stigma surrounding mental health, things are slowly changing. We hear more about depression and anxiety – but we don’t hear so much about the more complex mental health illnesses, such as the OCD Bryony writes about here. This isn’t always an easy read, especially if you or someone close to you has experienced mental health issues, but this is such an important book.
The Rumour by Lesley Kara (Corgi)
The debut novel from Lesley Kara is a psychological thriller with twists and turns throughout that really had me turning the pages. The Rumour follows single mum Joanna as she leaves behind London for the sleepy seaside town she was brought up in, hoping to give a better life to her son. When she hears a rumour at the school gates that a notorious former child killer is living in the town under a new identity, she never intends to pass it on… but wanting to get in with the school mums, she passes on what she’s heard. Soon the word spreads and the response to the rumour takes on a dangerous life of its own.
The subject of children who kill, and people who have to live under assumed identities and police protection, was really intriguing and had clearly been very well researched. This story definitely digs a little deeper than the ‘evil monster’ tag that such children get branded with, and shows that situations are often more complex than they might seem.
It wasn’t perfect – some of the characters could have done with a little more depth, and the romance sub-plot felt a little predictable – but if you’re looking for a story of suspense that isn’t too heavy or gruesome and twists and turns right until the end, then this is a good choice. I read it in a couple of days, and it played on my mind for a long time afterwards.
A Keeper by Graham Norton (Coronet)
I found A Keeper hard to get into initially because my mind was reading it in Graham’s voice. All I could think of was his slightly risqué TV persona and I struggled to concentrate on the plot. However, I’m glad I pursued because, rather than the fluffy love story I thought this was going to be, this is a deep and dark tale full of intrigue and suspense. Granted it’s no literary masterpiece but I found it very readable and hard to put down.
The narrative switches seamlessly from the present-day tale of Elizabeth, who returns to her native Ireland from New York following the death of her mother, to that of Patricia, Elizabeth’s mother some 40 years earlier.
Finding a stash of old letters at her mother’s house causes Elizabeth to delve deep into her family’s past, questioning everything she thought she knew.
Meanwhile, back in the past, lonely Patricia answers a newspaper advert from a man looking for love. Her dates with Edward don’t go especially well – not least due to his overbearing mother – but there’s something in the letters he sends her that draws her to him. However, their relationship unfolds in ways she could never have imagined…
I enjoyed the depictions of small-town rural Ireland and there were several twists along the way which kept the story moving. This is a tale of family, secrets, loneliness, grief and the lengths you’ll go to for those you love.
Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce (Picador)
Although at times I found the writing a little simplistic, and the Unnecessary Use of Capital Letters annoying, I was easily drawn into this wartime novel of love and friendship. It’s set in London in 1941 where Emmeline dreams of being a war correspondent but instead finds herself employed as a typist for Henrietta Bird, the stuck-in-her-ways agony aunt at Woman’s Friend magazine. Mrs Bird has a whole list of subjects she deems unacceptable and demands that the majority of letters are binned. However, not wanting to leave these desperate women waiting for an answer at this most desperate of times, Emmy secretly starts writing back to them. Meanwhile, Emmy and her best friend Bunty are young women finding love, socialising and generally coming of age as the Second World War rages on. I loved that the book really focused on the experiences of women left behind during the war and it felt like quite a lot of research had gone into this. Alongside her day job, Emmy spends several nights a week volunteering on the emergency phone lines for the fire station. Bunty’s boyfriend is a firefighter who night after night finds himself rescuing people from the wreckage of the German bombing sprees. Some of the descriptions of the devastation caused by the Blitz are emotional and very harrowing. But beyond this is a tender tale of friendship and love and surviving in the most difficult of circumstances. It would make a great BBC1 Sunday night adaptation.
Jog On: How Running Saved My Life by Bella Mackie (William Collins)
I started reading this when it was first published early last year but life took over and I never made it beyond the third chapter. I picked it up again a couple of months ago – and read the whole book in a couple of days. Mackie expertly weaves together her personal journey of how running transformed her following a lifetime of anxiety and mental health issues, along with the experiences of others for whom running has also changed their lives, and plenty of research and stats and statistics to back everything up.
Following a marriage breakdown, Bella is so low and anxious she can barely even leave the house. Until one day something compels her to put on her trainers and go for a run. She manages to run for just three minutes and it’s hard. But for the first time in ages, she manages to escape her problems, and she soon finds herself lacing up her trainers on a regular basis.
With Mackie being a journalist and former news editor, the book is so tightly structured with a perfect mix of personal anecdote and fact, it reads incredibly well (although at times I would have liked a little more personal anecdote). The chapters are numbered from 1K to 10K, as Bella’s running – and indeed her mental health, which she is incredibly frank about – slowly improves.
Being a runner myself, I really related to its transformative effects and there were so many paragraphs I found myself nodding in agreement with. It’s also refreshing to see a book on running written by a ‘normal’ runner rather than a champion athlete. Mackie runs purely for the benefits running gives her, rather than for medals or personal bests or epic distances. A must for anyone who runs or who is thinking about it.
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (Penguin)
I’ve not read Moriarty’s international bestselling The Husband’s Secret or Big Little Lies, or even seen the TV adaptation starring Nicole Kidman – but Nine Perfect Strangers was in the ‘recommended’ section of the airport bookshop back in the summer and the synopsis intrigued me, so I made a last minute purchase as we got set to board our plane to Italy. It’s set in a health retreat where the nine perfect strangers of the title are checking in for a 10-day transformative spa experience, each with their own difficulties to overcome. However it soon becomes clear that the retreat is not all it seems and its unconventional methods leave them fearing for their lives.
As holiday reads go, it was an enjoyable book that I found hard to put down. It’s not perfect – elements were supposed to be satirical but at times felt farcical and the ending didn’t quite wrap things up as nicely as I would have liked. But the writing was well-paced, I loved that the story was told from the perspectives of all the different characters, and parts were really funny and others painfully sad. The reviews on Amazon are certainly divided, but overall I found this an intriguing book that gave me plenty to think about.
A good introduction to Moriarty, this has certainly made me want to read more of her books.
Where The Forest Meets The Stars by Glendy Vanderah (Lake Union Publishing)
As reviewed by Emily who blogs at Twin Mummy and Daddy. You can read her full review here.
I loved this book so much that I finished it in just two days. I couldn’t put it down. It’s about Joanna who, after the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, determined to prove that her recent hardships have not broken her. One day, her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises. The girl calls herself Ursa, and she claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. With concerns about the child’s home situation, Jo reluctantly agrees to let her stay—just until she learns more about Ursa’s past. However, as the summer nears an end and Ursa gets closer to her fifth miracle, her dangerous past closes in. When it finally catches up to them, all of their painful secrets will be forced into the open, and their fates will be left to the stars.
It’s such a beautifully written, captivating and engaging book that had me asking so many questions, about what could have possibly happened to the bare foot little girl, Ursa, and wondering where is this going? Jo is such a lovely character. She’s been through so much with the death of her mother and her own battle with cancer. She’s very easy to relate to and her relationship with her recluse neighbour, Gabe, aka ‘egg man’, is a lovely one to watch unfold.
I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving anything away, but what I will say is that this is a must read, easy to read, enjoyable book that I rated five out out of five on GoodReads. You must read it!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
As reviewed by Emily who blogs at Twin Mummy and Daddy. You can read her full review here.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a painfully beautiful first novel that is at once a murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative and a celebration of nature.
It follows the story of six year old Kya Clark, aka the ‘Marsh Girl’. Kya was brought up living in a swamp with her parents and siblings. One by one, her siblings start to leave home unable to deal with their drunken father’s outbursts. One heartbreaking day, Kya’s ma also leaves. For a while Kya finds a way to bond with her drunk of a dad, but soon he too leaves and Kya is left to fend for herself… Years later handsome Chase Andrews is found dead and the locals immediately suspect Kya. Is this Marsh Girl what they think she is? Where the Crawdads Sing is a tale of escapism, romance, crime and survival. I highly recommend it. It’s such a fascinating read. I found myself immersing myself into Kya’s world. Imaging what the marsh, her home and her life was like. I don’t often get emotional when reading books, but Where the Crawdads Sing had me in tears on more than one occasion. Delia Owens writes very well and I can’t wait to read more of her work.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Sceptre)
Review by Beth who blogs at Twinderelmo
A Man Called Ove is a brilliant read and makes you realise you shouldn’t judge a person by first impressions as there’s always a back story which makes them the way they are. It follows the story of a grumpy old man Ove who lives alone surrounded by young families in his neighbourhood. Following the loss of his beloved wife, he decides he has nothing more to live for and the book follows him in his quest to meet his end. You learn of Ove’s life and the events that shaped him into the grumpy man of few words he’s become. It really makes you think about people you know or meet daily and that you never know what they’re going through. It will make you laugh, make your cry but above all make you analyse your own life and the things that are important to you Grab the tissues for the end.
The 24 Hour Cafe by Libby Page (Orion)
Review by Kate who blogs at Woman on Thin Ice. Read her full review here
This novel by Libby Page is superb and the best I have read for years. If you love to people watch and are interested in big themes such as love and loss, this is the book for you to savour next. The two main characters are waitresses Hannah and Mona who work at Stella’s Café, which as you might have guessed from the title opens 24 hours per day. We meet them both as they change shifts. The first part of the book has an emphasis on Hannah and then as Mona comes on shift again, we get to know her story in more detail. The two are great friends, colleagues and flat-mates, sharing a dream of one day achieving stardom in the performing arts although it seems like time is running out for them on that score.
You can imagine that over 24 hours in a public place we meet so many customers and other characters. The characterisation in this book is fantastic. I engaged my heart with some more than others. I think you could read this novel at different times in your life and change your favourite characters. For example, as a mum experiencing empty nest syndrome with her son overseas studying, it was hardly a surprise that I would be so concerned for Dan the student missing his mum. Not that long ago, I would have identified with the mum struggling to bond with her baby whilst in the grips of post-natal depression. All life is here it seems. Some are carrying secrets and may not be all they appear to be but isn’t that true of most of us? When we people-watch we may get part of the story right but other bits are probably completely misunderstood. In fact this novel is good for showing us that our stereotyping may not serve us well at all.
I cannot recommend The 24 Hour Cafe book highly enough. It deals with the sort of issues real people face very day – hopes, dreams, disappointments, struggles, love and loss.
Mystery on Hidden Lane by Clare Chase (Bookouture)
Reviewed by Laura who blogs at Loopy Lou Laura. You can read her full review here
Mystery on Hidden Lane is a gentle crime novel about a freelance journalist trying to write an obituary of an acclaimed cellist, only to find herself investigating a murder. With the classical feel of an Agatha Christie or MC Beaton novel, or Midsomer Murders, it’s a traditional English village murder mystery.
Eve and her dachshund Gus are warm and likeable lead characters. She has a natural inquisitiveness without coming across as nosy.
The plot itself is intricate with plenty of suspects and a second murder. The insular nature of the English village is clearly evoked to keep the action contained.
Mystery on Hidden Lane is much softer and gentler than Clare Chase’s other books. There is no violence and the focus is very much on Eve’s interviews for her obituary that just happen to form her own investigation into the cellist’s death. I can easily imagine this as a Sunday night drama on TV. I really hope there are more in this series.
The Leaving Party by Lesley Sanderson (Bookouture)
Reviewed by Laura who blogs at Loopy Lou Laura. You can read her full review here.
Ava is leaving England to head to the US with her fiance Ben. Her best friend Lena is heartbroken but determined to throw her a leaving party she’ll never forget. Except that Ava is also leaving to escape the memory of her past, haunted by a death and the black roses that arrive every year of the anniversary…
This is a fascinating psychological novel and I really had no idea who to trust, just like Ava. Lena’s behaviour is clingy and she becomes increasingly desperate to stay close to Ava. Meanwhile Ava’s estranged sister makes the effort to build bridges and rekindle their sibling relationship. Ava is also waiting anxiously for her fiance Ben to join the party, concerned he may be having second thoughts about living together in the US.
The majority of the book is told through the eyes of Ava or Lena on the night of the leaving party but these are interspersed with chapters set at another party in 2005. I love that all the action and events are just two nights, yet it doesn’t feel contrived or lengthy.
I felt a strong emotional connection with both Ava and Lena and could sympathise with them both. The plot develops slowly and steadily over the course of the book and Sanderson keeps her readers guessing. I suspected everyone of trying to derail Ava’s happiness as they all seemed to be acting suspiciously!
A Little Pick Me Up: Shining a Light on Your Darkest Emotions by Katie Portman (TWH Publishing)
As reviewed by Kate who blogs at The Less Refined Mind. You can read her full review here.
Written By Katie Portman, author of popular lifestyle and patenting blog Pouting in Heels, I adored A Little Pick Me Up. Katie is a huge advocate of women’s health and wellness and her writing is insightful, eloquent, and often quite beautiful. I’ve personally been working towards a more positive life over the last few years, and Katie’s book spoke to me. It’s split up into seven different chapters which sound negative – but of course they all contain powerfully positive messages. She also discusses fear, guilt, dread, powerlessness, regret, and hate/love. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be poignant. Every vital subject related to women’s health and wellness is so painfully, exquisitely astute that you can’t help but be deeply affected and inspired.
The Dilemma by BA Paris (HQ)
As reviewed by Laura who blogs at Five Little Doves. You can read her full review here.
The Dilemma centres around Livia and Adam and their two children Marnie and Josh. Livia has been planning her 40th birthday party for as long as she can remember, still feeling cheated of her dream wedding, still struggling with the sacrifices she made for her children, still desperate for the spotlight of attention to be on her, even if just for one night. And Adam, still beating himself up for not giving Livia everything she deserved in their early married life, is desperate to make sure that not only does Livia’s party go to plan, but that there are a few surprises thrown in there too.
The narrative switches between both Livia and Adam, giving us a real insight into the ups and downs of their marriage both now and in the past. On the day of the party Adam is on edge hoping that his big surprise goes to plan, oblivious to the fact that Livia is equally nervous hoping she can keep a huge secret from Adam for just one more night. The theme of secrets and lies runs seamlessly through The Dilemma, surrounding not just Adam and Livia but both their children and their friends also. Just when I thought I’d figured out one secret, I’d realise I was completely off track.
As much as I devoured The Dilemma in one go, and as enjoyable as I found it, at several points during the book I found myself disliking both Adam and Livia. At times Livia comes across as incredibly selfish and self-indulgent, whilst as a parent I found it impossible to relate to Adam’s uncomfortable relationship with Josh, his favouritism of Marnie, and I felt increasingly outraged at his reactions and decisions.
B.A Paris has a talent for writing that really hooks you from the outset, so much so that I was willing to overlook the discrepancies in the character’s actions and the flaws in their stories to just thoroughly enjoy the rollercoaster of emotions, suspicion, shock and suspense, and turn the pages as fast as I possibly could! I definitely recommend The Dilemma but be warned, clear a few hours in your diary because once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down!
A Million Dreams by Dani Atkins (Head of Zeus)
As reviewed by Laura who blogs at Five Little Doves. You can read her full review here.
Dani Atkins is an author I absolutely love, who writes consistently beautiful novels which reduce me to tears every single time.
A Million Dreams tells the story of Beth Brandon and Izzy Vaughan, two strangers who are brought together when a mistake from eight years previous comes back to change their lives forever.
Beth is a young widow, mourning the loss of her husband at such a young age, Izzy is
The narrative is split between Beth – a young widow mourning the loss of her husband and desperately pursuing her dream of using her and Tim’s frozen embryo to become a mother – and Izzy already a mother to a Noah, reeling from the end of her marriage, convinced she has made the wrong decision, and unsure how to repair the fragments of their lives. Both women find themselves in an extraordinary situation, fighting for what they believe in, with a mother’s love always at the heart of their actions.
As someone whose path to motherhood did not come easily, whose marriage had ended, and experienced indescribable grief, I related to both Beth and Izzy on so many levels. The book was heartwarming, heart breaking and heart stopping; it made me laugh, cry and question all that I thought I knew, and ultimately it left me desperately wanting to know what happened next, hoping that the ending was everything I had interpreted it to be, and it stayed with me long after I turned that final page.
I can’t recommend this book enough, a true masterpiece of love and loss in all its heartbreaking glory.
The Girl at the Window by Rowen Coleman (Ebury)
As reviewed by Rosie who blogs at Busy Mum Lifestyle. Read her full review here.
Ponden Hall is situated just outside Haworth in West Yorkshire where the Bronte sisters penned their famous novels. When Rowen Coleman visited Ponden Hall some years ago she was completely seduced by the wonderfully atmospheric house and its undoubted Bronte connections.
The result of the seduction became The Girl at the Window, a beautiful tale of love and loss in which the reader is taken on a journey of discovery through three different centuries where you meet the people who lived and went to Ponden, including the Brontes.
The book is about Trudy Heaton who returns to the hall with her young son following the devastating news her husband has disappeared.
Trudy comes from a long-line of Heatons who, in real life, had occupied Hall since 1634. On her return she attempts to make peace with her estranged mother, care for her son and re-build her life.
The novel blurs the line between fact and fiction, highlighting significant historical events from the time. It includes more than one appearance of the Brontes. The reader is also asked on occasion to suspend their disbelief, which, safe in Coleman’s hand you are only too happy to do.
For me, there was something incredibly special about reading a book set in my own village. Coleman’s intricate description of Haworth moved me to tears at times and gave the book a genuine sense of authenticity.
However, you certainly don’t need to live in Haworth, or even be familiar with it to enjoy this book. It is utterly charming and deeply emotional as it twists and turns its way through human emotion and history.
I loved this book.