Monday, 22 May 2017

Book Review: The Other Half of Happiness

The Other Half of Happiness
By Ayisha Malik
Published by Zaffre
Available in paperback and ebook

Sofia Khan is back, and she's ready to fight for happiness no matter the cost. Eloping isn't all it's cracked up to be once her mother finds out. A 'real' wedding must be arranged... but this wedding is going to need a groom and Connell has gone into meltdown.

Ayisha Malik's second novel follows on with Sofia's adventures through life with funny moments as she battles with her Muslim family's traditional values and the way she wants to live her life. Last time, in Sofia Khan is not Obliged, Sofia fell in love with her next door neighbour, Conall who definitely did not meet her family's expectations - Irish and white not a good Muslim man that they were hoping for!

In The Other Half of Happiness Sofia has eloped with Conall and now they live Karachi while he makes a documentary but something is niggling away at Sofia - her happy ending just doesn't seem right. She's missing her family, her friends and London and Conall is distant, fully absorbed with his work leaving her in their shared house on her own. There are secrets bubbling on the surface - pride and principles battle, forcing Sofia and her love for Conall to the brink.

Secrets, deception and lies wreak havoc with Sofia's life. Coming back to London not only means dealing with her family but it means trying to find a place to fit within her family and social circle now that she's a married woman. Not only does she need to still deal with her family's high and demanding expectations but she needs to take back control of her own life, career and happiness. Ayisha has written a romantic comedy with a feisty modern narrator with many touching moments and laugh out loud segments. Sofia is a honest, down to earth character and everyone can relate to her naive wisdom.

Funny and smart, this book will have you wanting to hug Sofia as she soon realises that there might not be such a thing as a 'happy ending'. I'm really hoping for a third installment because I feel like Sofia's story isn't complete.

The Other Half of Happiness is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

April's Book Adventures

Talk about let the side down in April - I only managed to read three books but one of those was a doorstopper of a book so that counts as two - can we can agree on that so I can feel better about only reading three.

Well... I have a really great excuse! I've been distracted with painting my kitchen. I normally stick to neutral colours but this time I went for a eggshell blue and I don't want to blow my own trumpet too much but the kitchen feels fresher. At the moment I don't want to rip out the cupboards so I've cleaned them down and the kitchen doesn't look as dull as it used too. I did rip a hole in the lino so I need to find some time to replace it or even investigate what's underneath.

I did finish redrafting one of my chapters, and now I only have three left! Three! But this current one is a complete mess and if I'm honest, I need to start from scratch. So the end is in sight but it's complicated...

Right, so what three books did I read? Some great ones! Oh, you want more details... well, here you go!

Moon Over Soho - Ben Aaronovitch
This is the second installment of the Rivers of London series. DC Grant is still investigating strange occurrences in London's back streets. He finds himself tangled up with mystical creatures and going head to head with evil. This is a fun novel, and Ben Aaronovitch really is the next Neil Gaiman.

The Other Half of Happiness - Ayisha Malik
This is a hilarious book as Sofia Khan continues her journey for happiness. In the previous book Sofia fell in love with the guy next door much to the disappointment of her Muslim family. Here, we see her battle for a happy ever after. Sofia is the Muslim version of Bridget Jones. I'm hoping for a third installment! A fuller review will be on my blog soon.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair - Joel Dicker
Sometimes you want a long, long read which pulls you into a complex story, and this book delivers this. This thriller follows Marcus as he tries to prove his old professor is innocent of murder as well struggle with writer's block and the demands of fame. There are so many twists and turns in this story, and the writing is sharp and addictive. I really liked the way writing is compared to boxing and it wasn't something I considered before (I thought boxing was punch, punch, punch and then the opponent falls over - don't roll your eyes - I know differently now - we all have wrong impressions about professions - how many of us think writers just write, write, write and then get published).

"Writing a book is like loving someone. It can be very painful."

"You should prepare for you writing as you prepare for a boxing match... In the days leading up to the fight, you should be training at only seventy per cent so the rage that explodes on the day of the match has been allowed to slowly simmer and rise within you."

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Book Review: Behind the Mask is Nothing

Behind the Mask is Nothing
By Judy Birkbeck
Published by Holland House
Available in paperback and ebook

Judy Birkbeck's debut novel explores the potency and allure of cults which on the surface appear to be friendly groups, offering to enrich lives. Behind the Mask is Nothing is full of tightly wrapped tension where the reader can see the characters getting deeper and deeper into trouble but are helpless.

Stef is in crisis. Her teaching job is become more about paperwork and people pleasing rather than teaching children and she also suspects her husband is having an affair. Their marriage is drifting apart, having arguments over the slightest things and she is finding explicit messages on his phone from an admirer but he keeps denying the affair.

Stef is drawn into a community on a remote Exmoor estate run by the couple's counsellor with promises of fixing Stef's marriage. Here is a space where she can forget her job, the pressure to be a mother and wife, and learn to find inner peace with her troubles of that's what she thinks this community is about...

Birkbeck explores the power of manipulative communities and how they coax vulnerable people and abuse the authority, slowly controlling every aspect of their members lives. Stef's search for meaning and faith draws her more into this cult and its strange practices. I enjoyed the way that Birkbeck explores the effects of Stef's behaviour on her family, and they way they are pushed away and how the family falls apart as the cult's manipulation pushes it way through the tiny cracks in this family dynamic. Stef's life is consumed by the cult and her family are helpless on the sidelines.

A parallel story of Stef's grandmother weaves through Stef's story. She is writing her memoir about her time in Berlin when she was in the Hitler Youth group. Guilt and nostalgia make her more concerned for Stef. She can see the way the group are twisting reality and making Stef more detached yet she can also relate to the fact that Stef has found acceptance and faith.

This novel is full of paranoia, mistrust and warped realities. At times the reader is left not knowing which is reality is the truth and which one has been manipulated by the cult to draw Stef further into their clutches. Behind the Mask is Nothing is a novel that will keep twisting the tension until the end.

Behind the Mask is Nothing will be available for order from the 17th May.

I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Julia Crouch's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we welcome Julia Crouch to the Writer's Little Helper sofa to talk about her fantasy bookshop.

I would definitely visit Julia's bookshop especially as it combines books with a cinema - I don't think I would ever leave!

Her Husband's Lover is now out and available in paperback in June and ebook right now!


What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Julia's Book Barn

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
It would be a destination bookshop in a beautifully converted barn, a little outside a town like Cambridge, where there are loads of readers. As well as parking places a-plenty, There would be a cycle path to get there, and a shuttle bus that runs on chip oil, and you'd get a discount for using your own steam or public transport. People would go and spend the whole day and part of the evening there.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
Yes - a stage, a cinema (both for events and themed, book related shows), a cocktail bar, a cafe, a children's book adventure area, couches to lie down and read on. There may even be an outdoor pool with sunbeds, but you'd have to buy the book before you went out there, because you might get it wet. A shop with bookish gifts and extensive stationery section, an antiquarian section – although all the books must be beautiful. A charity shop. A cross country running trail to work off all that lying around reading, with showers and a changing area. There would also be work areas for writers, who could come and spend all day there without feeling that they have to buy endless coffees to earn their place. There would be no wi-fi, except in a very limited area, like smoking areas used to be in airports.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
It would be entirely run on renewable energy. It would be a place to spend a day.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I would have all the sections that there are in, say, Waterstones. But the labelling would come from a left-wing/feminist point of view. So Women's Studies would be just 'Studies'. History and Politics and philosophy would be divided into progressive and reactionary. As would literature. Gosh. Am I sounding a bit Orwellian? This might need further thought...

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
I would judge purely on the aesthetics of the covers. Each week it would change – silhouetted man covers one week, predominantly yellow covers the next. Women looking back over shoulder, then shattered glass motifs.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
The Brontes: sisters or rivals? Charlotte, Emily and Anne battle it out in a flash fiction stand off. YOU get to decide who is the greatest of them all.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
Her Husband's Lover is crossover literary/psychological fiction: page-turning, vividly written and with enough twists to make you question every assumption you have ever made. It has recently featured on our 'two women silhouetted against a blue background' display.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?

A literary cake - Alice B Toklas's pot brownies. That should get the party started.
Only for those arriving on public transport or under their own steam.


Please visit Julia's website for more information about her books and you can also find her on Twitter.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Things

The Keeper of Lost Things
By Ruth Hogan
Published by Two Roads
Available in hardback & ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Not only does Ruth Hogan's debut novel, The Keeper of Lost Things have a beautiful cover but it is also a charming, gentle story, perfect for bank holiday weekends especially when you're belly is full of chocolate and all you can do is pull over a blanket and curl up with a book.

Anthony Peardew, an elderly gentleman, full of guilt about losing his fiancee on their wedding day several decades before, has spent most of this life collecting lost objects while out for walks, making up for a promise he feels like he broke. Hair ties, trinkets, even a biscuit tin containing human ashes, have all been gathered up and reside in his study. There they wait for their owners to claim them. Knowing he is about to die, he leaves behind his home and his collection to his assistant, Laura. She must fulfill his legacy and return as many of the treasures as possible.

Hogan has created a book full of warm and funny characters but she will also try to squeeze a tear from you with some of the heartbreaking stories told from the lost objects and our characters' past. Missed opportunities, tragedies, the curse of growing old or even growing apart. Actually, I'm selling this book in the wrong way because even though there are heart-breaking episodes this is a book with heart and will warm you from the inside. Unlikely friendships are formed, heavy sadness from divorce starts to melt away and love starts to blossom.

The Keeper of Lost Things explores the way people hold onto promises (maybe even for a lifetime) and the power of these promises when both made or even broken. Guilt runs through this novel and as the reader we get to see these characters confront these feelings of fear and move towards a happier, more balanced life. Hogan shows the reader how inanimate objects can have a hold over people and be full of memories and emotions - Laura not only has to honour Anthony's legacy but she must find these people, knowing that some people may not want to be reunited with their treasures.

Fans of The Man Called Ove will enjoy this book as they are very similar in the way neighbours can come together to form a community and help each other in this chaotic world. Both books show the healing power of friendships when letting go of the past.

I bet you won't be able to walk past a lost object you see on the street in the same way as you used to after reading this book. You can buy The Keeper of Lost Things from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy to review via Bookbridgr.