Review: The Art of Wearing Hats by Helena Sheffield

Art of Wearing HatsTitle: The Art of Wearing Hats: What to Choose. Where to Find. How to Style.

Author: Helena Sheffield

Pages: 112 Pages

The Blurb

The perfect and practical pocket guide to being a hat wearer for novices and aficionados alike, complete with tips on where to buy them, how to wear them, who wears them best and tricks of the trade (yes hat hair, we’re looking at you).

Hats have been a mainstay of fashion for centuries, but now they’re back with a bang – overtaking the accessories departments of Topshop et al and gracing the celebrated heads of Taylor Swift, Cara Delevigne, Johnny Depp and the like day in and day out. But which one should you wear? Which will suit you best, how should you wear them and when?

The Art of Wearing Hats answers all these questions and more. Broken down into chapters covering everyday, outdoor and special occasion hats, you’ll soon discover the full range to choose from, alongside who in the Googlable world you can turn to for styling tips, and fun facts about where each originated from.

Complete with illustrations and tips on how to grow your hat-wearing confidence, it might be an idea to start making room in your wardrobe.

The Review

The Art of Wearing Hats: What to Choose. Where to Find. How to Style. by Helena Sheffield is a simple ode to hats. It, rather charmingly, delves into the history of each hat, each style and each period of popularity.

It is quite endearing to find a sweet book on such a niche topic that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

From the fedora to the fez, there is little that this author does not know about hats.

The only downside to this book is that towards the end you do feel like the author is grasping at straws to include more pages – in particular the section on ‘searchable terms’ – which seemed unnecessary.

Other than that The Art of Wearing Hats: What to Choose. Where to Find. How to Style. by Helena Sheffield is a short, sweet and pleasant read.

The Art of Wearing Hats: What to Choose. Where to Find. How to Style. by Helena Sheffield is available now.

3 Stars

Review: The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe

The People We Were Before Book CoverThe Blurb

If war is madness, how can love survive?

Yugoslavia, summer 1979. A new village. A new life. But eight-year-old Miro knows the real reason why his family moved from the inland city of Knin to the sunkissed village of Ljeta on the Dalmatian Coast, a tragedy he tries desperately to forget.

The Ljeta years are happy ones, though, and when he marries his childhood sweetheart, and they have a baby daughter, it seems as though life is perfect. However, storm clouds are gathering above Yugoslavia.

War breaks out, and one split-second decision destroys the life Miro has managed to build. Driven by anger and grief, he flees to Dubrovnik, plunging himself into the hard-bitten world of international war reporters.

There begins a journey that will take him ever deeper into danger: from Dubrovnik, to Sarajevo, to the worst atrocities of war-torn Bosnia, Miro realises that even if he survives, there can be no way back to his earlier life. The war will change him, and everyone he loves, forever.

The Review

Wow. What can I say about The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe? My mind has been blown apart by this novel.

Ok, let’s start here:

I was born in 1983. I was raised in Liverpool and I have spent my years trying to consume as much information and knowledge as I could. Yet I knew nothing about the war in Kosovo. Sure I had heard about it on the news but I was too little to comprehend what was happening. This book, The People We Were Before, has changed that somewhat. I’m shocked at my ignorance of a genocide that took place in my lifetime and I knew absolutely nothing about it. Nothing.

The People We Were Before could be described in many ways: a family saga, a romance, a thriller, historical fiction, war story. It cannot be pigeonholed into just one category.

Thorpe’s story focuses on Miro, a young boy whose family has just moved to the Dalmatian Coast with his family amidst the stirrings of political strife. The story develops along with Miro’s change from boy into man; the trials and tribulations that grown up life bring shakes Miro’s world to the very core and his life mirrors the chaos of the warzone that is developing in Dubrovnik.

Thorpe’s character development is tremendous. I truly felt the familial ties between Miro and his brother Goran, I enjoyed the friendships that Miro developed and I fell hopelessly for his love story with Dina. I became part of the story with them. When an author can so seamlessly transport me to another world I know that I am reading something pretty special.

Whilst normally I am a character driven reader it was the descriptions of the abject horrors of war that really packed a punch with me. The panic and the mayhem that Thorpe portrays in The People We Were Before is astounding. My heart was beating wildly throughout most of the book as I felt true panic for Miro and co.

The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe is the most ambitious debut I have read in a long time and fortunately for Thorpe she delivers.

The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe is available now.

5 Stars

The People We Were Before Tour Poster

Review: Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

Summer at the Comfort Food CafeThe Blurb

‘My new favourite author’ – Holly Martin, bestselling author of ‘Christmas at Lilac Cottage’ & ‘Summer at Rose Island

The brand new book from best-selling author Debbie Johnson will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you raid the pantry in the middle of the night…

The Comfort Food Cafe is perched on a windswept clifftop at what feels like the edge of the world, serving up the most delicious cream teas; beautifully baked breads, and carefully crafted cupcakes. For tourists and locals alike, the ramshackle cafe overlooking the beach is a beacon of laughter, companionship, and security – a place like no other; a place that offers friendship as a daily special, and where a hearty welcome is always on the menu.

For widowed mum-of-two Laura Walker, the decision to uproot her teenaged children and make the trek from Manchester to Dorset for the summer isn’t one she takes lightly, and it’s certainly not winning her any awards from her kids, Nate and Lizzie. Even her own parents think she’s gone mad.

But following the death of her beloved husband David two years earlier, Laura knows that it’s time to move on. To find a way to live without him, instead of just surviving. To find her new place in the world, and to fill the gap that he’s left in all their lives.

Her new job at the cafe, and the hilarious people she meets there, give Laura the chance she needs to make new friends; to learn to be herself again, and – just possibly – to learn to love again as well.

For her, the Comfort Food Cafe doesn’t just serve food – it serves a second chance to live her life to the full…

The Review

Oh what do I say about Summer at the Comfort Food Café? Before I get into the things I loved (not liked, loved) about this story I want to say how if this book had arms it would grab you and pull you in to the most amazing hug ever. I felt like healed after reading it. I’m not sure what I was healed over…nor was I aware I may have needed healing but Summer at the Comfort Food Café is just magical.

Meet the Walker family: Laura, Lizzie and Nate. They are a family drowning in their grief over the death of a father and husband. They are barely keeping their heads above water with their grief but when Laura sees an advert for a job as a cook she makes the life changing decision to up-sticks from their Manchester home and relocates to Dorset for the summer.

What I loved about Summer at the Comfort Food Café is that Johnson tackled an emotional issue with sensitivity and still managed to make the loss of a husband/father still come across as raw and emotional. It is unthinkably heartbreaking to even imagine what this must feel like yet Johnson portrayed so delicately but still managed to make me cry. Well done!

I really enjoyed the bourgeoning love story of Lizzie and Matt and how they danced around each other – both not sure how to approach each other, they were nervous and ridiculously endearing.

Overall, what I took from Summer at the Soul Food Café is that people can be inherently good. The characters that frequented the Comfort Food Café all tried to help one another; sometimes these may be big gestures and other times they might be small – sometimes a small gesture is all you need and that, to me, was the heart of the novel.

I have yet to read a novel by Debbie Johnson that I haven’t loved and Summer at the Comfort Food Café is no exception. She really is an amazing writer; a writer whose books I eagerly anticipate and you should too.

Summer at the Comfort Food Café by Debbie Johnson is available from 29th January 2016.

Follow Debbie Johnson (@debbiemjohnshon) via Twitter.

5 Stars

Review: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

So Sad Today

The Blurb

From acclaimed poet and creator of the popular Twitter account @SoSadToday comes a darkly funny and brutally honest collection of essays.

Melissa Broder always struggled with anxiety. In the fall of 2012, she went through a harrowing cycle of panic attacks and dread that wouldn’t abate for months. So she began @SoSadToday, an anonymous Twitter feed that allowed her to express her darkest feelings, and which quickly gained a dedicated following.

In SO SAD TODAY, Broder delves deeper into the existential themes she explores on Twitter, grappling with sex, death, love low self-esteem, addiction, and the drama of waiting for the universe to text you back. With insights as sharp as her humor, Broder explores–in prose that is both ballsy and beautiful, aggressively colloquial and achingly poetic–questions most of us are afraid to even acknowledge, let alone answer, in order to discover what it really means to be a person in this modern world.

The Review

Oh it pains me to write this review because I really wanted to like So Sad Today. I honestly thought I would like it but I just didn’t.

So Sad Today chronicles writer Melissa Broder’s battle with depression and anxiety. Her struggles are broken down into manageable chunk sized chapters and they are written well; in particular, Help Me Not Be a Human Being. However – and this pains me to say – I found the writing self-indulgent and whiny. I hate writing this because I don’t want to take away from Broder’s struggle with depression and anxiety (nor do I want to add to her fragility) but other books have dealt with this subject in a more relatable way, such as Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. At times, it felt like Broder was trying to be deliberately provocative and taboo and it just didn’t seem realistic to me.

It is such a shame that I didn’t enjoy So Sad Today.

So Sad Today by Melissa Broder is available now.

2 Stars

Review: In Real Life by Jessica Love

In Real LifeThe Blurb

Hannah Cho and Nick Cooper have been best friends since 8th grade. They talk for hours on the phone, regularly shower each other with presents, and know everything there is to know about one another.

There’s just one problem: Hannah and Nick have never actually met.

Hannah has spent her entire life doing what she’s supposed to, but when her senior year spring break plans get ruined by a rule-breaker, she decides to break a rule or two herself. She impulsively decides to road trip to Vegas, her older sister and BFF in tow, to surprise Nick and finally declare her more-than-friend feelings for him.

Hannah’s romantic gesture backfires when she gets to Vegas and meets Nick’s girlfriend, whom he failed to mention. And it turns out his relationship status isn’t the only thing he’s been lying to her about. Hannah knows the real Nick can’t be that different from the online Nick she knows and loves, but now she only has one night in Sin City to figure out what her feelings for Nick really are, all while discovering how life can change when you break the rules every now and then.

The Review

Ok, so there are two things that I have to say about In Real Life before I get into the nitty-gritty of the review. Firstly, I have said it before and I will say it again – nay, I will keep saying it until people believe me (warning – gratuitous use of capital letters approaching) YOUNG ADULT FICTION IS THE BEST FICTION BEING RELEASED AT THE MOMENT. Good now that is out of my system I can go on to my second point. Having read other reviews of Jessica Love’s In Real Life I can see that is has been described as whiney and chock full of angst – I agree it is…but why is that a bad thing?

I was (what you could consider to be) a relatively “normal” teenager but looking back I can see I had moments of pure petulance; moments when I stomped all the way up the stairs believing that was the way to get my own way. Yes, I even had those romances that felt like the world was going to end if the boy I loved didn’t love me back….and if I am being really, really honest (indeed, if we are all honest with ourselves) then even up until I entered my current relationship (which had freakishly similar roots to that of Hannah and Nick), I still felt like that.

It is for this very reason that In Real Life is utterly wonderful. The story gripped me from the moment I opened it until the very last page. I was fully immersed in Nick and Hannah’s love frennaisance (I am aware that this isn’t really a word but this is my review so what are you gonna do?

Love perfectly encapsulates the feeling of: young bourgeoning love, fear of rejection along with the grassroots of love in the age of the internet. She does this without judgement and without patronising her characters – she allows you to feel what they feel rather than thinking “oh silly little girl/boy, they don’t know what love is.” As someone who works with teenagers on a daily basis I understand that this is what they are looking for, a verisimilitude of what love can be like, what it is. For that, readers must be thankful.

In Real Life was a treat to read and one that I will be recommending to the teenagers I teach.

In Real Life by Jessica Love is available now.

5 Stars

Review: The Nation’s Favourite Love Poems by Daisy Goodwin

The Nations Favourite Love PoemsThe Blurb

From the first flush of love, through courtship and vows of eternal fidelity, to serving the writs and drowning your sorrows, ‘The Nation’s Favourite Love Poems‘ will meet all your romantic requirements. In this selection of 100 popular poems, poets of every age consider that most universal of themes: love. As well as traditional lovers’ favourites such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘How do I love thee?‘ and Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?‘ there are contemporary voices such as Adrian Mitchell, Wendy Cope and John Fuller, whose erudite yet salacious ‘Valentine‘ would melt the most fridgid heart. There are even poems for those more melancholic moments, Hardy’s haunting ‘After a Journey‘, for example, and Larkin’s poignant ‘Love Songs in Age‘. So, wherever you are in the tunnel of love, dip into this book of poetry and you will be reassured to discover that at one time or another a poet has been there before you.

The Review

I work in a high school and part of my job is helping the GCSE students prepare themselves for their exams. Due to my specialism – English Language/Literature – I often try and get them prepared for the two unseen pieces of poetry that they will have to analyse. At 16, I hated poetry. I loathed it. As I got older and as I kept furthering my English education I began to appreciate it. Not all poems, mind, but I have certainly enjoyed teaching it.

Teaching poetry analysis is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle that has multiple pieces that fit the same slot. It is difficult, it is variable and it is never wrong. Interpretation is personal and that scares some people because what if there are wrong…but as I just stated – you are never wrong with interpretation.

Anecdotes aside, I picked up The Nation’s Favourite Love Poems by Daisy Goodwin because it was recommended to me on Amazon and I knew that we had a copy in the school library. I wanted to see if there were any poems that my student and I could analyse. There were tons (as you would expect with an anthology of poetry), however, there were very few that I liked.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure they are all really good accomplished pieces but for me there was only a handful of ones that I enjoyed reading; they included: Warming Her Pearls by Carol Ann Duffy, Valentine by John Fuller, Lullaby by WH Auden, The First Day by Christina Rosetti, Unfortunate Coincidence by Dorothy Parker, and Twelve Songs by WH Auden.

Actually, that looks like a lot.

In all fairness, I wasn’t expecting to like all the poems in the collection and I do think that I would benefit from further studying of the poems but I did like The Nation’s Favourite Love Poems. I will be picking up more anthologies to develop my liking for poetry.

The Nation’s Favourite Love Poems by Daisy Goodwin is available now.

3 Stars

Review: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

My Life Next DoorThe Blurb

If you love Morgan Matson, Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell, you’ll love this! Addictive, dreamy and contemporary YA romance at its very best!

My Life Next Door is the perfect guilty pleasure read with real emotional depth – and the first in three very collectable YA contemporary romances by Huntley Fitzpatrick coming in 2016.

The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them…until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs the trellis to sit by her – and changes everything.

The Review

I’ve said it before and I still stand by it now. YA fiction is leading the way for storytelling. The latest in my YA love list is My Life Next Door – part Romeo and Juliet part Beauty and the Beast – it tells the story of Samantha Reed; the quintessential girl next door – gets good results in school, works hard, holds down part time jobs (yes plural). She appears to be perfect, but then having a mum who is running for political office leaves little room for rebellion.

However, Samantha goes and commits -what her mum considers to be – a cardinal sin. She falls for one of those Garretts. The Garretts are the amily next door and they are everything that the Reeds aren’t.

Throughout this story there are plenty of epic heart-in-mouth moments. For the last 100 pages I could feel my heart racing. I was so immersed in the Reed/Garrett world that I could barely breathe. My Life Next Door has moral dilemmas a plenty. At the barest of bones it is just a damn good story.

More importantly, Fitzpatrick has created a truly fantastic cast of characters. Samantha is so easy to relate too. Her classic teen problem of falling for someone whom her mum doesn’t agree with is a problem as old as time; Jase is the perfect fictional character to fall in love with; he is big hearted and sweet without being saccharine and then you have Tim. Tim is the classic underdog who comes good in the end. We like Tim.

Overall, My Life Next Door is one of the best YA fiction books that I have read in a while and I am eager to read the next two in the trilogy.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick is available now.

Follow Huntley Fitzpatrick (@HuntleyFitz) via Twitter.

4 Stars

Review: Lost for Words by Edward St Aubyn

Lost for WordsThe Blurb

From the bestselling author of the Patrick Melrose novels, this is a thought-provoking and entertaining insight into a sniping world of literature, celebrity culture and ambition.

Each of the judges of the Elysian Prize for literature has a reason for accepting the job. For the chairman, MP Malcolm Craig, it is backbench boredom, media personality Jo Cross is on the hunt for a ‘relevant’ novel, and Oxbridge academic Vanessa Shaw is determined to discover good writing. But for Penny Feathers of the Foreign Office, it’s all just getting in the way of writing her own thriller.

Over the next few weeks they must read hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year, and so the judges spar, cajole and bargain in order that their chosen title gets the recognition it deserves. Meanwhile, a host of authors are desperate for Elysian glory, including brilliant writer and serial heart-breaker Katherine Burns, lovelorn debut novelist Sam Black, and Sonny, convinced that his magnum opus, The Mulberry Elephant, will take the literary world by storm.

Lost for Words is razor-sharp and fabulously entertaining. It cuts to the quick of some of the deepest questions about the place of art in our celebrity-obsessed culture, and asks how we can ever hope to recognize real talent when everyone has an agenda.

The Review

Lost for Words is another one of those books that I requested on NetGalley because it looked interesting. By that I mean that the cover looked interesting. Lost for Words – like the cover – is in fact, interesting. It is a humorous parody on celebrity culture and how we use our status to value our own existence.  Lost for Words is a funny book.

The interwoven storylines are entertaining and shows St Aubyn’s skill at writing. I personally found that I didn’t connect with the characters but I think that was an intentional point – the characters are so transparent and vapid that it is hard to root for them. Clever St Aubyn.

Overall, Lost for Words is a funny satirical take on modern day society and the importance that we place on celebrity culture. Well worth a read.

Lost for Words by Edward St Aubyn is available now.

3 Stars

My Bucket List

After reading The Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart by Anna Bell I thought that it was about time that I created one of my own. I realised that there wasn’t anything pressing that I wanted to do and that got me a bit worried. If you don’t want for anything you can get a bit bored and stagnant. Idle hands and all that jazz. So I have decided to create a bucket list. After pondering this for a few days I realised there are a few things that I want to do. So here is my list.

  • Learn how to play the piano – I had some lessons a few years back but due to reasons that I would rather not go into those lessons had to cease. This was after spending £500 on an electronic piano – not a keyboard, a full size 88 key piano. Admittedly, it has sat stagnant for a good few years. I want to become proficient in piano playing. Not to expert level but good enough to justify this purchase.
  • Learn how to play the ukulele – I like music and I love ukulele music. It is hard to feel melancholy when a song is played by the ukulele. Again, I have this instrument I just do not know how to play it…yet.
  • Learn sign language – are you sensing a theme? I like learning things and I have always wanted to learn sign language. I think the root of the desire to learn the last three things is because I was deaf as a child. I think this has had an impact on my love of music and also my want to be able to communicate with people who are hearing impaired.
  • Keep learning French – a few years ago I re-sat my GCSE in French and I received an A* for my efforts but I haven’t advanced much past this level. I want t be fluent.
  • Go to Paris – This one goes hand in hand with the previous desire. I love Paris. I love the feelings that it invokes and I will spend time there. I will buy books from Shakespeare and Co. I will eat delicious pastries in Montmartre. I will go there.
  • Clear my NetGalley review pile – I made the classic mistake when I signed up for NetGalley and I went on a mad clicking spree and then I realised that I had a million books to review. I will get it finished.
  • Own a kitten – I want a kitten.

So yes, there is my Bucket List. I would love to know what things are on yours so let me know in the comments below.