Just an Odd Job Girl by Sally Cronin #TuesdayBookBlog #Review

Odd Job Girl

Imogen has reached the milestone of 50, but her world has fallen apart.  After over 20 years of marriage to Peter, he has abandoned her for a younger model.  Thrown out of her lovely home, she has downsized and is hibernating.  After turning to comfort eating, she has gained several pounds so has decided to make a new start by looking for a job.  She hasn’t worked since marrying Peter, so she approaches an agency.  There she meets Andrew who listens to her; something Peter never did.

 

Talking to him about her work experiences unleashes a multitude of memories and we as readers are able to share in the variety of occupations of her youth.  This isn’t a depressing story about loss or wasted years, it is a lively, amusing account of work in a hotel, funeral directors and the catering world. It shows a woman’s worth, gained from all the challenges of life experiences.  By going back through her memories, Imogen rediscovers her confidence and is ready to face the world anew.

Sally Cronin

Sally G Cronin

Sally Cronin is a successful author, well known for Smorgasboarda blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general.

Just an Odd Job Girl can be purchased on Amazon UK or Amazon US

 

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The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd #BookReview

London Eye

I recently discovered the books of Siobhan Dowd, sadly after she died.  Written as a young adult adventure, “The London Eye Mystery” is exactly the sort of book I would have bought for my school Library or classroom.

 

Written in the words of Ted, who lives with his parents and elder sister Kat in London, it describes the mysterious disappearance of his cousin Salim from a capsule on the London Eye and how he and Kat try to find him.  Ted’s approach is unusual, because he has Asperger’s syndrome and he has a particular knowledge and interest in meteorology. Thus, he works logically through all possibilities, even the absurd, such as spontaneous combustion, using climatic vocabulary, for instance The Eye of the Hurricane and The Coriolis Effect, to analyse events.

 

Ted and Kat put their sibling rivalry aside to find their cousin.  Kat tells Ted that he is genius and he learns that she is able to read body language which he does not understand. Ted’s navigation of the underground and his experience of the crowded Earl’s Court exhibition centre, highlight the fears such places can induce for many people but how feelings can be overcome when it really matters.  A great book for 10 or 11-year-olds but I really enjoyed it too.

Siobhan Dowd

Siobhan Dowd was born to Irish parents and brought up in London. She spent much of her youth visiting the family cottage in Aglish, County Waterford and later the family home in Wicklow Town.
She attended a Catholic grammar school in south London and then gained a degree in Classics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University. After a short stint in publishing, she joined the writer’s organization PEN, initially as a researcher for its Writers in Prison Committee.

She went on to be Program Director of PEN American Center’s Freedom-to-Write Committee in New York City. Her work here included founding and leading the Rushdie Defense Committee USA and traveling to Indonesia and Guatemala to investigate local human rights conditions for writers. During her seven-year spell in New York, Siobhan was named one of the “top 100 Irish-Americans” by Irish-America Magazine and AerLingus, for her global anti-censorship work.

On her return to the UK, Siobhan co-founded English PEN’s readers and writers programme, which takes authors into schools in socially deprived areas, as well as prisons, young offender’s institutions and community projects.

During 2004, Siobhan served as Deputy Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Oxfordshire, working with local government to ensure that statutory services affecting children’s lives conform with UN protocols.
Siobhan has an MA with Distinction in Gender and Ethnic Studies at Greenwich University, has authored short stories, columns and articles, and edited two anthologies.

In May 2007, Siobhan was named one of “25 authors of the future” by Waterstones Books as part of the latter’s 25th anniversary celebrations.

Siobhan died on 21st August 2007 aged 47. She had been receiving treatment for advanced breast cancer for 3 years, and did not go gentle into that good night.

 

Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery by Jennifer S Alderson #NewRelease

Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 3

Rituals

Zelda Richardson is an adventurous heroine who loves to solve mysteries.  She needs to succeed in her placement as an intern at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam but the work involves Asmat Bis poles from Papua New Guinea, totems made for the spirits of the dead, whose evil looking faces seem to be leading her into danger.

 

Seven crates have been discovered unopened for 50 years in the archive depot of Rotterdam’s Wereldmuseum.  As Zelda and the more important staff from the museums observe, the crates are unpacked, revealing not just Bis poles, but also human remains of the head-hunting Asmat culture of what was then Dutch New Guinea.  But the most intriguing discovery is the leather-bound journal of Nicholas Mayfield, a wealthy American anthropologist who went missing in 1962.

 

Interspersed with Zelda’s transcription of the journal and her investigations, are passages from 1962, where we discover the frustrations and difficulties Nicholas had experienced while trading in Dutch New Guinea, hindered rather than helped by experienced Dutch anthropologist, Albert Schenk.  Albert is now Director of the Wereldmuseum and he seems to be a thoroughly unpleasant, arrogant individual.

 

Soon, Zelda is alarmed when two people close to her are murdered.  She continues with her task of transcribing the journal and researching the background of the Bis poles for an imminent exhibition, but she keeps information close to her chest and, at times, is unwise in those she chooses to trust.

 

This exciting story is also an education about a culture of which I knew very little.  The actions of colonial powers, the church and collectors of artifacts is called into questions but there is also our moral dilemma of whether to exhibit treasures from the past or return them to their source.  But don’t let this put you off; you will be on the edge of your seat wondering if Zelda will take one risk too many as well as wishing to discover what actually happened to Nicholas Mayfield.  A thoroughly good read.

An amazing picture of a Bis pole

Rituals of the Dead on Amazon UK and Amazon US

My review of Zelda’s first adventure Down and Out in Kathmandu

An Interview with Miriam from “No More Mulberries” by Mary Smith

Set in rural Afghanistan during the 1990s, we quickly realise that Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves her work at a health clinic and the warmth and humour of her women friends in the village, but she has personal problems which she can no longer ignore.  I am grateful that she has agreed to share some of her feelings with us.

Mulberries

Miriam, when you first settled in Afghanistan in 1986, did you have difficulty coping in a house where there was no running water, a latrine outside and no electricity?

Oh, god, yes. Although I’d tried to prepare myself for it, the reality was difficult. It was ages before I stopped reaching for a light switch when it became dark in the evening. I didn’t try turning on a tap for water – there was no sink. It all had to be brought from a spring. Fine in summer but not much fun in winter. Cooking was a nightmare. We stayed at first with Usma, who became one of my closest friends, and her family. I was amazed at how she could cook several dishes at once in such primitive conditions. The kitchen was always full of smoke which was supposed to go up and out of a hole in the ceiling but didn’t. It just swirled around. It’s no wonder so many village women have eye problems.

The worst was the latrine: the 100-yard -walk to reach it so everyone knew where you were going, no flush and the lack of privacy. At Usma’s there wasn’t even a latrine. People just said they were going ‘outside’ and everyone knew what they meant. Jawad built a latrine at the clinic but I soon discovered while Afghan women may be modest in front of menfolk they have no such modesty amongst other women and think nothing of following you into the latrine to continue a chat. When we came to Sang-i-Sia, I insisted we had a proper door (rather than a bit of sacking) with a bolt on our latrine. I became used to everything except having an audience when I went to the loo.

Why do you feel closer to your friends in Afghanistan then you did to your friends in Scotland?

My mother was incredibly strict when I was growing up, and terribly worried about appearances and what the neighbours might say. When I was a young teenager I wasn’t often allowed to hang out with my friends and missed out on all the giggly, flirty stuff. I was actually quite scared of my mother – she could make like difficult for me and my dad if challenged. Unless you’ve witnessed a Scottish ‘humph’ you’ve no idea. By the time I was older I didn’t seem to fit in. I felt I was being judged – not able to flirt, lack of make-up skills, the wrong clothes and wrong taste in music. In Afghanistan I felt free to be me and it was wonderful.

If you had returned to Scotland after the death of your first husband, wouldn’t you have given your son, Farid more opportunities and a better education?

You ask tough questions! It makes me feel I am a terrible mother to think I was denying my son a better education in Scotland than he’d receive in Afghanistan. At the time, though, I couldn’t think of anything other than the loss of his father, my husband. I was utterly devastated. It seemed – still does – to be so important Farid was not completely cut off from his father’s country and culture and family connections. Besides, it could have been quite tough for him in Scotland dealing with everything, including racism. I’d have hated him to feel he didn’t fit in.

What are your hopes and fears for the women of Afghanistan?

While Taliban controls the country I have only fear for the women of Afghanistan, no hope. Before they came I felt that things were changing for the better, however slowly, for women. Schools were opening for girls, giving them opportunities their mothers never had. Health services, including ante-natal care was becoming more available. There was never peace, always fighting somewhere, but in Sang-i-Sia and Zardgul life went on in its own way. People were poor, work was hard and we all hoped peace would come to Afghanistan. Instead the Taliban came and swept everything good away.

How would you describe your husband, Iqbal, to someone who had not yet met him?

If you mean physically, then I’d say he was quite handsome: tall, broad, a lovely smile. Like most Hazara people he has a small nose and slanting eyes. He is self-conscious about his lack of eyebrows from when he had leprosy. I never notice but I’ve learned how important eyebrows are in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Funny isn’t it, my friend Janet in Scotland has hers waxed almost into oblivion and Iqbal would give anything to have bushy eyebrows.

He’s a good man with a strong sense of fairness and doing what’s right, but he’s also a complex person carrying, as we all do, a certain amount of baggage from his past. I didn’t understand for a long time that he struggles with wanting to change things but not wanting to go against his culture. It almost always comes down to our fear of not belonging, doesn’t it?

You can find No More Mulberries on Amazon UK

My review of the book is here

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With thanks to Mary Smith for allowing me to interview Miriam.

An Interview with Lottie from “Tipping Point” by Terry Tyler #Project Renova

Today is the first post in a new series, interviewing characters from books I have reviewed on my blog.  I am proud to begin with a conversation with one of my favourite book characters, Lottie from Terry Tyler’s Project Renova Trilogy.

Lottie 5

Lottie Keating was sixteen at the time of the viral outbreak in July 2024. The first UK case of ‘bat fever’ was discovered in Shipden, the Norfolk seaside town where she lived with her mother, Vicky, and Vicky’s boyfriend, Dex. Within a month, normal life in the UK had broken down.

Tipping

Vicky and Lottie’s story begins in Tipping Point, which is on sale at 99p/99c from February 5 to February 11.  Their tale of survival continues in Lindisfarne, and the third part of the trilogy, UK2, which will be published in the spring.

Here is my interview  with Lottie: 

I very much admire the way that you have adapted to the dramatic change in your lifestyle, and I’d love to hear more about how the collapse of society has affected you.

Q         What do you really miss from your old life when you lived in Shipden?

I miss my friends!  A couple of them got the vaccine, so I hope they’re alive and well somewhere.  I miss Granny and Grandad, and my dad.  I miss ice cream, badly, especially salted caramel Häagen Dazs.  But when I think back to my old life it’s like I’m looking at someone else; it doesn’t seem like me.  I don’t miss the internet.  When it first went off I didn’t know what to do with myself (I kept looking at my phone and thinking, why can’t it just work?), but I soon forgot all about it; I had too much real life to live.  I do miss films, though.  As for social media sites—well, now I talk to people face to face, instead!

Q         What are your thoughts and feelings about Dex and Heath?

I used to think Dex was okay when he lived with me and Mum, before the virus.  He was a bit of a bighead (everything was all about him), but I could see why Mum liked him.  Looking back, I think he was probably cheating on her now and again; you don’t think about stuff like that when you’re a kid (he moved in with us when I was only ten or eleven), but when you’re older you can see what was really going on.  Anyway, he turned out to be a total retard, so who cares?

Heath – awesome.  But I won’t say anything else right now…

Q         Have you changed much since you left Norfolk?

Hope so!  I’m much fitter and stronger, and I can do all sorts of clever things like making fires and baking bread.  I can handle a gun, and I know some seriously awesome moves to throw if I get jumped.  Mac, who is now my boyfriend, taught me how to defend myself.  I think the new world has made me grow up and see the bigger picture.  Especially now I spend my time doing proper stuff instead of sitting on my bed Skyping with my mates and posting dumb selfies.

Q   If anyone had told you a year ago what was going to happen, what would you have thought?

I’d probably have thought, bring it on!  And been really excited and hoped there were going to be zombies; I’d have wanted to be like Rosita in The Walking Dead.  But I wouldn’t have had a clue what it was really like.  You don’t, but you just adapt.

Q         What are your hopes and fears for the future?

I live pretty much day to day.  The main fear is not having enough to eat and getting seriously ill.  Some of our community get stressy about the danger from outsiders, but I think we’re clever and strong enough to deal with anything that comes our way, and, to be honest, conflict gives me a bit of a thrill.  In some ways it’s better now because people don’t worry about bullshit like whether or not they’re ‘fulfilled’, ’cause they’re too busy staying alive.  Hopes?  That we will always live with lots of cool people who want to work together, and that all dickheads (no names mentioned here!) will die painful deaths.

To find Tipping Point on Amazon  or Lindisfarne

With thanks to Terry Tyler for introducing me to Lottie.

For interviews with other book characters:-

Miriam from No More Mulberries

Lachlan from Rack and Ruin

Patsy from Wild Water

If you are an author whose book I have reviewed, perhaps you would like me to interview one of your characters.  If so, please contact me.

The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris #FridayReads

The Lost Words

I bought this large sumptuous book at Christmas as a present for my husband but really it was for me.  Written as a response to the removal of words such as acorn and willow from a children’s dictionary, it laments the loss of these words to our children’s vocabulary and is a book of spells to help the words return accompanied by gorgeous pictures in medieval gold.  The spells are acrostics, filled with kennings like, “colour-giver,” and “ripple-calmer,” to describe the kingfisher and delightful alliteration.  You can guess the next spell poem by seeking out the name from the golden letters or gaze in awe at the wonderful pictures.

Can you guess what is being described in these words?

This shape-shifter’s a sheer breath-taker, a sure heart-stopper but you’ll only ever spot a shadow-flutter, bubble skein.

This swift-swimmer’s a silver-miner. With trout its ore it bores each black pool deep.

If you can find space for this impressive book, search in the children’s section and take it home to share and treasure.

The Lost Words on Amazon UK

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My favourite books in 2017

Christmas

This year, I reviewed 70 books from a variety of genres.  Often, those I like most combine genres such as mystery, romance, history etc.  I’m not going to list 10 or more top books but just 7 in the order I read them during the year.  These are the books I couldn’t put down, in which I became immersed and regretted finishing.

James & Laura

In April I was thrilled to return to Jan Ruth’s Midnight Sky series, reading the last of the trilogy, Strawberry Sky.  This was an intense story of love and suffering, a family saga featuring a wonderful horse whisperer.  If you are tempted please start with Book 1 Midnight Sky.

Tipping

The next great book was the beginning of Terry Tyler’s post-apocalypse series.  What makes Tipping Point so convincing are her characters who step out of the page to talk to us.  They have flaws, they make mistakes, they are human and we want them (or at least most of them) to survive.  Luckily, Terry followed up quite quickly with the second book in the Project Renova series and I am looking forward to the third book in 2018.

Georgia Lies

Another of my favourite authors, Georgia Rose, whose unusual thriller series The Grayson Trilogy is well worth seeking out, produced Parallel Lies, a new stand-alone novel, this year.  Superbly plotted, with twists to catch you out, it kept me guessing to the end.

Wickedness

I was so excited when Carol Hedges published another episode in the investigations of detectives, Cully and Stride. Wonders & Wickedness lives up to the quality and excitement of the previous volumes, steeped in the smells, sounds and sights of Victorian London. You can start with this book or any other in this wonderful series.

Divided

It is always good to discover a new author.  Thanks to Terry Tyler’s reviews I started reading books by Deborah Swift and my favourite was A Divided Inheritance.  Starting in early 17th century London the story moves to Spain where the heroine finds herself a fish out of water in a dangerous situation. A fascinating novel.

Cowboy

Another author I finally discovered this year was June Kearns.  I loved both her books but An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is superb.  A brave, desirable hero, a sympathetic heroine and an amazing historical setting made it such pleasure to read.

Castle

And the last of my seven choices is the second book I have read by Lizzie Lamb.  We share similar names, Scottish birth and similar careers but if only I could write the way Lizzie can.  If you’ve time to spare over Christmas, do download Girl in the Castle for sheer indulgence.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year