Posted on May 20, 2016
As well as my blog about the struggles on the path to enlightenment and how difficult it is working towards self-improvement I have tried to offer new authors a voice by reviewing their books. Both topics are about striving to do well, whether it’s trying to improve mind, body and soul or working hard to finish a manuscript. I would like to offer a similar voice to a few young people I know to give them a helping hand with their new ventures.
The first is my lovely daughter Kat talking about her leap into the world of the self-employed and her exciting new venture. I have seen an incredible change in her self confidence because she has been thrown out of her comfort zone. Like any new business she has worked very hard, for little reward at the beginning, but her commitment is now paying off. Over to you Kat…
My dream for some time has been to work from home with the flexibility to work around commitments and family. I worked in London as a chartered accountant for 5 years until February 2015
I enjoyed my job but didn’t like the 9-5 commitment, the 3 hour commute each day into London and spending all summer in the basement of the office not getting to enjoy any of the sunshine! Also I have always wanted my own business and be my own boss, knowing that the harder I work the more I will benefit, rather than my boss!
The company I worked for regularly sent me to various parts of the country on business trips and my working hours were getting longer and longer. With the intention of starting a family in the near future, this was not something I wanted to continue doing. In May last year I left my job with the view to taking on some accountancy work at home while developing my new business venture with Forever Living.
I joined Forever in April and have had an amazing year of self development and a lot of fun along the way! In the past year my self confidence has grown and I have stepped out of my comfort zone and done things that I would never have believed I could do.
I love the freedom and flexibility that comes with being a Forever Living Business Owner and the high incomes that I am working towards. It involves a lot of hard work – as does any new venture if you want to make it work as there is no such thing as getting rich quick with most businesses. It requires commitment and a sensible outlook, plus some form of income while it builds. We now have a baby on the way, due in September, and I am happy knowing that when he arrives I will never miss a moment of bringing him up and can work my business in the nooks and crannies around him.
I am so excited about what the next year will bring, working towards manager, car plan and all of the free holidays that Forever offer us when we meet our targets. These incentives are in line with many large companies that offer rewards for hard work.
If you are interested in becoming involved with Forever Living I have put some links below so please get in touch.
Posted on May 17, 2016
A L Bird will be talking about The Good Mother at the FInchley Literary Festival on Friday 24th June at 3.15pm at Church End Library, Hendon Lane, London N3 1TR
A young girl gets into a car and is told her mother must not know. She is going to meet a man, who she has met before, who asks lots of questions about her family.
Susan wakes in a strange room. The door is locked. She has no idea how she got there, with her last recollection being one of opening the front door at home. Her greatest concern, however, is for her fifteen year old daughter Cara and she wonders if Cara is at home with her husband Paul.
When Susan meets her captor she begs for news of her daughter but her captor does not respond, leaving Susan desperate to know what has happened to her. When she hears Cara in the next room she is relieved and happy that her daughter is safe and, more importantly, with her.
“I’m overjoyed she’s here. She’s here and she’s safe and she’s with me. I’d much rather she were at home, safer, with Paul, but at least I have this comfort”.
Susan does all she can to keep her daughter safe and devises a system where she can communicate with Cara and works out a plan to free them. Her mothering instinct to protect is all-consuming and at times it seems that Susan is more obsessed with her daughter than a normal mother would be, even given the circumstances. She says that:
“She would be my desert island luxury, as I’ve often told her. I’ll never let her go”.
Meanwhile, Cara’s best friend Alice is interviewed at school by a private investigator, Mr Belvoir, who is working on behalf of Cara’s family. Alice knows where Cara was going but does not want to betray her friend’s secrets so does not divulge any information that will help him.
To avoid spoilers I will not elaborate any further on the plot!
The Good Mother is skilfully told in first person by Susan and the Captor, with some third person intervention via Alice. The use of italics during Susan’s viewpoint indicates she is possibly a complex character and hints that her past may somehow be connected with her current situation. Although Susan’s emotions are very powerfully expressed the empathy is not only with her. The Captor displays understanding, logic and compassion for Susan, even though he keeps her locked up, and there is the sense he wishes her no harm.
The Good Mother is a tense and exciting psychological thriller with a very unpredictable ending. The clues are all there, drip fed to the reader, challenging you to work out the puzzle. Despite working through many different possible solutions the ending was a surprise. All the clues are satisfactorily resolved by the end with none added to mislead. The plotting is excellent and original with the conclusion unforeseen. In fact, once the story has unravelled and it all becomes clear, there is still more. A superb twist which keeps you reading to the very last page.
Amy will be talking about her novel at the Finchley Literary Festival on 24th June 2016
The Good Mother is published by Carina UK (HarperCollins) and I thank them for the review copy.
Posted on May 4, 2016
When Roxy opens the door to the police her first thoughts are about her husband Arthur. She wonders if he has died of a heart attack as he ‘has all the risk factors’. She discovers Arthur is indeed dead but that he died in a car accident alongside his young female intern. Both were naked.
Roxy and Arthur were married for ten years and have a three year old daughter, Louise. Roxy met Arthur, a film producer who is thirty years older, when she was seventeen. During the weeks following Arthur’s death Roxy does not grieve like a normal widow and has strange relationships with the people around her. On hearing the news, her parents come to stay and Arthur’s assistant, Jane and the babysitter, Liza are there to help Roxy through this difficult period.
Right from the beginning we get a hint of Roxy’s complex personality when we discover that ‘she doesn’t like having strangers in the house’ and that ‘it’s rare anyone stays an hour.’ Although she’s averse to having strangers in the house she wants the police to stay a little longer. She thinks ‘they could be friends’ and plays out a scenario in her mind where she tells people they first met when they came to tell her that Arthur was dead.
At the beginning, some of Roxy’s statements appear odd and sometimes amusing but as the novel progresses they become uncomfortable. She laughs inappropriately, as a child might, when Jane is telling a friend of Arthur’s death and when the policewoman tells Roxy that her husband and the intern were naked Roxy asks: ‘Was his penis still attached? Or is it inside her? Would that be possible?’ Her social ineptitude causes those around her some concern with Jane finally telling her that ‘Arthur said you were disturbed but I didn’t know it was this bad.’
It becomes clear that over the years Roxy has been married to Arthur she has withdrawn into her own world and that she feels most comfortable when she is some distance from any given situation. Although there is no explicit suggestion of an abusive childhood there is evidence she grew up in a dysfunctional family. Her father, a trucker, had long absences from home and she would eat her dinner most nights in bed with her mother watching Countdown.
When three year old Louise wants to go on holiday, Roxy jumps at the chance and invites Jane and Liza to accompany them. They go to France. While they are away Roxy tries her hardest to please Jane and LIza as she desperately wishes to be liked but at the first sign of offence she considers them to be the enemy. The tension builds as we see Roxy becoming more distressed and less able to cope until it reaches a climax which, even given her unpredictable nature throughout the novel, still shocks.
It is an honest novel about a young woman with mental health issues who, at times, appears almost psychopathic. It portrays her unconventional relationship with reality with credibility. Although Roxy often behaves irresponsibly, especially towards her young daughter, it is easy to feel compassion and empathy for her as we get further inside her world. Her mental instability makes her vulnerable and it is difficult to feel too much anger towards her bizarre behaviour.
It is a well written book with every sentence carrying meaning and Esther Gerritsen gives insight, through Roxy, into the complexities that accompany mental health issues. An enjoyable read.
Roxy is published by World Editions Ltd and translated by Michele Hutchison
Thank you to Diana Morgan at Ruth Killick Publicity for the review copy.
Posted on April 22, 2016
Each time I visit my father he has a small pile of newspaper clippings for me to look at. He usually saves anything to do with writing or any medical articles he thinks may be of interest. On a recent visit he presented me with an article about angels.
‘I thought it was your kind of thing,’ he said. (I do drag him around those ‘funny’ bookshops in Glastonbury every time we go there for a wander, which probably gave him a clue).
The article was about a man who noticed small, white feathers in unexpected places after his wife died and, discovering others had undergone similar experiences, believed they were feathers from angels. Gloria Hunniford has spoken in the past about the same thing. Since her daughter, Caron Keating, died she has found hundreds of tiny, white, fluffy feathers and believes they are sent from her daughter, watching over her as a guardian angel.
Are these experiences likely to convince the sceptics? Not one bit!
But if you give it some thought it does make you wonder.
How often have you found a tiny white feather in your handbag or pocket, your wardrobe, bathroom or on your pillow? Not often, I bet. Okay, I’ll go with the pillow for now – if it’s a feather one – although thinking about it I’ve only ever felt the hard, quill part sticking through the cover into my cheek and the feather only appears when I pull it through. I’ve never found one just lying there and those I yank out are usually of a brown colour – never pure white and fluffy.
Many deride these experiences and put the finding of feathers, and the belief they come from angels, down to the grief of losing someone they love and their wish to believe their loved ones are in heaven and cared for by loving angels but I’m not sure their experiences should be lightly dismissed.
I believe in angels (as the song goes) but I have never seen random tiny, white, fluffy feathers in unexpected places – and I keep a lookout for the signs as I would love my guardian angel to communicate with me.
I got very excited recently when I saw a white feather on the kitchen floor near the door. I then spotted one on the lawn quite close to the door. Then another in the flower border. I followed the trail…I’m sure you know where this is going! It led to a rather large pile of feathers behind the garden shed. There was no evidence of a body – no doubt safely inside the stomach of a fox or cat – and even I could not convince myself a choir of angels had decided to moult behind the shed.
Small white feathers in the garden, or inside the house near a window or door, can easily be explained and are clearly not evidence of angels. Even one in your handbag or a coat pocket could have slipped in while out walking somewhere like a park. Discovering one in a wardrobe or bathroom once every ten years may be unusual but could be accounted for (unless of course it happens once every ten years on the same day each year…).
Assuming someone is not playing a cruel trick, to see feathers regularly where they would not usually be present must be given some credibility. People that have these experiences are generally normal, healthy and well balanced. Even allowing for the fact they are grieving, which could disturb their usual rational equilibrium, does not logically explain how these feathers appear where they do.
For me the thought that angels exist is wonderful. To know they are looking out for us during the difficult times is comforting and if I found tiny, pure white feathers in unexpected places I would be overjoyed. How else are the angels supposed to make contact? Let’s face it, even if you saw one appear in your lounge (which some people do) nobody would believe you. To receive any evidence of the existence of angels is such a personal thing and is a gift. It is unkind to mock or disbelieve those that have these experiences even if you are not a believer. Hopefully the angels will make themselves known to all of us in the future.
Posted on April 14, 2016
Grant Morrison is determined to uncover the secrets surrounding two mysterious deaths that occurred over forty years ago. In 1972 Grant was on holiday in Cornwall with his family. It had been a tradition for some years for a group of families to meet up at the same hotel every August. The summer of ’72 was no different – at least to begin with.
One day Tom Youlen, a night porter at the hotel in which they were all staying, was found, collapsed in a country lane, by some of the hotel guests. He whispered a message to one of them but never spoke again before his death five years later. The same week that Tom Youlen was discovered in the country lane a body of one of the guests staying at the same hotel was found washed up on the beach. Although there were many suspects nobody was found to be responsible for either of the deaths.
Grant was only seventeen at the time of these events and has always been concerned that his mother may have been involved in some way. Although his mother died in 1995 it was not until her twin sister died in 2012 that Grant felt he could investigate the happenings of 1972.
Grant travels to Cornwall and although he is keen to uncover the truth, others do not feel the same way. He finds many of the people that were present in 1972 determined to impede his investigation and the ‘Spooks of Zennor’ try to scare him away from Cornwall and back home to London. An invisible girl singing ‘Half a pound of Tuppenny rice’ tries, but does not succeed, in deterring Grant from his mission.
As the plot unravels and some of Grant’s questions are answered another death occurs. Finally, when you think the story is all over a mysterious visitor to a funeral leads you to question if it really is the end.
Half A Pound of Tuppenny Rice has many twists and turns as Grant sets out to find the truth. The first part of the book is a little challenging trying to remember all the names of the people involved. As the story moves into the present day the characters become clearer and the plot easier to follow.
The story is interesting in that it highlights the way people change over the years. How you remember people from your childhood days are often not how they are as adults as their life’s experiences alter their views of the world.
I am sure there will be more books from David Coubrough in the future and wish him every success with Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice.
Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice is published by Peter Owen (April 2016)
I would like to thank Diana Morgan at Ruth Killick Publicity for the review copy
Posted on April 9, 2016
When Alice Fleming receives an invitation to join an old university friend, Karen Morley, on a two week vacation in Scotland she is delighted that her friend has got in contact again. It has been six years since they left university and they have had no communication since. Alice remembers Karen as being kind and a good friend and is chuffed to have been asked to spend the holiday with her.
When Alice arrives at the cottage, which is in the middle of nowhere and nothing to see but snow, she is not expecting quite what she finds. The cottage is very cold with no modern comforts. It has no telephone land line and an unreliable signal for a mobile phone.
They are pretty much cut off from everything and Alice wonders why Karen has chosen this remote location – especially as Karen’s nine month old daughter Mel has been unwell in hospital and needs an oxygen mask to breathe properly.
Alice is even more surprised when two other people from their university group arrive – Jodie and Mark. She is peeved by their appearance as Karen had not told her there would be anyone else there; she expected it to be just the two of them.
As they settle into an uncomfortable routine problems begin. Mark’s behaviour is erratic and he is very controlling of Jodie, his girlfriend. He tells lies and keeps secrets. Jodie shows two sides to her personality. She is compliant and subdued in Mark’s company but becomes independent and enthusiastic about her dreams for the future when he is absent. Karen, Alice realises, is not the person she was at university.
At one point Alice asked herself “what were we all doing here?” She realises they are all strangers now, forced together by Karen, with her own reasons for wishing them all to be together.
Back in their university days Alice had a deep desire to be liked and Karen and Jodie exploited this by using her for their own needs. However Alice has clearly come a long way in shedding her downtrodden personality and manages to stand up for herself a lot more than she used to and Karen feels her plans threatened by this change in Alice.
When Alice meets Stuart the mystery begins to unravel and Alice gets closer to working out the mystery and the reason why Karen has invited her old friends to join her for the holiday.
In No Longer Safe AJ Waines’ experiences as a psychologist have led to interesting and clever plotting with lots of twists and turns and the occasional red herring. The story is narrated mainly by Alice and occasionally by Karen and towards the end you begin to question who is telling the truth and who is lying; who is sane and who is unbalanced.
The characters are all very distinct and work well for the story, although Alice can sometimes be a little frustrating in her naivety. There are a few aspects of the plot which I hoped she would latch on to a little sooner but perhaps that is just her personality.
A great book to read – one that you’ll not want to put down until you reach the final page.
AJ Waines was born in 1959. Before becoming a full time novelist she worked as a Psychotherapist for fifteen years – spending some time working with ex-offenders from high security institutions. The experiences she gained in this work have given her a comprehensive understanding of criminal and abnormal psychology.
Also by AJ Waines: The Evil Beneath, Girl on a Train and A Dark Place to Hide
You can follow AJ on Twitter: @AJWaines
Posted on March 23, 2016
Ella dreams of having a child to love and care for; to do the usual family things that most take for granted.When she and husband Rick become ‘panel-approved to adopt’ they are invited to go to an adoption party which provides an afternoon full of fun and games for the children and a chance for prospective adoptive parents to choose a child.
Ella is enthusiastic but Rick is not so keen. He does not like the idea of picking a child. Any child will do…as long as it is a boy…and as long as he has no disabilities, he says.
As the afternoon progresses, Rick becomes increasingly difficult and Ella is exasperated with him for spoiling the day. When Ella sees six-year-old Soraya she feels an immediate connection. This is the child that she wants.
As Rick becomes ambivalent about the adoption of Soraya, Ella ignores the cracks in her marriage and attempts to keep the peace until the adoption of Soraya is finalised and they become a complete family.
Meanwhile, Amanda, mother of 14-month-old Jaden is caught in a stagnant marriage to Gareth and has a lover, James. Whereas Gareth is often grumpy, James is funny and clever. They meet whenever they can in his small flat and occasionally at her marital home in St. Ives. When Amanda discovers she is pregnant she has no idea whose baby it is – husband Gareth or lover James.
Amanda and James could not have predicted what the future would hold when they embarked on their frivolous affair. Both were in search of some excitement and escapism from the boring humdrum of life rather than meeting because they had fallen in love. One day an unpredictable and devastating event occurs which has far reaching consequences for both Amanda and James changing their lives irrevocably. This, in turn, threatens Ella’s future with Soraya.
I found all the characters realistic, from Ella’s desire to keep the peace with a difficult husband so as not to jeopardise her chances of achieving her dream of adopting a child, to Amanda and James’ desire for some fun to make life a little more interesting. Rick’s uncooperative and moody personality was an authentic portrayal of an unhappy man with a lot of problems on his mind.
This is another page turning novel from Linda Huber. She is excellent at keeping the tension throughout, compelling you to keep reading. Chosen Child is a story which challenges the morality of human nature and how erroneous choices made under pressure determine future outcomes; how sometimes people just get swept away in the wreckage before having a chance to make sensible decisions.
Linda, born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland now lives with her family in Arbon, Switzerland. She originally trained as a physiotherapist and came into contact with neurological patients and handicapped children which have given her an insight into the coping mechanisms people use when faced with difficult situations.
You can follow Linda on Twitter: @LindaHuber19
You can read a full review of The Attic Room here
Posted on March 14, 2016
Set in 1947 during the period of the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan, Where the River Parts is a story of love and separation; of shattered dreams. It tells of the pain and suffering endured by those who had to escape from their homeland, with very few possessions, and make a new life in unfamiliar territory.
When the British agreed to give India independence the Hindu and Muslim communities could not agree to form a united India and so the country was separated into two states: The Northern part, which was predominantly Muslim became Pakistan and the Southern, Hindu dominated region, became the Republic of India.
Seventeen year old Asha is Hindu. Firoze, the brother of Asha’s best friend Nargis, is Muslim. They have lived as neighbours, in peace, for many years and the two families are good friends. Asha and Firoze fall in love and embark on a relationship which Asha, in the naivety of youth, believes will be accepted by both families despite their different religious backgrounds. Asha states simply that:
“We like each other. Our families like each other. I don’t see what the problem is.”
As many in their situation have experienced, life is never that straightforward.
As Partition approaches the violence escalates and, despite the reluctance of Asha’s father, the family is forced to leave their home and go to Delhi when Asha is put at risk. Firoze remains in the newly formed Pakistan. Asha and Firoze say goodbye with the belief that they will be reunited to marry when the troubles settle. Asha has a secret that even Firoze has no knowledge of when she sets off on her journey to Delhi.
The tension between the two countries continues and Asha and Firoze are forced to rebuild their lives without each other. It is fifty years later when they meet again, in New York. Asha’s granddaughter wishes to marry a Pakistani and through this union Asha and Firoze are reunited. However, underlying prejudices resurface and the horrors of the Partition are remembered, creating challenges for all involved.
The fleeing of refugees is topical due to the crisis in Syria, with thousands upon thousands forced to leave everything behind and seek a new life where there is peace. Although Where the River Parts is set in a different location and time period the essence is the same: That overwhelming sense of survival which forces families to leave everything behind in pursuit of safety.
The first few pages give an indication of what the reader can expect from this moving story.
“Was that the sound of gunfire? A boy stepped on a twig, and all turned towards the night – was this them, was this the Muslin butchers?”
Their fear at every noise, their fear of being discovered before crossing to safety, is palpable. The story is told mostly through the eyes of Asha, and Radhika has captured well the challenges and sacrifices the young girl has made through the Partition of India. As a third generation migrant from Pakistan Radhika has personal knowledge of the complex backgrounds of both the Pakistani and Indian cultures and these have been beautifully expressed during the novel.
The story reflects the reality of how prejudices and memories of horrors experienced during such brutal conflicts survive generations, and how the strength of culture and background often override the forces of love. If two people of different religions choose to remain together against their family’s wishes it is not uncommon for parents to disown a child – such is the depth of feeling.
How do Asha’s family deal with her granddaughter’s wish to marry a Muslim? You will need to read the book to find out. Happy reading!
I wish Radhika lots of success with the book and thank Keara at Sandstone Press for the review copy.
Where the River Parts is published by Sandstone Press
Radhika was born in India and spent her childhood in many different countries providing her with plenty of experiences for her writing. She has published many articles and short stories and currently writes for the Huffington Post.
You can follow Radhika on Twitter: @rdswarup
Posted on February 24, 2016
So scientists have finally detected Gravitational Waves. They took their time as Einstein proposed the theory over a hundred years ago – but they got there in the end.
Most of us (I assume – unless I am particularly dense…which is very possible) have no idea what Gravitational Waves are, despite the experts doing their utmost with explanations such as ‘ripples in the fabric of space-time’. What on earth (or space…or time) does that mean?
The answer I suppose is that we don’t really have to understand the full meaning of scientific discoveries. What they do tell us, however, is that there is a world out there, beyond our comprehension which occasionally leaks little clues to prevent us from becoming complacent about the world we live in.
It gives us food for thought; raises questions about the world around us; encourages to seek explanations for the overarching term ‘nature’.
Take us for example. Science has come a long way in the understanding of how the mind and body work but there is still so much we don’t know. Every second our bodies carry out millions of processes: physical, chemical, mental – many of which are performed by the autonomic nervous system. It keeps us breathing and functioning without us having to do a thing. How amazing is that! As Deepak Chopra voiced in one of his books, if we were left in charge of our bodies we would die very quickly, so complex are the processes taking place.
So even when we know and understand that the autonomic nervous system is doing such a wonderful job, we rarely question the driving force behind it. What allows our bodies to work without our input? Nature of course, we reply. So, what is nature? Who or what is controlling our bodies; the planet; the universe? It is natural to question our existence and try to discover ‘what makes the world go round’ but sometimes we think we have the answer only to realise that the answer is incomplete.
Most of us fall into one of two camps when choosing to question our existence and the universe about us: Some take the spiritual path and some take the scientific route. The goal is the same, whether trying to find Gravitational Waves or discover if reincarnation exists.
The truth revealed by taking the spiritual path is found by personal discovery. It uses techniques such as meditation to give experiential knowledge of things that, in the everyday life, are not evident: Are we the only life forms in our universe? Is there life after death? Can we leave our bodies and perform astral travel? Where is our consciousness while our bodies are being minded so efficiently by the autonomic nervous system?
The only drawback of this method is that, whatever is discovered, cannot be conveyed to others. It is restricted to ‘your eyes only’. If you were lucky enough to discover one of these answers you may tell your family and friends (many educated, sane and normal people do) in the hope of helping them to understand the nature of their existence.
‘I left my body and visited Aunty Mary in Australia yesterday,’ you say. ‘Learn to meditate and you’ll be able to astral travel too!’
Yeah right! You can image how well that would go down!
The scientific route, however, carries credibility. It seeks its truth through using instruments of the physical world. It produces results for all to see. (That said, I believe that Gravitational Waves exist only because a group of scientists say so. They could easily all be in on a scam).
I do understand that scientists have to work with the proven and I also believe that things should not be accepted on blind faith. However, this does not mean that the spiritual path is any less valid just because individual experiences cannot be shared.
There are so many mysteries to our universe and more and more are unfolding all the time and I believe that any investigation into the truth of our existence, whether scientific or spiritual, will lead to the same place.
Posted on February 9, 2016
When Harper was five her parents split up. Dad kept Ivy Cottage in the sleepy village of Hardingstone where ‘people walk without aim, as if the footpaths are covered in treacle’. Mum got Harper and the Mini. Harper is now on the brink of becoming a teenager. She lives with her mum and spends alternate weekends with her dad. The two worlds she inhabits are very different.
What a Way to Go is a character driven novel which moves at a good, steady pace. It tells Harper’s story in a moving and sensitive way, packed with humour, wit and insight. References to polka dot clothes, music magazines such as Smash Hits and UCCA forms immerse you in the 1980’s. Julia has done a fantastic job at providing a very entertaining read.
For a full review of What A Way To Go visit the Greenacre Writers site on the link below:
Julia has been in the publishing industry for many years and has received valuable experience in many fields. She spent time ploughing through manuscripts at a literary agency in London and was involved in marketing and publicity for the literary magazine New Welsh Review.
You can read more about Julia Forster in Conversation with Greenacre Writers on the link below: