Chicken Soup Reads

To me a ‘chicken soup’ read is something that touches the soul. It may have brought immense laughter, uncontrollable tears, or made me look at life with brand new eyes. Essentially though it is a read that holds a story, a message, or even just a thought, that moves me in a way only something really quite special can.

adult onset

Available now from Sceptre

Source: Publisher ARC

Mary Rose McKinnon has two children with her partner Hilary and a fractured relationship with her mother Dolly; she also has issues with anger management and lives in fear of hurting the children and these feelings seem somehow rooted in a part of her childhood she has trouble remembering.
Is Dolly – the kind of big personality who makes all Mary Rose’s friends, and even waiters in coffee shops, exclaim ‘I love your Mum!’ – really harbouring a dark secret about what caused Mary Rose’s childhood injuries, and is Mary Rose doomed to follow the same path with her own children?
ADULT ONSET is a heartbreaking, hilarious, hugely satisfying novel about family ties and the joy and agony of parenthood. Ann-Marie MacDonald gets under the reader’s skin and gives voice to the feelings we have all experienced but may never have examined.

My husband took our two sons fishing on the weekend. It was ‘boys day – no girls allowed’. Some mothers might take offence at this, or feel left out and unwanted – I, however, can think of little worse than sitting and staring at still water for hours on end in 30 degree heat, and so I relished in those few peaceful hours, sitting in the sunny garden, relaxing and reading Adult Onset.

Of course, I did have a moment of worry. Our youngest is only 5 and a bit of a tearaway. Could he really sit patiently in the way only a good fisherman can? Or would he get bored? Start running about a little too close to the water’s edge? Slip and fall into the unknown depths? Would my husband be able to jump in and grab him in time? Should I have gone to ensure everybody would be safe and well?

At what point does maternal concern turn into neurotic panic? When does the glass go from being half-full to smashed into a million tiny pieces across the floor? And what events or circumstance could be behind these trains of thought?

Enter our protagonist, Mary Rose McKinnon. Mister, as she is affectionately known, spends the majority of her day at home with her 2-year-old daughter Maggie. Maggie is a handful – stubborn, independent, and defiant – and an expert at raising Mister’s temper. Mister doesn’t feel the same loving bond with Maggie as she does with her 5-year-old son Matthew, and her anger sometimes brings her all too close to hurting her young daughter. And yet she is forever imagining the worst scenarios in which her children are terribly harmed, and so she spends her days trying to child-proof their lives.

Mister has some issues, that’s for sure. Unfortunately she isn’t very certain about what those issues are or where they stem from. There’s something though, just on the periphery of her memory, both glaringly obvious and a complete mystery. If she could just figure out what it was – would she become a better mother? A better wife? Would she finally be able to repair the damaged relationship she has with her own parents? Would she stop envisaging the worst possible scenarios with regards to her children’s safety? Would she stop having such horrific visions? Would she be able to control her anger the next time Maggie pushes that button?

This did make for quite uncomfortable reading sometimes, mainly because I know I am nothing like this woman as a mother, and yet sometimes I found myself relating to some of her less outrageous moments. Although there was a lot of delusion and neurosis peppered throughout the book, it was not attention-grabbing and gaudy, but subtle and yet intense.

MacDonald also cleverly takes the reader through a walkabout of Mister’s psyche via Mister’s own fictional creations – Mister has already written two books as part of a fantasy trilogy – and any Freudian would have a field day with Mister’s work, I know I particularly enjoyed the psychoanalysis of these parts.

The reader is also taken back in time to Mister’s childhood, and we get to look in on her own mother’s experience of motherhood and the debilitating tragedy that is the loss of a child – and that thing that almost every new mother is terrified of; post-natal depression.

One thing that did leave me wanting was the ending to this story. I’ve learned that I need a good showdown at the end of a book that has consumed me so, but then, life isn’t always full of showdowns is it? Not everybody gets finality and closure… sometimes you have to just get on with it.

Adult Onset is a beautifully lyrical account that examines some of those aspects of motherhood that aren’t all ‘floured hands and warm bosom’; how in some mothers maternal concern is indeed replaced by neurotic panic; and how events of our own history, big and small, can have such a lasting and monumental influence on everything.

Oh, and if you were wondering, our youngest had a wonderful time fishing with his dad and brother – he didn’t catch anything, but thoroughly enjoyed eating most of the sweetcorn ‘bait’!

lillian on life

Available now from John Murray

Source: Bookbridgr

Lillian, a single, well-travelled woman of a certain age, wakes up next to her married lover and looks back at her life. It’s not at all the life she expected.

Walking the unpaved road between traditional and modern options for women, Lillian has grappled with parental disappointment, society’s expectations and the vagaries of love and sex. As a narrator she’s bold and witty, and her reflections – from ‘On Getting to Sex’ to ‘On the Importance of Big Pockets’ or ‘On Leaving in Order to Stay’ – reverberate originally and unpredictably.

In Lillian on Life, Alison Jean Lester has created a brutally honest portrait of a woman living through the post-war decades of change in Munich, Paris, London and New York. Her story resonates with the glamour and energy of those cities. Charming, sometimes heartbreaking, never a stereotype, Lillian is completely herself; her view of the world is unique. You won’t soon forget her.

I decided to read this book as I fancied a change from all the nail-biting, heart-thumping stuff I usually go for. And I must confess that I only entered in half-heartedly – hoping, of course, that I would enjoy the change of pace, yet not fully believing that it would be my cup of tea.

Well thank goodness for variety! I soon found that I was enthralled with the wonderful Lillian and her views on life. Written as the memoirs of a woman on the wrong side of middle-age; Lillian talks about all manner of subjects from her relationship with her parents, to college, to working abroad – and with highlights of her many sexual conquests peppered throughout – this was a touching account of an unremarkable yet extraordinary life.

Lester has created a real gem of a character here. Lillian is wise, warm, frank, funny; and is often incapable of hitting that switch that controls what is appropriate to say out loud – and I so love that! But it’s not all sassy snaps and mockery; Lillian has felt heartache, and fear, and regret; and this is relayed honestly, starkly, and elegantly. I could very easily imagine that I was sitting having coffee with Lillian (she would have preferred wine…mind you so would I!) whilst she regaled all of these fantastic anecdotes; the emotion was certainly conveyed as if she was right here with me, and it stuck around long after I turned the final page.

Lillian on Life is most definitely going on my ‘Chicken Soup’ shelf. I have come away from it feeling so desperately sad for Lillian and indignant about the unfairness of life, and also completely inspired and determined to ensure that when it comes to looking back on my own life, I will do so in the knowledge that every possible potential was fulfilled. For as Lillian says: “Actions are whispers compared to dreams”.

A poignant, charming, and emotional read that will make you instantly re-evaluate life.

Many thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review.

Happy reading x

away from you

Published by Hodder

Source: Bookbridgr

The heartbreaking novel from the author of CHOOSE ME, about the sacrifices parents must make and the anguish that can befall them. When Monica is offered a three-month placement in LA, she knows that for the sake of her career she must accept it – even though it means leaving behind nine-year-old Ruby, toddler Luca and her husband Daniel. She hires Ursula as a housekeeper and nanny during her absence, although the older woman is oddly reluctant to agree to a childcare position. What is the dark secret in Ursula’s past, which has left her so closed-off and reserved? Will her growing attachment to Ruby bring it to the surface? And will Monica regret leaving the children in her care?

Away From You is definitely one for the ‘Chicken Soup’ pile. It begins with the contentious subject of a mother leaving her young children for 3 months in order to further her career.. This left me a bit at odds with myself, having put my career completely aside whilst my children are young.

I remember recently being sent an invitation to apply for a role that included some time overseas for training. It was for my dream role and the prospect of travel was so exciting. Of course, the idea was swiftly dismissed and the email deleted. My children are 9 and 4 – far too young for me to go swanning off and leaving them! But I was still left with an ‘Oh wouldn’t that have been fantastic?’ sort of feeling. Now, reading about Monica and her situation, I couldn’t decide if I admired her bravery or if I was disgusted by her selfishness.

The book is written in a way that is endearing and refreshing. Focussing in the main on the perspectives of Monica; her 9 year old daughter Ruby; and Ursula, the hired home help for whilst Monica is away.

I was particularly enthralled with the chapters dedicated to Ruby’s perspective. She is an extremely insightful young girl, yet still exhibits the innocence and naivety appropriate for her age. She is just the most darling little girl; and say what you want about Monica’s decision to leave, she had obviously done a stellar job with her children thus far.

Initially, I was led to believe that Monica was the main protagonist of this story, but strangely enough I found myself kind of forgetting about her. She was out of sight, out of mind; and this reflected in the other characters’ failure to mention her quite as often as they used to.

My focus swiftly turned to Ursula. Ursula was prim, professional, exact… cold even. And I instinctively knew there was a story behind her detachedness, a reason for her cool behaviour and lack of emotion. But it wasn’t until Ursula’s armour started slipping – in the main due to the endearing Ruby – that I discovered just what had left Ursula so devoid of tenderness. And it turned out to be something so utterly devastating, so totally inconceivable, that it is a wonder she was still functioning at all.

Kay Langdale does a fantastic job of delving into the deeper aspects of parenthood and all it means. With beautiful, gentle, and quite poetic prose; genuine characters that you will fall in love with, and a story that will emotionally ruin you, Away From You will break your heart then renew your faith in the healing power of friendship.

Many thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review

three amazing things5 star

Published by Headline

Source: Bookbridgr

Hallie has a secret. She’s in love. He’s perfect for her; he’s even single. But he’s out of bounds. And her friends aren’t going to help her because what they do know is that Hallie hasn’t got long to live.

Flo has a dilemma. She really likes Zander. But his scary sister won’t be even faintly amused if she thinks Zander and Flo are becoming friends – let alone anything more…

Tasha has a problem. Her new boyfriend is the adventurous type. And she’s afraid one of his adventures will go badly wrong.

THREE AMAZING THINGS ABOUT YOU begins as Hallie goes on a journey. She’s about to get a new heart. But whose heart is it?

Well I must be getting soft in my old age – not only for doling out another 5 stars! (Steady on Storm) but for giving those 5 stars to a lovey-dovey chick lit?!! Goodness gracious!

‘Three Amazing Things About You’ tells us the individual stories of three women; Hallie Tasha, and Flo.

Hallie’s story is both heart-wrenching and inspirational. Suffering with Cystic Fibrosis, yet never bitter or self-pitying, she spends her time as an online agony aunt – preferring to help people with their problems and never judging them as trivial compared to what she is going through. Hallie’s heart is aching for her off-limits GP. Believing she will never find love before her untimely death, Hallie is just desperately sad, yet always smiling. And the reader cant help but feel frustration at the actually not-so-unrequited love…

Tasha’s story is hilarious and romantic in equal measure. Meeting the love of her life in the most embarrassing of scenarios – that renders her with the glamorous nickname ‘Bin girl’, Tasha and Rory’s whirlwind romance will really melt the iciest of hearts. And the comic relief that comes mainly from their respective best friends, Carmel and Joe, will have you laughing out loud…

Then we have the story of Flo. Who has inherited a flat from an elderly friend that she used to help. Well actually, said elderly friend’s cat has inherited the flat, and Flo has been named custodian of said cat – she will live there until the cat dies; an arrangement that the spoilt, selfish granddaughter of the deceased, Lena, is none best pleased with. The warm-hearted and quick-witted Flo has also found love, unfortunately with Lena’s brother, which does make life quite difficult – but they’re in love so who cares…

Of course, when everyone is so loved up and we’re all smiley, happy people… tragedy is inevitable going to strike. And doesn’t it just?! And damn did my falsely marketed ‘waterproof’ mascara not end up leaving me looking all Alice Cooper-esque! My heart was melting from these beautiful stories of love and romance, and you really could feel how genuinely in love these people were and it was all just gorgeous; then that same heart was thoroughly broken. I bawled and bawled like you wouldn’t believe, like I couldn’t believe! The stories of our three leading ladies all of a sudden become one story, and although some might find it all a bit quaint (in fact I probably would have, had I not already been reeled in by the fantastic characters) it had me still crying at the last page!

And talking of fantastic characters, it is not only our leads that you will warm to. Even the supporting characters are all fabulous; Bea, Carmel, Joe, Margot, Patrick, Lena – ok Lena is infuriating and vile but still brilliantly so, I feel she adds a good, realistic balance to all these ‘uber-lovely’ people.

Throughout the book you are also treated to snippets from; Hallie’s problem page where she poses as ‘Rose’. Lots of ‘Dear Rose’ dilemmas are peppered throughout the story, almost feeling like interval entertainment – and sometimes it feels good to have a quick ‘commercial break’ from all the heart-wrenching stuff.

Overall, this one was a fabulous read. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. And will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.

My thanks to the publisher for providing this book for review


Published by Beautiful Books

Source: Author Request

Why do we find it so very difficult to say the things that matter the most?

What happens when people find it impossible to say the words ‘I love you’?

Parents fail their children and those same children abandon their parents; lovers grow apart and, occasionally, mental disintegration prohibits communication altogether. Iris experiences pain, loneliness and fear. Her daughter, Vivie, longs for love but thinks herself unlovable. And Matthew, Vivie’s would-be lover, fails to say how he feels.

Speaking of Love is nonetheless a novel about hope and the restoration of trust, a novel that shows how stories can help make sense of our complicated internal worlds. When a single moment brings all the characters together there is an opportunity for years of mistrust, hopelessness and loneliness to give way to reconciliation and, most of all, the opportunity for each person to find the courage to say what is in their hearts.

“When you know that love exists but it isn’t spoken about…it can be very hard to bear.”

Speaking of Love tells the story of Iris, a damaged woman suffering with schizophrenia; Vivie, her troubled daughter, fighting the ghosts of her past and the failures of her present; and Matthew, Vivie’s childhood friend, living a life filled with regret, guilt, and shame.

This one was a bit of a slow starter for me, very probably because its not the sort of thing I usually read and so I needed something to grab me early on to reel me in. And it took a while. But hell did it not sneak up on me…softly…softly…BAM! I was hooked and I had no idea how or when it happened!
The time-jumps throw you a bit initially, as they are just there, no warning given – but soon enough you find that you have fallen into the rhythm and you just know where (or more to the point, when) you are.

Now I feel that I should really point out that I have nowhere near the amount of eloquence needed to give this book the review it deserves, it really is something else, but it will get the best I can give.

A lot of the hype around this book – the taglines, the blurb, the PR – refers to people not expressing their love for one another when they really should. And yes, although this was the backbone of this book, oh there was so, so much more!

Young’s writing is, quite simply, exquisite. Poetic. Lyrical. You know every last detail of wherever a character is at any particular time, and beauty is found in just everything – the simplest, often most insignificant things; a blade of grass, a drop of water, a person’s hand…are all described in mesmerising detail. The imagery and symbolism running throughout are well thought out and very appropriately placed.

As for the sensitive subject of mental health – often sadly taboo, and even more often either gaudy and melodramatic or glamorised and ridiculed – is portrayed here with sensitivity and class, whilst still very genuine and credible.

This book certainly creeps up on you, you suddenly find you have developed very deep connections with the characters, who each tell you their own stories (although Vivie’s is told in the third person – a nice touch to keep things fresh). You care immensely about each of their stories. The hope-filled past makes their misery-filled present all the more devastating. There is such heartbreak and anguish, and yet it is not always so obviously ladled on – some of the subtler allusions to the characters’ pain hit me harder than the blatant references!

Speaking Of Love creates conflict in the self – such beauty and pain interwoven and given to you wrapped in sweet, delightful words…anybody who doesn’t simply adore this story is just reading it wrong!

*My thanks to the author for providing this book for review

SUKI5 star

Published by Shorehouse Books

Source: Author Request

Savannah’s life goes from good to perfect when she meets Dwayne, an ex-Marine with a soft heart. They seem to have it all, until challenges threaten to shake them to their cores. Will the choices they make be the right ones?
If you think you know what love is, think again. It comes in many shapes and sizes. When all your beliefs are threatened, do you know what love really looks like?
CF Winn flexes her story-telling muscle and shows us why she is an award winning author. SUKI will grab your heart and make you think about your place…and your purpose in this world

Love. In its many shapes and forms. Does it have a higher purpose?

I was very surprised by Suki. At first I didn’t think I would be able to finish it – not due to the content, but due to Winn’s writing style. It was not a style I had come across before – it seemed kind of abrupt and disjointed to me. But being a short novella, I decided to try to stick with it.
Am I glad I did?!
I don’t know if the writing style improved as it went along, or if I became accustomed to it. But it became almost poetic to me. And the story itself added to this poetry.
This story is incredibly touching and inexplicably moving. How Winn captures the essence of ‘true’ love as I believe it to be is astounding. And re-reading the Prologue after I finished the story really tipped me over the edge! Just beautiful!

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