Review: The Songs Of Us, by Emma Cooper

Rarely does a book come along that is as unique and mesmerising as The Songs Of Us. It’s reminiscent of (and in my humble opinion right up there with) Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Cecilia Aherne’s PS I Love You.

The story is about the aptly named Melody and her propensity to involuntarily sing completely appropriate songs at entirely inappropriate moments. It’s about coping with loss, wading through the treacle of heartache and moving on with life. It’s a story about the wonderful sibling bond between Melody’s two angsty and troubled teenage children Flynn and Rose that proves the love of family conquers all.

The Songs Of Us is a completely unique and skillfully written tale. The book is littered with references to and lyrics of popular songs that most readers will recognise and with that in mind is a ready made soundtrack to what would undoubtedly make an unusual and touching film. The songs are cleverly written into the fabric of the story and never feel as if they’ve been shoehorned in.

What makes this book so special is Emma Cooper’s ability to make you laugh out loud in one upbeat and hilarious chapter and then have you crying silent, desperate tears in the next.

If it had been a hardback I’d have hugged it at the end. It was however a digital review copy so hugging was tricky. Thank you to Netgalley and Headline for the opportunity to review such a terrific book prior to general release.

The Songs Of Us is out in September 2018. Make a note and buy this one. I’m giving it five gently glittering and slightly tearful stars.

 

 

Review: The Girl I Used To Be by Mary Torjussen

A traumatic event in hard working, practical, wife and mother Gemma’s past comes back to haunt her in Mary Torjussen’s latest novel The Girl I Used To Be.

Gemma and Joe Brogan are in a bit of a rut. With her business struggling to stay afloat, husband Joe the stay at home parent and the feeling she’s missing out on motherhood Gemma is frustrated and questioning the future.

A chance encounter with a friendly face results in estate agent Gemma foolishly confiding her innermost thoughts. It soon becomes clear she has said too much.  With a photo of a stolen kiss, a photocopied receipt and an incriminating video clip in play the story takes a sinister turn as Gemma is blackmailed, tormented and stalked.  To make matters worse, the one person she’s desperate to turn to is the one person who will be hurt the most. Gemma realizes she must deal with the situation unaided until she finds an unlikely ally connected to the past.

The Girl I Used To Be is a thought provoking and simple story, beautifully written and linking back to tragic events that changed lives and families forever. It’s completely believable, it could happen to anyone and that’s why it’s so utterly readable.

I enjoyed this one just as much as Mary Torjussen’s previous novel Gone Without A Trace and therefore give it five sparkly golden stars out of five. Thank you Mary for another terrific read, I look forward to the next one!

With thanks to NetGalley and Headline for the advance copy of this title.

Review: The House of Hopes and Dreams

The House of Hopes and Dreams by Trisha Ashley

I’ve chosen the latest Trisha Ashley novel as the subject of my first review here at Off On A Tangent. I’m a big Kindle fan and I love the ease of use and simplicity of a reading app. However, on this occasion I was drawn to the hardback version of The House Of Hopes And Dreams where the pretty front cover very much sums up the look and feel of the story. It’s a bright and fresh cover showing a slightly quirky young lady in dungarees and DMs holding a stained glass window pane as she stands in front of a unique looking country house alongside some packing boxes and a cute little dog.

I have read pretty much every novel from this author because they tend to be the light hearted, funny and engaging read I crave after a busy day or when I have too much other stuff galloping around my head. Trisha has a way of telling a story that is ‘curl-up-on-the-sofa’ comforting.

Childhood friends Angel and Carey find themselves at a time in their lives when their friendship matters more than ever. As is customary with a Trisha Ashley novel the main characters are warm and likeable and the plot is completely believable.

The story follows Carey and Angel as they rekindle their friendship and renovate Carey’s run down inherited country residence, Mossby. The story cleverly weaves back to days long past with excerpts from the diary of celebrated stained glass worker Jessie Kaye revealing the story behind the secrets of the big house.

As they uncover clues to the mysteries of the house, strengthen bonds and friendships and become part of the village community will the unwanted attentions and actions of less pleasant characters interfere with the potential of a happy ever after?

Written in an engaging, witty and fresh style this is Trisha at her best so I give it a resoundingly cheery five stars. A proper feel good story for spring. For more about Trisha and her books visit her author’s page at Penguin (https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/trisha-ashley/1078235/)

 

 

Books, books and even more books!

Hello everyone. Sorry it’s been so long, life (and ice hockey) got in the way there for a little while. Now that Spring has sprung, the daffodils are swaying in the breeze and little lambs are gamboling on thawing hillsides it’s time for a fresh start and to resurrect my blog. This time I’m reviewing books.

Each individual book means something different to each person who reads it. The stories I love most provide an escape and a distraction. I especially enjoy women’s fiction, psychological thrillers, rom-coms, historical fiction and autobiographies. My faves are stories that take me to another place and that are so unputdownable I don’t want to leave. I love a story that captures my attention and imagination and if there’s a clever twist or an unexpected ending I’ll be clapping like an excited child. I like characters that are three-dimensional and real, that I can love or hate and I’m drawn to quirky and different.

So here we are in March 2018 and I have 557 ‘read’ books on my Kindle. So far this year I’ve read 23 and we’re only 12 weeks in. I may read a lot but I choose carefully and therefore savour each and every word. Occasionally I’ll listen to an audible book whilst chilling in the bath with a glass of wine but mostly I read in bed, in the wee small hours when my dear friend insomnia comes calling.

If I love it, I’ll review it. If I like it, I’ll review it.  If I hate it, I’ll say nothing because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt whilst dabbling with writing fiction myself it’s that you can’t please everyone.  I also realise that authors put a huge chunk of their heart and soul into each and every story so it’s not up to me to pull it apart, it’s up to me to say so when I love it.

So although I have a mahoosive list of books I can’t wait to get my hands on, I’m also going to review a handful of my favourites from the 557. Get yourself a cuppa, snuggle in, and join me on my journey into fiction …..

 

 

Best Day Ever – a true story

My two friends and I stepped out of the taxi and into the warm spring sunshine. Architecturally stunning Sofitel St James stood proudly before us. As our luggage was unpacked from the car by the driver an immaculately dressed doorman with a trolley approached. ‘Welcome’ he said ‘Please follow me, Francesco is waiting for you’.

Entering through the familiar entrance and into the wonderfully scented foyer, wedding co-ordinator Francesco stood waiting. After a swift check in, he escorted us up to a beautiful and stylish suite. The three of us grinned at each other and Francesco watched as we took in the rooms and the little touches; the gift of a pretty silver photo frame, a stunning cake to enjoy with little china plates, silverware and linen napkins laid out on a glass topped table together with a bottle of champagne on ice and several glasses. Francesco left us to enjoy. We freshened up and popped down to the St James Bar to meet with some of the guests.

With all the arrangements taken care of by the unobtrusive and expert staff, we three simply relaxed with drinks and some bar snacks as we gradually welcomed more of the wedding party. My fiancé and the rest of the family arrived and were whisked away to their rooms to get ready and when it was time; us girls withdrew to the suite to prepare.

Once the registrars had completed their paperwork and it was nearing five o’clock, Francesco arrived promptly once more to take my two handsome sons and me down to the ceremony room. Every detail had been completed with the utmost care so as the doors opened my focus was entirely on my fiancé. The flower arrangements were stunning and as Tansy Aked and her fabulous Too Darn Hot band began playing When I Fall In Love my heart almost burst and happy tears formed in the corners of my eyes.

With the ceremony complete the doors swung open to where guests were arriving for the reception. The most delicate and delicious canapés were served with champagne as guests mingled happily until with a flourish the main doors were opened to reveal our reception suite. It was perfect in every way; the tables set exactly how I’d imagined with the most beautiful candelabra flower arrangements on each one. The band launched into the first of three sets of West End Theatre tunes, the singers took to the stage and the celebrations began.

Having enjoyed the attentions of the head chef just a few weeks previously at the menu tasting my new husband and I reveled in the fact that our guests were about to enjoy some wonderful culinary delights. As expected the beef fillet was sublime, the abundant desserts a triumph and the table of cheeses and port exceeded every expectation. We smiled at each other as our nearest and dearest nodded appreciatively as they feasted on each course and the wine flowed.

The magical evening I hoped would never end slowed and guests took a final drink or a coffee before disappearing to their rooms or making their way home. My husband and I retired to our suite and as we sat amongst the thoughtfully scattered rose petals on the bed we sipped one final glass of champagne and reminisced about our magical five star London wedding day.

Finally settling to slumber in a super comfy bed overlooking Waterloo Place our happy thoughts turned to the sweetest of dreams and the continuation of our happy ever after.

 

 

 

Moments In Time – a short story

Alex felt the heat from the scorching midday sun beating down on the back of her head. It was a dizzying hot summer’s day and the flashbacks flickered through her mind just as she took a small step forward.

First came the school playground. A place where lifelong friendships are forged and where moments shape a person into what they later become. There stood a 7-year-old boy and a slightly older girl. The boy stood quite still, wearing little round glasses with brown plastic frames. He lifted his hand and shielded his pretty blue eyes from the sun. He was a skinny specimen in grey shorts with elasticated waist, a crisp white shirt and knee-high socks.

Alex observed her childish self; she was somewhat taller and thicker set than the boy, her curly red hair forced back into a bunch with a bright blue bobble. She was wearing her blue gingham summer uniform and she carried a purple skipping rope, which dangled down from her right hand.

‘Move’ she said forcefully, standing directly in front of the boy. She stood firmly, hands on hips, her pretty face contorted with contempt. The boy stood still, rooted to the spot. Alex relished the feeling of power she had over him especially since everyone else teased her for being freckly and ginger. She was taking back control. This was the first time she had picked on him; it felt good for those few seconds. ‘Are you deaf as well as stupid’ she said meanly, poking him in the chest with the plastic end of the skipping rope.

‘You could go around me’ he answered bravely, standing up straight, growing just a fraction in height and confidence. ‘The playground is big enough for everyone’.

Alex’s face reddened and screwed up with anger. She took a step forward and leaned in towards him spitting in his face as she spoke ‘Give me your lunch money stupid. You look like a monkey with your messy hair and your sticky out ears. Do it now or you’ll be sorry.’

The boy thought for a moment and chewed his lip. He fiddled with the shiny coins in his pocket and with a considered look on his face he finally held them out in his sweaty hand. He breathed deeply to stop the tears that threatened to fall from the corners of his eyes. As Alex went to snatch her spoils he curled his fingers back around the money, silently put it back in his pocket, turned and walked away.

Without hesitation Alex flung her rope out and whipped the back of his legs quickly with a sharp thwack, the cheap nylon leaving red welts on the backs of his knees. ‘That’ll teach him’ she thought as she waited for his response. The boy didn’t falter, he kept walking and he didn’t look back. She was momentarily puzzled. Why hadn’t he cried? Why hadn’t he challenged her? He had turned the other cheek. This was bravery.

Another memory quickly replaced the first. It was a cold and crisp autumn day. Alex’s dad was pushing the rusty red bike through piles of red and brown leaves on the pavement outside no. 47. The stabilisers had finally been taken off. ‘If you believe in yourself you can do it’ he called encouragingly, his hand cupped by the side of his mouth, as she began wobbling down the street on two wheels for the very first time. Dressed in warm clothes and wearing elbow pads and helmet Alex started pedalling, unsteady steering giving way to confidence. ‘Yes!’ Her dad shouted ‘Yes! I knew you could do it’.

As the bike gathered pace down the gentle hill Alex noticed the familiar face of a boy wearing glasses watching her. At about the same time, she realised that the brakes were failing and as her concentration lapsed both bike and rider clattered in a heap on the pavement. Alex stood up and brushed the leaves from her woolly jumper. She was embarrassed having fallen but she waved at her dad from the bottom of the hill and grinned despite the bruised knees and grazed knuckles. She looked around for the boy. He was standing beside his own garden-gate half way up the hill, craning his neck to see if she was ok. They exchanged shy smiles as the boy gave her the thumbs up to congratulate her bike-riding success. With an extraordinary feeling of self-belief never previously experienced, Alex ran back up the hill with the bike. This was confidence.

The fleeting memory of confidence dissipated as the desperate and unnerving whining sound of an animal in pain flooded through Alex’s troubled mind. Like a tidal wave it swept the optimistic feeling of the previous memory crashing to one side.

Barnaby lay on his side, wrapped up in a thick red jumper. He shivered, his eyes opening now and then as a tiny whimper escaped his mouth. The elderly black Labrador foamed gently at the mouth while the boy and the girl sat cross-legged on the floor, side by side and tempted him with water, squeezing a sponge between his lips one last time. Barnaby was the boy’s dog and he was leaving. He had been poorly for weeks and nobody could bear to see him hurting any more.

The lady in the green veterinary nurses uniform picked up his weary body and gently carried him to the table. Family and friends crowded round, each one holding a paw,  stroking their friend Barnaby’s grey chin or his velvet ears. Salty tears rolled silently down the faces of his people as Barnaby slipped gently away from one world, and unseen by the family, bounded into the next released from pain and suffering. Twelve year old, red headed Alex reached out for her best friend’s hand and squeezed it gently as his tears trickled down behind his glasses. Through the dream-like haze, Alex felt the prickle of new tears forming at the memory shared by two childhood friends. This was loss.

Another quick flash and she was looking through the picture window of a small cottage. The man before her was big and strong, much changed from his awkward younger self. He was tall, manly and wearing a smart suit. The woman matched him in height, her demeanour displaying a gentleness brought on by maturity. Her thick red curls were pulled back from her face with a headband of blue flowers. She wore a pretty white cotton dress and no shoes. A ceiling fan above them gently circled, cooling the oppressive summer night.

The familiar scene was a memory from a life filled with remarkable moments. As the sultry tones of At Last by Etta James filled the room, the man took off his glasses to reveal his pretty blue eyes and pulled his love towards him, his lips gently brushing hers. Their eyes locked as they moved slowly back and forth in time to the music. He took her hand in his as they edged towards the door and he tenderly touched her cheek. Electricity filled the air as a storm brewed outside. She smiled at him, an unmistakable look of adoration and longing. He led her into the bedroom and gently closed the door as thunder grumbled and lightning struck. This was love.

One memory merged into the next as the sound of thunder intensified. Suddenly trapped in a harsh memory of war that had played over and over in her mind a thousand times Alex remembered a baking hot day in the desert. The air was dusty and dry, so dry it caught in her throat. The muffled sound of gunfire and exploding grenades in the distance was replaced suddenly by an almighty intense flash of orange and a deafening boom. The full force of the explosion threw a dirt-covered truck carrying military personnel upside down. Panic ensued. Sound became muted, barely audible.

The medic with the thick red hair ran to the aid of the soldiers in the truck. Others ran the other way, their arms gesturing her to safety. Alex was alone as she reached the silently smouldering truck and frantically searched, hands desperately clawing at the wreckage for signs of life. Initially there was none. And then she found him. Once so big and strong, he now lay there broken and bleeding, barely breathing. She gathered every ounce of strength she could muster and pulled him to safety, dragging him away from the wreckage like a doll. The truck exploded and the man’s glasses fell from his pocket and onto the dirt. With one final explosion shrapnel flew through the air and life ebbed away. This was death.

The flashbacks stopped as Alex gulped air into her lungs frantically, her heart beating wildly against her rib cage and her eyes flew open. The pavement rushed up towards her face, her red curls flying out behind her.

In the last moments of her life he was there. The awkward scrawny boy, her best friend, her lover, the broken man in uniform. He had reached out to her from beyond life to remind her of an extraordinary existence of shared moments. They had grown together, the awkward little boy and the feisty red head. Alex had loved him more than life itself and life had tortured her with his loss.

In that split second as the pavement at the foot of the tallest building in the city greeted Corporal Alexandra Stone, she remembered love, she remembered bravery, she remembered all that she had learned with him and from him. She knew he had made her a better person and as her life drew to a close she wished she could have taken one step back instead of forward. This was regret.

 

 

People and hockey – the perfect combination!

My love affair with ice hockey began in the 1980s and it was Christine’s fault. Christine and I both worked on a motor trade newspaper in Sutton. She supported Streatham Redskins and quickly welcomed me into the fold at Streatham High Road as a new fan. Before long I was travelling to Scotland and the North East on double-header weekends with Christine and her best friend Jan. We watched hockey, we ate chip butties, we laughed until our sides ached and we drank far too much. We had the best times.

Jan’s boyfriend Trevor played on the team and when we went to the rink in the off-season I put on the horrible blue skates and he taught me to skate backwards. We all spent non-hockey weekends at Jan’s drinking shots, watching hockey and scary films and laughing like crazy people. My social life revolved around the sport and it’s people, both players and fans alike. Christine and I would stagger in to the office on a Monday morning after long hockey weekends on the road. Bleary eyed and cigarette in hand we’d nip down to the canteen for toast and coffee. We may have been work colleagues but hockey bound our friendship.

Everywhere you look, the sport is about camaraderie, friendship and family. In Whitley Bay we used to stay in this little B&B, The Railway I think it was called. The owner’s daughter needed a place to say near Sutton so Andi became our lodger shortly afterwards. People again. Always people.

So life and hockey moved on and as the team went their separate ways, and lots moved to Slough Jets, so did Christine and Jan. Years passed and eventually we lost touch completely but I never forgot the good times.

And then one Saturday evening in 2014, I was watching Pointless Celebrities. A question about the Stanley Cup jump-started my memory and as I rattled off the names of Stanley Cup winners Brian asked how I knew the answers. Once reminiscing about the Redskins and Monday nights at the Maple Leaf in Covent Garden was done we thought we’d see if Streatham Redskins were still around.

As luck would have it they were playing the following night. We went and watched and hubby was almost immediately hooked. One thing lead to another, I fell in love with hockey again and Brian sponsored the team for a couple of years. We made new friends. The Streatham family did that – it bound us to the sport and to new people like it had for me so many years before.

So when enormous change came to the club last summer and most of our favourites moved on there were choices to make. Ultimately you do what makes you happy right? So it’s easy. We do what Chris and Jan did in the 80s. We decide we will rock up at home games in Bracknell to watch our favourites play in yellow and black for the Hornets, we choose to watch Elite hockey at Guildford because it’s fast and furious and because we can and we support hockey in general because it has this enormous wealth of great people within it who make it what it is.

Finally, as hockey came back into my little world I was shocked and saddened to discover that both Christine and Jan had tragically passed away. We never got chance to catch up and that makes me sad. Just a little bit. But then when I’m standing in a line for chips at a freezing cold rink, when I hear that old Redskins drum beat or when I’m drinking with new friends I remember the girls and smile.

Hockey is still hockey and friends are still friends no matter what change may bring. So to everyone we know on and off the ice, whichever teams you’re into we wish you a successful, fun filled and joyous season of both hockey and friendship.