Review of The Hopes And Triumphs Of The Amir Sisters by Nadiya Hussain.

I didn’t realise that this book was part of a series, but that said, it is a very good stand-alone book. I didn’t feel the two previous books had to be read in order for the storyline to make sense.

This particular book centres on the youngest of the Amir sisters, Mae. Mae is coming home for the holidays, excited to see her family as she has been at University. Her brother-in-law is supposed to be picking her up, only he isn’t there when Mae exits the train.

Feeling a little deflated that her family seem to have forgotten about her, Mae does what she always does and cracks a joke about what has just happened.

The family seem to have evolved in her absence and Mae feels extremely left out. Trying to get the attention of her family whilst at home isn’t working, so Mae decides to go back to Uni early. She feels really hurt by her family’s lack of interest in her life at Uni and a few tears start to escape when she’s on the train heading back.

After her crying bout on the train she decides to put her make-up on. Her attention is drawn to a man sitting opposite her and at first she thinks he is flirting with her, but it soon becomes apparent he is acting in a creepy manner.

A few days later she discovers that the man from the train had secretly filmed her putting her make-up on and had posted the video onto social media, commenting about how women think they are entitled to do these things and so on. Mae is horrified to find that the video has gone viral and that there are so many negative comments about her.

Feeling alone and hurt she decides to go to a bar to have some fun. After having too many drinks she is dancing on the dance floor when a young man starts grinding his body against hers. Unbeknownst to Mae he has also spiked her drink.

They go outside and luckily for Mae a couple of young women save her from the potential attacker. But Mae remembers nothing of this as she has started to black out due to the drugs.

One of the young women, Ji Su takes her back to her dorm and stays with her to make sure she is OK. The next day a friendship between the two develops and they soon become inseparable. Mae hasn’t really been putting the work in for her course but with the help of her new found friend she begins to study.

By the end of the year Mae’s lack of effort for her studies is showing and it emerges that she has failed her first year. To make things worse she has also had a falling out with Ji Su. She was supposed to be moving in with Ji Su for the summer but has to go home as the two friends are not speaking.

Once home she is too ashamed to tell her family the truth about her failure. Her parents had paid for her first year at Uni and she worries what they will say when they learn of her failure. She is determined to pay them back and decides to get a job. She finds work at a local amusement park, her role is the back end of horse! In this role she meets Abdul-Raheem and they hit it off immediately. A romance blossoms but she isn’t certain where it can lead.

Abdul-Raheem is a black muslim and Mae is worried about her family’s reaction. They are Bengali and are very set in their ways. Mae keeps her relationship a secret from her family as she doesn’t want a scene. Nor does she want Abdul-Raheem to be insulted or hurt by the way her family will react to him.

But one evening when she is babysitting for her sisters she finds she needs Abdul-Raheem’s help. He comes over and helps her with Zoya, her niece, who has been a little unwell. But unbeknownst to them Mae’s step-nephew, who has a crush on Mae, has witnessed Abdul-Raheem in the house with Mae and he blows her secret by informing the family that Mae has a man round at her sisters house.

The whole family turn up and what happens next is an ugly scene where her parents are racially abusive to Abdul-Raheem. Once he has left there is a huge argument which ends with Mae leaving and going in search of her boyfriend. He lets her spend the night, but he refuses to engage in anything physical as he is a devout Muslim and to have a sexual relationship with her would go against his religious beliefs.

The argument almost tears the family apart, their opinions of every aspect of Mae’s life are quite extreme, but none more so than how they reacted to her involvement with Abdul-Raheem.

As soon as I started reading this book I was hooked. Mae is lost. She is struggling with her feelings. Her identity. Her sexuality. Her role in life. She struggles with her feelings over what it would mean to date a black boy, and she knows that her family would never accept Abdul-Raheem.

This book is very thought provoking, especially when dealing with the issues of race, religion, class and culture. Delving into Mae’s life gives an insight into the role a young, nineteen year old Asian girl plays in the dynamics of her family. A family that is very close knit and who stay true to their traditions and way of life.

Mae doesn’t feel like she fits in anymore within the family dynamics, we see this as she explores her sexuality, her freedom, and her role in life. The troubles that ensue give the reader a glimpse into the very real struggles young Asian women are facing.

Towards the end of the book Mae finds her way and makes up with her family. Her parents eventually understand what she is trying to tell them and she goes back to University to study a new course. She finds herself and is optimistic for her future.

This book is so wonderfully written, the story flows well, the characters are likeable and their issues drive the story forward. The cultural differences are quite subtle until the major argument, but even then I found I could see all perspectives.

This is a MUST read, even as a stand alone book, but I have to say I am eager to read the other books that make up the series.

Brilliant storyline that highlights the struggles young Asian women face, and the family bonds that a close knit family share. A heartwarming story that had me gripped throughout.

Highly recommended.

Review of When Polly Met Olly.

I fully expected this book to be heavy on the romance. Why wouldn’t it be, it is a romance novel after all. I was pleasantly surprised to find the romance was not over loaded and that the wit and humour the main character oozes is what drives this story forward.

Polly lands a job at To The Moon And Back dating agency. She’s actually a photographer, but not landing any lucrative commissions has meant she’s had to take jobs that aren’t anything remotely to do with photography in order to get by.

Derek, her boss, is a sweet guy and when he asks Polly to pretend to be a potential client for one of his business rivals in order to better understand the competition, Polly wants to do her best for him. But when she actually meets Olly, the owner of Elite Love Match there’s a connection between them, leaving Polly feeling a little disconcerted by the obvious chemistry that was sparking between them.

When Polly Met Olly was a lovely read. It wasn’t too heavy on the romance, despite it being set around a dating agency. Polly is the kind of character that you warm to straight away. She’s clever, witty, humble, and genuinely wants to do her best for everyone she’s involved with, in whatever capacity.

The story takes a little while until we see the blossoming of romance between Polly and Olly, but to me, that felt like the right thing. It allowed the background story to tell itself, without the writer having to add bits on here and there for the reader to make sense of what’s happening. The story flows well and the characters all work well together too.

A well written, witty romance novel that doesn’t drown the reader with love and romance.

Highly recommended.

Review of 365 Blessings To Heal Myself And The World.

As the title implies, 365 blessings. One for every day of the year. From my point of view this is a great book to help with a positive mindset. The idea being you read one of the blessings each day and it sets you up to embrace the positive vibe it’s created.

There are blessings for everything and everyone. From blessing your neighbour, to the nurses and the journalists. A blessing for a new home, to a blessing for food. From a blessing to have the courage to follow your own path, to a blessing on giving up the desire to control.

At first I felt it may become a little too God centred, but as I read on I realised the blessings encompass any faith, even those termed new age. This book is definitely one you can dip in and out of time and time again. In an age where positive thinking is at the forefront of the minds of many people this book is a must have.

Definitely recommended.

Review of Christmas on the Home Front by Roland Moore.

Right from the beginning of this book I was gripped. The action wasn’t really fast paced, but it was gripping drama that had me wanting to find out more. I read this book in around five hours, mostly because I could not put it down.

The story is set around Christmas 1944, the last Christmas during World War 2, in the sleepy village of Helmstead. The story centres around Joyce Fisher, a land girl working at Pasture Farm, as well as two German airmen who have been shot down by allied forces during an air raid.

There are other characters in the book, namely Dr. Richard Channing, who play an important role in the story, and they all blend well together. Sometimes you can just guess what is going to happen next, other times you’ll be reading on, desperate to find out what happens.

The tone of the book isn’t too grim, despite the back drop of WWII and the events that are central to the story. This did surprise me a little, I felt sure I’d find it grim reading, but it really wasn’t.

I’ve read reviews where it was said the story was slow to develop, that wasn’t the case for me. I felt that the author had the pace of the story just right. Joyce thinks back quite a bit and I feel that the storyline flowed really well; sometimes when a character is thinking back the story can become slow and clunky, but that wasn’t the case here.

This book is part of a series – I didn’t know this when I started reading, but the book works as a stand alone story too.

I loved the gritty determination of Joyce and Connie. I think the spirit of the Land Girls was captured really well in this book, and the spirit of the people who lived through the war.

Highly recommended.

The Little Bakery of Hopes and Dreams by Kellie Hailes

Josie Donnelley hates Christmas because of painful memories connected to her Mum. She moves to the small village of Sunnycombe hoping to avoid any festivities. Getting a job in the local bakery she feels she’s safe enough from too much Christmas stuff.

What she. hadn’t banked on though was falling for her boss and his adorable daughter Mia. Callan, the bakery owner, is a widower and hates Christmas as much as Josie, but Mia is all excited by the festivities and her Dad and Josie find it hard not to get sucked into the excitement too.

A heartwarming seasonal read. Beautifully written. Lovely characters. A feel good read for the festive season and those long winter nights when you just want to curl up with a good book.

Recommended.