Review of Tees Valley Curiosities by Robert Woodhouse

Tees Valley Curiosities by Robert Woodhouse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Factual – Travel – History

📖 I was unsure whether to write this review or not but I really enjoyed reading this book and thought I should share that. I love to learn about local histories. I do this a lot when I travel so when I came across this little book I was quite excited to see what was around the Tees Valley area.

Cover – Tees Valley Curiosities

👓 This book focuses more on the interesting objects to be found in the region instead of places themselves. The book is really interestingly laid out. Each object has a history about it, details on how to access it, brilliant photographs and then snippets of stories of it appearing in the press or writings (often historical articles).

✍️ There are so many great objects but here are a few of my favourites:

• Darlington yards and wynds – All these wynds have interesting names but there is one with a bull carving. This is said to be linked to the Bulmer family, who at one time owned the nearby Bull Inn. The hostelry was probably named after the mighty beast known as the Ketton (or Durham) Ox that was bred by the Colling brothers at the nearby hamlets of Ketton and Barmpton.

o Reading this story made me want to find out more about the Ketton Ox. The ox was bred in 1802 by Charles Colling of Ketton, near Darlington.

o The beast, weighing 34cwt and 11ft around the girth, was taken around the country and exhibited at fairs.

• The Hitching stone – A former editor of the Northern Echo, W.T.Stead, often used it to tether his pony after travelling to his nearby office from the family home at Grainey Hill Cottage, Hummersknott. In 1880, Mr Stead moved to London to become editor of the Pall Mall Gazette and was drowned in the Titanic disaster of 1912.

o Stead is such an interesting character, he was the first editor to employ women journalists, he campaigned to get the age of consent raised from 13 to 16, he was imprisoned and of course, as listed above, he died on the Titanic.

o There is an interesting article on him here – https://web.archive.org/web/201204131…

👫 I think the thing that I enjoyed most about this book is that it prompted me to want to know more and more (as can be seen in the two examples above).

🗺 Are there any curios in your town? If so, I’d love to hear about them. 😊

💭 Overall View: A brilliant little book with a fantastic collection of interesting tales.

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Review of Notting Hill Carnival by Candice Carty-Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cover – The Notting Hill Carnival


Genre: Romance – Quick Reads – Retellings

📖 This book is pretty much a modern-day remake of Romeo and Juliet. The story primarily follows a girl named Sapphire who once was the leader of a gang called the Red Roses. She’s turned her life around, got a job and is trying to go straight as it were. Unfortunately, the leader of the Gold Teeth Gang has other plans and Sapphire soon finds herself being pulled back into that old world. On her way to the Notting Hill Carnival, Sapphire finds herself forming a friendship with a boy named Apollo but they both soon have their loyalties tested when they find out they each belong to rival gangs.

✍️ This book is part of the “quick reads” collection which I like to intersperse between larger novels. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than a normal book by world-leading authors (less than 100 pages). One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast-paced with a lot happening in less time. This book carries a lot of action and a lot of background despite its short number of pages, and I enjoyed that. The romance aspect perhaps could have developed more (as I’m sure it would have in a longer book) but I’m sure the reader got the gist and was willing the couple to triumph.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘Do I know you from somewhere?’ he said back, smiling.
Sapphire stifled a laugh. This was the oldest trick in the book, though she hadn’t heard it for a long time. All work and no play in the last few months had made Sapphire feel like nobody would ever be attracted to her.
‘I don’t think so’, she smiled. He was kind of cute. Not as big as the guys she usually went for, but she did like his eyes.

🗺 This book takes place in London (probably obvious by the title) but I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the areas. You really got a feel for the turf was between the gangs and the busy carnival bringing it all to a head.

💔 Any Negatives: Possibly could have done with a little more romance but to be honest the amount of story packed into such a short book it would have been difficult to achieve this.

💭 Overall View: A brilliant little story and a great tribute to a classic. The story felt sassy and strong-willed. The main character was well portrayed, and you did find yourself willing her to triumph. Overall, very enjoyable.

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Review of Music To Make Friends By

Music To Make Friends By: Quick Reads 2019 by Hayley Long

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cover – Music to Make Friends By




📖 This is a really intriguing little book. I initially purchased it as I enjoy the quick-reads series to which it belongs to. I don’t think there are many autobiographies amongst it (that I am aware of) so this seemed fun and a little different and at £1 worth a go.

✍️Well I wasn’t disappointed. This is a sweet little book about a woman going through life, told through music. The excitement of buying her first album, the sharing of common music with friends, joining your first fan club, getting a first job, having a boyfriend (who is sweet enough to create her a mixtape), travelling Europe, becoming a teacher and attending school dances. Quite a lot of life story in 99 pages, mostly told through the medium of song.

👓 This little book brought back quite a lot of memories for me too (who doesn’t remember the exciting times of visiting a woolies store with your eagerly saved pocket money). Everyone has special songs that can instantly bring back memories (good or bad) and that’s what this little book captures.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘The music?’ I crossed my fingers. ‘Can I choose it this time?’
Jeanie was silent for a moment and then she gave a snort of laughter. ‘Of course you can, love. You can choose anything you like as long as it’s Elton John.’

💭 Overall View: A light-hearted, funny, sweet little book. Full of nostalgia (particularly around how music shapes and inspires us). I’ve now added Marlena Shaw’s – Let’s Wade in the Water to my playlist too, such a brilliant little song to much this fun little book.

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At the time of reviewing this book it is on sale for £1.00 at Amazon (affiliate link):

https://amzn.to/3CgHY3E

Review of Six Foot Six

Six Foot Six by Kit de Waal

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cover – Six Foot Six

📖 This is a really cute little book. A fun and easy read.

✍️Timothy flowers is six feet six inches tall. The story follows Timothy as he goes about his day on his 21st birthday. However, when he is in the midst of his day he meets Charlie who is a builder and offers him a day’s work. It becomes clear that Timothy has some kind of learning disability and is more childlike than an adult. In many ways, Charlie takes advantage of Timothy using his size for both menial labour and for a bit of intimidation. Yet the friendship between the two flourishes into a heart-warming tale.

📖 I liked this book. It is part of the “quick reads” collection which I like to intersperse between larger novels. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than a normal book by world-leading authors (less than 100 pages). One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast-paced with a lot happening in less time.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

Charlie parks outside the house with the basement and tells Timothy to get out.
‘I’ll be back in a bit. You just carry on.’
Timothy doesn’t move.
‘What you waiting for?’ Same job as before. Go on.
‘I don’t want to go down on my own.’ Timothy is thinking of the broken room and the Brute hiding in the corner.
Charlie looks up at the ceiling of his van and shakes his head. ‘Christ. Come one then. But I’m not paying you to be sitting on your arse all bloody day.’ He starts the engine and drives off. ‘When we get back, you’ll have to work twice as hard and twice as quic. Got it?’

👓 This book covers some really complex issues (disability, vulnerability, domestic abuse) but the author handles them in a subtle, gentle way. I became invested in Timothy (and Charlie) and I really wanted the day to go well.

☠️ Any Negatives: Not a negative as such, and I have never read Kit De Waal’s work before so this may already exist, but I would love to see this story in a longer works or a sequel.

💭 Overall View: It is well worth the £1 cover price to read this. An unexpected but pleasant little tale. Another “quick reads” win which I would highly recommend it to any (mature) reader.

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Review of The Donor – 5 Stars

The Donor by Clare Mackintosh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Premise: Fourteen-year-old Meg is in recovery, six months previously she had a heart transplant. She has been given a second lease of life and is desperate to live it to its fullest. Her mother Lizzie is somewhat nervous, after years of living with the worry of Meg’s illness, she can’t help be cautious. When the bereaved mother of the donor, Karen, makes contact and asks to meet Meg, Lizzie worries, but she feels obligated to her for giving her daughter this new lease of life, begrudgingly she agrees. Soon Karen’s motives come into question and Meg’s attitude begins to change. Has Lizzie made a huge mistake allowing Karen to get to know Meg, worse still, is her daughter in danger?

I really enjoyed this short story, part of the “quick reads” collection which I love to intersperse with longer reads. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than a normal book by world-leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast-paced with a lot happening in less time. I’m proud of authors who take on the challenge of writing these books so that they can be enjoyed by all even those who aren’t keen readers.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘She’s taking a lot of pills already,’ I say. The bottles are in the bathroom, their labels filled with long names I can’t pronounce.
‘These are supplements. They’ll help Meg stay healthy.’
‘She is healthy. She’s doing really well. The consultant said so.’ I don’t mean to sound so abrupt, but Steve turns to look at me, a shocked expression on his face.
‘Lizzie!’

The story is told from Lizzie’s point of view. She has felt so much strain from her daughter’s illness over the years. Her guilt and stress are palpable through the page and it’s pretty easy to picture yourself in her position, what would you do? How would you react?

The story of course captures the concept of organ donation (for a real-life insight into this I highly recommend Dan Walker’s book Remarkable People, there is a chapter on organ donation that is both heart-breaking and inspirational). The author also dabbles with the theory of cell memory, a really interesting concept that really adds to the story.

Overall View: Fast-paced, well-written, character-driven short novel. A really good read. A fantastic novelist! Cannot wait to read many more of her works.

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Extract – The Donor

Review of The Auschwitz Violin – 5 Stars

The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Àngels Anglada

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The book opens with a meeting between an older lady violinist and a charmed young man instantly captivated by her, her playing and her instrument, a friendship blossoms and he asks the story of the violin. This leads us to the extraordinary story of Daniel, and his imprisonment at Auschwitz.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

’Occupation?’
The question had seemed inoffensive enough, but not everyone had the good fortune to be asked. Those who were selected immediately to die – children, old men and women, the infirm – stood in another line.
Daniel was quick to reply;
‘Carpenter, cabinetmaker.’
It was a half-lie. The answer had risen from deep within the recesses of his mind; only later would he reason it out. It was as if someone had dictated it to him.

This book has it all. Sometimes it is soft and gentle and it beautifully captures the love that violin makers have for their craft. It also has many harrowing details of the treatment and suffering of those at Auschwitz. It sweeps you up and you find yourself desperately hoping that Daniel both completes his beloved violin and more importantly lives.

This is a truly haunting tale that stays with you after you finish reading it. Indeed, despite being an avid reader, I found myself taking a break after reading this book, not yet quite ready to leave it behind and enter another world.

Any Negatives: The book is a translation and at times it can feel a little out of sequence. However, this really did not detract from the fabulous storytelling and intent of the author.

Overall View: This is a great story, capturing both the brutalities of the holocaust and the hope that all humans have that things will one day get better. The book is an easy, enjoyable read, and it certainly makes you stop and think.

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Extract – The Auschwitz Violin

Review of Remarkable People by Dan Walker – 5 Stars

Remarkable People by Dan Walker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Dan Walker reflects back on his career so far and the many remarkable people he has had the opportunity to meet. Unlike other celeb books, this is not a story about Dan, but their story told through his eyes. Each story is broken down into separate chapters with a lovely collection of images on the central pages.

This book had it all for me, several pages when I really just wanted to sob my heart out, some just really uplifted and inspired me. Some stories I already felt connected to remembered watching and being captivated by others were a fresh revelation, but both were equally captivating. So many of the stories stay with you long after you have stopped reading the pages.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. There were so many I could pick from for this book, but I have chosen the following as it’s a form of bravery I admire so much and equally hope never to be in a position to have to replicate. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

At her funeral, a few weeks later, Ilse read out a thank-you letter from one of the families.
The family received another letter later that month to say that two other transplant patients were alive and well because they had Georgia’s heart valves.
Two young men can now see because Ilse and James decided to donate their daughter’s eyes. Georgia’s death was unexpected, painful, brutal and heartbreaking but, in dying, she had changed the lives of six other people she never met.

Overall View: I think everyone has had a difficult year over the last 12 months, in one way or another, for some every day has been difficult just to get through. This book, full of inspirational stories of remarkable people could be just the tonic. Another reviewer wrote this line, and it is so very true:
You will laugh, you will cry, you will be inspired, you will have a whole new outlook on life and you won’t want it to end.

If you are still on the fence, Dan also revealed in the comment section of a post on social media that a portion of the proceeds from sales of the book would go to a charity or cause related to the stories in the book.

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Extract – Dan Walker: Remarkable People

Review of At the Sign of the Sugared Plum – 5 Stars

At the Sign of the Sugared Plum by Mary Hooper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Premise: This historical fiction novel centres around a young lady named Hannah who moves from the country to the big city (London) to support her sister Sarah’s sweetmeats business. Unfortunately, her arrival is alongside the arrival of the plague of 1665. As more and more news arrives of plague in different neighbourhoods, the threat seems to come closer and closer to Hannah.


I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

“Well, it’s not in this parish,” she admitted. “But there are some cases in St Giles – and a house has been shut up in Drury Lane.”
“Shut up?” I asked. “What does that mean?”
“One of the people inside it – a woman – has the plague, and they’ve locked her up with her husband and children so it can’t be spread about.”
“So, there – it’s all contained!” I said. “And it’s just one house, Sarah – we don’t need to worry about that, do we? Doesn’t a place like London have all the best doctors and apothecaries? I bet we’re safer here than anywhere.”
“I don’t know – “
“But I’m here now, Sarah. Don’t send me back!” I pleaded, realising now that it must have been the plague that Farmer Price had alluded to in his strange expression. “Oh, do let me stay!” I burst out. “I can’t bear it if I’ve got to go home.”

Viewpoint: The story is told in first person, from the viewpoint of Hannah. Young, naïve, and fresh from the country to the city.

Character(s): Hannah is an endearing character; she can be quite strong willed at times but is equally determined to prove herself reliable to her sister. She meets a young apothecary assistant and quite quickly becomes enamoured by him which brings a little light to this story of dark times. She also meets up with a friend from the country Abigail who has taken on a role as a maid in a local big house. The young girls marvel at the wealth of the men and woman from the city, which gives the novel a lovely degree of colour and some more details.
Setting: I really enjoyed the authors description of the settings, particularly her descriptions of navigating the narrow streets, and how things changed at dusk making it easier for one to get lost. The little shop and the shared room all of which was richly described.

Any Negatives: None that I can particularly think of. Perhaps the almost instant love story but I was happy to go with it.
Overall View: I loved the details of this book. The relationships were sweet and the drama just quick enough paced to be enjoyable. I think I enjoyed this book more as in some ways it seemed so relevant with our current times going through covid. Hannah discusses all the preventatives people try and the restrictions put upon people, how they move around, night-time curfews, how food should be brought to the known infected, dipping coins in vinegar to prevent contamination, etc etc. Obviously, they were much harsher times than our own rather comfortable lives, but it was easier to place ourselves in those scary times, going through what we all recently have. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of this authors work.

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Extract – At the Sign of the Sugared Plum

Review of Do you know what? – 5 Stars

Do You Know What?: Life According to Freddie Flintoff by Andrew Flintoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Premise: Freddie Flintoff’s pearls of wisdom on an eclectic array of topics. Of course, the obligatory cricket is covered (I am not particularly a fan of the sport but I genuinely laughed out loud at his description of the locker room hijinks), there is a bit about his wrestling life, performing in a musical, and all kinds of other areas of his life.

I’ll be honest, I’m not often a fan of these celebrity, blow-their-own trumpet, did they even really write them, autobiographies, but for some reason, I was drawn to Freddie’s. I adore him in his new role at top gear, his camaraderie with the team is brilliant. I have found him quite hilarious in many of his other TV roles, so when I saw this pop up in the sale, I thought I’d give it a go and I was not disappointed.


Much of the book is very, very, funny, although it does cover some serious aspects including depression and some of the ups and downs of his life and career also. The writing style is great, and it does feel like he is actually talking, having a conversation in his own words, not what some journalist thinks he should be saying. It felt like a real insight into his personal and professional life.
I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

… I can’t handle rudeness, it makes my blood boil. Dishonesty really gets me as well. If somebody stitches me up, they’re done, it’s non-negotiable. Through the years, I’ve had plenty of people use me to climb the social ladder. People I thought were friends have used me and then dropped me. I won’t name them, but I hope they get found out.
I’ve also been betrayed by teammates, coaches and financial advisors. Sportspeople are easy prey, quite naïve in a lot of ways. When I retired from cricket at 31, I’d never paid any bills, that was all done for me. I was a sucker, used to lend money to friends willy-nilly and throw myself into things. My money was invested for me, a lot of it in….

Overall View: Honestly, highly recommended. Freddie comes across as open, honest, likeable and so much more human than the media persona everyone thinks they know. Funny with a tad of seriousness when needed. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I have bought his new book – Right Said Fred. Hopefully, it will be more of the same.

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Review of Doggerel: Life with the Small Dog – 5 Stars

Doggerel: Life with the Small Dog by Sue Vincent

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a book of poetry about a small dog named Ani, her human (Sue) and how they spend their life together. I wouldn’t normally purchase a book about poetry but I loved this book. In fact, I devoured the whole thing in one evening. Each poem was more than that, it was a story, a capturing of time and a glimpse into the wonderful relationship with man’s (and woman’s) best friend. Ani is a smart, sassy pup who keeps her human on their toes.

Being owned by a small dog myself, I could relate to many of the tales (particularly regarding the dreaded bath-time). As my own little four-legged companion is 16 in human years, the scale of ball-throwing related activities is much less these days, instead she can normally be found snoring in her basket, or checking out the perimeters for the maverick squirrel who visits now and then. I imagine in her younger years, she and Ani would have made great friends.
I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

You’ve Stolen all my poems,
Put your name upon my book…
Do you think that I cannot read?
Or that I will not look?

Overall View: A fabulous book. Great writing, lovely images and a brilliant display of quick wit. A book so many will relate to (two-legses and four-legses alike). Ultimately capturing that marvellous unexplainable thing called love.

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Extract – Doggerel