Book Review: How To Be Happy.

cover123755-mediumA book where you know at least one person dies doesn’t sound like it’s going to be uplifting but if I had to use one word to describe How To Be Happy, by Eva Woods, it would be that.

There’s something about this story that really appealed to me. I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – it covers difficult, sensitive topics (and could even be a trigger for some) – but it made me laugh and cry (and not just sad tears).

I felt completely absorbed by the mix of characters and their unfolding story.

The somewhat gallows humour is refreshing and the take on life, love, death and what it means to be happy genuinely made me think.

You need to read the blurb to get what I mean:

It’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

Annie has been sad for so long that she’s forgotten how to be any other way. She’s trudging miserably through every day, sheer determination keeping her going. Until she meets Polly.

Polly is everything that Annie is not. She’s colourful, joyful, happy. And Polly is also facing the greatest challenge of her life: how to die well.

Polly has one hundred days to help Annie find happiness. Annie’s convinced it’s impossible, but so is saying no to Polly. And on an unforgettable journey, Annie begins to realise that maybe, just maybe, there’s still colour to be found in the world.

But then it becomes clear that Polly’s about to need her new friend more than ever…and Annie will have to decide once and for all whether letting others in is a risk worth taking.

While Annie is (understandably, once you get into the story) living in shades of grey, Polly is running around in a rainbow. While it initially looks like Polly is bringing colour back into Annie’s world, it becomes clear that Annie has a part to play in helping Polly deal with her situation too.

They are unlikely friends but each has something the other needs and seeing how they grow and change is inspiring.

All of the characters have their own issues and it’s so well written I got really caught up in their lives.

It makes for heart breaking reading at times – and not just to do with Polly – but it’s also entertaining and funny. I couldn’t help but think how good it would be as a film.

How To Be Happy is an important reminder that we never know what tomorrow might bring (although if it brings you this book, I hope it also comes with tissues).

Format: Kindle.

Price: £1.99.

My rating: Five stars.

With thanks to Little, Brown Book Group (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for my honest opinion.

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Book Review: The Break.

cover117346-medium.pngMarian Keyes is an author I adored in my 20s when she was among the pioneers of a new genre that was felt like it was written just for young women like me.

While I have aged a *tiny* bit since then – and chick lit has gone from strength to strength – her first work of fiction since 2014 still feels like it has been written with me in mind.

The Break has all the elements I’ve always enjoyed in her work, including a strong, yet vulnerable, heroine, moments of dark comedy, the wonderfully eccentric family who would probably drive you insane in real life and a romance that is far from smooth sailing.

Everything feels the same but also different because instead of being in their 20s, the main characters have aged along with me and are now in their 40s – and that actually made me really happy.

Here’s the blurb:

‘Myself and Hugh . . . We’re taking a break.’
‘A city-with-fancy-food sort of break?’

If only. Amy’s husband Hugh says he isn’t leaving her. He still loves her, he’s just taking a break – from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together.

Six months to lose himself in south-east Asia.

And there is nothing Amy can say or do about it. Yes, it’s a mid-life crisis, but let’s be clear: a break isn’t a break up – yet . . .

However, for Amy it’s enough to send her – along with her extended family of gossips, misfits and troublemakers – teetering over the edge.

For a lot can happen in six-months.

When Hugh returns if he returns, will he be the same man she married? And will Amy be the same woman? Because if Hugh is on a break from their marriage, then isn’t she?

It felt more like I was watching this book unfold than reading it because I find Marian’s style of writing so visual. It’s sad, funny, heartwarming and relatable; like a really good, must-watch, soap opera. It’s hard to remember the characters are figments of her imagination and they stuck with me long after I had finished.

Speaking of which, at about 85%, I was in a weird place where I desperately wanted to know how it ended but at the same time didn’t want to stop reading. Part of that was because the book, or rather the author, made me nostalgic for my youth but mainly it was because it’s just really really good.

I hope she has another in the works already.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £9.99.

My rating: It’s got to be five stars.

Thank you to Michael Joseph (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for an honest review.

Life with a two-year-old (it’s a bit surreal).

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“Oh, hello Michael,” Freya said conversationally to a man in the entrance of M&S food hall. A man clearly not called Michael.

He looked bemused.

I smiled, a little apologetically, and gave a shrug that was meant to convey: “No idea what she’s on about. Kids, eh!” Mark turned to me with a frown and said: “What exactly do you get up to when I’m at work?”

Well, mainly, I grow ever more accomplished at that shrug.

***

“HELLO!” She shouts at the top of her voice as I push her (in her buggy) into our local co-op. It’s so loud and unexpected it makes me jump. The ladies on the checkouts laugh and wave back. One customer looks shocked, a few others chuckle.

When we go to pay Freya wishes the lady on the till a “Merry Christmas.”

It’s January 5th.

“I think you mean happy new year,” I said.

“Happy new ear,” she said.

“And happy new YEAR to you,” the lady says.

“Happy new ear,” Freya calls again. And again. And…

“Let’s say something else now,” I put in but then the lady behind us in the queue comes to the till and wishes Freya a happy new year so it starts again.

“Did you have a lovely Christmas?” She asks her.

“Great.” Freya responds.

“And were you a good girl? Did Father Christmas come?”

“I don’t like Father Christmas,” she is very definite about this.

“Did you get a lot of Frozen toys?” The lady asks, glossing over the slight to the big fella.

“LET IT GO!” Freya sings. Obviously most things are now said/sung at full volume.

The five of us join in with the next bit.

A man at the next till looks a bit taken aback at the flashmob (thankfully no one is videoing us).

I do the shrug as I wheel her past him.

***

My mum will often look at Freya, shake her head and say: “She’s been here before, that one.”

Usually after she has said something entirely out of character for a two-year-old.

For example, she was sat with her eyes closed once and when I asked what she was doing she said: “Just resting my eyes.” My poorly grandma used to say that. My brother and I would go and sit in her bedroom and she’d drift off after a time. Just to check she wasn’t dead (we were young) we’d ask if she was ok and that was always her response.

Also, sometimes when I ask her to do something she will bow slightly and say: “Yes, m’lady.” I thought I had misheard the first time but she does it consistently now. I can’t say I dislike it. It makes me feel like I’m in a Jane Austen novel.

My favourite, though, is when I ask for her help and she shouts: “I’m on it!” Like she’s working in some high-pressured job. This makes me chuckle every time.

“I don’t know where else she could get this stuff,” my mum ponders.

*shrug*

***

I still don’t know who Michael is.

 

Little Hearts, Big Love