Book Review: The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield

The Undertaker's DaughterWhat’s it about?

What if the place you called “home” happened to be a funeral home? Kate Mayfield explores what it meant to be the daughter of a small-town undertaker in this fascinating memoir evocative of Six Feet Under and The Help, with a hint of Mary Roach’s Stiff…

In The Undertaker’s Daughter, Kate has written a triumph of a memoir. This vivid and stranger-than-fiction true story ultimately teaches us how living in a house of death can prepare one for life.


My thoughts

I’m not quite sure what enticed to me this book; maybe it was the unusual subject matter or the dark cover but it was a book that wasn’t just filled with death but also life and hope.

As the blurb suggests this is the memoir of a young girl who lives above her father’s funeral home business in small town USA in the Fifties and Sixties at the time of segregation. This is a really interesting story about a subject that is often considered taboo and not discussed until necessary but please don’t go thinking that because it’s set in an undertaker’s that it is all dreary, upsetting and dark; in some parts it is but there are also some real uplifting tales and because most is from a child’s perspective it’s not too explicit in the procedures following death.

I suppose you could call this a coming of age novel in that it’s also a young girls realisation that her father isn’t perfect and having her ideals and idealistic view of the world knocked back to having black boyfriends etc in a time when this would have caused great outrage and just wouldn’t have been expected.

There are some really interesting characters and tales in this book, including Frank and his relationship with Miss Agnes and the comfort that both found from their relationship, the other undertaker’s and those who work with the dead!

I had great respect for Kate, her views, standing up for Jemma and dealing with Evelyn, going and doing what she believed in and following her dreams and I felt bereft when the family moved; it was like everything that had made them who they were had been removed and I think this affected Frank and his identity.

From the epilogue we learn from others second hand about Kate’s father and his past, I wasn’t expecting this as a reader, this was actually what made it seem more like a memoir than the book itself, this was research and I totally understand why the author would want to do it but I’m not sure I needed to find out, I’d enjoyed reading the story beforehand.

Overall, this is a beautifully written story which reminded me of the movie My Girl, and well worth a look.

Many thanks to the publisher for approving for me for an ARC via Netgalley.

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Book Review: The Boy with the Topknot by Sathnam Sanghera

The Boy With the TopknotWhat’s it about?2012 WBN LogoBBC 2014

For Sathnam Sanghera, growing up in Wolverhampton in the eighties was a confusing business. On the one hand, these were the heady days of George Michael mix-tapes, Dallas on TV and, if he was lucky, the occasional Bounty Bar. On the other, there was his wardrobe of tartan smocks, his 30p-an-hour job at the local sewing factory and the ongoing challenge of how to tie the perfect top-knot.

And then there was his family, whose strange and often difficult behaviour he took for granted until, at the age of twenty-four, Sathnam made a discovery that changed everything he ever thought he knew about them. Equipped with breathtaking courage and a glorious sense of humour, he embarks on a journey into their extraordinary past – from his father’s harsh life in rural Punjab to the steps of the Wolverhampton Tourist Office – trying to make sense of a life lived among secrets.

My thoughts

This book was next up for my World Book Night reading challenge and if I’m being perfectly honest it was one of a couple I was least looking forward too. I mean, a young Sikh boy growing up in eighties Wolverhampton, how was this going to interest me but I couldn’t have been more wrong I thoroughly enjoyed it. Another case of never judge a book by its cover!

In a nutshell the story is about a man who wants to tell his mother that he wants to live his own life and marry who he chooses and loves and not someone that is expected or arranged but he just can’t find the right words so he wants to put it all in a letter to his mother which will then be translated for her. He starts to write the letter and whilst he’s dealing with his own emotions he delves into his family’s history and parents marriage. This is a real insight into Indian culture and the Sikh religion in an everyday context and its integration (or not) into a modern day England.

His father and elder sister both struggled with mental health issues  that were not very well diagnosed (eventually as Schizophrenia) and there seemed to be a lack of support from any health care agencies. The following investigations that Sathnam carried out int0 his father’s illnesses history was just incredible that people could be so unhelpful!

I loved the eighties references, they reminded me of my own childhood and growing up like the tape to tape recording and DJs talking over the music, the fashion and the George Michael posters.

Wolverhampton is relatively local to me, only being about 12 miles away, so I know a lot of the places mentioned and so could quite vividly picture them.

This is a really witty memoir with all the chapters having appropriate song titles; I particularly liked chapter 11 – You Got It (The Right Stuff) as I was a massive fan of New Kids on the Block!  There are some very funny scenes but also quite humbling and very often sad. There’s a particualar paragraph on Sathnam’s interpretation of what it would mean to be illiterate which almost had me in tears; what it means to not be able to read; what his parents were missing out on and things you don’t necessarily think of but must have and obviously did affect their standard of living.

“…not being able to work out the best-before date on groceries, …not daring to travel anywhere you haven’t travelled before, in case you get lost, …staring into the distance in waiting rooms because there is nothing else to do, sending your son a ‘for my husband’ birthday card because the newsagent misunderstands your request, …not being able to read what your son writes in a newspaper”

Overall, a very interesting and enjoyable read that surprised me!

Mental Health Week 12th – 18th May

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Book Review: Today Everything Changes by Andy McNab

Today-Everything-changesWhat’s it about?2012 WBN LogoBBC 2014

Abandoned as a baby, Andy McNab’s start in life was tough. Growing up in South London with foster parents, and surrounded by poverty, he attended seven schools in as many years, disillusioned and in remedial classes. It wasn’t long before his life descended into petty crime. By the age of sixteen, he was in juvenile detention.

Recruited into the Army from there, it soon became apparent that he had the reading age of an eleven year old. The next six months in the Army education system changed his course of his life forever. Today Everything Changes is the inspiring story of when life changed for Andy McNab.

My thoughts

Here’s another Quick Read that’s on the World Book Night reading list and that I’ve read as part of my reading challenge.

It’s a good insight into army recruitment, training and daily life and reads true rather than propoganda. I always wondered why the training was so brutal, down to the cleanlines of boots and tidiness of lockers but reading this made it all make sense.

I’m not really into army type books whether they be fiction or non fiction but this book is the perfect read to get a brief introduction into army life from someone on the inside. The narrative is simply written and easy to understand so I pretty much got through it in an hour or so.

I liked the words McNab’s Captain used and he now uses himself –  “you’re not thick, you’re just not educated yet” and even after a rubbish start in life he’s still made something of his life and is really an inspiration to others. Army life isn’t suited to everyone but this book really shows how you can turn your life around and have a positive outcome.

Overall, it’s an interesting read and you may be surprised that you’ll enjoy it, as was I!

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Guest Review: Philomena by Martin Sixsmith

I’d like to welcome my 18-year-old daughter Emily to the blog today. She was really impressed with this book so I suggested she do a guest review for us.  Emily is currently in her first year at Wrexham university studying Education.

PhilomenaWhat’s it about?

As a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee fell pregnant and was sent to a convent – a ‘fallen woman’. For three years after her son was born she cared for him there. Then the Church took him away and sold him like countless others, for adoption in America.

This is the story of Philomena and her search for the son she never stopped loving. It is a tale of lives scarred by hypocrisy and secrecy, a compelling narrative of human love and loss – heartbreaking, yet ultimately redemptive.

Emily’s thoughts

There are two ways this book could be reviewed, for those who have seen the film and those who haven’t. I am one of those people that saw the film first and then read the book. The reason I read this book was the film motivated me to find out more about this story, I was hooked, I believe this was due to the amount of tears I shed whilst watching the film.

This book was a present for Christmas from my momma, so since then, I have been reading it. I will admit I am not a regular reader, I typically read Jodi Picoult books and the Twilight saga as I am only an 18 year old girl. So, I surprised myself by wanting to read this particular book as I knew what was going to happen.

For those who haven’t seen the film, then I strongly recommend you to read the book first. I believe the book is from a different angle and is mainly told by her son and is his story. The book is split into four different parts. Part one is the only part that is from Philomena’s side of the story, as this was when he raised in the convent. The other parts are all written from her son’s perspective.

For those who have seen the film, I still truly recommend the book. Despite you knowing the ending, the book is in so much more detail than the film – which they always are in my opinion. I have learnt a great deal from this book – how the church sold children, Irish adoption laws, American governments and many other things which I will not mention due to not wanting to spoil the ending. Philomena’s son goes through so much more that is not even touched upon in the film, his story is more focused on. I was fascinated by some of things the film didn’t include but then in some parts it may have been hard to include – but that’s the script writers fault.

I loved this book, it was a change from I normally would read. I liked the different parts, I prefer books like that. It was easy to read, some of the government language was hard to understand at times but then I do not know much about that world. I would recommend this book to anyone, because I’m 18 and I’m reading it!

One thing I will recommend more than the book itself is that if you choose to read this book after my review is that please do not look at the pictures till after you have read the book. The pictures are in two sections and they are placed in the wrong places and do not go with the words around them and this could significantly impact the flow of the story if you sneak a peek. I know it’s tempting – we all do it – but if you don’t wish to ruin it – be good and don’t peek.

It is a truly touching story that brought me to tears, and I hope the film does extremely well at the Oscars, because Judi Dench in it is amazing – there is also a foreword in the book from her personally.

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Book Review: The Old Rectory – Escape to a Country Kitchen by Julia Ibbotson

The Old Rectory - Escape to a Country Kitchen

What’s it about?

When author Julia Ibbotson and her husband first saw the old Victorian rectory in dire need of renovation, a mile out of the nearest village in the midst of the English moorlands, they fell in love with it and the lifestyle it represented, with its farmhouse kitchen range at its heart. This delightful memoir describes the trials and tribulations of their quest to make their vision come true.

They hoped they could make the sad, neglected house glow again and that they could integrate themselves into the small traditional village, with its cottages, hall and outlying farms. The Old Rectory focuses on the centrality of the kitchen as the pulse of the family and home, and shows the importance of food and cooking throughout the changing seasons, history and moods of the countryside as the couple strive to live the dream.

The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen, a true story of renovation – of a house and of lives, of finding what is important in life – and with the added delight of recipes to feed the soul.

My thoughts

I was a little dubious about offering to read and review this as cooking and baking really isn’t my thing – I like to avoid the kitchen if I can! However, we all need to step out of our comfort zones once in a while and experience new things or genres.

Julia takes us through the ups and downs of the renovation of her ‘dream home to be’ which is intermingled with her recipes. These recipes being linked to times of the year and to what ingredients are in season or she had available. Good old fashioned English cooking is what she seems to love!

This is a short book and easy to read but from very early on Julia’s obvious love of cooking shows through her writing – you’ll be salivating at all the lovely recipes!

I actually had a go at making one of Julia’s recipes – the Zingy Zest Lemon Pud (which was more of a sponge cake). Now, I’m not a baker or cook of any nature, but it was a very easy recipe to follow and actually, it turned out quite well – tasted delicious!

Lemon Sponge

Tasted better than it looks

Minor point but I did notice a couple of errors but this is still an enjoyable memoir and would be a perfect read for those who like Escape to the Country, Grand Designs or The Great British Bake Off.

Available from Amazon The Old Rectory

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There is a giveaway linked to this tour of signed bookmarks/postcards, pens, keyrings and 1 x ecopy of The Old Rectory – enter here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the author Julia Ibbotson

Julia Ibbotson is the award-winning author of The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen, first published to acclaim in the USA and Julia Ibbotsonnow re-launched with a brand-new cover by her new English publisher in the UK. Julia has been writing creatively all her life (unpublished!) but her day jobs to pay the mortgage have been as a school teacher and latterly a university academic, gaining her PhD at the age of 57. She delights in being a wife and mother to four, with four little grandchildren. She loves reading, gardening, growing food, cooking for family and friends and country life. Having published many academic texts and papers, she came late to actually publishing her creative writing, at the age of 60 plus, when she was persuaded to write the story of the renovation of her Victorian rectory in The Old Rectory. She has combined memoir, history, research, story and recipes in this first published book, which has won a number of international book festivals in the biography category, gained 5 star reviews on Amazon, and has been widely featured (along with her house) in the media. She has begun to delve into the world of blogging, facebook and now has her own website at  at which she also posts blogs regularly, about writing, life and her passions. Her new project is a trilogy of novels following the life story of a new character, Jess, through from fleeing to West Africa as a volunteer teacher/nurse in the 1960s to the millennium. The first of the series, Drumbeats, is due to be published later this year. You can find out more on her website and on her author page on Amazon. Her global internet book tours start soon!

Connect with Julia via her WebsiteTwitterFacebook Author PageAmazon UK Author PageAmazon US Author PageYouTube book trailer