Pond Weed By Lisa Blower- A Review

Publisher: Myriad

Publication Date: 9th July 2020

When I found out that Lisa Blower had a new novel coming out I was absolutely thrilled. I have a special place in my heart for her short story collection It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s, which I reviewed here. I absolutely adored this collection which is dripping with nostalgia and northern heart. Being a northern girl myself I found I identified with the characters in this collection so fiercely. Anyway……we’re not here to talk about that book (you should buy it and read it though!).

I’m here today to talk about Pond Weed.

Pond Weed tells the story of Selwyn and Ginny a couple in their late sixties/early seventies who met early in life when they were neighbours then parted ways until they were much older and came back into each other’s lives again.

Selwyn is a pond supplies salesman with an absolute love bordering on obsession for ponds and pond plant life and the story opens with him arriving home towing the Toogood Aquatics exhibition caravan and telling Ginny to get into the car. He is apparently taking her on an impromptu holiday to wales…..

Ginny is understandably reticent and wants a better explanation from Selwyn, however he is adamant they are going so she reluctantly agrees.

What follows is not only a road trip to their ultimate destination, it is a nostalgic, tough, emotional trip through their past.

This couple were briefly together in their youth but having parted ways for so many years they have huge chunks of each other’s lives missing. This forms cracks for jealousy and recriminations to seep in. Do they really know each other? Can they base their relationship on what they knew of each other before and what does this mean for their future.

There are various stops along the journey where Selwyn gets to indulge his passion for ponds and Ginny is quite literally along for the ride. They meet various people, some from Selwyn’s past and Ginny has to fathom what they mean to him.

Whilst tripping down the B roads across the country, Ginny and Selwyn have to do some soul searching and delve into their shared past in order to look forward into their future.

Along the way we learn of Ginny’s childhood and get to know her mother Meg who is a butcher and for me was such a fascinating character not least due to this description of her:

There is no species to define my mother. Meg was one of a kind. A six-foot chump with size ten feet and a heart of twenty four carat gold – as a child, she told me she could touch the sky and pull down the clouds, and that’s what made cotton wool. As for the rest of her, a natural fatness over elephant bones which she swathed in black smocks and blood-stained aprons; it was all hidden and folded away. She smelt of boot polish, of animal blood and tar, but on Sundays, of perfume two or three squirts from an expensive bottle of something she would travel to Manchester to buy. Her hair was kept swimming-cap short and wispy about her ears, and when kids called her a man I thumped them…..

I mean come on! That description alone had me hooked. Ginny’s mother is a complex woman with issues of her own and I just loved it when we travelled back in time through Ginny’s memories of her childhood to meet Meg and the mysterious Bluebird (I’ll leave you to discover who this is for yourself).

Going forward in time we also get snapshots of Ginny’s relationship with her daughter. Which isn’t always the most comfortable or easy flowing.

This book is filled with human emotion, ram jam full of heart and humour. Lisa Blower is the kind of writer who can take you by the heart and lead your through the complex and often heartbreaking lives of ordinary folk. People we can identify with ourselves or see parts of our own treasured family members in. I found myself willing Selwyn and Ginny on in their tangled relationship and was genuinely gutted when I finished the book and felt like I had left my friends behind.

It was an absolute pleasure to go on their road trip with them and so refreshing to follow the relationship of characters later on in life.

I will always read everything that Lisa Blower writes. I think she is an extraordinarily talented writer and Pondweed is now nestled in my heart right next to It’s Gone Dark Over Bills Mother’s.

Thank you so much as always to Emma Dowson for sending me my review copy and extra special thanks for including a quote from my Its Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s review in the finished hardback edition of Pond Weed I will treasure it on the forever shelf.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Family Favourites: Could You Choose Your Top Ten Favourite Books?

Let’s face it, you’re all here for the books.

You’re all here because you are all bookworms, just like me.

You are my crew and I love having this space to talk about books with you all. I have very few people in my real life who read as much as I do….BUT I do have a wonderful bookish Aunty who I chat books with and swap books with and I thought, why not get some guest content over here on the blog so you don’t have to listen to me all the time!

When I asked if my Aunty Lisa would maybe give me a run down of her 5 all time favourite books she was up for the challenge AND EVEN BETTER so was my Uncle Gary! Two in one! Result!

We did however decide that a Top 5 was just TOO HARD so I widened the field to Top 10. Still a tricky task but one which they valiantly undertook. Let’s take a look at their choices. We’ll start with Gary as he finished his list first (well done on being so decisive Gary!)

Here we go……!

Lights by Patrick Stenson
This is the true story of one man’s life that was full of unbelievable experiences – Charles Herbert Lightoller. He was born on the 30th March 1874 and spent most of his life at sea, as a young boy he was on board a sailing ship taken by pirates.  He encounted U-boats in the Great War, was a surviving crew member on the Titanic and helped evacuate soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk (who knows maybe even saving my great uncle).
Frank by Jon Ronson
The story of Chris Sievey, who you may know better as Frank Sidebottom.  I have to say that Chris is special to me as I am also a Timperley lad and went to the same school, although a few years younger.  I can identify with so much in this book.  This is only a small book, I read it in one go, an easy read, but if you shared Frank’s humour you will love it.  He really was a one off.
A Tommy’s Sketchbook by Lance-Corporal Henry Buckle
This is a wonderful little book of the diary written and drawn by Henry Buckle.  His watercolour and pencil drawings together with his written account give us an invaluable insight into what a Tommy saw from the trenches.  It covers the period of time from March to October 1915 in Belgium and France.  Ending when Henry was under enemy fire and the trench he was in collapsed on him, his legs were badly injured and he was discharged from active duty in August 1916
Edited by David Read it is a must for anyone with an interest in the Great War.  

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves
As I have lived in the Highlands of Scotland for 7 years and now for the last 3 in the Borders, the character of Shetland based Jimmy Perez appealed to me as well as the setting.  When Detective Perez returns to Fair Isle knowing that he will be viewed with a degree of mistrust by the community, things are made worse by the autumn storms cutting the island off from the mainland. A body is found, fear and anger from the islanders hinder Perez as he has to quickly find the killer.  I really like how Ann Cleeves writes, amongst other things small chapters, sorry but I can not leave a book mid chapter.
The Peterloo Massacre by Joyce Marlow
Last year was the 100th anniversary of this event.  As someone who has a keen interest in history and as a Mancunian, this is a book that for me should be on the curriculum of schools in Manchester.  It is not an easy read but that is not a reason not to read this book.
I’m not really here by Paul Lake
Paul was an unbelievable young footballer with the world at his feet. He was tipped to be a future England captain until his career was tragically cut short by injury.  The book is so open and frank about his struggles to come to terms with life after football.
The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah
I have to admit that I have not read a single Agatha Christie book. I love her character Hercule Poirot  played by David Suchet in the tv series and I was intrigued by another writer protraying him in a new story.  I am so glad I decided to read it as the Agatha Christie Estate made the right choice of new author, this is Poirot from his perfect moustache to his sparkling white spats.  I will definitely be reading the other two Poirot stories by Sophie Hannah.
The Last Fighting Tommy by Richard Van Emden
This is the true story of Harry Patch who was a Private in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.  I could not wait to read this book as I’d read some of Harry’s stories in a book called Veterans, where lots of WW1 men and women were interviewed. Through Harry I feel I understand a little more why my Grandad didn’t talk about his experiences in Gallipoli.  Harry died in 2009 aged 111.
Shackleton’s Whisky by Neville Peat
I have to include this book as Sir Ernest Shackleton is one of my heroes.  The book is the extraordinary story of a heroic explorer, his men and 25 cases of unique MacKinlays Old Scotch Whisky.
Trautmann’s Journey by Katrine Clay
As the author says this is a story from Hitler Youth to F.A. Cup legend.  I grew up listening to my Dad telling me the story of this German Manchester City goalkeeper, but you do not have to be a football fan to enjoy this book.  It really is a remarkable boys own story.  Thank you to Amanda (& Ian) for this 50th birthday present.

So those are Gary’s choices. What I love most about these books is the nostalgia and memories attached to them. They have been chosen for such lovely reasons and it’s always nice when books stir particular feelings for you. I also agree wholeheartedly with Gary’s choice of Sophie Hannah, such a great author! I also love the fact that these choices are non-fiction heavy. I do read non-fiction but fiction will always be my first choice, so it’s nice to see someone who’s reading preferences are weighted the opposite way.


Let’s have a little gander at Lisa’s choices…..


This has been an enjoyable but difficult task, to pick only 10 books, oh no what could I leave out? Who could I leave out?! Then I got to thinking of all the wonderful books I have read and still have on my ultimate shelf and I picked the ones I will read again with pleasure.
Mr Galliano’s Circus by Enid Blyton
This is a book from my early childhood, I first read it about 48 years ago, I last read it about a month ago.  Yes it is about a circus but that’s not the main thing, it is about kindness and the love of animals big and small.  A wonderful read whatever your age.
The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson
This is my latest read which I purchased from my local independent bookshop (Mainstreet Trading) after reading the brilliant review by Bookishchat.  I have enjoyed reading Sally Magnusson before this book.  Stunning cover, history, folklore, strong women, Royalty and Scottish fairies what more could you need to escape with.
Who on Earth is Tom Baker – an autobiography
My favourite Dr Who, that is who Tom Baker is.  This is for lovers of Tom or as I discovered for those of us who like wild dark comedy, so funny, so moving.  I could hear his voice all the way through, a joy and an interesting education into Tom Baker.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
This is a haunting book set in Ireland which attracted me immediately.  My mum was from Southern Ireland and it holds a strange attraction especially though the history and religion.  From the dedication quoting the Irish blessing – ‘’May there be no frost on your potatoes, nor worms in your cabbage’’ to the last page it gripped me tight.
Elsie & Mairi Go to War by Diane Atkinson
This is the true story of the two most famous women of WW1.  They were both motorcyclists and met at a club, racing in rallies and trials from 1912 to 1914.  I first read this book when I borrowed it from my local library (brilliant places), after finishing I sourced a copy for sale, an ex library book.  Elsie & Mairi risked their lives and their health, were awarded 17 medals and as they say, had the time of their lives.  This is not an easy read in parts, they lived through so much and saw so much.  It is also about the challenges they faced after the war.
The Corset by Laura Purcell
A birthday present which I love.  History, gothic, mystery, murder, supernatural, all the words that can mean you are about to read a book you will wish could last forever.  This is that BOOK.  All I can say is read it and love it.
Mr Golightly’s Holiday by Salley Vickers
Another birthday present, although a few years earlier.  I am so glad my family know me so well, another cracker.  Set in Dartmoor, this is a profound and mysterious story told in a very descriptive way.  It draws you in and keeps you wanting to know more about Mr Golightly, is he who you suspect he is? 
Home to Roost & other peckings by Deborah Devonshire
This is THE Deborah Devonshire, the youngest of the Mitford sisters.  A series of short stories, reminiscences of events she experienced from the farmers club dinner to President Kennedy’s funeral.  We used to visit Chatsworth estate and it is beautiful, we always looked out for the Duke or Duchess.  Anyone who Alan Bennett thinks is a character and funny gets my vote too.
My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You By Louisa Young
I do like history and have a draw towards WW1.  My Grandfather and his two brothers all served and survived, although Grandad was injured and lost an eye.  This book, although a novel helps you realise how much was hidden by some who served from those they loved.  It is based on the history and medicine of the time and gives a very moving view.  A book that just might make you cry.
Reaperman by Sir Terry Pratchett
Finally my ultimate book, this is one that if I had to choose only one book to keep and read forever it would be this one. The old desert island choice, this is mine.  I have found that reading this book has helped me in times of sadness, anger, stress and in times of joy.  It has pulled me out of reading slumps and I can honestly say I have now no idea how many times I have read it.  I own 5 copies, including a tape version (old style audio).  I only hope that everyone can find their version of my Reaperman to live with and enjoy, time and time again. 

So those are Lisa’s choices! Some corkers there (I know because I recommended a couple!) a good mix of fiction and non-fiction and chosen because they are steeped in nostalgia or because Lisa would happily read them again and enjoy them just as much as the first time round. It’s sometimes tricky with favourite books to re-read them, what if the magic fades the second time round? But I suppose the test of a true favourite is the ability to return to it and love it all over again.

It’s always nice to have other people recommend books and I hope you’ll see something you might like to take a look at within these 20 books.

It’s a tough task to pull a list together of your favourite 10 books. The very idea brings me out in a cold sweat but I think Lisa and Gary have done a crackin job!

Thank you!

See you all again soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Valentine By Elizabeth Wetmore – A Review

Publisher: 4th Estate

Publication Date: 11th June 2020.

Valentine by a Elizabeth Wetmore is one of those books that arrived through my door a few months back and got shelved for reading closer to publication.

I picked it up as I knew the publication date was coming up and as soon as I started reading I berated myself for leaving it so long!

The book opens up with a chapter that punches you straight in the stomach and thoroughly winds you. It is the aftermath of a brutal and violent rape of a 14 year old Mexican girl called Gloria Ramirez. Her attacker is Dale Strickland, a roughneck living and working in Odessa Texas during the oil boom of 1976.

We find Gloria plotting her escape as dawn breaks over the oil patch and Dale sleeps in the front of his pick up truck. She is lying in the dust barely daring to move. Watching the sky change colour and knowing she has to be brave and make her escape otherwise Strickland will surely kill her.

She stumbles her way to a ranch farmhouse owned by a local family. Mary Rose, heavily pregnant with her second child is confronted with this young girl battered, beaten and bloodied on her porch. She has to make the choice of whether to help the girl or turn a blind eye and keep her daughter Aimee safe.

It’s is not much of a choice and Mary Rose grabs her gun and ushers the girl inside. When Dale awakes and realises he needs to find the girl and cover his tracks, he arrives at the farmhouse and Mary Rose is once again faced with a dilemma. To give up the girl to him or protect her with all she has.

These decisions on that day will have repercussions on the lives of both Mary Rose and Gloria.

After this traumatic event, Mary Rose decides she no longer feels safe in the ranch and persuades her husband to rent a house in the centre of town on Larkspur Lane. Here she spends all her time with her young daughter Aimee and her new baby son. Her husband stays back at the ranch most of the time and she is left to look after the children and fend off unrelenting abusive calls due to her defence of Gloria and willingness to testify in the trial of Dale Strickland.

Strickland is a white man with many people jumping to his defence. Gloria is a teenage Mexican girl who chose to climb up into his truck and was a victim of her own stupidity in the eyes of the locals.

Mary Rose is absolutely furious with the treatment of this girl and the local reaction to her brutal rape and beating and is determined to stand up for her despite any possible consequences to herself or her family.

Her move to Larkspur Lane introduces us to more characters. We meet widow Corinne Shepherd who’s husband has just died after a long illness. She spends her days drinking and chain smoking and trying to forget. We learn about her marriage to Potter and their early relationship and we also become aware of a loose link between the couple and Gloria on the night she was attacked.

We also meet a little girl, 10 year old Debra Ann Pierce who has been abandoned by her mother and spends her time wandering up and down Larkspur Lane, bothering Corinne and the other women, and chatting to her imaginary friends.

There are various other characters that we get glimpses of. Peripheral characters who give extra depth to the main hub of characters. At first I thought the book was going to be a two-hander and we’d hear alternately from Gloria (later reinvented as Glory after the attack) and Mary Rose. However the more I read on, the more I realised we were seeing the event not only through the eyes of the two women closest to it, Glory who suffered and Mary Rose who was the first to see her after the attack, but also the people it affected as the reverberations of the aftermath rippled through the town.

At one point I did wonder whether we would hear from Glory’s perspective after the opening chapter. But she does appear further down the line. I was happy to find out what had happened to her but equally in retrospect I would have been just as happy to explore the attack through the eyes of those around her, however tenuous the links.

The horrific rape excepted, this book is very much a character study. We delve into the lives of these multi-generational females and experience their problems, their anxieties and the limitations forced upon them. They have wildly varying degrees of acceptance of their lot in life. Either being passive or railing against the inequalities.

There were a couple of moments that made me take a step back and consider what life was like for these women in small town Odessa in the 70’s. Corinne refers to wanting to return to teaching after the birth of her daughter, when she approaches the headmaster of the local school he tells her to ask her husband to call him with his permission for her return. Absolute madness!

But perhaps the most jarring passage is one where all the ways men can lose their lives are listed, mostly industrial accidents etc and then this line hits home:

And the women, how do we lose them? Usually, its when one of the men kills them.

Such a poignant line and one that has stayed in my mind and will do for some time.

What Elizabeth Wetmore does with this novel is stunning. A real solid sense of place, you can almost feel like you are breathing in the dusty arid air. The sweltering heat is palpable and makes for an intense and gripping read.

There are so many themes to be explored in this book, sexual assault, violence against women, grief, morality, community, motherhood and its struggles. It would make a brilliant book club book with so much to talk about and delve into.

The fact that Valentine is Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut novel is hugely exciting. I will be looking out eagerly for more of her work in the future.

A thoroughly compelling and gut twisting read they I would very much recommend.

Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Agora Books – Lost The Plot Work In Progress Prize 2020

I am really excited to be bringing this blog post to you today. If ever there was a time we need to retreat into words it’s now!

I am honoured and proud to have been asked to be on the judging panel again for the Agora Books Lost The Plot Work In Progress Prize for 2020.

This is an annual writing competition aimed at anyone who has a piece of writing that is currently a work in progress. People are asked to submit a synopsis and the first three chapters of their work with some amazing prizes up for grabs!

Last year I had such a great time reading some brilliant pieces of writing including that of the winner Louise Tucker, and I’m super excited to get cracking again this year!

So what’s it all about?…..

Well, the competition is open for entries from Monday 1st June to June 30th and writers are encouraged to submit a synopsis plus the first three chapters of their work.

After being read by a panel of judges including Agora Books publisher Sam Brace, Peters Fraser + Dunlop agent Lisette Verhagen, Writing Magazine editor Jonathan Telfer, author Laura Pearson and myself of course, one lucky writer will win a meeting with both a Peters Fraser + Dunlop agent and an Agora Books editor as well as manuscript feedback from the rest of the panel.

Two lucky runners up will also receive manuscript feedback and the top five entrants will be sent a writers survival kit to help them on their writing journey!


Full details for entry can be found here.

So what have you got to lose? Show us your work and get some valuable feedback and maybe this will be the first step to getting your writing published!

Go on! What are you waiting for?

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx