Cover Image: Needlemouse

Needlemouse

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I'm not sure I've ever read a character based book with such a dislikeable main character as Sylvia. She i s"in love" with her boss. Infatuated and deluded and you can see why colleagues of all levels see it and mock this sad 52 year old..

It's not until later in the book that we read about the events of the past that led to Sylvia's feelings of worthlessness and why she never really had a personal life, living through her more outgoing younger sister, Millie, when all she's ever wanted is a husband and family of her own. The title comes from Sylvia spending her weekends at the hedgehog sanctuary, run by the elderly Jonas. When Sylvia's life unravels she discovers who her friends are and a has to build a different life for herself, and we see a different side to her. Sometimes an uncomfortable read, but teaches us not to take everyone at face value. #needlemouse #netgalley
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4☆ A Charming and Quirky Novel 

I absolutely ADORE Hedgehogs 🦔 which we call them in the UK and I love everything about them. So as soon as i see this gorgeous book I jumped at the chance to read it. Just by picking it up I learnt that Needlemouse meant Hedgehog! 🦔

Sylvia is a bit of a recluse, she comes across as quiet brash, obnoxious, opinionated, a lil prickly and overly protective of her boss, who she has a major crush on, some might say she was completely infatuated with him! 
If only it was reciprocated! He is married and has no intention of being with Sylvia. Although it doesn't stop her!

Sylvia volunteers at a local Hedgehog Sanctuary, at first it appears that she is there for entirely selfish reasons, but as the story progresses she slowly reveals her softer and nurturing side which was actually pleasantly surprising. 
It's here she makes some pretty big discoveries and decisions about her life and future!

What i loved most about this book was all the facts and information weaved in about the Hedgehogs, some I already knew but was still so nice and really did educate.

Sylvia isn't particularly a likeable character she is deeply flawed but she does have redeeming qualities and a vulnerable side you can't help warm too despite not wanting to like her!

This is a story of unrequited love/ obsession/ infatuation, a need to be loved, Secrets, Drama, its a story of life choices, transformation and discovery and of course adorable Hedgehogs.
It's a character driven story that's a slower paced read which really worked well.

So if you are looking for a charming quirky Novel, that has a storyline thats interesting, engaging, poignant and educational then you will really enjoy Needlemouse.

Thank you to Compulsive Readers Tours for this copy which I reviewed honestly and voluntarily.
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I have a distinct soft spot for hedgehogs (eventually we learn that ‘needlemouse’ is a rough translation of the Japanese name for the prickly critters), and I’m also very familiar with the type of administrative assistant or other holder of a gatekeeper role, who believes it’s their foremost duty to prevent anyone disturbing their employer with trivial matters. By trivial, of course, they mean any matter on which ‘lesser beings’ wish to consult their particular member of the ‘great and good’ – even when part of both party’s jobs. Sylvia takes her position very seriously, and at first it’s hard to like her as she does everything in her power to allow students access to the professor whose job it is to supervise them. However, we gradually learn there’s far more to her than we see at first glance.

Sylvia has been the personal assistant of Professor Lomax for fifteen years, and spent two thirds of that time convinced he is as much in love with her as she is with him – taking every small gift and kind gesture he gives her as proof – and convinced that one day his frequent rows with his wife – based, Sylvia thinks, on his wife’s infidelity and general unsuitability – will lead to a permanent separation followed by a happy ever after for Sylvia and the Prof. Sylvia doesn’t think much to the Prof’s students or to the fellow administrator with whom she shares an office, and her main workplace socialising consists of a regular lunch with the Prof and fleeting visits at rare parties thrown by other academics in the department. When the Prof announces that his wife is leaving him for good this time, Sylvia takes his side of the story for granted and begins planning for the day when he will ask her out romantically. Her plans are thwarted, though, by the appearance of a rival in the form of a new, mature, PhD student named Lola.

Sylvia believes that drastic action is required to prevent the Prof being led astray by this interloper, but her attempts to discredit Lola have disastrous consequences for Sylvia herself. Things go from bad to worse, when Sylvia falls out with her younger sister over a secret she’s kept for nearly two decades – losing the support of their shared social group in the process. Her only respite is the time she spends at a local hedgehog sanctuary, run by a taciturn widower with occasional help from his three adult daughters. Through her voluntary work, Sylvia comes to learn what’s really important, who her true friends are, and how she can make a better future for herself, in which she does not rely on scraps of affection from a very unreliable man.

I loved the structure of this book, with its division into the four seasons representing both time passing and Sylvia’s transformation as she goes into virtual hibernation when depression hits, but then emerges slowly in the spring as she starts to see new possibilities. I liked the unreliability of her narration. The book is in the form of a diary, broken up with excerpts from a pamphlet on hedgehogs – illustrated by this book’s author – even though that style made me unwilling to like her at first. And I cheered at the ending, which wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but seemed to be perfectly what Sylvia needed.
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Oh, what a wonderful and heartwarming debut novel this is! With some reviews it’s difficult to put into words how a book made me feel, but with Needlemouse I don’t have that problem at all. It’s a truly delightful book that left me with a huge smile on my face as I turned the final page, making me feel like I could go out and tackle anything life decided to throw my way that day! It’s such a moving and beautifully written book and, I’m not ashamed to say, it brought a tear to my eye on more than one occasion.

Oh Sylvia Penton, what have you done to me?

Now where do I even start with Sylvia? She was a character I didn’t think I was ever going to like. I mean, how could I? She was prickly, hard to get to know, with a mean streak a mile long. She lives alone, dedicating her life to her job at the local university and to her boss Professor Carl Lomax, who she has secretly been in love with for over a decade. In her spare time she helps out at a local hedgehog sanctuary, not due to her love of hedgehogs, but because it gives her something to talk about and makes her seem nicer than she really is.

But when a new PhD student catches the Prof’s eye, Sylvia finds her life spiralling out of control, with her behaviour becoming more and more desperate, until things finally come to a head, leaving her facing a lonely and uncertain future.

Some of the things Sylvia did in her quest to be with the man she loves made me cringe and, in all honesty, left me not really feeling much sympathy for her at that point in the story. But then, slowly, her prickly outer shell began to be stripped away until we could finally begin to see the real Sylvia underneath her hard and unfeeling exterior. And this was when my feelings for her began to change. Before long, when secrets from her past began to emerge, I could understand why she’d put up the protective walls that she had. And that was when this character who I really didn’t like or understand came to life for me, in ways I never would have expected.

Mostly told in diary form, only bits and pieces of the story are revealed at a time as we get to know Sylvia through her interactions with her work colleagues and family. Her friendship with Jonas, the elderly owner of the hedgehog sanctuary, was particularly endearing and it was this part of the story that made my heart melt and moved me the most.

Needlemouse is a quirky, fun and moving debut that’s full of warmth and heart. I loved it more than I ever thought I could when I started it, with Sylvia becoming a memorable character who I’m unlikely to forget for some time to come.

A gorgeous and uplifting novel that I would highly recommend. Jane O’Connor is a stunning new talent and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
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Thank you for allowing me to review this book.

I absolutely loved this book by Jane O'Connor.
Its about a woman called Sylvia who struggles with her identity and finding love she mistakenly believes she loves her professor however he is an egotistical piece of work and doesn't even notice poor Sylvia is in love with him. 
There are times that Sylvia acts a bit irrational such as when she follows the professor to Rome. 
Sylvia's character I think at least everyone has met someone like her in their lifetime, the spinster who needs to be awakened and we find that towards the end Sylvia has awakened and thrown caution to the wind to start her life. I would really love a second book to find out how her and Neil get on!

I loved every minute, I loved Sylvia she made me laugh and she made me cry. 
I will definitely be looking out for Jane O'Connor books in the future.
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f you're looking for a light and charming read that is totally quirky and unique then I highly recommend Needlemouse to you.

Not only does this novel have one of the most fascinating characters I've ever read in a contemporary novel, it also really recognises that actually people in their post 30s (and then some) still have some of the same issues as their younger counterparts.

At first I wasn't sure about Sylvia's character but it didn't take long before I began to love her devious little ways and her wicked thoughts.  She is quite the little minx and a thoroughly enjoyable character to read about.  It's fairly clear that her narration isn't always the most accurate and this, paired with her non-nonsense attitude gets Sylvia into all sorts of scrapes and situations.   

In the beginning the narrative describes Sylvia as a lonely and bitter old lady who has been in love with her boss for 15 years and seems destined to be miserable - and enjoy it a little.  As the story unravels and more about Sylvia is revealed, the more her actions are explained and the more lovable she becomes.  It's only when her current life crumbles after some stark realisations that we really see Sylvia come into her own. 

Such a brilliant character book with humour and a little sadness.  I cannot recommend Sylvia's journey enough.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book: while the quirky single lady is everywhere at the moment, this book finds a quite different angle, and I thought the writing and characterisation was absolutely excellent. While I might not have done so at first, I grew to love Sylvia – as prickly as the hedgehogs she helps to look after, her blind devotion to her Prof is so well done, and rather than making her a figure of fun I couldn’t help feeling for her as her actions begin to blow her life apart. She’s really the most extreme of unreliable narrators – but unlike the “norm”, where you might be questioning that unreliability, her behaviour becomes so over-th-top that there’s never any question or doubt.

It’s very funny – and you feel almost embarrassed to be laughing, and as a fellow single in later life it sometimes felt rather uncomfortably close to home – and I really enjoyed the way her story then played out. The emotional content and the story telling is quite enchanting, as it becomes clear what has made her as she is, and the hedgehog sanctuary becomes her salvation too. The subsidiary characters are also thoroughly excellent  – I had a particular soft spot (surprisingly…) for Prof’s wife, and (of course) for gentle Jonas and his daughters.

A very different read, and a rather lovely one – highly recommended.
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This was a bit different and I really loved the information about the hedgehogs, what a brilliant way of getting the message out there that we need to be taking care of them.  We all like to save stuff and keep things but sometimes it all gets out of hand and that is what happens here. Loved the story and the characters.
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Who is Sylvia Penton? She is a woman in her fifties and she works as a personal assistant to a professor in a London University. The most exciting thing in her life is her volunteering at the local hedgehog shelter, but Sylvia is far from ordinary and she has a few secrets. She’s keeping a huge secret that could destroy her relationship with her sister and her family (no spoiler!). Additionally, for the last ten years she’s been in love with her boss, Professor Lomax (that’s not much of a secret as it seems that everyone knows about it). She takes care of him and she sees herself as his protector while waiting for him to leave his wife. And when a younger woman threatens her relationship with Professor, Sylvia shows that she is ready to do anything for the man he loves…

At the beginning, Sylvia’s reserved nature and her borderline obsession with Professor Lomax make her an unlikable (and a little insane) character, but the more I read the more I learned about the protagonist of the novel, about her past trauma, and, as she develops, she becomes more interesting and more endearing and I adored her and felt sympathy for her by the end of the book. The other characters are all very interesting and realistic, all with different personalities, some likable, some just detestable. My favourite character was Jonas, the owner of the hedgehog sanctuary where Sylvia volunteers. He is wise and good-natured and I found fascinating all the facts about hedgehogs he described (did you know that needle mouse is Japanese for hedgehogs?).

I liked how the book is written in the form of a diary in which Sylvia pours all her secrets and her feelings. We see her at the lowest and worst time of her life and we see her come out of it stronger and more likable. Her heartbreaking revelations made for a very emotional read, but there were also a few funny moments that made me laugh. NEEDLEMOUSE is a brilliant and refreshing debut that I loved from the first to the last page.
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Sylvia is dedicated to her job with a university professor - and when he separates from his wife, she thinks it's finally time for them to the romantic relationship she has been dreaming of for years. Unfortunately he doesn't see her in the same way and a series of desperate moves from Sylvia cause chaos in her life.

Jane O'Connor has done a very good job of writing an unlikeable character in a way that makes you want to find out what happens even as she makes decisions that make you cringe. There are a lot of moments where Sylvia is describing other people and as a reader you can see her lack of awareness of how her behaviour comes across.

I'd certainly read more by this author.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for this ARC.
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A delightful tale of Sylvia, and the troubles she has , mostly of her own making.  There's a wide variety of characters, and hedgehogs too.
A charming holiday read.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC
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I am afraid that I gave up with this book about a quarter of the way through. I did not understand how the main character  in the middle age of her life did 'not wake up and smell the roses!' Infatuation is all well and good but..... I felt that her friends were not pro-active enough in her defense. Not for me I am afraid.
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Sylvia is 52 years old, a spinster and works at the university as a PA to Professor of Educational Psychology Carl Lomax. She's been working for him for 15 years already, in this time unrequitedly in love with him, patiently waiting for him to finally leave his wife so they can be together. When it finally happens she's sure it's only a matter of time for them to get married - well, he takes her to lunch, and he never forgets her birthday, right? The trouble starts with Prof's new student, Lola, but Sylvia isn't afraid of a bit of manipulation to remove the obstacles in her way to happiness. But then something happens, and then she falls out with her sister over an old secret that never should see the light of a day and the only thing that she has is the hedgehog sanctuary where she volunteers. Will she be able to eventually come out of her comfort zones, to see reality how it is, to open herself up?

Jane O'Connor has done a great job with Sylvia's character. Chances are, when you first meet her, you're not going to like her. She is spiteful, unhappy, unfriendly, hell, she doesn't like her own niece, and the only person she adores is her boss, Prof Carl Lomax and she would do anything for him. She collects all his small signs and gestures thinking he has the same feelings to her as she has for him - she's simply in unrequited love with him but she refuses to accept this fact, really she borders on being a stalker. She volunteers at the hedgehog sanctuary because it gives her something to do on the weekends and because it makes her appear nicer to others. And much like hedgehogs, she has been hibernating for years, almost delusional about Lomax, always finding an excuse for his behaviour, her social life non - existent (she was out only when her sister Millie insisted on it).
But. The author, in a brilliant way, reveals Sylvia's story, all the troubles and traumas she has experienced in her life and that have turned her into person she is today, and really, you're going to quickly begin to understand Sylvia and like her, feel a growing sympathy for her loneliness, for her being so desperate to love someone! I actually liked her from the beginning, even though she was a bit of a horror, but she made me laugh so much. The supporting characters were also all sparkingly written - the sanctuary owner Jonas, full of hidden wisdom and warm words, "Prof" and Lola, who got what they deserved, and Sylvia's sister Millie and her daughter Crystal - all full of life and having their own personality, adding tons of depth, reflections and humour to the whole story.

I loved seeing how Sylvia was actually forced by life to change, to rediscover herself, to open up. I actually felt like giving her a standing ovation.

The story was written in the form of diary, so we get only Sylvia's point of view, and the entries are hilariously honest, especially as she can't find the happy medium and writes only unpleasant things about all people but one, and that's, of course, Prof, as she calls him. He, in Sylvia's eyes, can't make a mistake, all he does is right and hands off from him to all other women.

It was very emotional but also entertaining read, sometimes uncomfortable because it tells things how they are. A bitter - sweet novel that is going to make you cringe and then laugh in the next second, brilliantly intersperses sadness and seriousness with plenty of humour and funny situations. I loved the idea for this book, I loved the characters, and the plot is unique, fresh and the way it was written was brilliant, Jane O'Connor has such a great way with words, I can't believe it is her debut novel. The snippets of information about hedgehogs were a frosting on the cake. I personally thought that all of them have fleas and it turns out that's not true for example. Altogether, "Needlemouse" had believable characters and was a thought - provoking story. It was full of twists, turns and heartfelt revelations and it vividly captured the vulnerability of the main character. A great novel about re - evaluating your life, coming out of hibernation, written with poignancy and care. An absolute must - read and I can't recommend it highly enough!
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A nice gentle tale of unrequited love and second chances. Sylvia is one of those characters that at times you want to just shake and then at other times you are routing for her to pull her life around, Jane O"Conor has made a the character of Sylivia venerable but not weak and someone, who if you too are in your fifty's and single , that is relatable. 
If you're a fan of books like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  and The Cactus then this is a book for you,
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I love the title of this book. Needlemouse is the Japanese term for hedgehog and it fits perfectly, both for the little prickly animals and for the very prickly Sylvia Penton.

Sylvia is in her 50s and has been working for 15 years at a university as a personal assistant to Professor Carl Lomax. Sylvia is desperately in love with Prof (as she thinks of him) to the point that she is completely blinkered to him being anything other than perfect. Sadly, Prof is fairly oblivious to Sylvia as anything other than a work colleague. Sylvia's loneliness and her infatuation with Prof have made her into the human equivalent of a hedgehog: very very prickly on the outside but vulnerable on the inside.

I spent a good part of this book feeling that Sylvia was an extremely unpleasant person and I found her behaviour hard to understand. But as the story progressed, things changed for her and she came out of a kind of 15 year fug to realise that she had been somewhat misguided in her feelings and it was a real catalyst for change for her. At that point I really started to get a sense of Sylvia as a character and why she had behaved as she had, accompanied by some deft storytelling on the part of Jane O'Connor, which helped to gradually bring Sylvia back to life again.

Sylvia helps at a hedgehog sanctuary, hence the prickly connection, and I loved that about her. She helps Jonas, who has dedicated so much time to saving the little creatures. Sylvia tells her story in the form of a journal, with little snippets about the life of a hedgehog through the seasons. The journal style strangely doesn't only give Sylvia's point of view as you would expect, but somehow, through her words, we are able to witness Sylvia's absolute conviction in her actions as well as to see that she's also completely out of control. 

More than once I felt tears threatening. Sometimes you have to look beyond what you see to find out what a person is really like and that was certainly the case with Sylvia. As a reader, I found that delving deeper into her past and her disappointments helped me to understand her behaviour.

Needlemouse is a really lovely story. It's been described as uplifting and charming and it is both of those, but really only towards the end. More than anything, it's a study in loneliness and how you can build a wall around yourself as a kind of protection only to find that then nobody is able to get close to you. It's a thought-provoking read and the more I think about it the more I think how much I enjoyed it.`
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For a debut book making its way out of the starting blocks this was certainly something special. The writing was captivating and hypnotic and I found I couldn't put the book down for even a single second and read it all in one sitting.

Sylvia was a web of wonder for me as far as characters go. On one hand I wanted to detest every selfish and obsessive action she made and on the other hand my heart wanted to break at her lonely and dysfunctional life. She really was the ultimate conundrum and I was fascinated by her. Her manners were akin to the hedgehogs she cared for at the sanctuary.....spiky on the outside to protect a vulnerable centre. But all in all her marmite approach to life turned this book into something special as I don't think I've ever loved a character I didn't like before and this juxtaposition of feelings will ensure that I won't be forgetting her in a hurry.

The first person narrative wraps you up in Sylvia's obsessive world to the point where I felt I was intruding on private thoughts. Her mind is a complex web of layers that have been building over the years and the narrative divulges small hints as to why she has become the prickly woman we see today. It was an absolute joy to watch these layers slowly start to unravel as the plot played on and I can only imagine what she will go on to achieve, which is the beauty of a soft ending.....it allows the reader to imagine for themselves.

Needlemouse is a work of wonder that I know I won't be forgetting anytime soon. Out protagonist or should that be antagonist is one misunderstood woman who I know will attract a mix bag of responses but I absolute love her, obsessions and all. She really is unforgettable, as is this book.
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5 Words: Family, obsession, jealousy, love, hedgehogs.

Needlemouse is definitely a character driven novel, and it's one of those where nothing really happens when it comes to action, but by the end you've taken quite a journey in terms of growth. It's got a pretty slow pace, but nevertheless I couldn't stop reading.

I found Needlemouse quite a difficult book to get in to, and this was down to the main character,  Sylvia. She's rather bitter and disagreeable, and generally just not a nice person. She's pretty much a straight up bitch for the first half of the book. She's also more than a little bit obsessed with the Prof and it made me feel quite awkward to read at first. Sylvia has a lot of internalised misogyny that made for uncomfortable reading at times, but it made the character seem much more believable and gave added weight to why she was the way she was.

It's a testament to the author's writing that I not only kept reading, but I actually grew to love Sylvia by the end. She has hidden depths and I loved how it all came together. Needlemouse ended up being quite a charming read.

I really loved how I learned a fair bit about hedgehogs while reading this book. A lot of research has obviously gone in to it, and it didn't feel like the author was showing off - what I learned through the characters actions felt very natural.
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A very engaging portrait of a woman finally having to deal with reality, not the story nurtured in her head.
Unreliable narrators can be annoying, but this one worked well, with an authenticity that grabbed me, and made me yearn fro a happy ending
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I was in permanent cringe-mode for most of the first half of this book, so when the worst finally happened it actually felt like a cathartic release!  Jane O’Connor has managed to create a heroine narrator who starts off almost completely unlikable and gradually develops, until you find yourself completely invested in her finally uncurling and letting people past the prickles (yes, the hedgehogs are perfectly symbolic throughout!).

Sylvia certainly has some extremely spiky defense mechanisms: denial, repression, fantasism, manipulation and outright rudeness.  Gradually, as events unfold, the reader – and then those around her – realises firstly how much she is hurting from her isolation, and then how desperately she would like to relate to those around her in more positive ways.  As the character grows, so she grows on us.

I can see lots of comparison points with books like Eleanor Oliphant, as Sylvia is another socially awkward and isolated woman, struggling with demons of her past, and misinterpreting the social cues and mores around her.  One big difference here is Sylvia’s clearly obsessive nature, which makes her a less sympathetic character but in many ways a more interesting one.

This is quite an emotional book, taking us deep into the pain and shame of the main character.  There isn’t much action but instead a very thorough and intimate exploration of an ordinary human life in all its suffering but also all its hope.  I would recommend this for fans of Stephanie Butland, Gail Honeyman and similar introvert-centred stories.

 

 

   Tea duly made and delivered, Prof and I then had our golden time together.  This is my favourite part of the day, when we spend ten, or maybe even fifteen, minutes going through his diary, discussing the meetings he has to attend and the people who are coming to see him.  Often Prof has earmarked time for writing in his daily schedule and this is when my shielding of him becomes invaluable.  I see myself very much as his defender, fending off the hordes of students and faculty staff who are desperate for a piece of him.  They would suck Prof dry if they had the chance.  He doesn’t know the half of it, what I do for him, how I keep them at bay so he can just get on, but he is safe in the knowledge that my loyalty to him is complete.

– Jane O’Connor, Needlemouse


Review by Steph Warren of Bookshine and Readbows blog
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Needlemouse is a delightful, fun read featuring some fantastic characters. It’s quite a quirky read but a thoroughly enjoyable one about loneliness, love and finding yourself.

Sylvia was a very interesting character who I took a while to warm to as she seemed such a prickly character to begin with. She likes things done a certain, controlled way and doesn’t like it when things don’t go the way she wanted. Her infatuation with her boss was a bit cringy to read about at times and I found myself wondering how it would work out. I did like her slightly evil side though which often had me laughing out loud. How I wish I had the nerve to do similar things, and get away with it, to people that upset me! The other characters were equally great to read about and I loved how different they were to each other. My favourite character was Jonas as I loved his gentle manner and obvious love for his late wife. His memories of their time together was so lovely to read about and brought a tear to my eye.

The book is fairly fast paced as there is always lots happening that kept me glued to the page. The chapters are fairly short and told in a diary format which made me feel more involved in the story. I found I enjoyed going on the journey with Sylvia to discover her own life and the person she wanted to be.

Huge thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me onto the blog tour and to Tess from Ebury publishing for my copy of this book.
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