Review Contained Scenes From A Single Life by Emma John

Emma John is in her 40s; she is neither married, nor partnered, with child or planning to be.

In her hilarious and unflinching memoir, Self Contained, she asks why the world only views a woman as complete when she is no longer a single figure and addresses what it means to be alone when everyone else isn’t.

In her book, she captures what it is to be single in your forties, from sharing a twin room with someone you’ve never met on a group holiday (because the couples have all the doubles with ensuite) to coming to the realisation that maybe your singleness isn’t a temporary arrangement, that maybe you aren’t pre-married at all, and in fact you are self-contained.

The book is an exploration of being lifelong single and what happens if you don’t meet the right person, don’t settle down with the wrong person and realise the biggest commitment is to yourself.


Sometimes you see a book that just seems to have been written with you in mind and Contained Scenes From A Single Life by Emma John seemed to be one of those books. It was and it is! I am single, resolutely so, happily so most of the time and yet I have often felt like a square peg the world is trying to shove into a round hole, because society sees my single hood, as a failure to be a meaning member of a club that caters only for couples. There are many women out there, that are single by choice or circumstances and most are living happy and fulfilled lives. While others want to be in a relationship, but one that nourishes them and so while they enjoy a single life, the pressure from families, who just want them to be happy, feels like a weight of expectation that threatens to stifle them.

Emma John’s Contained Scenes from a Single Life is an often funny, moving tale of how she has comes to understand that it is important for all women to live the life that fits them best, that babies are not for everyone, that women can love sport, travelling and deserving of friendships that cater to their interests. That they can be both whole and happy individuals if marriage doesn’t happen, because the significant other, whom we are all told is out there, simply isn’t, or is rather annoyingly hiding in plain site. This is a book that says, my life may not be the one I expected to lead, not the one I thought I wanted, but despite all of that, it is when I take a step back, look closely, one that is full of endless possibilities and many wonderful memories.

What I found incredibly moving is when she writes abut how she didn’t feel whole, because the man, meant to make her feel a complete unit hasn’t arrived yet. The complex emotions she has to deal with when facing the fact that he might never. How hard it is when all her friends are pairing off into couples and she feels surplus to requirements. The moments of loneliness and frustration. Even more touching is when she talks of how when travelling, she made friendships that will be with her for life, that she is wanted, that she is whole, that she perfect as she is, even without a partner. She takes us on a journey through a life that she spends time making others feel less uncomfortable with her single-hood, to one in which she celebrates and she can be happy single, while being open to meeting someone. But until then and if it never happens, she is ‘whole’ and fantastically so.

Reading this book has made he more determined not feel weighed down by others expectations of my life choices. I’m going to embrace sitting alone in a cafe watching the world go past. Go to the theater on my own if no one wants to join me, or just because I want to. I will cherish the friendships of people that both nourish and sustain me.

You can buy this book from Amazon and Waterstones as well as all good independent book shops.

About the author

Emma John is an award-winning author, journalist and podcast presenter. Her book, Wayfaring Stranger: A Musical Journey in the American South, was recently named one of Newsweek’s Travel Books of the Decade; her debut, Following On: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession and Terrible Cricket, was named Wisden Book of the Year. Emma was the first woman to win a Sports Journalism Award in the UK, though she is also known for her writing on music, theatre, film, books and travel. Her latest book is Self Contained, Scenes from a Single Life, published by Cassell.

She hosts a number of podcasts and is a regular voice on BBC R4, BBC Radio5Live and talkSPORT. She tweets @em_john and you can find out more on her website,,

Review- Pathfinders by Cecil Lewis.

Over the course of one night in 1942, the crew members of Wellington bomber ‘P for Pathfinder’ each reflect on the paths of their own lives, as they embark on a fateful mission deep into the heart of Nazi Germany.
Cecil Lewis’ novel examines the life of every man in turn, rendering a moving account of each as not merely a nameless crew member, but as an individual with a life lived, ‘a life precious to some, or one… these men with dreams and hopes and plans of things to come’.


I have read many books that are set during the Second World War and yet, I have read nothing like this offering from Imperial War Museum. First published in 1944 as the war entered the final stages of the conflict, it is quite extraordinary, in that it does not focus on the War itself, but on the lives of a remarkable group of men. The Pathfinders were target markers, who flew ahead of the main force, setting off flares above targets, guiding in the main bomber force. It was dangerous and skilled work and though to modern sensibilities, including my own ,about the targeted approach aimed at not just the military, but civilians, it remains both a moving and fascinating read.

Cecil Lewis combines moments of intense and yet intimate scenes of the men as they set off on a mission. The interaction between them, a bond formed from as the result of shared experiences and the heightened dangers they faced together, with individual stories about the lives they lived before this mission. He captures with remarkable clarity how these men, all from widely different walks of life, formed chains of connections forged from the moments spent not just in the hellfire of a bombing raid, but also in the quiet moments between.

He skirts around the bigger events, briefly making us witnesses to the raid and then quietly explores the individual lives of each man. Reminding us that they were not faceless cogs in the machinations of war, but someone’s son, brother, husband or friend. It’s what makes this novel feel so intimate, when you compare it to others set in this period. It has a remarkable ‘heart’ at it’s centre, a restrained, but passionate reminder that these men deserve to be remembered, their stories told. He does so with a clarity of understanding, that left me both deeply touched and affected by their experiences.

It is a work of fiction and yet it also feels like he is intertwining the biographies of real men, into his story of stoic bravery and selfless sacrifice. Much of what he weaves into Pathfinders is as relevant today as it was in 1944 and he has an innate understanding of the forces that drive man to endless conflicts! Each chapter gives a a voice to a crew member and we roam from the frozen lands of Canada, the the seas around New Zealand, and London, learning not just about their lives, but why they join up, why they are driven to place their lives in danger!

It is a novel that is both moving and fascinating. Written by a skilled and talented writer and it maybe the first book I have read in this series, but it won’t be the last.

About the author

Cecil Lewis (1898 – 1997) was a British fighter ace in the First World War and his
memoir Sagittarius Rising became a classic of the literature from that war, considered by many to be the
definitive account of aerial combat. He was a flying instructor for the RAF during the Second World War where he taught hundreds of pilots to fly, including his own son. After the war he was one of the founding
executives of the BBC and enjoyed friendships with many of the creative figures of the day, including George
Bernard Shaw, winning an Academy Award for co-writing the 1938 film adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion. He
had a long and varied career but retained a passion for flying all his life. In 1969 he sailed a boat to Corfu
where he spent the remainder of his life, dying two months short of his 99th birthday. He was the last
surviving British fighter ace of the First World War.

Imperial War Museum.
IWM (Imperial War Museums) tells the story of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts
involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War.
Our unique collections, made up of the everyday and the exceptional, reveal stories of people, places, ideas
and events. Using these, we tell vivid personal stories and create powerful physical experiences across our
five museums that reflect the realities of war as both a destructive and creative force. We challenge people to
look at conflict from different perspectives, enriching their understanding of the causes, course and
consequences of war and its impact on people’s lives.
IWM’s five branches which attract over 2.5 million visitors each year are IWM London, which will open
extensive new Second World War and The Holocaust Galleries in autumn 2021; IWM North, housed in an
iconic award-winning building designed by Daniel Libeskind; IWM Duxford, a world renowned aviation
museum and Britain’s best preserved wartime airfield; Churchill War Rooms, housed in Churchill’s secret
headquarters below Whitehall; and the Second World War cruiser HMS Belfast

Review – The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl

Oslo, 1938. War is in the air and Europe is in turmoil. Hitler’s Germany has occupied Austria and is threatening Czechoslovakia; there’s a civil war in Spain and Mussolini reigns in Italy.

When a woman turns up at the office of police-turned-private investigator Ludvig Paaske, he and his assistant – his one-time nemesis and former drug-smuggler Jack Rivers – begin a seemingly straightforward investigation into marital infidelity.

But all is not what it seems, and when Jack is accused of murder, the trail leads back to the 1920s, to prohibition-era Norway, to the smugglers, sex workers and hoodlums of his criminal past … and an extraordinary secret.

Both a fascinating portrait of Oslo’s interwar years, with Nazis operating secretly on Norwegian soil and militant socialists readying workers for war, The Assistant is also a stunningly sophisticated, tension-packed thriller – the darkest of hard-boiled Nordic Noir – from one of Norway’s most acclaimed crime writers.


There is nothing quite as satisfying as knowing that when you sit down with a novel published by Orenda Books that you are guaranteed a superlative read. Each book they publish is packed with characters that haunt you weeks after you have finished, the story written, edited and translated with passion, to give the reader hours of unbridled enjoyment! So when I sat down to read The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl, I did so with a smile on my face and with the luxury of knowing that the story would thrill and delight!

So this review will not surprise, because it will beseech every one to read it!

When I picked up The Assistant I knew I was in for hours of reading pleasure, but still, even with the high standards I have come to expect from Orenda Books and Kjell Ola Dahl, my expectations were blown out of the water and into space. It is to risk repeating my often used phrase stunning. Intelligently written, it delivers a character driven tale within a narrative both clever and deliciously deceptive.

How does he do this?

Most thrillers, very good ones, excellent ones, rely on explosive events to deliver that feeling of tension and threat to the reader. In The Assistant, that is to some extent flipped on its head and instead the writer delivers that feeling of pressure in the readers mind, by giving us characters we feel we know, then subverting our expectations ,destabilizing and unsettling us.

Like walking around a labyrinth you are constantly taking wrong turns, so that at each dead end, you come across another version of Ludvig Paaske or his assistant Jack Rivers. It is only as you finally emerge from the twists and turns that have seduced you, with the feeling of panic building up in your chest, that chameleon like, both characters are revealed in all their glorious variety.

They, as much as the turbulent events both men are caught up in, are what make this novel so sumptuous, so addictive and so utterly compelling. By littering his book with an ensemble caste of spies, sex workers, smugglers and cold hearted killers and embroiling in a period of history where normal order was disintegrating into madness and mayhem, he displays humanity in all its glory, in all its ugliness and weaves it into an outstanding thriller.

If your looking for a clever, intelligent, beautifully written novel to add to your collection then this is the one!

From Amazon, Waterstones and your local Independent bookshop.

About the author

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers (Oslo Detectives series) featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

Review – Mrs Narwhalis Diary by S J Norbury.

“It was Woman’s Hour who suggested I keep a diary. They said it was good for mental health, and I must say I did feel much less frazzled after writing everything down yesterday. The frustrations were all still there, but somehow smoothed out – as if by a really good steam iron.”

Mrs Narwhal is overwhelmed. Her husband, Hugh, is unkind and unhappy – working every hour at a job he hates to save the ancestral home he never wanted. Then there’s Hugh’s sister, Rose, who’s spurned her one true love, and ricochets from crisis to crisis; and not to mention two small boys to bring up safely in a house that could crumble around their ears at any moment…

When Hugh’s pride receives a fatal blow, and he walks out, Mrs Narwhal is plunged into a crisis of both heart and home. With help from Rose she sets out to save the house her husband couldn’t. But can she save her marriage? And does she really want Hugh back?

Funny, charming, and moving, Mrs Narwhal’s Diary is an irresistible story which will enchant and delight its readers.


Mrs Narwhal’s Diary by S J Norbury is a moving, beautifully written tale of one women’s journey to find her best life. Caught living in a crumbling home, with a husband whose life is not the one he wanted and takes it out on her, a messed up sister-in-law and her own dreams side-lined, she starts to write a diary! Battling with her own feelings about such things as, does she want to stay married, can she save her husband’s ancestral home, does she even want to? We take a journey with her as she decides, what does she want in life and begins to accept, that her needs are not only important, they are vital to her families very well being!

The story flows beautifully, yet it deals with some serious subjects, but does so in such a way, that you feel uplifted by her journey and begin to understand that not all problems are unsurmountable.  It is one of the best things about this novel, that not only is the lead character likeable, but she is made to feel flawed in a way we can all understand and relate to, so is her husband, her sister-in-law, in fact all those that form the circle she interacts with.  It is gentle in that this is about the characters, their lives and problems, not action packed, but full of emotion and issues that most of us can relate to, have experienced. Marriage problems, living with relationships that have become draining, not nurturing, love once passionate now seemingly crushed by the weight of family responsibilities. It forges a connection between the reader and the story being told and you become almost part of the journey yourself. I was invested in her life and the outcome of the decisions she made, because the writer made me care about all of them. I wanted her to recognise her own worth and I read on to discover if she, as I hoped, released how wonderful she was. Worthy of love, support and acceptance.

If you are looking for a novel packed full of emotional and a story that will capture your heart, this is the book for you.

You can purchase this novel directly from the publisher at Louise Walters Books.

From Amazon and Waterstones.

About the author

S J Norbury lives in Herefordshire with her family. Mrs Narwhal’s Diary is her first novel.

Review- Sew On The Go Blog Tour by Mary Jane Baxter.

In 2016, Mary Jane Baxter quit her job at the BBC, rented out her flat and headed for the hills. Her home for the next few months was an upcycled 1986 Bedford Bambi campervan with a top speed of 60mph. She raided skips for vintage wallpaper and scoured second-hand emporiums to source stylish vintage accessories, creating her own travelling craft studio, packed with everything necessary for crafting on the road. She then set off around Europe
searching for inspiration, travelling from Belgium right down to the Cinque Terre in Italy then around France and up to Scotland.

Armed with her trusty hand-cranked Singer, she spent a summer sewing on the go. Like creatives the world over, she decided to see where her travels would lead her and returned with a head full of new projects. Fortunately, there’s no need for you to give up your job, wave goodbye to your family and rent out your house in order to reignite your own creativity; Mary Jane has done all the hard work for you. Sew on the Go is her guide to carving out more creative space in your life.


I love crafting. I love reading about crafting, I love traveling, so I thought to myself, Sew On The Go by Mary Jane Baxter be the perfect book for me and I was right, it is!

The best thing about this book, is the way the writer combines advice about crafting with a moving and fascinating account about her journey around Europe, as she carves a more creative space into her life. I loved how tips and advice, with full instructions on making some items was interspersed with the trials and tribulations, as well as incredible rewards, such a radical change in lifestyle brought about for her. It made the book feel inclusive, because not only did the writer make you feel included in her journey, but she shares her tips around crating, so that you to can make items such as a simple Provencal skirt. The way she works these craft projects into the narrative of her journey feels seamless, rather than breaking up the way her story unfolds, in fact it adds to the enjoyment for the reader,. Reminding us what this book is about, living a life that enriches you.

At a time when we are more aware than ever about the effect we are having on the environment around us and the need to live in a more sustainable way, Sew On The Go is an important book, about how changes to our lives have the power to be challenging and enriching in so many ways. Mary Jane Baxter, shows us how we can live in a way that helps us to protect the world for future generations, while finding pleasure in the things that bring us joy and lets us feel more connected to the world around us.

I can’t wait to buy this book for friends and family alike.

You can purchase this book from Waterstones and Amazon.

About the author

Mary Jane Baxter used to work as a BBC news correspondent and producer. In 2016, she set off on a crafting adventure across Europe in a mobile studio. She is the author of Chic on a Shoestring and The Modern Girl’s Guide to Hatmaking, and has presented on fashion and craft for the BBC, most notably bartering her sewing skills for board and lodging in a series of films for Newsnight. She lives in London and is available for interview, events, and to write pieces on commission. @maryjanemakes

My Wonderful Reading Year April 2021- The Journey Continues!

I know we are not where we wanted to be at the beginning of 2021, but I believe my love of reading contributed to the little bit of sanity and hope I managed to hold onto in 2020.

So I have decided to be kind to myself this year and not place too much pressure on myself to meet set reading targets or publish a certain number of reviews.

As much as I can, I’m going to make 2021 about reading for the simple joy of it. I won’t stop doing blog tours, because I love how they challenge me and at least keep me focused reading when life is stressful and I am so distracted. But I will be doing less and reading more of the books on my to be read pile and gaining some more balance back in my reading world.

So here we are in 2021 and what follows are the books that I read in April 2021.

The first book I finished in April is the astonishingly beautiful and moving Together by Luke Adam Hawker. It is a book of our times and a testament to our shared experiences during the pandemic.

Following this I read the deeply moving and thought provoking The Source by Sarah Sultoon.

Then there was a very welcome return to the wondaful Detective Kubu in Facets of Death by Michael Stanley. Dark, thrilling, but also with a lighter side, because I love Detective Kubu so much.

I needed something lighter as my next read so I turned to The Garden Of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman. I had read and loved the Bookish Life of Nina Hill by the same author when I was a shadow judge on The Comedy Women in Print Prize in 2020 and so saw this novel as soon after. it is superb and I like how she deals with difficult subjects and yet it feels joyous to read.

Moving on, my next read was Vera Kelly is not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht! I loved the first so much after reading it as part of the blog tour that I immediately put the second in the series on pre-order, because I had loved it so much. I am delighted to say, this is a wonderful as the first in the series.

Next I read a book by one of my favourite authors, Cartes Postales From Greece by Victoria Hislop. Not my favourite book of hers, enjoyable, but it didn’t work for me as I expected.

Resourceful Living by Lisa Dawson is a perfectly pitched guide to how you can revamp your home using items you already own, vintage buys and mixing them all up with a few key modern pieces. I am not very good at visualizing how a room can look and this has really helped me understand how I can mix my personal tastes with functionality.

I received Witten in Bone. Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind by Sue Black from a lovely and thoughtful friend and it is utterly fascinating. Within its pages Professor Dame Sue Black details how the bones we leave behind can act as witnesses to the lives we led.

I was then very lucky to be offered My Daddies by Gareth Peter and Garry Parsons for review. This delightful children’s book has one central message, families in whatever shape and form they come in are formed by love. It is an important message and this book will help young children understand.

Next up is the delightful Mrs Narwhal’s Diary by S J Norbury. Funny, moving and poignant, I loved it.

The bookclub read for April was The Hiding Game by Naomi Wood. Mixed bag for me, I enjoyed it, but not as much as I expected to.

Then came Kjell Ola Dahl’s superb The Assistant.

Well April was a fantastic reading month and I hope May will be to.