Amanda Prowse

‘The Art of Hiding’ by Amanda Prowse #bookreview #FridayReads

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Waterstones   Amazon

What would you do if you learned that the life you lived was a lie?

Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life, until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.

Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.

But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.

Bestselling author Amanda Prowse once again plumbs the depths of human experience in this stirring and empowering tale of one woman’s loss and love.

I really wanted to like this book. It has the potential to be a great story, and one that could be so relevant to the UK today. But unfortunately, it is full of clichés, stereotypes and unrealistic situations that have been really poorly researched.

Nina is insecure, anxious and feels completely out of place in her life. She loves her husband Finn, adores her two sons, and loves living in and taking care of her beautiful home in Bath. But she is out of her depth with the private school mums, and, having married so young, she doesn’t really know who she is or what she’s capable of.

Her husband Finn dies, and as she is grieving she finds out that he was losing money hand over fist and she is now in debt to the tune of eight million pounds.

She loses her house; the boys lose their place at school. She is penniless.

This could be such a fabulous storyline. Nina could find strength and reserves she never knew she had. Her sons could find that life isn’t all about possessions. And she does, and they do – to an extent. But there is no realism here. None at all. Every last one of Nina’s rich friends is horrible and shallow. Conveniently, someone in Nina’s family has a vacant flat in Southampton they can move into. Nina’s sister Tiggy is wonderfully helpful. Nina finds a lovely job in an old people’s home (not one that involves anything even mildly messy though). Nina meets lots of new ‘salt of the earth’ council estate dwellers who are welcoming and friendly and would give you their last pound. I’m from a council estate. Lots of those stereotypes are true. My son went to private school – some of those stereotypes are true. But people aren’t stereotypes. Not everyone on a council estate is generous and welcoming and decent. Not everyone whose children go to private school is snobby and materialistic and shallow.

And Portswood, the part of Southampton that Nina returns to, isn’t a slum. It’s a student area. It’s not Bath, but it’s not a ghetto either. Did Ms Prowse set foot there at all?

And why doesn’t Nina claim benefits? Why doesn’t she ask for help? And where is the gut-wrenching, sickening despair that real people who find themselves in poverty experience? Where is the desperation? The worry that wakes you up at night and that you carry on your shoulders every day. Nina feels none of this. Instead she gets excited by buying a blind for a few pence in a charity shop, and making her new lounge look nice with some well-placed cushions. And of course, her sons love the new comprehensive (even though the youngest son is ten and wouldn’t be at the same school as his older brother). Their grief, their resentment, their anger isn’t fully realised at all. They settle in, find new friends and apparently life seems much better struggling for money and coping with everything on your own.

I don’t like writing reviews like this.  I know how difficult it is to write a book and put it out there. But this book made me angry. It’s glamorising the real struggles that people go through.

Very, very disappointing.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘The Food of Love’ by Amanda Prowse #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

A loving mother. A perfect family. A shock wave that could shatter everything.

Freya Braithwaite knows she is lucky. Nineteen years of marriage to a man who still warms her soul and two beautiful teenage daughters to show for it: confident Charlotte and thoughtful Lexi. Her home is filled with love and laughter.

But when Lexi’s struggles with weight take control of her life, everything Freya once took for granted falls apart, leaving the whole family with a sense of helplessness that can only be confronted with understanding, unity and, above all, love.

In this compelling and heart-wrenching new work by bestselling author Amanda Prowse, one ordinary family tackles unexpected difficulties and discovers that love can find its way through life’s darkest moments.

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Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

This book has all the elements for an emotional and absorbing read, and judging by the majority of reviews, many readers find this to be the case. But it really didn’t work for me. I have issues with the writing itself, and with the actual story.

Freya lives in a suburb of London with her perfect family. She is a freelance food writer, her husband Lockie is a freelance photographer and they have two teenage daughters – Charlotte, a together, accomplished musician about to take her A ‘levels and Lexi, a fifteen-year-old dyslexic who they discover has anorexia. First of all, the sheer perfection of Freya’s life at the beginning was irritating. Her relationship with her husband was sickly sweet. Her job as a food writer was a little too easy (as any struggling freelancer will recognise) and the fact that she was a food writer was a little too neat – oh, of course, her daughter has an eating disorder because her mum writes about food all day! I do understand that the writer was showing that the perfection was superficial, that the veneer of the perfect life was soon eroded, but it just felt very unrealistic.

Life with a teenager with serious issues isn’t like this. In reality it’s a horrible, emotional, exhausting struggle and that just didn’t come across here. The realities were glossed over. The book is set in the UK and as a parent who has experienced the NHS dealing with mental health issues, I know that treatment doesn’t happen this quickly, that everything has to be fought for. And although I’m no expert, I’m pretty sure that the battle many people have with anorexia isn’t dealt with this easily. This is an important subject, and I did feel that the author should have researched more thoroughly.

There were elements I did like. The writing is good on the whole, although the dialogue was very unnatural at times, and I was surprised to find so many unnecessary and off-putting dialogue tags in a professionally produced (and presumably professionally edited) book. It does veer towards the schmaltzy at times, but Freya’s emotions and frustrations did come across really well, and I did feel sympathy for her.

There is a good story here, and one that has the potential to be great. However, it all felt a bit rushed, a bit easily resolved. Aside from Freya, the emotions of the other characters, their reactions to the situation and their difficulties weren’t developed fully.

I do hate to be negative, because I do think the author cares about her characters and that there are good intentions here, but this is gritty subject matter, and requires a lot more depth than it’s given here.

three stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a free copy for review