Book Review: The Herd by Emily Edwards

The Herd is on many a ‘books to look out for in 2022’ list. Whilst it was written before the pandemic – it is even more relevant now as it’s about whether or not to vaccinate your children. In the book the vaccine in question is MMR – but could equally be the Covid vaccine. Some of the reviews, included that quoted on the cover by the brilliant Clare Mackintosh, says that it will bring about debate – which seems to be already true as some of the reviews already on NetGalley are totally contradictory! Some implying it’s totally pro vaccination – and others that it is totally anti vaccination. I therefore suspect it possibly depends on your own beliefs and thoughts on vaccinations as to what you interpret from the FICTIONAL book.

Here’s the blurb:

You should never judge how someone chooses to raise their child.
Elizabeth and Bryony are polar opposites but their unexpected friendship has always worked. They’re the best of friends, and godmothers to each other’s daughters – because they trust that the safety of their children is both of their top priority.
But what if their choice could harm your own child?
Little do they know that they differ radically over one very important issue. And when Bryony, afraid of being judged, tells what is supposed to be a harmless white lie before a child’s birthday party, the consequences are more catastrophic than either of them could ever have imagined . . .”

You know early on that there is a Court Case – and so something bad is going to happen – but the chapters about the court case – written by many different characters who you don’t fully meet (which was very clever) are interspersed with events from earlier in the Summer.

Some elements of the story are told from Elizabeth’s point of view – and some from Bryony’s – as it builds up to the court case itself. I don’t want to ruin too much of the story line – as I think you need to watch it unfold yourself. There are some red herrings (or pink flamingos!) along the way – so you’re never quite sure how everything is going to pan out.

I have to say I saw elements of myself in Elizabeth (it must go with the name!) being a control freak in general – but also being concerned for the health of a child with underlying issues (when our youngest was first diagnosed with a chronic health condition, I did myself worry about her mixing with unvaccinated children).

As well as Elizabeth and Bry, there is a supporting cast of family, friends and neighbours – all of whom add to the community feel of the book and the street where the two families live. It’s interesting to see the various allegiances – and how these change over the course of events.

One thing I would say, is that I’m not sure it would be a good book for a book club – but purely because vaccines are such an emotive subject, I fear that any discussions on the book would descend into a debate on vaccines in general and people often hold very strong and intransigent views on these – and I suspect this would over shadow talking about the book itself (which I think is written and edited brilliantly).

A massive thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for my ARC. The Herd is out in February 2022 and can be pre ordered now.

Book Review: Breaking Point by Edel Coffey

An innocent mistake. A lifetime of guilt.
Susannah has two beautiful daughters, a high-flying medical career, a successful husband and an enviable life. Her hair is glossy, her clothes are expensive; she truly has it all.
But when – on the hottest day of the year – her strict morning routine is disrupted, Susannah finds herself running on autopilot. It is hours before she realises she has made a devastating mistake. Her baby, Louise, is still in the backseat of the car and it is too late to save her.
As the press close in around her, Susannah is put on trial for negligence. It is plain to see that this is not a trial, it’s a witch hunt. But what will the court say?”

I thought this sounded interesting when the publisher asked if I’d like an ARC on NetGalley and so said yes please.

The book is told from 2 perspectives – the first is Susannah – or Dr Sue as she’s known to millions. She’s a successful paediatrician at a New York hospital, an author of parenting books, and a regular on TV, with a handsome husband and two small daughters. One day – due to stepping up to help her husband by dropping him at work – her usual rigid routine is changed, and consequently she forgets to drop her 6 month old baby to nursery. She’s rushing to get on with a busy list of patients – and because baby Louise is sound asleep – doesn’t realise she’s still in the car seat when she parks at the hospital. Dr Sue hears the alarm going off – when Louise must have woken up – but just assumes it’s a dodgy car alarm and turns it off and asks her secretary to book the car in to the garage. It’s lunchtime before she realises that Louise is still in the car – but by then it’s too late.

The other perspective is Adelaide Gold, a TV news reporter who is assigned the story to cover by her boss. However Adelaide has history with the hospital and Dr Sue herself – as 10 years previously Adelaide’s baby also died, and Dr Sue was the paediatrician at the time. Adelaide’s side of the story covers both now – and what happened a decade ago – and it flicks between the two time periods well, explaining what happened back then and how that has shaped Adelaide’s life.

In the aftermath of Louise’s death – Susannah returns to work and finds solace in her work which has always been a really important part of her life – but this is then used against her when the police decide to prosecute her for manslaughter.

The case is really interesting – and flags up lots of things about working mothers / guilt – and you do wonder how much of it would have happened if it had been Susannah’s husband John who’d left Louise in the car? It’s as if Dr Sue is being used as a scape goat for professional women who don’t want to stay at home and bake cookies.

It also brought to my mind the parallels with the real life events for Madeleine McCann’s mother, Kate McCann, who was heavily criticised for not showing emotion when Madeleine went missing in Portugal 14 years ago – whilst others said it was her professional medic training kicking in. Admittedly Kate didn’t wear designer clothes / handbags / shoes – but some of the digs were very similar.

The court proceedings themselves are written well – and you can imagine it being a TV drama – with the prosecutor playing up to the court room like an entertainer rather than necessarily telling the truth. I guess I was supporting Dr Sue in a ‘there but for the grace of God’ type way as a busy working Mum – whereas the prosecutor’s took great pleasure and pride in the fact this wife stayed at home and was a ‘proper’ mother. I found it really difficult to second guess what the result of the trial by jury would be – and didn’t get it right.

I also enjoyed seeing how Adelaide developed – finally facing feelings that she’d essentially squashed down by keeping busy with work for a decade.

Finally I enjoyed the final chapter – 2 years after the end of the court case – and seeing what had happened to Susannah, Adelaide and their family and friends in that time.

Overall a really good read. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Stepping Up by Sarah Turner

I’ve read previous books by Sarah Turner in her guise as ‘The Unmumsy Mum‘ and loved them – and I follow Sarah on social media too – so when I knew she had her first fiction book coming out, I hopped onto NetGalley and was chuffed to get an advance review copy.

Here’s the blurb:

Beth has never stuck at anything.
She’s quit more jobs and relationships than she can remember and she still sleeps in her childhood bedroom. It’s not that she hasn’t tried to grow up, it’s just that so far, the only commitment she’s held down is Friday drinks at the village pub.
Then, in the space of a morning, her world changes.
An unspeakable tragedy turns Beth’s life upside down, and she finds herself guardian to her teenage niece and toddler nephew, catapulted into an unfamiliar world of bedtime stories, parents’ evenings and cuddly elephants. Having never been responsible for anyone – or anything – it’s not long before she feels seriously out of her depth.
What if she’s simply not up to the job?
With a little help from her best friend Jory (purely platonic, of course …) and her lovely, lonely next-door neighbour, Albert, Beth is determined that this time she’s not giving up. It’s time to step up.
This is a story about digging deep for strength you never knew you had and finding magic in things that were there all along.”

I absolutely LOVED this book. All of the characters had something going for them – and you were rooting for them all, especially Beth, from the outset.

Now I knew Sarah would write about parenting a toddler brilliantly – and she did exactly that. Ted was a very believable little boy – innocent, but questioning; a distraction for everyone, but also a nightmare when he had a meltdown. In fact all of the relationships were written incredibly well – the sneaky teenager Polly – who was different with her Aunt than when she was with her Grandparents, Beth’s relationship with her parents – and with her best mate (Jory – purely platonic – apart from that one night in Winter 2015 that almost changed things……..) and the blossoming friendship with her octogenarian new neighbour Albert – who types his text messages ALL IN CAPSLOCK.

One minute you’re laughing out loud at something – the next you’re weeping – but isn’t that the sign of a brilliant book?

I loved the way that without even realising it, Beth became indispensable in a way she’d never been before – highlighted in Ted’s new bedtime routine, and how he needed Auntie Beth to put him to bed.

The scene at Polly’s parents’ evening had me giggling – a real catalogue of errors – but the relationship between Polly and Beth changed so much during the book, it was lovely, and really believable.

Sarah also wrote about grief incredibly well – and I suspect some of that is from personal experience too, as I know she lost her own Mum when she was a teenager. One bit really struck me – as it was exactly what a friend said after her son died, she hated the first New Year’s Eve because it felt like she was leaving him in the previous year and everyone else was moving on. Beth voices those same worries about the changing of the years.

There are various twists and turns as the book develops, and it doesn’t conclude in a ‘and everyone lives happily ever after’ way – but it definitely leaves you with lots of hope. I’d REALLY like to know what does happen to everyone, as I feel really invested in their lives!

The book is out in March 2022, and I would highly recommend pre ordering it – it’s fabulous.

A massive thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC – and to Sarah Turner for writing such a great book in the midst of a global pandemic and the home schooling nightmare!! It’s not often I give 5 stars on NetGalley – but I am for ‘Stepping Up’.

Book Review: Wahala by Nikki May

I’d seen ‘Wahala’ on a number of lists of ‘books for 2022’ – so was delighted to be granted an advance review copy by NetGalley.

Here’s the blurb:

Ronke, Simi, Boo are three mixed-race friends living in London.
They have the gift of two cultures, Nigerian and English.

Not all of them choose to see it that way.
Everyday racism has never held them back, but now in their thirties, they question their future. Ronke wants a husband (he must be Nigerian); Boo enjoys (correction: endures) stay-at-home motherhood; while Simi, full of fashion career dreams, rolls her eyes as her boss refers to her urban vibe yet again.
When Isobel, a lethally glamorous friend from their past arrives in town, she is determined to fix their futures for them.
Cracks in their friendship begin to appear, and it is soon obvious Isobel is not sorting but wrecking. When she is driven to a terrible act, the women are forced to reckon with a crime in their past that may just have repeated itself.
Explosive, hilarious and wildly entertaining, this razor-sharp tale of love, race and family will have you laughing, crying and gasping in horror. Fearlessly political about class, colourism and clothes, the spellbinding Wahala is for anyone who has ever cherished friendship, in all its forms.

The book starts in a Nigerian restaurant in London – and from the start I felt like the book was an education in Nigerian culture. The three main characters all have dual heritage, with Nigerian fathers – some present, some not. Each of the characters is very different – and I can totally see where comparisons with ‘Sex and The City’ have come from.

Simi’s friend from her youth in Lagos, Nigeria – Isobel – arrives on the scene, and is a whirlwind throwing her cash about and trying to spice up the lives of the three friends in different ways.

However, cracks soon start to appear in the friendship between the three friends – and also their home lives. The book’s title ‘ Wahala’ means ‘trouble’ in Nigerian Pidgin – and that is definitely what Isobel brings, even if it’s not immediately evident.

Boo’s life as a part time stay at home Mum – who has had to take more menial work to fit around her home life – is very well observed. I did feel sorry for her French husband – or ‘tubby hubby’ as Isobel christened him.

Simi has completely upset her father by not being a doctor and pursuing a career in fashion instead – and their interactions were very well written. The visit from her father and step mother was a comedy in itself.

Ronke’s quest to replace her permanently absent father with a Nigerian boyfriend have not historically gone well – and so the others have doubts over whether the flaky Kayode really is ‘ the one’. I really liked Ronke’s relationship with her dental assistant – he was a very good friend to her.

My one tiny niggle is there are some MASSIVE coincidences as the book concludes – and in a country of 206 million inhabitants, with almost 15 million in Lagos alone – it does feel a bit unlikely. But hey – sometimes you have to suspend disbelief about coincidences when it comes to literature!

The book twists and turns, and the build up to the end is not what I expected at all – which was great.

The writing is excellent, and the book really evokes the feeling of Lagos – and also the shared culture that the girls have in the UK. I can see why it’s already been snapped up to be a TV series.

What I particularly loved is the final chapter – which is set a few months after the traumatic events towards the end of the book – but is back in the restaurant where the story commenced – I do love little touches like that.

Overall a really good, interesting, educational and captivating read. Thank you to the published and NetGalley for my ARC. It’s out at the beginning of January 2022 – so not long to wait if you fancy it!

Book Review: Deadly Little Lies by Stephanie DeCarolis

THE PERFECT LIFE
Juliana Daniels finally has the life she’s always dreamed of. A loving husband, a career as an attorney, and a cozy apartment in Manhattan to call home.
But when she gets a message from an old college friend, her blood runs cold. Remember me?
ONE DEADLY LIE
Juliana drops her phone as though she’s been scalded. The name Jenny Teller shines out from the screen… but Jenny can’t have sent that message.
Because Jenny is dead.
Juliana’s other college friends have all received the same message. The four of them are the only ones who know the truth about the night Jenny died. It’s a secret they have kept buried for thirteen years.
WHO DO YOU TRUST?
With ‘Jenny’ now blackmailing them and threatening to expose their secret, only one thing is certain. Someone else knows the truth about that night… or one of them is lying.”

The book follows two time lines – ‘now’ and ‘then’ – the ‘then’ being when Juliana / Jules was back starting her life in college a decade ago. It’s quite ‘American’ in its settings – Manhattan and upstate New York – and the looking back element is very ‘college’ based – but I’ve watched enough US movies to be able to imagine what it was like.

The two timelines keep you on your toes and I thought helped keep the momentum of the book at a good pace. The ‘now’ timelines builds to a 10 year reunion back at college with all of the main characters meeting up again – well, all of the main characters that are still alive! It really does build to an exciting climax.

I found Jules a bit wet – and really wanted her to talk to her husband about what was going on!! Most of her ‘friends’ were pretty unlikeable initially – although I did warm to them in both storylines as they progressed! I have to say I did guess some of the twists – but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.

I particularly enjoyed the wrap up chapter at the end set a few months after ‘now’ – it tied up lots of loose ends cleverly.

A thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC in exchange for an honest review. It’s out NOW if you fancy reading it too!

Book Review: Walking On Sunshine by Giovanna Fletcher

The previous book I’d read had been about an evil cult – and I decided I needed something as far away from that as possible! And what better than a book by the reigning ‘Queen of the Castle’ (at the time of reading / writing at least!) – Giovanna Fletcher. I’ve enjoyed her previous books – and so had accepted an ARC of this without reading the blurb, but here it is for you:

“In the darkness, we all need a little light . .
After Mike loses Pia, his partner of seventeen years, their best friends Vicky and Zaza try to help pick up the pieces.
But though Pia’s gone, she left a plan. A list of loving instructions to help Mike and her friends come to terms with their loss.
And they’re each going to need it . . .
Just-engaged Zaza fears committing any further.
Exhausted mother and wife Vicky has lost sight of herself.
While Mike just feels all the colour has gone from his life.
When the list sends them trekking to Peru, where high mountains and sweltering rainforests push them to the brink, all they have to guide them is their faith in Pia and in themselves.
But will they learn that anything is possible when you’re walking on sunshine?

Having thought it was going to be a light, frothy, easy read – I was a bit shocked that it started with the fact that a central figure had died and that the main crux of the storyline was how her husband and friends dealt with the aftermath of her death! Pia also shares the name of my niece – and it’s an unusual name, so not one you come across often – which makes it even more weird. But the book wasn’t all doom and gloom at all.

The chapters were written by the 3 main protagonists – so you were experiencing the story from 3 different viewpoints – which was great. I guess I empathised with Vicky the most – although the newborn days are long gone for me, thank goodness!

A large portion of the book takes place on a trek in Peru. I know Giovanna has been on such treks with the charity Coppafeel, so I’m assuming it was very true to life! It definitely evoked the feeling that you were on the trek with the friends. All of them gained something from the trip – which I guess is the point of doing such a thing.

At certain times I wanted to shout at the characters – and just tell them to talk to each other / their other halves – but I guess it was quite true to life that things can sometimes fester.

I loved the final chapter of the book that was a few years down the line. It tied up some loose ends – but not in a sickly sweet ‘everyone’s happy ever after’ kind of way.

Overall it was an easy, escapist read – and who doesn’t love one of those?

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC in exchange for a review.

Book Review: The Cult by Abby Davies

I am lucky enough to be offered loads of books to read – and whilst I initially said ‘yes’ to everything – I’m now more careful in what I say yes to – as there are so many books, and so little time! But the reason I said yes to this one was not because I liked the sound of it from the blurb (see below) or even that the cover was enticing – no, it was because the author shares a name with one of my best friend’s daughters!! Although the other Abby Davies is spelt slightly differently.

Anyway – in case you’re not attracted just by the authors name, here’s the blurb:

“Thirty years ago, in the English countryside, a commune was set up. Led by Uncle Saviour, it was supposed to be a place of love, peace and harmony. But what started out as paradise turned into hell.

A shocking abduction…


Now, two young children have vanished from their home in the middle of the night. Their parents are frantic, the police are at a loss.


A twisting case…


DI Ottoline is leading the search – her only clue a mask found in the woods. Could the key lie in events that took place decades ago, when a dream of a new way of life became something far more sinister?”

The book follows 2 timelines from 3 points of view. ‘Now’ where Lily’s children have gone missing in the middle of the night and DI Ottoline is the investigating officer, and ‘then’ when Love is part of a cult with her family in the 1980s. You know that the two timelines must be linked (it would be a very weird book otherwise!) – but it’s not immediately obvious how (right until the end of the book I was trying to work out what the connections might be – and failed completely!)

Both timelines start in a very hot summer – and the author conveys the suffocating nature of the temperature really well.

I have to say the cult timeline started off a bit odd – but got weirder and weirder – I didn’t like it at all, but that didn’t stop me reading or wanting to know what happened!

Similarly a missing child – or in this case children – is always worrying, and you really felt the emotion of the parents – and, particularly in the case of the mother, their unravelling…..

The book twists and turns loads – in both timelines – and the pace really builds towards climaxes. This meant I stayed interested and wanted to keep reading.

Overall a good read – so thank you Abby Davies (and the publisher and for my ARC).

Book Review: A Class Act by Rob Beckett

I have been a fan of the Parenting Hell podcast that Rob Beckett presents with fellow comedian Josh Widdicombe since it started – and so have been more than aware that Josh and Rob had both written books. I LOVED Josh’s book (and it became a Sunday Times bestseller) so Rob has got a lot to live up to!!

Here’s the blurb for Rob’s book – whose full title is ‘A Class Act: Life as a working-class man in a middle-class world’:

“Rob Beckett never seems to fit in. At work, in the middle-class world of television and comedy, he’s the laddie, cockney geezer, but to his mates down the pub in south-east London, he’s the theatrical one, a media luvvie. Even at home, his wife and kids are posher than him.
In this hilarious exploration of class, Rob compares his life growing up as a working-class kid to the life he lives now, trying to understand where he truly belongs.
Will he always be that fat kid who was told he’d never be a high-flyer? Why does he feel ashamed if he does anything vaguely middle class? Will he ever favour craft beer over lager? What happens if you eat 50 olives and drink two bottles of champagne? Why is ‘boner’ such a funny word?
In search of answers, Rob relives the moments in his life when the class divide couldn’t be more obvious. Whether it’s the gig for rich bankers that was worse than Matt Hancock hosting the GQ Men of the Year Awards, turning up at a swanky celebrity house party with a blue bag of cans from the offy or identifying the root of his ambition as a childhood incident involving soiled pants and Jurassic Park, Rob digs deep.
A Class Act is his funny, candid and often moving account of what it feels like to be an outsider and the valuable (sometimes humiliating) life lessons he’s learned along the way.”

I really enjoyed this from the start. You can totally hear Rob’s ‘voice’ (even more if you’re listening to the audio book I guess – and Rob revealed on the podcast that he had a panic attack whilst recording the audio book – so I’m a bit sad I’d already pre ordered the hard back – as I would have liked to have listened to try and hear if I could tell exactly when the breakdown happened!!!)

Very early on he mentions going to Centerparcs in a Qashqai with a roofbox – which was ridiculously exciting. This is because we were at Centerparcs at the same time in April! We were waiting to check in – and my husband said – ‘that bloke looks like Rob Beckett – but he’s driving a bashed up Qashqai, so it can’t be’ – but we soon realised it was, and proceeded to spot him around CP for the rest of the week!! Admittedly this doesn’t quite beat our holiday celeb spot from a few years before when we were staying in the same hotel as Lionel Messi and his family- but is still up there.

Aside from holidays there are other similarities – my husband is very much from a working class background. He got free school meals at school, and wore hand me downs from the older kids on their street. He has no academic qualifications – but hard graft has resulted in ‘a Range Rover and a gold Rolex’ (although admittedly the gold Rolex is a platinum Brietling – but that doesn’t align with the aspirational story in Rob’s book!!)) My upbringing was slightly more middle class. I went to grammar school and then university and qualified as a chartered accountant. Our kids definitely get the best of both worlds – although are all private school w*nkers now, although not sure if any of them will do the private school rite of passage of an Edinburgh Fringe Festival?!?

This is not strictly a chronological autobiography – but lots of different aspects of Rob’s life are discussed. Some of the chapters are Christmas, Family Networks, Jobs and Confidence – amongst many others. All of them reference Rob’s life growing up – and now – and compare and contrast.

One highlight of the book is the photos of Rob’s life to date and his hilarious captions – they’re just brilliant (and I’m glad I got the hard copy book for those alone!) It’s also nice to see Rob and his mate Lloyd Griffiths have been out getting absolutely bladdered for years – not just at the Euros earlier this summer!!

Whilst a lot of the book is really funny and self deprecating humour from Rob – there are also some really moving and emotional parts – particularly how lonely he was when out in Australia. The Howat family who took him under their wing were awesome. Whilst this was at the start of Rob’s career – there have been other wobbles, even recently when he was on the road in South Africa with Romesh Ranganathan (a programme we watched and thoroughly enjoyed – and at no point would have suspected Rob was having anything other than the time of his life) – and it’s really interesting (and I think would be helpful for people) to hear about a successful ‘lad’ comic talking about his mental health battles. I’m so pleased Rob has Lou and his daughters to look out for him now – and that the pandemic has helped Rob with his anxiety. (Wow, this book review has taken an emotional turn!)

There are some brilliant name drops – Jimmy Carr’s house party anecdote being an absolute favourite – and I really feel like I know more about Rob and his background now.

I’m delighted that Rob’s book has done as well as Josh’s – and they’re both Sunday Times best sellers – I feel very proud of ‘my podcasting boys’!!

Book Review: On A Night Like This by Lindsey Kelk

I’ve really enjoyed previous books by Lindsey Kelk, and so when I saw she had a new one coming out in November 2021, I asked for an ARC from NetGalley and my wish was granted. Here’s the blurb:

“Within days of wishing she could change her life, Fran Cooper is acting assistant to a celebrity, on a yacht in the Mediterranean, and en route to a tiny Italian island and the glittering Crystal Ball, along with the world’s rich and famous.
When she – quite literally – bumps into a handsome American called Evan, a man able to keep his cool in the face of chaos, the magic really begins.
Evan makes her a promise: no last names, no life stories, just one unforgettable night. Yet Evan belongs at the Crystal Ball and Fran is a gatecrasher. They may be soulmates, but their homes are an ocean apart, and their lives a world apart. They’ll never meet again – unless, on a night like this, everything can change forever…”

The book starts with Fran in Sheffield – where she’s got no job and is in a seemingly very boring relationship with her uni boyfriend, and now fiancée, Stew. You know ‘something’ happened which made them move back from London up North – but you don’t know what, it’s just obvious Fran feels very guilty about it all. Initially I thought Stew was just a wet blanket – but as the book went on it became more evident that actually he was horribly controlling and emotionally abusive – but back to the beginning of the book!

Fran is an experienced and competent PA who has been temping for ages but is currently between jobs. Her fiancée reckons she should retrain as a primary school teacher – but Fran isn’t so sure. She’s then offered a mysterious job for a few days to be PA to celebrity.

We then jump on the train, plane and yacht to follow Fran and her new celebrity boss. (In my head the celeb in question was essentially Anne-Marie but probably more high maintenance, not knowing how high maintenance Anne-Marie is in real life!)

I loved the different settings – especially the yacht and the incredibly glamourous Crystal Ball. They were described brilliantly and you really felt like you were there. At the moment – with the lack of foreign travel – living vicariously the different locations through fiction books is even more welcome than usual!

All of the characters were well written – and you liked or disliked them accordingly. A random favourite character was the make up artist who changed the course of Fran’s life completely – she was ace!

I have to say that I guessed who the mysterious Evan was fairly early doors – but that didn’t stop me enjoying the book (it just made me feel quite smug when I was proved right!!)

I had a horrible thought that the book would be left open ended – and don’t get me wrong, there’s loads I’d like to know about what happened once it finished – but lots of loose ends were tied up in a brilliant way.

A really fun read – I’d definitely recommend it. It would also make a great film with all of the amazing locations – and who doesn’t love a film fundamentally set in Sheffield?!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for my ARC in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Watching Neighbours Twice A Day… How 90s TV (Almost) Prepared Me For Life by Josh Widdicombe

I would have been able to pick Josh Widdicombe out in a line up for a fair few years – but I only feel like I’ve got to know him intimately since listening to the twice weekly podcast he does with Rob Beckett. This started during the pandemic as ‘Lockdown Parenting Hell’ and has subsequently been rebranded ‘Parenting Hell’. I’m almost a decade older than Josh (so my brain’s Broom Cupboard default presenter is more Philip Schofield than Andi Peters) – and my kids are older than his kids too – but I still find the podcast very entertaining. When Josh and Rob were discussing their forthcoming books, I immediately parted with hard cash to pre order them. (To be honest, I checked out NetGalley first – but neither of them featured – but as the amazing podcast content is free, I didn’t begrudge actually paying for books for once!)

Here’s the blurb about Rob’s book:

‘This is a book about growing up in the ’90s told through the thing that mattered most to me, the television programmes I watched. For my generation television was the one thing that united everyone. There were kids at my school who liked bands, kids who liked football and one weird kid who liked the French sport of petanque, however, we all loved Gladiators, Neighbours and Pebble Mill with Alan Titchmarsh (possibly not the third of these).’
In his first memoir, Josh Widdicombe tells the story of a strange rural childhood, the kind of childhood he only realised was weird when he left home and started telling people about it. From only having four people in his year at school, to living in a family home where they didn’t just not bother to lock the front door, they didn’t even have a key.
Using a different television show of the time as its starting point for each chapter Watching Neighbours Twice a Day… is part-childhood memoir, part-comic history of ’90s television and culture. It will discuss everything from the BBC convincing him that Michael Parkinson had been possessed by a ghost, to Josh’s belief that Mr Blobby is one of the great comic characters, to what it’s like being the only vegetarian child west of Bristol.
It tells the story of the end of an era, the last time when watching television was a shared experience for the family and the nation, before the internet meant everyone watched different things at different times on different devices, headphones on to make absolutely sure no one else could watch it with them.”

I was super excited when the book landed on my doormat – and even got goosebumps from reading the chapter titles (which are all named after different 90s TV programmes) – as they brought back lots of memories.

You can hear Josh’s voice in the book (and no, I didn’t have the audiobook on at the same time) it is just written in his distinctive style. It is so well observed and frequently had me laughing out loud (and then having to explain to my husband what I’d found so funny).

I could quote endlessly from the book – but won’t as you should really buy it yourself – however to read on page 138 about ‘that bloke who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses‘ – mentioned twice, on the day he died, did feel a bit surreal. I am in no way blaming Josh for John Challis’s death I should add!

In another ‘small world’, Josh refers to supporting England at a major football tournament as a ‘doomed relationship’ in the chapter about Euro 1996 – which is somewhat ironic as I watched the England v Switzerland opening game on the floor of Bangkok airport, waiting to fly home from the honeymoon of my first marriage (it hadn’t failed at that point – we lasted another few years, so longer than Terry Venables as England Manager at least).

I was waiting for the time when Josh would mention Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett as examples of people on TV you might not be able to stand – as he’d mentioned it on the ‘Parenting Hell’ podcast – so I felt part of an ‘in-joke’ when I read that. Not that you need to be a podcast subscriber or listener to find the book entertaining – it totally stands on its own two feet.

I read all the way to the end of the acknowledgements (my neck is stiffer than Beckett’s – another podcast reference, I am such a fangirl) and the part written to Josh’s wife and kids made me cry! I hadn’t even had wine!

It was really interesting hearing about Josh’s childhood growing up in Devon – and I loved hearing about his Grandmother Gin in particular. But then I always do love a gin…….

This is a brilliant book – funny, clever, well written, brilliantly observed and a roller coaster of reminiscing with a dollop of popular culture from the 2000s onwards thrown in too. I would guess I’m near the top age range of people who would adore it – but there will always be outliers. A brilliant potential Christmas present for anyone aged 35-50 I reckon.

Well done Josh – now to await Rob’s book with an equal level of excitement!!!