Book Review: Life In Pieces by Dawn O’Porter

I have been ‘So Lucky’ to read Dawn O’Porter’s recent fiction books – so was intrigued to read her new non fiction book – based upon her experiences during the coronavirus crisis. Or – the start of the coronavirus crisis as it seems to be never ending. Now, I am also a member of Dawn’s Patreon page (yep, bit of a fangirl!) and I knew this book was based upon the daily blogs she’d done on there – so I was nervous that the book would be a bit boring reading stuff I’d already read – but I needn’t have been concerned! There’s plenty of new content too – and re-reading previous blog posts felt like reminiscing with friends about the fun we had at the start of lockdown!!

Anyway – here’s the blurb:

“Dear 2020 – can we just start over?
Love Dawn x

LIFE IN PIECES is a book for anyone who’s been thrown into a life they didn’t plan, or who just wants to stick it to 2020. When it looks like everything’s falling apart, we’ll piece it back together.
 
From reflections on grief and identity, bad hair and parenting, sleep and spirituality, to the things we can control and the things we cannot, Dawn has been doing a lot of thinking about life in lockdown. Mostly from a cupboard. Discover the daily diaries that track the journey – for a hilarious, heartbreaking and highly entertaining glimpse into the new normal.”

The book is pretty much chronological from just before lockdown – when Dawn came to the UK for her good friend Caroline Flack’s funeral – and then through the experience of lockdown for Dawn and her family in LA.

So yes, it’s based in LA where Dawn lives with her handsome movie star husband – but so much of it is totally relatable to any parent going through this madness. The relentlessness. The hell on earth that is homeschooling. The drinking from early in the afternoon. Not the weed gummies for me – but I can see the attraction if they were legal here! The endless meals to be prepared.

There are also some ‘essays’ in amongst the diary entries which give more background to Dawn’s life and experiences to date. I am by nature a nosey cow, so found these really interesting.

Clearly Dawn has found lockdown tough – exacerbated by the horrific grief of suddenly losing a friend just before being stuck at home in the midst of a global pandemic. But the love for her husband Chris, her boys and her pets shines right through. (This was made all the more poignant because after finishing the book but before it will be published, Dawn’s first responsibility – her Siamese cat Lilu – sadly died at the grand old age of 16. This book is a fitting tribute to her though (although she may well have p*ssed on a copy if she’d been near one.))

As I’ve mentioned before – I am a bit of a fan of Dawn O’Porter’s (although TBH so are quite a lot of women of my age – our book club has regularly discussed how we’d like her to join us on a night out!) and maybe the book wouldn’t be as interesting if you didn’t know of and like Dawn. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments – and it’s also really moving in places, particularly when Dawn talks about losing Caroline and her Mum when she was a young girl.

In years to come it could be considered a historical account of these bloody strange times!

A massive thank you to Harper Collins, NetGally – and Dawn – for the book.

Audio Book Review: More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran

“A decade ago, Caitlin Moran thought she had it all figured out. Her instant bestseller How to Be a Woman was a game-changing take on feminism, the patriarchy, and the general ‘hoo-ha’ of becoming a woman. Back then, she firmly believed ‘the difficult bit’ was over, and her forties were going to be a doddle.

If only she had known: when middle age arrives, a whole new bunch of tough questions need answering. Why isn’t there such a thing as a ‘Mum Bod’? How did sex get boring? What are men really thinking? Where did all that stuff in the kitchen drawers come from? Can feminists have Botox? Why has wine turned against you? How can you tell the difference between a Teenage Micro-Breakdown, and The Real Thing? Has feminism gone too far? And, as always, WHO’S LOOKING AFTER THE CHILDREN?

Now with ageing parents, teenage daughters, a bigger bum and a To-Do list without end, Caitlin Moran is back with More Than A Woman: a guide to growing older, a manifesto for change, and a celebration of all those middle-aged women who keep the world turning.”

I’m a year older than Caitlin, also from the Midlands, with parents in their 70s and teenage kids and a bigger bum than I had a decade ago, and a To-Do list without end (although I’m not a writer – I’m an accountant and run a construction company with my husband) – but there are enough similarities that I’ve always enjoyed Caitlin’s writing (and her recent podcast chats with Sophie Ellis-Bextor on ‘Spinning Plates’ and Trish and Lorraine on ‘Postcards from Midlife’ ) Consequently I decided to pay good money (I usually blag free books!) for the audiobook of ‘More Than A Woman’ to continue my ‘non fiction books in the car’ activities.

It is so very, very good. Thought provoking, amusing, emotional – a real rollercoaster, in a good way!

It’s written in Caitlin’s trademark style and the audiobook is read by her too. It has laugh out loud moments aplenty. The 5 page ‘to do’ list could have fundamentally been mine (and yes, I do think about it during maintenance sex too!!) The fact that as a middle aged woman who basically has her act together you will be pulled in multiple directions – teenage kids, ageing parents, divorcing friends, friends and family having health crises – on top of running a family, house, social life and keeping down a job.

My husband is an amazing partner and father and does LOADS for the kids – much more than the average male in a relationship (partly due to the logistics of having our own company meaning we can be more flexible with when we both work). But he freely admits that the thinking and the ‘to do’ lists are firmly in my court. Partly this is because I am a total control freak – but also because, as a middle aged woman, just as Caitlin writes, you just do it. I arrived home last week to him in a massive panic as he was trying to cook the kids dinner, whilst logging one on to a Brownie Zoom, whilst waiting for the groceries to be delivered, and trying to find a gumshield and shin pads – all of which he’s been instructed to do, but he did find it stressful to do them simultaneously. (I did laugh a little bit!!)

But as well as laugh out loud moments, and ‘oh my God that is totally me’, there are also really emotional parts too. Caitlin shares a lot about parenting a child with an eating disorder. (Her daughter wanted the story shared to help other families.) It was really moving – and brilliant that there has been a positive outcome for their family. So often middle aged parents are seemingly embarrassed by their children’s mental health issues (even if the teenager is quite prepared to be open about it) but us middle aged and older parents have been brought up to keep schtum about mental health issues, as if brushing it under the carpet will mean it isn’t happening. Therefore positive outcomes are often not applauded – because the issue has never been mentioned in the first place. I’m very lucky that, as yet (with 4 kids I suspect it is firmly ‘yet’ and not ‘if’) we haven’t had to deal with anything like this – but I have learned so much from the book. I’d never thought about how saying ‘Mummy and Daddy just want you to be happy’ could be so much pressure on a child to be happy all of the time and thus not tell you that they’re sad. Sometimes we NEED to be unhappy to process ‘stuff’ and the same goes for kids. It’s really made me think that sometimes you do need to be Pooh sitting next to Eeyore just to be there – not telling the grumpy one to ‘buck the f*ck up’. This too shall pass.

Overall the book made me feel massively empowered! I intend to embrace my hag years with abandon. I will not apologise for being a middle aged woman, I will try not to worry about being too little – or too much (or some days both). And I am grateful for my coven – both in real life and online – who I know have my back every day (as well as having their own 5 page ‘to do’ lists / partners / kids / parents / pets (so many dogs when the kids hit teenage years!) / jobs / volunteering commitments / social lives / other friends / sports / book clubs etc, etc, et bloody cetera!)

We are definitely more than women!!

(And buy this book immediately so we can compare notes – or I’ll buy it for everyone for Christmas!!)

Book Review: Why Mummy’s Sloshed by Gill Sims

I have LOVED the previous books by Gill Sims, the previous one being my absolutely favourite – so when the publisher emailed to see if I’d like an ARC of the 4th and final instalment (out in October 2020), I replied within seconds, and started reading it that afternoon!

Here’s the blurb:

Number One bestselling author Gill Sims is back with her eagerly awaited fourth and final Why Mummy novel.

I just wanted them to stop wittering at me, eat vegetables without complaining, let me go to the loo in peace and learn to make a decent gin and tonic.  
It genuinely never occurred to me when they were little that this would ever end – an eternity of Teletubbies and Duplo and In The Night Bastarding Garden and screaming, never an end in sight.  But now there is.  And despite the busybody old women who used to pop up whenever I was having a bad day and tell me I would miss these days when they were over, I don’t miss those days at all.  
I have literally never stood wistfully in the supermarket and thought ‘Oh, how I wish someone was trailing behind me constantly whining ‘Mummy, can I have, Mummy can I have?’ while another precious moppet tries to climb out the trolley so they land on their head and we end up in A&E.  
Again.

Mummy has been a wife and mother for so long that she’s a little bit lost. And despite her best efforts, her precious moppets still don’t know the location of the laundry basket, the difference between being bored and being hungry, or that saying ‘I can’t find it Mummy’ is not the same as actually looking for it.

Amidst the chaos of A-Levels and driving tests, she’s doing her best to keep her family afloat, even if everybody is set on drifting off in different directions, and that one of those directions is to make yet another bloody snack. She’s feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated, and the only thing that Mummy knows for sure is that the bigger the kids, the bigger the drink.

Yet again – this is totally timely for me. It starts with Jane learning to drive – something I’m going through with my eldest at the moment! Peter and Jane are also studying for their GCSEs and A levels – exactly the same as my eldest two (although whether they’ll actually sit exams in the summer, who knows? #bloodyCovid) So all in all – I TOTALLY got this book! As with the rest of the series it frequently had be laughing out loud – and wondering if it was based on our household?!

But don’t be put off if you haven’t reached the teenage years yet, Ellen’s friend Hannah has a demon toddler, and the chapter where Ellen looks after him for 24 hours brought lots of those memories flooding back. Sudocrem and carpets are not happy bedfellows.

Although I should confess, and I feel I almost need to whisper, I’m not a dog person – so that bit of the storyline wasn’t relevant to me at all!!

I love how Ellen’s group of friends have stayed together throughout the books – and the support they provide each other – it’s great, and like meeting up with your own old friends.

The book then deals with Jane heading off to University in Edinburgh (weirdly as one of my good friends was dropping her daughter up to start studying there too!) and Ellen thinking about how she only has a couple more years of Peter at home before she has an empty nest! My sister is at this stage next week, and it’s really mixed feelings (having got 4 kids, an empty nest is A LONG way off for us, so I’m possibly less emotional about the whole thing!)

The storyline was reasonably predictable – with some very amusing twists and turns along the way – but I actually really liked that, and as the final book in the series, I think it concluded brilliantly. I think it’s usurped book 3 as my favourite in the series!

I’ll miss Ellen! Maybe she can come back when we’re all going to have grandkids?!?

A huge thank you to Harper Collins and NetGalley for the advance review copy – and to Gill Sims for yet another fabulous book!



Book Review: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Ghosts

I loved Dolly Alderton’s sort of autobiographical best seller “Everything I Know About Love” and so when I saw she had her first novel coming out I wondered if I could get an ARC from NetGalley – and I could – hoorah!

Here’s the blurb:

“Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan.

A new relationship couldn’t have come at a better time – her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone’s moving to the suburbs. There’s no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who’s caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion into dementia.

Dolly Alderton’s debut novel is funny and tender, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships, family, memory, and how we live now.”

I really enjoyed this book!

The central character is Nina, who I liked (despite being significantly older than her and with very different life experiences).  The book looks at her romantic entanglements – but also her relationships with others, her friends, parents, neighbours – and how they all intertwine. 

I almost feel like the relationships were dealt with in pairs:

Nina’s Mum (Nancy / Mandy) and her Dad:  it was clear Nina was a Daddy’s girl, and her relationship with her Mum is more ‘complicated’ and I liked how this progressed during the book.  Nina’s Dad’s dementia gets worse and worse – but was well written and true to life experiences of this horrible disease. 

Katherine and Lola: these are Nina’s friends – but from different life stages.  Katherine is a smug married, whilst Lola is on a permanent quest for love.  Their personal circumstances bring different strains to their relationships with Nina – and I think were written really well.

Max and Joe: Max is Nina’s new boyfriend and the ‘leading man’ of the book – whilst Joe is her long term ex who is still a best friend.  The first interaction between them was cringingly well written!  And Nina on Joe’s new fiancée’s hen weekend was also painfully good. 

Her upstairs and downstairs neighbours:  Lovely, slightly deaf older lady up above; grumpy, aggressive, scary Italian man down below. 

Whilst the ‘Ghosts’ of the title could be the current vocab of romantic partners who suddenly cut you off with no explanation, it’s clear Nina’s Dad is also encountering his own ghosts as he suffers with dementia.

Nina is quick witted, smart, sassy and independent and a great leading lady – and the book was a rollercoaster of emotions – sometimes I was laughing out loud, other  times having a little weep. 

A huge thank you to Netgalley and Penguin for my advance review copy.  Ghosts is out in October 2020 and can be pre ordered now. 

 

Audio Book Review: Glorious Rock Bottom by Bryony Gordon

Glorious Rock Bottom

 

I really enjoyed Bryony Gordon’s book about her mental health struggles, so when I saw her new book about alcoholism had come out, I actually purchased it (a rarity for me!).  Having recently discovered podcasts to listen to in the car, I thought I’d give Audible a go again (I dabbled some years ago but never got into it) – and because I like a plan, thought I’d do ‘non fiction’ audiobooks in the car – and leave the fiction for books at home.  Interestingly at a recent bookclub Zoom, some of the other members have non fiction downstairs and fiction upstairs – so it’s clearly ‘a thing’ to differentiate!

Here’s the blurb about the book:

“Bryony Gordon is a respected journalist, a number-one bestselling author and an award-winning mental health campaigner. She is also an alcoholic.

In Glorious Rock Bottom Bryony opens up about a toxic twenty-year relationship with alcohol and drugs and explains exactly why hitting rock bottom – for her, a traumatic event and the abrupt realisation that she was putting herself in danger, time and again – saved her life. Known for her trademark honesty, Bryony re-lives the darkest and most terrifying moments of her addiction, never shying away from the fact that alcoholism robs you of your ability to focus on your family, your work, your health, your children, yourself. And then, a chink of light as the hard work begins – rehab; twelve-step meetings; endless, tedious, painful self-reflection – a rollercoaster ride through self-acceptance, friendship, love and hope, to a joy and pride in staying sober that her younger self could never have imagined.

Now, I had high hopes for this book and really wanted to enjoy it and find it helpful in my own relationship with booze – but initially I didn’t. I found Bryony sharing her rock bottom really disturbing. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for oversharing – the whole village knows about my piles – but this was really disturbing stuff. Sexual encounters with almost strangers, being repeatedly unfaithful to her husband, endangering her child – and it upset me both to read it – but also to think of them reading it. It felt really intrusive and things that no child should ever read about their Mum (I guess I’m more careful of this now – when the kids were little I’d share with wanton abandon, but teenagers are sh*ts – and my daughter’s ‘friends’ would find photos and info off this very blog to take the p*ss out of her, and so I’m more careful – and thus was worried about Bryony’s daughter Edie in the future.) It felt like it was being deliberately written to shock – which I guess it was – but it felt like I was a voyeur for listening to it…..

However, I persevered, and I’m so pleased I did.

The love Bryony has for her family is clearly what ‘saved’ her along with her determination not to let drugs and alcohol take everything from her – probably including her life. This shines through in her writing – and hearing her read her own words, and her voice catch with the emotion a few times, was deeply moving.

Her description of rehab (private, as a day patient) and the 12 step programme – without breaking confidences – was still really informative.

The end of the book had me totally weeping buckets and I arrived at work having to explain why my mascara was all down my face!

This is not a self help book, this is alcoholism and drug addiction from Bryony’s personal point of view. It is not preachy, it is not expecting everyone to give up booze, it very much distinguishes between alcoholics and people who can consume alcohol at a sensible level. I will sometimes have a ‘non-alcoholic’ beer, just because I don’t want the fuzzy head of a couple of beers, but the chapter where Bryony has a non-alcoholic beer binge does highlight the fact that non-alcoholic drinks are for non-alcoholics – a distinction I hadn’t really considered before.

After my initial reticence I did enjoy the book – and I’m sure Bryony’s husband was completely supportive in her writing it – and they will deal with Edie being told about the contents in an age appropriate and loving way in the future and I shouldn’t have got all worked up about it.

At the end of the day, their loving family unit – and their conkers – have helped Bryony conquered her demons.

Book Review: V For Victory by Lissa Evans

V for Victory

Yet again using Red Magazine as my guide, I requested an ARC of V For Victory by Lissa Evans from NetGalley. Here’s the blurb:

“It’s late 1944. Hitler’s rockets are slamming down on London with vicious regularity and it’s the coldest winter in living memory. Allied victory is on its way, but it’s bloody well dragging its feet.
In a large house next to Hampstead Heath, Vee Sedge is just about scraping by, with a herd of lodgers to feed, and her young charge Noel ( almost fifteen ) to clothe and educate. When she witnesses a road accident and finds herself in court, the repercussions are both unexpectedly marvellous and potentially disastrous – disastrous because Vee is not actually the person she’s pretending to be, and neither is Noel.
The end of the war won’t just mean peace, but discovery…
With caustic wit and artful storytelling, Lissa Evans elegantly summons a time when the world could finally hope to emerge from the chaos of war. As sharply comic as Old Baggage and emotionally poignant as Crooked Heart, V For Victory once again shows Lissa Evans to be one of our most brilliant and subtle writers.”

Now – I didn’t realise until I saw on NetGalley – there are actually 2  books that precede this.   I hadn’t realised it was part of a set and so read it standalone – which was totally fine, and the relevant back story was fleshed out enough that it made sense.  However, if I’d known I probably would have read the other two books first – mostly because I’m a pedant who likes to do things in order.

The book tells the story of Noel and Vee and the interesting tenants of their boarding house near Hampstead Heath – and then a story running parallel, which interconnects at times, of Winnie a local ARP warden and her friends and family.

This is a beautifully written book and really evokes the feeling of London at this time in history.  The destruction and sadness – but with glimpses of happiness and normality.  The way the buildings are described – pre and post bombings – is wonderful, and makes it really easy to imagine being there.

The tenants of Green Shutters are an eclectic mix – and all teaching Noel different subjects.  He’s a geek (in a good way, I am a geek and see this as a compliment!) and interested in learning – I liked him a lot! I was also proud of his chicken keeping (my kids love our chickens too).

Winnie was a wonderful character – she just knuckled down and got on with life.  The sometimes strained relationship with her sister Avril was really well written – sibling rivalries – in this case even more so as twins  – was observed excellently.  The camaraderie between Winnie and her ARP colleagues – and many of the locals – was also beautifully portrayed. The letters between Winnie and her husband – who was away at war – were talked about a number of times – and the evolving story of them, particularly at the end of the book, was really moving – but also funny.

There are twist and turns involving Noel’s parentage which were really emotive – in very different ways.  One minute you were happy, then sad, then laughing, then shocked – the whole gamut of emotions was run!

This is not a bare knuckle ride of a book, it’s a beautiful, well written, evocative novel and I really enjoyed it.

If I had my time again I would probably read the series in order – but overall this was a lovely escapist read, and I would highly recommend it.  It came out yesterday – so you can buy it now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Scenes of a Graphic Nature by Caroline O’Donoghue

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I saw this book reviewed in this month’s Red magazine – and so saw if NetGalley had any ARCs – and they did – so I was lucky enough to receive a copy the day before publication date (so at least that means if you like the sound of it you can get a copy immediately – rather than me tempting you weeks before a book comes out!)

Here’s the blurb:

“After a tough few years floundering around the British film industry, experimenting with amateur pornography and watching her father’s health rapidly decline, Charlie and her best friend Laura journey to her ancestral home of Clipim, an island off the west coast of Ireland. Knowing this could be the last chance to connect with her dad’s history before she loses him, Charlie clings to the idea of her Irish roots offering some kind of solace. But when the girls arrive at Clipim, Charlie begins to question both her difficult relationship with Laura and her father’s childhood stories. Before long, she’s embroiled in a devastating conspiracy that’s been sixty years in the making . . . and it’s up to her to reveal the truth of it.”

At the start of the book I have to confess to finding Charlie a bit of an annoying millennial – sorry, I know I’m an old fart – but I wanted to give her a good shake! But I persevered – as I generally like Sarra Manning’s recommendations – and the book did, thankfully,  improve.

The fictional island of Clipim off the West Coast of Ireland was, in my imagination, like Great Cumbrae off the West Coast of Scotland where we used to visit as children.  A very small island where everyone knows everyone else’s business!  This mythical place had been part of Charlie’s family history – but she’d never been.  In fact she’d never set foot in Ireland at all despite her proud half Irish heritage!  However, she’d made a film about her Dad’s  time in Clipim as a child and a terrible tragedy that had occurred back then which was being shown at the Cork Film Festival – so Charlie and her best friend Laura hopped across to Clipim too.

Once on Clipim Charlie begins to suspect there is more to the historic tragedy than meets the eye.  There are some weird goings on in the present day there too.

The book is part self discovery for Charlie, part friendship / relationship issues, part murder mystery – and consequently kept me interested.

Charlie’s relationship with her parents was tricky – she seemed to be a complete Daddy’s girl – and her relationship with her Mum was generally really strained.  It was a real shame for both of them, as with a very poorly father, it would have been better for them both if there’d been some more give and take.

And her best friend Laura seemed a bit of a cow at times I have to say.  Charlie’s relationship with Maria was interesting – and I do wonder how it developed between the end of the main book and the epilogue.

The book seems to conclude really quickly, within the last few pages – and it didn’t feel like there were PROPER answers.  And I was also left confused about some of the characters – who appear to have just been totally weird, but not for any specific reason! Benjamin Barry who ran the caravan park was completely odd, manipulative and weird – but with no explanation why.

Whilst the book is not based on a true historical incident, and Clipim is not a real island in Ireland – there were ‘Magadalene laundries’ as is referenced in the book with stories that are still being uncovered today.  The unfolding of the tragedy did seem totally believable – if terribly sad.

Overall I did enjoy the book and thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club

First things first, I need to confess that I LOVE Richard Osman.  I suspect he’s appeared on a Heat Weird Crush list at some point (Google confirms, winner in 2011) – but is clearly far more valid an entrant than Piers Morgan.  Richard is funny, quick witted, clever and an all round perfect crush.  OK, so Xander Armstrong might have the royal lineage and recording contract for easy listening stuff your Mum would listen to – but Richard is the star of Pointless for me.  (Although I am still a bit disappointed that my Mum and I never got past the application form stage – although perhaps there is a special pile designated for ‘potential stalkers of Richard therefore do not progress’)

Anyway – enough of my fan girling – but it’s safe to say I had high hopes for this book when I was approved for an advance review copy on NetGalley.

Here’s the blurb (in case ‘written by Richard Osman’ isn’t enough of a temptation for everyone):

“THE FIRST BOOK IN THE GRIPPING THURSDAY MURDER CLUB SERIES BY TV PRESENTER RICHARD OSMAN
In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.
But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.
Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?”

 

I ADORED this book.  As crime dramas go it’s more ‘Grantchester’ than ‘Line of Duty’ – but that was just perfect.

The central character OAPs are a diverse bunch who each bring skills from their younger lives to the team –  Elizabeth has some mysterious espionage background, Joyce was a nurse, Ibrahim a psychiatrist, and Ron a union firebrand.  Their relationship with Chris and Donna – the police in charge of the investigation – is hilarious, Elizabeth is the Queen of manipulation – and everyone ends up doing what she wants.

There are red herrings aplenty – and coincidences galore – but that all makes for a twisty turny read that I couldn’t put down.

I started highlighting sentences that I loved – but realised I’d end up having most of the book highlighted – so here are just a couple to give you a flavour:

“After a certain age, you can pretty much do whatever takes your fancy.  No one tells you off, except for your doctors and your children.”  This was very early on in the book and rang incredibly true, particularly following the recent lockdown – where I, and a number of friends, have had to deal with septuagenarian parents who think we are totally unreasonable for discounting ‘popping to get a paper’ as an essential journey and thus telling them off!

“I haven’t been to Ashford International, but I doubt a station would have ‘International’ in its name and not have an M&S.” This is just so British – and I could hear my late Nan saying something exactly like this! In the 1980s – so when there were far less mini M&Ss around – my Grandfather got my Nan to walk to the top of the Long Mynd in Shropshire by promising her there was an M&S at the top!

Whilst there are murders, there is also a lot of humour and laugh out loud moments.  There are also some really tender and emotional moments between the characters – and some big stuff is dealt with too – dementia, suicide, euthanasia, family relationships – but all done in a lovely way.

It’s funny, clever, quick witted – and you can almost hear Richard Osman saying some of the lines.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book where the personality of the writer is so personified in the way it’s written – but as a fan that doesn’t bother me (however if you don’t like Mr Osman, maybe don’t bother reading it!?)

The only slight bug bear is that the formatting is a bit weird – and mid paragraph you could jump scene from, say, the retirement village to the police station.  Initially I thought this might have been a clever ploy to keep the reader on their toes and potentially stave off dementia – but suspect that more likely it’s because it was a proof copy and this will be sorted before the book is actually released!

But aside from this – I thoroughly enjoyed this fabulous book – and I’m chuffed that it’s the start of a series.  I can not wait to see what the Thursday Murder Club get up to next.

A huge thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my advance review copy – I will be singing The Thursday Murder Club’s praises far and wide!

 

 

Book Review: If I Could Say Goodbye by Emma Cooper

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I loved both of Emma Cooper’s previous books – so when I saw her third was being published in September 2020 I dived onto NetGalley to see if I could get an advance review copy – and I did!

Here’s the blurb:

“Jennifer Jones’ life began when her little sister, Kerry, was born. So when her sister dies in a tragic accident, nothing seems to make sense any more.

Despite the support of her husband, Ed, and their wonderful children, Jen can’t comprehend why she is still here, while bright, spirited Kerry is not.

When Jen starts to lose herself in her memories of her sister, she doesn’t realise that the closer she feels to Kerry, the further she gets from her family.

Jen was never able to say goodbye to her sister. But what if she could?

Would you risk everything if you had the chance to say goodbye?”

 

I am gutted – but I didn’t love this as much as Emma’s last two books.  Possibly because I totally bloody adored them and so had high hopes – but it just wasn’t quite there for me.

I have to say initially I found this a bit disturbing.  Jen’s grief feels really personal – and being part of that felt intrusive.  The person I felt most sorry for throughout the whole book was her poor husband Ed – he really was left having to deal with everything.

I know grief is a very individual thing – and I will literally be GUTTED when either of my sisters do pass away – but at the same time, Jen seemed to totally desert her husband and kids though her grief.  I am incredibly lucky that aside from the circle of life grandparents passing away, I have never had anyone close to me die – but I have seen a friend lose her child, and another friend her husband.  Clearly they were DEVASTATED by this – and still some days are worse than others – but at no point did they totally neglect their still living children and family members.  The whole storyline felt totally alien.  I guess it’s based upon an individual’s mental health which is completely personal to that human – but as a reader, I found it really hard to be empathetic with Jen at all when she still had her life to live, and her husband and kids to support her and who needed her support.

Jen’s relationship with her sister’s partner, Nessa, also felt odd to me.  Initially stilted and forced, to then over friendly and weird.  I felt sorry for Jen’s parents who effectively lost both daughters after the accident.  The fact Jen was adopted and Kerry wasn’t felt forced into the storyline.

Maybe if there had been some back story to the sisters relationship – as clearly they must have been much closer than regular sisters – it may have made more sense.  And I also felt I didn’t know Jen enough ‘pre accident’.  However the story very much implied her behaviour post accident was totally different to how she was pre accident.

As with Emma’s previous books it was well written, funny, prompted me to laugh out loud a number of times, and had lots of current themes etc.  But for me, it just didn’t quite hit the mark – but as I say, this could have been due to my unrealistic expectations. Possibly if I’d not had these high hopes it wouldn’t have felt like it wasn’t quite right.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my advance review copy.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Dear NHS: 100 Stories To Say Thank You

Dear NHS

It’s not often I pay actual money for a book – I’m super lucky that I get lots of advance review copies for free – but when I saw this was coming out, I was clearly more than happy to part with some cash when all of the profits are going to support NHS Charities Together and The Lullaby Trust.

Here’s the blurb:

“Curated and edited by Adam Kay (author of multi-million bestseller This is Going to Hurt), Dear NHS features 100 household names telling their personal stories of the health service. Contributors include: Paul McCartney, Emilia Clarke, Peter Kay, Stephen Fry, Dawn French, Sir Trevor McDonald, Graham Norton, Sir Michael Palin, Naomie Harris, Ricky Gervais, Sir David Jason, Dame Emma Thompson, Joanna Lumley, Miranda Hart, Dermot O’Leary, Jamie Oliver, Ed Sheeran, David Tennant, Dame Julie Walters, Emma Watson, Malala Yousafzai and many, many more.

All profits from this book will go to NHS Charities Together to fund vital research and projects, and The Lullaby Trust which supports parents bereaved of babies and young children.

Other writers include Chris O’Dowd, Johnny Vegas, Jack Whitehall, Chris Evans, Lorraine Kelly, Lee Mack, Jonathan Ross, Konnie Huq, Greg James, Frank Skinner, Louis Theroux, KT Tunstall, Sandi Toksvig and Kevin Bridges.

The NHS is our single greatest achievement as a country. No matter who you are, no matter what your health needs are, and no matter how much money you have, the NHS is there for you. In Dear NHS, 100 inspirational people come together to share their stories of how the national health service has been there for them, and changed their lives in the process. By turns deeply moving, hilarious, hopeful and impassioned, these stories together become a love letter to the NHS and the 1.4 million people who go above and beyond the call of duty every single day – selflessly, generously, putting others before themselves, never more so than now.

They are all heroes, and this book is our way of saying thank you.

Contributors include: Dolly Alderton, Monica Ali, Kate Atkinson, Pam Ayres, David Baddiel, Johanna Basford, Mary Beard, William Boyd, Frankie Boyle, Jo Brand, Kevin Bridges, Alex Brooker, Charlie Brooker, Rob Brydon, Bill Bryson, Kathy Burke, Peter Capaldi, Jimmy Carr, Candice Carty-Williams, Lauren Child, Lee Child, Bridget Christie, Emilia Clarke, Rev Richard Coles, Daisy May Cooper, Jilly Cooper, Fearne Cotton, Juno Dawson, Kit de Waal, Victoria Derbyshire, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Chris Evans, Anne Fine, Martin Freeman, Dawn French, Stephen Fry, Mark Gatiss, Ricky Gervais, Professor Green, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Mark Haddon, Matt Haig, The Hairy Bikers, Naomie Harris, Miranda Hart, Victoria Hislop, Nick Hornby, Sali Hughes, Konnie Huq, Marina Hyde, E L James, Greg James, Sir David Jason, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Jackie Kay, Peter Kay, Lorraine Kelly, Marian Keyes, Shappi Khorsandi, Nish Kumar, Stewart Lee, Joanna Lumley, Lee Mack, Emily Maitlis, Andrew Marr, Catherine Mayer, Alexander McCall Smith, Paul McCartney, Sir Trevor McDonald, Caitlin Moran, Kate Mosse, Jojo Moyes, David Nicholls, John Niven, Graham Norton, Chris O’Dowd, Dermot O’Leary, Jamie Oliver, Sir Michael Palin, Maxine Peake, Sue Perkins, Katie Piper, Ian Rankin, Jonathan Ross, Ed Sheeran, Paul Sinha, Frank Skinner, Matthew Syed, Kate Tempest, David Tennant, Louis Theroux, Dame Emma Thompson, Sandi Toksvig, Stanley Tucci, KT Tunstall, Johnny Vegas, Danny Wallace, Dame Julie Walters, Phil Wang, Emma Watson, Mark Watson, Robert Webb, Irvine Welsh, Jack Whitehall, Josh Widdicombe, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Greg Wise, Malala Yousafzai, Benjamin Zephaniah.”

 

The introduction to the book is by Adam Kay – and he explains why there are actually more than 100 stories – but I’ll leave you to read that yourselves as it is amusing.  He also makes great use of footnotes – as ever!

Each of the ‘stories’ is very different.  There are letters, poems, stories, reminiscences – and a mixture of the current crisis the NHS is facing during the coronavirus crisis – and then people’s historic experiences.  All are very different.

I expected it to be total weep-fest – and I did cry – but not as much as I thought I would.

There was only one entry that I thought ‘well, you’re an attention seeking celebrity’ (and I won’t name names!) all of the others I thought were well written and thoughtful.

Clearly this book is for a great cause – and is rightly on the top of best seller lists.  It makes a perfect ‘toilet’ book – in that you can pick it up and put it down and can read it in small bitesize chunks. Although given the current climate – I’m not sure reading books in toilets is allowed – in fact it probably shouldn’t be allowed in any climate……

It made me think of how grateful I am personally to the NHS and how it’s helped, and continues to help, me and my family on an almost daily basis – but I won’t make this blog post all about us!

Assuming you’re one of the few people who haven’t bought this yet – I would suggest you do.   It’s a good read and you’re raising money for excellent causes.

#ThankYouNHS