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!!!

Book Review: Payday by Celia Walden

I follow Celia Walden on social media, and have enjoyed her non fiction writing in various publications – but had not before read any of her fiction. I liked the premise of the book – and I can’t deny I also liked the premise that she is married to someone that a lot of the population love to hate! So when Celia was doing the rounds publicising the imminent publication of Payday – I hopped onto NetGalley and was kindly granted a review copy. I’ve only just read it – but that means if you like the sound of it you can buy it immediately:

Here’s the blurb:

“Late one night, three women share secrets.
They barely know each other, but they all know Jamie Lawrence. They know what he’s guilty of. And they agree something must be done.
But as their plan spirals out of control, they begin to doubt themselves . . . and each other. Then Jamie is found dead. And suddenly everything is at stake. As lies are unravelled and truths exposed, two urgent questions emerge:
Who is really guilty?
And who will have to pay?

The three women in question are Alex (Jamie’s recently sacked PA), Nicole (Jamie’s contemporary) and Jill (Jamie’s partner and mentor over the previous years) . Each has a different reason to despise Jamie – but will they be responsible for his downfall or death??

So many of the interactions were totally relatable having worked in the corporate world (as an accountant) and now working in the property sector (although as a hairy arsed contractor rather than a consultant like BWL the company in the book). Everyone knows a Jamie!

The book twists and turns massively – you know that Jamie has died early in the book – but then it goes back in time to get you to the point of his gruesome death. Each of the women – and some other women too – would have reason to destroy him, and this develops as the book progresses. Some elements of the book were quite predictable – others totally shocked me – which really kept me on my toes.

I have to say that neither Alex nor Nicole were particularly likeable – and although Jill was probably my favourite, she still had times when I wanted to give her a talking to. Each of the characters was very different – but very well observed, and I enjoyed the writing style a lot.

Different chapters are told from different points of view and I felt like the pace picked up as the book developed.

There are elements of #metoo, basic sexism, an ageism / sexism combo – and just downright being a dick by Jamie. He doesn’t really appear to have any redeeming features at all.

The twists and turns and ‘oh wow’ moments keep going right to the very end of the book which I thought particularly clever – but because of that I don’t want to reveal too much of the storyline as you need to discover it for yourself.

Overall a great read – and I could easily see it being made into a TV drama – I devoured it really quickly as I was desperate to find out what happened next. The ending does tie up lots of loose ends for all of the characters which I always like in a book.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.


Book Review: Unbreak Your Heart by Katie Marsh

I was sent an ARC of this back in March, but hadn’t had time to read it before it was published in May 2021 – and finally started reading it on our summer holiday. Here’s the blurb:

“Seven-year-old Jake’s heart is failing and he doesn’t want to leave his dad, Simon, alone. So he makes a decision: to find Simon someone to love before he goes.
Beth is determined to forget the past. But even when she leaves New York to start afresh in a Lake District village, she can’t shake the secrets that haunt her.
Single dad Simon still holds a candle for the woman who left him years ago. Every day is a struggle to earn a living while caring for his beloved son. He has no time for finding someone new.
But Jake is determined his plan will succeed – and what unfolds
will change all three of them forever.”

The book starts with Beth bumping into Simon and Jake – literally! The Lake District setting is a character in the book itself in all of its rugged beauty.

The whole book is beautifully written – and I really loved all of the characters. There were times I wanted to shout at them – but in a supportive way, not an overly frustrated way.

Simon’s love for his son is HUGE throughout the book. I have a child with a chronic illness (although thankfully not life limiting like Jake who has HLHS) but that meant that some of the elements of hospital visits and worrying were very, very close to home.

The book is fundamentally a love story – but not just romantic love – it’s love between a parent and child and grandchild, and friends, and family – it’s beautiful.

A really lovely escapist read.

Book Review: No Such Thing As Perfect by Emma Hughes

I was given an advance review copy of this by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Here’s the blurb:

No one’s life is as perfect as it looks.
Least of all Laura Morrison’s. (Although she’s not sure how perfect hanging onto your job by a thread and sleeping on an air mattress at your sister’s looks, in all honesty.)
When Laura gets the chance to trial Cupid – a high-tech new dating service which will draw on everything she’s ever done online to find her perfect match – she figures it’s got to be worth a try.
She can’t believe her luck when good-looking, kind considerate Adam turns up for their first date. On paper he’s…well…perfect.
But when Laura develops feelings for the person who led her to Adam in the first place, familiar doubt creeps in.
Maybe for life to start falling into place, Laura has to learn to let go…”

Laura feels like her life is pretty rubbish, and then she’s put on notice at work – but given a ‘prove herself’ assignment to test out a high tech new dating service which will match her with a prospective partner based upon all of her internet history – so she kind of feels she has to give it a go. Wrapped around that main storyline are the relationships Laura has with her sister, parents, friends, ex housemates and colleagues – none of which are that great.

Adam is lovely, but seemingly a bit of a wet blanket, and so ‘the bad boy’ is appealing.

The storyline is relatively predictable, and I didn’t particularly like any of the main characters – frequently wanting to shout at them.

The writing was good and funny – but for me, it just didn’t quite hit the mark. It wasn’t offensive, and was an easy read – but didn’t set the world alight. Maybe I’m just too old and cynical to be target market?

Book Review: One Lucky Summer by Jenny Oliver

I’ve long been a Jenny Oliver fan – and not just because one of her back catalogue features my name as the main character (charity auction bid from my husband) Her summery books are always great fun – but somehow I’d been sent this on NetGalley and it had passed me by – but what a perfect book to read on my summer holiday, and if you like the sound of it, then it’s out already.

Here’s the blurb:

“The best kept secrets are waiting to be found.         
With an air of faded splendour, Willoughby Hall was an idyllic childhood home to Ruben de Lacy. Gazing at it now, decades later, the memories are flooding back, and not all of them are welcome….
In a tumbledown cottage in Willoughby’s grounds, Dolly and Olive King lived with their eccentric explorer father. One of the last things he did was to lay a treasure hunt before he died, but when events took an unexpected turn, Dolly and Olive left Willoughby for good, never to complete it.
But when Ruben uncovers a secret message, hidden for decades, he knows he needs Olive and Dolly’s help. Can the three of them solve the treasure hunt, and will piecing together the clues help them understand what happened to their families that summer, all those years ago?”

This was a lovely, quick, fun read – I devoured it in a day!

It’s quite an ensemble piece and you’re invested in everyone’s lives. Whilst there is the standard summer romance you’d expect – it’s much more than that – looking at loads of different relationships. Siblings, parental, extended family, unexpected child, colleagues, childhood sweethearts etc etc – and all sat with the beautiful backdrop of Willoughby Hall.

The treasure hunt aspect was also fun – although I wouldn’t say as central as the blurb suggests – but still intriguing.

My only complaint is I want to find out what happens to the gang next!!

It’s only 99p on Kindle – and totally worth less than a cup of coffee.

Book Review: The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

I very much enjoyed Catherine Cooper’s first novel – The Chalet – which became a Sunday Times Bestseller – and so when the publisher emailed to see if I fancied reading her second novel, I jumped at the chance and downloaded an ARC from NetGalley. Here’s the blurb:

They thought it was perfect. They were wrong…
A glamorous chateau
Aura and Nick don’t talk about what happened in England. They’ve bought a chateau in France to make a fresh start, and their kids need them to stay together – whatever it costs.
A couple on the brink
The expat community is welcoming, but when a neighbour is murdered at a lavish party, Aura and Nick don’t know who to trust.
A secret that is bound to come out…
Someone knows exactly why they really came to the chateau. And someone is going to give them what they deserve.”

I romped through this second book from Catherine Cooper enjoying it just as much as The Chalet. I was expecting twists and turns and unexpected things happening – and I was not disappointed!

The book follows 2 timelines – Aura and Nick and their kids having moved to France – and back in England where you know ‘something’ has happened. Flicking back and forth between the timelines really kept up the momentum of the book.

Aura is a typical wannabe Instagram influencer – sharing her life and her kids on public social media channels, and inviting a film crew to document their move to France so she can have her 15 minutes of fame. I have to say, I didn’t really like Aura at all. But then equally I didn’t really like Nick either! Sometimes not liking / empathising with the main characters takes away from the enjoyment of the book – but in this case it didn’t – possibly because bad things kept happening to them!!

It takes pretty much the entire book for both timelines to unravel and to see how they are entwined. As I said, I was expecting a big twist – just like in The Chalet – and there were a couple! And again, I’m not sure I would have spotted them even if I’d known from the start what they would be.

All in all this is not a ‘difficult second album’ of a book – it’s fabulous!

Book Review: The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

The Beloved Girls had rave reviews on NetGalley and from authors I enjoy reading – and so I requested and was granted an advance review copy (it came out on 19 August 2021 for Kindle and in hard copy – paperback is out in April 2022). Here’s the blurb:

‘It’s a funny old house. They have this ceremony every summer . . . There’s an old chapel, in the grounds of the house. Half-derelict. The Hunters keep bees in there. Every year, on the same day, the family processes to the chapel. They open the combs, taste the honey. Take it back to the house. Half for them -‘ my father winced, as though he had bitten down on a sore tooth. ‘And half for us.’
Catherine, a successful barrister, vanishes from a train station on the eve of her anniversary. Is it because she saw a figure – someone she believed long dead? Or was it a shadow cast by her troubled, fractured mind?
The answer lies buried in the past. It lies in the events of the hot, seismic summer of 1989, at Vanes – a mysterious West Country manor house – where a young girl, Jane Lestrange, arrives to stay with the gilded, grand Hunter family, and where a devastating tragedy will unfold. Over the summer, as an ancient family ritual looms closer, Janey falls for each member of the family in turn. She and Kitty, the eldest daughter of the house, will forge a bond that decades later, is still shaping the present . . .”

Apart from the weird poem at the start – the book starts in the present day with Catherine and her family in central London. She’s a successful barrister who has just lost a case and is clearly struggling with the aftermath. Then – she disappears when she’s supposed to be heading off on an anniversary trip with her husband to France. At the end of this section there is then a twist based on on old photo – but it’s exactly the same twist as in another book I read recently #weird

It then flashes back – and is told from different points of view – to teenagers in the late1980s (lots of this was incredibly familiar having been a teenager in the same era!) and then even further back to the parents of the teenagers in their youth.

You know that the storyline is going to build up to a big tragedy in 1989 – although you don’t know exactly what it’s going to be.

The main problem was, I didn’t really give a toss about any of the characters – and the whole bee b*llocks, was just plain weird,

I pushed through, hoping to find what was missing and what everyone else had loved – and because I hate letting a book beat me (The Goldfinch anyone?!?) but it just didn’t click with me at all. Others appear to have loved it – but it just didn’t do it for me. It felt too long, too boring, too simplistic language – it wasn’t badly written or offensive – just a bit of a waste of a few hours of reading.

Book Review: ‘Mum, What’s Wrong With You?’ 101 Things Only Mothers of Teenage Girls Will Know by Lorraine Candy

I’ve followed Lorraine Candy’s writing and social media for years – and more recently become a listener to her ‘Postcards from Midlife’ podcast that she presents with fellow glossy magazine editor alumni Trish Halpin. Lorraine and I both have 4 kids, 3 daughters and a son (although in a different birth order – I’m sounding like I’m in serious stalker territory I appreciate!) and a similar age range (9 – 18 in this family, I think it’s one year to the right in the Candy household). Consequently I’ve always been interested in Lorraine’s take on a busy family life. The podcast has been massively informative on many issues – particularly the perimenopause – but it’s also been interesting to hear Lorraine and Trish’s take on parenting teens. When I knew Lorraine had written a book, I immediately pre ordered it. Here’s the blurb for non podcast listeners:

Mums: are you feeling lonely, confused or worried? Are you panicking that maybe you’re getting everything wrong? Does it, in the words of Lorraine Candy’s own teenage daughter, ‘suck to be you’ (Mum) right now?
Welcome to the most challenging part of your parenting journey: the teenage years.
It was all going so well and then, out of the blue, the little girl you love to the moon and back turned into an irrational, fire-breathing dragon. She lives in a messy pit of wet towels and sticky mugs, hoarding other people’s phone chargers and eyebrow tweezers, while rudely rejecting maternal intervention or affection.
Do not worry. You’re not alone. Parenting columnist Lorraine Candy, a mum of four (including three teens), is here to help. Her warm and witty family memoir will lead you to a more harmonious parenting place. Alongside a wealth of hilarious personal anecdotes, Candy offers you useful, easy-to-follow, well-researched guidance from experts.
This is a survivor’s guide for mums. This book will help you connect with your daughter and feel good about your mothering as you raise the bright and brilliant young women of tomorrow.”

I have to say that due to the title of the book and the cover, I was expecting a list of 101 things then padded out – but that was not the case at all! In fact I’m not sure there were 101 things – but there was an awful lot of content. Early on Lorraine acknowledges her middle class white privilege – and I’m in a similar position and thus her experiences were fairly relevant to mine – but I do think people of different ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic positions might find this is not necessarily the book for them. Having said that – there are many recommendations for extended reading that do cover other issues of race etc.

I think I’m also lucky that I have lots of friends with teenage girls a similar age to mine – and so some of the ‘OMG it’s not just my daughter’ have already been discussed and dissected with them – but that was a really important element of the book, realising that the weird teenage behaviour is totally normal and the same for others the globe over. Teenage girls in Birmingham, UK and Chicago, USA just don’t see the mess in their bedrooms, for example!!!

Lots of big topics are discussed – but it’s filled with light hearted anecdotes as well as heavy hitting professional advice.

I actually recounted one part to a friend recently – about being a pot plant parent – sitting quietly in the room without making yourself known, but you’re always there if needed.

Having ‘big conversations’ whilst side by side is a tactic I’ve long employed – car drives being the optimum – but is something Lorraine recommends too.

It provides a lot of food for thought – and confirms you are not alone (yep, I did break into song as I typed that…………). I’d definitely recommend it for people with teenage – or pre teen – daughters, and in some areas for sons too. It was interesting reading it with a recently adult daughter (legally at least) and two other pre teens – not that I’m saying the first one was a practice run or anything!!

Book Review: Magpie by Elizabeth Day

I have historically enjoyed Elizabeth Day’s books – both fiction and non fiction. And have listened avidly to the last series of her podcast ‘How To Fail with Elizabeth Day’ – where she has a fabulously eclectic mix of guests talking about their ‘failures’. When I saw she had a new novel out – I dived on NetGalley to request a copy and was very kindly granted one. Here’s the blurb:

Sometimes Marisa gets the fanciful notion that Kate has visited the house before. She makes herself at home without any self-consciousness. She puts her toothbrush right there in the master bathroom, on the shelf next to theirs.
In Jake, Marisa has found everything she’s ever wanted. Then their new lodger Kate arrives.
Something about Kate isn’t right. Is it the way she looks at Marisa’s boyfriend? Sits too close on the sofa? Constantly asks about the baby they are trying for? Or is it all just in Marisa’s head?
After all, that’s what her Jake keeps telling her. And she trusts him – doesn’t she?
But Marisa knows something is wrong. That the woman sleeping in their house will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Marisa just doesn’t know why.
How far will she go to find the answer – and how much is she willing to lose?

Ooh – this is GOOD! It’s not often I dole out a 5* review on NetGalley – but this is definitely a book that deserves one. It is incredibly well written, it feels like a grown up, ‘proper’ book – if that doesn’t sound too wanky?! It feels like care and attention has been made to the words and sentence structure and how it is all presented – as if it has been properly crafted and not just rushing to get the story down.

The book starts with Marisa and Jake and their new relationship. Jake is quite repressed with his emotions – but Marisa is madly in love and desperate to start a family with him. Her friend Jas is wary of it all going a bit quickly – but accepts the situation. Jake is the main breadwinner – but when a deal goes tits up he can no longer fund everything and so they get a lodger – Kate. Marisa is somewhat suspicious of Kate and her motives and feels she’s trying to get her claws into Jake as time progresses.

Then THERE IS A MASSIVE TWIST! It is brilliant. I’m not going to even hint at what it is – but it is amazing and really well written. I hate reviews that give stuff away – and so I’m not going to!

Whilst the story focusses on the 3 main characters of Marisa, Jake and Kate – the interweaving of additional characters, and back stories, is done really well. Are Jake’s parents misunderstood? Supportive? Spiteful? Downright evil?

There is also an element of infertility that is discussed in a really perceptive way. Ms Day has been very open about her own fertility journey and so this part of the storyline feels really well written and personal and consequently emotive.

I loved this book and devoured it very quickly. It’s out at the beginning of September – and I would highly recommend pre ordering it immediately.

A massive thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC.