Book Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Still me

I was lucky enough to read the first chapter of this a couple of months ago, and really enjoyed it, so was very excited to read the book in its entirety!

In case you can’t be bothered to click on the link above, here’s the blurb:

“Lou Clark is back in the BRAND NEW Jojo Moyes novel Still Me, follow-up to the Number One international bestsellers Me Before You and After You.

Lou Clark knows too many things . . .

She knows how many miles lie between her new home in New York and her new boyfriend Sam in London.

She knows her employer is a good man and she knows his wife is keeping a secret from him.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to meet someone who’s going to turn her whole life upside down.

Because Josh will remind her so much of a man she used to know that it’ll hurt.

Lou won’t know what to do next, but she knows that whatever she chooses is going to change everything.”

And – oh – it’s good!!

It was great to catch up with Louisa Clark and her friends and family again.  The book would probably standalone – but is much better if you have all of the back stories to everyone.

The setting of a large proportion of the book in New York is great – and even more so as we visited NYC with 2 of the kids last year. Things like ‘walking the High Line’ would have meant nothing to me before our last visit – but I could now really picture it (and totally do walk the High Line if you are in Manhattan, it’s a fabulous conversion of an old elevated train line into a public park, and feels like you’ve stepped into another world above the busy streets below). Similarly talking about Central Park (we too were ripped off by the blokes who give you a lift on a bike!) and the Loeb Boathouse (and the book has taught me how to pronounce it too!)

Lou’s relationships with her new employers, fellow staff members, neighbours, family and friends back home are all explored and are all really interesting – and change over the course of the book – dramatically driving the story forward.

Cross referencing Lou’s experiences with Will’s when he lived in New York by letters he’d written to his Mum, who’d passed them on to Louisa, was a lovely touch, and brought the trilogy full circle.

You are reminded how lovely Lou is – particularly when she has to keep a secret for her new employer.  I was (silently, the husband was asleep next to me) screaming at her to tell the truth and not cover up for someone else – but she is too nice.

I really, really, really enjoyed this. I confess to feeling that ‘After You’ has a bit of a ‘difficult second album’ about it – only because ‘Me Before You’ was such an AMAZING book, and ‘After You’ was still great – but this was FABULOUS.  And there was some snotty sobbing at the end – albeit not quite as much as when I read ‘Me Before You’ (and I still snotty sobbed at the end of the film version.  On a plane.  The children were MORTIFIED!!)

I am so pleased I read this – even though I’m struggling to fit it into an empty category of my 2018 Reading Challenge – but I enjoyed it so much, I don’t mind!

 

 

Advertisements

Book Review: Hide and Seek by M J Arlidge

Hide and Seek

 

“Prison is no place for a detective
Helen Grace was one of the country’s best police investigators. 
Now she’s behind bars with the killers she caught.

Framed for murder
She knows there is only way out: 
stay alive until her trial and somehow prove her innocence.

Locked up with a killer
But when a mutilated body is found in the cell next door,
Helen fears her days are numbered.

A murderer is on the loose. 
And she must find them.
Before she’s next . . .”

I’ve loved all of the previous books in the Helen Grace series by M J Arlidge – and have always pre ordered the next so it just magically drops onto my Kindle on publication date.  But I realised it was ages since I’d read Little Boy Blue and thought there must be a new one.  Seemingly my ordering in advance had failed massively and I’d missed 2 new instalments (along with some short stories I’d not noticed before) so I did a big Kindle purchase and stocked up!  And my next read was ‘Hide and Seek’.

I think this would stand alone – but you’d be missing out, so I would definitely recommend reading all of the 5 preceding books in the series if you can.  The back stories  of various characters are filled in as required – but clearly not in as much detail as if you’ve read the other books.

My initial worry was that it wouldn’t be as good as the previous books – with Ms Grace behind bars – and it would all be a bit ‘Bad Girls’ – but I need not have worried at all, it was as fabulous as the previous books in the series.

There are basically 2 stories running concurrently.  Helen in prison and the trials and tribulations that brings firstly with ‘normal’ prison life, but then with a serial killer loose in the prison!  At the same time, outside Holloway, Helen’s friend and colleague Charlie is investigating the man who framed Helen to put her away in the first place, in a bid to clear Helen’s name.

Both plot lines build to a simultaneous climax and really keep you on the edge of your seat.  It felt a bit different to the previous books – I guess due to the settings – but still just as much fun.

I am intrigued as to how the series will now develop – but it’s ok, I already have the next one to read!  It’s like binge watching TV box sets already having the subsequent instalment ready to go.

I think this will slot into ‘the next book in a series you’ve started’ in my 2018 Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

Nice necklace

This morning I put on a new necklace (I found it in my ‘holiday jewellery bag’ when we went away, and can’t remember when I actually bought it #whoops!)

On the way to the train station the 12 year old boy commented “Oh, is that a new necklace, Mum?”

I told him it was – thinking how he is pretty good for a pre-teen boy at noticing such things, and how it would serve him well in later life, until he followed up with

“It’s like something I’d make in DT……………………………

and I’m not very good at DT”

So, maybe not quite such a compliment.

(His sister then proceeded to help me take a selfie of the necklace with limited degrees of success!!)

21st Century Parenting

This morning the 6 and 7 year olds got their own breakfast.

“Me:  What have you had girls?

6 yr old:  We had plain yoghurt

7yr old: We tried those raspberries but they didn’t taste right but they were use by the 26th so we threw them away and had these other ones.  They were use by the 27th but they were ok even if that was yesterday.

Me:  How did you know what today’s date is?

7 yr old: (In a slightly ‘isn’t it obvious’ tone of voice) We asked Alexa….”

Alexa

 

Book Review: The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse

The Art of Hiding

 

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

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

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

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

This is another book I had as an advanced review copy last year and didn’t get around to reading – so I started it on a flight and enjoyed it from the start!

Initially I was a bit spooked – the main character is the wife of a construction company owner – like me (but unlike me she isn’t involved in the business at all – which is fairly fundamental to the story)  Her boys go to a school called Kings Norton School – and Kings Norton is the suburb of Birmingham where our construction company is based.  Whilst the school itself sounds quite like where our son goes (rugby is EVERYTHING!)   Then it turns out that Nina grew up in Portswood in Southampton – which is where I lived when I was at Uni (although I am slightly concerned how many novels this is now appearing in as a rough place to live #itwasaceintheearly90s) Let alone the fact that characters are called Tiggy and Fin(n)  – which are one of my friend’s kids’ names……….

It starts off as sad – if a little predictable – when the husband, Finn, is killed in a car crash.  It is then evident that he’s been keeping money troubles hidden from his family – and at the time of his debt he was £8million in debt.

Nina then has to sort herself out and stop being the SAHM whose most important decisions was what arrangements the florist was to deliver that week, to the survival of her and her kids.

I thought it a bit odd that she didn’t ask for any state help – surely there would have been some benefits / a hostel etc available to her – but that gets completely skirted over and she heads off back to her sister and  Portswood (honestly – it was a great place to live as a student – and Jesters, the nightclub us students used to frequent, even gets a mention!)

The story then follows Nina’s relationships with her sister and her sons as she learns to stand on her own 2 feet for the first time ever.  I enjoyed the relationship between Nina and Tiggy and how it changed over the course of the book.  Similarly Nina’s relationships with her two sons evolve quite significantly – and I found that quite emotional at times.

In another weird parallel universe thing, Nina ends up involved with a care home for the elderly.  Until 8 weeks ago I wouldn’t really have had a clue about such things – but my Nan is now a resident of a fabulous one – and so it resonated even more.

Overall this was an easy read that I enjoyed – although I am still quite spooked by all of the overlaps with my life!!

 

 

 

 

Homing hamster?!?

Back in December I blogged about our escapee hamster – who managed to get out of its cage, through the entire downstairs of the house, up a full flight of stairs and hide in the spare room.

Well, this morning – it had done it again!  Escaped from it’s cage, roamed through our not insubstantial house, up the stairs and chewed at the landing carpet in an attempt to get back into the spare room.

Why – when we have 6 bedrooms – is that the one it wants to get into?  It’s never lived in that bedroom – and for a while did live in one of the other bedrooms, so you would think would have allegiances to that room if any.

It’s all very odd.  Like it’s a homing pigeon hamster……..

But at least we (I say we, I actually mean my husband!) knew where to look for it.  Oreo is now safely back in the cage – with a heavy weight on top of it!

51w9dqoWsvL

Book Review: The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

The Austen Escape

I was lucky enough to be given an advanced review copy of this way back last summer – but because it didn’t fit into a category for my 2017 Reading Challenge – and I was still optimistic of completing it – I didn’t get around to reading it until now!!  I’m hoping this doesn’t count as a strike against me on the wonderful Netgalley!!

Anyway – enough of my soul searching – here’s the blurb:

“Falling into the past will change their futures forever.Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues-particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings arise, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.”

I was concerned – a bit like when I read Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – that my lack of recent Austen reading would count against me as I wouldn’t pick up on the clever intertwining of old and new storylines and nuances in the characters etc – but I decided not to stress about that and just get on with reading it as a standalone book.

I also didn’t look into the author or publishing house before starting to read this (a mistake I won’t make again) – I was still at the stage of being delighted and honoured to have been permitted to read a book before it was officially published to decide if I should read it or not!!

I found this book soooooo dull.  It was boring from start to finish (but I did finish it as I hate to be beaten by a book)

The American style of writing annoyed me (why is it necessary to miss out words like ‘of’?) and the descriptions of Bath I found very poor (admittedly it’s a city I’ve been to lots – but I would question if the author ever had).

It was just soooo boring.

About half way through a friend pointed out this was published by a Christian publishing house subsidiary of Harper Collins.  I have to say that you wouldn’t know that from the content itself – it’s not preachy at all – but there is a definite absence of sex, drugs and rock & roll.  Not that I’m saying those are pre requisites for a good book – in fact my book of 2017 Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine doesn’t contain any of them – but it was just so lame.  The most risque element was a ‘shoulder bump’.  I also felt the writing style was dull and insipid.

I persevered – but only because I don’t like to not finish a book (despite me saying I would not be beholden to any books this year!!)

I am unsure who I would recommend this to.  It was too modern for my Nan in it’s content – and not sure of anyone else who would appreciate such nothingness.

But – it has taught me to be more circumspect about what I accept to read going forward!

Thanks Netgalley for the advance review copy – and for the life lesson!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abu Dhabi – do!

We have been frequent visitors to Dubai – maybe a dozen times in the last decade – and when our 15th wedding anniversary was on the horizon we managed to cash in some BA Miles for free flights back to DXB.  However – we felt we needed a change, so we asked our lovely Travel Counsellor Michelle for some options hotel-wise- and she came up with 3, one of which was the Emirates Palace just down the road in the different Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  So we decided to go for it!

This meant I was able to tell my favourite joke for weeks leading up to our trip:

“Do you know they don’t show the Flintstones in Dubai?
But Abu Dhabi do!!!”

Whilst everyone *may* have mocked my joke, it did get us a mention and anniversary best wishes from Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2 when my sister emailed in to tell him where we were celebrating when he told the same *fabulous* joke on air!!!

Anyway – back to the trip.

As I said, we cashed in the BA Miles and turned left onto the plane to fly to Dubai.  However, as we were due to begin our descent we were told it was incredibly foggy – less than 100m visibility – and so planes were being held in a holding pattern above the city as they were having to leave much bigger gaps between planes landing.  We had enough fuel for 2 hours – otherwise we’d have to divert to Muscat to refuel!!  Having slept for most of the actual flight time, this did give me time to watch a film!  And if you’re going to have a delay in landing – then lying on a flat bed is the way to do it.  Thankfully we didn’t have to divert to Oman – and landed JUST within the 2 additional hours.

Michelle had arranged for a driver to collect us from DXB to take us to our hotel.  Mr P was asleep before we were out of central Dubai.  I managed to stay awake a little longer – but there is only so much sand / scrub land / building work you can look at – and I nodded off too.   We’d both woken up once we were off the highway and the arrival at our hotel was impressive!  It stars in the film Fast and Furious 7 – but was even more impressive in real life.

As it was our 15th wedding anniversary – we’d pushed the boat out and booked a suite – and it was ENORMOUS!  We were really impressed.  We’ve stayed in some lovely hotels around the world – including the Burj Al Arab up the coast in Dubai – but this is definitely the best suite ever.

The whole hotel is huge – and feels really empty in the guest areas.  (The lobby area is always busy because it’s a feature on all of the tours of the city!  Although the dress code is strictly enforced so don’t try and get it wearing shorts and flip flops.)  My husband tried to claim he’d booked the hotel for our exclusive use – but I’m not that gullible!  But it has been nice not to have to worry about racing to get sunbeds in prime position on the beach or by the pool!!

On our first full day we did a tour of the city and it was BRILLIANT.  Our guide, Vera, was from Mexico (one of the 84% of the population of the UAE who aren’t Emirati) but has lived here for 7 years and so was very knowledgeable.

We did a couple of museums covering the history of Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a whole.

We then did a drive by of recently opened Louvre.  Having been into the original Paris gallery recently, we didn’t feel compelled to go inside this one.

Then we went to Ferrari World – again, we only went as far as the shop – but when we return with our kids we can see this being top of the places to visit.

AD1

We then popped round the corner to the Yas Marina circuit – where the final race of the Formula One season is held each November.  You can access loads of areas (way more than you could at Silverstone) and you can drive the circuit in a selection of very fancy pants cars.  Again – this is on the list for when we come here again with the whole clan.

AD2

After that we drove to see the Sheik Zayed Mosque – started by the eponymous founder of the UAE but not completed until after his death.  I knew the basic rules of clothing in the UAE from going to Dubai – and covering knees and shoulders – but the dress code here in Abu Dhabi seems to be far more strict, and at the mosque stricter still.  The lovely Vera had bought an abaya I could borrow – and I’d thought to pack a headscarf – but less organised people can hire suitable attire at the entrance to the mosque.  The husband’s shorts had to be pulled down so his knees were covered at all times.

Once inside it was truly stunning.

AD3

Everything is intricately carved with different coloured stones and metals to ensure it doesn’t weather or fade and it looks out of this world.  The husband did notice that the tiles weren’t grouted (you can take the builder out of Birmingham and all that…..) but it turns out that’s because there’s a below floor cooling system so that the marble doesn’t get too hot when the weather is 40 degrees plus in the summer. The cold water under there keeps the marble cool to the touch so that the worshippers can still kneel on it to pray.  The outside courtyard can have 30,000 people praying at any one time – whilst inside can house 20,000.  During Ramadan there would not be a single spare space.

AD4

Inside was just as impressive – with chandeliers with ladders inside so that they can be cleaned and the lamps changed (I’m not allowed to say bulbs – although that is what I would normally put – but I get ranted at by my husband that bulbs are what are planted in the ground and lamps are what emit light).  The carpet holds the Guinness World Record for the largest single piece of carpet.  It was made in situ and weighs over 65 tonnes.  It has clever ridges in it so that people praying can line up exactly.

It was an amazing place to visit – and definitely feels like one of the wonders of the modern world.

AD5

As the afternoon tea in our hotel is legendary – it had to be done!  My only regret is that I hadn’t starved myself for the day beforehand, and consequently couldn’t finish it – and felt ridiculously full for HOURS afterwards!

We managed the cappuccinos with gold on them – but didn’t go as far as the camelccino (cappuccino with camels’ milk!!!)

AD9

All in all, we love Abu Dhabi – and will definitely be back with the children in tow.  Someone had described it to me as ‘Dubai’s older more sophisticated sister’ and I think they’re spot on.  It has the great service you expect of Dubai – but feels a bit calmer and slightly less ‘crazy fake bubble’ – although particularly in the Emirates Palace, if something sits still long enough it will be coated with gold leaf!!

But definitely consider it as a holiday option.

Whilst we were away my Auntie told my (slightly deaf) Nan that we were in Abu Dhabi – to which she replied ‘Oh, I love Aberdovey’.  Maybe we’ll save that destination for our next big anniversary …….

 

 

 

 

Cat stretch – or……..

This evening – as the courgette, cauliflower and chickpea tagine was simmering (I know, I am such a January cliche) – I decided my back would benefit from some movement, so I knelt on the kitchen floor and did a cat stretch – or as the kids call it, happy cat and angry cat.

Cat_Back_Stretches1

The 6 year old walked in and asked ‘Mummy, do you need to trump?’………………………………..

(The chickpeas will sort that out love – never mind the yoga!!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Our House by Louise Candlish

Our House

I’d seen this book in ‘books to read in 2018’ lists – and then saw the author Clare Mackintosh (whose books I’ve enjoyed before) saying ‘If 2018 brings a better book than Our House I will eat my hat. Addictive, twisty and oh so terrifyingly possible’

So – I hopped onto the wonderful Netgalley – and was approved to download an advanced copy.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“On a bright January morning in the London suburbs, a family moves into the house they’ve just bought in Trinity Avenue.
Nothing strange about that. Except it is your house. And you didn’t sell it.

When Fi arrives home to find a removals van outside her house, she is completely blind-sided. Trinity Avenue has been her family’s home for years. Where are all their belongings? How could this have happened? Desperately calling her ex-husband, Bram, who owns the house with her, Fi discovers he has disappeared.

The more Fi uncovers, the more she realises their lives have been destroyed by a nightmare of their own making. A devastating crime has been committed, but who exactly is the guilty party? What has Bram hidden from her – and what has she hidden from him?”

From the start I LOVED this book – it had me intrigued immediately.

It’s written from Fi and Bram’s perspectives – and flicks between time periods – so you need to be on the ball with it – but I didn’t find that distracting.  In fact, it added to the intrigue and kept the pace high!

At different points I felt empathetic towards different characters – but fundamentally I was #TeamFi – and desperately wanted everything to end up ok for her and her boys.

The twists and turns are exciting – but also quite believable.  I liked the use of modern technology and how that would impact on the crime(s).

I also loved that Bram was suspicious when someone called him Abraham on the phone.  The girls at work always know it’s a cold call for me when someone asks for Elisabeth!

It really was hold your breath at times waiting to see how things would pan out – and the ending is FABULOUS. At about 85% (yep, Kindle reading) I thought it was concluded, and was concerned I was going to be short changed with ads for other books etc – but NO – it was the best 15% of the book still to come!!

I would definitely recommend pre ordering this for when it comes out in April (on the last day of the tax year #randomfact) – but I will also be looking at the author’s back catalogue as I loved this so much.

This is also category one of my 2018 Reading Challenge ticked off – ‘A book published in 2018’.