Book Review: The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac

I’ve enjoyed Catherine Isaac’s previous books (both under this name and Jane Costello) so when I saw this on NetGalley I requested an advance review copy and was lucky enough to be granted my wish!

Here’s the blurb:

The dazzling new novel from Richard & Judy book club author Catherine Isaac, The World at my Feet is a story about the transforming power of love, as one woman journeys to uncover the past and reshape her future.
The secrets that bind us can also tear us apart…
1990. Harriet is a journalist. Her job takes her to dangerous places, where she asks questions and tries to make a difference. But when she is sent to Romania, to the state orphanages the world is only just learning about, she is forced to rethink her most important rule. 
2018. Ellie is a gardener. Her garden is her sanctuary, her pride and joy. But, though she spends long days outdoors, she hasn’t set foot beyond her gate for far too long. Now someone enters her life who could finally be the reason she needs to overcome her fears.
From post-revolution Romania to the idyllic English countryside, The World at My Feet is the story of two women, two worlds, and a journey of self-discovery that spans a lifetime.”

Now, I read a spoiler – accidentally in a NetGalley review – and that really altered my reading of the book. It didn’t ruin it – but it did mean I was waiting for a certain thing to be uncovered – so I would 100% recommend NOT reading any spoilers (why do people do that? It’s soooooo annoying!)

The book intertwines two timelines and two people’s story – Harriet and Ellie. Both are really well written and I wanted to learn more about both time periods.

I remember the press coverage of the situation in Romania in the 1980s when I was a child – so I could really imagine these sections of the book. The descriptions of the orphanages are really graphic in a disturbing – but necessarily so – way.

The ‘current’ timeline centres on Ellie who is a gardening influencer and agoraphobic and how she tries to manage her fears.

The relationships between the women – but also Ellie with her sister Lucy, her hunky new yoga teacher bloke, her friendly garden centre delivery man, and the cleaner’s son are all beautifully described and explored.

There are so many layers to the book – its really lovely and escapist. The ending in particular was wonderful.

A huge thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this advance review copy.

Book Review: Eternity Leave by Simon Kettlewell

When someone says ‘Would you like to read a book my friend’s written?’ it’s a bit concerning. What if it’s really rubbish – how can you not offend? Anyway – my friend described this as a semi autobiographical novel by one of her friends, who has 4 lovely kids, and it is from a Dad’s point of view, and kind of like the ‘Why Mummy‘ series. So I thought I’d give it a go.

I need not have worried – it is brilliant!

Here’s the blurb:

ETERNITY LEAVE:
A MUST READ FOR ANY PARENT…
FOUR CHILDREN. ONE MAN. HOW HARD CAN IT BE?…
Dear Chloe, Emma, Ruby, and Ollie,
‘I am applying for the position you haven’t advertised, has no specific job description and no hope of fiscal reward. I am applying because I have this misguided belief that it will look like it does on the cover photo of ‘The Complete Guide to Childcare’ where everyone appears relaxed and bright-eyed, not knackered, irascible or covered in snot.
Armed with a pristine copy of ‘The Complete Guide to Childcare’, ambitions to be the next literary giant and live off the grid, what could possibly go wrong?
‘Five minutes after Brigit’s maternity leave ended I realised the magnitude of my error. I was now the sole carer for two six-month old children who thought the hands smearing yoghurt over their faces belonged to somebody else, and a two-year old who walked for five steps and decided it wasn’t for her.’
I crashed into a world of mainly strong, resourceful, resilient women, a mountain of nappies to rival Kilimanjaro and a widening gap where my self-esteem used to reside.’
I am a man. I soon discovered this was not an excuse…’

The book is written from the point of view of the narrator – but you never find out his name. It’s very cleverly written in that way – he’s either Brigit Wheeler’s partner (not husband!) or Chloe, Emma, Ruby and Ollie’s Dad. This is very much in keeping with how he feels about his life.

Each chapter is either ‘now’ when the children are teenagers or ‘before’ as the children are babies and new ones are being born. And each chapter has a fact as a sub heading – kind of like Bridget Jones’s diary but with less fags or concern about his weight – such as:

Fact: The volume of Calpol administered, 4 litres
or
Fact: Number of baby wipes, 134,000

Both time periods had brilliant reference points that I totally ‘got’ (we have a teenage son who complains about the ‘laggy’ internet, and a teenage daughter who worked out the likelihoods of different driving test routes – and equally the memories of Tumble Tots and parent and toddler group singing came flooding back).

The village and classroom politics was really well observed – and the Mum guilt that Brigit experiences, because she’s out being an NHS bigwig in the local hospital every day, was also brilliantly portrayed. Tony Blair is quoted a couple of times for saying that running the country was easier than being a stay at home Dad – and my husband would concur, albeit running a construction company rather than the country. He said this when the kids were little – and the recent ‘joy’ of home schooling has only strengthened this belief!!

There were also similarities with our lives as we also have 4 kids – and similarly 3 girls and a boy, although in a different order, and no multiples here. I remember being asked on holiday, when the youngest was tiny, how on earth we coped with 4 kids. The eldest – then 8 years old – said dead pan ‘we have a nanny‘ – in our case an employed nanny – not a 7 year old from up the road like Lucy Harper. We also have a ridiculously vicious cockerel – although ours is called Oscar not Roy – but they appear to have been cut from the same cloth. (I also hadn’t realised cockerels weren’t vital to egg production when we first got chickens – we are similarly failing small holders as well).

The book describes the relentlessness of being a stay at home parent brilliantly. I was once asked if I was a stay at home Mum, to which I replied ‘God no, I’d kill one of them’ – ironic that the question had been asked by a paramedic as we were being blue lighted to A&E with a small child with a head injury spurting blood!

Throughout the book I was nodding along in agreement, laughing at how true to life it was – and in the final few chapters crying. I found the end really moving in lots of different ways – which was a bit of a surprise to be honest.

There are A LOT of ‘Mummy’ books on the market – some, like the ‘Why Mummy……’ series are brilliant – but some really seem to be band wagon jumping (you can imagine a publisher thinking ‘this Mummy Blogger has loads of social media followers, let’s get her to bang out a book, that will sell well) and there’s an awful lot of dross – to the point that I stopped reading them. What sets this apart is firstly that it’s written from a male perspective, secondly that it covers the whole age range of children from birth to leaving home and finally – it’s really very well written.

It’s free on Kindle Unlimited – and only £1.99 if you need to pay for it – and it’s definitely worth half a coffee (especially when you can’t even go out for a coffee at the moment anyway!).

Book Review: Life’s What You Make It by Phillip Schofield

I feel like Phillip Schofield has been part of almost my entire life. In fact, my declaration of love for him as a teenager was recently uncovered written on the wall at my parents’ house, it had been under wall paper since the late 80s! It’s been papered over again now – but will be there forever on a wall in suburban Birmingham. I watched Phillip in the broom cupboard after school each day, then onto Going Live on a Saturday morning. In the summer of 1992 we went to see him in Joseph as the last family city break before I went off to University – my parents (when clearing out their loft last year) passed the programme from that day on to me! I’ve watched the various game shows and events he’s hosted – and clearly now it’s This Morning and Dancing On Ice when I get chance.

My Mum recently announced she’d just finished reading Phillip’s autobiography – so I borrowed it. Here’s the blurb:

“For forty years we’ve watched Phillip on our tellies, from children’s TV to This Morning and Dancing on Ice, but what is it like on set and who is he when the camera’s off?
In Life’s What You Make It Philip for the first time takes us behind the scenes of his remarkable career.
From his idyllic childhood in Cornwall, where for years he pestered the BBC for a job, eventually landing a prize position in the Broom Cupboard with mischievous sidekick Gordon the Gopher, through hosting Going Live!, starring in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and finally finding his on-screen home and presenting-partner Holly Willoughby on This Morning, Phillip takes us on the highs and lows of his extraordinary life.
‘For a long time, I felt that I couldn’t write this book. At first, I didn’t think I’d lived enough, then life got busy and filled with distractions. In more recent years, there was always a very painful consideration – I knew where it would eventually have to go.
‘I have recently decided that the truth is the only thing that can set me free. The truth has taken a long time to make itself clear to me, but now is the right time to share it, all of it.
‘Television and broadcasting has been a part of my DNA for as long as I can remember. As a young boy I would make model TV sets out of cardboard boxes, while spending long summers at home, barefoot on Cornwall’s golden beaches. Landing a job at the ice-cream kiosk, I would enviously look on as my presenting heroes took to the stage of Radio 1’s Roadshow, an unforgettable event when it came to town.
‘In Life’s What You Make It I look back with nostalgic delight on my life, from being a young boy endlessly writing letters to the BBC in pursuit of a job in broadcasting, to making it on to the Broom Cupboard, with my infamous sidekick Gordon the Gopher, to being on Going Live and starring as the lead in Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. It has taken four decades to get here but I feel lucky to have called the sets of Talking Telephone Numbers, The Cube, Dancing on Ice and of course, This Morning, home.
‘I’m going to take you behind the scenes of my television home at ITV, into my career and my dangerously funny relationship with Holly Willoughby. I’m going to introduce you to my loving and remarkable family, and I hope most of all to tell you that life, it seems, is what you make it. Take it from someone who has sat on the very edge and looked over, it’s all about the people that love you, and after that anything is possible. So, finally, here we go, this is the real me.’

The book starts with Phillip growing up in Newquay in Cornwall. This is an area really close to my husband’s heart as his family spent a lot of time down there in his youth – and when we went to visit the beach at Crantock where his Mum’s ashes are scattered, one of the local landmarks he pointed out was where Phillip’s family lived back in the day. It was interesting reading Phillip’s exploits as a child (and my husband agrees you couldn’t beat a Matthew’s pasty!)

It then moves through Philip’s professional, personal and family life in chronological order – with the occasional addition of a more recent story. The amount and detail that Phillip remembers is amazing (aided by the diaries he kept – one of which had ‘Life’s What You Make It’ written on the front.) I am a naturally nosey person – so I really enjoyed this. I knew that he’d moved to New Zealand for a while – but reading all about that was very interesting. And as lots of the radio and TV Phillip has done I remember watching at the time (the caller who swore at Five Star on Going Live anyone?!) it was a really memory jogger for me too.

In another similarity with my husband, when Phillip is stressed he cleans – which is exactly what Mr P does in this house too. Maybe it was something in the Cornish water in the 1970s and 80s?!

The book does kind of build to ‘the event’ – when Phillip came out in February 2020 (just before the entire world went to pot – although I don’t think the two are connected!) Phillip says he could never have written this book without being honest – and so that had to have happened before it was written. It’s strange – but like I’ve blogged before – there aren’t many times where you can remember exactly where you were when something happened – for me 9/11 and when Princess Diana died – but now I can add ‘when Phillip Schofield came out’ to that list. I was having a pedicure! First the ‘news alert ‘ flashed up on my phone – and then my beauty therapist and I watched the interview Phillip did with Holly on This Morning on a Friday whilst she sorted my trotters out!

Due to the nature of social media nowadays, there is nothing in this book that’s a shock or unknown – but it was still a good read as it charted my television viewing history. I think it would be pointless reading it if you’re not a Phillip fan – but if you are then it pads out lots of the things you already know about him – and there are lots of behind the scenes photos. I wouldn’t say it sets the world alight as a work of literary genius – and it’s very placatory (for example it claims Phillip doesn’t know why Fern Britton suddenly decided she didn’t like him – although she did text Steph (Phil’s wife) after he came out) and there’s no mud slung at all – but it was interesting none the less.

Thanks, Mum, for letting me borrow it. My husband is now pleased he doesn’t have to look at Phillip’s slightly awkward, smug face at the side of the bed or the toilet any more!!

Book Review: I Give It A Year by Helen Whitaker

I think I saw someone reading this on Instagram, and being very easily lead, asked for an advance review copy from NetGalley! I actually didn’t get it until after publication date – but at least that means if I tempt you with it you can order it immediately – my friends often moan I talk about a fabulous book and then they have to wait months to actually read it!!

Here’s the blurb:

Her husband’s moved out – and her dad’s moved in…
Curl up with the page-turning story full of emotion about family, marriage and second chances

It’s New Year’s Eve, and Iris has just found out that her husband, Adam, is cheating on her. Furious, she kicks him out, and enlists her Dad to move in and help with the children whilst she tries to mend her broken heart.
But her Dad soon starts to display signs of Alzheimer’s, and Iris realises that if she loses her partner, she’ll be managing an awful lot on her own. Soon, she realises that Adam wasn’t the only one taking their marriage for granted, and for the sake of the children she decides to give him one more chance.
But is it braver to stay than to run? And can anyone fall in love with the same person twice?

The book starts on New Year’s Eve and Iris finds out Adam is cheating on her (interestingly in the same way a friend of mine found out her husband was looking to buy a Porsche whilst we were on a girls’ weekend away #randomfact) and the remainder of the book is the following year and the aftermath. (I loved the fact the book concluded on New Year’s Eve exactly 12 months later – perfect!)

As well as dealing with the fall out from a cheating spouse – Iris also has lots of other things going on. Her Mum died not long before, her Dad is clearly suffering with dementia, her job at the National Trust is at risk due to falling donations – all at the same time as normal life with kids and friends and general juggling. It was so reminiscent of the sandwich generation us 40 somethings find ourselves in.

I have to say that I liked Iris and wanted things to work out for her – whatever that may be. I really enjoyed the intertwining of her work life – who doesn’t love a good National Trust property?! (I loved the George Clarke “National Trust Unlocked” TV programme where he visited NT sites during the first lockdown)

The writing about ‘the juggle’ was also brilliant – and very true to life. I found myself moaning at my husband yesterday for getting a homemade curry out of the freezer for the kids tea, when I’d planned it for later in the week once naan breads had come in the shopping! I should have been more grateful for him making an effort to plan their tea – than expecting him to be psychic about naan breads………

There are some real twists and turns in the 12 months – and you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen, which keeps you wanting to read more. It’s also an emotional rollercoaster – I laughed and I cried!

Overall a lovely, well written, modern book – I’d highly recommend it.

Now to plan which National Trust properties to visit once we’re allowed again……..

Book Review: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

I came about this book for a strange reason. The author Jill Mansell was asking on Twitter how she could request it on Net Galley as she was desperate to read it – so I hopped on to check it was a normal request and did that – a few weeks later it popped into my Net Galley account! Thankfully it would appear Jill also managed to get a copy – as her comments about it are mentioned on Amazon
‘Immersive, thrilling and packed with wonderful characters…I absolutely loved every page of this incredible book’ Jill Mansell, bestselling author of Maybe This Time

Here’s the blurb (which actually probably wouldn’t have prompted me to request it, as I’m not a historical novel fan. In fact I’m not a historical TV programme watcher either (although I did make an exception for Bridgerton, obvs!)):

“1940, Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. 
Three very different women are recruited to the mysterious Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. 
Vivacious debutante Osla has the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses – but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, working to translate decoded enemy secrets. Self-made Mab masters the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and the poverty of her East-End London upbringing. And shy local girl Beth is the outsider who trains as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. 
1947, London. 
Seven years after they first meet, on the eve of the royal wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, disaster threatens. Osla, Mab and Beth are estranged, their friendship torn apart by secrets and betrayal. Yet now they must race against the clock to crack one final code together, before it’s too late, for them and for their country.”

The two timelines run concurrently through the book – initially with Osla and Mab being recruited by Bletchley Park – and then the run up to the Royal Wedding 7 years later. You know that the friends have become estranged – but you don’t know why – and this was really intriguing.

The intertwining of fact and fiction was incredibly clever – from the Royal family itself, to the codebreakers at Bletchley (including the current Duchess of Cambridge’s Grandmother and her twin sister!) and more famous codebreakers like Alan Turing and Dilly Knox. Bletchley Park itself has a starring role which was more exciting for me than it would have been a few months ago, as our construction company is currently doing some work there (not the museum bit – but the other ‘huts’ that have been sold off over the years). I also need to admit to being a bit of a maths geek – so the code breaking itself was also really interesting.

Osla is desperate to prove she’s not ‘just a deb’, whilst Mab wants to better herself and marry well having escaped her East End home. Their friendship and various relationships inside and outside Bletchley Park (BP) are brilliantly explored. The girls take Beth – the daughter of their horrible landlady – under their wing, and despite not being traditionally academic, she’s brilliant at crosswords, and soon she’s working at BP too. Beth has lead a totally sheltered life up until that point – so it’s a real eye opener to her – but she’s a natural.

There is intrigue and mystery in both timelines – and I couldn’t put it down – I really am pleased I got to read this, even if it was for a strange reason. The main characters are all likeable in their own ways, and I was rooting for all 3 girls and lots of the supporting cast.

It twists and turns loads – and the run up to the end is brilliant – some real ‘gasp’ moments that I won’t give away, and didn’t see coming. (I hate book reviews that contain huge spoilers).

I’m now even more keen to go and see the museum at Bletchley Park – and have spent far too much time on the BP website in the last few hours trying to work out which characters in the book were real and which were fiction. And I’ll never quite look at Prince Philip in the same light again either!

A huge thank you to the author and Harper Collins for my advance review copy of this fantastic book.

Book Review: Be More Kid by Ed James, Mark Taylor and Nicky Taylor

I feel like I’ve ‘known’ Ed James for decades – having listened to him on Heart since he was the Ed of Ed & Helen, then Ed & Sarah-Jane, then Ed & Rachel – before the current iteration of Ed & Gemma. I’ve texted and phoned into his Heart shows lots over the years – I even spoke to the breakfast show after a few glasses of wine whilst in Australia (it was the afternoon there, I’m not a total animal) one Christmas! Ed and I are a similar age, have kids of a similar age, and live in a similar part of the Midlands (we even shared a PT for a few weeks!) – so I’ve always been interested in what he’s up to. When Ed said he’d written a book (he probably mentioned it less than Piers Morgan whose book was out at a similar time!) I thought I’d give it a go – but never got round to buying it. Then I was lucky enough to win a copy in a Twitter competition (thanks to Capstone the publisher!) and I’ve FINALLY found time to read it.

Here’s the blurb:

THIS ISN’T JUST ANOTHER SELF IMPROVEMENT BOOK.
Have you ever felt there must be more to life? Do you feel unfulfilled? Have you felt stuck, not knowing how to move forward and found yourself settling for less than you deserve?
AND IT ISN’T ABOUT HAVING TO CREATE A NEW YOU.
Since childhood you’ve had all of the resources that you need to create the life that you want, and over time you’ve simply lost touch with them. Now is the time to find them again.
With expert guidance from broadcaster and entrepreneur, Ed James and behaviour and relationship experts, Mark & Nicky Taylor, you’ll rediscover your sense of purpose, reconnect with what is important to you and find out how to unlearn unhelpful habits and behaviours.
Employing simple tools and techniques you can use each day, Be More Kid shows you how to:
– Enjoy a meaningful and fulfilling life
– Stop overthinking and build resilience in a challenging world
– End the conflict of putting everyone else before your own needs
– Rediscover the contentment, enthusiasm and zest for life you had as a child
If you are ready for a new approach to your happiness, relationships and your future, Be More Kid will guide you through the journey, one step at a time.

My general feeling on self help books is they’re not rocket science – but they make you stop and think – and I would say that this is definitely true of ‘Be More Kid’. Sometimes it’s very good to stop and think – especially at the moment, when lots of us feel like we’re hanging on by our fingernails. This was clearly written BC (before Covid) but that doesn’t stop lots of it being really relevant in these tricky times.

Initially I wondered how I’d feel about the book. The first chapter talks about being in the grey zone – and basically unhappy with your day to day life. I have to say that my husband and I have made life choices that means this isn’t the case for us (usually, BC and all that, the life choices did not involve home schooling 4 children!) I’ve historically felt sorry for people who are devastated at the end of a holiday because they have to return to their everyday lives. Don’t get me wrong, I love a holiday as much as the next person (remember holidays?!) but equally we’re always excited to get back to real life and on with our family life and business as we genuinely enjoy it.

However chapter 2 spoke to me a lot. I am the Queen of Overthinking (in fact I actually have a t-shirt with that written on it from the fabulous Paper Press Ireland.) Why do I do it? And how can I try and not do it? This really made me stop and think.

I also enjoyed Chapter 3 on procrastinating! People often say to me they don’t know how I manage to fit everything in to my life – blogging about books often prompts people to say that and ‘how do you have time to read books in the first place?’ But – I listen to audio books in the car, or plan blog posts in my head whilst driving / waiting in the playground. I take my Kindle with me everywhere so I can read when waiting for the kids / trying to get an ill child to sleep / on the loo – so not a minute is wasted. Don’t get me wrong – I’m definitely guilty of procrastinating in other areas and this book made me think about that.

I’m not going to go through the book on a chapter by chapter basis, don’t worry, but some other things I found helpful and interesting were:

Finding joy in behaving like a child sometimes. I’ve often said I have 5 kids, as my husband is one big kid – but he finds joy in being a child (or as I often say, in a loving way of course, ‘being a bit of a d*ck’!). And even I can embrace my inner child. I know of lots of families where the parents – or one of the parents at least – won’t get stuck in, but the whole 6 of us will be flying down the rapids at Centerparcs (I might be a size 20, late forties Mum, but I’m not going to let that stop me!) or taking laser combat super seriously getting muddy and dirty together. Not wanting to sound like a washing powder advert – but dirt is good, the kids coming back from a day out covered in mud can easily be washed away – but the memories last forever. There are definitely times when I could ‘be more kid’ – but I’m up for that! I’m going to try and be excited if it snows tomorrow. Maybe………

Something I also found really interesting – and had actually only thought about recently when reading Caitlin Moran‘s new book – was the pressure we put on ourselves, and our children, by insisting we should be happy at all times. ‘Mummy and Daddy just want you to be happy’ said to our kids when they’re upset. Contentment is quite sufficient – you don’t have to be the life and soul and happy 100% of the time. Sometimes life is rubbish (2020 anyone?!) but to know that ‘this too will pass’ is a valuable thing.

I struggled a bit with the ‘if you don’t like it, don’t do it’ chapter. I’m just such a typical stiff upper lip British people pleaser it’s ridiculous. This is something I really need to work on. There are certain people in my life that are total fun suckers, that drain you of every positive thought you have and you come away from seeing them feeling exhausted – but I’m not brave enough to say no to seeing them. I feel like I ‘should’ be there for them. It feels selfish to not be there for them. I will give this some more thought!

I also think that sometimes the ‘be more kid’ is actually ‘ be more toddler’. At a very young age – and getting younger in society now I would suggest – kids ARE worried about what others think of them, they do want to make other people happy, they can take offence – but I could see where the authors were coming from in the basis of their assertions.

Overall I enjoyed the book – and it did make me stop and think. There were some really helpful messages to take away and continue to work with. Will this still be important in 6 months chimed with me just this afternoon in a particular situation – and in the words of Elsa (or Anna – I can never remember which is which despite having been subjected to ‘Frozen’ many many times) I will attempt to ‘let it go’. I also enjoyed the personal anecdotes from Ed, Mark and Nicky – that really added to the book I felt (as I am naturally nosy!!)

In addition to the book, there’s a whole website with more resources – so definitely worth investigating if you think it would be helpful.

A big thank you to the publisher for my free copy.

Book Review: Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan

First things first, this book is utter filth! Well written – but very sexually graphic – so if that’s not your bag I would suggest you stop reading this review now!!

Here’s the blurb:

“Stuck in a dead-end job, broken-hearted, broke and estranged from her best friend: Violet’s life is nothing like she thought it would be. She wants more – better friends, better sex, a better job – and she wants it now.
So, when Lottie – who looks like the woman Violet wants to be when she grows up – offers Violet the chance to join her exciting start-up, she bites. Only it soon becomes clear that Lottie and her husband Simon are not only inviting Violet into their company, they are also inviting her into their lives.
Seduced by their townhouse, their expensive candles and their Friday-night sex parties, Violet cannot tear herself away from Lottie, Simon or their friends. But is this really the more Violet yearns for? Will it grant her the satisfaction she is so desperately seeking?
Insatiable is about women and desire – lust, longing and the need to be loved. It is a story about being unable to tell whether you are running towards your future or simply running away from your past. The result is at once tender and sad, funny and hopeful.”

Within the first few paragraphs Violet is discussing masturbating in the toilets at work – and that pretty much sets the tone for the book! There is lots and lots of sex – solo / couple / threesome / group – but it’s an integral part of the storyline, and doesn’t feel shoe horned in every few chapters as it can with some books. It’s also really well written and not ‘clunky’.

Violet is clearly not in a great place – relationship wise (friends and ex fiancee) and not satisfied at work or with her living arrangements either – and so is very tempted by seemingly perfect Lottie and what she can offer – in more ways than one.

I felt quite sorry for Violet and was wanting things to come good for her in all aspects. She did, seemingly, make some daft decisions – but you could see why.

I suspect I’m far older than target market for this book – and Violet is very much a millennial – but I still enjoyed the book and wanted to see how everything would pan out. Whilst it is about sexual desire – it is also very much about friendship and support which is vital however old you are.

Overall I enjoyed the book a lot – so thank you to NetGalley and Little Brown Books for my ARC.

Book Review: This Changes Everything by Helen McGinn

Should first love be left in the past, or is first love, forever love…
Sisters Annie and Jess are used to their mother Julia being spontaneous. But when Julia announces she’s flying off to Rome to meet her first love Patrick, whom she hasn’t seen for fifty years, it’s an adventure too far. So, her daughters decide the only way to keep Julia safe, is to go too – without actually telling their mother she has chaperones!
Julia and Patrick’s love story was everything – epic, once-in-a-lifetime, with a tragic ending and life-long consequences.  First love is hard to forget, but sometimes, just sometimes, life delivers a chance to rewrite your story.
As the eternal city of Rome works its magic, old secrets, old friends and old loves become new possibilities and new dreams. And when the four travellers return home, nothing will ever be the same again.
Join Helen McGinn for a timelessjoyousunforgettable journey through love, family, and long-forgotten dreams.  A novel to hold to your heart and treasure, perfect for fans of Elizabeth Noble, Cathy Kelly and JoJo Moyes.”

This is such a lovely book – a fantastic escapist read, which was very much perfect for the current global pandemic situation. With beautiful settings of Rome (which I’ve still never been to and this whetted my appetite even more) and Cornwall (where we were lucky enough to escape to for 3 days between Christmas and New Year 2020) – it was nice to be somewhere beautiful and different and the writing really evoked the different settings. I didn’t realise until after I’d finished the book, that Helen McGinn is also The Knackered Mother wine expert – I now feel bad I didn’t drink wine throughout reading the book – but I can confirm I have a glass in hand whilst writing this blog! (The Doctor’s New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, lower alcohol for ‘damp’ January, £8.99 from Waitrose – and Tesco’s sometimes stock it too). I recognise – I am a complete knob…….

Back to the book! The book starts with Annie (harassed Mum, wife, furniture restorer) and her husband forgetting their 10th wedding anniversary. Then there’s her sister Jess (career girl, singleton, having an affair with a married man). And their Mum Julia – who as my Dad would say ‘likes wedding cake’ – in that she’s been married 3 times! She tells the girls that she’s off to Rome to meet up with her first love, Patrick, who she has never mentioned to them ever before. They are suspicious – and Jess decides that the two sisters should go and stalk her (and escape their issues at home). Annie doesn’t take much persuading – and so off they all fly!

The book then follows both trips to Rome and what happens when their paths do cross (in a church that Claudia Winkleman talks about lots in her recent book Quite #randomfact). However, aside from that, what happens in Rome stays in Rome as far as this blog is concerned as people who write spoilers are RUBBISH! Needless to say ‘This Changes Everything’! It’s something big which has repercussions when they all get back to Blighty.

One thing that resonated with me particularly was when Annie had a rant about how her seemingly charmed family life (anniversary forgetting aside!) was ‘lucky’. It’s not ‘lucky’ it takes a lot of work. This is something I totally empathise with – and whilst there is always an element of luck in a happy home life / successful career / option to take great holidays – all of these things also require a lot of hard work too. (Looks like I could have joined Annie in that rant?!)

The second half of the book – after Rome – also has some big stuff to deal with – including a big family holiday to Cornwall – back where Julia and Patrick first got to know each other. Throughout the book there are flashbacks to the 1960s when Julia and Patrick were teenagers – but these are woven through beautifully and you don’t feel like you’re jumping around.

All of the characters were likeable (although I don’t think Julia’s parents were – but they are long dead in the present era section of the book). And I also liked the fact that the girls’ Dad was still on good terms with everyone despite being divorced from Julia many years before.

I have to say I kept waiting for the disaster – the death / illness / a new divorce – but I’m delighted that they didn’t come. The book was just a massive, big, warm hug – which I think we could all do with at the moment.

It’s out in February – and I’d definitely pre order it if I were you! And if you do before 8 February 2021 – there’s currently a competition on The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club page to win a 24 hour getaway for 2 to the Lime Wood hotel in the New Forest. I am in no way associated with this competition – but happened to notice it earlier today and it sounds fab so wanted to share the love!

A massive thank you to Net Galley and the publishers for this advanced review copy.

Book Review: Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Now, I’d promised myself as it was the new year I needed to get on top of my NetGalley backlog – and I would read them strictly in publication date to make sure everything ran like clockwork. Then, I got sent the new Mhairi McFarlane – and as I ADORE her books, my 2021 plan went out of the window and I had to download this one immediately!

Here’s the blurb:

Two best friends.
One missed chance.
And a night that changes everything.
Eve, Justin, Susie and Ed have been friends since they were eighteen. Now in their 30s, the four are still as close as ever, Thursday pub quiz night is still sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed.
Maybe Eve should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed sometimes thinks about it too.
Then one night, in an instant, all their lives change forever. And, as Eve learns she didn’t know her friends as well as she thought, she also discovers she isn’t the only person keeping secrets…

I was not disappointed. I honestly think Mhairi’s books get better and better – I loved this one and stayed up until the early hours of this morning finishing it (which, when sleep is at a premium due to home schooling 4 kids and trying to keep a business and family afloat during a global pandemic, is praise in itself!). There is a love story element – will they / won’t they – and that’s about more than one couple – but it’s so much more than that. There’s grief / friendship / secrets / family estrangement / pubic hair to name but a few topics.

I was also very excited about one particular bit – which is somewhat niche. Susie works at Deloitte in Nottingham! Being Deloitte Birmingham alumni, I did frequent the Nottingham office a few times in the late 90s. It was on a complicated one way system and if you missed the car park (which clearly I did, and so is why I’m still scarred by it nearly a quarter of a century later) then you had to do a big loop around to try again. Anyway – as I said, somewhat niche – but I know a few of my Deloitte friends will also be excited by that.

Back to the book!

The book starts at the regular Thursday night pub quiz – where Eve, Justin, Susie and Ed are weekly attendees (even if they always lose to the chaps in cagoules!). Then something life changing happens. I don’t want to give away the plot as you need to experience it for yourself – but it wasn’t what I was expecting.

The rest of the book deals with the fallout of that one evening – with various secrets being uncovered as it twists and turns.

Whilst there are some really, really sad bits – they are dealt with with Mhairi’s trademark dark humour in an absolutely brilliant way – some of the one liners, particularly from Justin, are amazingly, awkwardly, awesome.

The majority of the book is set in Nottingham (and there is the obligatory Rock City reference) – but there are also trips to Edinburgh and Derbyshire – and the writing about each geographical area really makes you feel like you’re there with the characters. (I was quite excited that I’ve been for a wee and a drink – in that order – in the hotel the characters stay in when in the Scottish capital!)

I really think it is my favourite of all of Mhairi’s books (although I admit I do say that every time a new one comes out) but it is fantastic. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend pre ordering it for when it comes out in April 2021.

A MASSIVE thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC – and now on with my excessive TBR pile that I let this book leapfrog!

Book Review: People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd

I saw this book on a list of ‘ books to look out for in 2021’ by Emma Gannon on The Bookshop (coincidentally a great place to source books if you want the convenience of online shopping, but would to avoid ‘that’ retailer and support a local bookshop at the same time). So I asked NetGalley for an advanced review copy and my wish was granted #earlyChristmaspresenttome.

I hadn’t read the blurb once I’d seen that as well as Emma, the author Clare Mackintosh had also recommended it, and wondered on the context of the potentially homophonic sentence. Did ‘People Like Her’ mean ‘People Love Her’ or ‘People Similar To Her’. It would appear it could mean both, as here’s the blurb:

“People like Emmy Jackson. They always have. Especially online, where she is Instagram sensation Mamabare, famous for always telling the unvarnished truth about modern parenthood.
But Emmy isn’t as honest as she’d like the fans to believe. She may think she has her followers fooled, but someone out there knows the truth and plans to make her pay. Because people like her have no idea what pain careless words can cause. Because people like her need to learn what it feels like to lose everything.”

I also, then, checked out the author – and it’s a combined husband and wife writing team – which I thought could be very interesting.

When I had my first kids, Instagram wasn’t a thing at all (shocking, I know!) and in fact ‘Mummy blogs’ were only just a thing. I remember being super impressed when one of the school Mums in our village was featured in Red Magazine as one of these new fangled Mummy bloggers in probably 2008ish. In the subsequent decade those sharing an opinion – and making a living from this opinion – on parenting has ballooned – particularly on Instagram, and that is the whole premise of this book.

Emmy has contrived to be an InstaMum – with her posse of fellow InstaMums, selling their views on parenthood. Emmy brands herself as being ‘honest’ – but this is definitely for the Mamabare brand – and not what really goes on behind closed doors. Her husband, Dan, is an author – although his last published success was many years before – and so, whilst he doesn’t necessarily agree with all of Emmy’s actions, he also recognises that it pays the mortgage for them.

The book is told from the point of view of Emmy, Dan and a third person who is obsessed with Emmy and blames her for something awful. (I did wonder if the husband and wife author team wrote as Dan and Emmy respectively – and who wrote the third voice? Who knows!)

There are also other characters – Emmy and Dan’s children, Coco and Bear (such Instagram friendly names – you can imagine them up in lights already). Emmy’s mother – who has branded herself as an InstaGran (yep, there are loads!). Emmy’s best friend, then her agent, their new nanny, Emmy’s new PA and, of course, her ‘pod’ of fellow InstaMums. All of the characters are very different – and very well written – many could be someone you know (or someone you follow and feel like you know!).

I have to say that none of the main characters were particularly likeable – I thought I was Team Dan for a while – but not 100%! However this lack of likeability wasn’t an issue – and kind of drove the story forward.

There are some huge twists and turns, and some great red herrings – and there is a real pace to the book – I devoured it really quickly. It’s a thriller – but also a fabulous social commentary. It’s very clever, very well written and a great read.

I have a feeling it will be a little too close to the bone for some in the InstaMum community – but for mere mortals, is a great read. And I LOVED the epilogue and ending.

A massive thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my advance review copy – and I would highly recommend you pre order it for when it’s released in January 2021 – we all need something to look forward to. Let’s hope for more #yaydays than #greydays in 2021!! #injoke