A nice cup of tea

I’ve realised my non book related blogging has been a bit sparse recently – and this was supposed to also be a record of things that have happened to remember in the future – so I’m going to put that right!

Last weekend my Dad ended up in hospital on the Portuguese island of Madeira (famous for the cake, wine and Cristiano Ronaldo).  Thankfully Dad is ok and safely home in the UK now – but this tale of his time incapacitated has produced an amusing anecdote that needs to be recorded for posterity.

Dad was asked if he wanted a cup of tea, to which he replied ‘yes please’.
They asked if he wanted sugar, he said ‘no, just a little milk’.
He was subsequently presented with a cup containing just a bit of warm milk! 

Cup of tea

I shouldn’t mock – my Portuguese only extends to hello / goodbye / please / thank you – and chicken – so I’m impressed that the lovely support staff could ask him what he wanted, and it just goes to show how phrases that are normal conversation to us sound weird to other nationalities!

 

Book Review: In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In 5 Years

I’d seen this book on a list of ‘books that will be big in 2020’ – or words to that effect – so asked NetGalley for an advance review copy, and my wish was granted.  Here’s the blurb:

“Perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day, this heart-breaking story of love, loss and life will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about destiny…
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Kohan has been in possession of her meticulously crafted answer since she understood the question. On the day that she nails the most important job interview of her career and gets engaged to the perfect man, she’s well on her way to fulfilling her life goals.
That night Dannie falls asleep only to wake up in a different apartment with a different ring on her finger, and in the company of a very different man. The TV is on in the background, and she can just make out the date. It’s the same night – December 15th – but 2025, five years in the future.
It was just a dream, she tells herself when she wakes, but it felt so real… Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.
That is, until four and a half years later, when Dannie turns down a street and there, standing on the corner, is the man from her dream…
In Five Years is a love story, brimming with joy and heartbreak. But it is definitely not the love story you’re expecting.”

I LOVED this book.  It twists and turns and is really emotional – but not in a typical ‘love story’ way.  It is a love story – but with many different types of love.  I don’t want to say too much or give too much away, as you really need to be lead by the book.  I devoured it in just a few days, as I was desperate to know what happens.

Right the way through you’re on a timeline to see if the events of December 15th 2025 were just a weird dream or actually happened – so you kind of know what you’re aiming for! And that just succeeds in building the tension significantly – SURELY it can’t be true??

I liked Dannie as a character (most of the time) and empathised with her as being a coper – and when there is a massive crisis for her or her friends, turning into full on organiser / Monica from Friends control freak.  That is exactly what I do too!  It makes you feel like you’re ‘helping’ (even if it can be seen as being bossy?!)

Also – I had one of those totally weird experiences whilst reading this which makes you feel like you’re Mystic Meg (showing my age there!) or your brain is being tapped.  Until a fortnight ago I had never heard of DUMBO in New York – but since then it’s been EVERYWHERE.  For those of you who are like me 2 weeks ago, this is the area called ‘Down Under the Manhatten Bridge Overpass’, DUMBO for short – in Brooklyn) So, first I spotted it tagged in a random Instagram #travelgram post, then BrummyMummyof2 tagged herself there in her Instastories on a trip to NYC with her gorgeous family, then the lovely Lucy from Lil’s Parlour did the same!  And THEN it featured in this book – where thankfully it was explained (as I hadn’t been uncool enough to ask Emma or Lucy where it was!)

Overall I really enjoyed this book.  It as an escapist, quick read, with an interesting premise.  I won’t give away the ending – but I really liked it.  I will definitely look out for other books by this author in the future.

Thanks NetGalley for my copy in return for an honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book review: Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

Big Girl Small Town

I saw this described as ‘Milkman meets Derry Girls’ – and I LOVE Derry Girls, so requested an ARC from Netgalley!

Here’s the blurb:

”  *Stuff Majella knows*
-God doesn’t punish men with baldness for wearing ladies’ knickers
-Banana-flavoured condoms taste the same as nutrition shakes
-Not everyone gets a volley of gunshots over their grave as they are being lowered into the ground

*Stuff Majella doesn’t know*
-That she is autistic
-Why her ma drinks
-Where her da is

Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn’t like gossip and she isn’t interested in knowing her neighbours’ business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers.
Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way.

But Majella’s safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.”

Now, I’ve never read Milkman – so my comparison would be it’s a cross between ‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ and Derry Girls.

The book is all written from Majella’s point of view – and each chapter is headed by an item off her list of things she likes and dislikes.  That means the ‘chapters’ are seemingly random in length.

I really enjoyed the way the spoken elements were written in a Northern Irish dialect.  I have friends and family who live in the Belfast area – and I could actually hear them talking at times!

I kept waiting for something exciting to happen – and something potentially very exciting does happen – but it does not change the book.  It is the minutiae of Majella’s life, day in day out.  Be it at home with her drunken mother or at the chipper with her colleagues and various customers.

Some of it is mildly entertaining, some of it is a bit gross (I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book which has a number of descriptions of changing tampons), some of it is a bit sad – but a lot of it is boring and repetitive.

This is not Eleanor and this is not Derry Girls.  Majella does not have the appeal of Eleanor and there is nowhere near the humour of Derry Girls (emphasised by watching the Great British Festive Bake Off with some of the cast in during the period of reading the book!)

I persevered – as I don’t like to be beaten by a book, and I really thought it might suddenly get better – but I wouldn’t recommend you bother to be honest.

It’s not often I give a bad  book review – I love all genres of books – but this was not one for me.

 

 

Book Review: Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

I am 45 years of age – but my parents still ask me for a Christmas list each year!  This year I asked for a new mixing bowl (so that our one plastic bowl didn’t have to double up as the family popcorn bowl and sick bowl #classy) and a copy of Adam Kay’s new festive book Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas (having loved his debut novel – This Is Going To Hurt).  The parentals came up trumps with a nest of mixing bowls (fancy!), this book – and some coasters and a bottle of gin #winningatChristmas

So here we go!  First – the blurb:

“A short gift book of festive hospital diaries from the author of million-copy bestseller This is Going to Hurt

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat . . . but 1.4 million NHS staff are heading off to work. In this perfect present for anyone who has ever set foot in a hospital, Adam Kay delves back into his diaries for a hilarious, horrifying and sometimes heartbreaking peek behind the blue curtain at Christmastime.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas is a love letter to all those who spend their festive season on the front line, removing babies and baubles from the various places they get stuck, at the most wonderful time of the year.”

 

Twas the nightshift

I’ve read this in one sitting this evening whilst enjoying a festive break to Centerparcs (and thus far with no need for medical intervention – although there is still time in the next 36 hours).

This book is FABULOUS.  Totally in the same vein (pun intended) as Adam’s (I’m calling him by his first name as he didn’t make it to consultant rank?! #relevantjoke #Gerry) first book – and just as great.

There is – as expected – the slightly gross descriptions (candy cane as a dildo anyone?!) and language – but that just makes it more enjoyable.

There are definitely some LOL moments – and I read a few sections to my husband whilst giggling ridiculously!

There is one deeply moving section of a few pages – with a message beforehand so people can skip it if they think it could be triggering – which really makes you think how medical professionals – who HAVE  to make themselves immune to most things to simply function – would be emotionally traumatised by events they have to be a major part of.  Massive respect to them.

So this blog post is also a thank you to all of the NHS staff working this festive season – and to everyone else who has to buckle up and get on with work at antisocial times with the elderly, infirm and mentally ill (my niece and nephew at a care home and Wetherspoons respectively)

 

 

Book Review: The 24 Hour Cafe by Libby Page

As part of a reading challenge I had to read a book written by someone with the same name as me – and I LOVED The Lido by Libby Page.  So when I saw her next book was out – I asked for an advanced review copy from Netgalley and was granted my wish, in exchange for a review – so here is my review!

The 24 Hour Cafe

First of all, the blurb:

“Welcome to the café that never sleeps. Day and night Stella’s Café opens its doors for the lonely and the lost, the morning people and the night owls. It is many things to many people but most of all it is a place where life can wait at the door. A place of small kindnesses. A place where anyone can be whoever they want, where everyone is always welcome.

Meet Hannah and Mona: best friends, waitresses, dreamers. They work at Stella’s but they dream of more, of leaving the café behind and making their own way in life.

Come inside and spend twenty-four hours at Stella’s Café; a day when Hannah and Mona’s futures will be changed and their friendship tested. Today is just the start, but it is also marks a conclusion. Because all beginnings are also endings. And all endings can also be beginnings…”

Initially I wondered how this was going to work – as it appeared to be a chapter per hour that the 24 cafe was open.  There was only so much making coffee and wiping tables that would be interesting – but I need not have worried!  Although that is the premise of the chapters – there are lots of flashbacks to historical events that help shape the current position of the protagonists.

The main characters narrating the chapters are Hannah and Mona – friends and colleagues – and you learn about how they met and their back story as the 24 hour progresses. This is interwoven with the lives of the customers to the cafe – who are wide ranging.

Just as with The Lido, Ms Page has a brilliant way of writing about normal life and making it interesting and endearing.  I found that with most of the characters I was immediately invested in their futures.

I have to say I though Hannah should have had a bit of a slap on numerous occasions by Mona – deffing out your girlfriends for a bloke is such a shortsighted thing to do – but it is incredibly well written and believable.

The descriptions of the café itself are excellent – and you really feel like you’ve been and sat in one of its booths. If I ever walk out of Liverpool St Station I’ll be looking around for Stella’s!

All of the customers are interesting, and the interactions between them and the staff members are written beautifully – and I absolutely LOVED that the final chapter is a year down the road and you find out what has happened / is happening to loads of them.  I also love the fact it isn’t all hearts and flowers and happy endings dished out to everyone – it is real, and true, and what actually happens to people IRL.

This is a fabulous, escapist read – with no violence, graphic sex, bad language (I don’t think – although I guess it’s all relative..) – just a really lovely book.  I would highly recommend you buy it when it comes out in January 2020.

Book Review: Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain

Dirty Little Secrets

I am part of a book club which is mostly on Facebook.  A subset of us occasionally meet up IRL – but mostly we just share books we’ve read online.  Now a large number of groupies had read this book – to the point that I had total FOMO and had to purchase it, even without reading the blurb, as I trust their judgement on books!

But for you – here is the blurb:

“Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.
In the exclusive gated community of Withered Vale, people’s lives appear as perfect as their beautifully manicured lawns. Money, success, privilege – the residents have it all. Life is good.
There’s just one problem.
Olive Collins’ dead body has been rotting inside number four for the last three months. Her neighbours say they’re shocked at the discovery but nobody thought to check on her when she vanished from sight.
The police start to ask questions and the seemingly flawless facade begins to crack. Because, when it comes to Olive’s neighbours, it seems each of them has something to hide, something to lose and everything to gain from her death.”

It is a great book – and, as expected, I did really enjoy it!

Each chapter is told from the perspective of either Olive or a different person who lives in the gated community or one of the 2 police officers investigating the case.  It twists and turns and you can quite believe that any of the residents were responsible for Olive’s demise.  There are lots of ‘dirty little secrets’ out there!  The residents are all very different with their own issues and all are written really well – even if none of them are particularly likeable!

However, Olive is definitely not likeable – although I did feel sorry for her at times.

I really liked the relationship between the 2 detectives as well.  The older bloke nearing retirement – and the up and coming younger female cop – who clearly had secrets in her past too.

The pace builds and builds and kept me keen to read on to find out what had happened.

Overall a good read – and I’d definitely look at books by this author again.  As with most recommendations from the book club – a winner!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List

I have really enjoyed Lucy Foley’s previous work – both her epic historic novels (The Invitation and The Book of Lost and Found), and her last one, which was a crime thriller called The Hunting Party. So when I saw she had a new one out I’m not embarrassed to admit I kind of begged on Twitter for an ARC – and the publisher and Netgalley were kind enough to grant my wish!

Here is the blurb:

“On a remote island, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater.

Old friends.
Past grudges.

Happy families.
Hidden jealousies.

Thirteen guests.
One body.

The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.
All have a secret. All have a motive.
One guest won’t leave this wedding alive . . .”

From the outset this book had a feel of The Hunting Party – both in terms of content (middle class people in a remote destination) and style (each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view – and it flicks between time periods, so some of it is in the build up to the wedding, and some is from when the body is found).  But it is just as brilliant as Ms Foley’s previous book – so why mess with a format that was a best seller!?

This time the setting is a remote island off the Irish coast which is allegedly haunted – and as with all of the author’s previous work – the geographical descriptions are wonderful, along with the wild weather and both really evoke the feeling of being there.

There are huge twists and turns – and you’re never quite sure who you should be rooting for.  For a long time any of the characters could have been the victim or the killer!  I have to say that Hannah (who was the plus one of the bride’s male BFF) was my favourite character – possibly because she was a mother off the Mum leash for the wedding – something I can totally empathise with – and I also suffer horribly with sea sickness!

Some of the coincidences are a little far fetched – but I guess that often happens in whodunnits like this – and it didn’t spoil the book for me at all.

The chapters build in pace, seemingly getting faster and faster (although perhaps that was just my excited reading?!) – and very cleverly, the final line of a few of the chapters near the end is the same. So smart.

I don’t want to give any spoilers on the victim or the murderer – but it’s good!

As with all of Lucy Foley’s books it’s incredibly well written in terms of language, but also in terms of plot intricacies too, which I really enjoy – I don’t like being spoonfed a storyline.  Well done to Ms Foley – and I suspect a fabulous editor – on ensuring no plot holes in something so complex.

I suspect this will be a big hit on the 2020 bestsellers list – so get in early and pre order a copy now ready for its release!

 

 

Book Review: The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me by Lucy Robinson

The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me

My friend Sally (co-incidentally the name of the main character in the book but not the same person!) recommended this very highly, and it had sat on my Kindle for ages – but I finally started reading it a few days ago – and devoured it super quickly (which is always a sign of a good book!)

Here’s the blurb:

“Sally is an incredible singer, but nobody has ever heard her. The thought of singing in public fills her with dread.

But then something happens one summer which changes everything.

No longer able to hide in the shadows, Sally must return home to London to fulfil a promise she cannot break – to share her voice.

But just when she’s ready to start her new life, a beautiful man turns up on Sally’s doorstep with a sheepish smile and a mysterious hand-written message.

How did he find her and why is he here?

Does he hold the truth to what happened back in New York?

And will she still have the courage to step into the spotlight?”

The book jumps between the present day and historic stuff – Sally’s childhood – and then the previous year – but this all flows really well, and just adds to the momentum of the story.

What made me laugh is quite early on you learn about 7 year old Sally’s obsession with opera.  Now, we took our kids – including the then 7 year old – to a ‘Great Opera Hits’ show at the Sydney Opera House on 1 January 2019.  About 30 seconds into the first aria, she asked if she was going to understand any of it – and I had to confess she probably wasn’t going to! It was definitely not the panto at Birmingham Hippodrome!  TBH the kids managed the first song – and the husband and I lasted until half time (sorry, football reference – the interval!)  so none of us got to hear Nessun Dorma. The photo below sums up our 7 year old’s view of opera!  Anyway – I digress……..

I really enjoyed the whole book. You are rooting for Sally throughout.  Her relationships with family / friends / colleagues / teaching staff are all thoroughly explored and are all quite complicated, but written about beautifully.

I was keen to keep reading and therefore finished it in record time.  You desperately want to know what happened in New York last year – and you know it must be really serious – but it’s not obvious what it was until quite late in the book (no spoilers here) which is great.

All of the characters are interesting – and not ‘typical’ – which is refreshing.  I think my favourite was Julian’s Mum – I want to be like her when I grow up!

My only issue with the whole book is late on it’s made obvious Sally’s family are Villa fans (back to football references)  Now, I would suggest (as an Aston Villa fan myself) that people from Stourbridge are much more likely to be West Brom or Wolves fans! But this is a minor transgression that I can forgive I’m sure.

This is a fantastic book – and I will definitely be looking at other books by Lucy Robinson – or Rosie Walsh, which is her real name and who she writes as now (and isn’t a neighbours character!)

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

 

The Music Shop

The other week I was ‘post checking’ for my parents whilst they were on holiday.  Much like my mother, I can’t let a situation go unexplained – so bear with! I spotted this book in their hallway and asked if I could borrow it.  Mum explained it wasn’t theirs, but my Dad couldn’t read it at the moment because of an eyesight problem he has, and their friends were in no rush to have it back – so it was fine for me to borrow it.  (#neverknowinglyunderexplained)

I’d read previous books by Rachel Joyce – so thought it would be a lovely, pleasant read on holiday.

Here’s the blurb:

“1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.

Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann.

Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …”

I really enjoyed this from start to finish.  As with Rachel Joyce’s previous books, it’s really well written – and a lovely escapist read.  The fact that it talks about music was also great – as I’m a huge fan of lots of genres of music.

Frank is the main character, and his relationship with Ilse is the centrepiece of the story – but there is a whole host of ‘chorus’ parts that are wonderful.  A tattooist, two undertakers, a Polish baker, the Saturday boy, a café waitress – to name but a few.  The interactions between them all are beautifully observed and feel very real – you are rooting for the whole band of them.

Some of it is just lovely, and some is really moving.  I did weep a couple of times – particularly at the end.  Whilst set in 1988 – and then more recently – it does show how the British High Street has changed over the decades too.

The Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah is fundamental to the story line and is a piece of music I love (randomly, Alexa decided to play it for me the other evening which was lovely!)  I was rehearsal pianist for a production of it way back when I was in sixth form – and because the tenor section were rubbish, I had to bang out their notes – so consequently that is the part I always end up singing along #randomfact

I was not wrong in my expectations, and this is a lovely, escapist, pleasant read – in a world where more of those are needed!

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird

I loved Josie Silver’s previous book – One Day In December – so when the publisher emailed to ask if I wanted the secret Netgalley link to her next book, I jumped at the chance!

Here’s the blurb:

“Two love stories. One Impossible Choice.
Lydia and Freddie. Freddie and Lydia. They’ve been together for almost a decade, and Lydia thinks their love is indestructible.
But she’s wrong. Because on her 27th birthday, Freddie dies in a tragic accident.
So now it’s just Lydia, and all she wants to do is hide indoors and sob ’til her eyes fall out. But Lydia knows that Freddie would want her to live her life well. So, enlisting the help of his best friend and her sister Elle, she takes her first tentative steps into the world and starts to live – perhaps even to love – again.
Then something unbelievable happens, and Lydia gets another chance at her old life with Freddie. But what if there’s someone in her new life who wants her to stay?
A heart-breaking, uplifting story for fans of PS I Love You and Me Before You, this gorgeously romantic novel will make you laugh, cry and remind you of what a wonderful gift it is to love and to be loved.”

 This is such a clever book. I was going to say a Sliding Doors type premise – but it’s cleverer than that (and Lydia isn’t Gwyneth Paltrow)

Very early on in the book Freddie is killed – and Lydia’s life is changed forever – or is it? She has a portal back into her old life where the accident didn’t happen (this isn’t as weird and far fetched as it sounds – and flows really well in the storyline I promise!)

The relationships between Lydia and all of the other characters – family, friends, colleagues are all beautifully written and cleverly nuanced. Whilst less than major parts – her workmates are just lovely – and so caring when she goes back to work.

It also really makes you think about what would happen if a tragedy didn’t happen. (On a personal level, my mother in law passed away after a long fight with cancer a few weeks after I met my husband. She knew I existed – but she was too poorly for us to meet. I often think about how different for all of her family life could have been if she hadn’t died so young.)

Anyway – back to the book before we all get over emosh.

 It’s fabulous, and I really enjoyed it. I kind of guessed the ending-ish. But it twists and turns to get there, and you’re never quite sure what will happen next.

A couple of times Lydia seems to make crazy decisions – but it just pushes the storyline forwards in a new way.

Overall it’s a great book – and I would thoroughly recommend it.