Book Review: The First Time I Saw You by Emma Cooper

I loved the debut novel ‘The Songs of Us‘ by Emma Cooper that was published last year – so when the publisher emailed to ask if I’d like an advanced review copy of her second book I jumped at the chance!

 

The First Time I Saw You

Here’s the blurb:

“Lost:
Six-foot-two Irish man who answers to the name Samuel McLaughlin. 
Has weak shins and enjoys show tunes.
If found, please return to Sophie Williams.
Before Sophie met Samuel she saw the world in grey. 
Before Samuel met Sophie, he never believed in love at first sight.
When they first meet, something tells them they are meant to be. 
But fate has other ideas.
Now they have lost each other and can’t see a way back. 
But they’ve already changed each other’s lives in more ways 
than they ever expected…”

I was slightly nervous before I started reading this that I wouldn’t love it as much as Emma Cooper’s first book – and that had a very distinct USP – and I wondered how she’d follow that – and if she’d have a ‘difficult second album’ issue going – but my fears were totally unfounded!

It starts off in Washington – somewhere the husband and I visited a couple of years ago – and whilst you don’t have to have been to enjoy the book, I loved imagining the places.  I also should confess that the fact Sophie is an accountant was very exciting – as that’s what I trained to do, and you don’t often get accountants as main characters.  I think I’ve mentioned before I’m still annoyed that the TV programmes This Life was based around lawyers rather than accountants – as we had a very similar life in the mid 90s!  Anyway – I digress…………

The book is told from Sophie and Samuel’s point of view week by week – so often you’re hearing the same story from the other person’s point of view – which is really clever.

The settings change – with Shropshire, Wales and Derry also featuring.  (Clearly I imagined Samuel’s family in Londonderry to be exactly like characters from the fabulous TV show ‘Derry Girls’) And one of my friends is going to be very excited that her home town of Machynlleth features!!  But the different geography provides excellent settings.

Rather than having one ‘Sliding Doors’ moment, there are multiple cases throughout the book where Sophie and Sam’s stars aren’t quite aligned – but I found that added to the pace of the book and really made me want to read on.

Whilst the book is based on the two main characters, their relationships with their families and friends are also explored.  I particularly liked the different relationships they had with their respective sisters.  Sam’s parents – Mr and Mrs McLaughlin – are lovely – and I think I might refer to the husband as Mr Price henceforth!

There are some big emotional themes running through the whole book – but without the unusual-ness of Melody’s singing from ‘The Songs of Us’ – and all are integral to the story.  I don’t want to include any spoilers by telling you what they are though……

The epilogue had me WEEPING last night – which seems to be the same effect all of Emma Cooper’s books have had on me – but that is definitely the sign of a good book.

All in all I would thoroughly recommend this book to everyone and anyone!

A big thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.

 

 

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Book Review: Then She Vanishes by Claire Douglas

Then She Vanishes

I was emailed by the publisher to ask if I’d like to read this new thriller.  I’ve not read anything by Claire Douglas before, but the blurb appealed – so I said ‘yes please’!

Here is the aforementioned blurb:

“THE ONLY THING MORE SHOCKING THAN THE FIRST CHAPTER . . . IS THE LAST. .
Everything changed the night Flora Powell disappeared
Heather and Jess were best friends – until the night Heather’s sister vanished.
Jess has never forgiven herself for the lie she told that night.
Nor has Heather.
But now Heather is accused of an awful crime. And Jess is forced to return to the sleepy seaside town where they grew up, to ask the question she’s avoided for so long:
What really happened the night Flora disappeared?”

The book is set in the present day (well, actually 2012 – but it feels like the present day) and then back in the mid 90s.  It flicks between the two time periods really well – and totally evokes the feeling of that time.  I was a similar age to the characters in the 90s and the references – particularly to music and clothing were spot on!

The chapters are told from different characters perspectives which also keeps the momentum up.

It was one of those books that you want to read quickly to see how it all develops.  The twists and turns are so exciting.  Just when you think you’ve sussed what’s going on – another curved ball is thrown!  I can’t tell you too much about the plot without giving it away – and you need to be shocked as a reader as it unfolds!

The literary style is not high brow – but that didn’t matter to me – I just enjoyed the storyline and it’s fast pace.

The characters all had flaws – and sometimes you wanted to give some of them a good shake – but I was still interested to see what happened to them all – and the relationships between them.

The blurb had said the only thing more shocking than the first chapter is the last – and I have to say that because of that I’d kind of guessed what was going to happen – but only right near the end of the book.

Overall a great read and I would recommend downloading it when it comes out on Kindle next week.  I’ll also be checking out the authors back catalogue in the future.

A massive thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley for my advanced review copy in return for a review.

Book Review: Notes On A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

I am generally a one book woman, I don’t like being unfaithful to a book by starting another one before I’ve finished the first.  However, I have a large TBR pile – and a mix of ‘proper’ books and Kindle books, and a mix of fiction and non-fiction.  So in a bid to ‘spice up my life’ I’ve decided to have one fiction (Kindle) and one non fiction (hard copy) on the go at a time.  Honestly – I live life on the edge sometimes!!

One of my lovely friends gave me this book for my birthday earlier in the year.  She LOVES Matt Haig and thought I would enjoy this too.  We have often recommended or given each other books – who doesn’t love getting a surprise book through the post?  (Oh – and if you want to send a book and other goodies, then the fabulous Don’t Buy Her Flowers who I’ve blogged about before way back when they’d just started, do a great book package – which even includes this exact book – this is not an #ad – I just love their work!!)

Anyway – back to the book!

Notes on a Nervous Planet

Here’s the blurb:

“The world is messing with our minds. What if there was something we could do about it?
Looking at sleep, news, social media, addiction, work and play, Matt Haig invites us to feel calmer, happier and to question the habits of the digital age. This book might even change the way you spend your precious time on earth.”

The recommendations for this book are immense – lots of famous people singing its praises – which always makes me nervous.  What if I don’t like it?  And I think I therefore started reading this like a bit of a petulant child. Waiting to be wowed.

Quite early on I realised, this is not earth shattering content.  It is not telling me anything I didn’t already know – but, it really helps to stop and think about things like this sometimes.  Life is so busy sometimes (made busier by social media, blogging about books etc) that you don’t think about what you’re doing – you just continue on the hamster wheel of life.

So about a third in I realised that this book was actually brilliant at making me stop and think.  And it made so much sense.

At times I felt a little bit smug – I don’t take my phone to bed with me (we’ve always left them downstairs to charge, not through deliberately thinking about our mental health – it’s just always been our habit) and I’m also not bothered what people think of what I post on social media – I overshare good or bad (whilst I was suffering with recurrent piles my husband reckoned he couldn’t go to the Co-op in our village without someone asking about my arse) and I don’t filter the f*ck out of photos either.  Do not fear, there are no piles photos – but I did recently share a photo of my extremely wonky bosoms (shoulder protectors when clay pigeon shooting are not designed for women with ample chests!)
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But I do sometimes check back to see how many ‘likes’ – or in this instance LOLs – a photo has got.  And this book made me stop and think.  Why?  I’m a 45 year old, happily married mother of 4 – do I really need the validation of knowing I’ve brightened someone’s day with an amusing photo?  (Although is entertaining other people better than people aspiring to my filtered / air brushed body shape #nevergonnahappen!)

I’m lucky that I’ve never had a full on anxiety / panic attack – but lots of people close to me do struggle with these things – and as a parent  (and  wife / cousin / friend) it’s something I’m having to be much more aware of – so stopping to think about that was really helpful.

Matt Haig also sings the praise of nature – and it’s not something I’d thought about much – despite it being an intrinsic part of our life now.  Last Autumn we moved the office for our construction company from an industrial estate in the suburbs of Birmingham to a 6 acre site in the countryside outside Brum.  At the office we also now have chickens and pigs and a lot of green space.  It really ‘feels’ different – and if you’re having a stressy day – being able to pop outside and chat to the chickens is a welcome break.

chickens and pigs

My husband – whose anxiety often manifests itself in obsessive cleaning, particularly vacuuming, now has an additional outlet – sitting on his tractor mowing the 6 acres is his new escape.   It’s also been good for us as a family – the children are more than happy to come and help with the animals and plants – and it gets them away from their devices too – which, as the book says, are pretty omnipresent for almost everyone nowadays.  We are very lucky that we have this asset on our doorstep, and I realise not everyone can work somewhere so lovely – but there are lots of green spaces in the UK – even in our big cities.  I remember way back in the 90s when studying to be an accountant a friend and I would go and sit in an underpass in the middle of Birmingham where there was a planted garden at lunchtime (although there was some confusion when someone misheard and thought I’d been in this friends underpants not underpass during the lunch break).

Some of the Amazon reviews of this book comment about it being disjointed and a random collection of the authors thoughts – and I can see where they’re coming from – but it didn’t distract from the overall message for me.  But then – I did have it as my toilet book (back to my bowel issues again!) and so read it in small chunks, and maybe I would have felt differently if I’d sat down to read it for a solid few hours. (Small chunks / solid – I’m not going to go there….…..)

I think anything in this day and age that makes you stop and smell the grass / coffee is a good thing.

I enjoyed it so much I posted it to my cousin who I thought would like it too.  Admittedly the card I sent with it probably isn’t on message with the book itself which also looks at alcohol use / misuse – but hey ho, baby steps!!

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Book Review: Why Mummy Doesn’t Give A ****! by Gill Sims

May half term was the usual #funtimes #soblessed – juggling 4 kids with no childcare, the eldest child of the 4 being mid GCSEs, so eggshells were being trodden on, and we still needed to run our construction company.

Then – on the last day of the week – I was emailed by the publisher asking if I’d like to read an advanced review copy of Gill Sims new book Why Mummy Doesn’t Give A F*ck!  I was beyond excited.  I have LOVED the previous 2 books in the series – Why Mummy Drinks and Why Mummy Swears – so couldn’t wait to catch up with Ellen and co again.

Why Mummy

Here’s the blurb:

“Family begins with a capital eff.
I’m wondering how many more f*cking ‘phases’ I have to endure before my children become civilised and functioning members of society? It seems like people have been telling me ‘it’s just a phase!’ for the last fifteen bloody years. Not sleeping through the night is ‘just a phase.’ Potty training and the associated accidents ‘is just a phase’. The tantrums of the terrible twos are ‘just a phase’. The picky eating, the back chat, the obsessions. The toddler refusals to nap, the teenage inability to leave their beds before 1pm without a rocket being put up their arse. The endless singing of Frozen songs, the dabbing, the weeks where apparently making them wear pants was akin to child torture. All ‘just phases!’ When do the ‘phases’ end though? WHEN?
Mummy dreams of a quirky rural cottage with roses around the door and chatty chickens in the garden. Life, as ever, is not going quite as she planned. Paxo, Oxo and Bisto turn out to be highly rambunctious, rather than merely chatty, and the roses have jaggy thorns. Her precious moppets are now giant teenagers, and instead of wittering at her about who would win in a fight – a dragon badger or a ninja horse – they are Snapchatting the night away, stropping around the tiny cottage and communicating mainly in grunts – except when they are demanding Ellen provides taxi services in the small hours. And there is never, but never, any milk in the house. At least the one thing they can all agree on is that rescued Barry the Wolfdog may indeed be The Ugliest Dog in the World, but he is also the loveliest.”

This picks up when Jane and Peter are 15 and 13 – which is pretty much the age of my oldest 2 children.  I love that the 3 books have started with kids the age of my littlest pair, and now they’re the age of my eldest pair #relevanttome.

It is just sooooo spot on with references of life with teenagers.

I thought I was the only person whose teenage daughter refers to them as ‘mother’ in a disparaging  way – but seemingly not!

I’m also not sure I’ve ever read a book that has referenced The Suite Life On Deck (a slightly rubbish American kids TV programme which my kids loved when they were younger – and I’m not sure I’d ever realised that Zack and Cody (the twins in it) were played by the actors who played Ben in Friends – so this book is also very educational!!)

I could quote reference after reference – but I don’t want to ruin it for you – as you’ll also be nodding and laughing along when you read it.

Although – my absolute favourite part is when Ellen says that parents’ evening should be parent’s evening because she’s going on her own.  Who doesn’t love an apostrophe gag?!? (I am such a geek, sometimes I want to punch myself……….)

The book covers some big topics – death / divorce / moving house – but does it brilliantly, and with great ‘realness’ (not sure that’s even a proper word) and emotion.

On a personal level, and another brilliant reference point for me, we’ve just had chickens too – also starting off with 3 (Bertha, Wispa and Crunchie rather than Paxo, Oxo and Bisto – I’m disappointed we didn’t go for those names, particularly as they are partial to sage and onion stuffing and gravy – as a friend pointed out, feeding them that is practically pre-loading) – but have now added a cockerel, 8 further chickens (2 of which are partially sighted) and 2 micro pigs to our menagerie. I have also likened myself to Barbara from the Good Life (when I’d always wanted to be more Margot!) but without the dungarees.

chickens and pigs

Gill Sims is so bloody good at writing books.  Other parenting blogs have tried to make the leap to books and it’s just not translated as well (mentioning no names) but Gill’s books are all BRILLIANT.  If you haven’t read the first 2 (and don’t mind a bit of potty mouthed language), then download them IMMEDIATELY – and pre order this for when it’s out later this month.  I would go as far as to say this one is my favourite of the three!!

A massive thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced review copy.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Vox

Lots of friends had raved about Vox in our Facebook ‘book club’ – and when we had our inaugural real life book club (basically just a few of us in the pub, drinking gin and chatting about books!) I was lucky enough to be lent a copy.  I’m always nervous when people have loved something, what if I don’t, and then they think I’m weird?!  But one of my best friends said it was the first book she’d got truly invested in since Eleanor Oliphant, I had high hopes!

Here’s the blurb:

“Silence can be deafening.

Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins.
Now the new government is in power, everything has changed. But only if you’re a woman.
Almost overnight, bank accounts are frozen, passports are taken away and seventy million women lose their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write.
For herself, her daughter, and for every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice. This is only the beginning…

[100 WORD LIMIT REACHED]”

I need not have been concerned – I also really enjoyed Vox!

It’s set in the US and feels like it could be the present day.  Whilst the premise is that society in America has changed and all women and girls can only speak 100 words a day – and initially that sounds ridiculous – but when you see the back story and how it’s developed, it is also worryingly possible………..

The link between the President and his team and religion is reminiscent of the current situation across the Atlantic.  I usually steer clear of religion and politics on social media – but it’s intrinsically part of this book.  The establishment believe that a woman’s place is solely in the home caring for her family – and consequently girls don’t need to be taught to read and write – and maths skills are only for weighing out cooking ingredients etc.

That is until the aforementioned establishment need Jean’s work skills from her previous life as a scientist!

The book follows what happens next and Jean’s relationships with her family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and those in power.  It is BRILLIANT.  So clever and intricate – but also so horribly, horribly plausible.

Jean was clearly a super intelligent, high achieving woman before these rules were put in place – and struggles massively with authority – but I don’t want to give away any spoilers…..

I found the relationship with her eldest son the most interesting – and also really disturbing……

I’ve read that the booked is a reworking of The Handmaid’s Tale – but I haven’t read that so can’t really comment – but as a standalone book, I really enjoyed it.