Book Review: Half A World Away by Mike Gayle

Half A World Away

I am super lucky in that I often get to read advance review copies of books  – which is brilliant – but means I tempt my friends with reviews months before the books come out and don’t have chance to dissect books with them at the time!  Two of my book club friends – whose opinion I trust on books – raved about this, so I ACTUALLY PAID for a copy.  I think I have read other Mike Gayle books back in the day – and he’s from Birmingham (and South Birmingham at that – honestly, the accent is different, I was on a plane from Singapore to London some years ago and the stewardess asked me what I’d like to drink, I answered ‘A glass of champagne’ and she asked ‘Where in Birmingham are you from?’ – I said ‘I grew up in Kings Heath’ to which she replied ‘I’m from Harborne, I knew you were close’.)  Anyway – I totally digress – back to the book!

Here’s the blurb:

“Strangers living worlds apart.
Strangers with nothing in common.

But it wasn’t always that way…

Kerry Hayes is single mum, living on a tough south London estate. She provides for her son by cleaning houses she could never afford. Taken into care as a child, Kerry cannot forget her past.

Noah Martineau is a successful barrister with a beautiful wife, daughter and home in fashionable Primrose Hill. Adopted as a young child, Noah never looks back.

When Kerry contacts Noah, the sibling she lost on the day they were torn apart as children, she sets in motion a chain of events that will change both of their lives forever.

By turns funny and moving, Half a World Away is a story that will stay with you long after you read its final page.”

I enjoyed this from the start.  Kerry was a lovely character from the off – fighting for her son to have a better life than she had had. She and her younger brother had been taken into care as kids – but she’d written to her brother every year on his birthday, and every time she’d moved house, but to the adoption agency – so it was up to him whether he got in touch, she never knew where he was.

From the start you could see this was an estranged brother / sister who will find each other story – but it is sooo much more than that.

Noah was also a really likeable character – and the differences between how their lives had panned out was very evident. In fact the only person I didn’t particularly take to was Noah’s wife Rosalind – she just seemed ridiculous in her reactions to things for a large chunk of the book.  Noah had never wanted to find out about his birth family, as he was quite happy in his adopted family – and so looking for them had never been an issue for him.  I have to say his parents and adoptive siblings were all lovely and super supportive of him all of the time.

I love Noah’s relationship with his nephew Kian – and Kian’s relationship with his cousin Millie – they felt really true to life and not forced.  Other peripheral relationships were also lovely – particularly Kerry’s best friend who now lives up North with a whole host of kids, and also one of her cleaning clients who is more like a friend.

Now there is MAJOR thing that happens in the book – but I don’t want to give you any spoilers (I hate spoilers in reviews) but it is totally fundamental to the entire storyline.  It made it super emotional and I must confess to crying lots (not unusual for me!) but I think that is also testament to how emotively it is written.

Overall a fabulous read – and nice to have been able to discuss it with people now, not when they get to read it a few months after me!

I would say definitely one to pack in your suitcase this summer – but, hey ho……..

Book Review: The First Bad Man by Miranda July


The First Bad Man

I’ve posted before of my love of Dawn O’Porter – and when she recently started a page on Patreon where she posts lots of content she doesn’t post publicly (for a small monthly fee – less than a coffee shop latte!) I signed up straight away.  One of the things on there is a book club – and this was her suggestion for February / March – after she was given a copy of it by Louis Theroux.  Dawn said that fans of Eleanor Oliphant would love it – so I immediately purchased it. #followingtheherd #DawnOPorterinjoke

Here is the synopsis:

“From the acclaimed filmmaker, artist, and bestselling author of No One Belongs Here More Than You, a spectacular debut novel that is so heartbreaking, so dirty, so tender, so funny–so Miranda July–readers will be blown away.

Here is Cheryl, a tightly-wound, vulnerable woman who lives alone, with a perpetual lump in her throat. She is haunted by a baby boy she met when she was six, who sometimes recurs as other people’s babies. Cheryl is also obsessed with Phillip, a philandering board member at the women’s self-defense non-profit where she works. She believes they’ve been making love for many lifetimes, though they have yet to consummate in this one.

When Cheryl’s bosses ask if their twenty-one-year-old daughter Clee can move into her house for a little while, Cheryl’s eccentrically-ordered world explodes. And yet it is Clee–the selfish, cruel blond bombshell–who bullies Cheryl into reality and, unexpectedly, provides her the love of a lifetime.

Tender, gripping, slyly hilarious, infused with raging sexual fantasies and fierce maternal love, Miranda July’s first novel confirms her as a spectacularly original, iconic and important voice today, and a writer for all time. The First Bad Man is dazzling, disorienting, and unforgettable.”

Well – where to start!

This is truly a weird book.

Initially I could see the likeness between Cheryl and Eleanor – but then this got odder and odder.  And quite disturbing.  The sexual content grew and grew which I was slightly uncomfortable with – as it was all so bizarre.  I got to about 40% and was unsure whether to push forward or not.  Then I had to take my youngest to a medical appointment – and was sat in the waiting room at Birmingham Children’s Hospital reading it – and it just felt wrong.

I’ve decided that 2020 is the year I will allow myself to give up on books I’m not enjoying – and so that was it – I gave up before 50%.  No more pushing through (like the Goldfinch!!)  Life is too short – and there are SOOOO many books out there I want to read.

Lots of other people on Dawn’s Patreon page loved it – so please don’t let me put you off – maybe I’m just a bit too straight laced and vanilla?!



ETA:  I wrote the above back in February when I started (and gave up on) The First Bad Man.  However, the book club on Dawn’s Patreon page never got to fully dissect it as Dawn’s best friend died suddenly and so book club was put on hold.  Then ‘lockdown’ happened – and I’m not sure when book club will start again (although there is still lots of content on the Patreon page – just different to book club – but still very entertaining).  Anyway – I decided to post this blog post anyway as it was sat there ready to go and I’m interested to see if any of you guys have read it and what you think!






Book Review: Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read

I was emailed by the publisher to see if I’d like to read this having enjoyed ‘One Day In December’ by Josie Silver. I always find this a  bit more of a risk than selecting something I’ve already seen reviewed on Net Galley – but I went with it!

Here’s the blurb:

He doesn’t believe in happy endings.
She’s lost her faith that they exist.
But could they find one together?

January is a hopeless romantic who narrates her life like she’s the lead in a blockbuster movie.
Gus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale.

But January and Gus have more in common than you’d think:

They’re both broke.
They’ve got crippling writer’s block.
And they need to write bestsellers before summer ends.

The result? A bet to swap genres see who gets published first.
The risk? In telling each other’s stories, their worlds might be changed entirely…

Set over one sizzling summer, Beach Read is a witty love story that will make you laugh as much as cry.”

The cover and blurb made me think this was going to be a frothy book to read on a summer holiday (remember those?!) but that was fine with me.   But it was so much more than that – and much darker and deeper than I expected.

When I read the first couple of pages I have to say my heart sank – I thought this is going to be a twee American coming of age story – but I decided to persevere – and I am so very, very glad I did!

After the initial back story setting, the storyline follows January and Gus who are now next door neighbours – although in a slight  ‘suspend your belief for a bit’ actually knew each other back in college.  Both reasonably successful writers – but in totally different genres – and they decide to swap!

As part of the genre swapping they each arrange a weekly trip out (not a date, totally, definitely not a date!) – Gus takes January to interview escaped members of a local death cult (he writes high brow serious literature) and then January arranges a trip to the fair or to go line dancing in true rom com style!

The tension builds as the story twists and turns in a brilliantly clever way – and the sexual tension builds at the same time! There are some really well written sex scenes – not graphic – but incorporate the tension that has built up amazingly well, they were perfect.

Whilst the thread of ‘will they / won’t they’ runs through the book – there’s also some other serious stuff dealt with too – grief for the loss of a parent – and a relationship, finding out secrets about family members you didn’t know, marriage break ups, parental relationships etc – so I would say it falls in between January and Gus’s genres perfectly!!

I loved both January and Gus and their friendship / relationship – and I also really liked the other characters – January’s best friend, and Gus’s Aunt and her wife were brilliantly written and brought new dynamics to the book.

Throughout the book I was desperate to know what was going to happen next – and it was one of those books where you end up going to bed late as you just read that little bit more each time!

I’m not 100% sure why it’s even called ‘Beach Read’ – although books are read on the beach near the end as their houses are on the shores of Lake Michigan – but it’s definitely not a frothy, summer, beach read in my opinion – it’s much better than that.  I will be recommending this to friends far and wide when it is published later in the summer in the UK.

Thanks so much to the publishers and NetGalley for my ARC.






Book Review: The Family Holiday by Elizabeth Noble

The Family Holiday

I enjoyed Elizabeth Noble’s last book Love, Iris (even if it was called ‘Letters To Iris’ when I read the pre publication copy!) and so when I saw this on Net Galley I jumped at the chance to read it.

Here’s the blurb:

“The Chamberlain family used to be close.

Charlie and Daphne were happily married, and their children Laura, Scott and Nick were inseparable. But then, inevitably, the children grew up and their own messy lives got in the way.

Since Daphne died, Charlie can’t help but think about happier times for the Chamberlain family – before his children drifted apart. His wife was the family’s true north, and without her guidance, Charlie fears his kids have all lost their direction.

For his eightieth birthday, all Charlie wants is to bring his family together again. And by some miracle, they’ve all said yes.

So, for the first time in a long time, the Chamberlains are going on a family holiday.

It’s only ten days . . . how bad could it be?”

It starts off with Charlie looking at suitable properties for his entire family to get together for his 80th birthday.  Coincidentally I was busy looking for a similar property for our family to get together, as Mum’s planned 70th birthday weekend away has been thwarted by coronavirus – so we were back to the drawing board for options for Easter 2021!

Each chapter is told from a different point of view – Charlie, or one of his 3 children.  Each of them is very different – and all going through their own trials and tribulations.

Laura has just split up from her husband and getting used to life as a single Mum to a teenage son, Nick is recently widowed with 3 small children. and Scott is recently married with 2 new teenage step daughters.  So lots going on for all of them – as is the case in most families I guess?

The first few chapters set the scene for each element of the family before they all get together for the holiday.

There are lots of secrets between the different family members – and it doesn’t feel like they’re a close family at all – but these unravel during the 10 days and the old bonds reform – and new ones are made.

The stories all develop – but also intertwine – in a clever way (which I remember the author being brilliant at in her previous book too), always coming back to the house.

Daphne – Charlie’s wife and the matriarch – has passed away a few years ago, and you really miss her presence – as clearly the family do too. The star of the book, for me, was Heather – Scott’s new American wife.  Initially I thought she was going to be the shallow, annoying, Instagram obsessed, gold digger – but actually, she was the person who drew the family together – and ended up my favourite character.

I thought the teenager storylines were written well – both their interactions with each other and with older family members – perhaps having a couple of them myself made me appreciate the accuracy of the characterisations.

I really like the ending – which was a few months down the line, and updated you on what everyone had got up to post holiday.  That was great – as nosy me always wants to see what has happened after the main storyline has finished.

Overall it’s a really ‘nice’ book.  Inoffensive, easy to read, nice and gentle to read when the world is feeling anything but nice and gentle – but it didn’t set the world on fire.  I enjoyed it – but it didn’t blow me away.  But thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC!


Book Review: Us Three by Ruth Jones

Us Three

I have long been a fan of Ruth Jones – having watched Gavin & Stacey from the start, and also loving her other series on Sky One, Stella.  Somehow I missed her first novel – but when I saw her second novel on NetGalley – I jumped at an advance review copy.

Here’s the blurb:

“Meet Lana, Judith and Catrin. Best friends since primary school when they swore an oath on a Curly Wurly wrapper that they would always be there for each other, come what may.

After the trip of a lifetime, the three girls are closer than ever. But an unexpected turn of events shakes the foundation of their friendship to its core, leaving their future in doubt – there’s simply too much to forgive, let alone forget. An innocent childhood promise they once made now seems impossible to keep .”

The first chapter of the book is before a funeral – so you know this isn’t going to be all laughs – but it then goes back in time to see what happens to get to that point.

At the start of the book I was a bit confused – you were introduced to the 3 girls and their family and friends and there was just a lot of people all at once.  I liked the style of the book – and the ‘Welshness’ of it – you could ‘hear’ their voices and Welsh accents very well.

But, I have to confess I  was really disappointed at the start because I didn’t immediately LOVE it – it was fine, but just felt a bit boring and samey and not the amazing book I’d expected from Ruth’s TV series writing.

However, I persevered – and I’m glad I did, because about 1/3 of the way through it really improved.  Certain things happened which totally changed the story line from the comfortable, predictable, slightly boring friendship triangle into a PROPER unique book.

It moved forwards from the 80s through to the present(ish) day at quite a pace – with the changes facing each of the girls and how their friendship is affected by the passing years.

Some of it is really sad – and did make me cry – but there are equally lots of funny bits too.  Just like Ruth’s TV writing, it’s a really good character driven story – where the personalities of people are crucial.

Overall it was a fun, easy read – and I would definitely read a  book by Ruth Jones in the future.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.










Book Review: The Sight Of You by Holly Miller

The Sight Of You

I’m not sure why I ended up with an ARC off NetGalley of this book – but I’m so very glad I did – it is brilliant!

Here’s the blurb:

“Joel is afraid of the future.
Since he was a child he’s been haunted by dreams about the people he loves. Visions of what’s going to happen – the good and the bad. And the only way to prevent them is to never let anyone close to him again.

Callie can’t let go of the past.
Since her best friend died, Callie’s been lost. She knows she needs to be more spontaneous and live a bigger life. She just doesn’t know how to find a way back to the person who used to have those dreams.

Joel and Callie both need a reason to start living for today.
And though they’re not looking for each other, from the moment they meet it feels like the start of something life-changing.

Until Joel has a vision of how it’s going to end . . .”

Firstly – this book is BEAUTIFULLY written.  It’s like a classic written now – you can imagine kids studying the amazing descriptions and sentence construction and the way it draws you right in – particularly when describing the seasons / weather / nature – it is stunning.  I know I shouldn’t be surprised – but often modern books feel a bit rushed, or on a production line because the author / publisher has a deadline – but it really feels like this book has been crafted and lots of care and attention to detail taken over the turn of phrase.

It is also ridiculously emotional!  You are invested in Callie and Joel from the off and really want everything to work out for them – but it’s difficult to see how it will.  Each chapter is written from an alternating point of view – and it swings like a pendulum between Callie and Joel.

Initially the pace is quite slow, day by day even, and you see how their initial friendship and then relationship starts.  You are really rooting for both Callie and Joel and their respective baggage.  The exquisite writing doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a modern book, set in current times, with familiar themes and settings.

As the book carries on the pace picks up – and the final chapters are almost annual – but it serves to build the momentum as it heads towards the conclusion. The inevitable conclusion perhaps?

It made be weep (which frankly anything does at the moment – but I think I would have even if we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic!)  It is beautiful, heart breaking, life affirming, a story of friends and family and a perfect love story.

This book is going to be one of THE books of the summer of 2020 – so I would suggest pre ordering now, so you can be one of the cool kids who reads it first!

Huge thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my ARC – I will most definitely be buying this as gifts for friends come June 2020.