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!