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……..