Book Review: The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

I very much enjoyed Catherine Cooper’s first novel – The Chalet – which became a Sunday Times Bestseller – and so when the publisher emailed to see if I fancied reading her second novel, I jumped at the chance and downloaded an ARC from NetGalley. Here’s the blurb:

They thought it was perfect. They were wrong…
A glamorous chateau
Aura and Nick don’t talk about what happened in England. They’ve bought a chateau in France to make a fresh start, and their kids need them to stay together – whatever it costs.
A couple on the brink
The expat community is welcoming, but when a neighbour is murdered at a lavish party, Aura and Nick don’t know who to trust.
A secret that is bound to come out…
Someone knows exactly why they really came to the chateau. And someone is going to give them what they deserve.”

I romped through this second book from Catherine Cooper enjoying it just as much as The Chalet. I was expecting twists and turns and unexpected things happening – and I was not disappointed!

The book follows 2 timelines – Aura and Nick and their kids having moved to France – and back in England where you know ‘something’ has happened. Flicking back and forth between the timelines really kept up the momentum of the book.

Aura is a typical wannabe Instagram influencer – sharing her life and her kids on public social media channels, and inviting a film crew to document their move to France so she can have her 15 minutes of fame. I have to say, I didn’t really like Aura at all. But then equally I didn’t really like Nick either! Sometimes not liking / empathising with the main characters takes away from the enjoyment of the book – but in this case it didn’t – possibly because bad things kept happening to them!!

It takes pretty much the entire book for both timelines to unravel and to see how they are entwined. As I said, I was expecting a big twist – just like in The Chalet – and there were a couple! And again, I’m not sure I would have spotted them even if I’d known from the start what they would be.

All in all this is not a ‘difficult second album’ of a book – it’s fabulous!

Book Review: The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

The Beloved Girls had rave reviews on NetGalley and from authors I enjoy reading – and so I requested and was granted an advance review copy (it came out on 19 August 2021 for Kindle and in hard copy – paperback is out in April 2022). Here’s the blurb:

‘It’s a funny old house. They have this ceremony every summer . . . There’s an old chapel, in the grounds of the house. Half-derelict. The Hunters keep bees in there. Every year, on the same day, the family processes to the chapel. They open the combs, taste the honey. Take it back to the house. Half for them -‘ my father winced, as though he had bitten down on a sore tooth. ‘And half for us.’
Catherine, a successful barrister, vanishes from a train station on the eve of her anniversary. Is it because she saw a figure – someone she believed long dead? Or was it a shadow cast by her troubled, fractured mind?
The answer lies buried in the past. It lies in the events of the hot, seismic summer of 1989, at Vanes – a mysterious West Country manor house – where a young girl, Jane Lestrange, arrives to stay with the gilded, grand Hunter family, and where a devastating tragedy will unfold. Over the summer, as an ancient family ritual looms closer, Janey falls for each member of the family in turn. She and Kitty, the eldest daughter of the house, will forge a bond that decades later, is still shaping the present . . .”

Apart from the weird poem at the start – the book starts in the present day with Catherine and her family in central London. She’s a successful barrister who has just lost a case and is clearly struggling with the aftermath. Then – she disappears when she’s supposed to be heading off on an anniversary trip with her husband to France. At the end of this section there is then a twist based on on old photo – but it’s exactly the same twist as in another book I read recently #weird

It then flashes back – and is told from different points of view – to teenagers in the late1980s (lots of this was incredibly familiar having been a teenager in the same era!) and then even further back to the parents of the teenagers in their youth.

You know that the storyline is going to build up to a big tragedy in 1989 – although you don’t know exactly what it’s going to be.

The main problem was, I didn’t really give a toss about any of the characters – and the whole bee b*llocks, was just plain weird,

I pushed through, hoping to find what was missing and what everyone else had loved – and because I hate letting a book beat me (The Goldfinch anyone?!?) but it just didn’t click with me at all. Others appear to have loved it – but it just didn’t do it for me. It felt too long, too boring, too simplistic language – it wasn’t badly written or offensive – just a bit of a waste of a few hours of reading.

Book Review: ‘Mum, What’s Wrong With You?’ 101 Things Only Mothers of Teenage Girls Will Know by Lorraine Candy

I’ve followed Lorraine Candy’s writing and social media for years – and more recently become a listener to her ‘Postcards from Midlife’ podcast that she presents with fellow glossy magazine editor alumni Trish Halpin. Lorraine and I both have 4 kids, 3 daughters and a son (although in a different birth order – I’m sounding like I’m in serious stalker territory I appreciate!) and a similar age range (9 – 18 in this family, I think it’s one year to the right in the Candy household). Consequently I’ve always been interested in Lorraine’s take on a busy family life. The podcast has been massively informative on many issues – particularly the perimenopause – but it’s also been interesting to hear Lorraine and Trish’s take on parenting teens. When I knew Lorraine had written a book, I immediately pre ordered it. Here’s the blurb for non podcast listeners:

Mums: are you feeling lonely, confused or worried? Are you panicking that maybe you’re getting everything wrong? Does it, in the words of Lorraine Candy’s own teenage daughter, ‘suck to be you’ (Mum) right now?
Welcome to the most challenging part of your parenting journey: the teenage years.
It was all going so well and then, out of the blue, the little girl you love to the moon and back turned into an irrational, fire-breathing dragon. She lives in a messy pit of wet towels and sticky mugs, hoarding other people’s phone chargers and eyebrow tweezers, while rudely rejecting maternal intervention or affection.
Do not worry. You’re not alone. Parenting columnist Lorraine Candy, a mum of four (including three teens), is here to help. Her warm and witty family memoir will lead you to a more harmonious parenting place. Alongside a wealth of hilarious personal anecdotes, Candy offers you useful, easy-to-follow, well-researched guidance from experts.
This is a survivor’s guide for mums. This book will help you connect with your daughter and feel good about your mothering as you raise the bright and brilliant young women of tomorrow.”

I have to say that due to the title of the book and the cover, I was expecting a list of 101 things then padded out – but that was not the case at all! In fact I’m not sure there were 101 things – but there was an awful lot of content. Early on Lorraine acknowledges her middle class white privilege – and I’m in a similar position and thus her experiences were fairly relevant to mine – but I do think people of different ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic positions might find this is not necessarily the book for them. Having said that – there are many recommendations for extended reading that do cover other issues of race etc.

I think I’m also lucky that I have lots of friends with teenage girls a similar age to mine – and so some of the ‘OMG it’s not just my daughter’ have already been discussed and dissected with them – but that was a really important element of the book, realising that the weird teenage behaviour is totally normal and the same for others the globe over. Teenage girls in Birmingham, UK and Chicago, USA just don’t see the mess in their bedrooms, for example!!!

Lots of big topics are discussed – but it’s filled with light hearted anecdotes as well as heavy hitting professional advice.

I actually recounted one part to a friend recently – about being a pot plant parent – sitting quietly in the room without making yourself known, but you’re always there if needed.

Having ‘big conversations’ whilst side by side is a tactic I’ve long employed – car drives being the optimum – but is something Lorraine recommends too.

It provides a lot of food for thought – and confirms you are not alone (yep, I did break into song as I typed that…………). I’d definitely recommend it for people with teenage – or pre teen – daughters, and in some areas for sons too. It was interesting reading it with a recently adult daughter (legally at least) and two other pre teens – not that I’m saying the first one was a practice run or anything!!

Book Review: Magpie by Elizabeth Day

I have historically enjoyed Elizabeth Day’s books – both fiction and non fiction. And have listened avidly to the last series of her podcast ‘How To Fail with Elizabeth Day’ – where she has a fabulously eclectic mix of guests talking about their ‘failures’. When I saw she had a new novel out – I dived on NetGalley to request a copy and was very kindly granted one. Here’s the blurb:

Sometimes Marisa gets the fanciful notion that Kate has visited the house before. She makes herself at home without any self-consciousness. She puts her toothbrush right there in the master bathroom, on the shelf next to theirs.
In Jake, Marisa has found everything she’s ever wanted. Then their new lodger Kate arrives.
Something about Kate isn’t right. Is it the way she looks at Marisa’s boyfriend? Sits too close on the sofa? Constantly asks about the baby they are trying for? Or is it all just in Marisa’s head?
After all, that’s what her Jake keeps telling her. And she trusts him – doesn’t she?
But Marisa knows something is wrong. That the woman sleeping in their house will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Marisa just doesn’t know why.
How far will she go to find the answer – and how much is she willing to lose?

Ooh – this is GOOD! It’s not often I dole out a 5* review on NetGalley – but this is definitely a book that deserves one. It is incredibly well written, it feels like a grown up, ‘proper’ book – if that doesn’t sound too wanky?! It feels like care and attention has been made to the words and sentence structure and how it is all presented – as if it has been properly crafted and not just rushing to get the story down.

The book starts with Marisa and Jake and their new relationship. Jake is quite repressed with his emotions – but Marisa is madly in love and desperate to start a family with him. Her friend Jas is wary of it all going a bit quickly – but accepts the situation. Jake is the main breadwinner – but when a deal goes tits up he can no longer fund everything and so they get a lodger – Kate. Marisa is somewhat suspicious of Kate and her motives and feels she’s trying to get her claws into Jake as time progresses.

Then THERE IS A MASSIVE TWIST! It is brilliant. I’m not going to even hint at what it is – but it is amazing and really well written. I hate reviews that give stuff away – and so I’m not going to!

Whilst the story focusses on the 3 main characters of Marisa, Jake and Kate – the interweaving of additional characters, and back stories, is done really well. Are Jake’s parents misunderstood? Supportive? Spiteful? Downright evil?

There is also an element of infertility that is discussed in a really perceptive way. Ms Day has been very open about her own fertility journey and so this part of the storyline feels really well written and personal and consequently emotive.

I loved this book and devoured it very quickly. It’s out at the beginning of September – and I would highly recommend pre ordering it immediately.

A massive thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC.

Book Review: The Couple at No 9 by Claire Douglas

I’ve been lucky enough to have read the last two books by Claire Douglas, and so when I was offered the chance to read her next one in advance of its publication – I said yes please!

Here’s the blurb:

“When pregnant Saffron Cutler and her boyfriend Tom move into 9 Skelton Place, they didn’t expect to find this.
Two bodies, buried under the patio over thirty years ago.
When the police launch a murder investigation, they ask to speak to the cottage’s former owner – Saffy’s grandmother, Rose, whose Alzheimer’s clouds her memory.
But it is clear she remembers something . . .
What happened thirty years ago?
What part did her grandmother play?
And is Saffy now in danger? . . .

The book kicks you off right into the deep end with a body found in the garden of Saffy and Tom’s house as they’re having an extension built. Quickly followed by a second corpse. They’ve only recently moved in having been gifted the house by Saffy’s grandmother who has moved into a home suffering with dementia – although Saffy never knew her Grandmother owned the house in the quaint village Beggars Nook before that.

There is then, obviously, an investigation into who these two bodies are.

Saffy’s Mum Lorna flies over from Spain – where she’s living with her current younger man – and they visit their Grandmother / Mother Rose discussing with her – through the clouds of Alzheimers – who the victims may be.

Some of the chapters are told from the point of view of Saffy, some by Lorna, some by Rose – and some by Theo – a seemingly unconnected chef from Yorkshire with a horrible father. You suspect that he must be connected (otherwise it would be a very strange book!) but you don’t know why.

There are LOADS of twists and turns. Some of these I guessed and some I didn’t. I actually quite liked that as I could feel smug when I pre guessed a twist – but still be shocked with some of them!

It continued at pace – and consequently I was desperate to keep reading as it was so good and really kept my interest.

Whilst being a murder mystery at heart – the book also looks at parent / child relationships in great depth – and all in quite unique ways.

Overall this was a great read and I would highly recommend it. It was originally planned to be published today – but has been pushed back until the end of September 2021 – so plenty of time to pre order!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC in exchange for an independent review.

Book Review: Underbelly by Anna Whitehouse

I have followed Anna Whitehouse (@mother_pukka) on social media for a while, and then recently she’s been a maternity cover for the afternoon show on our local West Midlands Heart radio station – which I have long listened to and blogged about and so I feel like I’ve got to know her better (I’m not a weird stalker, honest!) I knew that Anna had written non fiction books with her husband Matt Farquharson, and then heard her talking about their first foray into fiction on the Scummy Mummies podcast. Yes – I did write ‘their’, and no it does just say Anna Whitehouse on the cover. This is apparently because fiction books can only have one named author – who knew!?! This also makes sense when other writing duos have chosen a pen name – such as Ellery Lloyd with ‘People Like Her’ – I hadn’t realised the significance of having a single name. (There endeth the random lesson in fiction publishing.)

Anyway – Anna’s description of ‘Underbelly’ really appealed, so I immediately requested – and was kindly granted – a copy from NetGalley in exchange for a review – so here we go. For anyone who hasn’t heard Anna’s synopsis (but the Scummy Mummies podcast is always good for LOLs, so maybe use Anna’s episode as a taster?) here’s the blurb:

[n.] singular
The soft underside or abdomen of a mammal.
An area vulnerable to attack.
A dark, hidden part of society.

Lo and Dylan are living parallel lives, worlds apart.
Lo is the ultimate middle-class mother, all perfectly polished Instagram posts and armchair activism.
Dylan is just about surviving on a zero-hours telemarketing job from her flat, trying to keep food on the table.
But when they meet at the school gates, they are catapulted into each other’s homes and lives – with devastating consequences . . .
Explosive, sharply humorous and unflinchingly honest, Underbelly slices through the filtered surface of modern women’s lives to expose the dark truth beneath.

The book is told from the point of view of two Mums – Lois and Dylan, as described above – living incredibly different lives. Their paths cross – well actually paths physically bump into each other – before their kids start at the same primary school in reception, but when the kids become friends, Lo and Dylan become better acquainted.

Now – very early on in the book there is an incredibly graphic miscarriage scene. I’m very fortunate that I’ve had 4 straightforward pregnancies, and never lost a baby, but I can imagine this could be quite difficult for some people to read. In fact that book doesn’t shy away from heavy topics at all – with self harm, loneliness, suicide and emotional and physical abuse all woven through the storyline – but not in an off putting way, it’s just not a light and fluffy read – despite the pink cover.

Lo was incredibly self absorbed and self obsessed – desperate to get likes / hit the algorithms / keep her management and sponsors happy / respond to all of her followers comments and messages. This definitely made me think that there is more to this Instamum lark than just posting photos of your neutral kids in your neutral home with your neutral husband. Lo is also worried about a site called Influenza – where people can anonymously slag off Instamums or other celebrities without fear of reprisal. I saw in other reviews that this was based on a site called Tattle – which I’d never heard of. I made the mistake of going on there and it is VICIOUS. It’s also pretty sad that some people have so little going on it their lives that they spend their time forensically dissecting posts on Instagram to then go and slag posters off on Tattle to like minded individuals. Just plain horrible.

Meanwhile Dylan was having a really tough time of it as single Mum, on the run from an abusive ex (and her son Noah’s father) and trying to earn a living cold calling selling water coolers (again, it made me decide to be slightly less rude to cold callers to my office in the future).

The friendship between Lois’s daughter Scout and Dylan’s son Noah starts on the first day of Reception – and it really showed that kids don’t care who is who in the playground – they like who they like.

In the middle of the book I did feel like the storyline didn’t really go anywhere for a while – but I guess that cleverly reflects the relentlessness and monotony of both motherhood and Instamums??

Lo tries to help Dylan – by giving Noah free clothes, paying her to use Noah’s image in some posts, sharing Dylan’s blog to all of her followers – and this helps Dylan in her aspirations as a writer – but it does all very much feel like Lady Bountiful Lo helping poor little Dylan.

Then various turns of events cause everything to go tits up for both women – and this is written brilliantly with the momentum of everything spiralling out of control totally consuming. It really makes you think how one error of judgment can cause someone to be completely cancelled. Frightening really.

And I was left wanting to know what happened to the women and their children next – which is always the sign of a good book.

Overall it was a really interesting and thought provoking read. It’s definitely made me stop and think. I wasn’t going to subscribe to Tattle or anything – but when I recently described an Instamum’s feed as ‘vacuous shite’ to a friend, it made me realise I can just click the ‘unfollow’ button, it doesn’t affect me one iota, and she can post whatever she wants – meanwhile I’ll go and find someone with content I find more inspiring. Knowing that the book has been written from a place of personal experience by Anna Whitehouse also makes it all the more relevant and meaningful.

A big thank you to NetGalley and Orion Books for my advance review copy – and it’s out later this week if you are interested in delving behind the social media curtain yourself!