Book Review: Watching Neighbours Twice A Day… How 90s TV (Almost) Prepared Me For Life by Josh Widdicombe

I would have been able to pick Josh Widdicombe out in a line up for a fair few years – but I only feel like I’ve got to know him intimately since listening to the twice weekly podcast he does with Rob Beckett. This started during the pandemic as ‘Lockdown Parenting Hell’ and has subsequently been rebranded ‘Parenting Hell’. I’m almost a decade older than Josh (so my brain’s Broom Cupboard default presenter is more Philip Schofield than Andi Peters) – and my kids are older than his kids too – but I still find the podcast very entertaining. When Josh and Rob were discussing their forthcoming books, I immediately parted with hard cash to pre order them. (To be honest, I checked out NetGalley first – but neither of them featured – but as the amazing podcast content is free, I didn’t begrudge actually paying for books for once!)

Here’s the blurb about Josh’s book:

‘This is a book about growing up in the ’90s told through the thing that mattered most to me, the television programmes I watched. For my generation television was the one thing that united everyone. There were kids at my school who liked bands, kids who liked football and one weird kid who liked the French sport of petanque, however, we all loved Gladiators, Neighbours and Pebble Mill with Alan Titchmarsh (possibly not the third of these).’
In his first memoir, Josh Widdicombe tells the story of a strange rural childhood, the kind of childhood he only realised was weird when he left home and started telling people about it. From only having four people in his year at school, to living in a family home where they didn’t just not bother to lock the front door, they didn’t even have a key.
Using a different television show of the time as its starting point for each chapter Watching Neighbours Twice a Day… is part-childhood memoir, part-comic history of ’90s television and culture. It will discuss everything from the BBC convincing him that Michael Parkinson had been possessed by a ghost, to Josh’s belief that Mr Blobby is one of the great comic characters, to what it’s like being the only vegetarian child west of Bristol.
It tells the story of the end of an era, the last time when watching television was a shared experience for the family and the nation, before the internet meant everyone watched different things at different times on different devices, headphones on to make absolutely sure no one else could watch it with them.”

I was super excited when the book landed on my doormat – and even got goosebumps from reading the chapter titles (which are all named after different 90s TV programmes) – as they brought back lots of memories.

You can hear Josh’s voice in the book (and no, I didn’t have the audiobook on at the same time) it is just written in his distinctive style. It is so well observed and frequently had me laughing out loud (and then having to explain to my husband what I’d found so funny).

I could quote endlessly from the book – but won’t as you should really buy it yourself – however to read on page 138 about ‘that bloke who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses‘ – mentioned twice, on the day he died, did feel a bit surreal. I am in no way blaming Josh for John Challis’s death I should add!

In another ‘small world’, Josh refers to supporting England at a major football tournament as a ‘doomed relationship’ in the chapter about Euro 1996 – which is somewhat ironic as I watched the England v Switzerland opening game on the floor of Bangkok airport, waiting to fly home from the honeymoon of my first marriage (it hadn’t failed at that point – we lasted another few years, so longer than Terry Venables as England Manager at least).

I was waiting for the time when Josh would mention Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett as examples of people on TV you might not be able to stand – as he’d mentioned it on the ‘Parenting Hell’ podcast – so I felt part of an ‘in-joke’ when I read that. Not that you need to be a podcast subscriber or listener to find the book entertaining – it totally stands on its own two feet.

I read all the way to the end of the acknowledgements (my neck is stiffer than Beckett’s – another podcast reference, I am such a fangirl) and the part written to Josh’s wife and kids made me cry! I hadn’t even had wine!

It was really interesting hearing about Josh’s childhood growing up in Devon – and I loved hearing about his Grandmother Gin in particular. But then I always do love a gin…….

This is a brilliant book – funny, clever, well written, brilliantly observed and a roller coaster of reminiscing with a dollop of popular culture from the 2000s onwards thrown in too. I would guess I’m near the top age range of people who would adore it – but there will always be outliers. A brilliant potential Christmas present for anyone aged 35-50 I reckon.

Well done Josh – now to await Rob’s book with an equal level of excitement!!!

Book Review: Payday by Celia Walden

I follow Celia Walden on social media, and have enjoyed her non fiction writing in various publications – but had not before read any of her fiction. I liked the premise of the book – and I can’t deny I also liked the premise that she is married to someone that a lot of the population love to hate! So when Celia was doing the rounds publicising the imminent publication of Payday – I hopped onto NetGalley and was kindly granted a review copy. I’ve only just read it – but that means if you like the sound of it you can buy it immediately:

Here’s the blurb:

“Late one night, three women share secrets.
They barely know each other, but they all know Jamie Lawrence. They know what he’s guilty of. And they agree something must be done.
But as their plan spirals out of control, they begin to doubt themselves . . . and each other. Then Jamie is found dead. And suddenly everything is at stake. As lies are unravelled and truths exposed, two urgent questions emerge:
Who is really guilty?
And who will have to pay?

The three women in question are Alex (Jamie’s recently sacked PA), Nicole (Jamie’s contemporary) and Jill (Jamie’s partner and mentor over the previous years) . Each has a different reason to despise Jamie – but will they be responsible for his downfall or death??

So many of the interactions were totally relatable having worked in the corporate world (as an accountant) and now working in the property sector (although as a hairy arsed contractor rather than a consultant like BWL the company in the book). Everyone knows a Jamie!

The book twists and turns massively – you know that Jamie has died early in the book – but then it goes back in time to get you to the point of his gruesome death. Each of the women – and some other women too – would have reason to destroy him, and this develops as the book progresses. Some elements of the book were quite predictable – others totally shocked me – which really kept me on my toes.

I have to say that neither Alex nor Nicole were particularly likeable – and although Jill was probably my favourite, she still had times when I wanted to give her a talking to. Each of the characters was very different – but very well observed, and I enjoyed the writing style a lot.

Different chapters are told from different points of view and I felt like the pace picked up as the book developed.

There are elements of #metoo, basic sexism, an ageism / sexism combo – and just downright being a dick by Jamie. He doesn’t really appear to have any redeeming features at all.

The twists and turns and ‘oh wow’ moments keep going right to the very end of the book which I thought particularly clever – but because of that I don’t want to reveal too much of the storyline as you need to discover it for yourself.

Overall a great read – and I could easily see it being made into a TV drama – I devoured it really quickly as I was desperate to find out what happened next. The ending does tie up lots of loose ends for all of the characters which I always like in a book.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.

Book Review: Unbreak Your Heart by Katie Marsh

I was sent an ARC of this back in March, but hadn’t had time to read it before it was published in May 2021 – and finally started reading it on our summer holiday. Here’s the blurb:

“Seven-year-old Jake’s heart is failing and he doesn’t want to leave his dad, Simon, alone. So he makes a decision: to find Simon someone to love before he goes.
Beth is determined to forget the past. But even when she leaves New York to start afresh in a Lake District village, she can’t shake the secrets that haunt her.
Single dad Simon still holds a candle for the woman who left him years ago. Every day is a struggle to earn a living while caring for his beloved son. He has no time for finding someone new.
But Jake is determined his plan will succeed – and what unfolds
will change all three of them forever.”

The book starts with Beth bumping into Simon and Jake – literally! The Lake District setting is a character in the book itself in all of its rugged beauty.

The whole book is beautifully written – and I really loved all of the characters. There were times I wanted to shout at them – but in a supportive way, not an overly frustrated way.

Simon’s love for his son is HUGE throughout the book. I have a child with a chronic illness (although thankfully not life limiting like Jake who has HLHS) but that meant that some of the elements of hospital visits and worrying were very, very close to home.

The book is fundamentally a love story – but not just romantic love – it’s love between a parent and child and grandchild, and friends, and family – it’s beautiful.

A really lovely escapist read.

Book Review: No Such Thing As Perfect by Emma Hughes

I was given an advance review copy of this by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Here’s the blurb:

No one’s life is as perfect as it looks.
Least of all Laura Morrison’s. (Although she’s not sure how perfect hanging onto your job by a thread and sleeping on an air mattress at your sister’s looks, in all honesty.)
When Laura gets the chance to trial Cupid – a high-tech new dating service which will draw on everything she’s ever done online to find her perfect match – she figures it’s got to be worth a try.
She can’t believe her luck when good-looking, kind considerate Adam turns up for their first date. On paper he’s…well…perfect.
But when Laura develops feelings for the person who led her to Adam in the first place, familiar doubt creeps in.
Maybe for life to start falling into place, Laura has to learn to let go…”

Laura feels like her life is pretty rubbish, and then she’s put on notice at work – but given a ‘prove herself’ assignment to test out a high tech new dating service which will match her with a prospective partner based upon all of her internet history – so she kind of feels she has to give it a go. Wrapped around that main storyline are the relationships Laura has with her sister, parents, friends, ex housemates and colleagues – none of which are that great.

Adam is lovely, but seemingly a bit of a wet blanket, and so ‘the bad boy’ is appealing.

The storyline is relatively predictable, and I didn’t particularly like any of the main characters – frequently wanting to shout at them.

The writing was good and funny – but for me, it just didn’t quite hit the mark. It wasn’t offensive, and was an easy read – but didn’t set the world alight. Maybe I’m just too old and cynical to be target market?

Book Review: One Lucky Summer by Jenny Oliver

I’ve long been a Jenny Oliver fan – and not just because one of her back catalogue features my name as the main character (charity auction bid from my husband) Her summery books are always great fun – but somehow I’d been sent this on NetGalley and it had passed me by – but what a perfect book to read on my summer holiday, and if you like the sound of it, then it’s out already.

Here’s the blurb:

“The best kept secrets are waiting to be found.         
With an air of faded splendour, Willoughby Hall was an idyllic childhood home to Ruben de Lacy. Gazing at it now, decades later, the memories are flooding back, and not all of them are welcome….
In a tumbledown cottage in Willoughby’s grounds, Dolly and Olive King lived with their eccentric explorer father. One of the last things he did was to lay a treasure hunt before he died, but when events took an unexpected turn, Dolly and Olive left Willoughby for good, never to complete it.
But when Ruben uncovers a secret message, hidden for decades, he knows he needs Olive and Dolly’s help. Can the three of them solve the treasure hunt, and will piecing together the clues help them understand what happened to their families that summer, all those years ago?”

This was a lovely, quick, fun read – I devoured it in a day!

It’s quite an ensemble piece and you’re invested in everyone’s lives. Whilst there is the standard summer romance you’d expect – it’s much more than that – looking at loads of different relationships. Siblings, parental, extended family, unexpected child, colleagues, childhood sweethearts etc etc – and all sat with the beautiful backdrop of Willoughby Hall.

The treasure hunt aspect was also fun – although I wouldn’t say as central as the blurb suggests – but still intriguing.

My only complaint is I want to find out what happens to the gang next!!

It’s only 99p on Kindle – and totally worth less than a cup of coffee.