Book Review: Stepping Up by Sarah Turner

I’ve read previous books by Sarah Turner in her guise as ‘The Unmumsy Mum‘ and loved them – and I follow Sarah on social media too – so when I knew she had her first fiction book coming out, I hopped onto NetGalley and was chuffed to get an advance review copy.

Here’s the blurb:

Beth has never stuck at anything.
She’s quit more jobs and relationships than she can remember and she still sleeps in her childhood bedroom. It’s not that she hasn’t tried to grow up, it’s just that so far, the only commitment she’s held down is Friday drinks at the village pub.
Then, in the space of a morning, her world changes.
An unspeakable tragedy turns Beth’s life upside down, and she finds herself guardian to her teenage niece and toddler nephew, catapulted into an unfamiliar world of bedtime stories, parents’ evenings and cuddly elephants. Having never been responsible for anyone – or anything – it’s not long before she feels seriously out of her depth.
What if she’s simply not up to the job?
With a little help from her best friend Jory (purely platonic, of course …) and her lovely, lonely next-door neighbour, Albert, Beth is determined that this time she’s not giving up. It’s time to step up.
This is a story about digging deep for strength you never knew you had and finding magic in things that were there all along.”

I absolutely LOVED this book. All of the characters had something going for them – and you were rooting for them all, especially Beth, from the outset.

Now I knew Sarah would write about parenting a toddler brilliantly – and she did exactly that. Ted was a very believable little boy – innocent, but questioning; a distraction for everyone, but also a nightmare when he had a meltdown. In fact all of the relationships were written incredibly well – the sneaky teenager Polly – who was different with her Aunt than when she was with her Grandparents, Beth’s relationship with her parents – and with her best mate (Jory – purely platonic – apart from that one night in Winter 2015 that almost changed things……..) and the blossoming friendship with her octogenarian new neighbour Albert – who types his text messages ALL IN CAPSLOCK.

One minute you’re laughing out loud at something – the next you’re weeping – but isn’t that the sign of a brilliant book?

I loved the way that without even realising it, Beth became indispensable in a way she’d never been before – highlighted in Ted’s new bedtime routine, and how he needed Auntie Beth to put him to bed.

The scene at Polly’s parents’ evening had me giggling – a real catalogue of errors – but the relationship between Polly and Beth changed so much during the book, it was lovely, and really believable.

Sarah also wrote about grief incredibly well – and I suspect some of that is from personal experience too, as I know she lost her own Mum when she was a teenager. One bit really struck me – as it was exactly what a friend said after her son died, she hated the first New Year’s Eve because it felt like she was leaving him in the previous year and everyone else was moving on. Beth voices those same worries about the changing of the years.

There are various twists and turns as the book develops, and it doesn’t conclude in a ‘and everyone lives happily ever after’ way – but it definitely leaves you with lots of hope. I’d REALLY like to know what does happen to everyone, as I feel really invested in their lives!

The book is out in March 2022, and I would highly recommend pre ordering it – it’s fabulous.

A massive thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC – and to Sarah Turner for writing such a great book in the midst of a global pandemic and the home schooling nightmare!! It’s not often I give 5 stars on NetGalley – but I am for ‘Stepping Up’.

Book Review: Wahala by Nikki May

I’d seen ‘Wahala’ on a number of lists of ‘books for 2022’ – so was delighted to be granted an advance review copy by NetGalley.

Here’s the blurb:

Ronke, Simi, Boo are three mixed-race friends living in London.
They have the gift of two cultures, Nigerian and English.

Not all of them choose to see it that way.
Everyday racism has never held them back, but now in their thirties, they question their future. Ronke wants a husband (he must be Nigerian); Boo enjoys (correction: endures) stay-at-home motherhood; while Simi, full of fashion career dreams, rolls her eyes as her boss refers to her urban vibe yet again.
When Isobel, a lethally glamorous friend from their past arrives in town, she is determined to fix their futures for them.
Cracks in their friendship begin to appear, and it is soon obvious Isobel is not sorting but wrecking. When she is driven to a terrible act, the women are forced to reckon with a crime in their past that may just have repeated itself.
Explosive, hilarious and wildly entertaining, this razor-sharp tale of love, race and family will have you laughing, crying and gasping in horror. Fearlessly political about class, colourism and clothes, the spellbinding Wahala is for anyone who has ever cherished friendship, in all its forms.

The book starts in a Nigerian restaurant in London – and from the start I felt like the book was an education in Nigerian culture. The three main characters all have dual heritage, with Nigerian fathers – some present, some not. Each of the characters is very different – and I can totally see where comparisons with ‘Sex and The City’ have come from.

Simi’s friend from her youth in Lagos, Nigeria – Isobel – arrives on the scene, and is a whirlwind throwing her cash about and trying to spice up the lives of the three friends in different ways.

However, cracks soon start to appear in the friendship between the three friends – and also their home lives. The book’s title ‘ Wahala’ means ‘trouble’ in Nigerian Pidgin – and that is definitely what Isobel brings, even if it’s not immediately evident.

Boo’s life as a part time stay at home Mum – who has had to take more menial work to fit around her home life – is very well observed. I did feel sorry for her French husband – or ‘tubby hubby’ as Isobel christened him.

Simi has completely upset her father by not being a doctor and pursuing a career in fashion instead – and their interactions were very well written. The visit from her father and step mother was a comedy in itself.

Ronke’s quest to replace her permanently absent father with a Nigerian boyfriend have not historically gone well – and so the others have doubts over whether the flaky Kayode really is ‘ the one’. I really liked Ronke’s relationship with her dental assistant – he was a very good friend to her.

My one tiny niggle is there are some MASSIVE coincidences as the book concludes – and in a country of 206 million inhabitants, with almost 15 million in Lagos alone – it does feel a bit unlikely. But hey – sometimes you have to suspend disbelief about coincidences when it comes to literature!

The book twists and turns, and the build up to the end is not what I expected at all – which was great.

The writing is excellent, and the book really evokes the feeling of Lagos – and also the shared culture that the girls have in the UK. I can see why it’s already been snapped up to be a TV series.

What I particularly loved is the final chapter – which is set a few months after the traumatic events towards the end of the book – but is back in the restaurant where the story commenced – I do love little touches like that.

Overall a really good, interesting, educational and captivating read. Thank you to the published and NetGalley for my ARC. It’s out at the beginning of January 2022 – so not long to wait if you fancy it!

Book Review: Deadly Little Lies by Stephanie DeCarolis

Juliana Daniels finally has the life she’s always dreamed of. A loving husband, a career as an attorney, and a cozy apartment in Manhattan to call home.
But when she gets a message from an old college friend, her blood runs cold. Remember me?
Juliana drops her phone as though she’s been scalded. The name Jenny Teller shines out from the screen… but Jenny can’t have sent that message.
Because Jenny is dead.
Juliana’s other college friends have all received the same message. The four of them are the only ones who know the truth about the night Jenny died. It’s a secret they have kept buried for thirteen years.
With ‘Jenny’ now blackmailing them and threatening to expose their secret, only one thing is certain. Someone else knows the truth about that night… or one of them is lying.”

The book follows two time lines – ‘now’ and ‘then’ – the ‘then’ being when Juliana / Jules was back starting her life in college a decade ago. It’s quite ‘American’ in its settings – Manhattan and upstate New York – and the looking back element is very ‘college’ based – but I’ve watched enough US movies to be able to imagine what it was like.

The two timelines keep you on your toes and I thought helped keep the momentum of the book at a good pace. The ‘now’ timelines builds to a 10 year reunion back at college with all of the main characters meeting up again – well, all of the main characters that are still alive! It really does build to an exciting climax.

I found Jules a bit wet – and really wanted her to talk to her husband about what was going on!! Most of her ‘friends’ were pretty unlikeable initially – although I did warm to them in both storylines as they progressed! I have to say I did guess some of the twists – but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.

I particularly enjoyed the wrap up chapter at the end set a few months after ‘now’ – it tied up lots of loose ends cleverly.

A thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC in exchange for an honest review. It’s out NOW if you fancy reading it too!

Book Review: Walking On Sunshine by Giovanna Fletcher

The previous book I’d read had been about an evil cult – and I decided I needed something as far away from that as possible! And what better than a book by the reigning ‘Queen of the Castle’ (at the time of reading / writing at least!) – Giovanna Fletcher. I’ve enjoyed her previous books – and so had accepted an ARC of this without reading the blurb, but here it is for you:

“In the darkness, we all need a little light . .
After Mike loses Pia, his partner of seventeen years, their best friends Vicky and Zaza try to help pick up the pieces.
But though Pia’s gone, she left a plan. A list of loving instructions to help Mike and her friends come to terms with their loss.
And they’re each going to need it . . .
Just-engaged Zaza fears committing any further.
Exhausted mother and wife Vicky has lost sight of herself.
While Mike just feels all the colour has gone from his life.
When the list sends them trekking to Peru, where high mountains and sweltering rainforests push them to the brink, all they have to guide them is their faith in Pia and in themselves.
But will they learn that anything is possible when you’re walking on sunshine?

Having thought it was going to be a light, frothy, easy read – I was a bit shocked that it started with the fact that a central figure had died and that the main crux of the storyline was how her husband and friends dealt with the aftermath of her death! Pia also shares the name of my niece – and it’s an unusual name, so not one you come across often – which makes it even more weird. But the book wasn’t all doom and gloom at all.

The chapters were written by the 3 main protagonists – so you were experiencing the story from 3 different viewpoints – which was great. I guess I empathised with Vicky the most – although the newborn days are long gone for me, thank goodness!

A large portion of the book takes place on a trek in Peru. I know Giovanna has been on such treks with the charity Coppafeel, so I’m assuming it was very true to life! It definitely evoked the feeling that you were on the trek with the friends. All of them gained something from the trip – which I guess is the point of doing such a thing.

At certain times I wanted to shout at the characters – and just tell them to talk to each other / their other halves – but I guess it was quite true to life that things can sometimes fester.

I loved the final chapter of the book that was a few years down the line. It tied up some loose ends – but not in a sickly sweet ‘everyone’s happy ever after’ kind of way.

Overall it was an easy, escapist read – and who doesn’t love one of those?

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC in exchange for a review.