Book Review: When Life Gives You Lemons by Fiona Gibson

When Life Gives You Lemons

I’ve found Fiona Gibson’s back catalogue a bit hit and miss – but when I saw this on Netgalley I optimistically downloaded it. Here’s the blurb:

“Sometimes life can be bittersweet . . .
Between tending to the whims of her seven-year-old and the demands of her boss, Viv barely gets a moment to herself. It’s not quite the life she wanted, but she hasn’t run screaming for the hills yet.
But then Viv’s husband Andy makes his mid-life crisis her problem. He’s having an affair with his (infuriatingly age-appropriate) colleague, a woman who – unlike Viv – doesn’t put on weight when she so much as glances at a cream cake.
Viv suddenly finds herself single, with zero desire to mingle. Should she be mourning the end of life as she knows it, or could this be the perfect chance to put herself first?
When life gives you lemons, lemonade just won’t cut it. Bring on the gin!”

It started off with a husband having a midlife crisis and the marriage splitting up – which felt incredibly similar to a previous book-  in fact it all had an air of similarity to previous books.  I know authors often have a ‘vibe’ but this felt a bit repetitive.

Viv was nice.
Viv’s daughter was nice.
Viv’s husband was a bit of a dick, but a wet, pathetic dick not an offensive dick.
Viv’s son was mentioned – but never really fleshed out.
Viv’s relationships with her neighbours were explored, and Viv was a bit of a wet blanket  with them – and was also a bit of wet blanket at work.  (Just realised wet blanket is a sort of pun on the menopausal hot flushes she was having at night – this wasn’t deliberate!)

The storyline built up to a big event – and potential romance – but both were a bit dull.

I persevered – and the book was ‘fine’.  Inoffensive, easy to read, but just a bit dull.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve read some books I’ve loved recently – but it all just seemed a bit bland and done before and predictable.

If you’re after an easy read that is in no way taxing, then maybe this is the book for you – but didn’t really float my boat at all.  Sorry!

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my advance review copy though!

 

 

 

Book Review: If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

If I Never Met You

On the back of this new book by Mhairi McFarlane is a quote from the author Holly Bourne that says ‘If Mhairi released a novel a month I’d ready them all’ – and I have to say I completely concur.  I’ve read Mhairi’s entire back catalogue and loved every single one.

Here’s the blurb about this one:

“If faking love is this easy… how do you know when it’s real?
The brand new novel from Sunday Times bestselling author Mhairi McFarlane
Laurie and Jamie have the perfect office romance

(They set the rules via email)
Everyone can see they’re head over heels

(They staged the photos)
This must be true love

(They’re faking it)
When Laurie is dumped by her partner of eighteen years, she’s blindsided. Not only does she feel humiliated, they still have to work together.
So when she gets stuck in the lift with handsome colleague Jamie, they hatch a plan to stage the perfect romance. Revenge will be sweet…
But this fauxmance is about to get complicated. You can’t break your heart in a fake relationship – can you?”

Yet again Mhairi McFarlane has written an absolute cracker which I loved from the offset.  Laurie is a lawyer, and having been an accountant in a previous life, the office politics were very similar – and the inter office relationships!!

I loved Laurie, wanted to punch Dan, and was desperate for a ‘happy ever after’!

The book twists and turns – and as ever, the use of social media is brilliant (I also only recently found out people can see if you’ve looked at their Instastories #oldperson #rubbishstalker)

The supporting cast is also brilliant – Laurie’s colleagues, her BFF and Jamie’s BFF, Jamie’s parents – a whole host of other characters who you are also invested in and are fleshed out in  the story.

I suspected this might have a reasonably predictable storyline – and in some ways I was right – but I was also wrong!  There’s definitely enough to keep you on your toes and you don’t feel totally spoonfed.

Whilst this could be summed up as a ‘romance’ there is so much more to it – and it shows how important friends are as well as family.

Mhairi’s writing is – as ever – quick witted, amusing, emotive, clever, well thought out, intelligent, and just downright brilliant.  I like to think if I ever wrote a book (no plans in the immediate future, but you never know) I would have a similar ‘voice’.  (That sounds far more w*nky than I intended it to……….)

And I’ve just noticed this is currently 99p for Kindle – so download it immediately, you won’t regret it!

 

Book Review: Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Grown Ups

I’ve long been a fan of Marian Keyes (and stalk her on Twitter frequently – especially during the Strictly season!)  When I saw another of my ‘close personal friends’ (actually just someone else I follow religiously on social media who I’m never likely to meet IRL), Giovanna Fletcher, rave about Marian’s newest book, I wondered if it was available on NetGalley to get a sneak preview – and joy of joys it was!

Here’s the blurb:

“They’re a glamorous family, the Caseys.

Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together – birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they’re a happy family. Johnny’s wife, Jessie – who has the most money – insists on it.

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .

Everything stays under control until Ed’s wife Cara, gets concussion and can’t keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Johnny’s birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out all their secrets.

In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it’s time – finally – to grow up?”

Initially I was a bit confused – there are a LOT of family members and you’re introduced to them all in one go at a family party where Cara starts spilling out family secrets!  The book then goes back in time so that you can see the build up to some of these secrets happen.

It didn’t take long to get the gist of who was who – and that really helped.

I could empathise a lot with Jessie (bossy, organiser type) and Cara (disordered relationship with food) and really liked how the characters were fleshed out – with their good bits and bad bits all wrapped up – just like in real life!

Two of the brothers were fundamentally lovely – although with their own foibles – and one was a knob! (And not just because I suspect he would have posted all of his cycle rides on social media)

The book twists and turns through all of the extended families lives – with them all coming together at various family celebrations. I loved the descriptions of the holiday in Tuscany – and given we’re staying just outside Lucca in the summer, I’m looking forward to going to do a big shop at the supermarket on the ringroad #nichereferencepoint.

Whilst it is, essentially, a family saga – it touches on some big issues – grief / mental health / step families / eating disorders / age gap relationships / marital breakdown – but all wrapped up in normal life, as they are for many of us. I love Marian’s turn of phrase – and the book had me laughing and crying.

I felt like I was an observer into the Casey family for a few months – and felt quite sad at the end that I wouldn’t carry on knowing what they were up to – as if I was losing touch with friends.  Given there are so many characters – I wonder if a spin off or follow up would be in order??

Overall this is a definite recommendation when it comes out later this month – pre order it now, you know you want to!!

Thanks NetGalley and the publishers for my ARC – I am always so excited and grateful to be chosen!

 

 

 

 

 

A nice cup of tea

I’ve realised my non book related blogging has been a bit sparse recently – and this was supposed to also be a record of things that have happened to remember in the future – so I’m going to put that right!

Last weekend my Dad ended up in hospital on the Portuguese island of Madeira (famous for the cake, wine and Cristiano Ronaldo).  Thankfully Dad is ok and safely home in the UK now – but this tale of his time incapacitated has produced an amusing anecdote that needs to be recorded for posterity.

Dad was asked if he wanted a cup of tea, to which he replied ‘yes please’.
They asked if he wanted sugar, he said ‘no, just a little milk’.
He was subsequently presented with a cup containing just a bit of warm milk! 

Cup of tea

I shouldn’t mock – my Portuguese only extends to hello / goodbye / please / thank you – and chicken – so I’m impressed that the lovely support staff could ask him what he wanted, and it just goes to show how phrases that are normal conversation to us sound weird to other nationalities!

 

Book Review: In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In 5 Years

I’d seen this book on a list of ‘books that will be big in 2020’ – or words to that effect – so asked NetGalley for an advance review copy, and my wish was granted.  Here’s the blurb:

“Perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day, this heart-breaking story of love, loss and life will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about destiny…
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Kohan has been in possession of her meticulously crafted answer since she understood the question. On the day that she nails the most important job interview of her career and gets engaged to the perfect man, she’s well on her way to fulfilling her life goals.
That night Dannie falls asleep only to wake up in a different apartment with a different ring on her finger, and in the company of a very different man. The TV is on in the background, and she can just make out the date. It’s the same night – December 15th – but 2025, five years in the future.
It was just a dream, she tells herself when she wakes, but it felt so real… Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.
That is, until four and a half years later, when Dannie turns down a street and there, standing on the corner, is the man from her dream…
In Five Years is a love story, brimming with joy and heartbreak. But it is definitely not the love story you’re expecting.”

I LOVED this book.  It twists and turns and is really emotional – but not in a typical ‘love story’ way.  It is a love story – but with many different types of love.  I don’t want to say too much or give too much away, as you really need to be lead by the book.  I devoured it in just a few days, as I was desperate to know what happens.

Right the way through you’re on a timeline to see if the events of December 15th 2025 were just a weird dream or actually happened – so you kind of know what you’re aiming for! And that just succeeds in building the tension significantly – SURELY it can’t be true??

I liked Dannie as a character (most of the time) and empathised with her as being a coper – and when there is a massive crisis for her or her friends, turning into full on organiser / Monica from Friends control freak.  That is exactly what I do too!  It makes you feel like you’re ‘helping’ (even if it can be seen as being bossy?!)

Also – I had one of those totally weird experiences whilst reading this which makes you feel like you’re Mystic Meg (showing my age there!) or your brain is being tapped.  Until a fortnight ago I had never heard of DUMBO in New York – but since then it’s been EVERYWHERE.  For those of you who are like me 2 weeks ago, this is the area called ‘Down Under the Manhatten Bridge Overpass’, DUMBO for short – in Brooklyn) So, first I spotted it tagged in a random Instagram #travelgram post, then BrummyMummyof2 tagged herself there in her Instastories on a trip to NYC with her gorgeous family, then the lovely Lucy from Lil’s Parlour did the same!  And THEN it featured in this book – where thankfully it was explained (as I hadn’t been uncool enough to ask Emma or Lucy where it was!)

Overall I really enjoyed this book.  It as an escapist, quick read, with an interesting premise.  I won’t give away the ending – but I really liked it.  I will definitely look out for other books by this author in the future.

Thanks NetGalley for my copy in return for an honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book review: Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

Big Girl Small Town

I saw this described as ‘Milkman meets Derry Girls’ – and I LOVE Derry Girls, so requested an ARC from Netgalley!

Here’s the blurb:

”  *Stuff Majella knows*
-God doesn’t punish men with baldness for wearing ladies’ knickers
-Banana-flavoured condoms taste the same as nutrition shakes
-Not everyone gets a volley of gunshots over their grave as they are being lowered into the ground

*Stuff Majella doesn’t know*
-That she is autistic
-Why her ma drinks
-Where her da is

Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn’t like gossip and she isn’t interested in knowing her neighbours’ business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers.
Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way.

But Majella’s safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.”

Now, I’ve never read Milkman – so my comparison would be it’s a cross between ‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ and Derry Girls.

The book is all written from Majella’s point of view – and each chapter is headed by an item off her list of things she likes and dislikes.  That means the ‘chapters’ are seemingly random in length.

I really enjoyed the way the spoken elements were written in a Northern Irish dialect.  I have friends and family who live in the Belfast area – and I could actually hear them talking at times!

I kept waiting for something exciting to happen – and something potentially very exciting does happen – but it does not change the book.  It is the minutiae of Majella’s life, day in day out.  Be it at home with her drunken mother or at the chipper with her colleagues and various customers.

Some of it is mildly entertaining, some of it is a bit gross (I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book which has a number of descriptions of changing tampons), some of it is a bit sad – but a lot of it is boring and repetitive.

This is not Eleanor and this is not Derry Girls.  Majella does not have the appeal of Eleanor and there is nowhere near the humour of Derry Girls (emphasised by watching the Great British Festive Bake Off with some of the cast in during the period of reading the book!)

I persevered – as I don’t like to be beaten by a book, and I really thought it might suddenly get better – but I wouldn’t recommend you bother to be honest.

It’s not often I give a bad  book review – I love all genres of books – but this was not one for me.

 

 

Book Review: Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

I am 45 years of age – but my parents still ask me for a Christmas list each year!  This year I asked for a new mixing bowl (so that our one plastic bowl didn’t have to double up as the family popcorn bowl and sick bowl #classy) and a copy of Adam Kay’s new festive book Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas (having loved his debut novel – This Is Going To Hurt).  The parentals came up trumps with a nest of mixing bowls (fancy!), this book – and some coasters and a bottle of gin #winningatChristmas

So here we go!  First – the blurb:

“A short gift book of festive hospital diaries from the author of million-copy bestseller This is Going to Hurt

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat . . . but 1.4 million NHS staff are heading off to work. In this perfect present for anyone who has ever set foot in a hospital, Adam Kay delves back into his diaries for a hilarious, horrifying and sometimes heartbreaking peek behind the blue curtain at Christmastime.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas is a love letter to all those who spend their festive season on the front line, removing babies and baubles from the various places they get stuck, at the most wonderful time of the year.”

 

Twas the nightshift

I’ve read this in one sitting this evening whilst enjoying a festive break to Centerparcs (and thus far with no need for medical intervention – although there is still time in the next 36 hours).

This book is FABULOUS.  Totally in the same vein (pun intended) as Adam’s (I’m calling him by his first name as he didn’t make it to consultant rank?! #relevantjoke #Gerry) first book – and just as great.

There is – as expected – the slightly gross descriptions (candy cane as a dildo anyone?!) and language – but that just makes it more enjoyable.

There are definitely some LOL moments – and I read a few sections to my husband whilst giggling ridiculously!

There is one deeply moving section of a few pages – with a message beforehand so people can skip it if they think it could be triggering – which really makes you think how medical professionals – who HAVE  to make themselves immune to most things to simply function – would be emotionally traumatised by events they have to be a major part of.  Massive respect to them.

So this blog post is also a thank you to all of the NHS staff working this festive season – and to everyone else who has to buckle up and get on with work at antisocial times with the elderly, infirm and mentally ill (my niece and nephew at a care home and Wetherspoons respectively)

 

 

Book Review: The 24 Hour Cafe by Libby Page

As part of a reading challenge I had to read a book written by someone with the same name as me – and I LOVED The Lido by Libby Page.  So when I saw her next book was out – I asked for an advanced review copy from Netgalley and was granted my wish, in exchange for a review – so here is my review!

The 24 Hour Cafe

First of all, the blurb:

“Welcome to the café that never sleeps. Day and night Stella’s Café opens its doors for the lonely and the lost, the morning people and the night owls. It is many things to many people but most of all it is a place where life can wait at the door. A place of small kindnesses. A place where anyone can be whoever they want, where everyone is always welcome.

Meet Hannah and Mona: best friends, waitresses, dreamers. They work at Stella’s but they dream of more, of leaving the café behind and making their own way in life.

Come inside and spend twenty-four hours at Stella’s Café; a day when Hannah and Mona’s futures will be changed and their friendship tested. Today is just the start, but it is also marks a conclusion. Because all beginnings are also endings. And all endings can also be beginnings…”

Initially I wondered how this was going to work – as it appeared to be a chapter per hour that the 24 cafe was open.  There was only so much making coffee and wiping tables that would be interesting – but I need not have worried!  Although that is the premise of the chapters – there are lots of flashbacks to historical events that help shape the current position of the protagonists.

The main characters narrating the chapters are Hannah and Mona – friends and colleagues – and you learn about how they met and their back story as the 24 hour progresses. This is interwoven with the lives of the customers to the cafe – who are wide ranging.

Just as with The Lido, Ms Page has a brilliant way of writing about normal life and making it interesting and endearing.  I found that with most of the characters I was immediately invested in their futures.

I have to say I though Hannah should have had a bit of a slap on numerous occasions by Mona – deffing out your girlfriends for a bloke is such a shortsighted thing to do – but it is incredibly well written and believable.

The descriptions of the café itself are excellent – and you really feel like you’ve been and sat in one of its booths. If I ever walk out of Liverpool St Station I’ll be looking around for Stella’s!

All of the customers are interesting, and the interactions between them and the staff members are written beautifully – and I absolutely LOVED that the final chapter is a year down the road and you find out what has happened / is happening to loads of them.  I also love the fact it isn’t all hearts and flowers and happy endings dished out to everyone – it is real, and true, and what actually happens to people IRL.

This is a fabulous, escapist read – with no violence, graphic sex, bad language (I don’t think – although I guess it’s all relative..) – just a really lovely book.  I would highly recommend you buy it when it comes out in January 2020.

Book Review: Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain

Dirty Little Secrets

I am part of a book club which is mostly on Facebook.  A subset of us occasionally meet up IRL – but mostly we just share books we’ve read online.  Now a large number of groupies had read this book – to the point that I had total FOMO and had to purchase it, even without reading the blurb, as I trust their judgement on books!

But for you – here is the blurb:

“Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.
In the exclusive gated community of Withered Vale, people’s lives appear as perfect as their beautifully manicured lawns. Money, success, privilege – the residents have it all. Life is good.
There’s just one problem.
Olive Collins’ dead body has been rotting inside number four for the last three months. Her neighbours say they’re shocked at the discovery but nobody thought to check on her when she vanished from sight.
The police start to ask questions and the seemingly flawless facade begins to crack. Because, when it comes to Olive’s neighbours, it seems each of them has something to hide, something to lose and everything to gain from her death.”

It is a great book – and, as expected, I did really enjoy it!

Each chapter is told from the perspective of either Olive or a different person who lives in the gated community or one of the 2 police officers investigating the case.  It twists and turns and you can quite believe that any of the residents were responsible for Olive’s demise.  There are lots of ‘dirty little secrets’ out there!  The residents are all very different with their own issues and all are written really well – even if none of them are particularly likeable!

However, Olive is definitely not likeable – although I did feel sorry for her at times.

I really liked the relationship between the 2 detectives as well.  The older bloke nearing retirement – and the up and coming younger female cop – who clearly had secrets in her past too.

The pace builds and builds and kept me keen to read on to find out what had happened.

Overall a good read – and I’d definitely look at books by this author again.  As with most recommendations from the book club – a winner!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List

I have really enjoyed Lucy Foley’s previous work – both her epic historic novels (The Invitation and The Book of Lost and Found), and her last one, which was a crime thriller called The Hunting Party. So when I saw she had a new one out I’m not embarrassed to admit I kind of begged on Twitter for an ARC – and the publisher and Netgalley were kind enough to grant my wish!

Here is the blurb:

“On a remote island, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater.

Old friends.
Past grudges.

Happy families.
Hidden jealousies.

Thirteen guests.
One body.

The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.
All have a secret. All have a motive.
One guest won’t leave this wedding alive . . .”

From the outset this book had a feel of The Hunting Party – both in terms of content (middle class people in a remote destination) and style (each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view – and it flicks between time periods, so some of it is in the build up to the wedding, and some is from when the body is found).  But it is just as brilliant as Ms Foley’s previous book – so why mess with a format that was a best seller!?

This time the setting is a remote island off the Irish coast which is allegedly haunted – and as with all of the author’s previous work – the geographical descriptions are wonderful, along with the wild weather and both really evoke the feeling of being there.

There are huge twists and turns – and you’re never quite sure who you should be rooting for.  For a long time any of the characters could have been the victim or the killer!  I have to say that Hannah (who was the plus one of the bride’s male BFF) was my favourite character – possibly because she was a mother off the Mum leash for the wedding – something I can totally empathise with – and I also suffer horribly with sea sickness!

Some of the coincidences are a little far fetched – but I guess that often happens in whodunnits like this – and it didn’t spoil the book for me at all.

The chapters build in pace, seemingly getting faster and faster (although perhaps that was just my excited reading?!) – and very cleverly, the final line of a few of the chapters near the end is the same. So smart.

I don’t want to give any spoilers on the victim or the murderer – but it’s good!

As with all of Lucy Foley’s books it’s incredibly well written in terms of language, but also in terms of plot intricacies too, which I really enjoy – I don’t like being spoonfed a storyline.  Well done to Ms Foley – and I suspect a fabulous editor – on ensuring no plot holes in something so complex.

I suspect this will be a big hit on the 2020 bestsellers list – so get in early and pre order a copy now ready for its release!