Book Review: With This Kiss by Carrie Hope Fletcher

I’d heard of Carrie Hope Fletcher – as Tom from McFly’s sister! We then saw her in the title role of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical – Cinderella – and she, and the show, were brilliant – and I started following her on social media. When she posted she had a new book coming out, I saw if I could get an advance review copy on NetGalley – and I could! Here’s the blurb:

If you knew how your love story ends, would you dare to begin?
From the outside, Lorelai is an ordinary young woman with a normal life. She loves reading, she works at the local cinema and she adores living with her best friend. But she carries a painful burden, something she’s kept hidden for years; whenever she kisses someone on the lips, she sees how they are going to die.
Lorelai has never known if she’s seeing what was always meant to be, or if her kiss is the thing that decides their destiny. And so, she hasn’t kissed anyone since she was eighteen.
Then she meets Grayson. Sweet, clever, funny Grayson. And for the first time in years she yearns for a man’s kiss. But she can’t…or can she? And if she does, should she try to intervene and change what she sees?
Spellbinding, magical and utterly original, With This Kiss is one love story you will never forget.

I liked Lorelai and her flatmate Joanie (who I pictured wearing Joanie Clothing at all times!) from the start – and the premise of the book was different and clever. However, I felt when starting it – and it lasted throughout – that this was aimed at younger readers. I even wondered if it was tagged as ‘Young Adult’ fiction – but it’s not. It’s very safe – there’s no sex, drugs and rock and roll in it – and I’d be happy with my tween kids reading it to be honest.

The relationship between Lorelai and her friends and family are also explored – and change significantly during the book.

It’s a nice book and an easy read, and you’re rooting for Lorelai – but for me it didn’t set the world alight. I think I need something a bit more gritty and ‘grown up’!

Book Review: The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

I have really enjoyed Lucy Foley books before – both her amazing historical dramas spanning generations – and her more recent ensemble cast mysteries. So when I saw she had a new book out I requested and was granted an ARC. (Although didn’t read it quite as quickly as I should – so if you like the sound of it – you can buy it immediately, I’m not tempting you in advance!) Here’s the blurb:

“Welcome to No.12 rue des Amants
A beautiful old apartment block, far from the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower and the bustling banks of the Seine. Where nothing goes unseen, and everyone has a story to unlock.
The watchful concierge
The scorned lover
The prying journalist
The naïve student
The unwanted guest
There was a murder here last night.
A mystery lies behind the door of apartment three.”

The book starts with wayward 20 something Jess going to visit her older half brother Ben in Paris. When she arrives at his apartment he isn’t there waiting for her as they’d agreed – and she senses something is amiss.

Thus starts the story of the inhabitants of a fancy apartment block. I don’t want to give too much of the storyline away, as you need to witness it evolve in real time! It’s told from lots of different points of view, all intertwining. I have to say that lots of the characters aren’t that likeable – but that was good! I was rooting for Jess throughout though (despite some seemingly ridiculous decisions on her quest to find out what has happened to Ben!)

Having visited a friend in a similar Paris apartment block many years ago (I was considering a secondment to the Paris office of the accountancy firm I worked for – but decided as I was only confident speaking French after drinking wine, I’d have to be permanently drunk! So Sydney was a better option for my liver!) it felt very accurately described – but the book touched on lots of areas of Paris – some most definitely off the tourist trail – but you really felt like you were at the different locations.

It twists and turns loads – as I would expect from a book by Lucy Foley – and towards the ends the twists have your head spinning! But it was great – and the ending wasn’t predictable. Another fabulous book.

A huge thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my advance review copy.

Book Review: Birmingham: It’s Not Shit: 50 Things That Delight About Brum


“You know that Birmingham isn’t shit. Sometimes, though, you can’t articulate exactly why…

In this funny, revelatory and occasionally even nostalgic collection, the team behind Paradise Circus explore the places, people and Brummie ephemera that delight us about the second city. It lays out the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’, and then effs them.
Meet at the ramp and Jon Bounds, Jon Hickman and Danny Smith will dally down Dale End and take you up The Ackers. Discover Aston Villa’s sarcastic advertising hoarding, learn why Snobs could literally be magical, and dig up what might or might not be buried under Spaghetti Junction.”

I was kindly ‘given’ this book for my recent birthday (actually, I bought it for myself the week before – but gave it to my husband so he could give it back to me to celebrate me turning 48 a few days later #jointbankaccount)

I loved it – and did that massively annoying thing of reading it in bed, laughing, and then dictating chunks to my husband who was just trying to watch the news in peace.

Admittedly I think it’s pretty niche. This is not a book to give to non Brummies in an attempt to win them over. This is firmly for people who’ve grown up within the 11 route. If you don’t know what that is (and have never even considered doing the Walkathon in the 80s / 90s) this is not the book for you.

But if you are an aficionado of Snobs and Mr Egg, you support Villa or Blues and have ever been taken up The Ackers – then you will enjoy it!

And whilst being a Brummie is a pre requisite to reading this – I reckon at 48 (just!), I’m pretty target age range too. I’ll get my Mum to read it and see if it still works at 72 (I’m not sure she’s ever been to Snobs or Mr Egg – but would still enjoy some of it I’m sure!) I’m not going to bother getting the teenagers to read it, they call Worcester ‘town’ for goodness sake #heathens #livinginB48

Right – I’m off to Venice in the summer with a trundle wheel to measure just how long those canals are (definitely less than Birmingham!) and if you like the sound of the book – you can buy it from Amazon – and also read why it’s had to be sold by the ‘untaxed behoth of capitalism’ here.

5* would highly recommend – the book and my home city!

Book Review: Old Friends by Felicity Everett

I’d seen this described as a twisty, turny, dark thriller – and here’s the blurb:

“Two couples, best friends for half a lifetime, move in together. What could possibly go wrong…?
Harriet and Mark have it all: successful careers, a lovely house in a leafy London suburb, twin boys on the cusp of leaving home. Yvette and Gary share a smaller place with their two daughters in a shabbier part of the same borough.
But when the stars align for a collective move north, it means a fresh start for them all. For Mark, it’s a chance to escape the rat race; for Harriet, a distraction from her unfulfilled dream of a late third child. Gary has decided to reboot the Madchester band that made him famous, while Yvette hopes it will give her daughters what she never had herself.
But as the reality of their new living arrangements slowly sinks in, the four friends face their own mid-life crises, and the dream becomes a nightmare…”

Now up front I would question the description and the blurb – I don’t know if the storyline changed, but it just doesn’t make sense, particularly the line ‘Yvette hopes it will give her daughters what she never had herself’ is just odd – given neither of the daughters make the move North. And the move North doesn’t happen until quite a way through the book – I just felt the blurb and reviews from other authors weren’t quite on the mark and thus I felt a bit short-changed!

It’s an easy enough domestic drama to read – but I didn’t feel it was very dark with twists and turns. I also found the way it was written a bit strange, you’d jump forward quite a large amount of time with no explanation – and then the intervening period would be filled in a bit (although I often felt there were gaps in explaining why things had happened).

It felt to be like it was trying to be Cold Feet but without any of the history the viewer has with the characters – and I didn’t have a strong view about any of the lead characters. Sometimes a book is as intriguing if you hate a main character as much as if you love one – but I found Harriet, Mark, Yvette and Gary all a bit dull and thus was apathetic about what happened to any of them.

I was quite surprised by the twist towards the end of the book – but even that didn’t save it for me.

To be honest it just didn’t sit well with me – and whilst there was nothing specifically wrong or offensive about the book, it just didn’t really float my boat.

Thanks to the publisher for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Mad About You by Mhairi McFarlane

I bloody love Mhairi McFarlane books – and every time I get one of her ARCs it whizzes to the top of my TBR pile (I recognise I’m an acronym w*nker at this point!!) However I was also a bit nervous. Surely at some point the books couldn’t improve, surely at some point one of them was going to be a bit ‘meh’ – but I shouldn’t have been worried at all. This one is, I think, my favourite to date (admittedly I say this every time!)

Anyway – for those of you who want some info rather than just buying a book because you adore the author – here it is:

Two strangers.
One big coincidence.

Driving each other crazy is just the beginning…
Harriet Hatley is running away from everything.
Getting married.
Her boyfriend’s family.
Her past.
A dream house-share seems like the perfect place to hide, but her unlikely housemate Cal is no stranger to running away himself. And he’s also hiding secrets of his own . . .
Can these two take a crazy risk, face the past and finally find a reason to stay?”

Just before I started the book, it featured in a Stylist article where Francesca Brown (who I frequently got drunk with over 20 years ago!) wrote: ” It’s also telling that some of the biggest titles in the commercially heavyweight genre of “women’s fiction” aren’t anywhere close to the fluffy romance stories of lazy stereotype either. Mhairi Mcfarlane’s moving Mad About You (out 14 April, £7.99, HarperCollins) explores coercive control”

The book starts with Harriet living with her loaded boyfriend Jon. The relationship ends (fairly spectacularly!) and she moves out, and rents a room with Cal. Her path has crossed with Cal before – although neither of them realise that when she agrees to move in.

The storyline then follows Harriet’s relationship with her friends / Cal / her ex Jon – until everything implodes even more when her path crosses with someone else, this time, an abusive ex. You are given the back story of how he controlled her – it was really very emotional to hear what he did.

Anyway – everything then goes spectacularly tits up! It is so well written – and you are totally rooting for Harriet and her loyal friends – old and new. The build up to the climax is amazing – and so well described, it would make a brilliant film / TV series – it’s epic!

Whilst this is a massively entertaining read – I also honestly think it could help people who are in a situation similar to Harriet was, shining a light on the fact there is a way out.

As expected – it’s another fabulous read from Ms McFarlane.

As Fran’s link says above – it’s out in April and you can pre order it now. A huge thank you to the publisher, NetGalley and Mhairi for the advance review copy.

Book Review: Mammy Banter, The Secret Life of an Uncool Mum by Serena Terry

I have often been amused by the social media output of Mammy Banter (I don’t do Tiktok – but it seems to be shared to ‘old person’ social media (Facebook!) too. So when I saw she’d written a book, I requested an ARC from NetGalley. Here’s the blurb:

“From the creator of viral Tiktok sensation, Mammy Banter, comes a hilarious warts-and-all novel about modern motherhood – and how having it all sometimes isn’t what you think it might be.
She used to want it all.
Now she just wants a nap.
Tara Gallagher is knackered. She used to dream of being Beyoncé but suddenly she’s thirty-six – with three kids, a loving husband, a very boring job – and instead of headlining Coachella, she’s in her pyjamas on a Friday night, watching Gogglebox.
It’s time for a mammy makeover. She’s going to show her teenage daughter she’s still cool. She’s going to show her husband she’s still an absolute ride. She’s going to show her colleagues she’s still a Boss Bish.
But most of all, she’s going to prove to herself that she can still be a mum, still work full time, and still be Beyoncé…
The debut novel from viral TikTok star, Mammy Banter

I found this very amusing from the start. Some social media stars have written fabulous books – and others not so much (naming no names) – but this is very definitely in the former camp and was really entertaining.

I liked the main character Tara from the outset – and the fact that she has 3 kids – a teenager, a 5 year old and a toddler – meant lots of scope for child related anecdotes of all ages – and ages I’ve covered with my own tribe.

There were some bits – and some language – that was quite Northern Irish (but hey, I’ve watched Derry Girls, so was totally fine!!) – however I felt like I understood it all even though I’m a Brummie.

I liked the fact that the book covered Tara’s relationship with her husband and kids, her friends (old and new) and her colleagues – it really looked at all areas of her life and how everything intertwined.

Lots of it was so very true to life – the 13 year old daughter who is at one point mortified by her mother’s behaviour (mother AND father in our house!) but then also desperately still needs her parents. I loved the interaction with the smug mother at soft play (reminded me of a hellish experience at Kidzania with the mother of all hangovers one January 1st whilst on holiday!)

It was entertaining, funny, escapist, and very easy to empathise with Tara – a lovely, amusing read. It’s out next month, so not long to wait if it sounds like your bag.

Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.

Book Review: What Might Have Been by Holly Miller

I adored Holly Miller’s first novel, ‘The Sight Of You’ – so when I read she had a new book coming out in 2022, I jumped at the chance of an ARC.

Here’s the blurb:

“Lucy’s life is at a crossroads. She’s just walked out of her unrewarding job and has no idea about her next step: use her savings to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, or move to London to try and revive her career? It almost seems like fate that on that same night she meets Caleb, a stranger in a bar, and runs into Max, the one-time love of her life.
Should Lucy stay in the seaside town she grew up in, and in doing so, get to know Caleb better? Or should she go to London and reconnect with Max again after he broke her heart a decade ago? It’s just one decision – but sometimes one decision can change the course of your whole life . . .
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN is a sweeping and unforgettable novel for anyone who has ever believed in destiny and soulmates – or paused to wonder what your life might look like if you’d made a different choice.”

The book starts with Lucy having quit her job. That night she’s in the local pub and meets a handsome stranger, Caleb, and whilst talking to him spots her ex, the ‘one that got away’ a decade earlier, outside and runs out to see him. Then follows two scenarios – in a ‘sliding doors’ esque style – one where she goes to London to a fancy new job and the prospect of hooking back up with Max, and the other where she stays in her seaside hometown of Shorely to try her hand at writing a novel and getting to know Caleb better.

So far so romantic comedy style book. But it is so much more than that.

As with ‘The Sight of You’ Holly Miller’s writing is exquisite and, despite the modern setting, feels like ‘proper’ literature again.

The storylines run concurrently – shifting between ‘Stay’ and ‘Go’ each chapter. I really enjoyed both storylines – and couldn’t pick a favourite. Neither are plain sailing – but both have a fabulous story arc. There are some very clever crossovers where either the same event happens in both storylines – or very different things happen depending on character’s decisions. It was done flawlessly and shows how clever the author – and editor – have been it making it seamless. (I appreciate I am a geek for admiring such things – but it’s a badge I’m very prepared to wear!)

It also wasn’t predictable at all – and Max and Caleb made very different, but both lovely, leading men.

I also LOVED the final chapter – it left you wondering about soulmates and fate and destiny and what ifs – perfect!

This is not a ‘difficult second album’ book – it’s fabulous again. Holly Miller is definitely going to be a ‘go to’ author for me in the future.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC – and the book’s out in March 2022, so not too long to wait.

Audiobook Review: Once Upon A Tyne by Ant and Dec

Due to an excessive amount of Audible credits – I decided to download some audiobooks to keep me company in the car when I’m not listening to podcasts / the local radio for the traffic reports / the kids arguing / the 16 year olds eclectic taste in music! As before I’ve stayed with my tradition of non fiction audiobooks and fiction ‘proper’ / Kindle books. I’d been interested in reading / listening to Ant and Dec’s autobiography since it came out – and so this was my first download.

Here’s the blurb:

Ant: as the old Chinese proverb says, ‘Good things come in pairs.’
Dec: and as another Chinese proverb says, ‘If you’ve been in a double act with your best mate for 30 years, why not write a book about all your most memorable moments in three decades of showbusiness?’
Ant: less catchy that one, isn’t it?
Dec: but no less true. And after three decades together, we’ve written that book. Covering everything from a pirate radio storyline in Byker Grove through to the biggest shows on telly, this is our story.
Ant: thirty years, eh? Amazing.
Dec: absolutely. Especially when you consider we are both still 27 years old.
Ant and Dec hold a special place in the hearts of TV viewers everywhere. This is their epic story, with never-before-seen photography and the very best tales from their 30 years in TV.
From their modest beginnings in Byker Grove through to their ‘unique’ time as pop stars and an award-laden TV career, those three decades have flown by in the blink of an eye. They’ve also featured an incredible cast of supporting characters, including their first scriptwriter – (an unknown comedian called David Walliams), Saturday night fun and games with countless Hollywood A-listers and celebrities they torture – sorry, work with – every year in the jungle. Told through the lens of every TV show they’ve made, as well as everything they’ve learnt along the way, this is the riotously funny journey of two ordinary lads from Newcastle who went on to achieve extraordinary things.”

I’m a very similar age to Ant and Dec (27 it would appear!) and can’t really remember life without them in it – and for a long time have known which is which! (Although one story in the book – where they were referred to as Antanddec – as one entity – reminded me of when our next door neighbours kids called both of my children Daisyandluke as they didn’t know which was which. I should point out the neighbours kids were toddlers at this point!)

Anyway – back to the book. It follows the double act from their initial Byker Grove days – and how they ended up in the Grove in the first place, through the pop star years – and then all of their various TV adventures, of which there have been many!

The one thing I was concerned about when downloading the audiobook rather than buying a hard copy – was that I wouldn’t be able to admire any photos – but you get told the link and password to download a copy of the photos – so you don’t have to miss out on the fashion and hairstyle highlights from over the years!!

I have to say it was like reminiscing with old friends – as I’ve been on their entertainment journey with Ant and Dec! It was interesting to have the background goss too. Some of the contributors actually voice their own comments – Cat Deeley, Stephen Mulhern, David Walliams – and then there are some impressions from Ant and Dec for others – like Simon Cowell and Robbie Williams – it’s all very entertaining.

Also – the boys talk through the photos for each chapter, with some reminiscing and funny comments – and I guess that is an extra compared to reading the book – which was a nice touch (and because they voice the audiobook themselves).

I did wonder how they would deal with Ant’s very public (albeit not that it was his choice) breakdown and divorce. After leaving home and their Mams – there isn’t much talk of their private lives at all – and at the end of the book Ant does touch upon his troubles and how it affected him and Dec – and likewise Dec talks about how that – and becoming a Dad (which all happened at a similar time) affected him. They don’t name check their spouses (current – or past in Ant’s case) but it is all dealt with in a grown up and not over excitable / tabloid way.

Overall I really enjoyed the book. I’m not sure there was any earth shattering revelations in it – but it was still an interesting and informative listen. I guess the trouble is nowadays, people don’t really have a ‘private’ life – because everything is shared on social media – and therefore autobiographies don’t really lift the lid on ‘secrets’ – because they would already have been shared on Instagram in the past!

Book Review: The First Day Of Spring by Nancy Tucker

The ARC of ‘The First Day Of Spring’ has been sitting on my Kindle for ages, but NetGalley told me the publication date was 17 February 2022 – so I’d not been rushing to read it – but it turns out it’s already out in some formats anyway (sometimes NetGalley seems to have UK / US publication date issues, as well as only giving the date for some formats – and sometimes I think dates change, or I’m being blonde!) Anyway – if you like the sound of it, you can buy it already. Here’s the blurb:

“‘So that was all it took,’ I thought. ‘That was all it took for me to feel like I had all the power in the world. One morning, one moment, one yellow-haired boy. It wasn’t so much after all.’
Chrissie knows how to steal sweets from the shop without getting caught, the best hiding place for hide-and-seek, the perfect wall for handstands.
Now she has a new secret. It gives her a fizzing, sherbet feeling in her belly. She doesn’t get to feel power like this at home, where food is scarce and attention scarcer.
Fifteen years later, Julia is trying to mother her five-year-old daughter, Molly. She is always worried – about affording food and school shoes, about what the other mothers think of her. Most of all she worries that the social services are about to take Molly away.
That’s when the phone calls begin, which Julia is too afraid to answer, because it’s clear the caller knows the truth about what happened all those years ago.
And it’s time to face the truth: is forgiveness and redemption ever possible for someone who has killed?”

The book follows the story of Chrissie, an 8 year old child who commits a terrible crime – and 15 years later, single Mum Julia and her 5 year old daughter Molly.

With the historic storyline, you know that the crime has been committed from the start – so it’s not really a mystery – you’re just working through how everything happened and Chrissie’s actions were discovered.

This is not an easy read, and at the start I did wonder if I would persevere. Chrissie has such an awful upbringing and her circumstances are so very sad with her witnessing and being subjected to neglect and violence. Whilst it doesn’t forgive what she does – it does go some way to explain it. Her life is just horrible. It’s written in a way that just accepts that is the norm – it doesn’t glamourise or play down the situation – it’s just taken as that is Chrissie’s lot in life. Sadly I expect this is the case for lots of children around the country, it’s just many of us are protected from seeing that on a day to day basis.

To be honest, Julie and Molly’s life isn’t much better – and is equally harrowing at times. There is limited light and shade in this book, it is all pretty dark, although there are glimmers of hope towards the end. You really hope that the chain has finally been broken.

Despite the distressing content, I did want to keep reading to find out how the stories intertwined and played out. Overall I’m glad I persevered, it did really make me think, and was quite ‘different’ in a good way. I’m not sure you could say you ‘enjoyed’ it given the storylines.

The very final chapter is written from a third perspective – which was a clever touch – and particularly how a tooth falling out is dealt with compared to earlier in the story. A real ‘book club discussion point’ I would suggest.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC – even if it would appear I wasn’t very advanced in reading it!

Book Review: One Night On The Island by Josie Silver

Having enjoyed previous books by Josie Silver, when the publisher asked if I’d like an ARC of her new book out in February, I said yes please! Here’s the blurb:

One cottage. Two strangers.
Every great love story starts somewhere…
Cleo writes about love stories every day. She just isn’t living one of her own.
When the editor of her dating column asks her to marry herself on a remote Irish island – a sensational piece to mark Cleo’s thirtieth birthday – Cleo agrees. She’s alone but not lonely, right? She can handle a solo adventure.
Cleo arrives at her luxury cabin to find a tall, dark, stubborn American who insists it’s actually his. Mack refuses to leave, and Cleo won’t budge either. With a storm fast approaching, they reluctantly hunker down together. It’s just one night, after all . . .
But what if one night on the island is just the beginning?

I LOVED this book! Someone else has described it on NetGalley as like a hug – and I completely agree. A wonderful, escapist read.

The book is mostly set on the tiny island of Salvation off the Irish coast. The descriptions of the setting are fabulous and really evocative – and lots of typically Irish weather! I now want to go there on holiday (although would struggle with limited phone reception and internet access!!) Otter Lodge sounds just beautiful.

I did find the whole concept of why Cleo was going to the island in the first place a bit weird – but then I’m a 47 year old mother of 4, not a single almost-30 year old, so I just decided I should go with it! And actually – it was all very beautifully written.

The mish mash of people on Salvation were amazing – a real collection of characters, all well written and you wanted to learn more about them. I can totally picture knitting club, the shop, the pub – and the boulder – perfectly.

I enjoyed the fact that the book was about friendships, wider relationships and self worth – not just ‘boy meets girl’ – although that element was great as well.

Each night Cleo and Mack tell each other 3 things each whilst lying in the dark – which is very spooky, as my 10 year old and I do that every night when she’s going to bed (it was a tactic to make sure she told me if anything was worrying her after a day at school – but also to ensure it was finite so she didn’t procrastinate bedtime for ages!) The 3 things for Cleo and Mack really mean they get to know random facts about each other.

It felt like the book had concluded at about 70% – and I wondered how the rest of the story was going to evolve – but it did brilliantly, and I really enjoyed the final chunk too. It would make a really lovely Sunday night drama for TV.

One Night On The Island is out in February 2022, another fabulous Josie Silver read. A big thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.