Book Review: The Family Holiday by Elizabeth Noble

The Family Holiday

I enjoyed Elizabeth Noble’s last book Love, Iris (even if it was called ‘Letters To Iris’ when I read the pre publication copy!) and so when I saw this on Net Galley I jumped at the chance to read it.

Here’s the blurb:

“The Chamberlain family used to be close.

Charlie and Daphne were happily married, and their children Laura, Scott and Nick were inseparable. But then, inevitably, the children grew up and their own messy lives got in the way.

Since Daphne died, Charlie can’t help but think about happier times for the Chamberlain family – before his children drifted apart. His wife was the family’s true north, and without her guidance, Charlie fears his kids have all lost their direction.

For his eightieth birthday, all Charlie wants is to bring his family together again. And by some miracle, they’ve all said yes.

So, for the first time in a long time, the Chamberlains are going on a family holiday.

It’s only ten days . . . how bad could it be?”

It starts off with Charlie looking at suitable properties for his entire family to get together for his 80th birthday.  Coincidentally I was busy looking for a similar property for our family to get together, as Mum’s planned 70th birthday weekend away has been thwarted by coronavirus – so we were back to the drawing board for options for Easter 2021!

Each chapter is told from a different point of view – Charlie, or one of his 3 children.  Each of them is very different – and all going through their own trials and tribulations.

Laura has just split up from her husband and getting used to life as a single Mum to a teenage son, Nick is recently widowed with 3 small children. and Scott is recently married with 2 new teenage step daughters.  So lots going on for all of them – as is the case in most families I guess?

The first few chapters set the scene for each element of the family before they all get together for the holiday.

There are lots of secrets between the different family members – and it doesn’t feel like they’re a close family at all – but these unravel during the 10 days and the old bonds reform – and new ones are made.

The stories all develop – but also intertwine – in a clever way (which I remember the author being brilliant at in her previous book too), always coming back to the house.

Daphne – Charlie’s wife and the matriarch – has passed away a few years ago, and you really miss her presence – as clearly the family do too. The star of the book, for me, was Heather – Scott’s new American wife.  Initially I thought she was going to be the shallow, annoying, Instagram obsessed, gold digger – but actually, she was the person who drew the family together – and ended up my favourite character.

I thought the teenager storylines were written well – both their interactions with each other and with older family members – perhaps having a couple of them myself made me appreciate the accuracy of the characterisations.

I really like the ending – which was a few months down the line, and updated you on what everyone had got up to post holiday.  That was great – as nosy me always wants to see what has happened after the main storyline has finished.

Overall it’s a really ‘nice’ book.  Inoffensive, easy to read, nice and gentle to read when the world is feeling anything but nice and gentle – but it didn’t set the world on fire.  I enjoyed it – but it didn’t blow me away.  But thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC!

 

Book Review: Us Three by Ruth Jones

Us Three

I have long been a fan of Ruth Jones – having watched Gavin & Stacey from the start, and also loving her other series on Sky One, Stella.  Somehow I missed her first novel – but when I saw her second novel on NetGalley – I jumped at an advance review copy.

Here’s the blurb:

“Meet Lana, Judith and Catrin. Best friends since primary school when they swore an oath on a Curly Wurly wrapper that they would always be there for each other, come what may.

After the trip of a lifetime, the three girls are closer than ever. But an unexpected turn of events shakes the foundation of their friendship to its core, leaving their future in doubt – there’s simply too much to forgive, let alone forget. An innocent childhood promise they once made now seems impossible to keep .”

The first chapter of the book is before a funeral – so you know this isn’t going to be all laughs – but it then goes back in time to see what happens to get to that point.

At the start of the book I was a bit confused – you were introduced to the 3 girls and their family and friends and there was just a lot of people all at once.  I liked the style of the book – and the ‘Welshness’ of it – you could ‘hear’ their voices and Welsh accents very well.

But, I have to confess I  was really disappointed at the start because I didn’t immediately LOVE it – it was fine, but just felt a bit boring and samey and not the amazing book I’d expected from Ruth’s TV series writing.

However, I persevered – and I’m glad I did, because about 1/3 of the way through it really improved.  Certain things happened which totally changed the story line from the comfortable, predictable, slightly boring friendship triangle into a PROPER unique book.

It moved forwards from the 80s through to the present(ish) day at quite a pace – with the changes facing each of the girls and how their friendship is affected by the passing years.

Some of it is really sad – and did make me cry – but there are equally lots of funny bits too.  Just like Ruth’s TV writing, it’s a really good character driven story – where the personalities of people are crucial.

Overall it was a fun, easy read – and I would definitely read a  book by Ruth Jones in the future.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Sight Of You by Holly Miller

The Sight Of You

I’m not sure why I ended up with an ARC off NetGalley of this book – but I’m so very glad I did – it is brilliant!

Here’s the blurb:

“Joel is afraid of the future.
Since he was a child he’s been haunted by dreams about the people he loves. Visions of what’s going to happen – the good and the bad. And the only way to prevent them is to never let anyone close to him again.

Callie can’t let go of the past.
Since her best friend died, Callie’s been lost. She knows she needs to be more spontaneous and live a bigger life. She just doesn’t know how to find a way back to the person who used to have those dreams.

Joel and Callie both need a reason to start living for today.
And though they’re not looking for each other, from the moment they meet it feels like the start of something life-changing.

Until Joel has a vision of how it’s going to end . . .”

Firstly – this book is BEAUTIFULLY written.  It’s like a classic written now – you can imagine kids studying the amazing descriptions and sentence construction and the way it draws you right in – particularly when describing the seasons / weather / nature – it is stunning.  I know I shouldn’t be surprised – but often modern books feel a bit rushed, or on a production line because the author / publisher has a deadline – but it really feels like this book has been crafted and lots of care and attention to detail taken over the turn of phrase.

It is also ridiculously emotional!  You are invested in Callie and Joel from the off and really want everything to work out for them – but it’s difficult to see how it will.  Each chapter is written from an alternating point of view – and it swings like a pendulum between Callie and Joel.

Initially the pace is quite slow, day by day even, and you see how their initial friendship and then relationship starts.  You are really rooting for both Callie and Joel and their respective baggage.  The exquisite writing doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a modern book, set in current times, with familiar themes and settings.

As the book carries on the pace picks up – and the final chapters are almost annual – but it serves to build the momentum as it heads towards the conclusion. The inevitable conclusion perhaps?

It made be weep (which frankly anything does at the moment – but I think I would have even if we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic!)  It is beautiful, heart breaking, life affirming, a story of friends and family and a perfect love story.

This book is going to be one of THE books of the summer of 2020 – so I would suggest pre ordering now, so you can be one of the cool kids who reads it first!

Huge thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my ARC – I will most definitely be buying this as gifts for friends come June 2020.

Book Review: The Summer We Ran Away by Jenny Oliver

The Summer We Ran Away

I’ve long been a Jenny Oliver fan – even before my name featured as a character in one of her books – so always keep my eyes peeled on NetGalley for her work – and saw this one, which comes out in June 2020.

Here’s the blurb:

“It was meant to be the party of the summer…

In Cedar Road, everyone is preparing for Lexi’s ‘White Hot’ summer party. For one night, parking squabbles and petitions are put aside as neighbours sip Prosecco under the fairy lights and gather by the hot tub to marvel at Lexi’s effortlessly glamorous life with Hot Hamish.

For Julia, it’s a chance to coax husband Charlie out of his potting shed and into a shirt so they can have a welcome break from the hellish house renovation they’ve been wrestling with. And it’s a chance for Julia to pretend – just for a night – that her life is as perfect as Lexi’s.

But when, during the party, one of Julia’s WhatsApp messages falls into the wrong hands and reveals her most intimate thoughts, things reach boiling point…
    
And when all the neighbours know exactly what you’re thinking, there’s only one thing to do.

Run away.

It’s going to be a summer Julia will never forget…”

The book starts on the evening of Lexi’s summer party.  Lexi is an ‘influencer’ and Julia’s neighbour – and Julia is desperate to be part of Lexi’s ‘in crowd’.  I initially felt a bit sorry for Julia – who was trying so hard to seek Lexi’s approval – when Lexi was clearly a complete cow.

(As an aside, I also wanted to buy Lexi a t-shirt from Paper Press Ireland that I recently got my teenage daughter which says ‘Being famous on Instagram is the same as being rich in Monopoly.  Calm Your Tits’.  Check out their slogan tees – they are EPIC.  Anyway – back to the book!)

The build up to the scene where Julia’s WhatsApp message is read by the wrong person is cringeworthy – you can just see where it’s going to go – real squeaky bum time!

And I actually much preferred the book after Julia had escaped from the party.

Her relationship with Amber (who I pictured as an Angelina Jolie-esque, don’t give a shit type person) develops really well, and the descriptions of France were brilliant and really evoked the feeling of being at an antiques market.

I also liked the fact that despite her disastrous time at the party – Julia is still desperate to know what has happened there by stalking social media – it really is an evil drug sometimes.

Using social media to stalk features later in the book too – and knowing who to stalk (sometimes not the actual person you’re bothered about – but someone close to them #skills) is great.

As well as Julia’s relationships with family and friends (I love the phonecalls with her parents – perfectly written), Amber’s relationships with her son and people from her past and present are also fundamental to the book.  Julia and Amber are incredibly different people. but it all segues together really nicely.

I enjoyed the ending and how lots of storylines were all tied together.  It also makes you think about priorities – especially at this weird time in the world.

As with all of Jenny Oliver’s books it was funny, warm, heartfelt and a lovely read.  I actually think this is my favourite so far (I suspect I say that every time?!)

I would definitely recommend you pre order it now so you get a nice surprise in June!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Pretending by Holly Bourne

Pretending

I really enjoyed Holly Bourne’s first adult fiction (adult as in not YA, not as in porn!) How Do You Like Me Now – so when I saw her new novel on NetGalley, I requested an advance review copy – but my wish wasn’t granted until a couple of days before publication – but at least that means if you like the sound of it you can buy it now and not have to wait!

Here’s the blurb:

“He said he was looking for a ‘partner in crime’ which everyone knows is shorthand for ‘a woman who isn’t real’.

April is kind, pretty, and relatively normal – yet she can’t seem to get past date five. Every time she thinks she’s found someone to trust, they reveal themselves to be awful, leaving her heartbroken. And angry.

If only April could be more like Gretel.

Gretel is exactly what men want – she’s a Regular Everyday Manic Pixie Dream Girl Next Door With No Problems.

The problem is, Gretel isn’t real. And April is now claiming to be her.

As soon as April starts ‘being’ Gretel, dating becomes much more fun – especially once she reels in the unsuspecting Joshua.

Finally, April is the one in control, but can she control her own feelings? And as she and Joshua grow closer, how long will she be able to keep pretending?”

The main character in the story is April – and on the surface this looks like a normal ‘women’s fiction’ book – but this is not a tale of cupcakes, cushions and kittens – and should probably come with a trigger warning of the sexual abuse content.

April’s been ‘unlucky in love’ #crapphrase – but it soon becomes evident that there is a much darker element to this – and actually she was raped by a previous boyfriend. The description of rape and the aftermath is really moving – and thought provoking – it definitely made me stop and think.

Also, April works for a charity helpline – and so whilst she lives with the aftermath of what has happened to her all of the time, it’s also ignited more by triggering emails from people – on both side of the ‘abuse’ fence. It really made me think about such charities too – and what great work they do with so little funding.

Anyway – back to the book.  April decides that she is going to get ‘revenge’ on mankind by pretending to be ‘Gretel’ – the perfect girlfriend and the majority of the book follows this and her relationship with Joshua.

It is really well written – and the thread of the PTSD from her abuse whilst being fundamental – is only part of the storyline.  I really enjoyed April’s relationships with her flatmate Megan and her workmates.  There was also the start of relationships with women she met at an unusual support group – and I really enjoyed reading about that – but it felt like they weren’t really fleshed out during the book itself (but I hope April continued to build on their help and support after the book finished, in the fantasy world I create for characters once books have finished………….)

Overall I really enjoyed this thought provoking book, another good one from Holly Bourne.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward

The Jetsetters

I was emailed by the publishers to see if I wanted an advance review copy of The Jetsetters – and when I saw it was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick (and she’s previously picked ‘Eleanor Oliphant‘) I jumped at the chance with high hopes.

Here’s the blurb:

“A family reunited on a holiday of a lifetime…what could possibly go wrong?

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A 2020 REESE WITHERSPOON HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB PICK

When 70-year-old Charlotte Perkins enters the ‘Become a Jetsetter’ contest, she dreams of reuniting her estranged children: Lee, an almost-famous actress; Cord, a handsome Manhattan venture capitalist; and Regan, a harried mother who has never got over Charlotte’s gift of a Weight Watchers voucher for her birthday.

But when she wins that once in a lifetime trip, all doesn’t exactly go to plan…

As long-buried secrets are revealed, and lovers new and old appear, can these four lost adults find their way back to each other? And more importantly, can they do it without killing each other?

hilarious and deliciously sun-scented novel about the courage it takes to reveal our true selves, and the pleasures and perils of family.”

When I first started reading it I was confused.  It felt like a self published, badly written novel – and I double checked I hadn’t misread Reese Witherspoon, and it was actually a trick – and some ‘Reice from Wetherspoons’ had started a book club and I’d been hoodwinked.  But no – I hadn’t.

I persevered – but it really wasn’t great at all.

The book is told with different chapters by different characters – Charlotte, Lee, Regan and Cord.  None are particularly deep or likeable, all have their problems – but none of them seem motivated to help themselves.  All of them needed a motivational chat to sort themselves out – probably independently of each other.

The descriptions of European destinations are SOOOOOO written by an American – it was hideous to read.  Yes – Europe has loads of history (most countries apart from America do!) and No – Europeans aren’t naked at all times on the beach.  It was written like some voyeur marvelling over a guidebook of Europe.

It also made me 100% definite that I NEVER want to go on a cruise.

It flirted with some sex scenes without ever getting down and dirty (it made me wonder if it was a ‘Christian’ romance – but I don’t think so?)

I persevered, hoping to find whatever Ms Witherspoon had seen in it, put I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters or what happened to them.

Overall a waste of a few hours – and I wouldn’t actively read anything by this author ever again.

Not often I am negative about a book – but this was poor.   But thank you to the publishers for an ARC – and for letting me prove I’m not always gushing about books!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Just My Luck by Adele Parks

Just My Luck

 

“It’s the stuff dreams are made of – a lottery win so big, it changes everything.
For fifteen years, Lexi and Jake have played the same six numbers with their friends, the Pearsons and the Heathcotes. Over dinner parties, fish & chip suppers and summer barbecues, they’ve discussed the important stuff – the kids, marriages, jobs and houses – and they’ve laughed off their disappointment when they failed to win anything more than a tenner.  

But then, one Saturday night, the unthinkable happens. There’s a rift in the group. Someone doesn’t tell the truth. And soon after, six numbers come up which change everything forever.
Lexi and Jake have a ticket worth £18 million. And their friends are determined to claim a share of it.
Number One Sunday Times bestseller Adele Parks returns with a riveting look at the dark side of wealth in this gripping take on friendship, money and betrayal, and good luck gone bad…”

I REALLY enjoyed this book!  The premise is great – and it plays out really well.  It twists and turns dramatically – and at different points you’re not quite sure who is telling the truth and who you should be rooting for – definitely the sign of a good book!

I liked Lexi – and at times wanted her to stand up for herself – but equally recognise it was a difficult and complicated situation.

The plots twists so much I don’t want to put any spoilers in this review – you need to read it yourself and have the same ‘OMG’ moments and sharp intakes of breath that I had!

There are a couple of niggles though – which I know is me being a pedant – but……

  1. The whole premise is that they’ve played the same numbers as a syndicate for the last 15 years – and that each number was chosen by a different person to represent something.  Well – one of the numbers is 58 – and the National Lottery only increased to numbers higher than 49 in 2015 – so they couldn’t have had the same numbers for 15 years.  (Yes, I know it’s only a work of fiction.)
  2. The game loved by kids / teenagers is Fortnite not Fortnight.  It is spelt differently at different times during the book. It might only be an autocorrect issue (and my autocorrect should know I never ever mean ‘duck’) but it’s just a bit sloppy.
  3. At one point it is mentioned that Lexi and Jake live in one village – and the other 2 couples live in the posher village a few miles away.  Then at another point in the book the couples walk home as they are only a few streets away.  Another minor inconsistency – but I am a knob.

Overall the niggles didn’t take away from the fact that this is a very good book – but I think Ms Parks needs a slightly more anal editor!!

But I would thoroughly recommend you read this when it comes out in May 2020.

 

 

Book Review: Remain Silent by Susie Steiner

Remain Silent

I’d read and enjoyed the first 2 books in the Manon Bradshaw series and really enjoyed them – so when I saw Marian Keyes mentioned on Twitter that a third was coming out in May, I immediately saw if it was available for request on NetGalley – and it was!

Here is the blurb.

“The body of a young migrant is found hanging from a tree.
No signs of struggle. No indication that it is anything other than a tragic suicide.
Except for a note, pinned to his trousers, that reads ‘The dead cannot speak’.
A murder investigation begins with DI Manon Bradshaw at the helm. But with the other migrants unwilling to speak, and protests on the streets, hatred is starting to drown out the facts.
 Can Manon uncover the truth before it happens again?”

I think this might just be my favourite of all of the Manon Bradshaw books – it is great!

As usual it twists and turns with a police investigation – along with the private lives of the police too.  Manon’s homelife is also undergoing turmoil as her partner has a cancer diagnosis and she has a teenager and toddler to cope with too.  I loved this side of it – and my favourite quote has to be ‘I’d rather boil my head in oil than home school’ – a statement with which I completely concur and is particularly relevant in the current climate!  (It also reminds me of when I was taking our son to hospital in an ambulance when he was about 3 and had a nasty head injury, and the paramedic asked if I worked or was a stay at home Mum – and I replied ‘I couldn’t be a stay at home Mum, I’d kill one of them’.  Whoops.)

Anyway – back to the book.

Essentially it’s an investigation of a death which looks like a suicide – except for a note on the body which makes it look more like murder.

However, it’s not just a murder investigation – it looks at the treatment of Eastern European migrants in Wisbech and their interaction with the ‘locals’ and how they are treated by their gangmasters.  It feels worryingly relevant and there are definite similarities between some of the people in the book and famous people in the media (mentioning no names!) .

It is clever, and twists and turns – and I think is my favourite of the Manon books. I would thoroughly recommend it when it comes out in May.

I don’t always read the acknowledgements at the end of the book – but I am so glad I did in this instance.  Just after submitting the original manuscript for this book, Susie Steiner was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma brain tumour.  Sadly I know more than I would like to about GBMs – as our friends’ son died from one when he was just 11 years old – 17 months after diagnosis.  The acknowledgements are really moving – and whilst it is clear Susie has a fabulous support network – her fear of the b*stard brain tumour is also evident.  When she said that she didn’t know if she’d still be here for the publication of the book it was just so very very sad.  I was pleased that a quick Twitter search shows Susie is still here and normal life (ranting at TfL, toilet paper purchasing) is still ongoing.  And the fight goes on to find a cure for this horrific disease that kills more children and adults under 40 than any other cancer – and yet has historically only received 1% of the national spend on cancer research.

 

 

 

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

 

My Dark Vanessa

I’d seen this book on a couple of lists of “books to read in 2020”, so had a look on NetGalley to see if it was available – and it was!

Here is the blurb:

“An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher
ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER
Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher.
She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.
Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that.
Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.
Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age.”

Firstly – this is not an easy read.  It’s dark and disturbing and I could see would be a trigger for some people who’ve been in a similar situation.  That said – it is also a very good read.

It flicks between present day (when Vanessa is 32 and working a pretty dead end job in hospitality) and back when she was a teenager and first crossed paths with Strane.  As the reader you can totally see how Strane groomed and abused Vanessa – but in her eyes it was the love of her life.  It then follows her life through the intervening 17 years – and how her entire life is entwined with the abuse she suffered / her great love affair – depending who you are.

I think the fact Vanessa was a similar age to my eldest daughter made it all the more difficult to read – I could empathise with her parents – as well as with Vanessa herself.

Vanessa is just so totally blind to what is happening to her – and really feels that Strane is in love with her and caring for her and only doing what she wants – it’s desperately sad.  You can see this affects her relationships with all of those around her – family, friends, men, future lecturers, colleagues.

When Strane is accused by another girl of abuse – Vanessa has to question what happened to her too – but still she sees it as a great romance, and that she was far more special to him than anyone else has ever been.  The grooming was exceptionally well done…..

Lots of famous literature is quoted, as Strane is an English teacher – in many instances where there is a similar type of relationship – like ‘Lolita’.  I’ve never read this and wonder if there were more references that I would have understood if I had?  But it didn’t detract from my understanding of the book.

In this era of #MeToo it does make you stop and think more about the older powerful man and the younger vulnerable woman keen to impress.  (Actually – one of the jurors in the recent Harvey Weinstein trial has reviewed this exact book on ‘Goodreads’ which made it to the press for the similarities with the legal case).

This is thought a provoking and well written book, and I was keen to find out what happened  – but it was not an easy read, and some of the sex scenes are quite graphic – although probably needed to be in the shocking context of the book.

Many thanks to the publishers and Net Galley for my advance review copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!