Audiobook Review: Quite by Claudia Winkleman

Claudia Winkleman’s warmth, humour, no-holds-barred attitude and smoky eye have made her the favourite broadcaster of millions and a much-loved household name.
In this, her first ever book, Claudia invites us all into her world. She shares her observations on topics such as the importance of melted cheese, why black coats are vital, how it’s never okay to have sex with someone who has an opinion on your date outfit, how nurses are our most precious national treasure, and why colourful clothing is only for the under 10s (if you’re reading this sporting a bright red jumper and you’re 9, great! If you’re older, sorry). 
This is a love letter to life – the real, sometimes messy kind. Quite celebrates friendship, the power of art, the highs and lows of parenting, and of course, how a good eyeliner can really save your life. 
Heartfelt, wry and unmistakably Claudia, this book gets to the heart of what really matters.”

Now – I’m not sure what to say about this book. In one of the chapters Claudia specifically says you shouldn’t tell people things like books or art are amazing, you should let them find it out for themselves.
Send them a copy of a book you adore but don’t tell them it will be lifechanging.

So.
Um.
I’ve sent this book to a friend.
And it’s ‘Quite’ good. (I realise I am a knob………..)
And there endeth the book review.
Maybe.
Not quite.

I recently wrote that when reading the Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman I could feel how strongly the author’s personality came through the writing – and it was exactly the same here. You can just imagine Claudia saying ‘Quite’ for a start. (And actually the fact that she is reading the audiobook makes it even more ‘Claude’) I am also being careful not to use too many exclamation marks, which I would usually scatter about with abandon, but Claudia is not a fan! Whoops……

So if you’re not a Claudia fan (maybe you’re one of those people whose Tweets she’s read out in the Head & Shoulders adverts?) then don’t bother buying this. But if you are a Claudia fan – then go for it.

It’s not strictly an autobiography in that it doesn’t start with Baby Winkleman being born and follow a timeline through to the present day. Instead it’s Claudia’s musings on various different topics – from art to fashion (fashion is art!), to sports day, to the tube, to things to avoid – all with reference to her own experiences.

It’s witty, funny, clever, self deprecating – and also incredibly moving. I wept buckets listening to the ‘Nurses’ chapter. Whilst Claudia doesn’t reference her daughter’s horrific accident some years ago (per the press at the time, the little girl’s fancy dress outfit caught fire whilst trick or treating and she suffered serious burns) knowing what the family have been through makes this chapter all the more emotional. Nurses really do rock. (Thank you to the nurses at Birmingham Children’s Hospital for looking after our chronically ill daughter – I could have written some of the sentences myself.)

Similarly I sobbed at the end of the chapter “They’re Going to Leave, Aren’t They?” about Claudia’s eldest son leaving home. Interestingly it’s the parental chapters that have affected me the most, snotty crying-wise anyway.

I think the chapter on Skiing was perhaps my favourite – the outlook on exercise as a whole – but also the skiing holiday itself. It made me almost hope that next February’s trip to the Alps does get cancelled – and I’ll just stay at home and put the Cathedral City in the microwave to melt it and dip toast in it instead. #toptip

Don’t buy this expecting a load of Strictly backstage goss – Claudia is incredibly discreet about that – aside from Ed Balls being good at making a round of hot drinks.

Perhaps my favourite line of the book is where Claudia tells girls to ‘nerd the f*ck up’ As a self confessed geek as a teenager (and still now), and with a 17 year old daughter who is also proud of her geekiness too – this really hit home.

And manners – yes, yes, yes. I agree with Claudia on so much.

I loved and adored this book. Sh*t, I wasn’t supposed to say that.

I want to be BFFs with Claudia even more than I did before (which was quite a lot anyway) And given I have a toasted sandwich maker (a double one no less) and love a decaf Kenco – I reckon I could be in there.

Got to go – need to get the children fed before Strictly, so I can get another Claude fix. #ImnotaweirdstalkerIpromise

Book Review: The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

French Alps, 1998
Two young men ski into a blizzard… but only one returns.
20 years later
Four people connected to the missing man find themselves in that same resort. Each has a secret. Two may have blood on their hands. One is a killer-in-waiting.
Someone knows what really happened that day.
And somebody will pay.

When I was emailed by the publisher to see if I’d like an advance review copy of this book, I jumped at the chance – the blurb was intriguing immediately – and I was prepared to take a chance on a debut novelist, and I’m so pleased I did!

I loved this book from the start.

The story is told, flicking between the present day (the Alps, pre covid – how wonderful!) and 1998 when there was a tragedy. You don’t have all the facts up front – and it twists and turns brilliantly.

You know that the 2 stories are connected – but right up until the very end you aren’t sure exactly how. There are plenty of red herrings and teasers to keep you interested.

I don’t really want to give you too much information on the storyline – as it unfurls brilliantly! For example, you know someone dies in 1998, but don’t know who until some way through.

Similarly different voices are added to the story telling – both in 1998 and the present day – and the ‘before / after’ chapters too. I felt that really helped build the tension – and you don’t know who to trust!

My best friend from school lives in the French Alps, and so the setting was familiar, which I liked. And the horrific ski bores on holiday were also familiar!

When I’d finished the book and therefore knew who everyone actually was, I was intrigued to see if I went back to the beginning there were any clues – but I really don’t think I would have guessed some of the connections at all – it was incredibly clever!

I romped through this really quickly as I was keen to find out what happened – always a good sign with a book.

This is out at the end of October electronically and mid November as a traditional book, and I’d highly recommend it. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my advance review copy.

Book Review: Secrets in the Snow by Emma Heatherington

I have read and enjoyed previous books by Emma Heatherington, so when the publisher emailed to ask if I’d like to read her new book, I jumped at the chance.

Here’s the blurb:

“As the winter snow falls on the small Irish village of Ballybray, Roisin O’Connor and her young son, Ben, are saying goodbye to their beloved neighbour Mabel Murphy.  Mabel lived a bold and colourful life, but the arrival of her brooding nephew, ‘blow-in’ Aidan Murphy, just makes life more complicated for Roisin.
However, in one final act of love, a message arrives from Mabel that changes everything.  And as winter turns to spring and the cold snow melts, the secrets both Roisin and Aidan are hiding must be revealed at last…”

As with Emma’s previous books, this is set in Ireland – and the main rural setting is described beautifully. It also pops to Belfast and New York – 2 cities I love – which is exciting!

I have to say the storyline is reasonably predictable – lonely single Mum dislikes new stranger – clearly they’re going to fall in love! However, there are enough twists and turns to keep you interested. And sometimes all you want to read is a nice easy romance.

I loved the relationship between Roisin and her son Ben – he was clearly her world. And the relationship they’d both had with Mabel was lovely (and I think highlights the fact it’s nice to have friends of different ages to yourself).

I kept expecting more of Roisin’s relationship with her abusive ex husband, Ben’s Dad, who had passed away to be uncovered – I even suspected she’d bumped him off – but seemingly not!

This is not a taxing read, it’s not a complicated read – but it’s a lovely, escapist, easy read – and sometimes in these difficult times, that is exactly what is needed!

Thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for my ARC.

Book Review: The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood

One friend and I, when we meet up, always have an agenda to make sure all topics are discussed. There is an agenda story that always amuses, where one of her bullet points was about her ex-husband being ‘somewhat unhelpful’ – paraphrased into a 4 letter word – and he then saw the agenda when dropping their son home – awks! So now the agenda tends to be on a phone. One of the standing agenda items is ‘books’ as we’re both avid readers and have similar – although not identical – tastes. Last time we met up she said how she’d enjoyed The Hungover Games – and I said I hadn’t read it yet but wanted to, and the next day it arrived in the post for me! Now that’s a fabulous friend! (And as I know some of you will be interested, she sent it from Hive – which is a British based, tax paying company who support independent booksellers!)

Here’s the blurb about The Hungover Games:

I had no idea how to commit to another human being. I could barely commit to reading a magazine, and I wrote for magazines for a living. My specialist subject was celebrities, and my own relationships made their marriages look eternal. I’d never paid a household bill that didn’t mention bailiffs, and my idea of exercise was to go and stand outside a famous person’s house and stare until I’d convinced myself that I lived in it.
But my life in LA was happy; free of care and consequence. That was, until I came down to earth – with a bump.
So this is the story of how I staggered from partying in Hollywood to bringing up a baby in Piss Alley, Dalston; how I never did find a copy of What To Expect When You Weren’t Even Fucking Expecting To Be Expecting, and why paternity testing is not a good topic for a first-date conversation.
People always said I’d find love where I least expected it. I always said they were idiots.

I liked this book from the dedication, which reads “For my mother and my daughter – thank you both for bringing me up. You might want to stop reading here though.”

The story starts with Sophie in LA and ‘accidentally’ getting pregnant – but totally, properly accidentally – in that she’d been told she couldn’t conceive naturally – not just ‘accidentally’ in a rom com kind of way.

It then follows her through her pregnancy, birth, and the first few years of her daughter’s life.

Now, I’ve folded over LOADS of pages that I thought were brilliant and wanted to quote – but actually, I don’t want to ruin the surprise – so you need to read them youself! The lovely quote Sophie’s Mum uses when Sophie tells her she’s pregnant is beautiful (even if it is actually from a newspaper article about Janet Ellis and Sophie Ellis-Bextor!!)

There is also a surreal paragraph about Bromsgrove. Now this was something Sophie talked to a nurse about at the height of labour and was surreal for them both at the time – but even more surreal as I was reading it IN BROMSGROVE!!! (I should state I don’t think I’m the person Sophie met on holiday who was from Bromsgrove.)

One section that deserves a quote is this fabulous paragraph about the current generation of new parents:

“I have watched my generation of parents turn into Lady Macbeth, out damn spot out, not letting their child have candy floss at the fair, even though said child was conceived on a three-day bender, which began at a family wedding and ended in a ditch five miles from the nearest Wetherspoons.
My generation of parents are the same people who experienced the mass marketing of coolness in the early 2000s, when cool went from something belonging to the occasional brilliant freak like David Bowie to being widely available at Urban Outfitters instead. And so we have become the Urban Outfitters hipster parents, dressing out children in blue-and-white Breton stripes and feeding them halloumi and teaching them to call their penises penises and their vaginas vaginas, no, wait, it’s vulva now. These yummy mummies and rad dads all form part of secret Hallouminati groups whose membership codes are shrouded in ancient rituals involving dried mango, colour-coded Tupperware and half-term holidays at child-friendly festivals in Dorset. Their children have been given so many books about Amazing Women in History that any of them will now eye up a new picture book warily, muttering that this one better not be about Frida Kahlo again.”

That kind of sums up the book for me – witty, dry, observationally fantastic and oh so true!

It’s also really emotional at times – it’s definitely not been an easy road for Sophie – and that is quite evident.

The other thing that shines from the pages – is Sophie’s love for her daughter and their amazing bond. Whilst the conception might not have been planned – the love just oozes out of the pages. And I’m going to have to put another quote in – because as a Mum I thought it was amazing:

“You don’t ready someone to travel into a famine zone by starving them. You prepare them by fattening them up, giving them calorie reserves so they have warmth to spare in the cold, lean times. And so I have prepared my child for an ugly world by fattening her with love…….”

As I was kindly given a hard copy of the book, I’m now going to pass it on to another friend this evening, and then it should end up in the porch lending library that one of my other friends in the village started during lockdown, and is proving to still be a big hit. The gift of a book that keeps on giving!

Book Review: Failosophy: A Handbook For When Things Go Wrong by Elizabeth Day

I really enjoyed Elizabeth Day’s previous books – most recently ‘How To Fail‘ – so when I saw she had a new book out I requested a copy off NetGalley, which I was kindly granted. However, I failed (at least I was on theme!) to read this before the book came out – but I’m only a few days behind the curve!

Here’s the blurb:

“In Failosophy Elizabeth Day brings together all the lessons she has learned, from conversations with the guests on her award-winning How to Fail podcast, from stories shared with her by readers and listeners, and from her own life, and distils them into seven principles of failure.
 
Practical, reassuring and inspirational, these principles offer a guide through life’s rough patches. From failed exams to romantic break-ups, from career setbacks to confidence crises, from navigating anxiety to surviving loss, Failosophy recognises, and celebrates, the fact that failure connects us all. It is what makes us human.
 
With insights from Malcolm Gladwell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Lemn Sissay, Frankie Bridge, Nigel Slater, Emeli Sande, Alain de Botton, Mabel, Fearne Cotton, Meera Syal, Dame Kelly Holmes, Andrew Scott and many, many more, Failosophy is the essential handbook for turning failure into success.

This is only a short book – and the sort that I would like to dip into again. I can see it would be of comfort in times of failure – or perceived failure – in your life.

It builds upon Day’s How To Fail memoir – summarising failings, and what can be learnt from them. It uses both her own life experiences, and those of the many people who’ve been guests on her ‘How To Fail With Elizabeth Day’ podcast – which I really enjoyed.

Some I empathised with more than others – failing at my 20s was definitely up there for me. I remember weeping on my 25th birthday as I was living on my own having split up from my first husband – and it just wasn’t where I expected to be mid decade. My ‘life plan’ hadn’t featured a starter marriage and divorce by my quarter century. Everything had sorted itself out by the end of my 20s – and I wouldn’t have got there without these ‘failures’ – which kind of sums up some of the book.

I found where Elizabeth talked about her own miscarriage – and a guest about the ‘failure’ of his son dying – really emotional to read, and incredibly moving.

I’d almost finished the book – but there was still over 10% left on my Kindle – so I did wonder what would make up these last pages. It is details that guests gave Elizabeth of the 3 failures they would discuss on the podcast with her. Some were incredibly detailed, others just brief bullet points, but I found this really interesting (I am totally a nosy cow, so both the content and style of how they’d written them appealed!)

As I said, I’d definitely read this again – and I think it would be a great present for a friend going through a tough time. (I am a big fan of giving books as gifts, much more edifying than flowers.)

A thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC and apologies for failing to review it before publication!!

Audiobook Review: Sh**ged Married Annoyed by Chris and Rosie Ramsey

I was introduced to the Sh**ged Married Annoyed podcast – starring Chris and Rosie Ramsey – by one of my cousin’s earlier this year. I’d loved Chris on Strictly last year – and started following Rosie on Instagram at a similar time (as she’d been nice to my aforementioned cousin in a DM on Insta). My cousin said the podcast reminded her of listening to me and my husband exchange banter and beefs in real life! (We’re a decade older than the Ramseys – but I’ll take the comparison!)

The podcast was a highlight of my lockdown life – and I’d download it religiously every Friday. I’d then listen to it in the car whilst ferrying kids about (albeit the legs of the journies without kids in the car – as it’s definitely 18+ listening).

Chris and Rosie may have mentioned – occasionally (!!) – about their book coming out. I’m currently in the habit of an audiobook in the car which is non fiction – and as the book is narrated by Chris and Rosie themselves, it felt like a super long podcast, so I downloaded the audiobook.

I don’t think you have to be a SMA to read / listen to the book – you’d still ‘get’ it (although might not just have got what I mean by SMA) but as the Ramseys themselves had said – why would you have paid to buy the book when there are all the free podcasts out there to listen to first?!?

Back to the book! Here’s the blurb:

This is not a self-help book. This book contains absolutely no advice that you should follow yourself.
SH**GED
Saturday nights out on the tiles, undying crushes, dating like it’s a competitive sport, awkward tales of dating woes, one-night stands, the walk of shame, ghosting, tears and break-ups.

MARRIED
Finding ‘the one’, meeting their parents, first holidays and romantic weekends away, engagement rings, big moment proposals, wedding bells, the hen do, the stag, the much anticipated – and feared – best man speech, the honeymoon of a lifetime.

ANNOYED
Who stacks a dishwasher like this? Empty milk cartons placed back into the fridge, pregnancy, sleepless nights, toilet seats up, toothpaste everywhere, less and less frequent date nights, DIY weekends, divorce.

Whether you’re sh**ged, married, annoyed, or, all of the above, Chris and Rosie Ramsey, hosts of the number one podcast, write hilariously and with honesty about the ups and downs and ins and outs of love, sex and relationships.”

So, some of the chapters are Chris and Rosie’s past – and some are prompted by questions for the public (pppppppppublic) – so it feels very much the same vibe as the podcast which I enjoyed.

My first surprise was that it wasn’t until 1 hour and 26 minutes in that Carl Hutchinson got a mention! #podcastjoke #IrealiseIamatwat

I totally agreed with Chris and Rosie ‘fessing up to their pasts when they got engaged. Thankfully the husband and I did similar (which meant I wasn’t totally surprised when my husband told me he’d historically slept with 4 of the other Mums at the parent craft class we went to when pregnant with our firstborn…….)

As with the podcast – the content is definitely adult, and quite sweary and ‘open minded about things of a sexual nature’ adult at that! But great fun.

The threesome chapter was ‘interesting’ – and as I have identical twin cousins it did make me wonder………….

I love the fact that Chris and Rosie clearly adore their son Robin – but also are quite happy to talk about the trials and tribulations of parenthood. I’m enjoying tracking the incubation of baby number 2 each week on the podcast!!

It wasn’t until the chapter on poo stories (Chris wanted it in, Rosie didn’t – the chapter I mean, see what listening to this podcast / reading this book does to one’s mind!?!) that I realised how different the book had been with Chris and Rosie essentially reading out what they’d already written – whereas the poo chapter felt much more like the podcast in that it flowed between the Ramseys in a much more banter-y (which is clearly a made up word!) way! Turns out in the secret chapter at the end – about the making of the audio book – that the poo chapter was done in reverse, in that Chris and Rosie read and discussed the questions from the public, and then this was transcribed for the actual book. Interesting. (I am such a geek, I love sh*t like this!)

Overall I loved the audiobook – all 7 hours and 36 minutes of it – actually, there were probably some minutes I didn’t ‘love’ and just ‘liked’ and some of the poo stories were GRIM – but still, 5 stars, would recommend!

(Or, if you’re new to Mr & Mrs Ramsey – maybe try the podcast for free first and see what you reckon before investing in the book!)

Book Review: Contacts by Mark Watson

“James Chiltern boards the 23:50 sleeper train from London to Edinburgh with two pork pies, six beers and a packet of chocolate digestives. At 23:55 he sends a message to all 158 people in his contacts, telling them that he plans to end his life in the morning. He then switches his phone to flight mode. He’s said goodbye. To him, it’s the end of his story – and time to crack open the biscuits.

But across the world, 158 phones are lighting up with a notification. Phones belonging to his mum. His sister. His ex-best friend. The woman who broke his heart. People he’s lost touch with. People he barely knows. And for them, the message is only the beginning of the journey.

Funny and wise, tender and deeply moving, Contacts is a beautiful story about the weight of loneliness, the importance of kindness – and how it’s never too late to reach out.

I’m not sure how I happened upon this book – potentially someone mentioned it on Twitter – but I was granted an advance review copy from NetGalley – and having never read anything by Mark Watson before, I thought I’d give it a go.

The blurb above gives the exact opening of the book – and it might be best to avoid if suicide topics would be a trigger for you. However, it’s beautifully written – with dark humour throughout – so don’t let me put you off before you’ve started.

The book intertwines James’s back story with current events in a clever way – so you start to learn how he’s got to this point. It definitely highlights reaching out to people all the time – not just when there is a big thing happening in their lives…

It’s told from James’s point of view on the sleeper train but also his flat mate, ex girlfriend, sister, ex best friend all in different places around the world – which adds to the drama.

I can’t say much more without giving the storyline away – and you really need to read it yourself, but I can say I really enjoyed it.

It’s out at the end of this month – so perfect half term read! Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC.

Audio Book Review: More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran

“A decade ago, Caitlin Moran thought she had it all figured out. Her instant bestseller How to Be a Woman was a game-changing take on feminism, the patriarchy, and the general ‘hoo-ha’ of becoming a woman. Back then, she firmly believed ‘the difficult bit’ was over, and her forties were going to be a doddle.

If only she had known: when middle age arrives, a whole new bunch of tough questions need answering. Why isn’t there such a thing as a ‘Mum Bod’? How did sex get boring? What are men really thinking? Where did all that stuff in the kitchen drawers come from? Can feminists have Botox? Why has wine turned against you? How can you tell the difference between a Teenage Micro-Breakdown, and The Real Thing? Has feminism gone too far? And, as always, WHO’S LOOKING AFTER THE CHILDREN?

Now with ageing parents, teenage daughters, a bigger bum and a To-Do list without end, Caitlin Moran is back with More Than A Woman: a guide to growing older, a manifesto for change, and a celebration of all those middle-aged women who keep the world turning.”

I’m a year older than Caitlin, also from the Midlands, with parents in their 70s and teenage kids and a bigger bum than I had a decade ago, and a To-Do list without end (although I’m not a writer – I’m an accountant and run a construction company with my husband) – but there are enough similarities that I’ve always enjoyed Caitlin’s writing (and her recent podcast chats with Sophie Ellis-Bextor on ‘Spinning Plates’ and Trish and Lorraine on ‘Postcards from Midlife’ ) Consequently I decided to pay good money (I usually blag free books!) for the audiobook of ‘More Than A Woman’ to continue my ‘non fiction books in the car’ activities.

It is so very, very good. Thought provoking, amusing, emotional – a real rollercoaster, in a good way!

It’s written in Caitlin’s trademark style and the audiobook is read by her too. It has laugh out loud moments aplenty. The 5 page ‘to do’ list could have fundamentally been mine (and yes, I do think about it during maintenance sex too!!) The fact that as a middle aged woman who basically has her act together you will be pulled in multiple directions – teenage kids, ageing parents, divorcing friends, friends and family having health crises – on top of running a family, house, social life and keeping down a job.

My husband is an amazing partner and father and does LOADS for the kids – much more than the average male in a relationship (partly due to the logistics of having our own company meaning we can be more flexible with when we both work). But he freely admits that the thinking and the ‘to do’ lists are firmly in my court. Partly this is because I am a total control freak – but also because, as a middle aged woman, just as Caitlin writes, you just do it. I arrived home last week to him in a massive panic as he was trying to cook the kids dinner, whilst logging one on to a Brownie Zoom, whilst waiting for the groceries to be delivered, and trying to find a gumshield and shin pads – all of which he’s been instructed to do, but he did find it stressful to do them simultaneously. (I did laugh a little bit!!)

But as well as laugh out loud moments, and ‘oh my God that is totally me’, there are also really emotional parts too. Caitlin shares a lot about parenting a child with an eating disorder. (Her daughter wanted the story shared to help other families.) It was really moving – and brilliant that there has been a positive outcome for their family. So often middle aged parents are seemingly embarrassed by their children’s mental health issues (even if the teenager is quite prepared to be open about it) but us middle aged and older parents have been brought up to keep schtum about mental health issues, as if brushing it under the carpet will mean it isn’t happening. Therefore positive outcomes are often not applauded – because the issue has never been mentioned in the first place. I’m very lucky that, as yet (with 4 kids I suspect it is firmly ‘yet’ and not ‘if’) we haven’t had to deal with anything like this – but I have learned so much from the book. I’d never thought about how saying ‘Mummy and Daddy just want you to be happy’ could be so much pressure on a child to be happy all of the time and thus not tell you that they’re sad. Sometimes we NEED to be unhappy to process ‘stuff’ and the same goes for kids. It’s really made me think that sometimes you do need to be Pooh sitting next to Eeyore just to be there – not telling the grumpy one to ‘buck the f*ck up’. This too shall pass.

Overall the book made me feel massively empowered! I intend to embrace my hag years with abandon. I will not apologise for being a middle aged woman, I will try not to worry about being too little – or too much (or some days both). And I am grateful for my coven – both in real life and online – who I know have my back every day (as well as having their own 5 page ‘to do’ lists / partners / kids / parents / pets (so many dogs when the kids hit teenage years!) / jobs / volunteering commitments / social lives / other friends / sports / book clubs etc, etc, et bloody cetera!)

We are definitely more than women!!

(And buy this book immediately so we can compare notes – or I’ll buy it for everyone for Christmas!!)

Book Review: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Ghosts

I loved Dolly Alderton’s sort of autobiographical best seller “Everything I Know About Love” and so when I saw she had her first novel coming out I wondered if I could get an ARC from NetGalley – and I could – hoorah!

Here’s the blurb:

“Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan.

A new relationship couldn’t have come at a better time – her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone’s moving to the suburbs. There’s no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who’s caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion into dementia.

Dolly Alderton’s debut novel is funny and tender, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships, family, memory, and how we live now.”

I really enjoyed this book!

The central character is Nina, who I liked (despite being significantly older than her and with very different life experiences).  The book looks at her romantic entanglements – but also her relationships with others, her friends, parents, neighbours – and how they all intertwine. 

I almost feel like the relationships were dealt with in pairs:

Nina’s Mum (Nancy / Mandy) and her Dad:  it was clear Nina was a Daddy’s girl, and her relationship with her Mum is more ‘complicated’ and I liked how this progressed during the book.  Nina’s Dad’s dementia gets worse and worse – but was well written and true to life experiences of this horrible disease. 

Katherine and Lola: these are Nina’s friends – but from different life stages.  Katherine is a smug married, whilst Lola is on a permanent quest for love.  Their personal circumstances bring different strains to their relationships with Nina – and I think were written really well.

Max and Joe: Max is Nina’s new boyfriend and the ‘leading man’ of the book – whilst Joe is her long term ex who is still a best friend.  The first interaction between them was cringingly well written!  And Nina on Joe’s new fiancée’s hen weekend was also painfully good. 

Her upstairs and downstairs neighbours:  Lovely, slightly deaf older lady up above; grumpy, aggressive, scary Italian man down below. 

Whilst the ‘Ghosts’ of the title could be the current vocab of romantic partners who suddenly cut you off with no explanation, it’s clear Nina’s Dad is also encountering his own ghosts as he suffers with dementia.

Nina is quick witted, smart, sassy and independent and a great leading lady – and the book was a rollercoaster of emotions – sometimes I was laughing out loud, other  times having a little weep. 

A huge thank you to Netgalley and Penguin for my advance review copy.  Ghosts is out in October 2020 and can be pre ordered now. 

 

Audio Book Review: Glorious Rock Bottom by Bryony Gordon

Glorious Rock Bottom

 

I really enjoyed Bryony Gordon’s book about her mental health struggles, so when I saw her new book about alcoholism had come out, I actually purchased it (a rarity for me!).  Having recently discovered podcasts to listen to in the car, I thought I’d give Audible a go again (I dabbled some years ago but never got into it) – and because I like a plan, thought I’d do ‘non fiction’ audiobooks in the car – and leave the fiction for books at home.  Interestingly at a recent bookclub Zoom, some of the other members have non fiction downstairs and fiction upstairs – so it’s clearly ‘a thing’ to differentiate!

Here’s the blurb about the book:

“Bryony Gordon is a respected journalist, a number-one bestselling author and an award-winning mental health campaigner. She is also an alcoholic.

In Glorious Rock Bottom Bryony opens up about a toxic twenty-year relationship with alcohol and drugs and explains exactly why hitting rock bottom – for her, a traumatic event and the abrupt realisation that she was putting herself in danger, time and again – saved her life. Known for her trademark honesty, Bryony re-lives the darkest and most terrifying moments of her addiction, never shying away from the fact that alcoholism robs you of your ability to focus on your family, your work, your health, your children, yourself. And then, a chink of light as the hard work begins – rehab; twelve-step meetings; endless, tedious, painful self-reflection – a rollercoaster ride through self-acceptance, friendship, love and hope, to a joy and pride in staying sober that her younger self could never have imagined.

Now, I had high hopes for this book and really wanted to enjoy it and find it helpful in my own relationship with booze – but initially I didn’t. I found Bryony sharing her rock bottom really disturbing. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for oversharing – the whole village knows about my piles – but this was really disturbing stuff. Sexual encounters with almost strangers, being repeatedly unfaithful to her husband, endangering her child – and it upset me both to read it – but also to think of them reading it. It felt really intrusive and things that no child should ever read about their Mum (I guess I’m more careful of this now – when the kids were little I’d share with wanton abandon, but teenagers are sh*ts – and my daughter’s ‘friends’ would find photos and info off this very blog to take the p*ss out of her, and so I’m more careful – and thus was worried about Bryony’s daughter Edie in the future.) It felt like it was being deliberately written to shock – which I guess it was – but it felt like I was a voyeur for listening to it…..

However, I persevered, and I’m so pleased I did.

The love Bryony has for her family is clearly what ‘saved’ her along with her determination not to let drugs and alcohol take everything from her – probably including her life. This shines through in her writing – and hearing her read her own words, and her voice catch with the emotion a few times, was deeply moving.

Her description of rehab (private, as a day patient) and the 12 step programme – without breaking confidences – was still really informative.

The end of the book had me totally weeping buckets and I arrived at work having to explain why my mascara was all down my face!

This is not a self help book, this is alcoholism and drug addiction from Bryony’s personal point of view. It is not preachy, it is not expecting everyone to give up booze, it very much distinguishes between alcoholics and people who can consume alcohol at a sensible level. I will sometimes have a ‘non-alcoholic’ beer, just because I don’t want the fuzzy head of a couple of beers, but the chapter where Bryony has a non-alcoholic beer binge does highlight the fact that non-alcoholic drinks are for non-alcoholics – a distinction I hadn’t really considered before.

After my initial reticence I did enjoy the book – and I’m sure Bryony’s husband was completely supportive in her writing it – and they will deal with Edie being told about the contents in an age appropriate and loving way in the future and I shouldn’t have got all worked up about it.

At the end of the day, their loving family unit – and their conkers – have helped Bryony conquered her demons.