Book Review: After The Last Dance by Sarra Manning

After The Last Dance.jpg

I am a sucker for a bargain – and Sarra Manning, who I know through being a Red Magazine subscriber, where she tells me what to read each month – mentioned on Twitter that this book from her back catalogue was a good deal on Kindle, so I downloaded it.

Here is the blurb:

“After the Last Dance: Two women. Two love affairs. One unforgettable story

Kings Cross station, 1943. Rose arrives in London hoping to swap the drudgery of wartime for romance, glamour and jiving with GIs at Rainbow Corner, the famous dance hall in Piccadilly Circus. As the bombs fall, Rose loses her heart to a pilot but will lose so much more before the war has done its worst.

Las Vegas, present day. A beautiful woman in a wedding dress walks into a seedy bar and asks the first man she sees to marry her. When Leo slips the ring onto Jane’s finger, he has no idea that his new wife will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

So when Jane meets Rose, now a formidable older lady, there’s no love lost between them. But with time running out, can Rose and Jane come together to make peace with the tragic secrets that have always haunted their lives?”

It sucked me in right from the start.  Initially the stories are very separate, and I was guessing how they might come together – but it’s not obvious – and there are twists and turns throughout the book.

I enjoyed the wartime setting for Rose – and thought it was very well written and really evoked the feeling of London during the Blitz.  Equally the chapters set in the present day were also great – and felt very different – as I guess they should.

The back stories for Rose – and how she got from the innocent teenager to the formidable businesswoman – and on a smaller timeline for Leo and Jane – were cleverly revealed as the book went through.

I felt the flipping from one time period to another kept a real momentum through the book and kept me wanting to read just a little bit more each night.

Overall I really enjoyed the whole book – and felt it well written and structured with excellent content – which makes me want to read other books by Sarra Manning.

 

 

 

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Book Review: Absolutely Smashing It by Kathryn Wallace

Absolutely Smashing It

I have come across Kathryn Wallace’s postings on social media before – where she writes under the name ‘I Know, I Need To Stop Talking’ with some hilarious parodies of the omnipresent (if you have small children starting to learn to read) Biff, Chip and Kipper Robinson (slight show off that I know their surname!!) and other musings on life as a parent.

Then my oldest friend (oldest as in she came to visit me in hospital when I was born rather than in her own age being substantial!) noticed that the publisher had tweeted to see if any book bloggers wanted an advanced review copy – and she suggested me!  Never one to turn down a free book, I immediately sent my details, and the book arrived the very next day!

Here is the Amazon blurb:

”  “SAM! AVA! Get downstairs, NOW. Have you done your TEETH? HAIR? SHOES? Come on, come on, come on, we’re going to be bastarding late again. No, I haven’t seen Lego Optimus Prime, and nor do I give a shit about his whereabouts. Sam, will you stop winding your sister up and take this model of the Shard that I painstakingly sat up and created for you last night so that I wouldn’t be in trouble with your teacher. I mean, so that you wouldn’t be in trouble with your teacher. No, it doesn’t smell of ‘dirty wine’. Well, maybe it does a little bit. Look, Sam, I haven’t got time to argue. Just hold your nose and get in the car, okay? AVA! TEETH! HAIR! SHOES!”

Gemma is only just holding it together – she’s a single parent, she’s turning 40 and her seven-year-old daughter has drawn a cruelly accurate picture which locates Gemma’s boobs somewhere around her knees. So when her new next-door neighbour, Becky, suggests that Gemma should start dating again, it takes a lot of self-control not to laugh in her face.

But Becky is very persuasive and before long Gemma finds herself juggling a full-time job, the increasingly insane demands of the school mums’ Facebook group and the tricky etiquette of a new dating world. Not only that, but Gemma has to manage her attraction to her daughter’s teacher, Tom, who has swapped his life in the City for teaching thirty six to seven year olds spelling, grammar, basic fractions – and why it’s not ok to call your classmate a stinky poo-bum…

It’s going to be a long year – and one in which Gemma and Becky will learn a really crucial lesson: that in the end, being a good parent is just about being good enough.”

 

As expected, the book is all about the stresses and strains of parenthood – and is pretty sweary! It is true to life in lots of ways – everyone who has waited in a playground can identify the different types of parent! And feels quite similar in genre to lots of the Mummy bloggers who have gone on to write books (such as Why Mummy Drinks ) – but I guess parental experiences are quite similar, so that’s why they feel alike.

I liked Gemma and wanted everything to work out for her personally – not just as a mother and as an employee, but as an individual too.  Her friendship with Becky was also explored  – and definitely shows the importance of having Mum friends that you actually want to be friends with – not just because they have children the same age.

This book is not going to set the literary world alight – it is a simple, easy, non-challenging read – but sometimes that’s what you want after a long day of parenting.  There are some laugh out loud moments (so much so that I was told off by the 7 year old for making her bed shake when reading it one evening as trying to get her to sleep!) and I didn’t regret reading it – but I’m not sure #absolutelysmashingit has been achieved.

Thank you very much to the publishers for my free ARC – and the book has now made it’s way across the Irish Sea to the aforementioned oldest friend for her to read too.

It’s released on 7 March 2019.

 

Book Review: Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

Don't You Forget About Me

 

I LOVE Mhairi McFarlane and have read all of her back catalogue.  In fact, I have signed copies of all of her books after a prosecco-fuelled bid on a charity auction lot last year…….. I’ve been lucky enough to have been sent advanced review copies before – but somehow I must have fallen off the radar, and I didn’t notice it on Netgalley – and so it wasn’t until this was published that I realised there was a new book!  I immediately downloaded it – not begrudging paying for once, as I had high expectations – as I have loved all of the historic books.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“It began with four words.

‘I love your laugh. x’

But that was twelve years ago. It really began the day Georgina was fired from The Worst Restaurant in Sheffield (© Tripadvisor) and found The Worst Boyfriend in the World (© Georgina’s best friends) in bed with someone else.

So when her new boss, Lucas McCarthy, turns out to be the boy who wrote those words to her all that time ago, it feels like the start of something.

The only problem? He doesn’t seem to remember Georgina – at all…”

 

I was completely correct not to have begrudged spending hard earned cash on this – it was excellent – and possibly my favourite Mhairi McFarlane to date.

It flashes back to sixth form – and I can soooooo remember that time, and it really evoked those memories (despite being a very long time ago for me!) and then the present day when Georgina is initially working in an awful Italian restaurant.  I really liked Georgina – although did want to give her a shake a couple of times!

The relationships with her extended family were described brilliantly, and similarly that with her friends and colleagues – you really feel like you get to know everyone.  The passive aggressive notes from her housemate were a particular favourite!

The ending is brilliant (the friendship group reminds me quite a lot of Bridget Jones – but in a good way, not a copying way!) and I loved it.  As with many of Mhairi’s books I want a sequel or a spin off, pretty please??

I like the fact that whilst this is ‘chick lit’ it is bloody well written, structured and uses long words!  It’s an easy read – but feels like time has been invested to make it a decent quality book.  It had me crying with laughter – and then sobbing with high emotion – which has to be the sign of a good book?

It’s out now on Kindle (and a bargain at just 99p) – or next week in paperback – so treat yourself!

 

 

 

Book Review: The Mum Who Got Her Life Back by Fiona Gibson

The Mum Who Got Her Life Back

 

I’ve enjoyed Fiona Gibson books historically – and as I was about to start her previous one,  The Mum Who’d Had Enough, I noticed this new one was available on NetGalley to download as an advanced review copy – so I jumped at the chance.  However, I then didn’t love The Mum Who’d Had Enough as much as I’d hoped, so wondered if I would regret my decision……

Here’s the blurb:

“When her 18-year-old twins leave for university, single mum Nadia’s life changes in ways she never expected: her Glasgow flat feels suddenly huge, laundry doesn’t take up half her week, and she no longer has to buy ‘the Big Milk’. After almost two decades of putting everyone else first, Nadia is finally taking care of herself. And with a budding romance with new boyfriend Jack, She’s never felt more alive.

That is, until her son Alfie drops out of university, and Nadia finds her empty nest is empty no more. With a heartbroken teenager to contend with, Nadia has to ask herself: is it ever possible for a mother to get her own life back? And can Jack and Nadia’s relationship survive having a sulky teenager around?”

I am DELIGHTED to say, I enjoyed this book immediately.  My sister has just waved my eldest niece off to Uni – and so the first bit of this reminded me of when they did the whole dropping off at halls thing.  I LOLled.  (I have a couple of years before this becomes my reality – but as it will be the first of 4, I’m not too worried about the whole empty nest thing as yet!!)

There are many different settings throughout the book.  Glasgow – obviously, but also the Ayrshire coast and Barcelona – so it was good to reminisce about various trips we’ve been on (although Nadia didn’t get to see a naked bloke strolling along the beach in Barcelona, so I do feel she missed out a bit! #holidayflashbacks #notjustthesangriahonestly)

It was a really ‘nice’ book.  Sometimes the characters were a bit annoying – but no one was particularly unpleasant.  There were some crossed wires (and I wanted to give people a good shake!) but overall it was a lovely read.

This is a fun, easy read – which is sometimes exactly what you want / need.  Nothing too taxing – but enjoyable.

Thanks to Netgalley for my advanced review copy in exchange for a fair review.

 

 

Book Review: How To Own The Room by Viv Groskop

How to Own the Room

Viv Groskop has been on my radar for years.  Initially as the person who told me what to read in Red Magazine each month.  Then we had our 3rd children within weeks of each other and exchanged messages on social media about that.  (I had children 2 and 4 within days / weeks of Victoria Beckham, but she was a much less communicative pregnancy twin, although clearly we looked practically identical………)  I’ve always made a conscious effort to seek out Viv’s writing and podcasts (most recently for the dearly departed ‘The Pool’).   I was therefore aware she’d written this new book ‘How To Own The Room’ but had decided it wasn’t really relevant to my day to day life anymore (fool!) as I no longer have to do big presentations or sales pitches as I’d done in my previous working life.

Then my Nan died.

This did not  prompt a Damascene moment, when I decided I should try my hand at being a stand up comedian, or start giving Ted Talks – but I volunteered, as eldest of my sisters,  to speak at the funeral.  I have a 2 minute slot (strictly policed, as we will be fined if we run over at the crem) and I need to make sure I say everything without just weeping – so I was hoping for some advice from Viv’s book.

Here’s the blurb:

“Most books about public speaking don’t tell you what to do when you open your mouth and nothing comes out. And they don’t tell you how to get over the anxiety about performance that most people naturally have. They don’t tell you what to do in the moments when you are made, as a woman, to feel small. They don’t tell you how to own the room. This book does. 

From the way Michelle Obama projects ‘happy high status’, and the power of J.K.Rowling’s understated speaking style, to Virginia Woolf’s leisurely pacing and Oprah Winfrey’s mastery of inner conviction, what is it that our heroines do to make us sit up and listen – really listen – to their every word? And how can you achieve that impact in your own life? Here’s how.”

 

And I wasn’t disappointed!  It was funny, informative, empowering, brilliantly written and really inspiring.  I liked the clever idea of bringing in a different public speaker into each chapter*.  Having just read Michelle Obama’s autobiography I was intrigued by that chapter and how Viv interpreted her changing speaking style over her husband’s tenure and as she gained experience.

But I also liked that the book was very much about finding your own voice – so JK Rowling has a very different, but still effective style to Mrs Obama – and then Angela Merkel is different again.  Even if you don’t speak German, you can guess she’s not going to be wise cracking her way through speeches – but speaks with an organised, calm, in charge demeanour.  I need to find a Mrs Merkel speech on Youtube to notice the finger temple Viv refers to as well!

There’s also practical help.  From power poses (to be done in private in advance of speaking, I don’t plan to be stood at the front of the crematorium like a power hungry politician!) to breathing through your feet.  Viv also talks about practicing loads (which I have done, and made my youngest sister cry on the phone when I practiced on her!) And also about recording yourself to watch yourself / listen to yourself back.  I haven’t done this as yet – and know I will be shocked at how Brummie I sound……

Similarly there’s practical advice about the structure of a speech.  My 2 minutes opens with a joke (Viv actually says a funeral speech is the one time you wouldn’t be expected to do that – but I think it will be fine!), has three themes and then a conclusion.  I am such a teacher’s pet………

Whilst I have memorised my 2 minutes (actually about 1 minute 50 seconds in case there are any LOLs from the congregation) I have it printed out as a security blanket.  Having recently attended Nan’s brother’s funeral – I know I, along with everyone else in the church, was willing his son and Grandson to get through their speeches without breaking down – and I know that it will be the same when I’m stood up there, that the other attendees will want me to speak well and are all there because they loved my Nan – but being prepared is also fundamental.

All in all, reading ‘How to Own The Room’ now has been perfect timing for me – but I can see how it could impact on so many areas of life.  There is the expected public speaking or work presentation – but I also think it would be really valuable at other times.  From a personal point of view I can imagine using the techniques when trying to have a forceful conversation with utility suppliers (admittedly somewhat niche, but the bane of my life at the moment) or to stop getting tearful at my kids’ parents’ evenings (not sure I will ever stop that happening – but I will try!)

I would thoroughly recommend that everyone reads this – female or male.

 

* since the first of January, Viv has been posting on Instagram her room owning women of 2019.  Some of them are from the book itself – but many are not, and are totally diverse.  It is totally worth following her Instragram for this alone.  I *may* have got quite excited the day that Tea Leoni (Elizabeth McCord in Madam Secretary) featured and brain dumped all of the facts I know about her………  And there’s a definite Brummie bent, with Jess Phillips and Malala (adopted daughter of Birmingham) featuring thus far! Some women I know of already, some are revelations and new heroines – but all are interesting and thought provoking.

 

Book Review: Little Liar by Lisa Ballantyne

Little Liar

I spotted this book on Netgalley and applied to have an advanced review copy (although I am slightly confused by the dates – as they said it would be published in May 2019, but it appears to be on sale on Amazon already??) Anyway – it looked an interesting read – and the author has previously been on Richard & Judy’s bookclub lists – so I downloaded it to read.

Here is the Amazon blurb:

The accused
While Nick Dean is enjoying an evening at home with his family, he is blissfully unaware that one of his pupils has just placed an allegation of abuse against him – and that Nick’s imminent arrest will see the start of everything he knows and loves disintegrating around him.

Because, mud sticks, right? No matter if you’re innocent or guilty.

The accuser
When Angela Furness decides that enough is enough – she hates her parents, hates her friends and, most of all, despises what has recently happened at school – she does the only thing she knows will get her attention: calls the police. But Angela is unaware that the shocking story she is about to tell will see her life begin to topple.

Because, once you’ve said what you’ve said, there’s no way back, right? No matter if you’re innocent or guilty.

In a gripping tale of two families torn apart by one catastrophic betrayal, Little Liar illustrates the fine line between guilt and innocence, and shows that everyone has their secrets, even those we ought to trust the most…”

I was intrigued with the book from the start.  The chapters are told by different characters – so you jump around from different perspectives – but that adds to the momentum of the storyline.

I have to say I was unsure who to believe – just when you thought you’d got it straight, something else would make you question what you thought!  It really does twist and turn.

It’s also worryingly easy to see how such a thing could happen in real life – an accusation easily made could change someone’s life forever.  A few times I did want to shout at the characters to be honest with each other, as that would make life a lot easier for everyone (although possibly make the book more dull?!)

There is a twist towards the end – which I’d actually guessed beforehand – but that didn’t stop me wanting to read the book to see how it all panned out.   The end feels a little rushed – and not all of the loose ends are tied up – but overall I enjoyed it.

I would definitely read something by Lisa Ballantyne again.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Mum Who’d Had Enough by Fiona Gibson

 

The Mum.jpg

 

I follow the author Fiona Gibson on Twitter – and she happened to tweet to say this book was on special on Amazon, so being a sucker for social media ad type stuff, I went to buy it!  Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“After sixteen years of marriage, Nate and Sinead Turner have a nice life. They like their jobs, they like their house and they love their son Flynn. Yes, it’s a very nice life.
Or, at least Nate thinks so. Until, one morning, he wakes to find Sinead gone and a note lying on the kitchen table listing all the things he does wrong or doesn’t do at all.
Nate needs to show Sinead he can be a better husband – fast. But as he works through Sinead’s list, his life changes in unexpected ways. And he starts to wonder whether he wants them to go back to normal after all. Could there be more to life than nice?”

The book has chapters written by different characters – initially Sinead and Nate – but later on in the book by a new character who is introduced – Tanzie.  I liked the way it was told by different people – and their differing views of the same scenes.

I found Sinead incredibly annoying and judgemental – and not a very nice wife, mother, or friend.  She was incredibly self centred and frustrating.  If you’re not happy with something then say something – don’t expect the other person to be psychic – and don’t just flounce off without giving them an option to respond.

Nate was a wet lettuce and needed a good slap, and to just be a bit more motivated to do stuff.

Their son Flynn was a typical teenager, and whilst his cerebral palsy was referenced – it didn’t really affect him as a character.  The teenage interactions (and specifically oreos and such like for breakfast) definitely rang true.

I liked Tanzie the most – but definitely best of a bad bunch!

A friend has just FINALLY passed her driving test – and so I quite enjoyed that element of the storyline because it’s something that’s been on my radar recently.

The book was an easy read – and I did want to know what happened – but it’s not going to win any prizes.  It’s nothing taxing – so if you fancy something like that, then it’s fine – but having just read some amazing books, it all felt a bit flat and done before.  I’m just glad I didn’t pay full price for it!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

the hunting party

I’ve read, and enjoyed, books by Lucy Foley before – so when I saw someone raving about this new one on Twitter, I hopped on to Netgalley to try and nab an advanced review copy – but couldn’t find it.  I shared my despondency on Twitter, and the lovely Lucy Foley herself sent me a link to it on Netgalley where I could download it.

The previous books by Ms Foley that I’ve read have been fabulous epic novels straddling eras and continents – but this was a departure, her first crime / thriller book.  I have to say, I had high expectations.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“A shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.
All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.
During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands–the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.
They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.
Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.
The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.
Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.
Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?”

I loved it from the start!  It flicks between who is narrating – sometimes it’s one of the female guests or the female staff member (in the first person) or one of the male members of staff (the only one in the third person) – and it also flicks between before and after the murder.  This jumping around keeps you on your toes and builds the suspense brilliantly.  There are clues throughout as to who the victim is – but it’s not actually revealed until near the very end – which really does keep you guessing.  It also meant I couldn’t put it down and read far too late into the night!

As with Ms Foley’s previous books, the descriptions of the geographical landscapes are incredible and stunningly atmospheric – you really feel like you’re snowed in somewhere in the Highlands too.

The group of friends, who have mostly known each other since being at Oxford Uni together – apart from relative newcomer Emma – aren’t that nice!  There wasn’t a single one that I was rooting for particularly – but that didn’t lessen my interest in the book. There are lots of underlying tensions – between partners and between friends – which means any of them could be victim or murderer, and there are other people in the frame as well.  The staff seem to have hidden pasts for various reasons, and there are a couple of Scandi’s thrown in for good measure – only adding to the intrigue. It’s like a modern day Agatha Christie and would make a perfect Sunday night drama on TV – or even feature film.

Yet again I like the cleverness and intricacy of the plot, and feel like a lot of thought has gone into writing it both in the structure, content and use of language.  Ms Foley is a very talented writer indeed. In a world of ‘disposable’ fiction, this feels like a book that will stand the test of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama

becoming

“In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America – the first African-American to serve in that role – she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it – in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations – and whose story inspires us to do the same.”

It would appear that I – along with a large proportion of the UK and US based on the book charts – read Becoming by Michelle Obama over the festive period!

I have to say I really enjoyed it.  From her early years in Chicago (which I visited some years ago – so I could picture some of the settings), through her own career, her relationship with Barack, becoming a Mum – and then, what she is most famous for, becoming First Lady.  And not just any First Lady – but the first African American First Lady and all of the extra scrutiny and pressures that came with that.

It was interesting to see how Michelle’s early years and upbringing affected all of her decisions as she got older.  Her love for her family shines out of the pages.  I hadn’t realised that her mother had relocated to the White House with them and was such a help when the Obama girls were growing up as part of the First Family.

As a working Mum, I also appreciated the fact that the similar ‘working Mum guilt’ affects even the most famous people in the world!!

The parts in the UK – or UK related – are also really interesting – and Michelle’s connection with the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in London is discussed a couple of times – along with her meeting of our Queen Elizabeth too.  The famous Carpool Karaoke with James Corden is also featured – she (Mrs Obama, not the Queen) seemed such a natural doing that – I hadn’t even considered she’d spent time practising!

Seeing it all written down makes you appreciate how much change the Obamas brought to the White House and Government as a whole – making everywhere a lot less old, white and male – and also how the appointment of the 45th president of the US has reversed lots of that………..

I quite often beg and borrow (I haven’t quite resorted to stealing yet!) books – but I actually paid for this with my own hard earned cash, as I was keen to read it – and I’m glad I did.  The book finishes when the Obamas handed over the presidency to the Trumps, and I look forward to a sequel in the future to find out what Michelle’s life was like post the White House……..

 

 

 

 

Book Review: You Let Me In by Lucy Clarke

You Let Me In.jpg

 

“Nothing has felt right since Elle rented out her house . . .
I’M IN YOUR HOUSE
There’s a new coldness. A shift in the atmosphere. The prickling feeling that someone is watching her every move from the shadows.
I’M IN YOUR HEAD
Maybe it’s all in Elle’s mind? She’s a writer – her imagination, after all, is her strength. And yet every threat seems personal. As if someone has discovered the secrets that keep her awake at night.
AND NOW I KNOW YOUR SECRET
As fear and paranoia close in, Elle’s own home becomes a prison. Someone is unlocking her past – and she’s given them the key…”

A friend recommended this in our reading group – and I needed an easy read, and it was only 99p for Kindle – so I downloaded it and devoured it really quickly!

It’s written in 3 different ways – from Elle’s point of view now, in the 3rd person looking at Elle historically, and through the eyes of the person in the house. This keeps it twisting and turning.

A few times you have to suspend belief as the coincidences are just too great – but it doesn’t completely ruin the book.

I have to say I found Elle quite annoying as a main character – and was shouting ‘change the locks’ at her way before she actually did.  There wasn’t really any character I particularly liked – but it still kept me wanting to read to find out what happened.

Overall an easy read that keeps you guessing and wanting to read on.

I’m not sure where this will fit – if anywhere – in my 2018 Reading Challenge – but with only a week to go, and loads of categories unfulfilled – I don’t think that’s the end of the world!!