Book Review: Bournville by Jonathan Coe

When I read the blurb for this new Jonathan Coe book – I was very excited to request a copy from NetGalley. Here it is – to see if it entices you too:

“In Bournville, a placid suburb of Birmingham, sits a famous chocolate factory. For eleven-year-old Mary and her family in 1945, it’s the centre of the world. The reason their streets smell faintly of chocolate, the place where most of their friends and neighbours have worked for decades. Mary will go on to live through the Coronation and the World Cup final, royal weddings and royal funerals, Brexit and Covid-19. She’ll have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Parts of the chocolate factory will be transformed into a theme park, as modern life and the city crowd in on their peaceful enclave.
As we travel through seventy-five years of social change, from James Bond to Princess Diana, and from wartime nostalgia to the World Wide Web, one pressing question starts to emerge: will these changing times bring Mary’s family – and their country – closer together, or leave them more adrift and divided than ever before?
Bournville is a rich and poignant new novel from the bestselling, Costa award-winning author of Middle England. It is the story of a woman, of a nation’s love affair with chocolate, of Britain itself.”

I have lived within a few miles of Bournville all of my life and equally my parents and grandparents have also lived nearby – so it felt very ‘close to home’ literally as well as figuratively. The generations of the family in this story are about 1/2 a generation out from mine – but still incredibly relevant.

The book starts in Vienna in March 2020 – just as the world is about to go mad as Covid 19 hits. It then goes back in time to VE day in 1945 as Mary Lamb is a small child celebrating the end of the war with her family.

The book then uses huge events that are happening as key chapters in the book – it reminded me a bit of a historic blog post I did about remembering where you were when specific key events in the world happened. Also, the fact that lots of these events involve the Royal Family made it even more poignant given the fact that the Queen recently died.

This is a swooping family drama – and I’ve read some reviews complaining that nothing really happens – but it is the story of a family life – and thankfully my own family life doesn’t involve many murders or mysteries either!

For me the local backdrop was lovely – not only was Bournville unsurprisingly a key geographical location – I got even more excited as characters moved initially to the Lickey Hills – and then Barnt Green, which is the next village to us! Just like in the book – when we first moved to the village we found that lots of people worked at either The Austin (subsequently The Rover) or Cadburys – both of which loom large during the book.

I have to say that I had realised that Cadbury’s chocolate didn’t taste the same overseas – but I wasn’t fully up to speed with the politics of chocolate – particularly across Europe – so was educated on that by the book.

The book circles back to during the pandemic – and it is incredibly moving (even more so when I realised that some of it was based upon real life experiences of the author and his family during the covid 19 situation).

The book has some ‘Easter Eggs’ in it from the authors other novels – and a couple of names were familiar – but it’s a long time since I watched ‘The Rotters Club’ on TV back in 2005.

Now I probably would have bought this book for lots of my relatives – especially my Great Aunt who lives in Bournville – however there is quite an explicit sex scene, and it just feels really out of sorts with the rest of the book – and I’d be uncomfortable knowing she was reading it!

Overall, as a proud Brummie – and South Brummie at that – I really enjoyed the book and all of the local history entwined with British history of the last 75 years. It also makes you realise that what we’ve all been through with the pandemic will soon be history taught to kids in schools.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC.

Book Review: How To Live When You Could Be Dead by Deborah James

I pre ordered this book when Deborah James was talking about it in the Spring. Like many people, I had been so impressed with how she had dealt with her bowel cancer diagnosis and used it to raise awareness of the disease initially on social media as Bowelbabe – but then on mainstream media too. I wanted to show Deborah, in some small way, my support – so pre ordered the book, wore the Rebellious Hope T-shirt – and ‘bought her a drink’ on her JustGiving fundraising site.

This is what Deborah (or Dame Deborah James as she became) wrote for the blurb of her book:

I was alive when I should have been dead. In another movie, I missed the sliding door and departed this wondrous life long ago. Like so many others, I had to learn to live not knowing if I have a tomorrow, because, statistically, I didn’t. At the age of 35, I was blindsided by incurable bowel cancer – I was given less than an 8 per cent chance of surviving five years. Five years later, my only option was to live in the now and to value one day at a time.
How do you turn your mind from a negative spiral into realistic and rebellious hope? How do you stop focusing on the why and realise that ‘why not me’ is just as valid a question?
When Deborah James was diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer at just 35, she learned a powerful lesson: the way we respond to any given situation empowers or destroys us. And with the right skills and approach, we can all face huge challenges and find strength and hope in the darkest of places.
How to Live When You Could Be Dead will show you how. It will awaken you to question your life as if you didn’t have a tomorrow and live it in the way you want to today. By harnessing the power of positivity and valuing each day as though it could be your last, you’ll find out, as Deborah did, that it is possible to live with joy and purpose, no matter what.”

The book starts with a Foreword written by Gaby Roslin, who had become a friend of Deborah’s in recent years – and this was really moving. As was the subsequent author’s note where Deborah admits she probably won’t be around to see the book being published, which she sadly wasn’t. So I’d cried before the book had started properly – and continued to during the book at times. However it most definitely is not a doom and gloom book – it’s about grabbing life and enjoying the time you have.

I think like most ‘self help’ books, it’s not rocket science and doesn’t contain any advice that would come as a huge shock – but it’s good to take time out of hectic lives to actually think about that – and think about small steps you can take to make your life happier and more fulfilled every day.

Chapters include topics such as hope (rebellious of course!), living for today, having something to aim for, the healing power of laughter – and lots more. All are covered in Deborah’s matter of fact but also fun way – with personal stories interwoven with professional research and advice and relevant quotes.

There’s a great resources list at the end of the book too (Deborah was an educator by trade – and that is evident).

I really enjoyed the book from start to finish – and I defy ANYONE not to cry when reading the final chapter entitled ‘final word’. I am sure the book will be cherished by Deborah’s family – especially her children Hugo and Eloise – as they grow up. And I really hope Eloise will have the Dame Deborah James roses in her wedding bouquet some day.

Book Review: Darling by India Knight

A razor-sharp, laugh-out-loud novel that re-imagines the cast of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love.
Marooned in a sprawling farmhouse in Norfolk, teenage Linda Radlett feels herself destined for greater things. She longs for love, but how will she ever find it? She can’t even get a signal on her mobile phone. Linda’s strict, former rock star father terrifies any potential suitors away, while her bohemian mother, wafting around in silver jewellery, answers Linda’s urgent questions about love with upsettingly vivid allusions to animal husbandry.
Eventually Linda does find her way out from the bosom of her deeply eccentric extended family, and she escapes to London. She knows she doesn’t want to marry ‘a man who looks like a pudding’, as her good and dull sister Louisa has done, and marries the flashy, handsome son of a UKIP peer instead. 
But this is only the beginning of Linda’s pursuit of love, a journey that will be wilder, more surprising and more complicated than she could ever have imagined.”

OK – so I need to hold my hands up first and say I’ve never read ‘The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford – so whilst this is a retelling – it was a brand new story / set of characters for me – but as a fan of India Knight’s writing I requested an ARC from NetGalley.

The book is narrated by Frances, a cousin of the Radlett siblings, who has been sent to live with her Aunt Sadie and Uncle Matthew by her flaky mother. Matthew is a retired rockstar, Sadie is his earth mother wife – and they home school their children – and Franny.

The characters are all brilliantly written – with Uncle Matthew my favourite, with some amazing one liners – and lists of things he hates. I’ve just re read one of the lists now – and have laughed out loud as I type (in a coffee shop in Worcester whilst waiting to collect my kids from private school, and ironically one of the things on this list is ‘overconfident public schoolgirls with loud voices’) Another favourite is ‘wellness, (why should I take advice from posh girls with eating disorders?’ But I will stop listing them now, as you really need to read them in their wonderfully written rant mode to fully appreciate them!!

The book starts with the kids growing up in rural Norfolk – with the occasional trip to Cromer for the children’s excitement. Their homeschooling means they know incredibly random things – but not your standard three Rs. They also have their own codes, words, abbreviations – which as a mother of 4, and with our own family ‘things’, I totally understand.

The book then follows all of the family – but primarily Linda on her pursuit of love, taking in London and Paris as well as Norfolk. Each of the locations is written about and described really well and you feel like you’re there.

There is an eclectic supporting cast who are excellently described – Davey and his gut health being very informative!

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the book – it was clever, witty, funny and an escapist read. I just can’t comment on how it is as a retelling!

It’s out later in October 2022. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC.

Book Review: The Cruise by Catherine Cooper

I have thoroughly enjoyed Catherine Cooper’s previous two books and so was excited to be sent an advance review copy of her new book – still at C in the alphabet, this time The Cruise! Here’s the blurb:

A glamorous ship
During a New Year’s Eve party on a large, luxurious cruise ship in the Caribbean, the ship’s dancer, Lola, goes missing.
Everyone on board has something to hide
Two weeks later, the ship is out of service, laid up far from land with no more than a skeleton crew on board. And then more people start disappearing…
No one is safe
Why are the crew being harmed? Who is responsible? And who will be next?”

The book starts off on a luxury cruise ship in the Caribbean – so far so swanky. Then it flips to a remote Scottish location – and I have to admit I must have read it after wine / when really tired – as when I opened my Kindle the next day to continue reading I was completely confused as to where the cruise ship was and what had happened – and wondered if I’d opened a totally different book! After a bit of ‘rewinding’ (not sure what the technical term is?!) I worked out what had happened. At first read these two storylines appear completely unrelated – but you know from previous Catherine Cooper books that it’s not going to stay that way! Having been caught completely off guard with her previous books’ twists and turns I was much more alert this time (well, when sober / awake enough, clearly!).

On the cruise ship, one of the dancers, Lola has gone missing – and her dance partner Antonio is distraught. A guest thought she saw someone fall overboard during the New Year’s Eve celebrations – and it’s assumed that Lola has taken her own life. But then other crew members start dying…

The cruise ship setting is described really well and you got a real feel for the boat – however as it’s basically moored up for maintenance work, the setting of the Caribbean isn’t really explored at all.

The geographical location of Laura and her father in Scotland is the other initial setting – and again, you get a real feel for the oppressive and reclusive setting he enforces they live in.

The storylines eventually intertwine – but I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers!

I loved the fact that the book tied up all of the loose ends – even if some seemed a *little* far fetched – but that often happens in ‘whodunnits’ I guess.

The book has an incredibly similar vibe to Catherine Cooper’s previous novels – but why mess with a format that has worked so well. And even though I was on my toes looking for clues throughout – and did pick up on some – I most definitely didn’t guess the whole storyline. Enough to be smug – but without being bored – perfect!

The Cruise is out later this month on Kindle, and early next month as a hardback.

A big thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for my ARC.

Book Review: Cat Lady by Dawn O’Porter

I have loved Dawn’s previous writing – fiction and non fiction – and would consider myself a fan, following her on Instagram and subscribing to her Patreon page. So when I saw she had a new book out, I jumped at the chance to review it – and Net Galley sent me an advance review copy.

Here’s the blurb:

Single, independent, crazy, aloof, on-the-shelf, lives alone . . .
It’s safer for Mia to play the part that people expect. She’s a good wife to her husband Tristan, a doting stepmother, she slips on her suit for work each morning like a new skin.
But beneath the surface, there’s another woman just clawing to get out . . .
When a shocking event shatters the conventional life she’s been so careful to build, Mia is faced with a choice. Does she live for a society that’s all too quick to judge, or does she live for herself?
And if that’s as an independent woman with a cat, then the world better get ready . . .
Fresh, funny and for anyone who’s ever felt astray, CAT LADY will help you belong – because a woman always lands on her feet.

Now I have to say that I got off on the wrong foot with this book for a couple of reasons.

Firstly – I am allergic to cats. It’s not that I don’t like them – but I can’t go near them without feeling really poorly. There is a paragraph basically dissing anyone who doesn’t adore cats – so I was immediately defensive.

Secondly – very early in the book it is ‘Mother’s Day’ – but Mia is going to work and her stepson to school – which clearly doesn’t happen on Mothering Sunday in the UK where the book is set. I did give Dawn the benefit of the doubt as I know she lives in the US and I wasn’t sure if Mother’s Day could be on a weekday over there – but having checked, seemingly not. Therefore this is just a straight error. It seemed really odd that neither the author or editor would have picked up on this? It’s not 100% fundamental to the story, it could easily have been tweaked to still fit in the plot lines without it having to be changed. I initially thought I was being petty – but it would appear many other ARC readers on Net Galley felt the same!

So – a few pages in and I didn’t have high hopes – however, I did get more into the book as it went on and so am not going to be totally negative about it I promise!

Mia is clearly struggling in many aspects of her life – and all of them seem quite compartmentalised – her role as wife and step mother at home (although she doesn’t share a bedroom with her husband, as she prefers to sleep with her cat ‘Pigeon’), her work – where she loathes her ‘boss’ and appears to dislike most of her staff, her relationship with her sister (and non existent relationship with her brother in law), and her attendance at a pet bereavement group – despite Pigeon being alive and well.

I have to say I didn’t particularly like any of the characters – so I wasn’t Team Mia – but equally wasn’t Team Anyone Else. I would also say the overwhelming feeling for me wasn’t ‘fresh, funny’ but actually probably ‘unusual, sad’.

The story skips along – and has the standard SHOCK moment that I’ve come to expect from Dawn’s fiction books.

The second half of the book I found quite odd. Like chapters had been written at completely separate times and didn’t really link properly. It was just a bit weird and I felt didn’t flow.

As well as the whole Mother’s Day debacle, there are loads of homophone errors throughout the book that hopefully will be picked up before printing.

I didn’t hate the book – and wanted to keep reading to see what happened – but it’s definitely not my favourite Dawn O’Porter book and I guess I had high hopes. It’s out in October 2022 if you’re interested in ordering it.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.

Book Review: Ten Years by Pernille Hughes

Becca and Charlie have known each other since university.
Becca and Charlies have also hated each other since university.

Until now. Until Ally’s bucket list. The death of their loved one should mean they can go their separate ways and not look back. But completing the list is something neither of them can walk away from.
And sometimes, those who bring out the worst in you, also bring out the very best…
Over the course of ten years, Becca and Charlie’s paths collide as they deal with grief, love and life after Ally.
Not since Emma and Dex in One Day and Will and Lou in Me Before You will you root for a couple as much.

The book starts with Ally dying and her fiancé Charlie, and best friend Becca, being completely devastated. They clearly don’t like each other – and both envisage never seeing each other again after her funeral.

However Ally – assisted by her Mum – had other plans! Ally has a bucket list of things she wanted to do – and she has tasked Becca and Charlie with doing these things. Their love for Ally – despite their loathing of each other – means they agree to do the tasks around the anniversary of Ally’s death.

I have to say, you can probably guess how this is going to end after the decade of tasks – but it isn’t a straightforward rom com. There are plenty of twists and turns along the way – both in what is happening in the present day – but also in unravelling the past too.

The tasks are all different – so give lots of varied settings for the plot to develop.

Whilst Becca and Charlie both have their character flaws – fundamentally you are rooting for them both.

I really enjoyed this book – and devoured it really quickly – and would definitely recommend it.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Retreat by Sarah Pearse

I was offered an advance review copy of The Retreat by NetGalley – and having really enjoyed her previous book, The Sanatorium, I jumped at the chance. I hadn’t realised at that point that it’s the next book in a series featuring DS Elin Warner – so that was a surprise when I started reading.

For those of you who actually read the blurb before picking up a book, here it is:

This is a warning for all our guests at the wellness retreat.
A woman’s body has been found at the bottom of the cliff beneath the yoga pavilion.
We believe her death was a tragic accident, though DS Elin Warner has arrived on the island to investigate.
A storm has been forecast, but do not panic. Stick together and please ignore any rumours you might have heard about the island and its history.
As soon as the weather clears, we will arrange boats to take you back to the mainland.
In the meantime, we hope you enjoy your stay.

As the book starts it is very reminiscent of Sarah Pearse’s previous book – lots of middle class people in a holiday environment, and again there were a lot of names and connections to juggle in your head – but you can’t blame the author for sticking to a format that worked so well with her debut novel which was a Sunday Times best seller!

There is a family and their other halves on holiday at a wellness retreat which is set on an island off the coast of Devon. The island has had a chequered past – but the recently opened wellness retreat is supposed to give it a new lease of life – and has been designed by Elin’s partner – and his sister is the manager. As with The Sanatorium, you kind of have to suspend your disbelief at co-incidences – of which there are very many!

The family have their own history and relationships which all appear quite fractured – I have to say I didn’t particularly like any of them and wasn’t rooting for one person in particular. However the shared dislike didn’t detract from enjoyment of the book.

Overall it twists and turns and is an enjoyable read. Whilst it would stand alone – I would suggest reading the author’s debut novel would mean you understand Elin’s back story a bit better.

The Retreat was published late July 2022 – so if you like the sound of it you can read it right now.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.

Book Review: One In A Million by Lindsey Kelk

This book has sat on my bedside table for what I thought was months – but upon further investigation was actually years! (I suspected when reading it that it might be – given it’s based around social media but is pre TikTok) However due to a Kindle with no charge, I started reading this one night – and enjoyed it so much it took priority over my Kindle book (which I eventually gave up on altogether). I follow Lindsey on Twitter – and I have a dim recollection she pointed out this was for sale on Amazon for 99p and I actually paid hard cash for it – which is very unlike me when I’m lucky enough to get lots of book freebies!!

Here’s the blurb:

“Everyone wants that special someone….
Annie Higgins has one goal this year: to get her tiny business off the ground. But – infuriated by the advertising agency across the hall making fun of her job – Annie is goaded into accepting their crazy challenge: to make a random stranger Instagram-famous in just thirty days.
And even when they choose Dr Samuel Page PhD, historian and hater of social media, as her target, Annie’s determined to win the bet – whether Sam likes it or not.
But getting to know Sam means getting to know more about herself. And before the thirty days are out, Annie has to make a decision about what’s really important…
Funny, real and heart-meltingly romantic, Annie and Sam’s story is My Fair Lady for the social media age – and the perfect feel-good read.”

I liked Annie from the start – she just seemed a ‘good egg’. The way she fitted into her work life with her work friends, and her family life with her sister and sister’s family – was lovely and completely believable. I particularly loved her relationship with her best friend and business partner Miranda.

The banter with the other people in her building was also really well written, modern and amusing.

There are some excellent twists and turns which make it even more of a page turner – and I loved the fact that it wasn’t a ‘simple’ romance.

A fabulous read – yet again Lindsey Kelk has written a great book. It’s made me want to explore her back catalogue even more. Although it’s also made me realise how quickly a contemporary book can be out of date – as Annie would be all over reels and Tik Tok now!

Book Review: Time After Time by Louise Pentland

I follow Louise on social media – so when I saw she had a new book coming out, I requested a copy from NetGalley. Having just given up on a ‘literary-type’ book as I just couldn’t get into it – I fancied what I suspected to be an easier read – and as this is out on 21 July 2022, it was perfect timing.

Here’s the blurb:

Sometimes you have to go back, to move forwards.
Tabby is stuck. She still lives in the small town she grew up in . . . the town she’s barely ever left.
So, when her dad drops a bombshell over their weekly Sunday dinner, Tabby takes a look at her own life. She lives firmly in her comfort zone and doesn’t know how to break out. Sometimes she wishes she could go back and start all over again.
When she meets Bea, a free spirit like no one else she’s ever known with an ‘interesting’ sense of style, Tabby quickly befriends her, recognising in Bea the change she’s been craving. But soon it becomes clear that more has changed than her new friend. Somehow Tabby has been transported back to the 1980s.
With the chance to reinvent herself in another time, will Tabby finally manage to move forward?

I enjoyed this from the start – liking Tabby as a ‘main character’. Her relationship with her parents, best friend (and best friend’s daughter) were all lovely – as was her developing friendship with her new mate Bea. Her crumbling relationship with her boyfriend was less good – but that was kind of the point. David was a dick!

The book runs through the two time lines – the present day, and back in the 1980s. I have to say I guessed some of the twists – but not all of them – so enough to feel smug but still entertained!

I felt like a secret squirrel for recognising that the shop that Tabby works in, ‘Pearls and Doodles’ – is what Louise calls her daughters in real life – gold star to me!! I also thought that Louise would have drawn on her own personal experiences to write some of the emotional scenes – but I can’t explain more without giving away plotlines – and I 100% won’t do that in a review.

The descriptions of the ‘vintage’ clothes – be that 80s or earlier – were great. Equally the night out chapter in the 80s was a reminiscent of my teenage nights out (albeit very early 90s for me!)

Overall it’s a lovely read – perfect for a sun lounger on holiday where you want to be entertained but not too mentally challenged whilst drinking cocktails at the same time.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my advance review copy.

Book Review: It Was Always You by Emma Cooper

Having very much enjoyed previous books by Emma Cooper, when I saw she had a new one coming out I requested a copy from NetGalley. I’d got my publication dates muddled and didn’t think it was out until September 2022 – but actually the Kindle edition was out on 1 June 2022 – so you can download it now if you like the sound of it!

Here’s the blurb:

“On the last night in October 1999 the clocks went back, and Ella and Will’s love began.
A teenage Ella sat around a bonfire drinking with her future husband and her oldest friend Cole.
As Ella wandered away from the group, she found herself leaning against a derelict
archway before passing out.
The next day, Ella remembered fractured images of a conversation with a woman
in a green coat and red scarf but dismissed it as a drunken dream.
Twenty-three years later, with her marriage to Will in trouble, and Cole spiralling out of
control, Ella opens a gift which turns her life upside down: a green coat and red scarf.
When she looks in the mirror, the woman from the archway is reflected back at her.
As the last Sunday in October arrives, Ella is faced with a choice.
Would she choose a different life, if she could do it again?

The book follows two timelines – ‘then’ in October 1999 and ‘now’ in 2022 (in a world with no Covid, as Emma explains before the book starts).

I adored this book! And devoured it super quickly (have just been a bit remiss in blogging about it – mostly because I don’t want to give away any spoilers!)

The title of the book means you know someone is going to declare undying love – but all the way through you’re not sure who it’s going to be – and if it’s going to be reciprocated.

As with other Emma Cooper books there is an element of mystery – with Ella being hypnotised in an attempt to unlock her memories of October 1999 to see what she could do, and if she could or indeed should, attempt to change history.

I don’t want to give any of the storyline away – especially the last chunk – but it’s totally worth reading!

Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.