Book Review: Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane

Now, I’d promised myself as it was the new year I needed to get on top of my NetGalley backlog – and I would read them strictly in publication date to make sure everything ran like clockwork. Then, I got sent the new Mhairi McFarlane – and as I ADORE her books, my 2021 plan went out of the window and I had to download this one immediately!

Here’s the blurb:

Two best friends.
One missed chance.
And a night that changes everything.
Eve, Justin, Susie and Ed have been friends since they were eighteen. Now in their 30s, the four are still as close as ever, Thursday pub quiz night is still sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed.
Maybe Eve should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed sometimes thinks about it too.
Then one night, in an instant, all their lives change forever. And, as Eve learns she didn’t know her friends as well as she thought, she also discovers she isn’t the only person keeping secrets…

I was not disappointed. I honestly think Mhairi’s books get better and better – I loved this one and stayed up until the early hours of this morning finishing it (which, when sleep is at a premium due to home schooling 4 kids and trying to keep a business and family afloat during a global pandemic, is praise in itself!). There is a love story element – will they / won’t they – and that’s about more than one couple – but it’s so much more than that. There’s grief / friendship / secrets / family estrangement / pubic hair to name but a few topics.

I was also very excited about one particular bit – which is somewhat niche. Susie works at Deloitte in Nottingham! Being Deloitte Birmingham alumni, I did frequent the Nottingham office a few times in the late 90s. It was on a complicated one way system and if you missed the car park (which clearly I did, and so is why I’m still scarred by it nearly a quarter of a century later) then you had to do a big loop around to try again. Anyway – as I said, somewhat niche – but I know a few of my Deloitte friends will also be excited by that.

Back to the book!

The book starts at the regular Thursday night pub quiz – where Eve, Justin, Susie and Ed are weekly attendees (even if they always lose to the chaps in cagoules!). Then something life changing happens. I don’t want to give away the plot as you need to experience it for yourself – but it wasn’t what I was expecting.

The rest of the book deals with the fallout of that one evening – with various secrets being uncovered as it twists and turns.

Whilst there are some really, really sad bits – they are dealt with with Mhairi’s trademark dark humour in an absolutely brilliant way – some of the one liners, particularly from Justin, are amazingly, awkwardly, awesome.

The majority of the book is set in Nottingham (and there is the obligatory Rock City reference) – but there are also trips to Edinburgh and Derbyshire – and the writing about each geographical area really makes you feel like you’re there with the characters. (I was quite excited that I’ve been for a wee and a drink – in that order – in the hotel the characters stay in when in the Scottish capital!)

I really think it is my favourite of all of Mhairi’s books (although I admit I do say that every time a new one comes out) but it is fantastic. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend pre ordering it for when it comes out in April 2021.

A MASSIVE thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC – and now on with my excessive TBR pile that I let this book leapfrog!

Book Review: People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd

I saw this book on a list of ‘ books to look out for in 2021’ by Emma Gannon on The Bookshop (coincidentally a great place to source books if you want the convenience of online shopping, but would to avoid ‘that’ retailer and support a local bookshop at the same time). So I asked NetGalley for an advanced review copy and my wish was granted #earlyChristmaspresenttome.

I hadn’t read the blurb once I’d seen that as well as Emma, the author Clare Mackintosh had also recommended it, and wondered on the context of the potentially homophonic sentence. Did ‘People Like Her’ mean ‘People Love Her’ or ‘People Similar To Her’. It would appear it could mean both, as here’s the blurb:

“People like Emmy Jackson. They always have. Especially online, where she is Instagram sensation Mamabare, famous for always telling the unvarnished truth about modern parenthood.
But Emmy isn’t as honest as she’d like the fans to believe. She may think she has her followers fooled, but someone out there knows the truth and plans to make her pay. Because people like her have no idea what pain careless words can cause. Because people like her need to learn what it feels like to lose everything.”

I also, then, checked out the author – and it’s a combined husband and wife writing team – which I thought could be very interesting.

When I had my first kids, Instagram wasn’t a thing at all (shocking, I know!) and in fact ‘Mummy blogs’ were only just a thing. I remember being super impressed when one of the school Mums in our village was featured in Red Magazine as one of these new fangled Mummy bloggers in probably 2008ish. In the subsequent decade those sharing an opinion – and making a living from this opinion – on parenting has ballooned – particularly on Instagram, and that is the whole premise of this book.

Emmy has contrived to be an InstaMum – with her posse of fellow InstaMums, selling their views on parenthood. Emmy brands herself as being ‘honest’ – but this is definitely for the Mamabare brand – and not what really goes on behind closed doors. Her husband, Dan, is an author – although his last published success was many years before – and so, whilst he doesn’t necessarily agree with all of Emmy’s actions, he also recognises that it pays the mortgage for them.

The book is told from the point of view of Emmy, Dan and a third person who is obsessed with Emmy and blames her for something awful. (I did wonder if the husband and wife author team wrote as Dan and Emmy respectively – and who wrote the third voice? Who knows!)

There are also other characters – Emmy and Dan’s children, Coco and Bear (such Instagram friendly names – you can imagine them up in lights already). Emmy’s mother – who has branded herself as an InstaGran (yep, there are loads!). Emmy’s best friend, then her agent, their new nanny, Emmy’s new PA and, of course, her ‘pod’ of fellow InstaMums. All of the characters are very different – and very well written – many could be someone you know (or someone you follow and feel like you know!).

I have to say that none of the main characters were particularly likeable – I thought I was Team Dan for a while – but not 100%! However this lack of likeability wasn’t an issue – and kind of drove the story forward.

There are some huge twists and turns, and some great red herrings – and there is a real pace to the book – I devoured it really quickly. It’s a thriller – but also a fabulous social commentary. It’s very clever, very well written and a great read.

I have a feeling it will be a little too close to the bone for some in the InstaMum community – but for mere mortals, is a great read. And I LOVED the epilogue and ending.

A massive thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my advance review copy – and I would highly recommend you pre order it for when it’s released in January 2021 – we all need something to look forward to. Let’s hope for more #yaydays than #greydays in 2021!! #injoke

Book Review: A Wedding In The Country by Katie Fforde

In these stressful times, a nice, gentle book can be called for – and this sounded like just that!
Here’s the blurb:

Lizzie has just arrived in London, determined to make the best of her new life.
Her mother may be keen that she should have a nice wedding in the country to a Suitable Man chosen by her. And Lizzie may be going to cookery school to help her become a Good Wife.
But she definitely wants to have some fun first.
It is 1963 and London is beginning to swing as Lizzie cuts her hair, buys a new dress with a fashionably short hemline, and moves in with two of her best friends, one of whom lives in a grand but rundown house in Belgravia which has plenty of room for a lodger.
Soon Lizzie’s life is so exciting that she has forgotten all about her mother’s marriage plans for her.
All she can think about is that the young man she is falling in love with appears to be engaged to someone else …

Lizzie (Elizabeth to her parents – I’m also an Elisabeth – but everyone apart from the doctor calls me Libby, including my parents!) is sent to London to a posh cookery school in her mother’s bid to make her attractive to a ‘suitable man’! However she also wants to enjoy the swinging sixties in the big smoke!

Lizzie soon makes friends – and moves in with them rather than her wayward Aunt Gina! And the shared house in Belgravia sounds great fun.

There is a real mix of classes – which causes some stresses – and reminded me of Downton fast forwarded a few decades!

There is one ‘sex scene’ which is fairly fundamental to the entire book – but it is done with incredibly good taste – and I’d be happy for my honorary Grandmother or teenage daughter to read it (although they’d probably both think it incredibly tame! The honorary Grandmother is registered blind and so sometimes has audiobooks. She listened to ’50 Shades of Grey’ as it helped her go to sleep!!)

The story twists and turns and made me want to keep reading – in a gentle Sunday night drama kind of way. It was inoffensive and well told.

A lovely, easy read – sometimes EXACTLY what is required.

Many thanks to the published and NetGalley for my ARC. It’s out in February 2021 if you want to pre order.

Book Review: Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker

Glamorous, beautiful Mummy has everything a woman could want. Except for a daughter of her very own. So when she sees Kim – heavily pregnant, glued to her phone and ignoring her eldest child in a busy shop – she does what anyone would do. She takes her. But foul-mouthed little Tonya is not the daughter that Mummy was hoping for.
As Tonya fiercely resists Mummy’s attempts to make her into the perfect child, Kim is demonised by the media as a ‘scummy mummy’, who deserves to have her other children taken too. Haunted by memories of her own childhood and refusing to play by the media’s rules, Kim begins to spiral, turning on those who love her.
Though they are worlds apart, Mummy and Kim have more in common than they could possibly imagine. But it is five-year-old Tonya who is caught in the middle…

I saw this book on NetGalley and it really appealed – so I requested an advance review copy, and was lucky enough to be sent one. Do not worry, though, there are no spoilers in this review!

The book is told primarily from ‘Mummy’ and Kim’s points of view – with an occasional input from Tonya or one of the other characters, or social media. The sections tend to be short – and this keeps up a real pace to the book. There don’t appear to be formal chapters either (although I was reading an advanced copy on my Kindle – so not entirely sure how different the final format would be – or if it was a printed copy).

Initially the ‘Mums’ appear very different – Kim is from a rough neighbourhood, has a drug filled past and is branded a ‘scummy mummy’ by the press – whereas ‘Mummy’ clearly has cash, Ocado deliveries, lives in a fancy house, albeit with no family or friends. However it soon becomes apparent that they both have mental health issues, and have had comparable abusive childhoods, and are perhaps more similar than they would think if you look beneath the surface.

I have to say some of the comparison reminded me of how differently the Ben Needham and Madeleine McCann missing children cases were treated in the media based upon social class. Anyway, back to the book!

The book twists and turns – and you’re really unsure how it’s going to end up. ‘Mummy’ has not got the perfect daughter she expected – and Kim’s life is completely falling apart. Whilst I’m lucky never to have had trouble conceiving, I felt this part was explored well by ‘Mummy’ (and is apparently the author’s experience too) but equally the juggling of multiple small children was also true to life.

I really liked Kim’s relationship with her friend Ayesha – it felt really ‘real’. Equally her relationship with her partner Steve was also perfectly written, if not the perfect relationship!

Whilst the storyline for half of the characters seems ‘closed’ – the very final segment definitely left it open for a sequel, and there was one massive (and massively smelly) loose end that would need tidying up which would prove very interesting!!

One other lovely thing is that 10% of the royalties for the book are going to the children’s charity Action for Children – to help children like Tonya in the future.

Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for my ARC – and I’d definitely recommend this when it comes out in February 2021.

Book Review: Older and Wider: A Survivor’s Guide To The Menopause by Jenny Eclair

‘If you’re after an in-depth medical or psychological insight into the menopause, I’m afraid you’ve opened the wrong book – I’m not a doctor . . . However, I am a woman and I do know how it feels to be menopausal, so this book is written from experience and the heart and I hope it makes you laugh and feel better.’ JE
Older and Wider is Jenny Eclair’s hilarious, irreverent and refreshingly honest compendium of the menopause. From C for Carb-loading and G for Getting Your Shit Together to I for Invisibility and V for Vaginas, Jenny’s whistle-stop tour of the menopause in all its glory will make you realise that it really isn’t just you. Jenny will share the surprising lessons she has learnt along the way as well as her hard-won tips on the joy of cardigans, dealing with the empty nest (get a lodger) and keeping the lid on the pressure cooker of your temper (count to twenty, ten is never enough).
As Jenny says, ‘I can’t say that I’ve emerged like a beautiful butterfly from some hideous old menopausal chrysalis and it would be a lie to say that I’ve found the ‘old me’ again. But what I have found is the ‘new me’ – and you know what? I’m completely cool with that.’

At 46 I’m definitely in the peri menopausal camp (who even knew that was a thing until recently??) and so bought this book with interest of what is around the corner!

As you would expect with Jenny Eclair it is witty and laugh out loud funny at times – but also quite informative (in a non medical way).

Some of it is very relevant to me already – and some I can look forward to! Thank goodness periods are no longer an issue (honestly, my endometrial ablation was the best thing ever – and I’d highly recommend it if your child-bearing is over and you’re suffering with super heavy periods). But I can definitely agree with the leg dandruff problem!!

I think it’s great that people talk about the menopause more openly now – it’s something that 50% of the population will be personally affected by (and a large proportion of their partners will also be affected too!), so we shouldn’t be squeamish about it! This is a great ice breaker book – and makes you feel that you’re not alone if you haven’t got friends to share the gory details with.

An easy, fun, interesting read.

Book Review: The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

I was lucky enough to get an advance review copy of this novel which is out in early 2021 – here’s the blurb:

EVERYONE’S IN DANGER. ANYONE COULD BE NEXT.
An imposing, isolated hotel, high up in the Swiss Alps, is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But she’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when she receives an invitation out of the blue to celebrate her estranged brother’s recent engagement, she has no choice but to accept.
Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. Though it’s beautiful, something about the hotel, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, makes her nervous – as does her brother, Isaac.
And when they wake the following morning to discover his fiancée Laure has vanished without a trace, Elin’s unease grows. With the storm cutting off access to and from the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.
But no-one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they’re all in . . .

The first chapter is weird and disturbing and you’re not really sure how it is going to fit into the story – but you know it’s going to be creepy!

Then Elin’s story starts. She and her boyfriend Will are off to Switzerland to a fancy new hotel that used to be a TB sanatorium where Elin’s long time estranged brother Isaac and his fiancee Laure (who works at the hotel) are celebrating their engagement. It’s clear Elin has suffered a recent trauma as a police detective at work and is off on leave – but also has historic trauma from when hers and Isaac’s younger brother Sam died as a child.

I thought the descriptions of the swanky hotel were great – and I could really imagine it being quite creepy with displays of the old medical instruments as pieces of art.

When the weather turned and a storm set in, it felt quite reminiscent of Lucy Foley’s book The Hunting Party, where everyone is trapped in one place by the weather conditions and you know something awful is going to happen!

Now there are a lot of characters – and at times I found myself getting confused as to whom everyone was and how they were connected – but that could just me by small brain struggling to cope!

There are historic murders, current murders, people missing, a collection of not very likeable characters – and it twists and turns so much you’re not sure who you are rooting for and who is a baddie!

The pace of the book kept me wanting to read more – so I romped through it quite quickly. Whilst it was a little confusing with so many characters involved, overall I really enjoyed the book.

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

Book Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

I don’t often pay good money for a book – having a massive TBR pile from NetGalley downloads and freebies – but a friend had raved about this in our last book club Zoom. Then I saw Matt Haig talking about it himself on the Sara Cox book club programme ‘Between The Covers’ on BBC2 – and it felt like fate was talking to me – so having enjoyed ‘Notes On A Nervous Planet‘ last year – I thought I’d give this a go and downloaded it to my Kindle.

Here’s the blurb:

Between life and death there is a library.
When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change.
The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren’t always what she imagined they’d be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger.
Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live?

Initially, in her root life, Nora reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant, in that she was quite a loaner, and a bit sad. Being compared to Eleanor is definitely not a bad thing though!

Then Nora arrives in the Midnight Library – a strange place between life and death where you can enter different books to see how your life might have been different if you’d made alternative decisions.

And thus we enter ‘Sliding Doors’ territory – with far less Gwyneth though!

Nora chooses books to go back and see how her life would have turned out differently if she’d made alternative decisions at various points, so she sees herself as a rockstar, an explorer, a mother, and many, many other guises too. Some of the chapters are quite convoluted – and others really short – and that keeps the momentum of the book.

Nora soon comes to realise, with the help of The Midnight Library custodian (who was actually her librarian at school when she suffered a trauma in her root life and showed her great kindness) that changing her own path has a knock on effect on those that she loves. There is death and destruction to others – when Nora is living a seemingly charmed life, and equally Nora’s own life has different problems in these parallel universes.

Equally the seemingly small, inconsequential, good deeds that Nora has done in her root life, in fact have dramatic consequences when she hasn’t done them.

This book is about the grass not always being greener, and about how small acts of everyday kindness can be incredibly valuable.

Another friend described The Midnight Library to me in a WhatsApp yesterday as ‘comforting like a hot water bottle’ which is just a perfect description – and it is real food for the soul in these tricky times.

This would make a perfect Christmas present for someone – or for yourself if you’re one of the seemingly few people who hasn’t read it yet.

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.