Book Review: Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

I am 45 years of age – but my parents still ask me for a Christmas list each year!  This year I asked for a new mixing bowl (so that our one plastic bowl didn’t have to double up as the family popcorn bowl and sick bowl #classy) and a copy of Adam Kay’s new festive book Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas (having loved his debut novel – This Is Going To Hurt).  The parentals came up trumps with a nest of mixing bowls (fancy!), this book – and some coasters and a bottle of gin #winningatChristmas

So here we go!  First – the blurb:

“A short gift book of festive hospital diaries from the author of million-copy bestseller This is Going to Hurt

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat . . . but 1.4 million NHS staff are heading off to work. In this perfect present for anyone who has ever set foot in a hospital, Adam Kay delves back into his diaries for a hilarious, horrifying and sometimes heartbreaking peek behind the blue curtain at Christmastime.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas is a love letter to all those who spend their festive season on the front line, removing babies and baubles from the various places they get stuck, at the most wonderful time of the year.”

 

Twas the nightshift

I’ve read this in one sitting this evening whilst enjoying a festive break to Centerparcs (and thus far with no need for medical intervention – although there is still time in the next 36 hours).

This book is FABULOUS.  Totally in the same vein (pun intended) as Adam’s (I’m calling him by his first name as he didn’t make it to consultant rank?! #relevantjoke #Gerry) first book – and just as great.

There is – as expected – the slightly gross descriptions (candy cane as a dildo anyone?!) and language – but that just makes it more enjoyable.

There are definitely some LOL moments – and I read a few sections to my husband whilst giggling ridiculously!

There is one deeply moving section of a few pages – with a message beforehand so people can skip it if they think it could be triggering – which really makes you think how medical professionals – who HAVE  to make themselves immune to most things to simply function – would be emotionally traumatised by events they have to be a major part of.  Massive respect to them.

So this blog post is also a thank you to all of the NHS staff working this festive season – and to everyone else who has to buckle up and get on with work at antisocial times with the elderly, infirm and mentally ill (my niece and nephew at a care home and Wetherspoons respectively)

 

 

Book Review: The 24 Hour Cafe by Libby Page

As part of a reading challenge I had to read a book written by someone with the same name as me – and I LOVED The Lido by Libby Page.  So when I saw her next book was out – I asked for an advanced review copy from Netgalley and was granted my wish, in exchange for a review – so here is my review!

The 24 Hour Cafe

First of all, the blurb:

“Welcome to the café that never sleeps. Day and night Stella’s Café opens its doors for the lonely and the lost, the morning people and the night owls. It is many things to many people but most of all it is a place where life can wait at the door. A place of small kindnesses. A place where anyone can be whoever they want, where everyone is always welcome.

Meet Hannah and Mona: best friends, waitresses, dreamers. They work at Stella’s but they dream of more, of leaving the café behind and making their own way in life.

Come inside and spend twenty-four hours at Stella’s Café; a day when Hannah and Mona’s futures will be changed and their friendship tested. Today is just the start, but it is also marks a conclusion. Because all beginnings are also endings. And all endings can also be beginnings…”

Initially I wondered how this was going to work – as it appeared to be a chapter per hour that the 24 cafe was open.  There was only so much making coffee and wiping tables that would be interesting – but I need not have worried!  Although that is the premise of the chapters – there are lots of flashbacks to historical events that help shape the current position of the protagonists.

The main characters narrating the chapters are Hannah and Mona – friends and colleagues – and you learn about how they met and their back story as the 24 hour progresses. This is interwoven with the lives of the customers to the cafe – who are wide ranging.

Just as with The Lido, Ms Page has a brilliant way of writing about normal life and making it interesting and endearing.  I found that with most of the characters I was immediately invested in their futures.

I have to say I though Hannah should have had a bit of a slap on numerous occasions by Mona – deffing out your girlfriends for a bloke is such a shortsighted thing to do – but it is incredibly well written and believable.

The descriptions of the café itself are excellent – and you really feel like you’ve been and sat in one of its booths. If I ever walk out of Liverpool St Station I’ll be looking around for Stella’s!

All of the customers are interesting, and the interactions between them and the staff members are written beautifully – and I absolutely LOVED that the final chapter is a year down the road and you find out what has happened / is happening to loads of them.  I also love the fact it isn’t all hearts and flowers and happy endings dished out to everyone – it is real, and true, and what actually happens to people IRL.

This is a fabulous, escapist read – with no violence, graphic sex, bad language (I don’t think – although I guess it’s all relative..) – just a really lovely book.  I would highly recommend you buy it when it comes out in January 2020.

Book Review: Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain

Dirty Little Secrets

I am part of a book club which is mostly on Facebook.  A subset of us occasionally meet up IRL – but mostly we just share books we’ve read online.  Now a large number of groupies had read this book – to the point that I had total FOMO and had to purchase it, even without reading the blurb, as I trust their judgement on books!

But for you – here is the blurb:

“Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.
In the exclusive gated community of Withered Vale, people’s lives appear as perfect as their beautifully manicured lawns. Money, success, privilege – the residents have it all. Life is good.
There’s just one problem.
Olive Collins’ dead body has been rotting inside number four for the last three months. Her neighbours say they’re shocked at the discovery but nobody thought to check on her when she vanished from sight.
The police start to ask questions and the seemingly flawless facade begins to crack. Because, when it comes to Olive’s neighbours, it seems each of them has something to hide, something to lose and everything to gain from her death.”

It is a great book – and, as expected, I did really enjoy it!

Each chapter is told from the perspective of either Olive or a different person who lives in the gated community or one of the 2 police officers investigating the case.  It twists and turns and you can quite believe that any of the residents were responsible for Olive’s demise.  There are lots of ‘dirty little secrets’ out there!  The residents are all very different with their own issues and all are written really well – even if none of them are particularly likeable!

However, Olive is definitely not likeable – although I did feel sorry for her at times.

I really liked the relationship between the 2 detectives as well.  The older bloke nearing retirement – and the up and coming younger female cop – who clearly had secrets in her past too.

The pace builds and builds and kept me keen to read on to find out what had happened.

Overall a good read – and I’d definitely look at books by this author again.  As with most recommendations from the book club – a winner!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List

I have really enjoyed Lucy Foley’s previous work – both her epic historic novels (The Invitation and The Book of Lost and Found), and her last one, which was a crime thriller called The Hunting Party. So when I saw she had a new one out I’m not embarrassed to admit I kind of begged on Twitter for an ARC – and the publisher and Netgalley were kind enough to grant my wish!

Here is the blurb:

“On a remote island, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater.

Old friends.
Past grudges.

Happy families.
Hidden jealousies.

Thirteen guests.
One body.

The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.
All have a secret. All have a motive.
One guest won’t leave this wedding alive . . .”

From the outset this book had a feel of The Hunting Party – both in terms of content (middle class people in a remote destination) and style (each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view – and it flicks between time periods, so some of it is in the build up to the wedding, and some is from when the body is found).  But it is just as brilliant as Ms Foley’s previous book – so why mess with a format that was a best seller!?

This time the setting is a remote island off the Irish coast which is allegedly haunted – and as with all of the author’s previous work – the geographical descriptions are wonderful, along with the wild weather and both really evoke the feeling of being there.

There are huge twists and turns – and you’re never quite sure who you should be rooting for.  For a long time any of the characters could have been the victim or the killer!  I have to say that Hannah (who was the plus one of the bride’s male BFF) was my favourite character – possibly because she was a mother off the Mum leash for the wedding – something I can totally empathise with – and I also suffer horribly with sea sickness!

Some of the coincidences are a little far fetched – but I guess that often happens in whodunnits like this – and it didn’t spoil the book for me at all.

The chapters build in pace, seemingly getting faster and faster (although perhaps that was just my excited reading?!) – and very cleverly, the final line of a few of the chapters near the end is the same. So smart.

I don’t want to give any spoilers on the victim or the murderer – but it’s good!

As with all of Lucy Foley’s books it’s incredibly well written in terms of language, but also in terms of plot intricacies too, which I really enjoy – I don’t like being spoonfed a storyline.  Well done to Ms Foley – and I suspect a fabulous editor – on ensuring no plot holes in something so complex.

I suspect this will be a big hit on the 2020 bestsellers list – so get in early and pre order a copy now ready for its release!

 

 

Book Review: The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me by Lucy Robinson

The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me

My friend Sally (co-incidentally the name of the main character in the book but not the same person!) recommended this very highly, and it had sat on my Kindle for ages – but I finally started reading it a few days ago – and devoured it super quickly (which is always a sign of a good book!)

Here’s the blurb:

“Sally is an incredible singer, but nobody has ever heard her. The thought of singing in public fills her with dread.

But then something happens one summer which changes everything.

No longer able to hide in the shadows, Sally must return home to London to fulfil a promise she cannot break – to share her voice.

But just when she’s ready to start her new life, a beautiful man turns up on Sally’s doorstep with a sheepish smile and a mysterious hand-written message.

How did he find her and why is he here?

Does he hold the truth to what happened back in New York?

And will she still have the courage to step into the spotlight?”

The book jumps between the present day and historic stuff – Sally’s childhood – and then the previous year – but this all flows really well, and just adds to the momentum of the story.

What made me laugh is quite early on you learn about 7 year old Sally’s obsession with opera.  Now, we took our kids – including the then 7 year old – to a ‘Great Opera Hits’ show at the Sydney Opera House on 1 January 2019.  About 30 seconds into the first aria, she asked if she was going to understand any of it – and I had to confess she probably wasn’t going to! It was definitely not the panto at Birmingham Hippodrome!  TBH the kids managed the first song – and the husband and I lasted until half time (sorry, football reference – the interval!)  so none of us got to hear Nessun Dorma. The photo below sums up our 7 year old’s view of opera!  Anyway – I digress……..

I really enjoyed the whole book. You are rooting for Sally throughout.  Her relationships with family / friends / colleagues / teaching staff are all thoroughly explored and are all quite complicated, but written about beautifully.

I was keen to keep reading and therefore finished it in record time.  You desperately want to know what happened in New York last year – and you know it must be really serious – but it’s not obvious what it was until quite late in the book (no spoilers here) which is great.

All of the characters are interesting – and not ‘typical’ – which is refreshing.  I think my favourite was Julian’s Mum – I want to be like her when I grow up!

My only issue with the whole book is late on it’s made obvious Sally’s family are Villa fans (back to football references)  Now, I would suggest (as an Aston Villa fan myself) that people from Stourbridge are much more likely to be West Brom or Wolves fans! But this is a minor transgression that I can forgive I’m sure.

This is a fantastic book – and I will definitely be looking at other books by Lucy Robinson – or Rosie Walsh, which is her real name and who she writes as now (and isn’t a neighbours character!)

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

 

The Music Shop

The other week I was ‘post checking’ for my parents whilst they were on holiday.  Much like my mother, I can’t let a situation go unexplained – so bear with! I spotted this book in their hallway and asked if I could borrow it.  Mum explained it wasn’t theirs, but my Dad couldn’t read it at the moment because of an eyesight problem he has, and their friends were in no rush to have it back – so it was fine for me to borrow it.  (#neverknowinglyunderexplained)

I’d read previous books by Rachel Joyce – so thought it would be a lovely, pleasant read on holiday.

Here’s the blurb:

“1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.

Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann.

Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …”

I really enjoyed this from start to finish.  As with Rachel Joyce’s previous books, it’s really well written – and a lovely escapist read.  The fact that it talks about music was also great – as I’m a huge fan of lots of genres of music.

Frank is the main character, and his relationship with Ilse is the centrepiece of the story – but there is a whole host of ‘chorus’ parts that are wonderful.  A tattooist, two undertakers, a Polish baker, the Saturday boy, a café waitress – to name but a few.  The interactions between them all are beautifully observed and feel very real – you are rooting for the whole band of them.

Some of it is just lovely, and some is really moving.  I did weep a couple of times – particularly at the end.  Whilst set in 1988 – and then more recently – it does show how the British High Street has changed over the decades too.

The Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah is fundamental to the story line and is a piece of music I love (randomly, Alexa decided to play it for me the other evening which was lovely!)  I was rehearsal pianist for a production of it way back when I was in sixth form – and because the tenor section were rubbish, I had to bang out their notes – so consequently that is the part I always end up singing along #randomfact

I was not wrong in my expectations, and this is a lovely, escapist, pleasant read – in a world where more of those are needed!

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird

I loved Josie Silver’s previous book – One Day In December – so when the publisher emailed to ask if I wanted the secret Netgalley link to her next book, I jumped at the chance!

Here’s the blurb:

“Two love stories. One Impossible Choice.
Lydia and Freddie. Freddie and Lydia. They’ve been together for almost a decade, and Lydia thinks their love is indestructible.
But she’s wrong. Because on her 27th birthday, Freddie dies in a tragic accident.
So now it’s just Lydia, and all she wants to do is hide indoors and sob ’til her eyes fall out. But Lydia knows that Freddie would want her to live her life well. So, enlisting the help of his best friend and her sister Elle, she takes her first tentative steps into the world and starts to live – perhaps even to love – again.
Then something unbelievable happens, and Lydia gets another chance at her old life with Freddie. But what if there’s someone in her new life who wants her to stay?
A heart-breaking, uplifting story for fans of PS I Love You and Me Before You, this gorgeously romantic novel will make you laugh, cry and remind you of what a wonderful gift it is to love and to be loved.”

 This is such a clever book. I was going to say a Sliding Doors type premise – but it’s cleverer than that (and Lydia isn’t Gwyneth Paltrow)

Very early on in the book Freddie is killed – and Lydia’s life is changed forever – or is it? She has a portal back into her old life where the accident didn’t happen (this isn’t as weird and far fetched as it sounds – and flows really well in the storyline I promise!)

The relationships between Lydia and all of the other characters – family, friends, colleagues are all beautifully written and cleverly nuanced. Whilst less than major parts – her workmates are just lovely – and so caring when she goes back to work.

It also really makes you think about what would happen if a tragedy didn’t happen. (On a personal level, my mother in law passed away after a long fight with cancer a few weeks after I met my husband. She knew I existed – but she was too poorly for us to meet. I often think about how different for all of her family life could have been if she hadn’t died so young.)

Anyway – back to the book before we all get over emosh.

 It’s fabulous, and I really enjoyed it. I kind of guessed the ending-ish. But it twists and turns to get there, and you’re never quite sure what will happen next.

A couple of times Lydia seems to make crazy decisions – but it just pushes the storyline forwards in a new way.

Overall it’s a great book – and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Book Review: Messy, Wonderful Us by Catherine Isaac

Messy Wonderful Us

 

“One morning in early summer, a man and woman wait to board a flight to Italy. 

Allie has lived a careful, focused existence. But now she has unexpectedly taken leave from her job as an academic research scientist to fly to a place she only recently heard about in a letter. Her father, Joe, doesn’t know the reason for her trip, and Allie can’t bring herself to tell him that she’s flying to Italy to unpick the truth about what her mother did all those years ago.

Beside her is her best friend since schooldays, Ed. He has just shocked everyone with a sudden separation from his wife, Julia. Allie hopes that a break will help him open up.

But the secrets that emerge as the sun beats down on Lake Garda and Liguria don’t merely concern her family’s tangled past. And the two friends are forced to confront questions about their own life-long relationship that are impossible to resolve.

The dazzling new novel from Richard & Judy book club author Catherine Isaac, Messy, Wonderful Us is a story about the transforming power of love, as one woman journeys to uncover the past and reshape her future.”

 I saw this on Netgalley and it sounded interesting, so when the publisher emailed to ask if I wanted to read it, I said ‘yes please!’

Whilst I’ve not read anything by Catherine Isaac before – I had read and enjoyed books in her previous life as Jane Costello (not sure why she’s changed her writing name – I may have to Google it and find out!)

Early on in the book Allie discovers a family secret – which threatens her whole existence – and the book is basically the fall out from this, and her uncovering the truth.

It twists and turns – and the chunk in Italy is just beautiful. I’ve never been to Lake Garda (although have been to nearby Lake Como) but it really evokes the feeling of being there.

I liked Allie – and Ed – and their relationship is really interesting. The age old ‘can men and women really be platonic friends’ is looked at from a new angle. Their relationships with others were also explored in depth.

Some big juicy topics are covered throughout the book – which are really thought provoking and written about very well.

My only slight niggle with the whole book was the sections about Allie’s work in medical research. I am sure they were really well sourced and completely factually correct (in fact the acknowledgements at the end would back that up) but I felt they were too detailed and broke up the flow of the book. I am a total geek and love learning new and scientific stuff – but probably not in the context of a novel.

But I am sure I’m being over picky – and it didn’t ruin the book as a whole, which was a really good read. I romped through it at pace as I was so keen to see how it all played out.

It’s out next month, and I would definitely recommend it.

Book Review: Reluctant Adult by Katie Kirby (Hurrah for Gin)

The Reluctant Adult

I read Katie Kirby’s first book and really enjoyed it – and follow her on social media – but have to confess I didn’t read her second book. I’d felt that the Mummy blogger books had been published thick and fast, and as my children were older, I wasn’t enjoying them as much. However, when I saw that this next book wasn’t a standard Mummy book I thought I’d give it a go – particularly as the blurb rang incredibly true!!

“Do you overthink everything?
Do you struggle to say no to people?
Are you paying membership for a gym you never go to?
Do group chat politics make you want to throw your phone under a bus?
Are you overjoyed when people cancel plans so that you can sit at home in your pyjama bottoms eating Coco pops for dinner?

If so then this book is for you!

We spend our childhoods wanting to a be adults and, when we get there, find ourselves lost under a pile of life admin, half completed to do lists and anti-ageing face creams that promise to make you look as good as Natalie Imbruglia.

In her new book, Hurrah for Gin pinpoints with painful precision just how overwhelming life can be when you’re all grown up. From the worry spiral that keeps you up at 3AM, to maintaining a professional aura when you can’t stand other people – this is for everyone struggling to stay afloat.

Honest, relatable, funny and containing no useful advice whatsoever, take comfort in the knowledge that it’s not just you, we’re all as f*cked as each other.”

(And I was super excited on Katie’s behalf when THE Natalie Imbruglia liked her insta post!!)

This was another fabulous book. Funny, relevant, and just adulthood in book form!

I have to admit that I’d seen some extracts on social media before – but there was enough fresh stuff not to feel shortchanged for spending actual money on a book for once!

It’s a quick easy read that you can dip in and out of – a perfect book for the loo perhaps?! (Although I read it on my Kindle – and I’m not sharing that with anyone else whilst they’re on the toilet! Oh – and the stick men illustrations are fine on a Kindle too, as I know I was worried about this with the first book and so bought it in hard copy.)

Overall a funny escapist read again – to be read with or without gin!

Book Review: Secret Service by Tom Bradby

Secret Service

I think of Tom Bradby as the guy who reads the 10 o’clock news on ITV and sometimes says daft introductions, the newsreader who managed to blag himself a ticket to the Royal Wedding – and then the journalist who got the Harry and Meghan documentary scoop! But I didn’t realise he was also a published author – so when I saw this on Netgalley I thought I’d try it.

Here’s the blurb:

“The world is on the brink of crisis.
The Cold War is playing out once more on the global stage.
And governments will do whatever it takes to stay at the top . . .
______________________
To those who don’t really know her, Kate Henderson’s life must seem perfectly ordinary. But she is in fact a senior MI6 officer, who right now is nursing the political equivalent of a nuclear bomb.
Kate’s most recent mission has yielded the startling intelligence that the British Prime Minister has cancer – and that one of the leading candidates to replace him may be a Russian agent of influence.
Up against the clock to uncover the Russian mole, Kate risks everything to get to the truth. But with her reputation to uphold, her family hanging by a thread and a leadership election looming, she is quickly running out of options, and out of time.”

This isn’t a genre I read often – although is a TV type I would watch frequently – and it very much felt like watching something akin to Spooks.

The main character is Kate – and I admit to thinking it odd that a male author wrote the lead character as female (which I realise is ridiculous, as I never said that about JK Rowling and Harry Potter) – but he does get the working Mum / Mum to teenagers guilt down brilliantly (interestingly in the credits he says his wife helps write his books – so perhaps that explains it?)

The book feels very ‘of this time’ – Russian interference in foreign elections / personal lives of politicians being exposed etc etc! I suspect that Tom’s establishment and journalistic connections means a lot of this is very true to life!

You are rooting for Kate throughout – and a whole plethora of different events happen that would stretch the sanity of anyone – but she pushes through.

Her relationships with her family and also work colleagues are explored – and the interconnections are very interesting.

The ending feels a bit quick and forced – and I would have liked to have known exactly how the characters all got to that point – but I suppose it leaves you wanting more, which isn’t a bad thing?

Overall it was a good, fast paced read – and I really enjoyed it. I could imagine it being a TV drama. And I’ll definitely look at Tom Bradby’s back catalogue when I fancy reading this genre again.