Book Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day

The Party

I’ve been meaning to read an Elizabeth Day book for some time – as I really like her when I see her on TV – and also because as a 5 year old I aspired to be Elisabeth Day, as the boy I loved at school had that surname!!  (We coincidentally ended up working for the same accountancy firm after graduation, and he and his lovely family live in the next village to us now – but my marital aspirations towards him are no more!)

I have read rave reviews in Red Magazine and on social media about ‘The Party’ – and as it seemed that it would fit into my 2017 Reading Challenge in the category ‘A book set in two different time periods’ – I pre ordered it for my summer travelling reading.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“‘As the train pressed on, I realised that my life was in the process of taking a different direction, plotted according to a new constellation. Because, although I didn’t know it yet, I was about to meet Ben and nothing would ever be the same again.’
Martin Gilmour is an outsider. When he wins a scholarship to Burtonbury School, he doesn’t wear the right clothes or speak with the right kind of accent. But then he meets the dazzling, popular and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice, and gains admission to an exclusive world. Soon Martin is enjoying tennis parties and Easter egg hunts at the Fitzmaurice family’s estate, as Ben becomes the brother he never had.
But Martin has a secret. He knows something about Ben, something he will never tell. It is a secret that will bind the two of them together for the best part of 25 years.
At Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour. Amid the hundreds of guests – the politicians, the celebrities, the old-money and newly rich – Martin once again feels that disturbing pang of not-quite belonging. His wife, Lucy, has her reservations too. There is disquiet in the air. But Ben wouldn’t do anything to damage their friendship.
Would he?”

I started reading this on a transatlantic flight – and devoured it all in one sitting – foregoing all of British Airways’s film offerings – which I think says a lot about how much I enjoyed it!

The book cycles between Martin’s life growing up, Ben’s 40th party and the aftermath of it – told in turn by Martin and his wife Lucy.  It’s very intricate (which made me think how good the editor must have been as well as the author – I am such a geek!) and the pace builds up brilliantly.

It is very clever – and similarities with real life people I am sure are totally deliberate!  Boys from posh schools, going on to Oxbridge and then becoming MPs and Prime Minister and including their mates in their political inner circle – remind you of anyone?!

The university period is exactly when I was at uni – albeit not Cambridge (my Head of Sixth Form never did forgive me for not going to my Newnham interview!) – so I enjoyed the reminiscing!

Despite the clear personality defects of all of the main characters at different times, I was always rooting for Martin and Lucy – in different ways.  Lucy was initially cast as the dowdy wife – but her quick thinking smart comebacks to some of the other characters were just perfect.

I don’t want to give too much away – I hate reviews that ruin the story for others – but would definitely recommend you read this book!  And I will definitely be reading more by Ms Day – clever, sharp, well written and very enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Iron Duke

My 2017 Reading Challenge was all about reading books out of my comfort zone – and ‘A Steampunk novel’ was a particular challenge as I hadn’t got a clue what it meant!

A bit of Googling, and good old Wikipedia revealed this:

“Steampunk is a subgenre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world wherein steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of “the path not taken” of such technology as dirigibles or analog computers; these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality.”

Given I don’t like science fiction or historical novels this was always going to be a challenge!  I had a search on Amazon for something with good reviews – but also the beginning of a series in case I loved it…

I went for The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook.  Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power – and fear – of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.
Mina can’t afford his interest, however. Horde blood runs through her veins, and becoming Rhys’s lover would destroy both her career and her family, yet the investigation prevents her from avoiding him.
But when Mina uncovers the victim’s identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans – and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.”

Well…………………..

It was all really complicated setting the scene – and I wasn’t sure how much I was struggling because I’ve never read this genre before – and how much because the author explains everything in minute and complicated detail.  And how much because I just didn’t care about any of it!

I tried – I considered giving up at 10% and 20% – but by the time I got to 30% I just could not be bothered to carry on any more.

I thought this would be a genre I would dislike – and I was not wrong!

Life is too short to finish books you’re not enjoying #apartfromTheGoldfinch…..

 

 

 

 

Book Review: One Endless Summer by Laurie Ellingham

One Endless Summer

A friend said she’s really enjoyed this book and on her recommendation, and the fact it slotted into a category in my 2017 Reading Challenge (A book with one of the four seasons in the title), I downloaded it immediately without reading the blurb – but here it is for you.

“Three best friends.
Three continents.
Three months to live.
How long can you keep a secret?
Three best friends are embarking on an all-expenses paid trip of their dreams. The only catch? Every moment will be documented on film.
Lizzie’s battle with cancer is coming to an end, and now she’s ready to embrace adventure for the very first time. There are only three months, but it is Lizzie’s time to finally start living!
Jaddi is known for her stunning looks, flirtatious attitude and many conquests. But Jaddi has a secret and on this last trip together she needs to decide whether her best friends will ever know the real her.
Samantha has always been the ‘grown up’ of the group, the one with a five year plan. What Lizzie and Jaddi don’t know is that Sam is trapped, and her perfect life isn’t quite what it seems…
As they trek across the globe Lizzie, Jaddi and Samantha must come to terms with loss, love and trusting one another. But will it all be too late…”

When I started the first chapter it was evident that not only was this a book about cancer, but about brain tumours in particular.  Now far too many people close to me have been affected by this horrific disease over recent years, and I wasn’t sure I could face reading a book with this as a key theme.  But, I’d already paid to download it – so I decided to start reading and then stop if I found it too distressing.  (Giving myself permission to stop reading a book is rare – hey, I persevered through The Goldfinch – but these were extenuating circumstances.)

Well, I can tell you now – I didn’t have to give up.  Whilst Lizzie’s brain tumour was fundamental to the storyline – and some of the things she talked about were all too familiar – it was always there in the back ground rather than being totally in your face throughout the whole book.  And a bit like the current Macmillan adverts – it showed that just because you have cancer / a brain tumour doesn’t mean you’re not still a friend / daughter / sister / lover too.

The 3 best friends are all very different – and whilst initially you think Lizzie is the one fighting a personal battle with the brain tumour – actually, all 3 of the friends have different battles in their own lives.  Each chapter is told from a different friend’s point of view – and I don’t think there’s a rigid pattern to the chapters – but they link together really well.

The descriptions of the different places the girls visit were great – helped by the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to visit many of them!

The story twists and turns dramatically – some of it more guessable than others (I sussed Jaddi’s secret fairly early on) – but all makes for a very enjoyable summer read.

I don’t want to give too much away though – read it for yourself and see what you think! I will definitely be looking out for more books by Laurie Ellingham.

 

** It would be remiss of me at this point not to mention the fact that brain tumours are a massively underfunded area for research – and if the book has moved you to want to donate to further research  – then we are heavily involved in fundraising for Brain Tumour Research in memory of our family friend Finlay Church who died in 2015 aged just 11.  You can donate in his memory here.  Thank you. xx **

 

 

Cankle-tastic!

“cankle
ˈkaŋk(ə)l
noun

informal
plural noun: cankle
 
a woman’s fat or swollen ankle whose flesh merges unattractively with that of the calf.”

 

I am not renowned for my delicate ankles.  It’s a family thing – my two sisters are similarly cursed.  Although only my youngest sister and I were described as ‘kraftig’ at a spa.  This was in Germany and the therapist was German – she didn’t just decide to call us ‘sturdy’ in German as it sounded more onomatopoeic!

Anyway – I digress.

I now have one normal sturdy ankle, and one cankle thanks to a horsefly bite standing in the playground on Wednesday afternoon!  (This is clearly why I normally pay our wonderful nanny to do the school runs, as it’s a dangerous place.) My ankle looks ridiculous and is really sore.

A friend who had a similar injury last week (I didn’t ask if hers was from a playground dwelling horse fly) has suggested I draw round the swollen bit so I can see if it spreads – especially with my recent foray into the world of cellulitis elsewhere on my anatomy – so I will get an eye liner out later (Younique of course, they go on so smoothly) and do just that.

I guess the benefit is that once the swelling has gone down, I will feel quite shapely of ankle…….

 

 

 

Book Review: The Postcard by Fern Britton

The Postcard

 

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of this by Netgalley to review – and then asked to be part of Fern’s blog tour – which was very very exciting!!

I hadn’t read the blurb before I read the book (based on the fact I’ve enjoyed all of Fern’s previous books) – but here is it is for you:

“The new witty and warm novel from the Sunday Times best-selling author and TV presenter, Fern Britton.

Secrets. Sisters. The summer that changed everything . . .

Life in the Cornish village of Pendruggan isn’t always picture perfect. Penny Leighton has never told anyone why she’s estranged from her mother and sister. For years she’s kept her family secrets locked away in her heart, but they’ve been quietly eating away at her. When an unwelcome visitor blows in, Penny is brought face to face with the past. And a postcard, tucked away in a long-hidden case, holds the truth that could change everything.

Young Ella has come back to the place where she spent a happy childhood with her grandmother. Now she’s here to search for everything missing in her life. Taken under Penny’s broken wing for the summer, the safe haven of Pendruggan feels like the place for a fresh start. Soon, however, Ella starts to wonder if perhaps her real legacy doesn’t lie in the past at all.”

I was DELIGHTED when I started reading to find out it was set in Pendruggan again – and revisiting characters we’d met before.  It felt like meeting up with old friends.  The previous books set in this village of Cornwall have always left me wanting to know more – and I was about to find out more – hoorah!

This time it centres, initially, on Penny. She’s a new Mum, vicar’s wife and TV exec – not necessarily always in that order.  The story follows her current and historic relationships with her family and the impact each has on the other. It also looks at quite serious issues of postnatal depression and the fact that women are expected to want to ‘have it all’ – and just how tough that can be for families.

Ella is then introduced – firstly in London and then moving down to Cornwall.  Her story interweaves with Penny’s – and it is interesting to see their relationship develop, along with Ella’s relationships with other villagers.

I really enjoyed this easy, escapist read and the gentles  twists and turns of the story.  It really evokes the feeling of being in Cornwall – and the village fete was very reminiscent of our own – albeit ours is in Worcestershire!

I don’t want to give too much of the story away (I hate it when I read a review that gives away something fundamental) but you really are rooting for Penny and Ella in different ways.

My only very slight criticism is that the ending seems a bit rushed. After a perfectly paced majority of the book, the loose ends for Penny are all tied up super quickly in the final chapter.   However, that’s not the case for Ella – and there is practically an Eastenders – duff, duff, duff at the end of the epilogue for her!  I can only hope that means we’ll be revisiting Pendruggan with its characters again soon!

I need to slot this into my 2017 Reading Challenge – and I’m going for the category ‘A book you bought on a trip’ as I downloaded it whilst we were at Centerparcs.  I realise that is slightly tenuous – but I can’t possibly read something and not tick a category off!!  We’re almost half way through the year and I’ve only managed 14 of the 40 categories – good job the summer holidays are coming up.  #readingheaven

 

 

 

 

There are two kinds of people…..

Fuel gauge 2

I saw this on Facebook yesterday, LOL-led and gave it the obligatory like, because it is exactly me and my husband (I’m the sensible, prudent accountant on the left, he’s the ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ entrepreneur on the right!)

This morning family logistics necessitated a car swap – which I was quite impressed he’d remembered when he left the house at 5.30am this morning in the correct car! However, I didn’t LOL quite so much when I got into his car and the fuel gauge was not only in the red, but in the fancy pants display said it was 0% full with the ability to drive 8 miles!!

Thankfully, and despite my sweaty palms from nerves not just the weather, I got the boy to the train station and the car to the petrol station before it used up the remaining diesel fumes!!  It can now drive 433 miles before the next refuel.  Or probably more like 233 if it’s me driving it…………

 

 

 

 

 

New York, New York – twice!

A couple of years ago the husband and I had a wonderful childfree few days in New York!

P1020125
Tourists on board a river cruise

And in a fortnight we’re heading back – but this time with a 12 and almost 14 year old in tow!!

We’re currently paying for the big 2 to go to school – which means their holidays are loads longer than the state schools (although you can practically fund the school fees in the reduced holiday costs #economics!) – so the little 2 are staying at home (with the nanny!) and we’re taking the big 2 on a city break.

Excitement levels are high (mostly due to Snapchat and Instagram ops!) and we’re hoping the children manage not to kill each other sharing a hotel room.

We’ve booked to see ‘School of Rock’ on Broadway – and to eat at The Boathouse in Central Park – but otherwise, we’re going with the toursit-y flow!

We’re staying in the same hotel as last time – and after our Billy Idol encounter last time, are hoping for a more relevant celeb spot in a lift this time!

I will, of course, report back how a city break with teens / tweens differs to an adult city break!!

Bring it on New York!!!

New York.jpg

Book Review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In

My 2017 Reading Challenge is making me move away from my usual style of books and dip into other genres. I needed to read ‘a book with career advice’ and ‘Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’ has been on my radar since it was written.  I read something Sheryl Sandberg wrote more recently about grief – after losing her husband suddenly last year – and I thought it very well written, the crux of it being that option A for her life plan was no longer there, so she had to kick the ass out of option B. Anyway – I digress – but her style of writing made me want to read her first book ‘Lean In’  (her second book, ‘Option B’ – the title from the above anecdote – is also out now, so that is on my TBR pile).

I had read in the press that ‘Lean In’ has been criticised for being too white and too privileged – but given I fall in to both of those categories, I didn’t let that put me off.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is a massive cultural phenomenon and its title has become an instant catchphrase for empowering women. The book soared to the top of bestseller lists internationally, igniting global conversations about women and ambition. Sandberg packed theatres, dominated opinion pages, appeared on every major television show and on the cover of Time magazine, and sparked ferocious debate about women and leadership.

Ask most women whether they have the right to equality at work and the answer will be a resounding yes, but ask the same women whether they’d feel confident asking for a raise, a promotion, or equal pay, and some reticence creeps in.

The statistics, although an improvement on previous decades, are certainly not in women’s favour – of 197 heads of state, only twenty-two are women. Women hold just 20 percent of seats in parliaments globally, and in the world of big business, a meagre eighteen of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook COO and one of Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business – draws on her own experience of working in some of the world’s most successful businesses and looks at what women can do to help themselves, and make the small changes in their life that can effect change on a more universal scale.”

Overall I really enjoyed it. The geek in my liked the fact that every quote of facts and figures was cross referenced to its source – with a large chunk of the back of the book housing these references.

I found, for a lot of it, running our own small business meant it wasn’t applicable – and would have been much more applicable when I worked for one of the Big 4 (although back then it was Big 6 #showingmyage) accountancy firms.  Specifically things like mentoring.  I think this should be required reading for everyone, male and female,  in their early 20s before they make big life decisions and particularly those entering the corporate world.

Some of it I have witnessed in action – women making career decisions based on the fact they would probably get married and have kids in the future – rather than seizing the career progression at the time and worrying about the ‘what ifs’ later.  There were also simple suggestions about asking for what you want!  If you want part time work but the dream role you’re being offered is only full time then can you ask for a part time option to be considered?  Or change your support network outside of work?  I’m really lucky that my husband is massively hands on with the kids and around the house (in fact his cleaning OCD is legendary!) – but I have friends who have jobs as full on and high pressured as their husband’s, but still it’s them who have to sort the ill child / weekend playdates / shopping / cooking / buying gifts for parties – often with a side order of sleep deprivation thrown in.  Having a partnership at home is a key factor to a woman – and I guess mother in particular – having the ability and will to lead outside the home.

There were some interesting discussions about mothers who go out to work, or chose to work in the home.  Before I had kids I though stay at home Mums had an easy life – then I realised I was going to work for a rest!  The over riding issue is that women should support each other and not judge other people’s life choices.  Sheryl quoted a woman in the US Navy who’d initially been concerned about being the only woman on a submarine – but the blokes on board were all great and respectful of her authority – it was the men’s wives who were horrible – and judgmental – to her.

The partnership Sheryl had with her husband Dave also shines out right through the book – which was made all the more poignant knowing that between this being written and me reading it, he’d passed away.

I think the ending of the book sums it up perfectly:

“I look toward the world I want for all children – and my own.  My greatest hope is that my son and my daughter will be able to choose what to do with their lives without external or internal obstacles slowing them down or making them question their choices.  If my son wants to do the important work if raising children full-time, I hope he is respected and supported. And if my daughter wants to work full-time outside her home, I hope she is not just respected and supported, but also liked for her achievements.
I hope they both end up exactly where they want to be.  And when they find where their true passions lie, I hope they both lean in – all the way.”

 

 

 

 

Bear-y excited!!

A couple of years ago the wonderful Birmingham Children’s Hospital (BCH) created The Big Hoot – where lots of colourful owls descended on the West Midlands for the summer.  After the trail was finished they were auctioned off to raise much needed funds for BCH.

We had great fun doing the trail as a family.

And then I took it all far too seriously in an attempt to view all of them, and turned it into a military operation and the kids didn’t enjoy it quite so much…….

Well – the children are *delighted* to hear that in a similar vein BCH are having The Big Sleuth in and around Birmingham this summer!!

The big sleuth

Here’s what the website says about it:

“The departure of The Big Hoot owls left many of you in a feathery flap! Well, the good news is Birmingham’s second adventure is mysteriously taking shape!

Repeating The Big Hoot’s multi-award-winning formula, Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity and Wild in Art are teaming up to present The Big Sleuth.

To most people, the word ‘sleuth’ means a private detective, but it’s also the collective noun for a group of bears! Bizarre but true.

Birmingham will bring both definitions together in the summer of the 2017 and the Sun Bear, the world’s smallest species of bear (now threatened with extinction) is the inspiration for a brand-new sculpture for this event.

These incredible creatures are sure to inspire creativity and generate plenty of fun for all you sleuth spotters on the trail!  After which, the bears will be auctioned to raise valuable funds for Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity.”

 

Now I’m still a bit disappointed that we were out of the country for the owl auction 2 years ago – made worse by the fact that some people I used to work with bought one for their back garden – so this year I’m hoping we can go to the auction as well as have days of endless fun going on a bear hunt!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A blog tour!!

I am VERY excited to have been chosen to be one of the stops on Fern Britton’s blog tour to mark the release of her book ‘The Postcard’ as a paperback.

The Postcard blog tour banner

I’ve blogged before about my love of Fern (in a slightly fangirling kind of way!) so I was really chuffed about this.  For those of you who don’t know who Fern is (where have you been??) then here’s some info on her:

“Fern Britton is the highly acclaimed author of five Sunday Times bestselling novels: A Seaside Affair, The Holiday Home, Hidden Treasures, New Beginnings and A Good Catch. Her books are cherished for their warmth, wit and wisdom, and have won Fern legions of loyal readers. Fern is likely best known for her years co-presenting ITV’s flagship daytime show This Morning with Philip Schofield. An iconic presenter, she is also hugely popular for her earlier hits like Ready Steady Cook, and All Star Mr and Mrs, as well as being a much-loved contestant in 2012’s Strictly Come Dancing. She recently presented The Big Allotment Challenge for BBC2 in 2014 and again for its second series in 2015, as well as For What It’s Worth, an antiques-based quiz show on BBC1.

Fern lives with her husband, Phil Vickery, and her four children in Buckinghamshire and Cornwall.   To find out more, connect with her @Fern Britton and facebook.com/officialfernbritton.”

 

The book has been read and reviewed – but all is embargoed until my day on the tour!

But to whet your appetite – here’s the blurb about it:

The POSTCARD: Penny Leighton has never told anyone why she’s estranged from her mother and sister. For years she’s kept her family secrets locked away in her heart, but they’ve been quietly eating away at her. When an unwelcome visitor blows in, Penny is brought face to face with the past. And a postcard, tucked away in a long-hidden case, holds the truth that could change everything.

Young Ella has come back to the place where she spent a happy childhood with her grandmother. Now she’s here to search for everything missing in her life. Taken under Penny’s broken wing for the summer, the safe haven of Pendruggan feels like the place for a fresh start. Soon, however, Ella starts to wonder if perhaps her real legacy doesn’t lie in the past at all.”

 

See you back here on July 6th for my review……..