Book Review: All The Lonely People by Mike Gayle

All The Lonely People

I really enjoyed the last Mike Gayle book – and so when I saw this on NetGalley I jumped at the chance of a review copy!

I didn’t read about the book in advance, I just thought ‘oh, another book with song lyrics as a title’ – but here you go with the blurb:

“Life is waiting to happen to Hubert Bird.
But first he has to open his front door and let it in.
In weekly phone calls to his daughter in Australia, widower Hubert Bird paints a picture of the perfect retirement, packed with fun, friendship and fulfilment.
But Hubert Bird is lying.
The truth is day after day drags by without him seeing a single soul.
Until, that is, he receives some good news – good news that in one way turns out to be the worst news ever, news that will force him out again, into a world he has long since turned his back on.
Now Hubert faces a seemingly impossible task: to make his real life resemble his fake life before the truth comes out.
Along the way Hubert stumbles across a second chance at love, renews a cherished friendship and finds himself roped into an audacious community scheme that seeks to end loneliness once and for all . . .
Life is certainly beginning to happen to Hubert Bird. But with the origin of his earlier isolation always lurking in the shadows will he ever get to live the life he’s pretended to have for so long?
From bestselling author Mike Gayle, All the Lonely People is by turns a funny and moving meditation on love, race, old age and friendship that will not only charm and uplift, but also remind you of the power of ordinary people to make an extraordinary difference.”

As I started reading I realised that Hubert was an octogenarian – interestingly at our virtual book club last week we’d discussed how almost all of us 40 somethings would often be put off a book if it was about old people – but how we’d actually read some wonderful books with older leads (‘Saving Missy’ and ‘A Man Called Ove’ are now on my TBR pile).  So I had high hopes that Hubert would win me over!

It’s set partly in the present day and partly in the 1950s when Hubert first came to the UK from Jamaica. With recent publicity of the Windrush generation this seemed particularly topical.  Equally at one point when Hubert is looking for lodgings he sees a poster saying ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ – which again is very relevant currently with all of the discussions about race in the UK and US.  It is clearly an integral part of the storyline – and his mixed race relationship with his wife Joyce – and is really well written and I found really informative and thought provoking.

The alternate flashback chapters race through the years at key times in Hubert’s life – between arriving in England and the present day explaining the relationship with Joyce and their children, Rose and David, and the twists and turns of their relationships.

In another highly relevant sentence – the long drive between London and Durham is referenced too!!

In the present day Hubert meets Ashleigh and her daughter Layla who have moved in next door and they strike up an unlikely friendship.  Now I have a silly niggle about Ashleigh.  When she’s in Hubert’s house for the first time she is looking at some of the books that Hubert’s professor daughter Rose, who lives in Australia, has written.  Ashleigh struggles over the world ‘Millenium’ in the title. However, Ashleigh is Welsh – and until 2016, the home of Welsh rugby in Cardiff was the Millenium Stadium (now the Principality Stadium) – so I just don’t think it’s a word a valleys’ girl would struggle with!  But I realise I am a totally overthinking pedant………..

Hubert and Ashleigh set about starting up a group to combat loneliness in Bromley.  Interestingly I also found this uber relevant.  At the start of the coronavirus crisis I was involved with setting up a group in our Worcestershire village to help people.  Initially this was for emergency shopping / prescription collection for the elderly and infirm who were shielding – but it quickly became evident that loneliness was a massive factor for people too – and lockdown was amplifying this.

The community feel of the group to combat loneliness also reminded me of the book ‘The Lido’ by Libby Page – I really think Hubert and Rosemary would have got along! It was all so lovely.

There were a couple of moments that were quite shocking and took the plot in a different direction – but it was all beautifully written, as you would expect from the author.

The final chapter was a surprise and not what I expected it to be at all – and I cried (although at the moment I cry at almost anything!)

I said on Twitter yesterday that ‘Half A World Away’ was my favourite lockdown read – but I think Mr Gayle has just usurped himself and takes Gold and Silver lockdown book awards from me – I really, really enjoyed this.  A great story – but also relevant, thought provoking. informative, emotional and just plain lovely.

Slightly off on a tangent, but I’ve always thought of Mike Gayle as a Brummie author – South Birmingham at that (fully explained in my last book review of one of his books) rather than a black author.  I’m not saying ‘I don’t see colour’ or anything tw*tty like that – I just didn’t think it was an issue for me when choosing what to read.  However, I then thought – if I looked at my reading history (usefully recorded in this blog) how many of the authors would be from exactly the same background as me – a white, working class made good, woman.  Is this because I’m instinctively drawn to books written by people like me? Is it because I look at recommendations in women’s magazines / blogs?  Is it that the publishing industry is also heavily biased?  I’m not sure I have any definitive answers – but it has made me think that I should consider this in book selections in the future.  Reading more widely – and getting differing opinions in life written by a variety of people – can only be a good thing.

Thanks Mike Gayle for another fabulous book, and to NetGalley and the publishers for my advanced review copy.  Pre order your copy now for later in July 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The New Girl by Harriet Walker

The New Girl

I saw this on NetGalley and it really appealed – although I did think it reminded me of the 2017 TV series ‘The Replacement’ starring Morven Christie and Vicky McClure – so I thought I would give it a go.

Here’s the blurb:

“Glamorous Margot Jones is the fashion editor at glossy women’s magazine Haute, and pregnant with her first child. Margot’s used to her carefully curated life being the object of other women’s envy – who wouldn’t want her successful career, loving husband, beautiful house and stylish wardrobe?

Maggie, a freelance journalist, certainly knows she doesn’t measure up. So when Margot gets in touch to suggest she apply for her maternity cover at Haute, Maggie seizes the chance at living a better life – even if it’s only temporary.

But the simultaneous arrival of Margot’s baby and a brutal end to her oldest friendship sends Margot into a spiral of suspicion and paranoia. Are Maggie’s motives as innocent as they seem? And what happens at the end of the year when Margot wants her old life back – especially if Maggie decides she doesn’t want to leave?”

The book starts with Margot pregnant and her best friend from school, Winnie,  who is also pregnant, having a stillborn son (I think readers need to know this – as this could undoubtedly be a trigger for some people).

Margot is trying to sort out her maternity cover at work – and decides to suggest an acquaintance who she’s met on a previous work trip – and Maggie ends up getting the job.

Whilst Margot is on maternity leave she starts social media stalking Maggie – and gets concerned that Maggie is doing things in a different way and if not better than she did, and won’t want to give up the job when Margot returns a year later.  Interestingly the TV series that I thought about when I read the blurb is referenced at this point – with Margot finding it too close to home to watch it!

Since her tragedy, Margot’s best friend Winnie has distanced herself from Margot – which Margot kind of understood initially, as her beautiful baby daughter Lila would be a constant reminder of Winnie’s son who died.  But there is clearly something that has happened in Margot and Winnie’s past that ties them together – and it involves a girl called Helen.  This is hinted at – and Margot even gets trolled by a social media user called @HelenKnows – but initially you don’t know if these are linked and what happened.

As well as professionally, Maggie starts to encroach on Margot’s home life – beginning dating her husband’s best friend.

So far, so suffocating!

The second phase of the book gives the back story on Margot, Winnie and Helen at school and you see everyone in a different light.  I found my allegiances switching chapter by chapter!

The third and final part of the book builds tension up and up.  There are some really short chapters that add to the pace (it actually made me laugh a bit as I, like many, am in the midst of homeschooling – and one of the tricks my 9 year old has been taught is to do short sentences when you’re trying to build the excitement!) but it builds and builds and twists and turns and is brilliant! You are almost holding your breath during one scene.  I don’t want to give too much away – but it was excellent.

Overall the book is very well written and structured and just a fantastic, escapist read.  I sometimes find ‘new Mum’ books a bit predictable, samey and without much depth – and have actually avoided them for a while as I felt they’d been ‘done’ (and maybe I’d moved on as my youngest was now 8) – but this felt like a ‘proper’ book, where the situation it was based on was just part of the storyline.  Having said that, it definitely captures the slightly manic stressed-ness of new motherhood, and the politics that can exist in female friendships at times.

This is described as cross between ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (it’s set in a fashion magazine) and ‘Gone Girl’ (it’s a psychological thriller) – but I think it stands more than sufficiently on its own merit!

It’s already out on Kindle – and a total bargain at £2.99 – and out in hardback in a early July 2020.

Thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for my advance review copy.

 

Book Review: The Heatwave by Katerina Diamond

The Heatwave

I normally read books based upon recommendations from friends, or lists of ‘books to read’ etc – but there is a whole different story as to why I went for this one!  Basically the goddess who is Marian Keyes had tried to request it off NetGalley and was refused!!  So I tried and was immediately accepted.  Sometimes trying a different author for a random reason is worth the risk?!?

Here is the blurb that I hadn’t even looked at before requesting it:

“One summer. One stranger. One killer…
Two bad things happened that summer:
A stranger arrived. And the first girl disappeared.
In the wake of the crime that rocked her community, Felicity fled, knowing more than she let on.
But sixteen years later, her new life is shattered by the news that a second girl has gone missing in her hometown.
Now Felicity must go back, to face the truth about what happened all those years ago.
Only she holds the answers – and they’re more shocking than anyone could imagine.
The heatwave is back. And so is the killer.”

The book is set in 2 time periods – from Jasmine’s point of view – where her and Felicity were teenage friends – and then 16 years later from Felicity’s point of view in the present day.  Back in the day a girl went missing – and the same thing has happened again – and Felicity believes she is the only one who can solve this crime, and so leaves her husband and kids in the Lake District and heads back to her hometown in Devon.

Now there are some MASSIVE twists and turns.  I have to say I guessed a few of them very early on.  I felt quite smug and ‘I’m just so bloody clever’ – which I wasn’t disappointed in – however when I read other NetGalley reviews, others said the same – so maybe I wasn’t as smart as I thought!! However, even guessing these twists, it didn’t ruin the book for me – and there were plenty of other twists I didn’t get so I was still keen to keep reading. and find out what had happened then and now.

I found present day Felicity quite annoying, and it seemed ridiculous that she wouldn’t share with anyone what was going on – although as the story progressed you kind of realised why.  I felt quite nervous with her back in her old stomping ground – and sad that she didn’t appear to have any support from family or friends at all.

Back 16 years ago Jasmine and Felicity were both quite annoying – but they were 16 years olds so just perfectly written I suspect!  Their relationships with Tim ‘the stranger’ were complex and teenage and cleverly written – the teenage angst levels were high.

Overall I really enjoyed the twisty, turny story – and devoured it really quickly – and was suitably shocked by the time I got to the end.

I’m not sure ‘The Heatwave’ was really a vital component of the storyline – especially in the present day stuff – not that that detracted, but it’s the second book I’ve read recently where the title wasn’t really that relevant.

Having stumbled across Ms Diamond due to weird circumstances – I would definitely read books by her again – and it looks like there’s a chunky back catalogue series to get my teeth into.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my advance review copy – it’s out on 25 June 2020 so just a few hours to wait!

 

 

Book Review: How To Fail by Elizabeth Day

How To Fail

My last book review was a gift off a sister – and so was this book after I put it on my birthday list (yes, I still write a birthday list at 46!!)

Here’s the blurb:

“Inspired by her hugely popular podcast, How To Fail is Elizabeth Day’s brilliantly funny, painfully honest and insightful celebration of things going wrong.
This is a book for anyone who has ever failed. Which means it’s a book for everyone.
If I have learned one thing from this shockingly beautiful venture called life, it is this: failure has taught me lessons I would never otherwise have understood. I have evolved more as a result of things going wrong than when everything seemed to be going right. Out of crisis has come clarity, and sometimes even catharsis.
Part memoir, part manifesto, and including chapters on dating, work, sport, babies, families, anger and friendship, it is based on the simple premise that understanding why we fail ultimately makes us stronger. It’s a book about learning from our mistakes and about not being afraid.

Uplifting, inspiring and rich in stories from Elizabeth’s own life, How to Fail reveals that failure is not what defines us; rather it is how we respond to it that shapes us as individuals.

Because learning how to fail is actually learning how to succeed better. And everyone needs a bit of that.”

I bloody LOVED this book.

I’d enjoyed Elizabeth Day’s novel The Party, and so had high hopes – and I was not wrong – it was great.  Some of it is definitely because we’re a similar age (actually I’m exactly the same age as her older sister) – and have some similar traits – but it was brilliant and really thought provoking.

As Ms Day has interviewed so many people for her podcast and other articles, there was lots of sharing of what celebrities would think about topics – and it felt almost like gossiping (in a nice way, as clearly all of the people interviewed had consented to it!) with a really well connected friend.

The first chapter is about Elizabeth’s life growing up – a chunk of which was in Northern Ireland.  It’s a place we’ve always visited – with family over there, and then one of my best friend’s heading to Belfast for Uni and not coming back (she married a local rather than disappearing, as I realise that might have sounded a bit sinister!)  I remember when we used to drive over as a family there were places we wouldn’t go in our English registered car – and clearly Elizabeth’s English accent marked her out as different too – something I’d never really thought about before.

Just like the author, this Elisabeth failed her first driving test too (I reversed round a corner and up the kerb……)  Having been a geeky girlie swot, it was the first thing I’d properly failed (although the B in GCSE Chemistry had felt like a failure in amongst all of the As the year before) and I didn’t like the feeling at all!  But it was a life lesson for the future.

The third chapter is about failing at your 20s.  I distinctly remember my 25th birthday, living alone in a bedsit on the edge of the red light district in Birmingham having recently split up from my first husband (second big failure time).  I was devastated – this is not how I’d imagined my mid 20s being.  In hindsight it was totally the right thing – and I then swanned off to work in Australia for a few months – without the baggage of people knowing I was a divorcee  – but it still felt like I’d failed big time.

This is turning into a confessional rather than a book review – sorry!

My mid / late 20s were then a minefield of dating.  Back then (thank goodness) there was no social media, camera phones and thus no permanent record of it!  And exactly as Elizabeth says – just when I’d decided I’d be happily single for a while, my second – and current – husband arrived on the scene…..

The failing at sport chapter includes a quote which describes me pretty much exactly.  Ms Day writes “I am an innately competitive person, which has some benefits in that it gives me monumental drive to do stuff, but it’s a trait that also manifests itself in negative ways:  I don’t like losing, and I don’t like being bad at things, especially if I can see no logical reason why I shouldn’t be good at them.” Yep – that’s me summed up right there!

A chapter I found particularly helpful was the chapter on failing at friendship.  I have a fabulous group of friends who I love very much and I know would drop everything for me in a crisis – but I’ve also experienced times when friendships I thought were for life have drifted apart.  This paragraph really resonated with me. “The challenge is taking friendship personally enough to invest your time and affection into it, but not so personally that you feel an emotional vortex when a friend goes through a different phase or wants to hang out with someone else for a while.  Most importantly:  a friend doesn’t owe you anything.  A friend has not made a commitment, has not signed a contract or walked down the aisle and promised to love you until death do you part.  A friend does not need to do anything or be anyone in order to make you feel better about yourself.  Of course, the greatest friends do this anyway, but it is not their job and you should not expect it of them,”

One chapter which I don’t have personal experience of is the failing at babies.  I recognise I’m incredibly lucky that I’ve been able to easily conceive 4 times, and give birth to 4 healthy babies.  Elizabeth writes so eloquently and emotionally about her ‘journey’ through IVF and a subsequent miscarriage.  It is still something that tends to go on behind closed doors for couples – so was a really thought provoking read.  I recently read Olive by Emma Gannon about someone who is childfree by choice – and that prompted me to think about this taboo – but those who are childless (the ‘less’ being such a painful part of the word) is also a taboo too.  Still.  In 2020.

The failing at anger chapter was another that rang very true – and again I think a lot of that is being a similar age.  To quote Ms Day, when talking about the #MeToo movement:  “It was, I think, an age thing.  I was thirty-eight at the time, and part of the sandwich generation of feminists.  We considered ourselves lucky to be standing on the shoulders of those pioneering women who fought the big legal battles again gender discrimination: for suffrage, for equal pay (ha!) and for workplace recognition.  But we also had to accept existing in an imperfect and sexist world.  We’d been raised with the societal assumption that ‘boys will be boys’ and that a bit of inappropriate behaviour on their part was par for the course.  ‘Trying it on’ was the phrase, as if sexual aggression were simply a matter of experimenting with a new look or hairstyle.”
This reminded me of an incident in the late 90s at a corporate dinner when I worked for one of the big accountancy firms.  A senior partner from the Manchester office put his hand down the back of my dress and asked ‘if everyone in the Birmingham office was as sexy?’  I didn’t feel I could be angry and kick him in the nuts or even say anything – he was in a position of power and I was a lowly trainee, so I just walked away.  Some years later he was fined a six figure sum and banned from being an accountant for a professional misdemeanour – but I have to say I was pleased!  A bit like when Al Capone was done for tax evasion – at least the baddie was done for something – but I definitely failed at being angry.

I think you can tell how much I enjoyed this book – I’ve quoted chunks, which I rarely do in reviews, but I want you all to see how great it is!

We actually discussed this book at our Zoom book club this week (like normal book club but not in the pub……..) and everyone who has read it raved about it – so it’s not just me!  I would definitely recommend it as a non fiction downstairs option #bookclubjoke #couldactuallybereadanywhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People

“Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation – awkward but electrifying – something life-changing begins.
Normal People is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they can’t.”

This book was massively hyped a couple of years ago – but friends gave it a really mixed set of reviews, so I never bothered reading it.  Then it was hyped again after the BBC dramatised it (which I still haven’t watched – my husband and I tend to watch TV together, and I’m not sure it would be his bag at all!) and I was more tempted to read it.

My lovely sister knew I was having a tough week (who isn’t during lockdown?) and so really kindly sent me a Don’t Buy Her Flowers book package containing Normal People (and G&Ts, chocolate buttons and crisps!) – so I could read it at last!

I’d forgotten that someone had told me before that it didn’t have proper punctuation – no speech marks etc – and I initially found that a bit confusing, but I soon got into the swing of it.

It starts with Marianne and Connell at school – him Mr Popular, her Miss Outsider.  Connell’s Mum works as a cleaner for Marianne’s family – and they strike up an unlikely friendship – but no one at school knows about it.

It then follows their ‘first love’ through University in Dublin where the roles are somewhat reversed.

Throughout the time period they are on and off, friends, lovers, friends again.  They each have other relationships but are continually drawn back to each other.

Initially I enjoyed it – but then it seemed to not really go anywhere.  It just seemed to meander about – from rural Ireland to Dublin, a bit in Italy,  a bit in Sweden, back to Ireland – but with no real storyline apart from their “can’t live with each other / can’t live without each other” relationship.

Marianne’s relationship with her family is awful, and you can see how it’s made her into the person she’s become – and at many points I wanted to shake her and Connell and tell them just to bloody talk to each other properly.

Maybe I’m just too old to remember back to these teenage romance times??

All in all – not worth the hype and awards in my humble opinion! Not awful – but not this amazing experience that some people seem to have had reading it.

Now to decide whether to watch it or not? The general consensus appears to be that Connell is HOT (although I’m slightly concerned I’m old enough to be his mother?!) but having not loved the book – not sure I can be bothered with the series.  Am I making a mistake?  Will I regret it?  #dontbelievethehype

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Olive by Emma Gannon

Olive

I’d seen this book on lists of ‘books to look out for in 2020’ and such like – but then Dawn O’Porter mentioned it on her Instagram stories, and I popped onto NetGalley and was approved for an advance review copy #winningatlockdown.

Here’s the blurb:

“OLIVE is many things.

Independent.
Adrift.
Anxious.
Loyal.
Kind.
She knows her own mind.

And it’s ok that she’s still figuring it all out, navigating her world without a compass. But life comes with expectations, there are choices to be made and – sometimes – stereotypes to fulfil. So when her best friends’ lives branch away towards marriage and motherhood, leaving the path they’ve always followed together, she starts to question her choices – because life according to Olive looks a little bit different.

Moving, memorable and a mirror for anyone at a crossroads, OLIVE has a little bit of all of us. Told with great warmth and nostalgia, this is a modern tale about the obstacle course of adulthood, milestone decisions and the ‘taboo’ about choosing not to have children.”

Now – hands up, I don’t think I’m target market for this book – I’m mid (verging to late) 40s with 4 kids – and the main theme of the book is a millennial considering being childfree by choice.  Having said that, I totally respect any woman who wants to be childree by choice – I think an awful lot of people are sucked into having kids because it’s the expected thing not necessarily because they’ve made a conscious choice. I’m also hyper aware NOT to ask

‘when are you having kids?’
‘are you going to have another one?’
‘do you regret not having children?’

to people – as you don’t know their back story – but I am amazed how many people don’t have that restraint!

Anyway – back to the book.

The main character Olive (actually Olivia – but I like this different derivative, it’s so usually Liv!) has 3 best friends.  They were all at school together and then went to the same university and shared a house – and now in their early 30s remain close friends.  Although having said that, I think all of them are quite selfish in their own ways – and don’t really look out for their friends at times.

This is compounded by them all being at very different life stages – particularly when it comes to kids.

Bea had her kids young. and is now in a seemingly happy country life with 3 kids and a husband.
Cec is a high flying lawyer who has her first child during the book.
Isla is desperate to conceive but has endometriosis and is having IVF.
And Olive has just split up with her long term boyfriend because kids finally became a dealbreaker for him.

Considering they’ve been friends forever – there seems to be lots of times when they don’t think about each other much – or share what they’re thinking with each other – which I’m not sure rang very true!

Olive seeing a fertility specialist about her decision not to want to have kids also seems a bizarre choice – seeing a relevant specialist is one thing – but someone dealing with the total opposite of what you want vindication for was a strange choice.  Attending a ‘childfree by choice’ event sounds much more sensible.

Despite me dissing the characters and their friendships, I did really enjoy the book.  It’s written in a funny, relevant, chatty style – like the aforementioned Dawn O’Porter or Mhairi McFarlane – both of whom I love.

I loved Olive’s relationship with her elderly neighbour – having friends of different ages gives such a different perspective on life.

It was a quick read and I did enjoy it and it broaches the subject of being childfree by choice which is still a real taboo for lots of people.  Definitely thought provoking.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Dead To Her by Sarah Pinborough

Dead To Her

I really enjoyed Sarah Pinborough’s last book – Behind Her Eyes – so when I saw her new book on NetGalley I immediately put in a request for a review copy.

Here’s the blurb:

Something old…
When Marcie met Jason Maddox, she couldn’t believe her luck. Becoming Jason’s second wife catapulted her into the elite world of high society. But underneath the polite, old money manners, she knows she’ll always be an outsider, and her hard-won life hangs by a thread.
Something new…
Then Jason’s widowed boss brings back a new wife from his trip to London. Young, beautiful, reckless – nobody can take their eyes off Keisha. Including Jason.
Something you can never, ever undo…
Marcie refuses to be replaced so easily. People would kill for her life of luxury. What will Marcie do to keep it?”

The book is set in Savannah in Georgia in the US – where a group of wealthy individuals have intertwined lives.  Marcie is a second wife – and seen as the new girl on the block, until an even newer younger model arrives in the shape of another second wife, Keisha,  a Londoner in this strange world of tradition and history.

Marcie is convinced Keisha is after her husband (I guess when you move from mistress to wife you leave a vacancy based on past behaviour?!) but it’s not as simple as that (and I have to say I guessed that twist very early on).

The book then follows Marcie and Keisha and their husbands – who work and socialise together – and how their story develops as part of this close knit community.

There is a bizarre black magic theme interwoven in the book which all feels a bit odd and forced – it definitely wasn’t a part of the storyline I liked.

The tension in the book builds, and I wanted to know what happened and who would potentially frame whom for the ‘crime’ – but I just didn’t love this  book as much as I’d hoped.  I’m not sure if it was the American setting, or the seemingly stereotypical cliches of characters – but it just didn’t feel quite right.

Just like Behind Her Eyes, the ending is a cracker – and could set you up for a sequel – although I’m not entirely sure I’d bother……..

Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC.

 

Book Review: Half A World Away by Mike Gayle

Half A World Away

I am super lucky in that I often get to read advance review copies of books  – which is brilliant – but means I tempt my friends with reviews months before the books come out and don’t have chance to dissect books with them at the time!  Two of my book club friends – whose opinion I trust on books – raved about this, so I ACTUALLY PAID for a copy.  I think I have read other Mike Gayle books back in the day – and he’s from Birmingham (and South Birmingham at that – honestly, the accent is different, I was on a plane from Singapore to London some years ago and the stewardess asked me what I’d like to drink, I answered ‘A glass of champagne’ and she asked ‘Where in Birmingham are you from?’ – I said ‘I grew up in Kings Heath’ to which she replied ‘I’m from Harborne, I knew you were close’.)  Anyway – I totally digress – back to the book!

Here’s the blurb:

“Strangers living worlds apart.
Strangers with nothing in common.

But it wasn’t always that way…

Kerry Hayes is single mum, living on a tough south London estate. She provides for her son by cleaning houses she could never afford. Taken into care as a child, Kerry cannot forget her past.

Noah Martineau is a successful barrister with a beautiful wife, daughter and home in fashionable Primrose Hill. Adopted as a young child, Noah never looks back.

When Kerry contacts Noah, the sibling she lost on the day they were torn apart as children, she sets in motion a chain of events that will change both of their lives forever.

By turns funny and moving, Half a World Away is a story that will stay with you long after you read its final page.”

I enjoyed this from the start.  Kerry was a lovely character from the off – fighting for her son to have a better life than she had had. She and her younger brother had been taken into care as kids – but she’d written to her brother every year on his birthday, and every time she’d moved house, but to the adoption agency – so it was up to him whether he got in touch, she never knew where he was.

From the start you could see this was an estranged brother / sister who will find each other story – but it is sooo much more than that.

Noah was also a really likeable character – and the differences between how their lives had panned out was very evident. In fact the only person I didn’t particularly take to was Noah’s wife Rosalind – she just seemed ridiculous in her reactions to things for a large chunk of the book.  Noah had never wanted to find out about his birth family, as he was quite happy in his adopted family – and so looking for them had never been an issue for him.  I have to say his parents and adoptive siblings were all lovely and super supportive of him all of the time.

I love Noah’s relationship with his nephew Kian – and Kian’s relationship with his cousin Millie – they felt really true to life and not forced.  Other peripheral relationships were also lovely – particularly Kerry’s best friend who now lives up North with a whole host of kids, and also one of her cleaning clients who is more like a friend.

Now there is MAJOR thing that happens in the book – but I don’t want to give you any spoilers (I hate spoilers in reviews) but it is totally fundamental to the entire storyline.  It made it super emotional and I must confess to crying lots (not unusual for me!) but I think that is also testament to how emotively it is written.

Overall a fabulous read – and nice to have been able to discuss it with people now, not when they get to read it a few months after me!

I would say definitely one to pack in your suitcase this summer – but, hey ho……..

Book Review: The First Bad Man by Miranda July

 

The First Bad Man

I’ve posted before of my love of Dawn O’Porter – and when she recently started a page on Patreon where she posts lots of content she doesn’t post publicly (for a small monthly fee – less than a coffee shop latte!) I signed up straight away.  One of the things on there is a book club – and this was her suggestion for February / March – after she was given a copy of it by Louis Theroux.  Dawn said that fans of Eleanor Oliphant would love it – so I immediately purchased it. #followingtheherd #DawnOPorterinjoke

Here is the synopsis:

“From the acclaimed filmmaker, artist, and bestselling author of No One Belongs Here More Than You, a spectacular debut novel that is so heartbreaking, so dirty, so tender, so funny–so Miranda July–readers will be blown away.

Here is Cheryl, a tightly-wound, vulnerable woman who lives alone, with a perpetual lump in her throat. She is haunted by a baby boy she met when she was six, who sometimes recurs as other people’s babies. Cheryl is also obsessed with Phillip, a philandering board member at the women’s self-defense non-profit where she works. She believes they’ve been making love for many lifetimes, though they have yet to consummate in this one.

When Cheryl’s bosses ask if their twenty-one-year-old daughter Clee can move into her house for a little while, Cheryl’s eccentrically-ordered world explodes. And yet it is Clee–the selfish, cruel blond bombshell–who bullies Cheryl into reality and, unexpectedly, provides her the love of a lifetime.

Tender, gripping, slyly hilarious, infused with raging sexual fantasies and fierce maternal love, Miranda July’s first novel confirms her as a spectacularly original, iconic and important voice today, and a writer for all time. The First Bad Man is dazzling, disorienting, and unforgettable.”

Well – where to start!

This is truly a weird book.

Initially I could see the likeness between Cheryl and Eleanor – but then this got odder and odder.  And quite disturbing.  The sexual content grew and grew which I was slightly uncomfortable with – as it was all so bizarre.  I got to about 40% and was unsure whether to push forward or not.  Then I had to take my youngest to a medical appointment – and was sat in the waiting room at Birmingham Children’s Hospital reading it – and it just felt wrong.

I’ve decided that 2020 is the year I will allow myself to give up on books I’m not enjoying – and so that was it – I gave up before 50%.  No more pushing through (like the Goldfinch!!)  Life is too short – and there are SOOOO many books out there I want to read.

Lots of other people on Dawn’s Patreon page loved it – so please don’t let me put you off – maybe I’m just a bit too straight laced and vanilla?!

 

 

ETA:  I wrote the above back in February when I started (and gave up on) The First Bad Man.  However, the book club on Dawn’s Patreon page never got to fully dissect it as Dawn’s best friend died suddenly and so book club was put on hold.  Then ‘lockdown’ happened – and I’m not sure when book club will start again (although there is still lots of content on the Patreon page – just different to book club – but still very entertaining).  Anyway – I decided to post this blog post anyway as it was sat there ready to go and I’m interested to see if any of you guys have read it and what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read

I was emailed by the publisher to see if I’d like to read this having enjoyed ‘One Day In December’ by Josie Silver. I always find this a  bit more of a risk than selecting something I’ve already seen reviewed on Net Galley – but I went with it!

Here’s the blurb:

He doesn’t believe in happy endings.
She’s lost her faith that they exist.
But could they find one together?

January is a hopeless romantic who narrates her life like she’s the lead in a blockbuster movie.
Gus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale.

But January and Gus have more in common than you’d think:

They’re both broke.
They’ve got crippling writer’s block.
And they need to write bestsellers before summer ends.

The result? A bet to swap genres see who gets published first.
The risk? In telling each other’s stories, their worlds might be changed entirely…

Set over one sizzling summer, Beach Read is a witty love story that will make you laugh as much as cry.”

The cover and blurb made me think this was going to be a frothy book to read on a summer holiday (remember those?!) but that was fine with me.   But it was so much more than that – and much darker and deeper than I expected.

When I read the first couple of pages I have to say my heart sank – I thought this is going to be a twee American coming of age story – but I decided to persevere – and I am so very, very glad I did!

After the initial back story setting, the storyline follows January and Gus who are now next door neighbours – although in a slight  ‘suspend your belief for a bit’ actually knew each other back in college.  Both reasonably successful writers – but in totally different genres – and they decide to swap!

As part of the genre swapping they each arrange a weekly trip out (not a date, totally, definitely not a date!) – Gus takes January to interview escaped members of a local death cult (he writes high brow serious literature) and then January arranges a trip to the fair or to go line dancing in true rom com style!

The tension builds as the story twists and turns in a brilliantly clever way – and the sexual tension builds at the same time! There are some really well written sex scenes – not graphic – but incorporate the tension that has built up amazingly well, they were perfect.

Whilst the thread of ‘will they / won’t they’ runs through the book – there’s also some other serious stuff dealt with too – grief for the loss of a parent – and a relationship, finding out secrets about family members you didn’t know, marriage break ups, parental relationships etc – so I would say it falls in between January and Gus’s genres perfectly!!

I loved both January and Gus and their friendship / relationship – and I also really liked the other characters – January’s best friend, and Gus’s Aunt and her wife were brilliantly written and brought new dynamics to the book.

Throughout the book I was desperate to know what was going to happen next – and it was one of those books where you end up going to bed late as you just read that little bit more each time!

I’m not 100% sure why it’s even called ‘Beach Read’ – although books are read on the beach near the end as their houses are on the shores of Lake Michigan – but it’s definitely not a frothy, summer, beach read in my opinion – it’s much better than that.  I will be recommending this to friends far and wide when it is published later in the summer in the UK.

Thanks so much to the publishers and NetGalley for my ARC.