Book Review: Just My Luck by Adele Parks

Just My Luck

 

“It’s the stuff dreams are made of – a lottery win so big, it changes everything.
For fifteen years, Lexi and Jake have played the same six numbers with their friends, the Pearsons and the Heathcotes. Over dinner parties, fish & chip suppers and summer barbecues, they’ve discussed the important stuff – the kids, marriages, jobs and houses – and they’ve laughed off their disappointment when they failed to win anything more than a tenner.  

But then, one Saturday night, the unthinkable happens. There’s a rift in the group. Someone doesn’t tell the truth. And soon after, six numbers come up which change everything forever.
Lexi and Jake have a ticket worth £18 million. And their friends are determined to claim a share of it.
Number One Sunday Times bestseller Adele Parks returns with a riveting look at the dark side of wealth in this gripping take on friendship, money and betrayal, and good luck gone bad…”

I REALLY enjoyed this book!  The premise is great – and it plays out really well.  It twists and turns dramatically – and at different points you’re not quite sure who is telling the truth and who you should be rooting for – definitely the sign of a good book!

I liked Lexi – and at times wanted her to stand up for herself – but equally recognise it was a difficult and complicated situation.

The plots twists so much I don’t want to put any spoilers in this review – you need to read it yourself and have the same ‘OMG’ moments and sharp intakes of breath that I had!

There are a couple of niggles though – which I know is me being a pedant – but……

  1. The whole premise is that they’ve played the same numbers as a syndicate for the last 15 years – and that each number was chosen by a different person to represent something.  Well – one of the numbers is 58 – and the National Lottery only increased to numbers higher than 49 in 2015 – so they couldn’t have had the same numbers for 15 years.  (Yes, I know it’s only a work of fiction.)
  2. The game loved by kids / teenagers is Fortnite not Fortnight.  It is spelt differently at different times during the book. It might only be an autocorrect issue (and my autocorrect should know I never ever mean ‘duck’) but it’s just a bit sloppy.
  3. At one point it is mentioned that Lexi and Jake live in one village – and the other 2 couples live in the posher village a few miles away.  Then at another point in the book the couples walk home as they are only a few streets away.  Another minor inconsistency – but I am a knob.

Overall the niggles didn’t take away from the fact that this is a very good book – but I think Ms Parks needs a slightly more anal editor!!

But I would thoroughly recommend you read this when it comes out in May 2020.

 

 

Book Review: Remain Silent by Susie Steiner

Remain Silent

I’d read and enjoyed the first 2 books in the Manon Bradshaw series and really enjoyed them – so when I saw Marian Keyes mentioned on Twitter that a third was coming out in May, I immediately saw if it was available for request on NetGalley – and it was!

Here is the blurb.

“The body of a young migrant is found hanging from a tree.
No signs of struggle. No indication that it is anything other than a tragic suicide.
Except for a note, pinned to his trousers, that reads ‘The dead cannot speak’.
A murder investigation begins with DI Manon Bradshaw at the helm. But with the other migrants unwilling to speak, and protests on the streets, hatred is starting to drown out the facts.
 Can Manon uncover the truth before it happens again?”

I think this might just be my favourite of all of the Manon Bradshaw books – it is great!

As usual it twists and turns with a police investigation – along with the private lives of the police too.  Manon’s homelife is also undergoing turmoil as her partner has a cancer diagnosis and she has a teenager and toddler to cope with too.  I loved this side of it – and my favourite quote has to be ‘I’d rather boil my head in oil than home school’ – a statement with which I completely concur and is particularly relevant in the current climate!  (It also reminds me of when I was taking our son to hospital in an ambulance when he was about 3 and had a nasty head injury, and the paramedic asked if I worked or was a stay at home Mum – and I replied ‘I couldn’t be a stay at home Mum, I’d kill one of them’.  Whoops.)

Anyway – back to the book.

Essentially it’s an investigation of a death which looks like a suicide – except for a note on the body which makes it look more like murder.

However, it’s not just a murder investigation – it looks at the treatment of Eastern European migrants in Wisbech and their interaction with the ‘locals’ and how they are treated by their gangmasters.  It feels worryingly relevant and there are definite similarities between some of the people in the book and famous people in the media (mentioning no names!) .

It is clever, and twists and turns – and I think is my favourite of the Manon books. I would thoroughly recommend it when it comes out in May.

I don’t always read the acknowledgements at the end of the book – but I am so glad I did in this instance.  Just after submitting the original manuscript for this book, Susie Steiner was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma brain tumour.  Sadly I know more than I would like to about GBMs – as our friends’ son died from one when he was just 11 years old – 17 months after diagnosis.  The acknowledgements are really moving – and whilst it is clear Susie has a fabulous support network – her fear of the b*stard brain tumour is also evident.  When she said that she didn’t know if she’d still be here for the publication of the book it was just so very very sad.  I was pleased that a quick Twitter search shows Susie is still here and normal life (ranting at TfL, toilet paper purchasing) is still ongoing.  And the fight goes on to find a cure for this horrific disease that kills more children and adults under 40 than any other cancer – and yet has historically only received 1% of the national spend on cancer research.

 

 

 

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

 

My Dark Vanessa

I’d seen this book on a couple of lists of “books to read in 2020”, so had a look on NetGalley to see if it was available – and it was!

Here is the blurb:

“An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher
ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER
Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher.
She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.
Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that.
Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.
Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age.”

Firstly – this is not an easy read.  It’s dark and disturbing and I could see would be a trigger for some people who’ve been in a similar situation.  That said – it is also a very good read.

It flicks between present day (when Vanessa is 32 and working a pretty dead end job in hospitality) and back when she was a teenager and first crossed paths with Strane.  As the reader you can totally see how Strane groomed and abused Vanessa – but in her eyes it was the love of her life.  It then follows her life through the intervening 17 years – and how her entire life is entwined with the abuse she suffered / her great love affair – depending who you are.

I think the fact Vanessa was a similar age to my eldest daughter made it all the more difficult to read – I could empathise with her parents – as well as with Vanessa herself.

Vanessa is just so totally blind to what is happening to her – and really feels that Strane is in love with her and caring for her and only doing what she wants – it’s desperately sad.  You can see this affects her relationships with all of those around her – family, friends, men, future lecturers, colleagues.

When Strane is accused by another girl of abuse – Vanessa has to question what happened to her too – but still she sees it as a great romance, and that she was far more special to him than anyone else has ever been.  The grooming was exceptionally well done…..

Lots of famous literature is quoted, as Strane is an English teacher – in many instances where there is a similar type of relationship – like ‘Lolita’.  I’ve never read this and wonder if there were more references that I would have understood if I had?  But it didn’t detract from my understanding of the book.

In this era of #MeToo it does make you stop and think more about the older powerful man and the younger vulnerable woman keen to impress.  (Actually – one of the jurors in the recent Harvey Weinstein trial has reviewed this exact book on ‘Goodreads’ which made it to the press for the similarities with the legal case).

This is thought a provoking and well written book, and I was keen to find out what happened  – but it was not an easy read, and some of the sex scenes are quite graphic – although probably needed to be in the shocking context of the book.

Many thanks to the publishers and Net Galley for my advance review copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

If I Never Met You

On the back of this new book by Mhairi McFarlane is a quote from the author Holly Bourne that says ‘If Mhairi released a novel a month I’d ready them all’ – and I have to say I completely concur.  I’ve read Mhairi’s entire back catalogue and loved every single one.

Here’s the blurb about this one:

“If faking love is this easy… how do you know when it’s real?
The brand new novel from Sunday Times bestselling author Mhairi McFarlane
Laurie and Jamie have the perfect office romance

(They set the rules via email)
Everyone can see they’re head over heels

(They staged the photos)
This must be true love

(They’re faking it)
When Laurie is dumped by her partner of eighteen years, she’s blindsided. Not only does she feel humiliated, they still have to work together.
So when she gets stuck in the lift with handsome colleague Jamie, they hatch a plan to stage the perfect romance. Revenge will be sweet…
But this fauxmance is about to get complicated. You can’t break your heart in a fake relationship – can you?”

Yet again Mhairi McFarlane has written an absolute cracker which I loved from the offset.  Laurie is a lawyer, and having been an accountant in a previous life, the office politics were very similar – and the inter office relationships!!

I loved Laurie, wanted to punch Dan, and was desperate for a ‘happy ever after’!

The book twists and turns – and as ever, the use of social media is brilliant (I also only recently found out people can see if you’ve looked at their Instastories #oldperson #rubbishstalker)

The supporting cast is also brilliant – Laurie’s colleagues, her BFF and Jamie’s BFF, Jamie’s parents – a whole host of other characters who you are also invested in and are fleshed out in  the story.

I suspected this might have a reasonably predictable storyline – and in some ways I was right – but I was also wrong!  There’s definitely enough to keep you on your toes and you don’t feel totally spoonfed.

Whilst this could be summed up as a ‘romance’ there is so much more to it – and it shows how important friends are as well as family.

Mhairi’s writing is – as ever – quick witted, amusing, emotive, clever, well thought out, intelligent, and just downright brilliant.  I like to think if I ever wrote a book (no plans in the immediate future, but you never know) I would have a similar ‘voice’.  (That sounds far more w*nky than I intended it to……….)

And I’ve just noticed this is currently 99p for Kindle – so download it immediately, you won’t regret it!

 

Book Review: Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Grown Ups

I’ve long been a fan of Marian Keyes (and stalk her on Twitter frequently – especially during the Strictly season!)  When I saw another of my ‘close personal friends’ (actually just someone else I follow religiously on social media who I’m never likely to meet IRL), Giovanna Fletcher, rave about Marian’s newest book, I wondered if it was available on NetGalley to get a sneak preview – and joy of joys it was!

Here’s the blurb:

“They’re a glamorous family, the Caseys.

Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together – birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they’re a happy family. Johnny’s wife, Jessie – who has the most money – insists on it.

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .

Everything stays under control until Ed’s wife Cara, gets concussion and can’t keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Johnny’s birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out all their secrets.

In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it’s time – finally – to grow up?”

Initially I was a bit confused – there are a LOT of family members and you’re introduced to them all in one go at a family party where Cara starts spilling out family secrets!  The book then goes back in time so that you can see the build up to some of these secrets happen.

It didn’t take long to get the gist of who was who – and that really helped.

I could empathise a lot with Jessie (bossy, organiser type) and Cara (disordered relationship with food) and really liked how the characters were fleshed out – with their good bits and bad bits all wrapped up – just like in real life!

Two of the brothers were fundamentally lovely – although with their own foibles – and one was a knob! (And not just because I suspect he would have posted all of his cycle rides on social media)

The book twists and turns through all of the extended families lives – with them all coming together at various family celebrations. I loved the descriptions of the holiday in Tuscany – and given we’re staying just outside Lucca in the summer, I’m looking forward to going to do a big shop at the supermarket on the ringroad #nichereferencepoint.

Whilst it is, essentially, a family saga – it touches on some big issues – grief / mental health / step families / eating disorders / age gap relationships / marital breakdown – but all wrapped up in normal life, as they are for many of us. I love Marian’s turn of phrase – and the book had me laughing and crying.

I felt like I was an observer into the Casey family for a few months – and felt quite sad at the end that I wouldn’t carry on knowing what they were up to – as if I was losing touch with friends.  Given there are so many characters – I wonder if a spin off or follow up would be in order??

Overall this is a definite recommendation when it comes out later this month – pre order it now, you know you want to!!

Thanks NetGalley and the publishers for my ARC – I am always so excited and grateful to be chosen!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In 5 Years

I’d seen this book on a list of ‘books that will be big in 2020’ – or words to that effect – so asked NetGalley for an advance review copy, and my wish was granted.  Here’s the blurb:

“Perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day, this heart-breaking story of love, loss and life will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about destiny…
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Kohan has been in possession of her meticulously crafted answer since she understood the question. On the day that she nails the most important job interview of her career and gets engaged to the perfect man, she’s well on her way to fulfilling her life goals.
That night Dannie falls asleep only to wake up in a different apartment with a different ring on her finger, and in the company of a very different man. The TV is on in the background, and she can just make out the date. It’s the same night – December 15th – but 2025, five years in the future.
It was just a dream, she tells herself when she wakes, but it felt so real… Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.
That is, until four and a half years later, when Dannie turns down a street and there, standing on the corner, is the man from her dream…
In Five Years is a love story, brimming with joy and heartbreak. But it is definitely not the love story you’re expecting.”

I LOVED this book.  It twists and turns and is really emotional – but not in a typical ‘love story’ way.  It is a love story – but with many different types of love.  I don’t want to say too much or give too much away, as you really need to be lead by the book.  I devoured it in just a few days, as I was desperate to know what happens.

Right the way through you’re on a timeline to see if the events of December 15th 2025 were just a weird dream or actually happened – so you kind of know what you’re aiming for! And that just succeeds in building the tension significantly – SURELY it can’t be true??

I liked Dannie as a character (most of the time) and empathised with her as being a coper – and when there is a massive crisis for her or her friends, turning into full on organiser / Monica from Friends control freak.  That is exactly what I do too!  It makes you feel like you’re ‘helping’ (even if it can be seen as being bossy?!)

Also – I had one of those totally weird experiences whilst reading this which makes you feel like you’re Mystic Meg (showing my age there!) or your brain is being tapped.  Until a fortnight ago I had never heard of DUMBO in New York – but since then it’s been EVERYWHERE.  For those of you who are like me 2 weeks ago, this is the area called ‘Down Under the Manhatten Bridge Overpass’, DUMBO for short – in Brooklyn) So, first I spotted it tagged in a random Instagram #travelgram post, then BrummyMummyof2 tagged herself there in her Instastories on a trip to NYC with her gorgeous family, then the lovely Lucy from Lil’s Parlour did the same!  And THEN it featured in this book – where thankfully it was explained (as I hadn’t been uncool enough to ask Emma or Lucy where it was!)

Overall I really enjoyed this book.  It as an escapist, quick read, with an interesting premise.  I won’t give away the ending – but I really liked it.  I will definitely look out for other books by this author in the future.

Thanks NetGalley for my copy in return for an honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book review: Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

Big Girl Small Town

I saw this described as ‘Milkman meets Derry Girls’ – and I LOVE Derry Girls, so requested an ARC from Netgalley!

Here’s the blurb:

”  *Stuff Majella knows*
-God doesn’t punish men with baldness for wearing ladies’ knickers
-Banana-flavoured condoms taste the same as nutrition shakes
-Not everyone gets a volley of gunshots over their grave as they are being lowered into the ground

*Stuff Majella doesn’t know*
-That she is autistic
-Why her ma drinks
-Where her da is

Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn’t like gossip and she isn’t interested in knowing her neighbours’ business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers.
Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way.

But Majella’s safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.”

Now, I’ve never read Milkman – so my comparison would be it’s a cross between ‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ and Derry Girls.

The book is all written from Majella’s point of view – and each chapter is headed by an item off her list of things she likes and dislikes.  That means the ‘chapters’ are seemingly random in length.

I really enjoyed the way the spoken elements were written in a Northern Irish dialect.  I have friends and family who live in the Belfast area – and I could actually hear them talking at times!

I kept waiting for something exciting to happen – and something potentially very exciting does happen – but it does not change the book.  It is the minutiae of Majella’s life, day in day out.  Be it at home with her drunken mother or at the chipper with her colleagues and various customers.

Some of it is mildly entertaining, some of it is a bit gross (I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book which has a number of descriptions of changing tampons), some of it is a bit sad – but a lot of it is boring and repetitive.

This is not Eleanor and this is not Derry Girls.  Majella does not have the appeal of Eleanor and there is nowhere near the humour of Derry Girls (emphasised by watching the Great British Festive Bake Off with some of the cast in during the period of reading the book!)

I persevered – as I don’t like to be beaten by a book, and I really thought it might suddenly get better – but I wouldn’t recommend you bother to be honest.

It’s not often I give a bad  book review – I love all genres of books – but this was not one for me.

 

 

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!