Book Review: A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney

Unfortunately I know more about brain tumours that I would like, after our family friend Finlay died of a glioblastoma when he was 11 years old, and sadly I know of a few adults who have died from the same cancer. Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer. What a sh*t club to be in.

Rob Delaney and his family know even more close hand what b*stards brain tumours are after their third son, Henry, was diagnosed with a brain tumour when just a year old. Here is the blurb about the book Rob has written about their experience:

“In this memoir of loss, acclaimed writer and comedian Rob Delaney grapples with the fragile miracle of life, the mysteries of death, and the question of purpose for those left behind.
When you’re a parent and your child gets hurt or sick, you not only try to help them get better but you also labour under the general belief that you can help them get better. That’s not always the case though. Sometimes the nurses and the doctors can’t fix what’s wrong. Sometimes children die.
Rob Delaney’s beautiful, bright, gloriously alive son Henry died. He was one when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. An experience beyond comprehension, but an experience Rob must share. Why does he feel compelled to talk about it, to write about it, to make people feel something like what he feels when he knows it will hurt them? Because, despite Henry’s death, Rob still loves people. For that reason, he wants them to understand.
A Heart That Works is an intimate, unflinching and fiercely funny exploration of loss – from the harrowing illness to the vivid, bodily impact of grief and the blind, furious rage that follows, through to the forceful, unstoppable love that remains.
This is the story of what happens when you lose a child, and everything you discover about life in the process.

The book is not an exact chronology of what happened to Henry – and you know from the start that the outcome was his death – but it is incredibly moving throughout. It’s also, at times, funny and written with the dark humour (and swearing!) you’d expect from Rob Delaney. Who knew that the pronunciation of the word ‘giraffe’ would be a stumbling block for Henry’s parents during his treatment?

The knock on effect on the whole family, Henry’s brothers, the extended family – and their friends and Henry’s carers is also discussed. Rob’s family were going through so much other sh*t at the same time on the other side of the Atlantic – it was just awful – but they supported each other throughout.

Whilst there were many similarities with Fin’s story – this is very much Henry’s story. Henry’s family were keen to support charities helping families going through similar situations with immediate help to care for the sick child and their siblings – whereas Fin’s family have raised thousands to support both Birmingham Children’s Hospital where Fin was treated – and also Brain Tumour Research, because historically brain tumours have received less than 1% of the total cancer spend. All of these charities are equally valid and equally needed.

As a parent – this was a hard read – but I think it would be a very useful, if emotional, read for parents going through something similar. It also reemphasised to me the need to be careful around language when people have cancer. It’s not a ‘battle’ – because that implies the sufferer needs to fight hard to try and ‘beat’ the cancer – when sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard the person fights, it’s never going to be enough – because cancer is f*cking sh*t. There’s lots of other thought provoking things too – I really would recommend this book to everyone.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my review copy in exchange for an honest review. But mostly, thank you to Rob and his family for sharing Henry’s story with the world.

Book Review: The Vintage Shop of Second Chances by Libby Page

It is said that you should never judge a book by its cover – but I’m about to be really judgy about book titles! I have to confess if something says ‘vintage’ or ‘shop’ or even worse ‘vintage teashop / teashoppe’ – then it is likely to be a no from me before even reading it. However, having adored Libby Page’s previous books – I decided to give this vintage shop a chance, and I am very pleased I did.

Here’s the blurb:

“Among the cobbled streets of the Somerset town of Frome, Lou is embarking on the start of something new. After the death of her beloved mother, she takes a deep breath into the unknown and is opening her own vintage clothes shop.
In upstate New York, Donna has just found out some news about her family which has called into question her whole upbringing. The only clue she has to unlock her past is a picture of a yellow dress, and the fact it is currently on display in a shop in England.
For Maggy, she is facing life as a 70-something divorcee and while she got the house, she’s not sure what to fill it with now her family have moved out. The new vintage shop in town sparks memories of her past and reignites a passion she’s been missing…
Together, can these three women find the answers they are searching for and unlock a second chance at a new life?”

You are initially following the stories of Lou, Donna and Maggy – and a girl in a yellow dress (but you don’t know her name) – and the stories are separate, but then start to entwine. The relationship between 20 something Lou and 70 something Maggy reminded me very much of Libby Page’s debut novel, The Lido, and the connection in that book between Kate and Rosemary – just lovely.

Whilst the ladies are the main characters, there are a supporting cast of family and friends – and potential love interests – but the book fundamentally revolves around female friendship in the midst of family upheavals of different sorts.

It’s beautifully written, captures emotions and relationships well, and has enough twists and turns to not be too predictable.

The descriptions of Somerset and the East coast of the US – are both done well and make you feel like you’re there.

There is minimal sex (all tastefully written), no drugs (apart from glasses of wine) and not quite rock and roll (but there is a band playing at a party) – and is just really ‘nice’.

A lovely, gentle, escapist read – and out in February 2023.

A big thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.

Book Review: The Good Drinker: How I Learned to Love Drinking Less by Adrian Chiles

I heard Adrian talking about this book on the Parenting Hell podcast (coincidentally, as a parent of teenagers, it was a bloody brilliant episode – and had me in floods of tears when talking about the fact you pack your child off to Uni telling them ‘it’s going to be the best time of your life’ – and actually it can be really tough, especially at the start, being dumped in a random place with random people and expected to make friends for life and have an amazing time. Can you tell I’d just a few months earlier dropped my eldest at Uni?!?)

Anyway – back to the book! It sounded really interesting. I have a number of friends who have given up alcohol completely, and had various mental health issues entwined with alcohol issues (although none were lying in a doorstep alcoholics, cracking open the vodka at breakfast) but at the same time I didn’t feel my husband and I had ‘that much of a problem’. I can freely admit that both of us drink far more than the recommended limits – and definitely when on holiday would be up at a level similar to Adrian’s historic levels. Only recently someone reported, in hushed and shocked tones, that a relative going through a trauma had drunk a litre bottle of vodka – and I asked ‘over what time period?’ – thinking that on a day on holiday with wine starting at lunchtime, pushing through the afternoon with a beer in the sunshine, cocktails before dinner, and yet more wine with dinner – it probably wasn’t dissimilar units wise.

But ‘of course I don’t have a problem’.

I don’t drink every night.
I can do Dry January (although I prefer Sober October as January is sh*t enough).
I drink posh gins, expensive wine and champagne not cheap cider.
When our daughter was seriously ill (suspected leukaemia initially, and then diagnosed with an auto immune disease) I gave up completely as I knew it was all or nothing at a time of stress- and dealing with sleepless nights and a hangover would have been horrific.
However I don’t often get hangovers (although when I do they are awful in my 40s!).
I rarely vomit from alcohol consumption (and last time I did, I’m sure there was something wrong with the coffee beans in the espresso martinis, it wasn’t the volume of booze!).
I’ve never woken up in the morning needing a hair of the dog.
I’m carrying extra weight – but otherwise my recent health check was absolutely fine.
I manage to run a successful business and a family of four, so I can’t be doing that much damage to myself.
I can easily go out for dinner with friends and be the designated driver and not drink.
I enjoy drinking with my friends and family.
I can always recite the quadratic equation formula to prove I’m sober (this was my party trick during sixth form and uni – I did a maths degree, so can be excused for being a total geek!)
I would never drink and drive.
A matching drinks flight to a taster menu in a lovely restaurant is one of life’s fabulous luxuries.
You can’t turn down a free drink.

This whole list reads like one of the chapters in the book…….. #excuses

So – here’s the blurb:

The popular broadcaster and columnist sets out to discover the unsung pleasures of drinking in moderation.
The recommended alcohol limit is 14 units a week. Adrian Chiles used to put away almost 100. Ever since he was a teenager, drinking was his idea of a good time – and not just his, but seemingly the whole nation’s. Still, it wasn’t very good for him: the doctor made that clear. If you lined them up, Adrian must have knocked back three miles of drinks. How many of them had he genuinely wanted? A mile?
There’s an awful lot of advice out there on how to quit booze completely. If you just want to drink a bit less, the pickings are slim. Yet while the alcohol industry depends on a minority of problem drinkers, the majority really do enjoy in moderation. What’s their secret? Join the inimitable Chiles as he sets out around Britain and plumbs his only slightly fuzzy memories of a lifetime in pubs in a quest to find the good drinker within.”

Firstly I love Adrian – and you can ‘hear’ his voice in the writing which I really enjoyed (and not just because we have a similar accent, although I have been known to take issue with people who call him a ‘Brummie’!!)

It’s a really good mix of being informative, factual – but not preachy – and most definitely not ‘it’s my way or the highway’. He recognises that for some people complete abstinence is the only option. However, he also points out that a lot of people who drink a lot are put off by the thought of total abstinence – and therefore don’t bother looking at their drinking levels at all, because moderate drinking isn’t often deemed an option. There are loads of books about quitting the booze completely – but not many about just cutting down and not being a ‘heavy’ drinker.

As Adrian says in the book – alcohol is the only drug you have to explain why you’re NOT taking it! When I’ve not been drinking at some points I’ve had friends say ‘Oh, let me know when you’re drinking again, and then we can go out’ – as if somehow not drinking alcohol precludes having a night out?

It really did give me food for thought – in a good way – and I have been waxing lyrical to friends (over drinks!) about it ever since I finished it over the Christmas holidays. The combination of facts and anecdotes means it’s an interesting and amusing read and I plan to follow Adrian’s example and be more mindful about what I consume alcohol-wise going forwards. For now it’s ‘damp’ January in the Price household.

Book Review: The Ghost Manuscript by Kris Frieswick

I like to share my book reviews – as hopefully you’ve noticed – but because of this I sometimes get people saying ‘Oh, I’ve written a book’ or ‘My friend has written a book, would you like to read it?’ This makes me nervous, as no one wants to have their baby criticised (which reminds me of Emily’s excellent guest post some years ago!) So I’d heard about The Ghost Manuscript from a mutual friend of the author but had never bought it. Then – at the mutual friend’s 50th – I met Kris Frieswick in person, and really enjoyed her company (although I’m not sure either of us will drink an espresso martini ever again?!) and despite the alcohol imbibed, I managed to buy her book from Amazon from the hotel bar! If you need *slightly* more information than a mutual love of champagne, cocktails and fast cars between me and the author – here’s the blurb:

“Rare-book authenticator Carys Jones wanted nothing more than to be left alone to pursue her obsession with ancient manuscripts. But when her biggest client is committed to an asylum, he gives Carys an offer she cannot refuse. In exchange for his entire library of priceless Dark Age manuscripts, she must track the clues hidden in a previously unknown journal, clues that lead to a tomb that could rewrite the history of Western civilization. 
But there are people who would do anything to stop her from finding what she seeks – for reasons both noble and evil. The hunt takes her to places she never thought she’d go, physically and emotionally: first to Wales, her estranged father’s homeland, then to bed with Dafydd, a mysterious Welshman who agrees to help her with the search, and, finally, deep inside her own psyche when the monk who wrote the journal 1,500 years ago appears and assists her in her search.”

Now I need to hold my hands up and say ghosts and fantasy books of 1,500 year old monks appearing is not my usual bag – but I thought I’d give it a go – and I’m so glad I did. I really enjoyed the whole book (and have had to Google things whilst reading it to see what was fact and what was fiction!)

The book starts on the East coast of the US where Carys works for an auction house specialising in rare books. Her boss is horrible, she has a client she respects who offers her an amazing deal to investigate an unknown journal, and she has a brilliant kick ass lawyer best friend watching her back. It soon becomes evident that there is more to this unknown journal than meets the eye – and not just her client knows this.

Carys then ends up over in Wales – and more specifically Mumbles just outside Swansea. In a strange twist of fate, I took my son (who also got to know Kris at the aforementioned 50th!) to visit Swansea Uni and then we went for coffee and cake in Mumbles whilst I was part way through the book! It was really interesting to see all of the locations from the book in real life – albeit on a very grey and rainy day #Wales. And in a further twist, the building at Swansea that my son would learn Classics in, is called the Taliesin building – and Taliesin is an ancient Welsh poet mentioned in ‘The Ghost Manuscript’ (the world is a very small place sometimes!)

Back to the book!

Whilst in Wales, Carys enlists the help of some locals – telling them elements of her story without disclosing exactly what is going on. In the meantime, back in Boston, her best friend, the client and the client’s housekeeper are doing their bit too. The trail then takes Carys back across the Atlantic again.

The book twists and turns – it’s part Indiana Jones type quest, part fantasy, part romantic comedy, part family drama, part murder mystery – with lots of other things thrown in too! I don’t want to walk you – or take you out on a boat – through the story, as you need to see how it develops yourself.

I have to say I didn’t see the ending coming at all – which was great – not in the least predictable, which I loved.

All in all – I’m glad I took a chance on a different genre – and look forward to seeing what Kris writes next!

Book Review: The Christmas Wish by Lindsey Kelk

I’ve previously enjoyed books by Lindsey Kelk – so when I saw she had a Christmas book out, I requested it from NetGalley and was lucky enough to be sent a review copy. Here’s the blurb:

“Newly single lawyer Gwen Baker is hoping that a family Christmas – countryside, a mountain of food and festive films –
will salve the sting of her career hanging by a thread and her heart being trampled on. Because everyone else has their life sorted: even Dev, her boy-next-door crush, is now a tall, dark and handsome stranger with a fiancée. She can’t help wishing her future was clearer.
Then Gwen wakes up to discover it’s Christmas day all over again. Like Groundhog Day but with turkey. And family arguments. On repeat.
As she figures out how to escape her own particular Christmas hell, Dev is the one bright spot. He might be all grown-up but underneath he’s just as kind and funny as she remembers.
Maybe, just maybe, her heart can be mended after all.
But how do you fall in love with someone who can’t remember you from one day to the next?”

I enjoyed the book from the start with Gwen and her cousin Manny travelling to their family home town from London for Christmas. Although not specified exactly where – later on in the book it’s evident that it’s walking distance to Chatsworth House – so clearly near my Aunt and Uncle in Derbyshire!

Gwen and Manny clearly have a close relationship as cousins – and as the book continues, lots of the backstory for the whole family is filled in. They are a really mixed bunch – but you’re rooting for them all. You’re also definitely rooting for Gwen and Dev!

The Groundhog Day element is brilliant! Each day Gwen wakes up and it’s Christmas morning again – and she needs to work out what has gone wrong and why she’s gone back in time again, and again. It’s so clever – and each iteration affects the next in some way or other.

It’s well written, intricate but still very funny and relevant. I had one tiny niggle (because I’m a d*ck) and that’s in one version of the day, Gwen grabs a bacon sandwich as she leaves the house – but a few pages later is starving because she hasn’t eaten all day. Now maybe she didn’t eat the sandwich she grabbed – or maybe I just spotted the one tiny continuity error in it!

It’s a perfect book to curl up with at this time of year – and it’s bargain on Kindle at the moment. I would thoroughly recommend it with a glass of Baileys / box of celebrations / log fire / cozy blanket (delete as applicable)

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC.

Book Review: The Bullet That Missed (The Thursday Murder Club 3) by Richard Osman

“It is an ordinary Thursday and things should finally be returning to normal.
Except trouble is never far away where the Thursday Murder Club are concerned. A decade-old cold case leads them to a local news legend and a murder with no body and no answers.
Then a new foe pays Elizabeth a visit. Her mission? Kill. . . or be killed.
As the cold case turns white hot, Elizabeth wrestles with her conscience (and a gun), while Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim chase down clues with help from old friends and new. But can the gang solve the mystery and save Elizabeth before the murderer strikes again?”

Having loved the previous two Thursday Murder Club books I was a bit sad that the third instalment didn’t hit NetGalley – so when I had a book token to spend, it was a no brainer. I bought it planning to give it to my Mum for Christmas (but then decided to read it myself first!!)

It was so good to be back with the gang again. Whilst the book would stand alone – I really think you need all of the back stories to fully appreciate it – and I’ve found each book is better than the previous because of the familiarity with the 4 founding members of the Thursday Murder Club but the supporting cast of characters as well. The relationships between these supporting members are also an integral part of this book – and it feels like the cast is growing and intertwining as if you were in a serial drama (posh term for soap opera!)

There are huge twists and turns, you have to suspend your disbelief sometimes – but I enjoy that. I can totally ‘hear’ Richard Osman in the writing – but I enjoy that too!

I don’t need to give this a glowing review to get Mr Osman more sales – as his books are ridiculously popular and often fill up multiple spots on the Sunday Times bestseller lists – but I am definitely a fan, and I’m already looking forward to book 4! And yes – I have passed this one on to my Mum as an early Christmas present.

Book Review: The Sh!te Before Christmas by Serena Terry

Having followed Serena Terry / @mummybanter on social media, and enjoyed her first book – when I saw she had a sequel out – and it referred to Christmas in a similar vein to me – I had to request a copy off NetGalley!

Here’s the blurb:

One month to go. One stressed mum. Can she pull off the perfect family Christmas?
Twas the sh!te before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for … mum!
Like every mum, Tara wants a perfect Christmas for her family – but no-one else is lifting a finger and she’s losing her elf-ing mind. From the kids behaving badly (vaping! Potty training! The Nativity!), to a distracted husband acting very out of character, the last straw is Tara’s glamorous, feckless, boundary-less mother moving herself back in for the holidays.
Can Tara pull off the holly jolly Christmas of her dreams? Will she deck the halls and not her family? Or is this a Christmas catastrophe”

I finished this book ages ago – but for some reason forgot to post the review! Anyway – we’re now in advent, so life feels much more Christmassy – so definitely the right time to purchase and read this – or it would make a great Christmas present.

It was fabulous to go back to catch up with Tara and her family – it felt like visiting friends for Christmas! All of the relationships from the first book are revisited – and Tara’s Mum plays a key role in this book too. Whilst you could read this as a standalone book – I really think it would be better if you’d read the first book so that you know the back story to all of the characters – from Tara’s immediate family, to her friends and work mates.

The relationships are – again – the centrepoint of the book. From the stroppy teenager, to the excitable small child, the grumpy husband, the nightmare boss – all if it is written very well.

Some of the book was quite predictable, some of it completely surprised me – so all in all I really enjoyed it.

Is this book going to win any literary prizes? Probably not. But a bit like how I don’t always want to watch Oscar nominated films – sometimes a funny, relevant, laugh out loud, have a little weep book is what you want – and this fits the bill perfectly.

A big festive thank you to the publisher and Net Galley for my ARC.

Book Review: Parenting Hell by Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe

I love the Parenting Hell podcast – and have bought (with my own money, which doesn’t happen very often!) the books written by Josh Widdicombe and Rob Beckett – so when they had a co-written book come out, it was a no brainer. However, super organised me ordered a signed copy when it was first announced. People pleaser me then felt guilty for not having ordered a copy (potentially peri menopausal forgetfulness at this point!) when Rob ranted about freeloading podcast listeners not buying it – I bought it again. So, on release day – I had two parcels from WHSmiths arrive!! I’ve sent the extra copy to the lovely friend who introduced me to the podcast in the first place to say thank you for the hours of free entertainment I’ve benefitted from.

Here is the blurb if you’re not a podcast listener already (and you wouldn’t have to be a podcast listener to read it – it would stand alone – but you really should listen to the podcast, it’s my ‘go to’ every Tuesday and Friday and is available free on Spotify):

“THE MADNESS, ABSURDITY, AND UTTER CHAOS OF BEING A PARENT FROM THE HOSTS OF THE NO.1 SMASH HIT PODCAST.
What’s it really like to be a parent? And how come no one ever warned Rob or Josh of the sheer mind-bending, world-altering, sleep-depriving, sick-covering, tear-inducing, snot-wiping, bore-inspiring, 4am-relationship-straining brutality of it all? And if they did, why can’t they remember it (or remember anything else, for that matter)?
And just when they thought it couldn’t get any harder, why didn’t anyone warn them about the slices of unmatched euphoric joy and pride that occasionally come piercing through, drenching you in unbridled happiness in much the same way a badly burped baby drenches you in milk-sick?
Join Josh and Rob as they share the challenges and madness of their parenting journeys with lashings of empathy and extra helpings of laughs. Filled with all the things they never tell you at antenatal classes, Parenting Hell is a beguiling mixture of humour, rumination and conversation for prospective parents, new parents, old parents and never-to-be parents alike.”

The book is – as expected – brilliant and funny. It’s written like a conversation between Josh and Rob – covering different topics of parenthood. It’s not completely chronological – and it’s not a self help book – but it’s funny, normal and relatable (which is surprising, as Rob and Josh usually try to be sexy and unrelatable #podcastjoke)

I also really enjoyed the chapters written by Rose and Lou (Josh and Rob’s respective wives) and by the Widdicombe and Beckett parents – as well as by childfree producer Michael. It was interesting to see the other perspectives (and hear which other comedian Lou would have married – and may run off with in the future!)]

Like Lou I have bowel problems – not the same one, but still ‘anal wouldn’t help’ (this is a reference from the book – not me being completely weird when writing this blog post!) and sometimes this means I have to sit on the loo for ages (although let’s face it, sometimes I sit there just to read more of my book!) One evening my husband thought I must be suffering more than usual as he could hear me ‘crying’ in our en suite. Apart from I wasn’t crying – I was laughing a lot at Lou’s chapter. Honestly – this is turning into a Lou Beckett appreciation post rather than a book review!

Overall it’s a fun, escapist read – and whilst funny, self-deprecating and not always 100% positive about all aspects of parenthood – the love for their families shines out from Rob and Josh. I’d thoroughly recommend it to everyone (even if your youngest ‘baby’ is 11 tomorrow like mine, and your oldest one of the four is 19. Let’s not tell the boys about how the next decade or so pans out………)

Book Review: Bournville by Jonathan Coe

When I read the blurb for this new Jonathan Coe book – I was very excited to request a copy from NetGalley. Here it is – to see if it entices you too:

“In Bournville, a placid suburb of Birmingham, sits a famous chocolate factory. For eleven-year-old Mary and her family in 1945, it’s the centre of the world. The reason their streets smell faintly of chocolate, the place where most of their friends and neighbours have worked for decades. Mary will go on to live through the Coronation and the World Cup final, royal weddings and royal funerals, Brexit and Covid-19. She’ll have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Parts of the chocolate factory will be transformed into a theme park, as modern life and the city crowd in on their peaceful enclave.
As we travel through seventy-five years of social change, from James Bond to Princess Diana, and from wartime nostalgia to the World Wide Web, one pressing question starts to emerge: will these changing times bring Mary’s family – and their country – closer together, or leave them more adrift and divided than ever before?
Bournville is a rich and poignant new novel from the bestselling, Costa award-winning author of Middle England. It is the story of a woman, of a nation’s love affair with chocolate, of Britain itself.”

I have lived within a few miles of Bournville all of my life and equally my parents and grandparents have also lived nearby – so it felt very ‘close to home’ literally as well as figuratively. The generations of the family in this story are about 1/2 a generation out from mine – but still incredibly relevant.

The book starts in Vienna in March 2020 – just as the world is about to go mad as Covid 19 hits. It then goes back in time to VE day in 1945 as Mary Lamb is a small child celebrating the end of the war with her family.

The book then uses huge events that are happening as key chapters in the book – it reminded me a bit of a historic blog post I did about remembering where you were when specific key events in the world happened. Also, the fact that lots of these events involve the Royal Family made it even more poignant given the fact that the Queen recently died.

This is a swooping family drama – and I’ve read some reviews complaining that nothing really happens – but it is the story of a family life – and thankfully my own family life doesn’t involve many murders or mysteries either!

For me the local backdrop was lovely – not only was Bournville unsurprisingly a key geographical location – I got even more excited as characters moved initially to the Lickey Hills – and then Barnt Green, which is the next village to us! Just like in the book – when we first moved to the village we found that lots of people worked at either The Austin (subsequently The Rover) or Cadburys – both of which loom large during the book.

I have to say that I had realised that Cadbury’s chocolate didn’t taste the same overseas – but I wasn’t fully up to speed with the politics of chocolate – particularly across Europe – so was educated on that by the book.

The book circles back to during the pandemic – and it is incredibly moving (even more so when I realised that some of it was based upon real life experiences of the author and his family during the covid 19 situation).

The book has some ‘Easter Eggs’ in it from the authors other novels – and a couple of names were familiar – but it’s a long time since I watched ‘The Rotters Club’ on TV back in 2005.

Now I probably would have bought this book for lots of my relatives – especially my Great Aunt who lives in Bournville – however there is quite an explicit sex scene, and it just feels really out of sorts with the rest of the book – and I’d be uncomfortable knowing she was reading it!

Overall, as a proud Brummie – and South Brummie at that – I really enjoyed the book and all of the local history entwined with British history of the last 75 years. It also makes you realise that what we’ve all been through with the pandemic will soon be history taught to kids in schools.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC.

Book Review: How To Live When You Could Be Dead by Deborah James

I pre ordered this book when Deborah James was talking about it in the Spring. Like many people, I had been so impressed with how she had dealt with her bowel cancer diagnosis and used it to raise awareness of the disease initially on social media as Bowelbabe – but then on mainstream media too. I wanted to show Deborah, in some small way, my support – so pre ordered the book, wore the Rebellious Hope T-shirt – and ‘bought her a drink’ on her JustGiving fundraising site.

This is what Deborah (or Dame Deborah James as she became) wrote for the blurb of her book:

I was alive when I should have been dead. In another movie, I missed the sliding door and departed this wondrous life long ago. Like so many others, I had to learn to live not knowing if I have a tomorrow, because, statistically, I didn’t. At the age of 35, I was blindsided by incurable bowel cancer – I was given less than an 8 per cent chance of surviving five years. Five years later, my only option was to live in the now and to value one day at a time.
How do you turn your mind from a negative spiral into realistic and rebellious hope? How do you stop focusing on the why and realise that ‘why not me’ is just as valid a question?
When Deborah James was diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer at just 35, she learned a powerful lesson: the way we respond to any given situation empowers or destroys us. And with the right skills and approach, we can all face huge challenges and find strength and hope in the darkest of places.
How to Live When You Could Be Dead will show you how. It will awaken you to question your life as if you didn’t have a tomorrow and live it in the way you want to today. By harnessing the power of positivity and valuing each day as though it could be your last, you’ll find out, as Deborah did, that it is possible to live with joy and purpose, no matter what.”

The book starts with a Foreword written by Gaby Roslin, who had become a friend of Deborah’s in recent years – and this was really moving. As was the subsequent author’s note where Deborah admits she probably won’t be around to see the book being published, which she sadly wasn’t. So I’d cried before the book had started properly – and continued to during the book at times. However it most definitely is not a doom and gloom book – it’s about grabbing life and enjoying the time you have.

I think like most ‘self help’ books, it’s not rocket science and doesn’t contain any advice that would come as a huge shock – but it’s good to take time out of hectic lives to actually think about that – and think about small steps you can take to make your life happier and more fulfilled every day.

Chapters include topics such as hope (rebellious of course!), living for today, having something to aim for, the healing power of laughter – and lots more. All are covered in Deborah’s matter of fact but also fun way – with personal stories interwoven with professional research and advice and relevant quotes.

There’s a great resources list at the end of the book too (Deborah was an educator by trade – and that is evident).

I really enjoyed the book from start to finish – and I defy ANYONE not to cry when reading the final chapter entitled ‘final word’. I am sure the book will be cherished by Deborah’s family – especially her children Hugo and Eloise – as they grow up. And I really hope Eloise will have the Dame Deborah James roses in her wedding bouquet some day.