Book Review: The Saturday Night Sauvignon Sisterhood by Gill Sims

I’ve adored Gill Sims ‘Why Mummy….’ series, so when I saw she had a new standalone book out, I asked NetGalley for a copy – but there was tumbleweed silence from them. I thought I’d missed the boat – but then on publication date (12 May 2022) they suddenly approved a copy for me – and I’ve devoured it since! Here’s the blurb:

“‘Oh, for f*ck’s sake’ muttered Claire under her breath, as she opened the fridge to see what she could find for a no effort dinner. The children continued to fight behind her. They regarded any form of fish not encased in breadcrumbs as toxic, and were resistant enough to the delicious homemade fishfingers Claire had made for them, insisting they much preferred Captain Birdseye’s version. White wine was starting to look like quite an appealing dinner actually.  Maybe just a small glass.
‘Are you having wine, Mum?  You know you’re not supposed to have wine every night.  We did about alcohol units at school.  That’s quite a big glass of wine, how many units do you think are in it?’
’Bet the bastards didn’t tell you that wine is remarkably good at cancelling out whining though, did they?’ muttered Claire.
Claire’s family has gone nuclear. Her precious moppets keep calling Childline when she feeds them broccoli, she’s utterly Ottolenghied out at weekends, and her darling husband is having an affair with her best friend.
The question isn’t whether she needs a glass of wine, but is there one big enough?
Enter the Sauvignon Sisterhood, a new set of friends brought together by a shared love of liquid therapy. Together they might just be able to convince Claire that, like a good bottle of red, life really can get better with age. Or at least there’s more to it than the joy of an M&S non-iron school uniform.”

Yet again – I loved a Gill Sims book! Not least because of the many excellent characterisation of a real family life. Claire’s kids are in Year 4 and 6 – and with my youngest two in Years 5 and 7, I could totally relate. I loved the fact her kids threatened to call Childline (0800 double 1 double 1 – surely every child of the 80s / 90s can remember that?!) because she tried to feed them broccoli – one of mine once threatened the same when I’d left the lid off the tzatziki so it had a crust on the top #firstworldproblems

The book follows the implosion of Claire’s marriage – and her relationship with her best mate – as the ‘best mate’ and Claire’s husband have an affair. It then looks at Claire putting her life back together again, and gaining a new circle of friends – who are christened, right at the end of the book, The Saturday Night Sauvignon Sisterhood. As well as the new female friends – there are a couple of new love interests – one male and one canine.

As usual with a Gill Sims book the characterisations are great – and the true to life experiences of parenthood are spot on. It does feel like it ‘borrows’ from the ‘Why Mummy’ series in places – for example the ladies go to watch a poet perform, who could very easily have been Ellen’s sister in law from the previous series of books – but, I guess if a formula works, stick with it. (I’m now wondering if it is a cross over – now that would be cool!)

The school camping trip was horrific – but you could TOTALLY recognise the different groups of parents from your own playground experiences!!

There are a lot of twists and turns – one of them in particular quite shocking – which I felt really added to the book. Some pretty serious subjects subsequently get discussed.

Overall another fabulous book from Gill Sims which I would thoroughly recommend. And it’s available right now!

P.S. I have tried to edit out exclamation marks from this review as I do tend to use them with abandon – but it sounds like Gill has someone who does that from her own book drafts – so I’m clearly in good company with excessive punctuation usage!!

Book Review: Thrown by Sara Cox

I love Sara Cox and feel like we’ve grown up together – from drinking pints to keep up with the lads in the 90s, through multiple kids in the 2000s – and now settling down with good books. I really enjoyed her autobiography, and when I saw she had her first fiction book out, I asked Net Galley for a copy and was lucky enough to receive one. Here’s the blurb:

The wise and gloriously big-hearted debut novel from the much-loved broadcaster, Sara Cox
Becky: a single mum who prides herself on her independence. She knows from painful experience that men are trouble.
Louise: a loving husband, gorgeous kids. She ought to feel more grateful.
Jameela: all she’s ever done is work hard, and try her best. Why won’t life give her the one thing she really wants?
Sheila: the nest is empty, she dreams of escaping to the sun, but her husband seems so distracted.
The inhabitants of the Inventor’s Housing Estate keep themselves to themselves. There are the friendly ‘Hellos’ when commutes coincide and the odd cheeky eye roll when the wine bottles clank in number 7’s wheelie bin, but it’s not exactly Ramsay Street.
The dilapidated community centre is no longer the beating heart of the estate that Becky remembers from her childhood. So the new pottery class she’s helped set up feels like a fresh start. And not just for her.
The assorted neighbours come together to try out a new skill, under the watchful eye of their charismatic teacher, Sasha. And as the soft unremarkable lumps of clay are hesitantly, lovingly moulded into delicate vases and majestic pots, so too are the lives of four women. Concealed passions and heartaches are uncovered, relationships shattered and formed, and the possibility for transformation is revealed.”

This feels like a soap opera or a TV drama straight away. Four different women who live near each other but don’t really know each other – and how their lives intertwine, primarily around a new pottery class at their local community centre.

Each of the main characters has issues going on behind closed doors – and you get involved in all of their lives. I liked them all in their own ways – although Becky was my favourite.

I’ve never watched ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’ – but it would appear Sara has learnt lots about potting from presenting it – and that threads through the book.

There are some gentle twists and turns – but I have to say I guessed some of the ‘shocks’ – and there were no OMG moments for me. It was a lovely, gentle, comfortable read and I did enjoy it. But I do wonder if it would have been published if it didn’t have a celebrity author?

Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for my ARC – and it’s out now if you fancy some pottery based escapism.

Book Review: London, With Love by Sarra Manning

I have often taken book reading advice from Sarra Manning from her column in Red Magazine – and enjoy following her on Twitter – so when I saw she had another book out, and having enjoyed one of her previous novels, I asked NetGalley for a copy – and was granted my wish.

Here’s the blurb:

London. Nine million people. Two hundred and seventy tube stations. Every day, thousands of chance encounters, first dates, goodbyes and happy ever afters.
And for twenty years it’s been where one man and one woman can never get their timing right.
Jennifer and Nick meet as teenagers and over the next two decades, they fall in and out of love with each other. Sometimes they start kissing. Sometimes they’re just friends. Sometimes they stop speaking, but they always find their way back to each other.
But after all this time, are they destined to be together or have they finally reached the end of the line?”

Hands up – I ADORED this book! Some of this I’m sure is because I am very similar in age to Jenny and Nick – they were 2 years older than me (I was going to add at the start of the book – but TBH they stayed 2 years older than me throughout the entire book!) The book starts with their paths crossing at 6th form college in the late 1980s – and then spans the decades through to now, meeting them at various points across the 30 years. Generally a TFL station (although occasionally a New York station) features as the backdrop to that chapter.

I know Sarra Manning loves London (if you follow her on Twitter you can be pointed in the direction of some fabulous Rightmove finds in North London that she would purchase if she won the lottery!) and London is most definitely an extra character in the book – which Jenny loves with a similar intensity.

Lots of ‘major events’ in my lifetime are used as the back drop to new chapters – I blogged about a couple back in the day myself – and other times like GCSE results day and the new Millenium which I also remember really clearly. Weirdly something else I’ve blogged about – remembering your friend’s childhood phone number, and how parents answer the phone, also features! I told you I loved this book because I could empathise so much.

The story of Jenny and Nick twists and turns, with supporting characters appearing and disappearing throughout – just as happens in real life, and I don’t want to give too much away – as you need to go on their journey (see what I did there?!) with them.

I have to say that the final chapter – set in the present day – made me WEEP. I don’t think, as yet, many books have addressed the pandemic and what we’ve all been through in the last 2 years, and this was done brilliantly and felt very ‘real’.

I would highly recommend ‘London, With Love’ to everyone – and it’s out later this week on 5 May 2022.

A huge thank you to NetGalley, the publisher – and Sarra Manning – for such a fantastic book.

Book Review: With This Kiss by Carrie Hope Fletcher

I’d heard of Carrie Hope Fletcher – as Tom from McFly’s sister! We then saw her in the title role of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical – Cinderella – and she, and the show, were brilliant – and I started following her on social media. When she posted she had a new book coming out, I saw if I could get an advance review copy on NetGalley – and I could! Here’s the blurb:

If you knew how your love story ends, would you dare to begin?
From the outside, Lorelai is an ordinary young woman with a normal life. She loves reading, she works at the local cinema and she adores living with her best friend. But she carries a painful burden, something she’s kept hidden for years; whenever she kisses someone on the lips, she sees how they are going to die.
Lorelai has never known if she’s seeing what was always meant to be, or if her kiss is the thing that decides their destiny. And so, she hasn’t kissed anyone since she was eighteen.
Then she meets Grayson. Sweet, clever, funny Grayson. And for the first time in years she yearns for a man’s kiss. But she can’t…or can she? And if she does, should she try to intervene and change what she sees?
Spellbinding, magical and utterly original, With This Kiss is one love story you will never forget.

I liked Lorelai and her flatmate Joanie (who I pictured wearing Joanie Clothing at all times!) from the start – and the premise of the book was different and clever. However, I felt when starting it – and it lasted throughout – that this was aimed at younger readers. I even wondered if it was tagged as ‘Young Adult’ fiction – but it’s not. It’s very safe – there’s no sex, drugs and rock and roll in it – and I’d be happy with my tween kids reading it to be honest.

The relationship between Lorelai and her friends and family are also explored – and change significantly during the book.

It’s a nice book and an easy read, and you’re rooting for Lorelai – but for me it didn’t set the world alight. I think I need something a bit more gritty and ‘grown up’!

Book Review: The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

I have really enjoyed Lucy Foley books before – both her amazing historical dramas spanning generations – and her more recent ensemble cast mysteries. So when I saw she had a new book out I requested and was granted an ARC. (Although didn’t read it quite as quickly as I should – so if you like the sound of it – you can buy it immediately, I’m not tempting you in advance!) Here’s the blurb:

“Welcome to No.12 rue des Amants
A beautiful old apartment block, far from the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower and the bustling banks of the Seine. Where nothing goes unseen, and everyone has a story to unlock.
The watchful concierge
The scorned lover
The prying journalist
The naïve student
The unwanted guest
There was a murder here last night.
A mystery lies behind the door of apartment three.”

The book starts with wayward 20 something Jess going to visit her older half brother Ben in Paris. When she arrives at his apartment he isn’t there waiting for her as they’d agreed – and she senses something is amiss.

Thus starts the story of the inhabitants of a fancy apartment block. I don’t want to give too much of the storyline away, as you need to witness it evolve in real time! It’s told from lots of different points of view, all intertwining. I have to say that lots of the characters aren’t that likeable – but that was good! I was rooting for Jess throughout though (despite some seemingly ridiculous decisions on her quest to find out what has happened to Ben!)

Having visited a friend in a similar Paris apartment block many years ago (I was considering a secondment to the Paris office of the accountancy firm I worked for – but decided as I was only confident speaking French after drinking wine, I’d have to be permanently drunk! So Sydney was a better option for my liver!) it felt very accurately described – but the book touched on lots of areas of Paris – some most definitely off the tourist trail – but you really felt like you were at the different locations.

It twists and turns loads – as I would expect from a book by Lucy Foley – and towards the ends the twists have your head spinning! But it was great – and the ending wasn’t predictable. Another fabulous book.

A huge thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my advance review copy.

Book Review: Old Friends by Felicity Everett

I’d seen this described as a twisty, turny, dark thriller – and here’s the blurb:

“Two couples, best friends for half a lifetime, move in together. What could possibly go wrong…?
Harriet and Mark have it all: successful careers, a lovely house in a leafy London suburb, twin boys on the cusp of leaving home. Yvette and Gary share a smaller place with their two daughters in a shabbier part of the same borough.
But when the stars align for a collective move north, it means a fresh start for them all. For Mark, it’s a chance to escape the rat race; for Harriet, a distraction from her unfulfilled dream of a late third child. Gary has decided to reboot the Madchester band that made him famous, while Yvette hopes it will give her daughters what she never had herself.
But as the reality of their new living arrangements slowly sinks in, the four friends face their own mid-life crises, and the dream becomes a nightmare…”

Now up front I would question the description and the blurb – I don’t know if the storyline changed, but it just doesn’t make sense, particularly the line ‘Yvette hopes it will give her daughters what she never had herself’ is just odd – given neither of the daughters make the move North. And the move North doesn’t happen until quite a way through the book – I just felt the blurb and reviews from other authors weren’t quite on the mark and thus I felt a bit short-changed!

It’s an easy enough domestic drama to read – but I didn’t feel it was very dark with twists and turns. I also found the way it was written a bit strange, you’d jump forward quite a large amount of time with no explanation – and then the intervening period would be filled in a bit (although I often felt there were gaps in explaining why things had happened).

It felt to be like it was trying to be Cold Feet but without any of the history the viewer has with the characters – and I didn’t have a strong view about any of the lead characters. Sometimes a book is as intriguing if you hate a main character as much as if you love one – but I found Harriet, Mark, Yvette and Gary all a bit dull and thus was apathetic about what happened to any of them.

I was quite surprised by the twist towards the end of the book – but even that didn’t save it for me.

To be honest it just didn’t sit well with me – and whilst there was nothing specifically wrong or offensive about the book, it just didn’t really float my boat.

Thanks to the publisher for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Mad About You by Mhairi McFarlane

I bloody love Mhairi McFarlane books – and every time I get one of her ARCs it whizzes to the top of my TBR pile (I recognise I’m an acronym w*nker at this point!!) However I was also a bit nervous. Surely at some point the books couldn’t improve, surely at some point one of them was going to be a bit ‘meh’ – but I shouldn’t have been worried at all. This one is, I think, my favourite to date (admittedly I say this every time!)

Anyway – for those of you who want some info rather than just buying a book because you adore the author – here it is:

Two strangers.
One big coincidence.

Driving each other crazy is just the beginning…
Harriet Hatley is running away from everything.
Getting married.
Her boyfriend’s family.
Her past.
A dream house-share seems like the perfect place to hide, but her unlikely housemate Cal is no stranger to running away himself. And he’s also hiding secrets of his own . . .
Can these two take a crazy risk, face the past and finally find a reason to stay?”

Just before I started the book, it featured in a Stylist article where Francesca Brown (who I frequently got drunk with over 20 years ago!) wrote: ” It’s also telling that some of the biggest titles in the commercially heavyweight genre of “women’s fiction” aren’t anywhere close to the fluffy romance stories of lazy stereotype either. Mhairi Mcfarlane’s moving Mad About You (out 14 April, £7.99, HarperCollins) explores coercive control”

The book starts with Harriet living with her loaded boyfriend Jon. The relationship ends (fairly spectacularly!) and she moves out, and rents a room with Cal. Her path has crossed with Cal before – although neither of them realise that when she agrees to move in.

The storyline then follows Harriet’s relationship with her friends / Cal / her ex Jon – until everything implodes even more when her path crosses with someone else, this time, an abusive ex. You are given the back story of how he controlled her – it was really very emotional to hear what he did.

Anyway – everything then goes spectacularly tits up! It is so well written – and you are totally rooting for Harriet and her loyal friends – old and new. The build up to the climax is amazing – and so well described, it would make a brilliant film / TV series – it’s epic!

Whilst this is a massively entertaining read – I also honestly think it could help people who are in a situation similar to Harriet was, shining a light on the fact there is a way out.

As expected – it’s another fabulous read from Ms McFarlane.

As Fran’s link says above – it’s out in April and you can pre order it now. A huge thank you to the publisher, NetGalley and Mhairi for the advance review copy.

Book Review: Mammy Banter, The Secret Life of an Uncool Mum by Serena Terry

I have often been amused by the social media output of Mammy Banter (I don’t do Tiktok – but it seems to be shared to ‘old person’ social media (Facebook!) too. So when I saw she’d written a book, I requested an ARC from NetGalley. Here’s the blurb:

“From the creator of viral Tiktok sensation, Mammy Banter, comes a hilarious warts-and-all novel about modern motherhood – and how having it all sometimes isn’t what you think it might be.
She used to want it all.
Now she just wants a nap.
Tara Gallagher is knackered. She used to dream of being Beyoncé but suddenly she’s thirty-six – with three kids, a loving husband, a very boring job – and instead of headlining Coachella, she’s in her pyjamas on a Friday night, watching Gogglebox.
It’s time for a mammy makeover. She’s going to show her teenage daughter she’s still cool. She’s going to show her husband she’s still an absolute ride. She’s going to show her colleagues she’s still a Boss Bish.
But most of all, she’s going to prove to herself that she can still be a mum, still work full time, and still be Beyoncé…
The debut novel from viral TikTok star, Mammy Banter

I found this very amusing from the start. Some social media stars have written fabulous books – and others not so much (naming no names) – but this is very definitely in the former camp and was really entertaining.

I liked the main character Tara from the outset – and the fact that she has 3 kids – a teenager, a 5 year old and a toddler – meant lots of scope for child related anecdotes of all ages – and ages I’ve covered with my own tribe.

There were some bits – and some language – that was quite Northern Irish (but hey, I’ve watched Derry Girls, so was totally fine!!) – however I felt like I understood it all even though I’m a Brummie.

I liked the fact that the book covered Tara’s relationship with her husband and kids, her friends (old and new) and her colleagues – it really looked at all areas of her life and how everything intertwined.

Lots of it was so very true to life – the 13 year old daughter who is at one point mortified by her mother’s behaviour (mother AND father in our house!) but then also desperately still needs her parents. I loved the interaction with the smug mother at soft play (reminded me of a hellish experience at Kidzania with the mother of all hangovers one January 1st whilst on holiday!)

It was entertaining, funny, escapist, and very easy to empathise with Tara – a lovely, amusing read. It’s out next month, so not long to wait if it sounds like your bag.

Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC.

Book Review: What Might Have Been by Holly Miller

I adored Holly Miller’s first novel, ‘The Sight Of You’ – so when I read she had a new book coming out in 2022, I jumped at the chance of an ARC.

Here’s the blurb:

“Lucy’s life is at a crossroads. She’s just walked out of her unrewarding job and has no idea about her next step: use her savings to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, or move to London to try and revive her career? It almost seems like fate that on that same night she meets Caleb, a stranger in a bar, and runs into Max, the one-time love of her life.
Should Lucy stay in the seaside town she grew up in, and in doing so, get to know Caleb better? Or should she go to London and reconnect with Max again after he broke her heart a decade ago? It’s just one decision – but sometimes one decision can change the course of your whole life . . .
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN is a sweeping and unforgettable novel for anyone who has ever believed in destiny and soulmates – or paused to wonder what your life might look like if you’d made a different choice.”

The book starts with Lucy having quit her job. That night she’s in the local pub and meets a handsome stranger, Caleb, and whilst talking to him spots her ex, the ‘one that got away’ a decade earlier, outside and runs out to see him. Then follows two scenarios – in a ‘sliding doors’ esque style – one where she goes to London to a fancy new job and the prospect of hooking back up with Max, and the other where she stays in her seaside hometown of Shorely to try her hand at writing a novel and getting to know Caleb better.

So far so romantic comedy style book. But it is so much more than that.

As with ‘The Sight of You’ Holly Miller’s writing is exquisite and, despite the modern setting, feels like ‘proper’ literature again.

The storylines run concurrently – shifting between ‘Stay’ and ‘Go’ each chapter. I really enjoyed both storylines – and couldn’t pick a favourite. Neither are plain sailing – but both have a fabulous story arc. There are some very clever crossovers where either the same event happens in both storylines – or very different things happen depending on character’s decisions. It was done flawlessly and shows how clever the author – and editor – have been it making it seamless. (I appreciate I am a geek for admiring such things – but it’s a badge I’m very prepared to wear!)

It also wasn’t predictable at all – and Max and Caleb made very different, but both lovely, leading men.

I also LOVED the final chapter – it left you wondering about soulmates and fate and destiny and what ifs – perfect!

This is not a ‘difficult second album’ book – it’s fabulous again. Holly Miller is definitely going to be a ‘go to’ author for me in the future.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC – and the book’s out in March 2022, so not too long to wait.

Audiobook Review: Once Upon A Tyne by Ant and Dec

Due to an excessive amount of Audible credits – I decided to download some audiobooks to keep me company in the car when I’m not listening to podcasts / the local radio for the traffic reports / the kids arguing / the 16 year olds eclectic taste in music! As before I’ve stayed with my tradition of non fiction audiobooks and fiction ‘proper’ / Kindle books. I’d been interested in reading / listening to Ant and Dec’s autobiography since it came out – and so this was my first download.

Here’s the blurb:

Ant: as the old Chinese proverb says, ‘Good things come in pairs.’
Dec: and as another Chinese proverb says, ‘If you’ve been in a double act with your best mate for 30 years, why not write a book about all your most memorable moments in three decades of showbusiness?’
Ant: less catchy that one, isn’t it?
Dec: but no less true. And after three decades together, we’ve written that book. Covering everything from a pirate radio storyline in Byker Grove through to the biggest shows on telly, this is our story.
Ant: thirty years, eh? Amazing.
Dec: absolutely. Especially when you consider we are both still 27 years old.
Ant and Dec hold a special place in the hearts of TV viewers everywhere. This is their epic story, with never-before-seen photography and the very best tales from their 30 years in TV.
From their modest beginnings in Byker Grove through to their ‘unique’ time as pop stars and an award-laden TV career, those three decades have flown by in the blink of an eye. They’ve also featured an incredible cast of supporting characters, including their first scriptwriter – (an unknown comedian called David Walliams), Saturday night fun and games with countless Hollywood A-listers and celebrities they torture – sorry, work with – every year in the jungle. Told through the lens of every TV show they’ve made, as well as everything they’ve learnt along the way, this is the riotously funny journey of two ordinary lads from Newcastle who went on to achieve extraordinary things.”

I’m a very similar age to Ant and Dec (27 it would appear!) and can’t really remember life without them in it – and for a long time have known which is which! (Although one story in the book – where they were referred to as Antanddec – as one entity – reminded me of when our next door neighbours kids called both of my children Daisyandluke as they didn’t know which was which. I should point out the neighbours kids were toddlers at this point!)

Anyway – back to the book. It follows the double act from their initial Byker Grove days – and how they ended up in the Grove in the first place, through the pop star years – and then all of their various TV adventures, of which there have been many!

The one thing I was concerned about when downloading the audiobook rather than buying a hard copy – was that I wouldn’t be able to admire any photos – but you get told the link and password to download a copy of the photos – so you don’t have to miss out on the fashion and hairstyle highlights from over the years!!

I have to say it was like reminiscing with old friends – as I’ve been on their entertainment journey with Ant and Dec! It was interesting to have the background goss too. Some of the contributors actually voice their own comments – Cat Deeley, Stephen Mulhern, David Walliams – and then there are some impressions from Ant and Dec for others – like Simon Cowell and Robbie Williams – it’s all very entertaining.

Also – the boys talk through the photos for each chapter, with some reminiscing and funny comments – and I guess that is an extra compared to reading the book – which was a nice touch (and because they voice the audiobook themselves).

I did wonder how they would deal with Ant’s very public (albeit not that it was his choice) breakdown and divorce. After leaving home and their Mams – there isn’t much talk of their private lives at all – and at the end of the book Ant does touch upon his troubles and how it affected him and Dec – and likewise Dec talks about how that – and becoming a Dad (which all happened at a similar time) affected him. They don’t name check their spouses (current – or past in Ant’s case) but it is all dealt with in a grown up and not over excitable / tabloid way.

Overall I really enjoyed the book. I’m not sure there was any earth shattering revelations in it – but it was still an interesting and informative listen. I guess the trouble is nowadays, people don’t really have a ‘private’ life – because everything is shared on social media – and therefore autobiographies don’t really lift the lid on ‘secrets’ – because they would already have been shared on Instagram in the past!