Stepping Up by Sarah Turner

Beth has never stuck at anything.

She’s quit more jobs and relationships than she can remember and she still sleeps in her childhood bedroom. It’s not that she hasn’t tried to grow up, it’s just that so far, the only commitment she’s held down is Friday drinks at the village pub.

Then, in the space of a morning, her world changes.

An unspeakable tragedy turns Beth’s life upside down, and she finds herself guardian to her teenage niece and toddler nephew, catapulted into an unfamiliar world of bedtime stories, parents’ evenings and cuddly elephants. Having never been responsible for anyone – or anything – it’s not long before she feels seriously out of her depth.

What if she’s simply not up to the job?

With a little help from her best friend Jory (purely platonic, of course …) and her lovely, lonely next-door neighbour, Albert, Beth is determined that this time she’s not giving up. It’s time to step up.

This is a story about digging deep for strength you never knew you had and finding magic in things that were there all along.

I really loved this story and didn’t really want it to end. It was beautifully written and not too cheesy (which is a big no-no for me) and I thought the pace of it was just right. The humour was well balanced and right for the context, and I loved the family dynamic and the way the characters weren’t too one-dimensional. There was a lot of back story to the characters which meant they were a lot more “human” to me.

SPOILERS I did sort of predict the ending, and it was very “Love Actually” and perhaps a little too twee, and I would have loved to have seen what happened to Emmy in the end (you get a hint, but I would have liked an epilogue where you find out if she’s okay in the end – but perhaps the intention is you assume she got out okay?).

I would like to thank Netgalley, Sarah Turner and Random House UK for the opportunity to read this.

Release date: 17th March 2022

4.5/5 stars


Watching Neighbours Twice a Day…: How ’90s TV (Almost) Prepared Me For Life by Josh Widdecombe

In his first memoir, Josh Widdicombe tells the story of a strange rural childhood, the kind of childhood he only realised was weird when he left home and started telling people about it. From only having four people in his year at school, to living in a family home where they didn’t just not bother to lock the front door, they didn’t even have a key.

Using a different television show of the time as its starting point for each chapter Watching Neighbours Twice a Day… is part-childhood memoir, part-comic history of ’90s television and culture. It will discuss everything from the BBC convincing him that Michael Parkinson had been possessed by a ghost, to Josh’s belief that Mr Blobby is one of the great comic characters, to what it’s like being the only vegetarian child west of Bristol.

It tells the story of the end of an era, the last time when watching television was a shared experience for the family and the nation, before the internet meant everyone watched different things at different times on different devices, headphones on to make absolutely sure no one else could watch it with them.

I have decided to read more autobiographies because I usually enjoy them but I don’t always think to read them. I am a fan of Josh Widdecombe, but I was also interested in the memory lane aspect. From the synopsis I was hoping for a lot of childhood memories to return and it didn’t disappoint.

As a child of the ’90s I am a few years younger than Josh, but I can remember a lot of the things which were mentioned in the book. Some other things which are mentioned I was too young for at the time but have since watched them (Ghostwatch is the first thing which springs to mind.) It was great to relive these and I would recommend reading this if you grew up in the 1990s, even if you’re not a particular fan of Josh Widdecombe or his comedy.

This book was entertaining and a nice easy read over the Christmas holidays for me, I hope to be able to go back and watch some of the programmes mentioned throughout again.

Mothers and Daughters by Erica James

Since the sudden death of her husband, Naomi has steadily rebuilt the life they shared in the village of Tilsham by the sea.

Her eldest daughter, Martha, is sensible and determined – just like her father was – and very much in control of where her life is going. If she could just get pregnant with her husband, life would be perfect.

Willow, the youngest, was always more sunny and easy-going, yet drifted through life, much to her father’s frustration. But now, with charming new boyfriend, Rick, she has a very good reason to settle down.

The three women are as close as can be. But there are things Naomi has kept from her daughters. Like the arrival of Ellis, a long-lost friend from way back, now bringing the fun and spark back into her life. And she’s certainly never told them that her marriage to their father wasn’t quite what it seemed…

I have not read anything by Erica James before, although I have heard of previous books by the same author through friends of mine who read. I found this quite a cosy read despite some of the hard hitting subject matters which came up.

I liked all of the women, which in some ways is quite rare for me (I usually find myself wanting to shake some characters for being pathetic when they’re written badly!).

I found it a little predictable in places, but I guess that can come with this genre. But in a way that was a good thing because I felt like I could relax with it. I usually read books with a bit more grit and tension, but it was nice to have this for a change.

Overall if you’re interested in family drama this will be right up your street. I’m not always interested in these types of storyline and I found it engaging and warm. I hope to explore more of this genre in the future.

The Silence of Herondale by Joan Aiken

Snow-covered fields and moors stretch away on all sides of Herondale House. Despite rumours of an escaped killer on the run, Deborah Lindsay knows that she must control her terror – she has a young charge, 13-year-old prodigy Carreen, to care for.

But the isolated Yorkshire farmhouse already holds the terrible secret of one death – and an increasing number of sinister ‘accidents’ lead Deborah to wonder how long it would be before evil strikes again …

I am usually a huge fan of gothic horror so I was really looking forward to reading this. However I found that I wasn’t really able to get into this at all. I don’t know why because on paper this seemed so perfect. Perhaps this caught me at a bad moment.

I will mention some positive things about this story which I did enjoy. I read this around Halloween and it was the perfect book to read when travelling to Scarefest at Alton Towers (which is where I was when I read this!) and it really added to the atmosphere of the story, especially as I spent the weekend in a wooden hut! I enjoyed the descriptive language, but I can’t help but think if I’d read it any other time of year I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I wish I could recommend this to anyone but I just found it quite difficult. However if you’re interested in gothic horror it’s always worth giving this a go anyway.

3/5 stars

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters

When bloody civil war breaks out between the King and Parliament, families and communities across England are riven by different allegiances.

A rare few choose neutrality.

One such is Jayne Swift, a Dorset physician from a Royalist family, who offers her services to both sides in the conflict. Through her dedication to treating the sick and wounded, regardless of belief, Jayne becomes a witness to the brutality of war and the devastation it wreaks.

Yet her recurring companion at every event is a man she should despise because he embraces civil war as the means to an end. She knows him as William Harrier, but is ignorant about every other aspect of his life. His past is a mystery and his future uncertain.

The Swift and the Harrier is a sweeping tale of adventure and loss, sacrifice and love, with a unique and unforgettable heroine at its heart.

I am not the biggest fan of historical fiction (I wasn’t really interested in history at school so I’m a little behind and I also think I’d rather read about “real” history). However I did enjoy this. I thought it was very descriptive and I felt like I was actually there.

I found it a littel slow at times, but again that might be down to my personal taste. I love the writing style and I found it very easy to read, especially when describing battle scenes (although graphic, they were very exciting).

I feel like I learned about the English Civil War a lot more through reading this than through learning it at school, and this has almost convinced me to try reading more historical fiction. Maybe when a book is about a period of history I’m more interested in, that would help. Either way, this was a great introduction to a genre I haven’t really given much thought to before.

3.5/5 stars

Cover Image for The Swift and the Harrier

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp

Kate Collins has been ghosted.

She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty flat. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared.

Except for his mobile phone.

Kate knows she shouldn’t hack into Scott’s phone. She shouldn’t look at his Tinder, his texts, his social media. But she can’t quite help herself.

That’s when the trouble starts. Strange, whispering phone calls from numbers she doesn’t recognise. Scratch marks on the door that she can’t explain.

And the growing feeling that she’s being watched . . .

This is one of the strangest books I have read for a while. It was an interesting and spooky take on the lure of modern technology and shows how using your phone too much can literally ruin your life.

I wasn’t expecting this to take a supernatural theme, but it certainly did that in a very unusual way. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but it genuinely spooked me at times and has made me look at my phone in a different way (I read this in physical form, but my god, I wish I’d have read this on a phone!).

I love the narrative and the fact the main character is strong and likeable. I really wanted to know what was going to happen to her, and again, not to spoil too much but it was great how your feeling towards a character can change in almost an instant.

I am definitely going to see out The Last Days of Jack Sparks, which I hear is also very good. These stories are right up my street and I’m very happy I found this!

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Everything gets easier in your thirties, right?

Though she has plenty to celebrate – successful career, new home, loving friends and family – for Nina Dean, her thirties have not exactly been the liberating experience she was sold. From fading friendships to exes popping the question, everyone is moving on (or worse, to the suburbs). And as her dad slowly loses his memories, her mum seems dead set on making new ones.

Then she meets Max, who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her. But what seems like an exciting new development will ensure this year is Nina’s strangest yet . . .

I really enjoyed this book. I have been reading a lot of psychological thrillers lately, so it was very nice to be able to read something a little more light hearted that actually had a bit of meat to it.

The main character is very likeable, quite sarcastic and witty. It was nice to see a strong female character headlining a book and it not be completely about someone falling in love and becoming a bit pathetic when they disappear. Nina reacts in a realistic way and it was refreshing to see that.

The sensitive issue of Alzheimer’s is also handled extremely well, and the minor deteriation of her father is again very realistic.

It didn’t go in the direction I was expecting when reading the blurb and in a way, that’s a very good thing because I hate when I predict what will happen (I’ve read so many books now it’s reaching that stage!). I prefer darker, grittier stories, but this is one of the better light hearted reads in my opinion.

4.5/5 stars

I See You by Patricia MacDonald

Hannah, Adam and adorable young Sydney Wickes are living under assumed identities in West Philadelphia. But when an unexpected tragedy throws the harsh glare of publicity on the family, their lives are suddenly in danger. Because Hannah and those she loves are hiding a dark secret in their past, a secret that’s about to catch up with them.

This was a very dark and intriguing story and one which I haven’t come across before personally. I really don’t want to spoil this because part of what makes this so interesting is that it has a very unusual premise. It is a classic case of never really knowing someone at all, no matter how close to them you are. It is well written and I really enjoyed it from that perspective, but it really isn’t a book you want to be reading to cheer yourself up. There is a huge trigger warning for this book but if I say what it is specifically, it will spoil it. If you want to know the trigger warning, please message me and I will let you know. (It’s the only way, I’m very sorry).

If you’re interested in taboo subjects, I guess this is a good book for you. I personally found it quite tough, but the premise was so intriguing I kept going. Definitely prepare yourself though. It’s not an easy read.

3.5/5 stars

Intensive Care – Gavin Francis

Intensive Care is about how coronavirus emerged, spread across the world and changed all of our lives forever. But it’s not, perhaps, the story you expect.

Gavin Francis is a GP who works in both urban and rural communities, splitting his time between Edinburgh and the islands of Orkney. When the pandemic arrived in our society he saw how it affected every walk of life: the anxious teenager, the isolated care home resident, the struggling furloughed worker and homeless ex-prisoner, all united by their vulnerability in the face of a global disaster. And he saw how the true cost of the virus was measured not just in infections, or deaths, or ITU beds, but in the consequences of the measures taken against it.

In this deeply personal account of nine months spent caring for a society in crisis, Francis will take you from rural village streets to local clinics and communal city stairways. And in telling this story, he reveals others: of loneliness and hope, illness and recovery, and of what we can achieve when we care for each other.

This was an interesting view into the lives of GPs during the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time of writing this (September 2021), life is pretty much back to normal but there is a threat of an October lockdown. I have no idea where the world will be by the time this review is published, but it was fascinating to read about what happened in January – March 2020 and how complacent a lot of people were at the time.

This is very engaging and well written and gives you the facts without the bias and scorn for the government that a lot of other books of this nature show. It provided real life examples of the patients and what their lives were like, and also gives an accurate account of how the GPs felt during the height of the pandemic. It has made me feel very grateful that the NHS exists and also amused me that a lot of them weren’t that interested in the Clap for Carers (surely a pay rise is better?!).

This is definitely something I would recommend for those who are interested in this, and I’m definitely glad I read this when the height of the pandemic (at least so far) is mostly behind us. If things change by January 2022 when this is published, I will of course eat my words!

4.5/5 stars

Looking For the Durrells – Melanie Hewitt

After a year that sees a broken-off engagement and the death of her beloved father, Penny is desperate to get away.

Fulfilling a childhood dream, she sets off on a month-long pilgrimage to Corfu–an island idyll she knows only through the pages of Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals.

On the island, Penny quickly finds herself drawn into the lives of a tight-knit circle of strangers. Exploring–searching for the places the Durrells knew decades before–she makes unexpected discoveries about the hopes, fears, and secrets of the people living there today.

And as strangers start to be friends, lives past and present become entwined in ways none of them could have predicted. . .

This was a nice enough story which went very well with the nice weather we had while I was reading it. It felt strange reading about an idyllic holiday abroad at a time when that wasn’t really something we could do.

However I found that the narrative was a little dull. Never have I read a story where so little happened on so many pages. I imagine this might just be something personal to me, but it really wasn’t the most exciting thing to read. However it was pleasant and an easygoing and trouble free read for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

I feel there were too many characters for me to keep track of, and I also feel like the story would benefit you if you read My Family and Other Animals, because the story is basically one big tribute to this particular story. I haven’t read that, so I found it a little difficult to follow sometimes.

Not for me, but for those who like easy stories, this is for you.

3/5 stars