Book Review (And Excerpt): The Beta Mum – Adventures In Alpha Land.

image1Navigating playground politics was one of the many things I was worried about when Freya started nursery last September.

Thankfully, there haven’t been any issues (so far). In fact, the other mums have been really lovely and nothing like what poor Sophie, the highly relatable heroine in Isabella Davidson’s debut novel, encounters.

She has been transported to the bright lights of London – something Isabella, who writes the popular blog, Notting Hill Yummy Mummy, knows a thing or two about.

After her young daughter starts at an exclusive nursery, Sophie encounters the Alpha Mums for the first time. Not sure who they are? Have a read of the blurb and you’ll see:

When Sophie Bennett moves from a quiet sleepy suburb of Toronto to glitzy west London, she doesn’t know where she has landed: Venus or Mars. Her three-year-old daughter Kaya attends Cherry Blossoms, the most exclusive nursery in London, where Sophie finds herself adrift in a sea of Alpha Mums. These mothers are glamorous, gorgeous, competitive and super rich, especially Kelly, the blonde, beautiful and bitchy class rep.

Struggling to fit in and feeling increasingly isolated, Sophie starts ‘The Beta Mum’, an anonymous blog describing her struggles with the Alpha Mums. But when her blog goes viral, she risks ruining everything for herself and her daughter. How long will it be until they discover her true identity? Is her marriage strong enough to survive one of her follower’s advances? And will she ever fit in with the Alpha Mums?

As a blogger, who occasionally writes about nursery life, the premise of Beta Mum immediately appealed to me – especially when it was clear that her posts were going to get her into trouble. I can totally see why Sophie starts her blog; it’s like a much-needed friend to talk to (especially when people start commenting).

I felt genuinely upset for her. The behaviour she initially has to contend with at the nursery gates is dreadful – it’s like being back at (a really terrible) school herself. Some of the things that happen to her actually made me cringe – and the worst part is, while it is a work of fiction, much of it is based on fact.

I think that’s part of the reason why it’s hard to put the book down. Isabella writes an eye-opening account of the (quite often over the top) lives of the super rich and their children, which also makes for entertaining reading. However, behind the glitz and glamour, the cutting barbs and backstabbing are real people with real problems and in the end I almost felt sorry for some of the Alpha Mums.

With plenty of drama and also a few laughs along the way, this book is an engaging read right from the start. But, don’t just take my word for it, scroll down for an excerpt.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £3.99.

My rating: Four stars.

The Beta Mum – Chapter Eleven Excerpt – by Isabella Davidson.

A huge life-sized, plush, golden giraffe with scattered spots stared at me giving me the eye, as if to say ‘I know who you are, Sophie Bennett, you’re not one of them. You’re one of us. You’re an onlooker.’ The winding staircase of Serafina’s member’s club had led me down into Serafina’s nightclub where I had found myself face to face with the giant giraffe.

I had read up on (googled) Serafina’s before coming; it was an exclusive member’s club costing £3,000 a year for a membership and had welcomed everyone from Tom Cruise to Prince William through its doors with three bar areas, two restaurants, one nightclub and 16 hotel rooms. The restaurant had poached a chef from Nobu and served fusion-food classics including tuna tartare, lobster tempura and black miso cod. The bar areas channelled the Dolce Vita vibe, with white-uniformed barmen, serving Martinis to show off their mixology skills and drinks made with absinthe.

The nightclub had an upscale, louche, bordello-like feel to it, in keeping with its location, the old respectable (or rather unrespectable) red light district in Mayfair. It was dark and windowless, with its burgundy walls draped with red velvet curtains. On my left stood a glittering bar where late twenty-somethings with youthful aspirations were dressed to impress and stood drinking champagne and colourful cocktails adorned with edible flowers. On my right, I saw some familiar faces from the nursery pick-ups and drop-offs heading towards the direction of a private room.

I squeezed Michael’s hand as we walked in their direction. My heart pounded just a bit faster than I wanted it to and my social anxiety increased with every step I made towards the private room. I wanted to be anywhere but here, ideally sitting in front of our TV with my Roots sweatshirt/sweatpants combo or in front of my laptop, hiding behind a screen rather than exposing my vulnerabilities to the Alphas. This was not the usual parents’ evening in the school gym with soft-drinks-and-pizza-slices.

That night, Kelly wore a tight, cerulean, asymmetrical, skin-tight dress, and Becky wore a wrap dress with what looked like a flowery red, pink and purple print. I sidled up to them, seeing no other familiar faces and since they were standing next to Michael.

‘Hi, it’s nice to see both of you again. I wanted to ask you about the winter fair and how I could volunteer,’ I said to both of them.

Kelly’s face looked blank, not registering who I was, despite having met numerous times.

‘Hi Sophie,’ Becky said. ‘We are planning on sending out an email about the winter fair in the next few days,’

‘Oh, I didn’t recognise you at all, Sophie darling.’ Kelly’s face now showed some recognition. ‘You look completely different in a dress and heels. You look … taller … and prettier. Don’t you usually always wear jeans and converse?’

‘Yes … but I thought I should try to “Keep up with the Cherry Blossoms Mums” tonight.’ I tried to crack a joke, which clearly went over their heads, as they continued to look at me as if I were commenting on the weather.

‘You should dress up more often, Sophie, you look so much better in a dress. And you should wear make-up. It really brings out your eyes,’ Kelly went on. ‘And it’s nice to see you wearing proper shoes. We’re a bit too old to be wearing Converse, don’t you think?’ She gave me her pursed, condescending smile.

What I really wanted to do was roll my eyes at her, but I decided that it was too early in the night to start making enemies. Instead, I gulped down my champagne and took another one from a passing waitress.

‘Kelly, I love your shoes!’ Becky exclaimed, looking down at Kelly’s shoes as if they were made of gold, diverting the conversation away from my apparently underachieving daily dress sense.

‘Oh, thanks, Becky,’ Kelly contently smiled. ‘They’re Zoe Phillips.

‘Who’s Zoe Phillips?’ I shyly asked, feeling ignorant.

‘You don’t know Zoe Phillips?’ Kelly looked at me incredulously and patronisingly, wide-eyed, with faint disdain as if I had admitted to never having heard of Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. ‘They’re Jimmy Choos but better. And much more exclusive. She’s the hottest shoe designer right now. I had to wait four weeks for them to be made – bespoke – and to have my initials inscribed in the sole. Just in case I lose them.’ She laughed. ‘Do you know she’s going to be a Cherry Blossoms mum soon? She has a 1-year-old and lives in Notting Hill, so it’s really close to her.’

‘I live in Notting Hill.’ I said, trying to make up for my embarrassment.

‘Oh, I lived in Notting Hill once, but it was too dodgy. I realised that I am an Upper East Side girl at heart,’ Kelly said. ‘So now I live in Kensington and I feel much safer.’

Kelly couldn’t help herself but to criticise every word I uttered. I took another sip of my champagne and then moved on to a Martini to assuage Kelly’s criticisms.

Thank you to Isabella for letting me read her book and include an excerpt here and also to the lovely Clare from Mud and Nettles for putting us in touch.

 

Book Review: Greatest Hits.

cover102011-mediumHave you ever read a book featuring a fictional musician and thought ‘I wish I could hear their work in real life?’

Cass Wheeler, the lead character in Laura Barnett’s new book, Greatest Hits, had such an interesting, attractive and authentic voice on the page. I felt sure she had to be real and was so disappointed when I discovered that wasn’t the case. Then I read about an innovative project between the author and singer songwriter Kathryn Williams, which will bring the songs from the book to life.

An album of 16 tracks, entitled Songs From The Novel Greatest Hits, with music by Mercury-nominated Kathryn and lyrics by them both, is being released alongside the book.

How cool is that? I’ve listened to the first song, Common Ground, from the collaboration and it’s perfect. There’s no other way to describe it.

Before we get into more detail, here’s the blurb for the book:

One day. 16 songs. The soundtrack of a lifetime…

Alone in her studio, Cass Wheeler is taking a journey back into her past. After a silence of ten years, the singer-songwriter is picking the 16 tracks that have defined her – 16 key moments in her life – for a uniquely personal Greatest Hits album.

In the course of this one day, both ordinary and extraordinary, the story of Cass’s life emerges – a story of highs and lows, of music, friendship and ambition, of great love and great loss. But what prompted her to retreat all those years ago, and is there a way for her to make peace with her past?

Daughter. Mother. Singer. Lover. What are the memories that mean the most?

This is Laura’s follow up to the hugely successful The Versions Of Us and I think she has another hit on her hands.

It was one of those books where I was frustrated and, at times, a little bit cross to have to put it down and do real life things.

It’s complex, intense and bittersweet. Although it covers several decades, it doesn’t feel like there are massive jumps and it flows beautifully. The book is well-researched and steeped in nostalgia (for some reason it made me think about my first clunky old Walkman, which I adored, for the first time in years). It’s an altogether unique experience – and that’s before you even get to the music.

As I got further engrossed, I longed to hear Cass sing, which is why I went looking to see if she was a real artist. Instead I discovered the fantastic project between Laura and Kathryn, which surely has to be the next best thing.

When announcing the album, Laura, who is also a freelance journalist, feature writer and theatre critic, said: “From the earliest moment of coming up with the idea for Greatest Hits, it was clear to me that I wanted my character’s musical output to have a life beyond the page. I’ve been a fan of Kathryn’s music for years and I’m so thrilled to be working with her – she’s an absolute magician, and I’m so excited about the creative possibilities posed by drawing literature and music together in this way.”

I’m intrigued to see how the album, which is realeased under the One Little Indian label, does, but one thing is for sure – it’s safe to say Laura, like Cass, is no one hit wonder.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £6.99.

My rating: Four and a half stars.

With thanks to Orion Publishing Group for the ARC in return for an honest review.

 

 

Book Review: The Summer House.

jennyhaleReading The Summer House was a bit like having some delicious leftover birthday cake sitting in the kitchen – it was so moreish, I kept nipping back to it (just one more slice).

Amazingly, this is the first time I’ve read one of Jenny Hale’s books, despite her being a USA Today and Amazon best-selling author of romantic women’s fiction – with eight (I think) titles to her name.

Her latest sounds like it’s come straight from one of my (very best) dreams – not only opening a bed and breakfast on the coast but also managing to capture the attention of the local millionaire at the same time.

Here’s the blurb:

Callie Weaver and best friend Olivia Dixon have finally done it: put their life’s savings into the beach house they admired through childhood summers, on the dazzling white sand of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

They’re going to buff the salt from its windows, paint its sun-bleached sidings, and open it as a bed and breakfast.

Callie’s too busy to think about her love life, but when she catches the attention of local heartthrob Luke Sullivan, his blue eyes and easy smile make it hard to say no. He’s heir to his father’s property empire, and the papers say he’s just another playboy, but as they laugh in the ocean waves, Callie realizes there’s more to this man than money and good looks.

Just when true happiness seems within reach, Callie and Olivia find a diary full of secrets… secrets that stretch across the island, and have the power to turn lives upside down. As Callie reads, she unravels a mystery that makes her heart drop through the floor.

Will Callie and Luke be pulled apart by the storm it unleashes, or can true love save them?

It’s heartwarming, charming and a proper page turner. The characters are all likeable, the plot keeps you engaged and the setting is dreamy (I want to see wild horses on the beach).

In fact, I can’t really fault The Summer House…and yet there was just something that didn’t quite flow for me in the writing.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I did, but just not as much as some of the other books I have read this year. I know Jenny Hale has lots of fans so maybe it was me?

It certainly wouldn’t put me off reading her other books or watching the film adaptation of Coming Home For Christmas if I got the chance.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £1.99.

My rating: Three and a half stars.

With thanks for the Bookouture (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for my honest opinion.