Monthly Archives: December 2019

Fiction and Non-Fiction Books of the Year 2019

Fiction and Non-Fiction Books of the Year 2019

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As the old year comes to a close it is time to look back at the books I have read and loved through the year. This year I am going to do something a little different rather than just select my favourites I am going to simply select my best fiction and non-fiction. Two books that really made my year and really got my attention. So many books could have made the list that I had trouble just choosing the top ten.

FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019

 

COVER

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

(Harper Collins)

Summary:

EVERYONE’S INVITED.
EVERYONE’S A SUSPECT.
AND EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT IT.

In a remote hunting lodge, deep in the Scottish wilderness, old friends gather for New Year.

The beautiful one
The golden couple
The volatile one
The new parents
The quiet one
The city boy
The outsider

The victim.

Not an accident – a murder among friends.

Fiction Book of the Year 2019:

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley was my first read fiction read that I started on New Years Day and it was the perfect read for the time of year. It screamed Agatha Christie very quickly into the book. I was hooked and this is a story based at a Hunting Lodge on The Loch Corrin Estate in the Highlands of Scotland a group of friends who have known each other for many years gather again to bring in the New Year Hogmanay style. The weather is closing in with heavy snow falling and there is a murder. Nobody can leave. Among the group trapped in the lodge are the guests and a small number of staff and there is a murderer among them. But who is it?

A chilling and atmospheric crime thriller and a cast of characters that you will come to know and one of them could be the killer, but then again what of the staff? You will also get to hear their thoughts as well.

My Review from January 2019:

What a cracking start to 2019 with a good old fashioned murder mystery and The Hunting Party (Harper Collins) the debut crime novel Lucy Foley and what a cracking edge of your seat thriller it turned out to be. The perfect read between Christmas and New Year as you will see why.

It is New Year’s Eve at a group of friends have come together to see in the New Year in style at The Loch Corrin Estate which is a typical out of the way hunting lodge in the Highlands. A Hogmanay to remember as it turned out for all the wrong reasons.

Snow is falling and it is turning out to be a white out, real blizzard conditions. So a group of friends who all went to oxford spend their New Year’s Eve year on year together. The story starts on New Year’s Day and something is very wrong as one of the guests is missing and a body has been found. This was no accident in the snow. This is murder. So who done it and why?

This group of friends now in their thirties have known each other for some years so who has been murdered and it is clear the killer is one of the party. With the snow getting worse. No-one is leaving and the police cannot get to the lodge due to the bad weather.

We do not know who has been murdered as Lucy Foley keeps us guessing as we work back and forth and are introduced to each of the characters and what a group of characters they are. Then there are the staff. There are three on duty for the Hogmanay celebrations and we get to know each of them. The plot is thickening and past history is bubbling to the surface.

There is something brilliantly old about reading The Hunting Party, knowing you are trapped inside this old lodge and there is a killer among you and will they strike again?

The characters really do bring something to the party and eerie setting makes for a chilling and twisty plot.

This will keep you gripped to the very end. Brilliant writing from Lucy Foley makes The Hunting Party a one to watch for January 2019. I would order your copy today. How well do you know your friends?

So many great fiction titles I have read through the year and so many of them came very very close but The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley was the book that I just kept talking about through the year.

NON -FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019

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The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

(Doubleday)

Summary:

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.

Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories.

Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2019

Hay Festival Book of the Year 2019

NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019:

If my choice of the fiction book of the year was my first book to have been read of 2019, then my choice of Non-Fiction book of the year was my last book to have been read of 2019 and what a book it was.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold was released in late February of this year and I never got to read this until December despite many people recommending this to me and what an outstnading piece of work by Hallie Rubenhold. For over 130 years the five Women were all labelled as protitutes and finally Hallie Rubenhold tells the story of the five women and their lives. There only crime was that they were homeless and many of them turned to drink and so when their bodies were found they were labelled as protitutes. What Rubenhold tells in her account is the story of the five women. This book will leave a mark on me for many years and will make you angry at how badly each of the victims have been treated for over 130 years. A briliant book that will finally give a voice to the five women.

My Review from December 2019:

The brutal murders by Jack the Ripper took place in 1888, that was 131 years-ago and at last a landmark book has been written of the real lives of the five women that were murdered in London by a killer that has never been identified. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Historian Hallie Rubenhold (Doubleday) gives a voice to the five women and it is without doubt one of the greatest books of 2019.

If you searched for books on Jack the Ripper it would take you the best part of the day to look at each one as each book sets out trying to identify who the killer was, but how many books have there been that give a voice to the five women: Mary Anne ‘Polly’ Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. The research done by Hallie Rubenhold has been extensive and deserves the many plaudits she has received for this vital book. The misogyny that surrounds the many stories of Jack the Ripper through the years and even still today.

Each of the women has a chapter dedicated to them and follows their lives from day they were born to when they died. Each one found themselves alone and in poverty in the Whitechapel part of London. Each of the women led a life and someone’s daughter, friend, lover and deserves better than history has given them. At last in Hallie Rubenhold’s book their lives are detailed and the myths finally buried.

What Rubenhold explores is the extreme hardship of the times and being a woman meant having little or no support. Being born into hardship and spiralled downwards, alcohol dependency and being homeless, the police investigation tells of the women being prostitutes but this Hallie Rubenhold after extensive investigations finds that there is no evidence stating that three of the five being Nichols, Chapman or Eddowes were not prostitutes but they were preyed upon because they were just intoxicated, homeless and asleep. To Jack the Ripper they were targets.

Never has a book held me in its grasp as The Five has. History has been extremely shameful in what has been said of the five women but 131 year later, Hallie Rubenhold has provided justice for each of the victims for which I congratulate the author. It is though shameful that it has taken over 130 years for this wrong to be righted. Highly Recommend.

Books of the Year 2

 

So there we have it. Another year in books has come to a close. A year that I will remember for many great reasons. We celebrate books and the writers through the year and looking ahead to 2020 and a new decade it promises to be another exciting literary year.

To those who follow me here or through my Twitter feed, thank you for all your kind words and to the those who I have had the pleasure of meeting here is to the next time.

Let us hope for a more peaceful year ahead.

Happy Reading and Happy New Year.

 

 

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Cover

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Summary:

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.

Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories.

Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2019

Hay Festival Book of the Year 2019

 

My Review:

The brutal murders by Jack the Ripper took place in 1888, that was 131 years-ago and at last a landmark book has been written of the real lives of the five women that were murdered in London by a killer that has never been identified. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Historian Hallie Rubenhold (Doubleday) gives a voice to the five women and it is without doubt one of the greatest books of 2019.

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If you searched for books on Jack the Ripper it would take you the best part of the day to look at each one as each book sets out trying to identify who the killer was, but how many books have there been that give a voice to the five women: Mary Anne ‘Polly’ Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. The research done by Hallie Rubenhold has been extensive and deserves the many plaudits she has received for this vital book. The misogyny that surrounds the many stories of Jack the Ripper through the years and even still today.

Each of the women has a chapter dedicated to them and follows their lives from day they were born to when they died. Each one found themselves alone and in poverty in the Whitechapel part of London. Each of the women led a life and someone’s daughter, friend, lover and deserves better than history has given them. At last in Hallie Rubenhold’s book their lives are detailed and the myths finally buried.

What Rubenhold explores is the extreme hardship of the times and being a woman meant having little or no support. Being born into hardship and spiralled downwards, alcohol dependency and being homeless, the police investigation tells of the women being prostitutes but this Hallie Rubenhold after extensive investigations finds that there is no evidence stating that three of the five being Nichols, Chapman or Eddowes were not prostitutes but they were preyed upon because they were just intoxicated, homeless and asleep. To Jack the Ripper they were targets.

Never has a book held me in its grasp as The Five has. History has been extremely shameful in what has been said of the five women but 131 year later, Hallie Rubenhold has provided justice for each of the victims for which I congratulate the author. It is though shameful that it has taken over 130 years for this wrong to be righted. Highly Recommend.

Note: The London Library has recently started a Podcast series and in Episode One Director of the London Library Philip Marshall talks to Hallie Rubenhold. The podcast is available to download via all the main podcast providers or through the London Library website: Here

432 Pages.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold was published by Doubleday and was published on 28th February 2019 in Hardback and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

Sherlock Holmes & The Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove

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Sherlock Holmes & The Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove

Summary:

It is 1890, and in the days before Christmas Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are visited at Baker Street by a new client. Eve Allerthorpe – eldest daughter of a grand but somewhat eccentric Yorkshire-based dynasty – is greatly distressed, as she believes she is being haunted by a demonic Christmas spirit.

Her late mother told her terrifying tales of the sinister Black Thurrick, and Eve is sure that she has seen the creature from her bedroom window. What is more, she has begun to receive mysterious parcels of birch twigs, the Black Thurrick’s calling card…

Eve stands to inherit a fortune if she is sound in mind, but it seems that something – or someone – is threatening her sanity. Holmes and Watson travel to the Allerthorpe family seat at Fellscar Keep to investigate, but soon discover that there is more to the case than at first appeared. There is another spirit haunting the family, and when a member of the household is found dead, the companions realise that no one is beyond suspicion.

 

My Review:

As a boy I loved reading the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes novels and watching the TV adaptations, then all of a sudden I stopped reading them. It has been many years since I last read one of the books and this Christmas I was looking for something a little different and then I found it in Sherlock Holmes & The Christmas Demon (Titan Books) by James Lovegrove.

AUTHOR

The year is 1890 and it is close to Christmas and everyone is looking forward to spending time with their families over the festive period including Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson but an unusual case has come to light and Holmes requests that Dr Watson journey with him to Fellscar Keep which is the family home of the Allerthorpe’s and it was Eve Allerthorpe who approached Sherlock Holmes with the ghostly goings on at the family home. Eve believes that the home is being haunted by the demonic Black Thurrick. Just to add to the mystery Eve Allerthorpe turns 21 on Christmas Eve and stands to inherit the family fortune from the late Mrs Allerthorpe. Could it be that there are some who do not want Eve to receive her inheritance?

Holmes and Watson find that they are not made welcome when they arrive and Sherlock Holmes in very wary to say the least of the ghostly goings on. It is said that the Black Thurrick is leaving bundles of birch twigs on the window ledges of Eve’s bedroom, a sign of the Black Thurrick. As the wider family gather at the Allerthorpe family home for Christmas the bitterness and the quarrels begin. A sign of jealousy towards Eve herself. Holmes and Watson begin the task of investigating the ghostly and demonic goings on in what is a terrific Christmas tale.

Fingers are point at various family members with whom some may have a real grudge and some who are just trying to deflect attention on to others. As the story unfolds there are more ghostly apparitions and even Dr Watson himself finds a bundle of birch twigs on his window ledge.

Holmes is looking for a murderer not a demon and he must solve this crime and prove there is no demon but just a murderer on the loose on the family estate but who is it?
This is just a great Christmas mystery that even the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have loved. I really like James Lovegrove’s style of writing and the characters that he brought to the mystery as well the Black Thurrick from folklore to add a bit of Christmas ghostly goings on.

384 Pages.

Sherlock Holmes & The Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove was published by Titan Books and was published on 22nd October 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

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Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Summary:

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.

Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

And who does the little girl belong to?

An exquisitely crafted multi-layered mystery brimming with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

 My Review:

Finally got to write a review for one of my favourite books of 2019. From the author of The Thirteenth Tale comes a story based straight from the River Thames. Once a Upon River (Black Swan) by Diane Setterfield is tale based of folklore and suspense.

AUTHOR

The story is based along the river at Radcot, Oxfordshire and there stands The Swan an old in. Here the locals partake in the favourite drinks but that is not all as tales are told here but it is on one of those evenings that the tales abruptly ceased when the door burst open and a man stubbles in and he carrying a young girl. The man passes out and it becomes clear the girl he was carrying in his arms is deceased.

Present in the inn is a midwife who examines the body of the deceased girl and at this point something miraculous happens. The girl who was clearly dead wakes and soon after the man regains consciousness and tells how he found the body of the girl floating in the Thames. But who is the girl and where does she come from. The girl now back from the dead never speaks.

Soon the story of the dead girl coming back to life spreads across the local area. Hearing the news more than one family come forward to claim her as their own. Now the mystery of the girl really begins who is she and just who is her rightful parents?

I have left my review of One Upon a River to very late in the year as this is pretty much close to being my book of 2019. It has just about everything the characters really stand out here and Diane Setterfield is a master of storytelling and you become totally absorbed in the detail and storytelling. The idea of locals gathering to tell stories over a pint on a dark evening and you can almost see yourself sitting there listening. A story of the Thames as a river and the people who live and work the river and the stories it gives up. If you have not yet read Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield and looking for a book to read over the Christmas holidays, then this is one book I happily recommend.

544 Pages.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield was published by Black Swan and was published in Paperback on 29th August 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

Face It: A Memoir by Debbie Harry

COVER

Face It: A Memoir by Debbie Harry

Summary:

BRAVE, BEAUTIFUL AND BORN TO BE PUNK

DEBBIE HARRY is a musician, actor, activist and the iconic face of New York City cool. As the front-woman of Blondie, she and the band forged a new sound that brought together the worlds of rock, punk, disco, reggae and hip-hop to create some of the most beloved pop songs of all time. As a muse, she collaborated with some of the boldest artists of the past four decades. The scope of Debbie Harry’s impact on our culture has been matched only by her reticence to reveal her rich inner life – until now.

In an arresting mix of visceral, soulful storytelling and stunning visuals that includes never-before-seen photographs, bespoke illustrations and fan art installations, Face It upends the standard music memoir while delivering a truly prismatic portrait. With all the grit, grime, and glory recounted in intimate detail, Face It recreates the downtown scene of 1970s New York City, where Blondie played alongside the Ramones, Television, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop and David Bowie.

Following her path from glorious commercial success to heroin addiction, the near-death of partner Chris Stein, a heart-wrenching bankruptcy, and Blondie’s break-up as a band to her multifaceted acting career in more than thirty films, a stunning solo career and the triumphant return of her band, and her tireless advocacy for the environment and LGBTQ rights, Face It is a cinematic story of a woman who made her own path, and set the standard for a generation of artists who followed in her footsteps – a memoir as dynamic as its subject.

My Review:

I rarely get the opportunity to review books on music but I could not let this book pass me by especially as this would make an ideal Christmas gift. Face It: A Memoir by Debbie Harry is powerful and pictorial memoir looking back on her life and music.

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Debbie Harry will always be known for the 70’s punk/new wave band Blondie that sold over 40 million records all over the world. Debbie Harry was the face of Blondie during those heady days during the latter part of the 1970’s. Stunning in her beauty and her singing. But where did it all begin?

Debbie Harry (born Angela Trimble) was put up for adoption at three months old and was then adopted and grew up in New Jersey. Fame was almost destined for Debbie Harry as she wanted to be famous even when very young. After leaving school she worked for the BBC in New York as a secretary before leaving to become a playboy bunny as she searched for her role in music. It was just a matter of time. New York was also the attraction and at the time the Big Apple was alive in the music scene and Harry played in a number of bands but the sound was just not quite there.

It was while she was performing with one of those bands that she met Chris Stein and it was I guess destiny. Blondie was born and now the pair would not only collaborate on songs but they would also end up together.

That day in 1978 watching Top of the Pops singing ‘Denis’ was one of the best moments of watching the iconic pop show. It was the moment that launched Blondie here in the UK. Both the lyrics and her beauty on stage made time just stand still.

Many hits followed and we all know them if like me you grew up in the late 1970’s. Though as the 80’s dawned the pressure to write and perform always takes its toll and the relations through the group became strained. There are the stories of drugs and alcohol. It was though Chris Stein’s health that brought the end for Blondie. During the 80’s Debbie Harry went solo for a while and songs such as French Kissing in the USA was to become her only top 10 UK song. The latter part of the 1980’s saw the reunion of Blondie.

A remarkable career of one of rocks greatest and a memoir that brings to light so much that we have never known before but there is one thing in Face It that is something different to any memoirs is the paintings and drawings by fans that Debbie Harry had always kept and through the book there are so many brought to life for the first time. Surprising and at times eye opening. But I get the feeling there is still more to the iconic Debbie Harry that what we read in Face It: A Memoir. If you loved the music of Debbie Harry and Blondie, then this will make an ideal read.

368 Pages.

Face It: A Memoir by Debbie Harry was published by Harper Collins and was published on 1st October 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. (Watersones Book of the Year 2019)

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The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy

 

Summary:

Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.

 My Review:

Sometimes when you write a review for a book that is just so special there literally are no words you can write because no matter what you write it would not do justice to the book or the author. The same can be said of The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury Press) The most beautiful book of the year.

Author

Our world is in a real mess right now and hope seems to be in short supply, many of us have been looking for something to cling to I guess call it a life raft for life itself and then comes along a book that is just so full of hope and is a real inspiration. It is a beacon for everything that is good in us and in our lives.

This is the story of Charlie’s four friends, it all started with a simple conversation with the horse confiding in the boy about the bravest thing he had ever said. ‘Help’ said the horse. Sometimes in life we all need to be brave and ask for help. It is not a weakness but it is a strength of character as well as brave.

The story is set in Springtime when the weather can be really strange a bit like life as we all know. The boy meets the mole. They set off on an adventure and soon meet the fox who is quiet for a reason that will become clear and then they meet the horse.

Throughout this beautiful story we meet ourselves in every character and there is nothing wrong with that. It is a book that will tug at your heartstrings and bring a few tears to your eyes and yet at the same time fill you full of hope. At times we are all fragile and doubt ourselves. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse will make your heart burst. We do sometimes forget the words love and also friendship then I recommend that you spend time with Charlie’s four remarkable friends and it is like a warm blanket on a cold winters night. I can feel my heart filling up as I write these words.

Voted as Waterstones Book of the Year for 2019 this will make the most beautiful Christmas gift for anyone of any age. Can I suggest that you go out and buy this book for yourself and one for anyone you know who is going through a difficult time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

128 Pages.

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy was published by Ebury Press and was published on 10th October 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

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Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

 

Summary:

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat . . . but 1.4 million NHS staff are heading off to work. In this perfect present for anyone who has ever set foot in a hospital, Adam Kay delves back into his diaries for a hilarious, horrifying and sometimes heartbreaking peek behind the blue curtain at Christmastime.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas is a love letter to all those who spend their festive season on the front line, removing babies and baubles from the various places they get stuck, at the most wonderful time of the year.

My Review:

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay was huge success and is still selling very well. Adam returns with a festive book Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas (Picador). This is a book that will find its way into many a Christmas stocking this year and it is both hilarious and heart-breaking at the same time.

AUTHOR

There was many laughs in Adam Kay’s first book but may be because this is a look at the life on the NHS wards at Christmastime I actually found this to be more hilarious.

I mean what on earth are people doing at Christmas to land themselves in hospital I mean what are Candy Canes for exactly? To eat you cry, just try telling that to some out there. (I will leave this to your imagination). Adam really does know how to reach out to people and make them laugh and there are barrel loads of laughs throughout.

The NHS staff across the country all year deserve so much praise for being there at all hours of the day and night to look after us when we need their help. But so much more during the festive period when they sacrifice so much to care for those of us who need care and attention. I was one of those in my childhood that spent Christmas in hospital. I have never forgotten the nurses and doctors of that hospital. Being ill or having accidents does not stop just because it is Christmas.

There are so many hilarious stories that Adam shares from his diaries of his time in an NHS hospital during the festive period. But also at the same time there are some stories that will make you stop and think and are rather sad and poignant.

There is also the message about how dangerously underfunded the NHS has become to the point of the medical staff working long hours without a break or sleep. Our wonderful NHS needs all our support all year round it is not a political football to be played with at election time. It needs real-time investment and that includes in nurses and doctors.

If you do want a seriously good laugh after you have over eaten and drunk too much, then my prescription is Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay. I promise it is a far more entertaining than Christmas Day TV.

One last thought. If you have been treated in hospital this past year, why not send a card to the hospital or some chocolates to the doctors and nurses that treated you to give them some Christmas cheer on the big day.

160 Pages.

Twas The Nightshift before Christmas by Adam Kay is published by Picador and published on 17th October 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

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