April reads

Hi all. Hope you had a great month. My reading over the last 4 weeks have resembled the weather. There have been some reads that were golden rays of sunshine and unfortunately there were also reads that were like standing in a puddle with a hole in your shoes.

8 books in total. 1 not finished, 1 book of poetry and 1 memoir. 4 4* reads, 2 3* reads, 1 2* reads.

1. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. 4*

Description- heartache, love, short.

#1  New York Times bestseller  Milk and Honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity.

The book is divided into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. Milk and Honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

* Self-published edition sold 10,000 copies in nine months in the US, and over 1400 copies through UK Bookscan.

* Over 1.5million copies sold worldwide.

* AMP edition has now sold over 71,000 copies through UK Bookscan (June 2017), and is the bestselling Poetry book in 2017 in the UK.

* As of July 2017, Milk and Honey was the bestselling title in the US – across all categories.

* Rupi has 1.3m Instagram followers; 130K twitter followers; and 346K Facebook fans.

* Strong appeal for fans of Lang Laev, author of Love & Misadventure and Lullabies.

* Rights have been sold in over 20 languages worldwide

In my opinion, being a poet is a tough gig. I’m basing my opinion on no major knowledge apart from skimming reviews on Goodreads. Each poem is often viewed as a mini book. To rate a book of poetry 4* and above, do you have to like EVERY poem???? Of course not but I often feel that this is required by a lot of readers. Some of these poems spoke to me, and some didn’t. The poems I loved, I loved so much that the poems I liked less fell along the wayside. When I shut the book I honestly feel that my life was the better because I had opened it. These are not long, flowery poems. They are instantly accessible. Incidentally this is one of the common criticisms of the book. Many feel that Rupi’s poems are like snap chats. For me, this isn’t a problem. I am no great poetry connoisseur. I don’t want to wade through endless words to come to the crux of a poem and then not even be 100% sure that I have got it right. The fact that these poems are so short and straight to the point is what I love and if this gets more people like me reading poetry then surely it’s a win!

As a mother of 2 daughters, this poem in particular spoke to me:

2. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. 4*

Description- awkward, sex, atmosphere.

It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come…

This month for my book club at work we opted to read The Children Act by Ian McEwan. I have read a fair bit of McEwan but not for a long while so I thought I would get back in the world of McEwan by reading On Chesil Beach.

What a lovely read this is. The writing of beautiful. The premise is simple. I often feel nowaday that thanks to authors like Gillian Flynn etc we expect a book to have twists and turns and keep us on the edge of our seat. This is where Ian McEwan is a master. He writes books without tricks but his beautiful writing and his stories about humanity keep you hooked. Chesil Beach is a perfect example of this. A newly wed couple are about to embark on their wedding night and what happens in the aftermath. Reading the novel was uncomfortable. This isn’t a criticism. This is what McEwan wanted you to feel. Reading through a couple’s first awkward sexual experience is cringe worthy. I was rooting (excuse the pun) for the characters. I was begging them to forgo class differences, constraints of the sexes and pride and to just talk to each other. To tell each other what they were scared of saying!!! God it was frustrating but in a good way!

Yes for me this was a hit and I have recommended it to a lot of people. If you like books that do what they say on the tin in an unpretentious, unwaffley way with beautiful writing then give it a go.

3. The Children’s Act by Ian McEwan. 3*

Description- law, Jehovahs witnesses, marriage.

Fiona Maye, a leading High Court judge, renowned for her fierce intelligence and sensitivity is called on to try an urgent case. For religious reasons, a seventeen-year-old boy is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life. Time is running out.

She visits the boy in hospital – an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. But it is Fiona who must ultimately decide whether he lives or dies and her judgement will have momentous consequences for them both.

Wow! We had a great book club on this beauty. I have also started doing some research on the authors to present to the group. Ian McEwan is quite an interesting one. A man never to shy away from making his views public. Deeply against extremist religion. He has spoken out against fundamentalist Islam’s views on women and homosexuality. He is a labour voter and was strongly against Brexit.

As a Book group, we thought McEwan’s views on religion made the result of the court case quite predictable. McEwan is a realist who would obviously not come down on the side of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Indeed, Credsida Connolly writing for the Spectator said:

religion was never going to be in with a chance. One might argue that the sect he has chosen is easy prey, since most of the reading public are likely to open these pages not needing to be persuaded that Witnesses are little short of nutters.

Connolly goes on the describe the novel as ‘lacking in dramatic tension’ which we agreed with but also felt that that was not really what the book was about. I think the book is essentially, a character study in Fiona Maye’s marriage, morals and beliefs. In Fiona, McEwan has written a very real character. She is certainly flawed but ultimately likeable and I respected her. I’m sure to be a High Court judge you have to have a method of putting your emotions into a box so as not to cloud your judgement. You would think then, that Fiona would be quite a cold character but we all empathised with her. We also decided that she probably would be quite a tricky woman to be married to. That is not to excuse her husband’s actions but I don’t imagine she would be the kind of wife to wear her heart on her sleeve. Indeed, her husbands request is so very distasteful because he voices what he requires and feels is lacking in their marriage.

Going off onto a bit of a tangent I also discovered that 2 members of our book club sing in the Gray’s Inn Chapel Choir. They particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the area and said the level of musicianship amongst the barristers and solicitors is incredibly high.

So all in all a good month reading Ian McEwan. If you like beautiful prose definitely worth picking up.

4. Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. 3*

Description- unreliable narrator, care Home, flash backs.

LONGLISTED FOR THE WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2018

There are three things you should know about Elsie.

The first thing is that she’s my best friend.

The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.

And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.

84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?

From the author of THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP, this book will teach you many things, but here are three of them:

1) The fine threads of humanity will connect us all forever.

2) There is so very much more to anyone than the worst thing they have ever done.

3) Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.

This was another book club choice and it went down very well….including with the men who I thought would be put off but the pretty battenberg cover.

I can only speak for myself, but at 37 I am definitely aware of my own aging and now also my parents. This makes Florence’s story about age and dementia even more poignant. It reminded me of Elinor Oliphant in that even though the subject matter is quite tough, it is told in such a simple, gentle and witty way, the book never feels particularly harrowing.

The reason I only gave this novel 3* is because I felt Cannon was constantly trying to be clever and shroud the story in mystery. For me, the book would have worked a little better if I had been let in on the secret. I guess the control freak in me is coming out. I think I just like books to me simple and well written. That isn’t to say that this isn’t beautiful written, I just don’t like an unreliable narrator and narrators don’t get more unreliable than one with dementia.

I would like to say that Cannon’s writing is just beautiful and very moving. I loved this quote:

I think the hardest part of losing anyone is that you have to live with the same scenery. It’s just that the person you are used to isn’t a part of it anymore, and all you notice are the gaps where they used to be. It feels as though, if you concentrated hard enough, you could find them again in those empty spaces. Waiting for you.

5. The Firemaster’s Mistress by Christie Dickason. Did not finish.

Description- James I, romance, gun powder.

In the troubled year of 1605, Papist plots are rife in the gaudy streets of Shakespeare’s London as the fifth of November approaches …

Francis Quoynt, Firemaster, is recently returned from Flanders and dreaming of making fireworks rather than war.

Instead, Quoynt is recruited by Robert Cecil, First Minister, to spy on Guido Fawkes and his fellow conspirators. Meanwhile, Sir Francis Bacon is scheming for high position and spying on Quoynt.

Kate Peach, a glove maker, was Quoynt’s lover before war took him away. Now living in Southwark, she is brought into grave danger. She is a secret Catholic. A fugitive Jesuit is concealed in her rooms. While Francis hopes to prevent the death of King James I and everyone in his parliament, Kate will have to save herself …

I set myself a new goal this month….I will no longer buy new books unless I attempt to read one of the old ones on my shelf. This particular tome has been up there since 2011. I must have bought this during my bodice ripper phase. God my reading tastes have changed. I have to say I would have persevered if this book hadn’t been 500 sodding pages long. It is a period of history that I don’t know much about but as I say in all honesty I couldn’t be arsed to read it every night. Life is defo too short.

6. Lullaby by Leila Slimani. 4*.

Description: quick read, harrowing, Paris.

The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.

When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect caretaker for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint and is able to host enviable birthday parties.

The couple and nanny become more dependent on each other. But as jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, Myriam and Paul’s idyllic tableau is shattered…

Wow! I finished this book a couple of nights ago and I am still struggling to write down exactly what I think. Having finished this book I am left with a sense of unease and fear which is all down to the Slimani’s writing. This book feels claustrophobic and very, very real. At its centre a couple who have young children and busy working lives. I massively understand Myriam. A woman who although loves her children, is passionate about retaining a piece of herself. Maybe this is so poignant to me because I am exactly at this stage. I have two young children and my husband and I work. Like Myriam, my job is my passion and not doing it would be unthinkable. We have a nanny who we love and trust. This is a story that could happen and maybe it’s so unsettling because a caregiver, murdering her charges is a scenario you would never want to consider.

There is no unreliable narrator in this novel. There are no plot twists and turn. The very first chapter tells you of the murder of the children. I think this made the novel so much more disturbing. Knowing what was going to happen to the children and imagining what the parents will go through in the aftermath of the murders makes the novel almost painful to read. If you are looking for something gripping, harrowing and impossible to put down give this a whirl.

7. The tattooist of Auschwitz. 2*

Description: love story, concentration camp, harrowing.

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.

In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.

Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too.

So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.

Oh Lordy, where to start with this one?!?! I really didn’t like this book but I’m glad I listened to it (audiobook) as I have had to get to grips with why I disliked it so much. Much like The Firemaster’s Mistress, I am not a fan of a love story….historical or otherwise. To me, love stories are dull and formulaic. People fall in love every day, this is not unusual. I have no interest in reading about other people’s love affairs. You know when your mate has one of chats with you about everything her boyfriend has said and you just glaze over and nod while thinking about a million other things??? That! That is what reading a love story is like for me. Secondly, I don’t like fiction about the Holocaust. I know this is based on a true story but it is only ‘based.’ This is still a work of fiction. Non fiction is completely fine and I think it is important that we read what happened and never forget those who perished at the hands of the Nazis. I just find fiction on this subject slightly distasteful. Would Lale and Gita really have been able to regularly have sex??? The part when Lale suggestively rubs the chocolate around her mouth….really????? Just not nice. Of course people will be moved by the subject matter, but I often feel that when an author uses such emotive subject it is sort of like a cop out.

At this point I would like to say that I have just finished this book and I would like to say that I enjoyed the ending much more than the love story set in Auschwitz. After Lale makes his escape and we learn what later happens to him and Gita is very moving. I love the fact of this book just not the love story which I feel is padded out for fiction. As a result I will change my rating to 3*.

8. Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth. 4*

Description: tear jerker, post war, work house.

In this follow up to CALL THE MIDWIFE, Jennifer Worth, a midwife working in the docklands area of East London in the 1950s tells more stories about the people she encountered.

There’s Jane, who cleaned and generally helped out at Nonnatus House – she was taken to the workhouse as a baby and was allegedly the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat. Peggy gand Frank’s parents both died within 6 months of each other and the children were left destitute. At the time, there was no other option for them but the workhouse.

The Reverend Thornton-Appleby-Thorton, a missionary in Africa, visits the Nonnatus nuns and Sister Julienne acts as matchmaker. And Sister Monica Joan, the eccentric ninety-year-old nun, is accused of shoplifting some small items from the local market. She is let off with a warning, but then Jennifer finds stolen jewels from Hatton Garden in the nun’s room. These stories give a fascinating insight into the resilience and spirit that enabled ordinary people to overcome their difficulties.

One of my most major flaws is that I have literally no willpower. Having stated very strongly in March’s post that I was not going to watch Call the Midwife I started watching it a couple of weeks ago and am thoroughly enjoying it. Unfortunately this has made me enjoy the second book in the series slightly less but that’s my own stupid fault. These two books are depicted in the first series and Christmas Special of Call the Midwife and it’s done really well.

I have loved these books. Post war London is so interesting and I have learnt a lot. There were many times during reading these books I openly cried on the train. Living in SW London, my husband and I in full time work, both kids healthy it makes me realise that we honestly don’t know how lucky we are. People in 1950s East End London has coped with so much adversity through the wars, lived in squalor and were often hungry and penniless. If you were unable to feed your children the solution would be to enter the workhouse where you would be split up as a family and have to deal with appalling situations of a different kind. The story of Peggy and Frank is utterly heartbreaking. The hardship people lived through were unbearable. What women of the 1950s must think of us with our doulas, sleep consultants, breast feeding consultants I dread to think.

The 1st of May is a beautiful, sunny day and I am currently in the bus in my sunglasses reading the first book of the month. It’s premise….a man takes his wife and son to look after an empty hotel during the winter months……The Shining.

April Beauty. Hit, miss or maybe.

Hi all. I’m massively pleased we have finally reached the end of April. The control freak in me has struggled with the confused weather. Whilst loading the washing machine this morning I mused on the contrasting dirties….scrappy tops and jump suits from last week, jumpers and joggers this week. What worries me is how much people use the term ‘heat wave.’ Was last week really a ‘heat wave’ or was it…..summer?????

Not a bad beauty month. 2 HITS, 2 MISSES and 3 MAYBES.

HIT

  • Skimono Total Conditioning Foot Mask. £9.99

I pride myself on the fact that if I’m wrong I will hold up my hands and admit I’m wrong. I WAS MASSIVELY WRONG about this product. Having not had a miss in my March beauty post I was pretty certain this product would be a definite miss for April. I mean who honestly would pay £9.99 for a product that probably works just as well as Vaseline and a pair of bed socks?????? ME! The answer is ME. This stuff is TREMENDOUS. My feet weren’t in a that terrible a state but I defo had hard skin on my heels and around my toes. 30 mins with this beauty my feet honestly looked like I had just had a pedicure. This stuff is the bomb. I apologise for prejudging!

  • Skin Chemist 24 hour aqua repair facial serum. £39.99

I really loved this product and have noticed a difference since I have started using it. Firstly I like the fact that it is a gel serum and not a liquid. It absorbs really quickly and has a scent that I like. Secondly I really think it helped with my fine lines. Working in theatre where I constantly seem to be putting make up on or taking it off this really does feel like a treat for the skin and one that I wouldn’t hesitate buying again.

MISS

  • Janina Ultra White Activated Charcoal Toothpaste. £7.67

The very fact that today my 4 year old told me her favourite colour was yellow because it is the colour of my teeth make this product a massive miss for me. I have been using this toothpaste for about 5 weeks now but it is obviously not doing a thing. Also if this toothpaste gave me a Pamala Anderson smile I could forgive the little grey dots of toothpaste that are flecked all over my bathroom but it doesn’t so I don’t. Slow hand clap Janina.

  • Skyn Iceland. Glacial Facial Wash. £19.50

I don’t want a face wash that feels like I am pouring acid into my eyes. Who in all honesty has the time to cleanse AND use a separate eye make up remover?!? Not me but if you use this stuff you have to. Get it into your eyes and it cocking hurts. Also face felt all tight afterwards. Fail from me.

MAYBE

  • Janina Ultra White Extra Strength. £10.95

So this is the more expensive version and so far, so good. Not yet at Pamala’s dazzling smile stage but so far signs seems promising . No annoying flecks of toothpaste over my bathroom too which is an added bonus. Teeth defo seem a bit whiter. Husband used it this morning and told me it tasted of pineapple. Obviously his tastebuds are more sensitive than mine as I struggle to taste the papaya and pineapple enzymes but even if I did if this works, it’s a small price to pay for a brighter smile.

  • Vegan by Dr Botanicals. Bergamot and Poppy Seed Smoothing Body Exfoliating Bar. £19.90

I was lucky enough to receive this soap in a beauty box and it was going to go straight in the HIT category until I googled the price which seems pretty steep to me. It is a lovely soap and I love the fact that you can use it on your body and your face but bloody hell it is still a soap. Something I would be chuffed to bits to receive as a gift but not going to buy for myself. Dove still gets my vote.

  • Scent Republik Scent Stik. £4.95

Okay so maybe not one for the sophisticated adults amongst you but for future stocking fillers for your 11 year olds it’s a definite must. Great packaging and easy to apply. Basically this is a pen with the scent infused so you just doodle all over your body. The reason this is a MAYBE is that I did feel that the nib was a little scratchy.

There are three scents to choose from:

Whoosh- raspberry, strawberry and cassis.

Fab- rich praline, sweet vanilla and mandarin.

Chill- marine aqua, apple blossom and citrus.

Probably not the demographic they were aiming for but my 5 year old loves them!!

Anyway that is all until next month.

Thanks for reading.

March reads

Towards the end of March I had a complete reading epiphany….wait for it…… I am no longer going to read books on my kindle. I absolutely HATE reading on my kindle. It completely take the enjoyment away from me and as dramatic as it sounds, it makes me feel quite depressed. Apart from my children, dog and husband (in that order), reading is my passion….and for me, books go hand in hand with reading. I love the physical act of holding a book, getting more than halfway through and actually seeing the pages go past.

I have also decided that from now on I am going to post my monthly reads on instagram. Not the whole reviews obviously but instead of a review I am just going to put down 3 words or phrases that come to mind when I think of each book. Maybe this will spur someone on to pick one up….or not.

1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid 3*

Words… magical realism, refugee, love.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017

SHORTLISTED FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FOR FICTION

NOMINATED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR FICTION

*One of Barack Obama’s top ten books of 2017*

The Times Top 10 Bestseller

Guardian Top 10 Bestseller

The New York Times Top 5 Bestseller

Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal 2018 and finalist for the Neustadt Prize 2018

‘Mixing the real and the surreal, using old fairy-tale magic… Compelling, crystalline, unnervingly dystopian’ Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

An extraordinary story of love and hope from the bestselling, Man Booker-shortlisted author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

This is Nadia. She is fiercely independent with an excellent sense of humour and a love of smoking alone on her balcony late at nightThis is Saeed. He is sweet and shy and kind to strangers. He also has a balcony but he uses his for star-gazing.

This is their story: a love story, but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow. Saeed and Nadia are falling in love, and their city is falling apart. Here is a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it.

This was a book club read and one with which I am on the seesaw of 3 and 4*. Its raining today and I am about to change a manky nappy so I am going to put it at 3*. I think even though this book is so relevant right now, members of our book club were quite disappointed . I haven’t read it, but apparently this book doesn’t compare at all to The Optician of Lampedusa, which had great reviews and people say is very moving.

The element of magical realism was also a major problem. The very idea that you could just find a door which would lead you to another world, belittled the whole journey of a refugee. No images akin to those of 3 year old Alan Kurdi in Exit West. For us, the whole element of crisis and desperation was missing.

In conclusion, I think we were all baffled by the accolades this book has received. Is it because the subject matter is so emotive that people aren’t so critical?  Hamid’s idea was interesting and original but at the end of the novel you definitely felt that something was lacking.

 

2. The Manson Women and Me by Nikki Meredith. 2*

Words……psychology, parents, indoctrination.

In 1969, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel carried out horrific acts of butchery on the orders of cult leader Charles Manson. At their murder trial, the lead prosecutor described them as ‘human monsters.’ But to anyone who knew them growing up, they were bright, promising girls, seemingly incapable of such an crime. Award-winning journalist Nikki Meredith began visiting them in prison to discover how they had changed during their incarceration. The more Meredith got to know them, the more she was lured into a deeper dilemma: What compels ‘normal’ people to do unspeakable things?

Having finished this book, my lasting thought is that it needs editing. Badly. The subject matter really sparked my interest. Although a lot has been written about Manson, I really wanted to know what made the Manson women commit these horrific acts. The interviews between Meredith and Leslie Van Houten and Leslie’s mother were really interesting. Less so with Patricia Krenwinkel who Meredith clearly had less of a rapport with. I wish there had been more interviews and less memoir of Meredith’s life. I would often get to the end of a chapter and think “what was the point in that?” In conclusion, it was a bit ‘meh.’

3. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. 5*

Words….anxiety, depression, humour.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FEEL TRULY ALIVE?

Aged 24, Matt Haig’s world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again.

A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.

Oh Matt Haig how joyous I am to have found you!!!

As someone who has struggled with depression since I was 16, I have tried counselling, CBT, hypnotherapy, Citalopram and reading every book under the sun about depression and anxiety.  This the first book I have read which I feel has been written for me and me alone. I have found over the years that actually the most effective means at making me feel better, is not trying to ‘fix’ me but basically to have someone say ‘it’s shit, but I understand.’ This is what I get from this book and as a result of Haig’s book, I don’t feel like a failure because I struggle with depression, I feel a sense of positivity that I am not alone and even on my darkest days, things will get better.

I have so much respect for the way this book is written. In a chatty, non judgemental way with just the right amount of statistics and humour. It is really important that this book comes from a male author.

Without a doubt I would recommend this book to anyone whose life is touched by depression but also to men, boys who are scared to voice their fears, anxieties and sadnesses.

4. The Humans by Matt Haig. 4*

Words….hilarious, touching, aliens.

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton – and he’s a dog.

What could possibly make someone change their mind about the human race. .

Book clubs are funny old things aren’t they? Why do you join a book club? To read more? To read outside your comfort zone and forget your prejudices? I ask these questions because this was a book club read. The majority of the group loved this book bar 2 people. When asked why they said “I hate science fiction.” Undoubtedly there is an element of sci-fi….alien life but this is definitely not all that this book is about. I loved it mainly because it made me laugh and that takes a lot on a delayed south west train in the morning. I also found it very touching. Andrew’s relationship with his wife and particularly with his son was very moving and definitely made me sit up and recognise how easy it is to focus on the unimportant things in life and leave the important things to founder.

5. A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. 4*

Words…..America, university, old-school-thriller.

Dorothy meets a handsome young man with an eye for her inheritance while she is in her sophomore year. They are to be married and her life will be blissful; but Dorothy is pregnant and her fiancé’s plans are ruined, for Dorothy would be disinherited if her father discovered the truth. So the young man provides his bride to be with some pills that will solve the problem. Soon there will be no baby – and perhaps no Dorothy either… A Kiss before Dying, Levin’s first novel, earned him the 1954 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and is regarded as a modern classic.

This was an unplanned read for me this month. My mother in law came to stay last week. This is tremendous because she is undoubtedly the MOST helpful woman in history. She always offers to do the school run for me which I always accept. For all exhausted mothers out there, you will know what a treat this is. The only snag with this situation is I then feel like I am on holiday and that I have all the time in the world to get myself ready for work….as a result I am always late. On this particular day, I was still leisurely eating a bagel 15 minutes before I was due to leave the house. Admittedly my standards are lower and I definitely don’t look as coiffed heading into work as I used to but I can get ready to leave in 15 mins at a push. What screwed it on this particular day is that my potty training 2 year old decided to piss all over my bed. I left the house feeling grumpy and harassed. I also discovered I had left my book at home. HORROR. I hot footed it into the charity shop and my eye spied Ira Levin.

The legendary Levin has never disappointed. I have listened to Rosemary’s Baby and The Boys from Brazil on audio book and I can honestly say that in my memory of audio books, these 2 really held my concentration.

I whipped through this book is 2 sittings. These are the kind of thrillers I love to read. Like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, this book kept me guessing. Who do you trust? I bloody love an unreliable narrator. I haven’t yet watched the film but in my mind it will be like an Alfred Hitchcock. 1950s America is a time period I love reading. I have such a vivid picture in my mind of how the film will look…I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

6. Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. 4*

Words…..Deep South, racism, acceptance.

Amos, Mississippi, is a quiet town. Silas Jones is its sole law enforcement officer. The last excitement here was nearly twenty years ago, when a teenage girl disappeared on a date with Larry Ott, Silas’s one-time boyhood friend. The law couldn’t prove Larry guilty, but the whole town has shunned him ever since. Then the town’s peace is shattered when someone tries to kill the reclusive Ott, another young woman goes missing, and the town’s drug dealer is murdered. Woven through the tautly written murder story is the unspoken secret that hangs over the lives of two men – one black, one white.

This is a book I am definitely going to buy for my dad. I completely associate my dad with American fiction, particularly that set in the Deep South. He has always been interested in the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. If I had masses of money, I would love to pay for dad to do a road trip round the Deep South. I think he would fully immerse himself in the culture, food and music. It would also be a trip I would adore to make.

Franklin’s book is not without its accolades. It won the Crime Novel of the Year in 2010. This book so completely evoked the sights, smells and tastes of the South that reading it often felt like I was watching it on screen. The plot is great, but it definitely comes secondary to the brilliant characters.  Larry Ott is a character, which even now, 2 weeks after finishing the book, I still feel a lump in my throat when I think of him. The small town setting, combined with racial tensions and prejudices, made the book feel almost suffocating. In the middle of all these emotions, is Ott who is the brunt of everyone’s suspicion when it comes to the disappearance of the two girls. A painful but great read.

7. Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. 5*.

Words….1950s, slum, hardship.

Jennifer Worth trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, and was later ward sister at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London, then the Marie Curie Hospital, also in London. Music had always been her passion, and in 1973 she left nursing in order to study music intensively, teaching piano and singing for about twenty-five years. Jennifer died in May 2011 after a short illness, leaving her husband Philip, two daughters and three grandchildren. Her books have all been bestsellers.

Before having children, I used to be an avid fan of the a TV programme One Born Every Minute. I just loved the birth stories and seeing the beautiful babies. Even the sadder episodes I would watch and although I would be moved, the stories didn’t affect me too deeply. Then my own children arrived and my emotional level went through the roof. No longer could I watch films or read stories where children were anything other than happy. Now, even poor Charlie Bucket being unable to buy a bar of chocolate leaves me in bits. If One Born Every Minute or Call the Midwife comes in the TV, I have to switch off. Seeing women in labour is a very different thing when you have been through it yourself.

My youngest daughter was born 2.5 years ago so when a colleague recommended the novel Call the Midwife to me, I started reading with some trepidation.

I was very quickly hooked. Although the first scene of labour made me cross my legs a little, Worth’s writing about the East End, the characters she treated there and the nuns with whom she lived was wonderful. The chapters about Mrs Jenkins and the workhouse were utterly utterly heartbreaking. It has been a very long time since a book has made me cry. Life for the paupers in post war London was completely unbearable but yet families still persevered against the odds to look after their families. I have to say, the book hasn’t made me want to watch the tv series as thanks to Worth, I have such a strong image of 1950s London in my head. I am definitely planning on reading the rest of the books in the series.

8. We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. 4*

Words…..chimps, memory, siblings.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014

The Million Copy Best-Seller

Rosemary’s young, just at college, and she’s decided not to tell anyone a thing about her family. So we’re not going to tell you too much either: you’ll have to find out for yourselves, round about page 77, what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other.

Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone – vanished from her life. There’s something unique about Rosemary’s sister, Fern. And it was this decision, made by her parents, to give Rosemary a sister like no other, that began all of Rosemary’s trouble. So now she’s telling her story: full of hilarious asides and brilliantly spiky lines, it’s a looping narrative that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning. Twice.

I read this book in 4 days. If you asked me 3 days ago what I was thinking, I would have said I was close to giving up. Why????? SPOILER ALERT!!!!!! Because of the monkey business. I don’t mind the fact that Fern is a chimp, in fact, it is this very reason that I grew to love the book. I hated that this major plot point wasn’t explained until page 77!!! 77!!!!! Yes, I understand why she did it, but in all honesty, it just pissed me off. If there weren’t so many good books in the world, I would have gone back and re-read pages 1-76 to see what I had missed when I had been spending the first third of the book thinking Fern was a human, but there ARE too many good books!

Ignoring monkey-gate, when this book finally dropped its cloak of ambiguity, I really enjoyed it and I admit I shed a tear on the last page. I also really enjoyed Fowler’s writing of Rosemary’s memory.  This, yet again is ambiguous, but I guess memory is isn’t it? Do you remember things correctly and in the right order??? I bet my early memories of situations are very different to my parent’s memories of the same situation. Its a really interesting idea and one I felt that Fowler explored really well.

 

Until next month!

March Beauty. Hit, miss or maybe

Before jumping in with this month’s products I think it is important that I clarify my headings. Hit-with products in this category they are things I think are absolutely wicked. I may put in products that I have posted about before….this is basically a bullying tactic by me to convince you of the severe hittyness of the hit. Miss – these are products that are pants, crap, rubbish and are things no one should buy. Maybe – these are products which aren’t necessarily bad, but are things that aren’t really suited to me.

Hit

  • Flexitol Heel Balm. £5.99

OK, OK this is not a glamourous, bathroom display product but neither is scaly hobbit feet and this stuff will defo banish feet from the Shire. It’s thick stuff. Smear it on at bed time, put on a pair of those not sexy but oh so comfy bed socks and your feet will be delish by morning .

  • Caudalie Vinosource SOS Thirst Quenching Serum. £29.99

This is a really lovely serum that provides results immediately. Firstly , the smell is gorge. It’s one of those really happy, uplifting citrusy scents. It’s a really light texture which you could also use as a primer. It sinks in really quickly and feels like a real treat, particularly when dealing with the crazy weather we have been having the last month. Buy it. It’s brill.

  • Rosalena Rock and Rose Facial Oil. £42.99

Oooooooh bloody hell this stuff is lush. My skin laps it up like my mouth laps up Cadbury’s fruit and nut. It smells amazing….rose, geranium and Jasmin. It contains only good things…no chemicals. Prickly pear oil to encourage collagen, evening primrose oil to help with ageing and grape seed oil to leave skin hydrated. My skin looks brill. Radiant and feels plumped.

  • Oils of Life. The Body Shop. £30

The only downside of this product is it’s stupid name which sounds like something from a kid’s adventure cartoon. Could they honestly not come up with a better name?!?!

Anyway, name aside, this is a really lovely facial oil. I use it at night after a serum and my skin definitely feels nourished in the morning .

Maybe

  • Moa Fortifying Green Bath Potion. £4.00 for a 10ml ‘shot’ or £28.00 for 100ml

I began writing this post just after I had poured my ‘shot’ of potion into the water. Immediately I could smell the peppermint and my sinuses felt clearer. I had also been for a run today and my legs felt invigorated after this bath. Why it is only a maybe is because I am a lady who likes her bath bubbly. I don’t really want to feel invigorated after a bath, I want to feel moisturised by tons of luxurious bubbles.

  • Korres White Tea Facial Fluid Gel Cleanser. £15.00

This seemed to do the job. My make-up came off effectively and my skin wasn’t tight afterwards. I thought it was really nightly scented and £15 is quite a lot to spend on a cleanser in my opinion.

Quite a positive month all in all. No Misses and a few hits that I will definitely buy again.

I hope you all have a lovely Easter.

A month of reading: February.

The start of February’s reading saw me completely embedded in the 17th century. You know that feeling when you find a book so comforting that you want to retain some of that comfort in your next read???? For some reason I found plague and witch hunts comforting?!?!? Maybe it was the candlelight and mead .

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. 4*

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ‘March’ and ‘People of the Book’. A young woman’s struggle to save her family and her soul during the extraordinary year of 1666, when plague suddenly struck a small Derbyshire village. In 1666, plague swept through London, driving the King and his court to Oxford, and Samuel Pepys to Greenwich, in an attempt to escape contagion. The north of England remained untouched until, in a small community of leadminers and hill farmers, a bolt of cloth arrived from the capital. The tailor who cut the cloth had no way of knowing that the damp fabric carried with it bubonic infection. So begins the Year of Wonders, in which a Pennine village of 350 souls confronts a scourge beyond remedy or understanding. Desperate, the villagers turn to sorcery, herb lore, and murderous witch-hunting. Then, led by a young and charismatic preacher, they elect to isolate themselves in a fatal quarantine. The story is told through the eyes of Anna Frith who, at only 18, must contend with the death of her family, the disintegration of her society, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit attraction. Geraldine Brooks’s novel explores love and learning, fear and fanaticism, and the struggle of 17th century science and religion to deal with a seemingly diabolical pestilence. ‘Year of Wonders’ is also an eloquent memorial to the real-life Derbyshire villagers who chose to suffer alone during England’s last great plague.

This was my second reading of this book. The first time was after a recommendation by a colleague. He thought it was AMAZING. I read it and thought it was a bit meh. A solid 3*. I think I have a thing that if a book is crazy popular I almost don’t allow myself to enjoy it….it’s almost like I don’t want to relinquish control and let myself enjoy it as much as I should. So, I had to reread it for February’s Book club and this time I loved it. It’s not a 5* but it’s a solid 4* from me. Maybe I was just in a different place, maybe because it hadn’t been massively bigged up, I actually allowed myself to enjoy it without looking for faults. Anyway it was good. A few little niggles….Anna is a great character but I wonder if she was just too modern for the time and although this book was a massive book club hit we all agreed that the ending was slightly ridiculous and seemed to come from nowhere.

The Witch Finder’s Sister by Beth Underdown. 3.5 *

When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women’s names.

To what lengths will Matthew’s obsession drive him?

And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

After finishing Year of Wonders I felt pretty invested in the 17th century so I picked up Underdown’s novel. Although Alice Hopkins is a fictional character, her brother Matthew was the the infamous Witch Finder General, which was a role never acknowledged by Parliament but one he adopted never the less. This was a really interesting and enjoyable read. Such a terrifying time when any woman could be accused of witch craft and once suspected it was impossible to prove you weren’t guilty. A baby dies, people would look at a woman to blame, a man strays from his marriage bed and it would be the woman who had used magic to bewitch him. In a time when women had no voice in society it truly must have been a terrifying time to have been alive.

Like Year of Wonders I would recommend this atmospheric read to fans of historical fiction.

Mills and Boon Month

To celebrate Valentine’s Day I decided to buy a Mills and Boon for ever member of both Book clubs. Crazy generous of me!!!! I heard an absolutely hilarious podcast a few years ago where the three presenters of the show read the same Mills and Boon copy and then discussed it. Unfortunately I struggled to find 40 copies of the same book but after a quick eBay search, I bought a job lot of different titles. The books arrived and titles ranged from The Fireman and the Single Mother, The Boss’s Virgin and Stranded, Seduced…Pregnant. Everyone received a copy and armed with bit of Mills and Boon research, read voraciously. So…..Mills and Boon started publishing in 1908 and was bought by Harlequin in 1971. They publish a set amount of books each month. Any unsold copies get withdrawn and pulped. This means that if you are after a specific title, you have to buy second hand. According to Wikipedia, in 2008, 200 million Mills and Boon novels were sold and every 6.6 seconds, a Mills and Boon paperback is sold.

We had a hilarious meeting, reading aloud the scenes we found particularly funny. Yes, without a doubt, the story lines are formulaic but to be completely honest, I didn’t hate my book (Island Pleasures by Susan Napier) anymore than I hated 50 Shades of Grey. I think this was probably because my heroine in Island Pleasures didn’t have an inner goddess and I am slightly embarrassed to say that I actually found it sexier. Disclaimer….when I read 50 S of G it was pre kids and my husband and I still had a sex life based on lust rather than that feeling that you just should because you haven’t done it in YONKS.

Anyway, highly recommend doing a Mills and Boon month is you have a book club.

A Map of the Dark by Karen Ellis. 2.5*

FBI Agent Elsa Myers finds missing people.

She knows how it feels to be lost…

Though her father lies dying in a hospital north of New York City, Elsa cannot refuse a call for help. A teenage girl has gone missing from Forest Hills, Queens, and during the critical first hours of the case, a series of false leads hides the fact that she did not go willingly.

With each passing hour, as the hunt for Ruby deepens into a search for a man who may have been killing for years, the case starts to get underneath Elsa’s skin. Everything she has buried – her fraught relationship with her sister and niece, her self-destructive past, her mother’s death – threatens to resurface, with devastating consequences.

In order to save the missing girl, she may have to lose herself…and return to the darkness she’s been hiding from for years.

I shall start this review with the word ‘hmmmmmm.’ I have literally just read the last page and that is the feeling I am left with. I often think that writing reviews for books that are a bit ‘meh’ is much harder than writing reviews for books you loved or hated. Then, either way, at least you are passionate .

In my opinion, this book is just a bit paint by numbers. We have the damaged, tortured FBI agent whole is simultaneously dealing with her own demons whilst trying to save girls from a killer. We have the lovely sidekick, who recognises his partners brilliance and fragility. We have the potential love interest who doesn’t care about Elsa’s past and just wants to love her. The plot twists and turns were obvious and predictable. I feel bad because so far, this is quite a scathing review but I do feel that Ellis needs to up her game if she want to compete with other authors in the genre. Having said that, this book is the start of a series so I’m sure the plots will improve. Unfortunately, this book did not intrigue me enough to see the series out to the end.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is going to be the only book in this blog post which doesn’t get a rating. Why????? Wait for it…… I didn’t finish it. I gave up. I am a Night Circus Failure. I admit that I am mortified by these statements. I have read so many reviews and this book is LOVED. Just not by me. I’m sorry. The reason is, I am just not a fan of books about magic, witches and wizards etc. Now for another controversial statement….I didn’t love Harry Potter. I thought it was ok. But as the books got thicker and thicker I just couldn’t be arsed. If Night Circus had been half its length I may have persevered but I guess we’ll never know.

Penance by Kinae Minato. Translated by Philip Gabriel. 2.5 *

When a group of young girls are approached by a stranger, they cannot know that the encounter will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Hours later, Emily is dead. The surviving girls alone can identify the killer. But not one of them remembers his face…

Driven mad by grief, the victim’s mother demands the girls find the murderer or else atone for their crimes. If they do neither, she will have her revenge. She will make them pay…

I feel that the blurb on this book is quite misleading. This book is not about a mother’s revenge. This book is about how a very disturbing murder of a child affects the lives of the other children present. I thought the book started really well and I found it very dark and well written, but after the initial chapter, it was just a formulaic, chapter by chapter account of each girl’s view of the murder and how it affected their life. I’m sure it is worth mentioning that maybe something may have been lost in the translation, but all in all, it wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty. 4*

At the beginning of the year my best friend’s dad died. I hadn’t seen him since Sal got married a couple of years ago. During my sixth form, I went to boarding school in North Yorkshire. Sal’s dad was the maths teacher. When I was diagnosed with depression in my first year, I often went over for sunday lunch. I have memories of us all sitting round the dining table playing a game called bridges….you pour melted sugar over ice-cream and try to eat the ice-cream without breaking the ‘bridge’ formed by the sugar. Sal’s dad was happy being in the great outdoors, clay pigeon shooting or propping up the bar at the local boozer. He wasn’t very loud but he had a wicked sense of humour. He found out that his skin cancer was terminal in september 2017 and he died, at home a few weeks ago.

Sal came over for lunch yesterday and we had a few glasses of wine and a good cry. We have been lucky so far in that death isn’t really something we have had to deal with directly. Until now, no-one close to us has died but death is a funny thing as it is something we are all going to deal with….the death of others and ultimately our own. Yet, what happens when we die still seems to be a taboo. We deal with it and we don’t touch on it again.

I picked up this book having heard a few podcast reviews and I wasn’t disappointed. We should be grateful for people like Doughty coming forward and giving their opinions on the subject of a ‘good death.’ Initially Doughty’s writing seemed a bit blasé but after a few chapters I was completely immersed. Why should death be taboo. It is the one great leveller. No matter how rich, poor, famous, infamous, horrible or lovely….we will all ultimately end up as dust. It is a sobering thought but I do believe it is a thought we ought to have and be aware of. This book has made me think a lot about what I want for the end of my life. The only reason this isn’t a 5* is the chapter on babies. I can make my peace with adults dying but I can’t handle a baby dying who has had no chance of life and I found this chapter a real struggle.

Thanks for reading and have a great reading March.

February Beauty. Hit, miss or maybe

How often do you walk into a shop and steer clear of their own named brands??? I have to admit that I do. Wrongly, I assume that own brands don’t have the gravitas and provide the results of specific brands.

This month’s post proves how wrong I have been. Boots has come out top trumps. Really, really top quality, providing brilliant results at even better prices. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to pay!!!!

Hit

  • Boots L;ft Bounce Back Night Re-hydrating Cream. £11.99

Smells absolutely lovely. Thick, velvety and luxurious. Lovely packaging. Feels much more expensive than it is. In the morning my skin was plumped and lush.

  • Boots L;ft Moisturising Day Cream. £11.99

I have nothing negative to say about this. Smells lovely, nice packaging, really moisturising and quirky absorbed.

  • Boots L;ft Buff and Glow 60 Second Polish. £12.99

Top product. Love it. Massage the gel onto dry skin for 60 seconds and it buffs away the dead skin. Use 3 times a week. Skin feels really smooth and definitely looks brighter.

  • Boots Lasting Perfection Foundation. £5.99

I was given this as a freebie from the make up artist at work. To be honest I thought it would be pants so I decided to just wear it on stage. I was wrong. I bloody love this stuff and considering the price it’s a major bargain. Its full coverage which I need. Hides the redness, open pores and dark circles without looking cakey and blends like a dream.

  • Kiko Pure Clean Scrub and Peel Wipes. £5.90

This came as a recommendation from a friend who knows my love of a scrub that SCRUBS. None of these namby, pamby scrubs for me. I like a scrub to buff away past sins. This is such a scrub you can only use it twice a week but by gum does it work. The wipes are double sided. One side is the scrubby side (and it’s really not for the faint hearted) and the other side, wipe over after you’ve scrubbed. No more dull skin for me. And at a bargain price.

Miss.

  • Origins. Plantscription Powerful Lifting Cream. £46.80

Hmmmmm. For the price and the title of this cream I was expecting MIRACULOUS results. I was not as impressed as I felt I should have been. Firstly a disclaimer and it is quite a large disclaimer. I don’t have particularly saggy skin or many lines so maybe I am being unfair. I was sent this to review and so it probably wouldn’t be something I would usually buy. I liked the smell of this cream and I also liked the texture. I just felt that for me, the price of this cream is expensive and to be honest I don’t think it produced better results than the £11.99 cream I reviewed earlier.

Maybe

  • Clinique All About The Eyes Serum. £26.75

Particularly lovely if you put in the fridge and want a nice, soothing and cooling eye serum. Roller ball feels nice. I just feel that I need something more moisturising.

  • Dr Organic Body Polish Pre Tan Exfoliator. £8.99

Disclaimer. I am not a fake tan fan so I was using this for the sole purpose of a body exfoliator/polish. It was fine. A bit meh. I wouldn’t buy this over a coffee scrub which are literally the best things ever.

Thanks for reading.

It’s the little things…..

Today I woke up with a funny feeling….positivity. Sadly and worryingly this is something I rarely feel. Granted it’s a Saturday and the day didn’t begin with the mad rush of school uniform, arguments about hairstyles and temperature of porridge but today I honestly feel good.

Due to this mad feeling of euphoria, I think it’s important that I write down why it is that I feel good.

So……..

  • I went out for a drink last night after the show. Usually I can’t be arsed and I just want to go to my bed but the key here is that it was a spontaneous drink. I happened to see a friend on my way out of the theatre who suggested a drink and I thought ‘yup.’ I didn’t have time to talk myself out of it by mentally listing the reasons why it wasn’t a good idea. I just went and I laughed and I had fun with my friends.
  • My children let my sleep this morning. Due to my inconsistent working hours my children definitely lack routine. Each week is different and my kids definitely suffer as a result of it. Sometimes I can pick them up from school, sometimes not. Sometimes I have a day at home, sometimes not. As a result, the girls are MEGA clingy. When I am home they want me. It’s lovely and I know there will be a time when they are indifferent but at the moment when they are both under 5 and struggling with the concept of sharing, I literally feel pulled in all directions. Today, however they went downstairs with daddy with no tears and I slept!!!!
  • I went for a run. Yet again this word spontaneous is going to pop up. I didn’t have time to talk myself out of it. I went into the sunshine and just ran. Maybe that is the thing….as a parent who works full time, spontaneity is word that is never used. Mums have no time for spontaneity. I know parenting is something we signed up for and I love it, but having the freedom to be spontaneous is really important. I could have spent the morning cleaning my fridge and hoovering (which was on my to do list) but I did something for me and it felt freeing and invigorating.
  • I went to the charity shop and bought tons of lovely books.
  • Today I have a matinee and no evening show. This is a major thing. Tonight I will have a ‘normal’ Saturday night with my husband. We will get a takeaway and watch a movie. This is not something to be sniffed at. There is something slightly depressing coming into work on a Friday night. Going up the escalator at Charing Cross and watching all the other people with that ‘Friday Feeling’ heading down the escalator to go home for their weekend is strange. I love my job and I am very lucky but weekends aren’t weekends when you are going into work. You miss your family and friends.
  • I found an unused £20 off voucher in my ASOS account. WIN.

So as a result, occasionally being spontaneous is wonderful for my mental health. I will have to remember this but ironically I will have to remember that I can’t plan to be spontaneous.

Have a lovely weekend.