February reads.

Hi all. I think my reading this month has been pretty varied. The easier reads of Judy Blume and Penny Vincenzi have been balanced out by the Coetzee and Morrison which were pretty harrowing.

It is now the 1st March and I am embarking on the epic that is The Cider House Rules. This is one big ass book which will probably take me the majority of the month!!! πŸ™„

  • Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. 4⭐️.
  • J.M. Coetzee born 9th February 1940.

After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy’s isolated smallholding. 

For a time, his daughter’s influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faultlines in their relationship.

If you had asked me my thoughts at the end of the first chapter, I would have told you that the book was destined for my charity shop bag. To say I hated the character of Lurie is is an understatement. I loathed this man. I found his relationship with his student utterly predatory and distasteful. I couldn’t bear the thought of committing my time to this individual for another 200 pages. It was the writing that made me persevere. Coetzee writes with a total lack of pretension which I loved. As the winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature, I was wrongly expecting flowery, writing. This is not the case and this in my opinion is the strength of the language. Coetzee does not waste words or sentences which I think makes the story even more brutal and immediate. The visceral writing, makes it impossible not to connect with the story.

I think I started to enjoy (if enjoy is the right word….it’s not) when David went to stay with his daughter on the farm. Throughout this section I softened towards the man I initially loathed. His relationships with his daughter, Bev and the animals were so interesting and bleak that I couldn’t fail to be moved.

I think this might be my first foray into South African literature and it definitely won’t be my last.

  • Then again maybe I won’t by Judy Blume. 3⭐️.
  • Just Blume born 12th February 1938.

Tony Miglione is thirteen, and his family lives in a cramped house in New Jersey. But then his Dad invents something that makes them rich, and they move to a luxury home in Long Island. But being rich brings it’s own problems – Tony’s Grandma feels useless when she doesn’t have to cook any more, and his mum is obsessed with impressing the neighbours, but Tony knows the boy next door isn’t as perfect as he looks. The only upside to his new life is that his neighbour Lisa keeps undressing with the light on. As he tries to adjust to his new life Tony starts to suffer from anxiety attacks and wishes everything would just be normal again.

Then Again, Maybe I Won’t is a classic coming of age story from the boy’s perspective, from Judy Blume, the author of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Oh Judy, Judy, Judy. My first sex education teacher. The woman who taught my 11 year old friends and myself about wet dreams, hard ons, boobs, periods and …..RAPLH!!!! I remember break times at school with my friends, hiding under the stairs with a copy of BIG magazine, Just Seventeen and Forever. It was lucky one of us had an older sister so we could steal these epic bibles of sex education. I remember feeling scared, intrigued, disgusted and clueless. So clueless in fact, that when the tampon lady came to give us the talk I spent at least two occasions walking around with the tampon AND the cardboard applicator inserted…..really painful! You literally couldn’t pay me to go back to those days.

Reading Judy Blume as an adult and a mother of two girls stirs up as much emotion as was contained in my 13 year old self. Different though. It makes me appreciate the stress my parents must have gone through with me as a teenager. I was a bloody nightmare. Boys, boys, alcohol, boys. My 5 year old daughter is already chatting about boys. I think as punishment for my teenage years, I am destined to have a boy mad daughter….I just thought it would start later than 5!

I guess having read this book as a mother, and having wisdom and age on my side (😳), I can take some comfort in knowing that everything will be alright (touch wood). You can’t stop kids being interested in sex etc and neither should you. Hopefully, if you bring up your kids well, they will always have some kind of moral compass and not go too far off the rails. In this book, Tony is a great kid. Sure he spies on the next door neighbours daughter and raids the drinks cabinet but on the hole he comes off a lot better than his incredibly annoying mother. Having listened to this on audio I think I hated Mrs Miglione ten times more because of the reader’s screechy, high and slightly hoarse voice he used for all the women in the book. Mrs Miglione comes off as a weak, social climber, desperate to keep up with the Joneses. I was impressed how money didn’t change Tony. He had a strong sense of fairness and what is right and wrong. As teenagers go, I think he is pretty special.

I am left pondering what teenage boys today would think about this book. As a mother of 5 and 3 year old daughters, I have no contact with teenagers. I am left wondering if today’s teens would find Judy Blume a little dull. Due to social media, you tube, tv, computer games etc, I think kids grow up quicker now and are less shockable. I can’t imagine the teenage girls I pass on the school run, reading Forever under the stairs in lunch break.

  • Dreams of Joy by Lisa See. 3⭐️.
  • Lisa See born 18th February 1955.

Nineteen-year-old Joy Louie has run away from her home in 1950s America to start a new life in China. Idealistic and unafraid, she believes that Chairman Mao is on the side of the people, despite what her family keeps telling her. How can she trust them, when she has just learned that her parents have lied to her for her whole life, that her mother Pearl is really her aunt and that her real father is a famous artist who has been living in China all these years? 

Joy arrives in Green Dragon Village, where families live in crowded, windowless huts and eke out a meagre existence from the red soil. And where a handsome young comrade catches her eye… Meanwhile, Pearl returns to China to bring her daughter home – if she can. For Mao has launched his Great Leap Forward, and each passing season brings ever greater hardship to cities and rural communes alike. Joy must rely on her skill as a painter and Pearl must use her contacts from her decadent childhood in 1930s Shanghai to find a way to safety, and a chance of joy for them both. 

My slightly macabre fascination with Chinese history started when I was a child. I remember being on holiday and my mum was reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang. Mum read the section about foot binding to me. I remember being repulsed, terrified and fascinated all at the same time.

Since that fateful holiday in Javea I have read a lot of books about China. Lisa See is completely brilliant and I have loved everything she has written. Shanghai Girls was the first in this series of two books and I have to say that I enjoyed it slightly more than Dreams of Joy. The first book was more of a family saga, centered around the Pearl and May, sisters who travel from Shanghai to LA. The book spans the 1930s-1950s and deals with sibling relationships, immigration and racial prejudice.

Dreams of Joy centres around Pearl’s daughter, Joy. She leaves LA to return to Shanghai to search for Shanghai and join the Communist movement. Pearl follows her daughter and returns to the Shanghai of her childhood. The country is now under communist rule and is much changed. People are suspicious of eachother, food is scarce and everyone’s moves are monitored.

There definitely wasn’t as much action as Shanghai Girls and at times I felt it was all a bit slow but it’s definitely worth a read.

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison. 4⭐️.
  • Toni Morrison born 18th February 1931.

Terrible, unspeakable things happened to Sethe at Sweet Home, the farm where she lived as a slave for so many years until she escaped to Ohio. Her new life is full of hope but eighteen years later she is still not free. Sethe’s new home is not only haunted by the memories of her past but also by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

One of the things I have noticed since starting my mission to read books written by authors who were born or died in the month we are in, is that books are chosen because of the authors and not the content. This means I often have no idea what the books are about before I delve in. Of course I had heard of Beloved but I thought it was a story set on a slave plantation. Of course there are aspects of Sethe’s previous life on the plantation of Sweet Home but the book is also a ghost story and about how the characters have adapted to life since being released from slavery. The story is told in flash backs and through the memories of the main characters. The central event is Sethe murdering her own daughter rather than letting her be captured and returning to a life of slavery.

In writing the novel, Toni Morrison was inspired by the sad story of Margaret Garner. Garner escaped from slavery in 1856 and fled to Ohio which was a free state. She killed her own daughter rather than letting her be recaptured. When she was arrested, authorities didn’t know whether to try her for murder or desecration of property.

I have to admit that I preferred the flash back chapters to the chapters which involved the character of Beloved. Initially I found the magical realism element in a book about a subject as harrowing as slavery a little confusing. A couple of days ago I listened to a podcast with Toni Morrison who said that all the characters within the novel were trying to escape their past. Morrison wanted ‘the past to come in a sit at the kitchen table.’ This is definitely what happens with the character of Beloved and the question of whether she is a reincarnation of the murdered daughter doesn’t actually matter. Her arrival means that all the characters have to face their previous lives. I think this is what I found so heartbreaking….ultimately, all the characters are still wearing the shackles of slavery.

In the podcast, Morrison also talks about how a second reading of a novel is always richer. I am sure that without a doubt this would be true of Beloved. I am ashamed to say that I don’t think I could read it again. I found it so harrowing that I had to give myself a couple of days off. Hard though it was to get through however, I honestly don’t think I have ever been so moved by a book in my life.

  • Into Temptation by Penny Vincenzi.
  • Penny Vincenzi died 25th February 2018.

Power, politics and closely guarded secrets abound in INTO TEMPTATION, the third and final novel of Sunday Times bestselling author Penny Vincenzi’s Spoils of Time trilogy. ‘Like an illicit lover, I have been sloping off all week to snatch another hour’s pleasure with … Penny Vincenzi’s terrific new novel’ Jilly Cooper. For any reader of Elizabeth Buchan, Santa Montefiore or Harriet Evans, and for any fan of epics such as Downton Abbey.

The Lytton family past is full of secrets, and only Lady Celia knows them all. There’s her daughter Adele’s difficult, dark past; the dreadful cruelty of a truth her son Kit had to confront; even the shadows of Celia’s own life, and that of Barty Miller, the child she rescued from the slums in babyhood who now owns more than half of the Lytton publishing house. Some secrets are more dangerous than others, some shared with Celia’s family, some entirely her own. And all absolutely safe in her keeping. Until something threatens to reveal them all…

Are you ever guilty of judging a book by its cover? Are you ever guilty of making rash judgements about books based on an author’s name or genre. Without a shadow of a doubt this is something I am 100% guilty of but I am also someone who can admit they were wrong. Penny Vincenzi, I owe you an apology.

I first came across Vincenzi’s books when I was in secondary school. I had a good friend whose mum always had one on the go. I remember they would be 800 page door stops with terrible covers – women pictured in profile, often wearing a large, glamorous hat, Penny’s name picked out in gold, raised font. I remember thinking ‘my mum doesn’t read books that look like that.’ Chick lit I thought. 800 page books about women who were looking for a man, thinking about their weight and what to wear.

Two years ago a friend bought me The Spoils of Time trilogy. I must admit, I was appalled: you want me to read Penny Vincenzi???? Author of middle-aged chick lit???? Nope, nope, NOPE!

The books sat on my bookshelf for about six months. I then decided to try the first one, No Angel (πŸ˜±πŸ™„πŸ˜„bloody awful title). I’ll try the first 100 pages and then as I will probably hate it, I can take the whole trilogy to Oxfam and reclaim a large chunk of my bookshelf. The shocker came when I didn’t hate it. In fact I really enjoyed it. What’s not to love. A family saga set in the most interesting time in British history. The women weren’t man hungry nymphos. Celia Lytton is a strong, modern woman. Ok, yes, there’s the odd affair but this is in no way a soppy, romantic love story.

I am now nearly finished the last book in the trilogy.…Into Temptation (πŸ˜±πŸ€£πŸ™„ another shit title). Whilst reading on the tube this morning, this book actually made me cry!!! I usually pride myself on being a bit of an emotional desert….I cannot believe Vincenzi made me cry. I am torn between being a little embarrassed and wanting to become a massive Vincenzi cheerleader.

Anyway Penny, I apologise for my misgivings about your books. The Lyttons will always have a fond place in my heart….I do think a Lady Celia would have been utterly appalled by your titles and covers however!!!

Anyway, that’s all for this month folks. Sorry for the rather eclectic choice of books.

See you next month and thank you so much for reading .

Children’s reads for February.

Hi all. Spring is in the air and my mood has lifted remarkably. It has been a bit of a slow reading month with the kids as I have been working every night. My husband then takes over reading duty but so far he seems to have read The Dinosaur who Pooped a Planet nearly every night this month. 😳😳😳

  • Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lancaster Brisley.
    Joyce Lancaster Brisley born 6th February 1896.

One of the biggest disappointments in the life of a book nerd is when you excitedly introduce your offspring to a book you loved as a child and they describe it as ‘pants.’ This is exactly what happened this month when I embraced the Mary Poppins in me, made hot chocolate with marshmallows and started to read Milly Molly Mandy. I didn’t get far into Milly Molly Mandy buying eggs for Farver and Muvver before Edie declared that this was ‘the most boring and stupid story’ she had ever heard. To be fair, the stories haven’t stood the test of time. As a child raised in the city, Edie has no appreciation of blackberry picking or laundry drying in the country air. She is a child of iPads and trampoline parks. I don’t really know what I was thinking, trying to introduce her to the quaint and charming world of village life. Sadly, the book has been relegated to the top of the shelf, probably never to be seen again. 😒😒

  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Published by Babylit. Story retold by Stephanie Clarkson. Art by Mike Byrne.
  • Charles Dickens born 7th February 1812.

In Great Expectations: A BabyLit Storybook, preschoolers follow Pip’s story, learning about the value of family and friends, fortune and loss, and love. Easy-to-follow, engaging text combined with original quotes and beautiful artwork create a book to be treasured through childhood and beyond.

BabyLit(R) primers have become the chic, smart way to introduce babies to the most beloved and readable literature of our time. Gibbs Smith is now presenting a delightful collection of picture books, lovingly designed and crafted for young children. Each book retells a story from the literary canon, bringing a classic to life for an entirely new audience. 

Stephanie Clarkson began her writing career as a journalist at Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper and continues to write for the British press while dreaming up stories for children. Steph has written everything from pocket money books to gift titles and is the author of Sleeping Cinderella and Other Princess Mix-ups. She lives in Surrey, England.

Mike Byrne lives in the Surrey countryside with his wife, cat, and two young sons where he spends his days doodling and illustrating children’s books fuelled only by tea and biscuits. Mike is the illustrator of Sproutzilla vs. Christmas and My Colourful Chameleon.

Another Baby Lit book purchased this month. I want to make it known that I’m not sponsored by this company, I just think they are bloody fantastic. Great Expectations satisfied Edie’s macabre little mind….an old lady, jilted at the altar who never takes off her wedding dress! Miss Havisham was really the only part of the book that really captured her imagination. The rest of our reading session was punctuated with “who mummy?” “Why mummy?” “Why is he called Pit mummy” which basically made me want to give up. Maybe Dickens is a step too far for a 5 year old but I will persevere and in the mean time it looks great on my book shelf.

  • Then again maybe I won’t by Judy Blume.
  • Judy Blume born 12th July 1938.

Tony Miglione is thirteen, and his family lives in a cramped house in New Jersey. But then his Dad invents something that makes them rich, and they move to a luxury home in Long Island. But being rich brings it’s own problems – Tony’s Grandma feels useless when she doesn’t have to cook any more, and his mum is obsessed with impressing the neighbours, but Tony knows the boy next door isn’t as perfect as he looks. The only upside to his new life is that his neighbour Lisa keeps undressing with the light on. As he tries to adjust to his new life Tony starts to suffer from anxiety attacks and wishes everything would just be normal again.

Then Again, Maybe I Won’t is a classic coming of age story from the boy’s perspective, from Judy Blume, the author of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Oh Judy, Judy, Judy. My first sex education teacher. The woman who taught my 11 year old friends and myself about wet dreams, hard ons, boobs, periods and …..RAPLH!!!! I remember break times at school with my friends, hiding under the stairs with a copy of BIG magazine, Just Seventeen and Forever. It was lucky one of us had an older sister so we could steal these epic bibles of sex education. I remember feeling scared, intrigued, disgusted and clueless. So clueless in fact, that when the tampon lady came to give us the talk I spent at least two occasions walking around with the tampon AND the cardboard applicator inserted…..really painful! You literally couldn’t pay me to go back to those days.

Reading Judy Blume as an adult and a mother of two girls stirs up as much emotion as was contained in my 13 year old self. Different though. It makes me appreciate the stress my parents must have gone through with me as a teenager. I was a bloody nightmare. Boys, boys, alcohol, boys. My 5 year old daughter is already chatting about boys. I think as punishment for my teenage years, I am destined to have a boy mad daughter….I just thought it would start later than 5!

I guess having read this book as a mother, and having wisdom and age on my side (😳), I can take some comfort in knowing that everything will be alright (touch wood). You can’t stop kids being interested in sex etc and neither should you. Hopefully, if you bring up your kids well, they will always have some kind of moral compass and not go too far off the rails. In this book, Tony is a great kid. Sure he spies on the next door neighbours daughter and raids the drinks cabinet but on the whole, he comes off a lot better than his incredibly annoying mother. Having listened to this on audio I think I hated Mrs Miglione ten times more because of the reader’s screechy, high and slightly hoarse voice he used for all the women in the book. Mrs Miglione comes off as a weak, social climber, desperate to keep up with the Joneses. I was impressed how money didn’t change Tony. He had a strong sense of fairness and what is right and wrong. As teenagers go, I think he is pretty special.

I am left pondering what teenage boys today would think about this book. As a mother of 5 and 3 year old daughters, I have no contact with teenagers. Would today’s teens would find Judy Blume a little dull??Due to social media, you tube, tv, computer games etc, I think kids grow up quicker now and are less shockable. I can’t imagine the teenage girls I pass on the school run, reading Forever under the stairs in lunch break.

    A Series of Unfortunate Events. The Bad Beginning. By Lemony Snicket.
  • Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler born 28th February 1970.

Dear reader,

There is nothing to be found in Lemony Snicket’s β€˜A Series of Unfortunate Events’ but misery and despair. You still have time to choose another international best-selling series to read. But if you insist on discovering the unpleasant adventures of the Baudelaire orphans, then proceed with caution…

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are intelligent children. They are charming, and resourceful, and have pleasant facial features. Unfortunately, they are exceptionally unlucky.

In The Bad Beginning, the siblings encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune and cold porridge for breakfast.

In the tradition of great storytellers, from Dickens to Dahl, comes an exquisitely dark comedy that is both literary and irreverent, hilarious and deftly crafted.

Despite their wretched contents, β€˜A Series of Unfortunate Events’ has sold 60 million copies worldwide and been made into a Hollywood film starring Jim Carrey. And in the future things are poised to get much worse, thanks to the forthcoming Netflix series starring Neil Patrick Harris. You have been warned.

Are you unlucky enough to own all 13 adventures?

The Bad Beginning

The Reptile Room

The Wide Window

The Miserable Mill

The Austere Academy

The Ersatz Elevator

The Vile Village

The Hostile Hospital

The Carnivorous Carnival

The Slippery Slope

The Grim Grotto

The Penultimate Peril

The End

And what about All the Wrong Questions? In this four-book series a 13-year-old Lemony chronicles his dangerous and puzzling apprenticeship in a mysterious organisation that nobody knows anything about:

β€˜Who Could That Be at This Hour?’

β€˜When Did you Last See Her?’

β€˜Shouldn’t You Be in School?’

β€˜Why is This Night Different from All Other Nights?’

Lemony Snicket was born before you were and is likely to die before you as well. He was born in a small town where the inhabitants were suspicious and prone to riot. He grew up near the sea and currently lives beneath it. Until recently, he was living somewhere else.

Brett Helquist was born in Ganado, Arizona, grew up in Orem, Utah, and now lives in New York City. He earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Brigham Young University and has been illustrating ever since. His art has appeared in many publications, including Cricket magazine and The New York Times.

I pretty much hate being pregnant. I am not one of those women who bloom. I am pukey, acidy and varicose veiny. I can’t believe in this day and age that no one has invented something to speed up the gestation process….I bet Violet Beaudelaire could!!! The one positive is that I give myself permission to take myself off to bed for a couple of hours (when I can) to read. Usually I am accompanied by two little people and my reading is punctuated by the whiney sound of Bing but since having kids, I have mastered the art of blocking out whining…Bing’s included. For those of you who don’t know what Bing is, it’s the most annoying kids show IN THE WORLD!!!

Last Sunday, I was lucky enough to take myself off to bed and I managed to read the whole book of Lemony Snicket. I honestly don’t think I have achieved this much since my GCSE’s.

So, Lemony Snicket….still too to old for Edie (5) but I know this is exactly the kind of book she will love. She will love the darkness of it all. Count Olaf is wickedly wicked. I adore a villain who doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a villain. I also think it makes it easier for kids to process and as a result makes it slightly less scary. The deception of a character who appears to be beautiful and kind but spends the whole time having secret, murderous thoughts is WAY more sinister. Nope, with Count Olaf what you see is what you get- from his filthy house and bad porridge all the way to his ideas of theft, treachery and under-age marriage.

Moving on to the brilliant Beaudelaire’s. These kids don’t whine….and to be fair they have ample reason for a good whinge. But no, when faced with lumpy beds, bad porridge and under-age marriage, they don’t moan, they plot! Love it. I have a particular soft spot for Violet the plucky inventor….great role model for girls.

As you can probably tell from my inane rambling, I am not a woman who loves an unreliable narrator. This is why this book is such a hit for me. There is nothing unreliable about these books or the characters. We are told right from the start that we will be faced with misery and despair and I applaud Handler’s honesty. Top work!

Anyway that is all from me this month. Hope you enjoy the start of Spring!!!! X

January and February Beauty Saviours.

Hi all. Can’t believe we are about to start March?!?!? I am just willing the next couple of months to go quickly. I finish work in April and I’m just going to enjoy being pregnant for the third and last time and finally spending some time with my kids and husband. I feel I have been a little absent since Christmas.

Anyway onto the products….apologies for lumping Jan and Feb together but there are some goodies!!!!

  • Sol de Janeiro Brazilian Body Buff. Β£21.00
  • I felt we needed a sunshiney product for this miserable January. Things don’t get more sunny than this body scrub. For starters it’s yellow. Really yellow. Turmeric yellow….you might need to give the shower a little wash down after using….but it’s worth it. You can either use it on wet skin as a scrub or put it on dry skin and wait for 10 mins…like a mask. If you go down the mask route, defo lock yourself in the bathroom….don’t walk round the house naked like a weird, gritty, yellow monster. After washing off, all that miserable winter skin is gone and you are all glowy and smooth.
    • Pick Glow Tonic. Β£18.00 for 250ml.

    As a self confessed product junkie, I am definitely guilty of sometimes over-doing the whole skin care routine. I remember having a bit of a game changing facial when I was in my mid twenties and the therapist basically told me off for piling my sensitive skin with too many products in the hope one of them would rid me of spots. This was back in the day before hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid and retinol became the beauty buzz words. As a mum of two with a third on the way, I am an advertisers dream. If a product promises younger looking, glowing skin, it is snapped up. Around Xmas time, I decided my poor skin needed a break. It, like myself was stressed, spotty and miserable. Since January, I have pared it down. Just a cleanse, tone and moisturise….like the good old days. No peels, no heavy duty serums and only a once a week face masque. Going cold turkey is miserable for the product junkie in me, but my skin is breathing a sigh of relief. It also makes it much simpler to work out which products are working and which aren’t.

    The Pixi Glow Tonic is an game changer. A product that definitely lives up to the hype. Gentle enough to use twice a day, not too harsh and people have commented how good my skin looks. Completely brilliant. Mums, dads, people with no work/life balance….this is the product you have been waiting for!!!

    • Weleda Skin Food. Β£11.20 Amazon.

    Stressed? Who me???? Cue wide-eyed look, tearing at hair, slightly like Bertha Mason locked in the attic. Actually, right now, the thought of being locked in an attic sounds heavenly.

    Right now, it is the Thursday of half term. I am currently 20 weeks pregnant with my third child. This pregnancy is ridiculously stressful as I lost a pregnancy at this stage in August 2018. This week has been spent rushing into work to rehearse Merry Widow which opens next week, rushing home to spend some time with the kids then rushing back to work to either do Akhnaten or Boheme. Stressed is not the word. I am Bertha Mason. I feel like I am juggling too many balls and dropping all of them. My skin has taken a total battering. Make-up on, make-up off. I am getting through a serious amount of cleanser and wipes.

    When my skin gets stressed and tired I get horrid, little bumpy spots around my jaw line. It’s hard to resist the compulsion I had as a teenager to just barter them with products that ultimately are going to make it worse. This is where Skin Food comes in. Just cleanse, tone and put this stuff on. It’s pretty thick so a tube will last a while. I think you can also get a lighter version. It smells slightly medicinal…which helps to convince me that it knows what it’s doing. None of your pink, flowery smells here!!! I’m currently storming into work, letting it work its magic…already I can feel my jaw-line-enemies retreating.

    Seriously, busy, stressed people….buy it!

    • Omorovica Balancing Moisturiser. Β£85.00.

    Yikes!!! I have to admit that when I was gifted this product I had no idea it was quite so expensive. I definitely do not have the cash to spend Β£85 on ANY product but if I did I would buy this without question. It smells AMAZING. Beautiful lavender which immediately adds to the luxury factor. I can honestly say that I look forward to putting it on just because of the beautiful, calming smell. As a day time moisturiser it keeps shine at bay, keeps my foundation clinging on and clears up my spots. My skin looks tons clearer and the dreaded pores look smaller. I am also wearing it at night but sealing it with a bit of facial oil for an added hit of moisture.

    Really beautiful product. Unfortunately, I don’t think my maternity pay will allow me to repurchase but I can dream.

    Anyway, until next month. Thank you for reading. X

    January Reads

    Happy New Year all. Hope you all had a restful Christmas and are feeling refreshed for 2019.

    Reading wise, 2019 has gotten off to a blinder. The House of Silk is a definite 5⭐️ read for me. January will also see me re-evaluate my rating system. In the past, 5⭐️ reads were very rare and I think in the past I have often been too harsh. 2019 will see much more positive ratings from me.

    • The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. 5⭐️.

    ‘Horowitz has captured Holmes Heaven’ (THE TIMES) – THE HOUSE OF SILK was the first official new Sherlock Holmes mystery and a SUNDAY TIMES bestseller.

    THE GAME’S AFOOT . . .

    It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks. 

    Intrigued, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston and the mysterious ‘House of Silk’ . . .

    Well if this is a sign of things to come in 2019, I am a very happy reader. I loved this book. In fact that was nothing I didn’t like about The House of Silk. As a self-proclaimed book worm I am ashamed to say that I haven’t read any Doyle. I am planning to rectify this ASAP but I acknowledge reading the new version before reading the original author isn’t ideal.

    Anthony Horowitz is certainly qualified to write a mystery novel and according to reviews, he has been respectful of Doyle’s formula: no high action, no love interests, bringing back well loved characters etc. In the author’s blurb at the back of my copy he makes his disdain for the high action in the Robert Downey Jnr film pretty plain. If Horowitz’s novel makes people pick up some Doyle then surely this is a good thing.

    As a Sherlock virgin what did I love??? The neatness of the plot was a big plus for me. Characters were introduced and then reintroduced. Ends were tied up. I didn’t have to keep flipping back through the book to remind myself who people were. I felt safe with Holmes and Watson. I was comforted in the knowledge that that good would conquer evil but the journey was definitely an exciting one . I enjoyed the Victorian setting. It felt like a cosy book, perfect for the winter months.

    • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. 5⭐️.
    • J.D. Salinger born 1st January 1919.

    The Catcher in the Rye is J . D. Salinger’s novel of disaffected youth.

    Holden Caulfield is a seventeen- year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Navigating his way through the challenges of growing up, Holden dissects the ‘phony’ aspects of society, and the ‘phonies’ themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection.

    Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood behind, The Catcher in the Rye explores the world with disarming frankness and a warm, affecting charisma which has made this novel a universally loved classic of twentieth-century literature.

    J. D. Salinger was born in 1919 and died in January 2010. He grew up in New York City, and wrote short stories from an early age, but his breakthrough came in 1948 with the publication in The New Yorker of ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’. The Catcher in the Rye was his first and only novel, published in 1951. It remains one of the most translated, taught and reprinted texts, and has sold some 65 million copies. His other works include the novellas Franny and Zooey, For Esme with Love and Squalor, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, published with Seymour – An Introduction.

    When choosing books for our book club I post a selection of 4 or 5 reads from differing genres, authors from different countries etc. I want to offer a wide range of choice. People vote for their choice and the most popular book is the one we read. This means that people have a say and can opt in or out depending on the book chosen.
    I have to admit, that when Catcher was the book picked I was a little disappointed. It’s ‘classic’ status put me off. I had visions of myself trying to plough through a high brow novel whilst cooking chicken nuggets for the kids or desperately trying to read it and keep my eyes open late at night. Sadly, the term ‘classic’ intimidated me. Thanks to A Level English I associate Classics with books that have to be picked apart and analysed. I mean did your teacher ever ask you in English class if you actually enjoyed the book you were studying???
    As with a lot of things in life, I was wrong about Catcher. I LOVED this book. I want to shout it from the rooftops “I loved Catcher. I’m not intimidated. I got it.” I think however, the reason I loved it and ‘got’ it was because I read it at the right time. This is a book which is often read in school. If I had read this at 14,15, 16 I think Catcher would be yet another book, destined for the pile of dull, uninteresting books that are a massive slog. How many great books a ruined by being picked up at the wrong time?
    For me, a mother of 37 this is about a grieving boy. A boy who has been packed off to school, who has tried and failed to fit in and as he becomes more angry and disillusioned, he is failed by those who could and should help. I wanted to mother Holden. I found him utterly endearing. Teenagers are complex creatures. Trying to work out who they are, desperate to be accepted, trying on numerous personalities to find the one that ‘fits.’ I feel that I was like this as a teenager. Trying to be one of the cool, clever kids and never quite fitting in. I was definitely angry. As a teenager however I would not have been able to recognise this fact. As an adult, I can look back on those years with a bit more understanding. Underneath all the bravado, swearing etc, Holden is just a sad, angry, mixed up kid. He is almost too sensitive. The love and protectiveness he feels towards his sister is a prime example of this.

    • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. 4⭐️.
    • Erik Larson born 3rd January 1954.

    Berlin,1933. William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered academic from Chicago, has to his own and everyone else’s surprise, become America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, in a year that proves to be a turning point in history. 
    Dodd and his family, notably his vivacious daughter, Martha, observe at first-hand the many changes – some subtle, some disturbing, and some horrifically violent – that signal Hitler’s consolidation of power. Dodd has little choice but to associate with key figures in the Nazi party, his increasingly concerned cables make little impact on an indifferent U.S. State Department, while Martha is drawn to the Nazis and their vision of a ‘New Germany’ and has a succession of affairs with senior party players, including first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. 
    But as the year darkens, Dodd and his daughter find their lives transformed and any last illusion they might have about Hitler are shattered by the violence of the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in the summer of 1934 that established him as supreme dictator. Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the times, and with brilliant portraits of Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Himmler amongst others, Erik Larson’s new book sheds unique light on events as they unfold, resulting in an unforgettable, addictively readable work of narrative history.

    In my blog I like to list the books in the order of births and deaths during that month. However, this is not necessarily the order in which I read them. Today is 28th January and I am only 200 pages into this book. This is not going to be a quick read for me but it is one I am really enjoying. Having read a lot of books about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany this is a narrative history which we really experience from the witnesses. The novel is really objective in discussing the rise of the Nazi Party. I don’t feel he condemns those involved but rather he gives us a well rounded idea of what it was like to live in Berlin during those terrifying years. For those who are interested in that period of history this is definitely work a read.

      My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. 3⭐️.
      Elizabeth Strout born January 6th 1956.

    Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed. They have not seen one another in years. As they talk Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was she eventually arrived in the big city, got married and had children. But this unexpected visit leaves her doubting the life she’s made: wondering what is lost and what has yet to be found.

    The first time I discovered Elizabeth Strout was when I watched the TV adaptation of Olive Kitteridge with the brilliant Frances McDormand. I adored the adaptation. The acting was superb. I read the book soon after and I loved it just as much. I think it’s quite a rare thing to like a TV adaptation or film the same amount as a book but this shows just how great McDormand was.

    If you haven’t read any Elizabeth Strout what do you need to know? She writes quiet books about people and relationships. Her novels are set in small town America so are complete with that feeling of claustrophobia, gossip, prides, prejudices and habit that are often associated with settings such as these. Strout’s genius is in her characters. The conversations are just so well written and nuanced that the characters are immediately believable.

    • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. 3⭐️.
    • Agatha Christie died 12th January 1976.

    Agatha Christie’s most famous murder mystery, reissued with a new cover to tie in with the hugely anticipated 2017 film adaptation.

    Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.

    Isolated and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must identify the murderer – in case he or she decides to strike again.

    I finished this a couple of nights ago having whipped through it in a couple of days. Surprisingly I didn’t love it. I say surprisingly as I really enjoyed And Then There Were None. So what didn’t float my boat (train) about Orient Express????

    I hate to say this and I am sure this will be an unpopular opinion but I disliked each and every character including Poirot . Actually, the word dislike is probably wrong. I disliked Poirot-smug and annoying. The other characters I had no feelings for at all and that is where the problem lies. For me, a good thriller/murder mystery is about the relationships between the characters. Why did they commit the crime. I didn’t feel there was any character development and as a result no suspense. To me, it just seemed like an exercise to show Poirot’s intelligence which made it quite dull. As a reader, you are always confident that Poirot will solve the crime so that isn’t particularly exciting. Sorry Agatha.

    • A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale. 5⭐️.
    • Patrick Gale norm 31st January 1962.

    β€˜Do you need me to pray for you now for a specific reason?’
    β€˜I’m going to die.’
    β€˜We’re all going to die. Does dying frighten you?’
    β€˜I mean I’m going to kill myself.’

    When 20-year-old Lenny Barnes, paralysed in a rugby accident, commits suicide in the presence of Barnaby Johnson, the much-loved priest of a West Cornwall parish, the tragedy’s reverberations open up the fault-lines between Barnaby and his nearest and dearest – the gulfs of unspoken sadness that separate them all. Across this web of relations scuttles Barnaby’s repellent nemesis – a man as wicked as his prey is virtuous.

    Returning us to the rugged Cornish landscape of β€˜Notes from an Exhibition’, Patrick Gale lays bare the lives and the thoughts of a whole community and asks us: what does it mean to be good?

    Everything I have read by Patrick Gale I have loved. Like Elizabeth Strout, he writes about people. The kind of people you know, meet on the street, sit next to in work. People who, on the surface seem ordinary but these authors know that people are never ordinary and each person has a story. Their decision to write about ‘ordinary’ people mean that as a reader, you relate with the characters. You can empathise. Since starting this blog and having to think why I like books, I now know that I don’t need action packed novels. I like books that paint vivid characters with relatable stories. I like to know what makes people tick and Elizabeth Strout and Patrick Gale are authors who perfectly encapsulate this. There was not one character in this novel who I didn’t, on some level, empathise with. Even the unlikeable Modest Carlsson. The section about Dorothy losing so many babies also tugged at my heart strings. On reading a review in the Observer, Julie Myserson says one of Gale’s strengths is his narrative compassion:

    He understands how it feels to be anyone, man, woman, child, young or old.

    Like Strout, Patrick Gale is an author I trust. These are authors who are always going to hook me with beautiful writing, believable settings and incredible well observed characters.

    • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Audiobook read by Roxane Gay.

    Pink is my favourite colour. I used to say my favourite colour was black to be cool, but it is pink – all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.’

    In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of colour (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

    Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny and sincere look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

    In my blog about children’s books I mentioned how, as a child, on long journeys, my parents would play us cassette tapes of stories. My sister and I would gaze out the window listening to brilliant audios of Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book etc. I tried this with my 5 year old on our journey back home for Christmas. I downloaded George’s Marvellous Medicine read by Derek Jacobi. She managed to concentrate for about 15 minutes. I tell this story because worryingly, like Edith, I am similar. Audiobooks would definitely not be my medium of choice. I wonder if it’s something to do with living in London, rushing around- my mind is so easily distracted. I am like a horse that needs blinkers. I need to hold a physical book to shut out all the distracting sights around me. This is definitely something I plan to rectify in 2019. I need to learn to quiet my brain and to concentrate.

    This is my second book by the brilliant Roxane Gay and series of essays on feminism, racism, gender and sexuality. I enjoyed it (maybe not so much as had I read it). I like what she has to say. I agree with the vast majority of her views and she gets me thinking about issues that as a white, heterosexual female I often take for granted. I also love the fact that in a book about a serious topic, Gay still manages to carve out humour in her dry, take no prisoners way. The humour stopped me feeling like I was being lectured every time I pressed play. They essay about chess was brilliant!!!!!!!

    Right on to February. Today is the 1st and I am writing this on the tube. I had a very wet walk to the station and am not trying not to let my drenched mac touch the clearly very expensive suit of the man sitting next to me!!!πŸ™„πŸ™„πŸ™„πŸ™„

    Have a great month and thank you for reading.

    January kids reads

    Hi all. Well it seems that the longest month EVER is coming to an end and with it go my nights off. It’s a major flaw in my personality that as an opera singer, I hate working nights. As a mum with young children it’s a bit pants. I see the girls in the morning, send them to school and don’t see them until the next morning. I spend a massive chunk of time feeling guilty and obsessing about the time I am missing and will never get back with my children. The only bonus is come April, I have some time off with them and hope to overdose them with brilliant books!!!

    • Hamilton’s Hats by Martine Oborne and Axel Scheffler.

    Hamilton the Pig is very fond of hats – big hats, small hats, tall hats and suitable-for-every-and-any-occasion sort of hats. Hamilton loves hats so much his mum starts to worry that he’s a very vain little pig. Little does she know that Hamilton’s favourite hats will teach him some very important lessons!

    Hamilton’s Hats by Martine Oborne is a wonderfully funny tale, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, the award-winning creator of The Gruffalo.

    It is definitely the sign of a book addict when you discover books you didn’t even know you owned! I have no idea where and from whom we acquired this book but it was a new read for all of us. The girls really enjoyed it. There is a double page at the end with loads of different hat pictures so we had a fun game of guessing which of us would wear which hat.

    • Lewis Carroll died 14th January 1898.

    I remember car journeys as a child (long before iPads were invented), when my parents would play a cassette tape to help pass the time. I remember staring out of the car window listening to fairy tales, The Jungle Book and Roald Dahl. I tried this with my children on the way back to my parent’s house for Christmas. I downloaded George’s Marvellous Medicine read by Derek Jacobi. I think it held Edie’s attention for all of 15 minutes.

    My sister and I loved our BBC recording of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass read by the incredible Alan Bennett. Looking Glass has always been my favourite out of the two and Bennett’s dead-pan reading made the nonsense seem even more ridiculous.

    • The Trouble With Mum by Babette Cole.
    • Babette Cole died 15th January 2017.

    The trouble with Mum is that she’s a witch, and just can’t help turning people into toads, and other such embarrassing things. Finally, however, her odd talents find a good use. By the author/illustrator of “Three Cheers for Errol”, “Tarzanna” and “The Hairy Book”.

    Oh the wonderful Babette Cole. I remember reading this book (which was published in 1983) as a child and now I am sharing it with my own children. Surely this is the sign of a good book…a book that stands the test of time. My children laugh at and love the same things that I did (and still do). The illustrations are fabulous. There is loads to look at and spot. The text is large so Edie can start to read it herself. Babette Cole reminds me a little of the Winnie the Witch books by Valerie Thomas in that they both contain the right amount of yuk to keep children entertained.

    • AA Milne born 18th January 1882.

    • Rudyard Kipling died 18th January 1936.

    • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
    • First published on the 28th January 1813.

    BabyLit(R) Storybooks give classics new life for the next generation of early readers.

    In Pride & Prejudice, children are invited into the Regency period to meet the Bennett sisters, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and other beloved characters from Jane Austen’s classic tale. Elegant balls, surprise proposals, and a visit to Pemberley are just a few events to look forward to in this story about appearances, misunderstandings, and love. Quotes from the original text are woven throughout this retelling, and the imaginative artwork will engage readers of all ages. This is a book to be treasured throughout childhood and beyond.

    I picked up this copy when we went to Jane Austen’s house this summer. We had a brilliant day. The sun was shining, beautiful flowers in the garden, nice pub lunch. The kids had a great time. Edie dressed up as Jane Austen, Ceci wrote with a quill and they did a treasure hunt in the garden…it is definitely worth a visit.

    As a reminder of our lovely day I picked up this book for the girls. This was the beginning of my love affair with Baby Lit. This is a brilliant company that takes classic books and makes them approachable to younger readers. There are the primers for little ones, which introduce them to numbers and shapes. For the older children there are story books which simplify the classics. This copy with story retold by Stephanie Clarkson and art by Annabel Tempest is beautiful and would make a great gift. Edie and Ceci love looking at the girls dresses and in my opinion it’s never too young to introduce children to Mr Darcy.

    Anyway, see you all next month.

    Thanks so much for reading.

    November/December Reads

    Hello all. I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

    I didn’t do my November round up last month because I am well and truly in a reading slump. It’s definitely hormonal and I’m sure it will pass in a few weeks but right now I am completely and utterly struggling to concentrate on anything. At the end of November I looked back at what I had achieved reading wise and it was utterly minimal. My way round this was to lump Nov and Dec together in the hope that I will have something decent to say about the very few books I have managed to get through. So, here goes….I hoping January brings with it some reading vim and vigour.

    • Less by Andrew Sean Greer.
    • Andrew Sean Greer. Born 5th November 1970.

    Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the post: it is from an ex-boyfriend of nine years who is engaged to someone else. Arthur can’t say yes – it would be too awkward; he can’t say no – it would look like defeat. So, he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world. 

    From France to India, Germany to Japan, Arthur almost falls in love, almost falls to his death, and puts miles between him and the plight he refuses to face. Less is a novel about mishaps, misunderstandings and the depths of the human heart.

    Do you believe how much you like a book is directly proportionate to how much time you dedicate to it??? First book fail of the month and it’s not the fault of the book! πŸ˜žπŸ˜žπŸ˜žπŸ˜žπŸ˜”πŸ˜” I have been really busy in work and my head has been everywhere but nowhere near my current read.

    Each time I have picked this up I have been asleep by the end of the page. The accolades on the front cover are taunting me. I look at the cover and feel slightly like Arthur falling and trying to regain control. As the Winner of the Pulitzer, I am sure it is wonderful but I sense a slump coming on and I need something that is going to grab me immediately.

    I am so sorry Andrew Sean Greer. It’s most definitely not you. It’s me. ☹️☹️☹️☹️☹️ Also, Happy Birthday for the 5th! πŸŽ‚πŸŽ‚πŸŽ‚

    • Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
    • Kazuo Ishiguro. Birthday 8th November.

    Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

    In one of the most acclaimed novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, Never Let Me Godramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

    Ishiguro is an incredible writer and this novel is going to stay with me for a really long time. I really regret not choosing it for a book club read as there is so much to discuss.

    This novel is a slow burn but the subject matter really does pack a punch. The primary topic is ‘collusion.’ How a society can collude with a regime which is obviously wrong but no one wants to speak against it. How people often feel too hopeless to rally against their own fate . This is not a novel about fighting back in the vein of The Hunger Games or Divergent. I think initially this frustrated me. Why did no one rebel???? But this question is also what makes the novel so interesting. I also think the film which was directed by Mark Romanek was also brilliant.

    • Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
    • Neil Gaiman. Birthday 10th November.

    There is something strange about Coraline’s new home. It’s not the mist, or the cat that always seems to be watching her, nor the signs of danger that Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, her new neighbours, read in the tea leaves. It’s the other house – the one behind the old door in the drawing room. Another mother and father with black-button eyes and papery skin are waiting for Coraline to join them there. And they want her to stay with them. For ever. She knows that if she ventures through that door, she may never come back.

    Gaiman is an author I only really started to get into last year. The Ocean and the End of the Lane was my favourite book last year. I think Edie is a little young for this (although I did read a review of a 4 year old boy who listened to it on audio and loved it). I think we will try it in a year or two.

    Coraline is a great heroine and a great role model for kids…..

    β€œBecause,’ she said, β€˜when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.”

    πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

    Coraline is quirky, independent, adventurous, intelligent and curious. Gaiman is a master at writing non-condescending books that appeal to adults as well as children. I also applaud the fact that he doesn’t shy away from the creepy… I often feel that as parents we are so scared of our kids being scared. Edie definitely handles creepy things like a pro. I think as parent I am happy for Edie to read something a little scary as long as there is no gratuitous violence and also makes the point that good can conquer evil. I don’t want her to feel that the horror can continue. In Coraline, Gaiman does just that.

      Us by David Nicholls.
      David Nicholls. Birthday 30th November.

    David Nicholls brings to bear all the wit and intelligence that graced ONE DAY in this brilliant, bittersweet novel about love and family, husbands and wives, parents and children. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2014.

    Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home. 

    He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together.

    So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.

    The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    I really enjoyed this novel. For me it has the perfect ingredients of short chapters, believable characters and humour. I also love a book that looks at relationships in a realistic way. I don’t want to read books about the heady romanticism of young love. I don’t want anything that is going to make me feel nostalgic and misty eyed about my marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband but we are in the throes of children under 6 and I barely have time to shower let alone plan a romantic evening in. I am confident we will get back to that stage but right now, keeping 2 little humans alive is the priority.

    David Nicholls is a master at writing utterly believable characters. Everyone will be able to relate to, or know similar people. As a result, his books are so easily accessible and as humorous as they are, there are often very poignant moments.

    • Emily Dickinson born 10th December 1830.

    • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
    • Shirley Jackson born 14th December 1916.

    The best-known of Shirley Jackson’s novels and a major inspiration for writers like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, The Haunting of Hill House is a chilling story of the power of fear.

    ‘Shirley Jackson’s stories are among the most terrifying ever written’ Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch and The Secret History

    Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely assistant; Luke, the future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past. As they begin to cope with horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead. For Hill House is gathering its powers – and soon it will choose one of them to make its own. Twice filmed as The Haunting, and the inspiration for a new 10-part Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House is a powerful work of slow-burning psychological horror.

    Shirley Jackson was born in California in 1916. When her short story The Lottery was first published in the New Yorker in 1948, readers were so horrified they sent her hate mail; it has since become one of the most iconic American stories of all time. Her first novel, The Road Through the Wall, was published in the same year and was followed by five more: Hangsaman, The Bird’s Nest, The Sundial, The Haunting of Hill Houseand We Have Always Lived in the Castle, widely seen as her masterpiece. Shirley Jackson died in her sleep at the age of 48. 

    If you enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House, you might like Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

    ‘An amazing writer … If you haven’t read her you have missed out on something marvellous’ Neil Gaiman

    ‘As nearly perfect a haunted-house tale as I have ever read’ Stephen King

    ‘The world of Shirley Jackson is eerie and unforgettable’ A. M. Homes

    ‘Shirley Jackson is one of those highly idiosyncratic, inimitable writers…whose work exerts an enduring spell’ Joyce Carol Oates.

    Oh Shirley, Shirley. I owe you an apology for reading your book when I wasn’t in the best place. I decided to set this book as a Halloween read for book club. It came at a time when everyone was posting about it all over Instagram, and I think, as is often the case, the book didn’t live up to the hype for me. The anticipation was so great that it fell a little flat for me. I think I will be in the minority who feel that the book picked up a bit when Mrs Montague and Arthur Parker arrived. For me, their arrival injected some much needed tongue in cheek humour. We have always lived in the castle is on my book shelf and I definitely owe it to Shirley to give her another go when I am in a better head space.

    • The Nutcracker by ETA Hoffmann.

    The story that inspired the legendary ballet, presented in a beautiful hardcover edition perfect for giving as a gift.

    Written in 1816 by the German Romantic E. T. A. Hoffmann for his children, nephews and nieces, The Nutcracker captures better than any other story a child’s wonder at Christmas. Since its publication, it has inspired hundreds of artists and adaptations, most notably the legendary ballet, scored by Russian composer Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Today, the story – and its enchanting images of sugar plums and nutcrackers, mistletoe and the Kingdom of the Dolls – continues to cast its fantastical spell on readers of all ages.

    E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) was one of the major figures of European Romanticism, specializing in tales of the fantastical and uncanny. He was also a music critic, jurist, composer and caricaturist. His Tales of Hoffmann, available in Penguin Classics, includes such masterpieces as ‘Mademoiselle de Scudery’, one of the earliest example of crime fiction, and Hoffmann’s terrifying version of ‘The Sandman’. 

    Joachim Neugroschel won three PEN translation awards and the French-American Foundation Translation Prize. He translated Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, among other works, for Penguin Classics.

    I have to say that I am not one for buying beautiful books. Books probably see me coming and cower in the corner. I am a book’s worst nightmare. People choose not to borrow my books. I read them in the bath, they sit in my bag and get covered in whatever delicacy I have forgotten to remove for the bottom corners….usually old raisins. I only use a bookmark if I have a spare photo lurking around, but usually I fold down a corner. I am not a girl who instagrams her beautiful hardback copies of Jane Austen novels. Since having children however, people have bought the girls beautiful copies of books. The Nutcracker has been sat on my shelf for a couple of years and this Penguin Classic copy is absolutely beautiful. Right here comes the shocker….the ballet is tons better!!!! Tons. I persevere but I have to say, as soon as we got to the section about the sausage (!!!) I started skimming. Yup, not a patch on the ballet.

      Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman

    In this beautiful book of classic fairy tales, award-winning author Philip Pullman has chosen his fifty favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm and presents them in a’clear as water’ retelling, in his unique and brilliant voice. 

    From the quests and romance of classics such as ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella’ to the danger and wit of such lesser-known tales as ‘The Three Snake Leaves’, ‘Hans-my-Hedgehog’ and ‘Godfather Death’, Pullman brings the heart of each timeless tale to the fore, following with a brief but fascinating commentary on the story’s background and history. In his introduction, he discusses how these stories have lasted so long, and become part of our collective storytelling imagination. 

    These new versions show the adventures at their most lucid and engaging yet. Pullman’s Grimm Talesof wicked wives, brave children and villainous kings will have you reading, reading aloud and rereading them for many years to come.

    On 20th December 1812, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first edition of fairy tales. The original edition contained 86 stories. By the time the collection was on its seventh edition in 1857, there were 211 fairy tales.

    If like me, you are a book worm who was raised on stories of witches, princes, princesses and elves this is a must read. I loved Pullman’s introduction which discusses how and why these stories have stood the test of time. Also, after each story, Pullman discusses its history and any tweaks he has made.

    As a mother of daughters, I was pleasantly surprised by the female characters. I was expecting insipid princesses, pining after their princes. Granted, a lot of women are portrayed as evil, greedy step mothers but there were plenty of courageous girls, and for all the wicked women, at least they are interesting characters.

    Anyway, here’s to January. I promise it will be better!!!

    December Children’s Reads

    Happy New Year to all you wonderful people. I hope you had a restful break. Is Christmas ever restful??? Maybe not restful then, eventful. We spent Christmas with my parents in Leicestershire and then we went to the Wirral for New Year to stay with my in laws. We head off to Wales tomorrow for a few days for what I hope will be the calm after the storm.

    • Christmas by Dick Bruna

    Dick Bruna brings his iconic style to this beautiful re-telling of the Nativity story.

    About the Author

    Dick Bruna was born in 1927 in Utrecht, Holland. Dick comes from a family of publishers who under the name of ‘A.W. Bruna and Son’ started to print books in 1868. While on holiday in 1955, Dick began to tell his son stories about a little white rabbit who lived in the garden of their holiday home and this little rabbit soon became known to the world as Miffy. Dick Bruna is now one of the most famous creators of picture books in the world. He has written and illustrated 124 books, which have sold over 85 million copies in 50 languages.

    When Edie came home a few weeks ago, all excited about the forthcoming Nativity in which she was to play a star, I started to ask her what the play would be about. “Well mummy, the play is called Funky Camels and it’s basically about how funky camels are.” “Hmmmmmmm” was my response and then I asked Edie what she knew about the real Christmas Story. “Well mum. Joseph and Enid had the baby Jesus. Shepherds came and some Kings who brought gold, Frank and mud.” πŸ€¦β€β™€οΈπŸ€¦β€β™€οΈπŸ€¦β€β™€οΈπŸ€¦β€β™€οΈπŸ˜±πŸ˜± Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an issue with schools updating the Christmas story, as long as the children do actually know what the Christmas story is about.

    So, I brought out this book by the Miffy author Dick Bruna. A perfect version of the Christmas story for young kids. As you would expect from Bruna, the pictures are eye catching and brilliantly simple. The story doesn’t have a funky camel in sight and just does what it says on the tin….a lovely version of the Christmas story.

    • The Nutcracker by ETA Hoffmann.

    The story that inspired the legendary ballet, presented in a beautiful hardcover edition perfect for giving as a gift.

    Written in 1816 by the German Romantic E. T. A. Hoffmann for his children, nephews and nieces, The Nutcracker captures better than any other story a child’s wonder at Christmas. Since its publication, it has inspired hundreds of artists and adaptations, most notably the legendary ballet, scored by Russian composer Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Today, the story – and its enchanting images of sugar plums and nutcrackers, mistletoe and the Kingdom of the Dolls – continues to cast its fantastical spell on readers of all ages.

    E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) was one of the major figures of European Romanticism, specializing in tales of the fantastical and uncanny. He was also a music critic, jurist, composer and caricaturist. His Tales of Hoffmann, available in Penguin Classics, includes such masterpieces as ‘Mademoiselle de Scudery’, one of the earliest example of crime fiction, and Hoffmann’s terrifying version of ‘The Sandman’. 

    Joachim Neugroschel won three PEN translation awards and the French-American Foundation Translation Prize. He translated Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, among other works, for Penguin Classics.

    I have to say that I am not one for buying beautiful books. Books probably see me coming and cower in the corner. I am a book’s worst nightmare. People choose not to borrow my books. I read them in the bath, they sit in my bag and get covered in whatever delicacy I have forgotten to remove for the bottom corners….usually old raisins. I only use a bookmark if I have a spare photo lurking around, but usually I fold down a corner. I am not a girl who instagrams her beautiful hardback copies of Jane Austen novels. Since having children however, people have bought the girls beautiful copies of books. The Nutcracker has been sat on my shelf for a couple of years and this Penguin Classic copy is absolutely beautiful. Right here comes the shocker….the ballet is tons better!!!! Tons. I persevere but I have to say, as soon as we got to the section about the sausage (!!!) I started skimming. Yup, not a patch on the ballet.

    • Jane Austen born 16th December 1775.

    If you are a big Austen fan and looking to start β€˜em young, it is definitely worth checking this book out from the fabulous @babylitbooks. This is what is known as an opposites primer…prettt much what you get on the tin. Babies will love it and actually my 3 year old thinks it’s the best thing ever. This morning on the way to nursery she told me she was sad like Brandon!!!πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ I hope she doesn’t say it too often or people will think I have raised a right show off! @babylitbooks is a company I discovered this year and they are beautiful books. For little ones there are the primers and older children can enjoy the storybooks. My 5 year old loves Pride and Prejudice. Anyway it’s never to early to get your kids into the classics and @babylitbooks are perfect for that.

      Watership Down by Richard Adams.
      Richard Adams died 24th December 2016.

    A phenomenal worldwide bestseller for over forty years, Richard Adams’ spellbinding classic Watership Down is one of the best-loved novels of all time. Set in the beautiful English countryside of the Berkshire Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage, and survival follows a band of very special rabbits fleeing the destruction of their home by a developer. Led by a stout-hearted pair of brothers, they leave the safety of Sandleford Warren in search of a safe haven and a mysterious promised land, skirting danger at every turn.

    A book that resonates as vividly today as it did nearly half a century ago, this keepsake Oneworld Classic edition showcases more than twenty sumptuous, evocative paintings from Aldo Galli, an illustrator chosen by Richard Adams himself.

    I have very clear memories of reading this book and The Hobbit in my first year of secondary school. I remember the books being handed out in English class covered in old wall paper or wrapping paper which we were encouraged to do to keep the covers neat and clean. I have remember feeling really excited because I had loved the film/cartoon and also because it felt like a big, thick, grown-up book. I’m sad to say, the excitement did not last. Everything about our English teacher was grey, including the way she taught English.

    Watership Down is a big, dense book. Although it is beautifully written, I am not sure my 11 year old mind would have appreciated this fact. At 37, I have enjoyed it but I am struck by how massive a tome it must have felt to my 11 year old mind. I then got to thinking how many books were ruined for me by dull, dull teachers or readers. I used to take my little ones to story time at the library. We stopped going when Ceci fell asleep….lulled by the monotonous rendition of The Wonky Donkey. I honestly thought it was impossible to make this book sound like a reading of the Financial Times but it appears not. I am a firm believer that if you are lucky enough to have a job which aims to inspire kids, make sure you do so.

    • Hamish the Highland Cow by Natalie Russell.

    Hamish is a Highland cow and VERY hairy. He hates having baths and NEVER cuts his hair. Why should he when his shaggy coat is the perfect place to keep his favourite sweet – toffees! But one day his friends get fed up with the increasingly smelly Hamish, and they hatch a plan that involves a hairdresser and, yes, toffees! An exuberant story with bold, bright illustrations from a very talented artist. ‘Russell’s bright-eyed cast, including sheep with coloured rinses, is full of character and her text is deftly delivered – it’s a gift to read aloud.’ Scottish Sunday Herald

    This year we spent Christmas with my parents in Leicestershire. On the 27th we loaded up the car again and drove to the Wirral to spend the aftermath with Ozzie’s parents. One of the many reasons I love going to other houses is to browse their book shelves and kids books are no exception. On the first night we read Hamish The Highland Cow. This is a complete joy to read aloud….my Scottish accent is pretty impeccable (even if I do say so myself) and what child doesn’t love a book where you as the adult can do some entertaining voices??? This would also be a great book to buy if you are the owner of a little person who hates getting their hair cut. We have now been on the Wirral for 4 nights and this book has been requested every night. My accent is going from strength to strength and as the reader, I am definitely not getting bored. Thank you Natalie Russell for writing such a readable book.

    Thanks for reading and have a great January.