July reads

This month it is all about quality over quantity. Ok, ok, I have gotten through minimal books. This is partly due to the fact that for the first 20 days of the month I was still finishing Nothing to Envy which I cheekily reviewed in my June post just so it looked like I had read at least three books.

This month started with high hopes of reading Pachinko (hence last month’s Korea obsession) but I decided in order to overcome my current piss poor attention span I was going to stick with books under the 250 page limit.

I go on holiday tomorrow and I am taking small books. Books, that if they don’t work, I won’t have to trudge through for the next 5 weeks. Books that once I have read the first 60 pages it usually takes me to get absorbed, I have pretty much finished.

  • Heartburn by Nora Ephron. 4*

Description: marriage, humour, Jewish.

Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel discovers that her husband is in love with another woman. The fact that this woman has a ‘neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb’ is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel is a cookery writer, and between trying to win Mark back and wishing him dead, she offers us some of her favourite recipes. Heartburn is a roller coaster of love, betrayal, loss and – most satisfyingly – revenge.

This book ticked a lot of my boxes.

1. It’s short.

2. It involves food. Namely Jewish Food which I know nothing about.

3. I feel I can relate. Rachel is 7 months pregnant. I am 4. This is sorta where the relatability stops. Hopefully my husband isn’t having an affair with a long nosed woman called Teresa but I do find it comforting to read that marriage is hard. Is that weird???? I like a look at a marriage that isn’t rose tinted because my god since we have had our kids and my job which involves me never being around in the evening our relationship we really have had to work at our marriage.

This book is like sitting with a friend and listening to her marital woes. It made me laugh and often made me nod my head in agreement. It was comforting like watching When Harry Met Sally.

  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. 4*

Description: memoir, neuroscience, cancer.

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

In the last couple of months I have read two very different books about the medical profession. This is going to Hurt by Adam Kay and When Breath Becomes Air. I have always been awed by those who work in medicine but since reading these books my respect has tripled. Working in such an industry is most definitely a calling and not just a job and dealing with life and death on a day to day basis takes a very special human being.

When reading a novel like this, I am reminded of how lucky I am. I have a healthy husband and two healthy children. My husband and I are both lucky enough to have both sets of parents alive and well. We have never had to deal with our own mortality or that of our loved ones. It is something I fear and I hope I deal with it when it comes with as much grace and dignity as Paul and his wife.

Would it be harder to deal with death as a doctor? To receive your own prognosis in the same room you have delivered countless test results to your patients? To know exactly how your body was going to deteriorate and to know exactly what drugs were going to be used??? I think in many ways the answer is yes and even in a job where you are faced with having to deliver bad news to your patients, coming face to face and dealing with your own mortality is an entirely different thing.

I think I was most moved by Lucy’s beautiful words at the end. I guess you don’t realise your strength until it is tested but Lucy’s eloquent words really resonated with me. To lose your husband is tragic. To lose him when you have such a young child is just devastating.

  • Lady Killers. Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer. 4*.

Description: witty, My Favourite Murder, poison.

When you think of serial killers throughout history, the names that come to mind are ones like Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy. But what about Tillie Klimek, Moulay Hassan, Kate Bender? The narrative we’re comfortable with is the one where women are the victims of violent crime, not the perpetrators. In fact, serial killers are thought to be so universally, overwhelmingly male that in 1998, FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood infamously declared in a homicide conference, ‘There are no female serial killers’.

Lady Killers, based on the popular online series that appeared on Jezebel and The Hairpin, disputes that claim and offers fourteen gruesome examples as evidence. Though largely forgotten by history, female serial killers such as Erzsebet Bathory, Nannie Doss, Mary Ann Cotton, and Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova rival their male counterparts in cunning, cruelty, and appetite for destruction.

Each chapter explores the crimes and history of a different subject, and then proceeds to unpack her legacy and her portrayal in the media, as well as the stereotypes and sexist cliches that inevitably surround her. The first book to examine female serial killers through a feminist lens with a witty and dryly humorous tone, Lady Killers dismisses easy explanations (she was hormonal, she did it for love, a man made her do it) and tired tropes (she was a femme fatale, a black widow, a witch), delving into the complex reality of female aggression and predation. Featuring 14 illustrations from Dame Darcy, Lady Killers is a bloodcurdling, insightful, and irresistible journey into the heart of darkness.

Another successful read for me!!! Yay! This was a holiday read and utterly perfect for my current situation-constantly being interrupted by a 2 and a 5 year old. If I could give one top tip for a holiday with kids it would be this……pick something simple with shortish chapters that you can get into easily without having to trudge through 100 or so complicated pages. I picked this book and a book of Roald Dahl short stories. In six days of holiday I have finished this book and am half way through the Dahl so reading-wise I feel successful.

Telfer’s book is brill. It reminded me a lot of one of my top podcasts ‘My Favourite Murder.’ The tone was witty and informal with just enough information in each chapter to stop you feeling bogged down with fact. Indeed, after each chapter, I thought how much I would love to read a whole book based on each woman. Alternating this book with another was a definite plus as a lot of these women’s stories were slightly similar….woman murders husbands 1, 2, 3 and 4 with delicious meals laced with arsenic, but equally there are enough contrasting stories (Kate Bender, Erzsebet Bathory, Raya and Sakina) to keep it interesting.

My one and only criticism is that I would have loved some more pictures, photos, documents etc.

Anyway, really enjoyable read and I look forward to reading more by Telfer.

July Beauty. Hit, miss or maybe.

Bit of a quick post this month. But 2 good hits….1 so good it will hopefully save you money in the beauty salon.

Hit

  • Bubble Sheet Mask. Oh-K. £7.50.

Firstly, big apologies for these truly terrifying pictures. How awful! Please don’t let them put you off this brill mask. I usually bloody hate a sheet mask but this was wicked. As it foams it feels slightly tingly but in a nice way. My skin felt so lovely and soft afterwards and really smooth!!!

  • Julienne eye lash and eye brow tint. £10.99. Amazon

I have been meaning to post this for a while and keep forgetting. As a blonde I bloody love getting my eyelashes dyed in time for my summer holidays. Eyebrows are a different thing. I always say I don’t want them too dark. 10 minutes they tell me and I lie there knowing too well that it’s too long but being too scared to say. Well no more. I can now do my eyelashes and brows in my own bathroom. This stuff has lasted ages and I still have tons. It’s mega easy and to be honest I don’t even bother with the smear of Vaseline or the little paper things. I just whack it on and wait a bit and I am left with lustrous lashes and brows the right shade of brown. Defo give it a whirl!!!!

Thanks for reading!!!!

June reads

I begin this post with an apology and an explanation. Reading wise, June has been another piss poor month. I’m hoping that this is due to the fact that I am pregnant and not because I have somehow lost the ability to read. Excuses, excuses but I have been sick as a dog and working every night. This seems to have been combined with books that are doing nowt for me so I am basically a reading void. I can’t tell you how depressed this makes me. Reading is basically my only hobby and I can’t do it. Am I going to spend the next 6 months trudging through books???? I used to look forward to getting into bed with a good book. Now I think I have some idea of what impotence feels like. I know I am going to lie there and within 10 minutes want to chuck my current read across the room and shout “WANKETY WANK WANK.” Every night I know I am going to fail. So to people who read this blog, I apologise. June is yet another month of me writing reviews of books that were either a bit ‘meh’ or irritated the absolute tits off me!

1. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. 3*

Description: murder, mystery, satanic.

Your brother murdered your family. Your evidence put him away . . . the gripping second novel from the author of the mega-bestselling GONE GIRL.

Libby Day was just seven years old when her older brother massacred her family while she hid in a cupboard. Her evidence helped put him away. Ever since then she has been drifting, surviving for over 20 years on the proceeds of the ‘Libby Day fund’. But now the money is running out and Libby is desperate. When she is offered $500 to do a guest appearance, she feels she has to accept. But this is no ordinary gathering. The Kill Club is a group of true-crime obsessives who share information on notorious murders, and they think her brother Ben is innocent.

Ben was a social misfit, ground down by the small-town farming community in which he lived. But he did have a girlfriend – a brooding heavy metal fan called Diondra. Through her, Ben became involved with drugs and the dark arts. When the town suddenly turned against him, his thoughts turned black. But was he capable of murder? Libby must delve into her family’s past to uncover the truth – no matter how painful…

When struggling through a reading slump, the cure is to pick up a book by and author that you know is going to be an easy and satisfying read. This book definitely fitted the bill for me. Although the subject matter wasn’t particularly ‘easy’ this book was a page turner. I wasn’t bombarded with tons of characters and complicated syntax. It wasn’t a game changer, it isn’t my top read of the year but I did finish and enjoy it and at the moment that seems to be as good as it’s going to get.

2. My Holiday in North Korea by Wendy E. Simmons. Narrated by Jeena Yee. 1*

Description: travelogue, cynical, disrespectful.

Most people want out of North Korea. Wendy Simmons wanted in.

In My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth, Wendy shares a glimpse of North Korea as it’s never been seen before. Even though it’s the scariest place on Earth, somehow Wendy forgot to check her sense of humor at the border. But Wendy’s initial amusement and bewilderment soon turned to frustration and growing paranoia. Before long she learned the essential conundrum of “tourism” in North Korea: Travel is truly a love affair. But, just like love, it’s a two-way street. And North Korea deprives you of all this. They want you to fall in love with the singular vision of the country they’re willing to show you and nothing more.

Through poignant, laugh-out-loud essays, Wendy chronicles one of the strangest vacations ever. Along the way she bares all while undergoing an inner journey as convoluted as the country itself.

My plan for July is to read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee so I thought it would be a good idea to immerse myself in Korea. This month I have read two books about North Korea. One has been incredibly informative and the other has irritated me more and more as I listened. My Holiday in North Korea is interesting in that the author comes off worse than the country she spends the whole book ridiculing. If the North Korean regime is something you are keen to learn about, this book is highly frustrating . Simmons writes like a petulant, cynical and condescending teenager with no respect for the country or the people . Every single aspect of this country is fair game for Simmons to mock….even how fried eggs are cooked in her hotel. There is absolutely no detail about the country, the regime, how people live their day to day lives. It seems that she has written this book not to educate but to lampoon. Listening to it on audiobook was akin to listening to an over privileged teenager who has just returned from a gap year having learnt nothing at all. If you want to learn nothing about North Korea’s culture, history and politics pick this book up and you won’t be disappointed. Having finished the book I would like to give the author a smack and tell her to go to her room until she has learnt some respect.

3. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. 4*.

Description: history, culture, family life.

WINNER OF THE BBC SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION 2010

A spectacularly revealing and harrowing portrait of ordinary lives in the world’s least ordinary country, North Korea

Updated in 2014 with a new epilogue. North Korea is Orwell’s 1984 made reality: it is the only country in the world not connected to the internet; Gone with the Wind is a dangerous, banned book; during political rallies, spies study your expression to check your sincerity. After the death of the country’s great leader Kim Il Sung in 1994, famine descended: people stumbled over dead bodies in the street and ate tree bark to survive. Nothing to Envy weaves together the stories of adversity and resilience of six residents of Chongin, North Korea’s third largest city. From extensive interviews and with tenacious investigative work, Barbara Demick has recreated the concerns, culture and lifestyles of North Korean citizens in a gripping narrative, and vividly reconstructed the inner workings of this extraordinary and secretive country.

What a stark contrast to the previous book about North Korea. This was exactly what I had been looking for and it’s easy to see why it is so highly regarded. Demick has really done her research. An American journalist who became the LA Times first bureau chief in Korea in 2001 she is more than qualified to write this book. During her time at the LA Times she focused on writing about social and economic change in North Korea.

This book tells the real stories of people who defected from North to South Korea. Stories of six people :their day to day lives. This is such an important book and helps us to remember that in such a secretive country, with such a strict regime, people are trying to get on with life, doing their jobs, falling in love etc.

In sharp contrast to Simmons’s novel, I really learnt about North Korea. Demick’s tone was respectful and educated throughout. At the back of the book each chapter has a notes section which explains certain aspects in greater detail and also lists further reading. If you like learning about a country through its social history this is a brilliant book.

4. The Night Dragon by Naomi Howarth. 5*.

Description: self belief, friendship, being yourself.

This month’s children’s book is a real corker. Naomi Howarth is based in London and is a designer, illustrator and author. She has a brill website (www.naomihowarth.com) and a beautiful Instagram account. She also designs wedding invites, wallpaper and fabric. She is one talented lady.

The Night Dragon is about Maud the dragon. She is a bit different from the other dragons who live on the mountain. She is unable to fly, breathe fire or cast grey clouds all over the land. Maud really wants to be a night dragon like the others but she just hasn’t got the confidence. One day, after a party, the night dragons all fall asleep and forget to bring on the nightfall. Maud’s friend Mouse gives her the confidence to make her feel brave enough to fly, breathe fire and create her very own colourful clouds. This book teaches children that they should embrace eachother’s differences because there is beauty in them.

My daughters (5 and 2.5) loved Mouse. Edie (5) even said that Mouse was the kind of friend she wanted to be….and that is this book in a nutshell. Result Howarth! If every child who reads this book is inspired by Mouse all will be well with the world. Ceci (2.5) loved spotting Mouse on all the pages.

The illustrations are just beautiful. Particularly the double pages when Maud is flying over the countryside, rivers and city. There is tons of little details in the pictures which kept us occupied. Gorgeous book and highly recommended .

June Beauty. Hit, miss or maybe.

Hi all. This was a good month….no beauty misses and the Dove and the Burt Bee’s products I will make sure I always have in my bathroom cabinet.

Hit

  • Dove Nourishing Secrets Replenishing Body Lotion. £4.15.

God I love it when something that doesn’t cost a bomb is a brilliant product. This is without a doubt as good as any posh body lotion I have tried. Smells lush, is proper thick and feels really luxurious. During the ball ache months of summer when I am shaving my legs pretty much every day (yawn) I need a really nourishing moisturiser and this proper does the job!

  • Clinique Moisture Surge. £23.00.

I have always had mixed feelings about Clinique. The first time I came across it was in my all girls secondary school. While I was plastering my face with Oxy 10, the sophisticated girls were slapping on Dramatically Different Moisturising Lotion. Mum refused to indulge her 14 year old with products she could barely afford so I stuck with the Oxy 10 and as a result spent a lot of my adolescence feeling dramatically different. When the time came that I could afford my own magical bottle of lemon coloured gunk, I have to say that it wasn’t the miracle product I hoped it would be.

When my husband came back from the US, looking proud with his ‘posh’ gift of Clinique I have to say I was mildly disappointed. My husband thinks Nivea is posh so Clinique is literally off the scale. But I owe my husband an apology. This pot of pink goo is really good. Almost feel like in consistency, it is both calming and moisturising. It’s particularly lush on a summers day if it has been kept in the fridge. Anyway a thumbs up from me and definitely one for the duty free list.

  • Burt Bees Mama Bee Nourishing Body Oil. £10.

So the exciting news is that I’m pregnant again. This will be the third and last baby!!!! In all honesty I am pretty shit at being pregnant. I am not a glower….I am a puker with horrid varicose veins. So far the first 3 months of this pregnancy have been a total shitter. Husband has been away a lot, the kids have been ill and it’s just been pretty rank so I am defo due some pampering. Pregnancy number 1 went well….minimal sickness, copious bio oil, endless naps. Pregnancy 2 was hids…..massive sickness, too ill to give a shit about bio oil, too busy looking after baby number 1 to nap. So I have learned my lesson…body oil is a must!!! This stuff is really lovely and the best thing for me is the smell doesn’t make me want to hurl. It’s really fresh and lemony. My skin laps it up and pregnant or not it is going to stay on my list of top products.

  • Sukin detoxifying clay masque. £11.49)

The only downside to this product is that it smells of almonds which is defo not one of my favourite smells. This tub has lasted ages and it leaves my skin really soft. Really good value for money!

Maybe

  • Trifle Cosmetics Sugar Pear Sublime Lip Scrub. $17.97 but I have found it for £4.99 on eBay.

Hmmmmmm. There is nothing wrong with this product, in fact it works really well. I also used it as a facial scrub which was really nice. My issue???? Why would anyone buy a lip scrub when you could just use your toothbrush for free and for better results??? I don’t really get it.

May Reads

May has been mega disappointing month reading wise. It seems that by cutting down my anti depressants, I have lost all ability to read. It may well be worth medicating again just to see if I get my reading mojo back. I just seem to be struggling to concentrate. Nothing seems to be floating my boat and by the end of the month, I was gagging for a book that I would like enough to finish.

1. The Shining by Stephen King. 4*

Description: Horror, detail, abuse.

One of the true classics of horror fiction, THE SHINING is regarded as one of Stephen King’s masterpieces.

Danny is only five years old, but in the words of old Mr Hallorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control.

As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in Room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive?

Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel – and that, too, is beginning to shine . . .

This was a book club choice and as a result, quite a few members picked it up, who otherwise would never have read a ‘horror’ novel. The general consensus was that everyone really enjoyed it. The discussion mainly centred around the differences between the film and the book of which there are many. It is a well known fact that Stephen King was not a fan of the movie. He felt that Nicholson was the wrong choice for Torrance, who played the character as a very disturbed individual from the beginning. In the novel, you are really rooting for Jack. Although he has had a troubled time this is put into context as we learn about his abusive father. Jack’s relationships with Wendy and Danny are also on the whole, loving. King felt (and we all agreed) that there was no journey with Nicholson’s character. He began the film as a scary nutter and ended the film as a scarier nutter. I personally spent a lot of time watching the film wondering why anyone in their right mind would want to spend the winter in a deserted hotel with Jack Nicholson. That leads us into Wendy. Shelly Duvall has a notoriously bad time with Kubrick during the film. Her terrified and weak portrayal of Wendy is very different from the brave character created by King. God how annoying must it be to write a book which you have poured your heart and soul into and then a director changes parts which are utterly fundamental to you as an author?!?!?

2. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay. 4.5 *

Description: medical, humour, interesting.

‘Painfully funny. The pain and the funniness somehow add up to something entirely good, entirely noble and entirely loveable.’ – Stephen Fry

Sunday Times Humour Book of the Year

Winner of the Books Are My Bag Non-Fiction Book of the Year

Winner of Blackwell’s Debut Book of the Year

Winner of iBooks’ Book of the Year

Welcome to the life of a junior doctor: 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions, a constant tsunami of bodily fluids, and the hospital parking meter earns more than you.

Scribbled in secret after endless days, sleepless nights and missed weekends, Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt provides a no-holds-barred account of his time on the NHS front line. Hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking, this diary is everything you wanted to know – and more than a few things you didn’t – about life on and off the hospital ward.

This edition includes extra diary entries and a new afterword by the author.

Oh Adam Kay how you have made me laugh over the last month. This was an audiobook read by the man himself and it is probably the first EVER audiobook that hasn’t been a massive chore to listen to. I now know that I need to listen to funny audiobooks (not romantic sagas). This has made my commutes and jogging sessions around London an absolute joy.

During the first couple of days of listening to this book I discovered some similarities between being an opera chorister and a junior doctor working for the NHS. I know right?!?! What a surprise!!!! Turns out both Opera choristers and doctors miss out on major life events, weddings, hen dos, christenings, Glastonbury because you aren’t allowed time off. Twice this month, my sister has had to rearrange her wedding date so I would be free to make it and in 2011 when I got married, I also had to beg for the day off. Unfortunately, this is where the similarity ends. A bad day in the office for me is being lumbered with a wig that makes me look like a man, hitting my top B a little bit flat or an interval dragging on a bit later thereby causing the show to finish later and therefore result in me missing the 10:36 back to South West London. Don’t even get me started on what a bad day in the office of a junior doctor entails. As well as being very amusing (I think it will take a while for my dressing room to forget the story of potatoes being used as a method of curing cervical prolapse) this book is incredibly humbling and very moving. Without a doubt we should cherish the medical staff of the NHS who work like dogs for little money.

I was particularly moved by this book as over the last 10 years I have had 2 children and also had a blood clotting condition. I have nothing but gratitude and admiration for the doctors, nurses and midwives who have looked after me along the way.

3. Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann. 4*

Description: 2 stories, WW1, death of partner.

1992: Leo Deakin wakes up in a hospital somewhere in South America, his girlfriend Eleni is dead and Leo doesn’t know where he is or how Eleni died. He blames himself for the tragedy and is sucked into a spiral of despair. But Leo is about to discover something which will change his life forever.

1917: Moritz Daniecki is a fugitive from a Siberian POW camp. Seven thousand kilometres over the Russian Steppes separate him from his village and his sweetheart, whose memory has kept him alive through carnage and captivity. The Great War may be over, but Moritz now faces a perilous journey across a continent riven by civil war. When Moritz finally limps back into his village to claim the hand of the woman he left behind, will she still be waiting?

Danny Scheinmann paints a dramatic portrait of two men sustaining their lives through the memory of love. Cinematic and brimming with raw emotions, it is the magnificent and emotive debut from a remarkable new writer.

Well I hold up my hands and say I was Wrongy McWrong Face for prejudging this book which I totally loved. I went into this book thinking it would be a soppy love story. I was wrong. This is mainly a story about loss. The novel opens with Leo waking up in hospital in South America to learn that his girlfriend has died in the same bus crash that injured him. Bizarrely, although this is a situation I have never been in, it is one that I often think about when I am on holiday and thanks to this book, a few of my questions have been cleared up. I found Leo’s sections of the book utterly heart wrenching- the little things like picking up Eleni’s ruck sack to the larger things -breaking the news to his parents and his first conversation with Eleni’s mother.

I also enjoyed Moritz’s story. The history of WWI told from the point of view of an Austro-Hungarian soldier was new to me and I enjoyed learning about that period of history in relation to places like Siberia. I wasn’t as emotionally invested in Moritz’s story mainly because I didn’t believe the relationship that kept him going throughout his journey. Ironically if the novel had involved the sickly laying down of relationship foundations between Lotte and Moritz I probably would have given up by page 50 but I was a little baffled why Moritz would make this perilous journey off the back of one kiss with a girl he had had minimal contact with.

4. The Scandal by Fredrik Backman. 5*.

Description: hockey, small town, sexual assault.

We read A Man Called Ove in our book club a few months ago. Ironically this ended up being one of our most boring discussions because EVERYONE loved the book. I picked up The Scandal having heard and read nothing but rave reviews. I was however pretty sceptical. A book about ice hockey??? I will openly admit, I am not sporty. I have no interest in it so would I really enjoy a book that revolved around a sport as alien to me as ice hockey?!?! I think if you love an author you kind of owe it to them to read their work….particularly if they are trying to do something different. This was different to Ove but the one similarity is that Backman writes his characters so beautifully. To be able to write an incredibly believable cantankerous old man like Ove and also a teenage hockey star like Kevin shows real talent.

5. 11.22.63 by Stephen King. DNF.

Description: time travel, Kennedy, sooooooo long.

WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history? WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 11.22.63, the date that Kennedy was shot – unless . . .

King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, 2011, on a fascinating journey back to 1958 – from a world of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life – a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

With extraordinary imaginative power, King weaves the social, political and popular culture of his baby-boom American generation into a devastating exercise in escalating suspense.

Oh god I feel mortified with myself because I gave up. This is a book that clearly people love. It has great score on GoodReads and Amazon but it wasn’t for me. The worst part is that I really tried…..I managed about 300 pages. I posted on Instagram and received some encouragement that spurred me on a little but in the end I couldn’t face another 300 odd pages reading about something I really couldn’t care less about. To read a book this length I think you have a like the protagonist and I felt absolutely nothing for him. In fact that was my main issue with the book….I felt nothing. I neither hated or liked it and so as a result it became a chore . The irony is that if the book had been half the length I would have managed it and probably given it 3 *s. The sheer size of it put me off. I have read a fair bit of Stephen King now and I can say without a doubt, this is an author who likes words. For me there are just too many of them.

6. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. DNF.

Description: mental health, memoir, essay.

For fans of David Sedaris, Tina Fey and Caitlin Moran comes the new book from Jenny Lawson, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

As Jenny says: ‘You can’t experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.’ It’s a philosophy that has – quite literally – saved her life.

Jenny’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. Furiously Happy is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it’s about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways. And who doesn’t need a bit more of that?

Yet another failure from me. I am definitely in a bit of a reading slump. 2 books I haven’t finished!!!! Gutted. Maybe I should have realised this wasn’t going to be a goer from me because Caitlin Moran loves her. Caitlin Moran does my head in.

I embarked on this book because it was recommended on What Should I Read Next which is a podcast I love. I also thought that because it is a collection of essays, I could read bite size chunks and maybe cure my reading slump.

For Jenny’s friends and family, I am sure that her random musings are hilarious, provoke an eye roll and a ‘what are you like, you crazy gal’ kind of reaction. For me who doesn’t know her, they are just that….random sodding musings. Essays on alternative jobs for herself (open a comic book store) and her suggestions for Japanese toilet seat buttons are things I couldn’t really give a shit about. Who sodding cares?!?!? Definitely not me. I have about a million other books sitting on my shelves that I need to give up on half way through. I am not making the same mistake I made with Stephen and reading 300 sodding pages before I admit defeat. Jenny I am done with you.

If All The World Were by Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys

A really good book to help explain loss to children. My 5 year old and I did end up having quite an in-depth discussion about heaven and what heaven would be like….quite full on after a hot day!

We all loved the illustrations. Beautiful, colourful depictions of nature. We loved spotting the butterflies, tigers and ladybirds. We loved how imaginative the grandad was.

Both my daughters are lucky enough to have both sets of grandparents alive and I think when the time comes, I don’t know if we would use a book to explain death to them. I also think we would explain it in a much more matter of fact way than this book presents. However, if you would like to use a book to explain the loss of a grandparent to a child then this would certainly be a lovely book to buy.

Anyway let’s hope June is better reading wise.

See you next month.

May Beauty. Hit, Miss or Maybe

Hello all. Well it seems Summer is well and truly here….until it lashes it down and then it’s over. To be honest May has been a tough month with very minimal time for pampering. I have been doing Chess at the London Coliseum for 8 shows a week and looking after the kids in the day. Consequently I look and feel like a complete zombie. Anyway a few weeks off are looming and I am beyond ready for them.

Anyway, onto this month’s products…….

HIT

  • Katherine Daniels Sensitive Skin Rich Cream. £38.45

This is a really lovely product. It’s very rich but sinks in quickly. It feels very nourishing, particularly when your skin is feeling a bit sore and sensitive. It also calms down red patches.

  • Nip + Fab Kale Fix Moisturiser. £9.00

I am a massive fan of Nip + Fab products which I think work really well and are brilliant value for money. This moisturiser is for dry skin and feels really luxurious. It sorted out my dry patches immediately and it smells really fresh….more like cucumber than kale but kale is not something I smell frequently.

Miss

  • Max factor false lash epic. £11.99

The title of this mascara is pretty apt in that I pretty much have 1 eyelash on each eye after using. I have wiped off the excess and still all it seems to do is glue together all my lashes so I look utterly bald. I am usually a big fan of max factor mascaras but this one is pants. Don’t bother.

  • Soap and Glory. No Clogs Allowed Deep Pore Detox Mask. £11.50

So here’s the thing….this is about as much use as doing absolutely nothing at all to your skin because it does absolutely nothing apart from hearing up for about 1 second. It was also very watery. Save your money or buy something that does something/anything.

MAYBE

  • Erno Laszlo Light Controlling Lotion. £47.00 for 200ml

Every night after a show I sit on the train and use a make up wipe to take my make up off . For the last few nights on my return home I put some of this toner on a cotton pad and I’m amazed how much make up ends up on the pad. This stuff really removes make up. The smell reminds me of grannys. It smells kind of like talc and flowers….no bad thing if you like l’odeur de granny. The alcohol in the product gets bad press but it worked for my skin. My only reservation is that I think the price is a little punchy.

Have a great month and thanks for reading.

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.