April Reads

  • Hi all. Hope April was a good reading month for you. I have stopped work now and am on baby countdown. Really looking forward to May as we have some nice family time away. We are heading to Mousehole in Cornwall for a week for half term. Think it will be the last time we can all comfortable travel in the car. Definitely not going to be as easy with 3 stroppy kids in the back!!!
    • Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz. 4⭐️.
    • Anthony Horowitz born 5th April 1955.

    Sherlock Holmes is dead. 

    Days after Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty fall to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls, Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase arrives from New York. The death of Moriarty has created a poisonous vacuum which has been swiftly filled by a fiendish new criminal mastermind. Ably assisted by Inspector Athelney Jones, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction, Chase must hunt down this shadowy figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, a man determined to engulf London in a tide of murder and menace. 

    The game is afoot . . .

    The first book I read this year was The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz and I completely adored it. I still haven’t ventured into any of the work by Conan Doyle (that will come in May or July) but as Horowitz is the only author authorised by the Sherlock Holmes estate to write about the great man, I feel I am well prepared and I feel that when I finally meet Doyle’s Holmes, it will be like meeting an old friend.

    Moriarty didn’t disappoint. Holmes and Watson do not appear and the action centres around American Investigator Frederick Chase, and Holmes obsessed Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard. Jones is a character that appears in Doyle’s novel The Sign of the Four written in 1890. Jones appears as a policeman who comes under criticism by Holmes for his poor attempts at deduction. In Horowitz’s book, Jones appears to have taken Holmes’s criticisms on board to the point of obsession. I don’t want to go into detail about the storyline. I will tell you that after the first 50 pages, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are brilliant and Jones and Chase seem to completely model themselves on Watson and Holmes. I will say that this book is more graphic and brutal than the first and I did miss the detail of Victorian London which was such a big part of House of Silk.

    • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. 3.5⭐️.
    • Barbara Kingsolver born 8th April 1955.

    An international bestseller and a modern classic, this suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and their remarkable reconstruction has been read, adored and shared by millions around the world.This new edition for 2017 features a cover design by award-winning fashion designer, Tina Lobondi.

    This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. 

    They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.

    This book was published in the UK in 1999 and must have been on my shelf for about 15 years. I have to admit that I approached it with some trepidation….firstly, it’s long, 543 pages. I am always slightly wary of long books. I remember as a child feeling very grown up if I was clutching a book with over 400 pages. In fact I would search out long books over shorter novels. Now as a grown up, long books intimidate me. What if it’s just a bore and I have to spend 3 weeks lingering over a book that others have adored but I just find a bit dull??? I suppose I am an impatient reader. I want to try everything – every sweet in the shop and I haven’t got time to dedicate to a massive tome that I’m just not loving. My second reason for reticence was this book was bought for me by my wonderful sister in law. She and many other good friends and readers whose views I respect gave it really high marks on Goodreads. Would I love it as much? Would I disappoint them if I didn’t adore it?

    So, my verdict……???????? A solid 3.5 stars. I can’t say it changed my life. In fact I frequently felt frustrated because it wasn’t the story I wanted it to be. I kept expecting Kingsolver to elaborate on the women’s revolt against Nathan, the evangelical patriarch. Nathan’s relationship firstly with his family and secondly with the community in South Africa was so interesting and sometimes surprising funny, I just wanted more of it…..

    Yet we sang in church Tata Nzolo! Which means Father in Heaven or Father of Fish Bait depending on how you sing it, and that pretty much summed up my quandary. I could never work out if we were to view religion as a life-insurance policy or a life sentence.

    I enjoyed the story jumping for one Price woman to the other and I loved hearing their different perspectives. On reading reviews, Rachel gets a lot of criticism but for me she was my favourite. I thought that as a character she was just so well observed. Starting the novel as a 15 year old, self-centred teenager, she learns nothing and is changed relatively little by her experiences in the Congo. The arrogance of youth that Kingsolver taps into during her chapters is just fabulous. Words that Rachel uses incorrectly and her observations of her surroundings provide a little light relief which for me was much needed.

    That would be Axelroot all over, To turn up with an extra wife or two claiming that’s how they do it here. Maybe he’s been in Africa so long he has forgotten that we Christians have our own system of marriage, and it is called Monotony.

    I am pleased that I have finally read this book. I enjoyed it but feel it probably could have been about 100 pages shorter. I’m sure this sounds like a silly thing to say but for me I was looking for a plot driven narrative and this was definitely character driven. The idea of an evangelical preacher trying to impose his views on his family and a community which ultimately wasn’t interested was the novel I wanted to read and there wasn’t enough of that for me.

    • Engleby by Sebastian Faulks. 4⭐️.
    • Sebastian Faulks born 20th April 1953.

    Mike Engleby has a secret… 

    This is the story of Mike Engleby, a working-class boy who wins a place at an esteemed English university. But with the disappearance of Jennifer, the undergraduate Engleby admires from afar, the story turns into a mystery of gripping power. Sebastian Faulks’s new novel is a bolt from the blue, unlike anything he has ever written before: contemporary, demotic, heart-wrenching – and funny, in the deepest shade of black.

    Before embarking on this novel I read some reviews. One in particular got me scared….’unreliable narrator‘ and ‘not much happens.’ Uh oh. I have to say that I loathe an unreliable narrator. To trek through a book believing one thing and then to be told that you were wrong at the end is so frustrating. It’s almost like the author is having a laugh at your expense. I want to go on a journey with a book. I want to hold hands with a book for the duration of my reading and not to be told at the end ‘ha! Everything you thought was wrong.’ The comment ‘nothing happens’ also got me slightly worried. I need a book to hook me!

    Anyway, surprisingly I LOVED it. I found it moving, poignant, amusing, dark and interesting. It held my attention throughout although I have to admit that I preferred the second half of the novel. The bullying scenes and Engleby‘s resignation to his fate was excruciating. Faulks writes beautifully and I thought Engleby was a really believable character .

    • A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold. 4⭐️.
    • Columbine shooting 20th April 1999.

    On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives. 

    For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently? 

    These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts. 

    Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent. 

    All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.

    Each time I start trying to put my thoughts down about this book, I delete the line I have just written. It sounds melodramatic but my head is in complete turmoil. I decided to look through other reviews on Goodreads and I have to say I agree with a lot of them even though many are contradictory. I have also watched documentaries to try to help myself make sense of something which seems utterly senseless. I think this is the first point of controversy. Should Sue Klebold try to make sense of such a senseless act? Is she trying to excuse her son’s actions. By writing this book is she disrespecting the memory of the 13 people who died and the 24 people who were injured? If my child had been gunned down in school would I want to read why it might have happened???? Reading why doesn’t change the outcome!! However, if my child, the child I had raised, looked after when ill, wiped away tears when they were sad, laughed at their jokes and supported their dreams did something like this, as a mother, I would look for reasons to try to make sense of it all. I think that is human nature.

    I went completely numb as detailed information about the massacre rained down on us. It was like a documentary so violent and depraved that I would never, ever under ordinary circumstances, have watched it.

    A single fact had emerged, without any ambiguity at all: Dylan had done this thing.

    The event had been planned a long time in advance, and Dylan had participated in the planning. The attack had been carefully times and strategically constructed. Dylan had deliberately killed and injured people. He has derided them as they begged for their lives. He had used racist, hateful language. He had not shown mercy, regret, or conscience. He had shot a teacher. He had killed children in cold blood.

    I was, and will always be, haunted by how those lives ended.

    For Sue Klebold, her husband Tom and her son Byron, I am desperately sad. They are mourning the death of Dylan whilst coming to terms with the fact that he wasn’t the son they thought he was. How do you deal with thoughts like these? I guess the answer is that you don’t. You spend the rest of your life knowing that your son is dead and he is responsible for gunning down innocent people. In writing this book, Sue isn’t trying to excuse the act. At no point do I feel that she tries to get the reader to empathise with her son.

    On reading this memoir, I looked back on my behaviour as a teen. I went to a highly academic girls school in which I never felt comfortable. I wasn’t clever enough. I carved my niche by being the joker and as a result, the teachers thought I was a trouble maker. Looking back on it, I was probably a nightmare to teach but I remember feeling very isolated and misunderstood during my teenage years. I desperately wanted to fit in and if I wasn’t allowed to do things that my friends were able to, I would lie. My behaviour was out of control and I did some things I am ashamed of. As someone who has struggled with depression my whole life, I can say that without a doubt it started at this school. Did my parents notice? I mean they were up at the school frequently, discussing my behaviour with teachers but I don’t think they really saw how depressed I was, partly because no one including myself realised how depressed I was. With depression, you don’t wake up one morning, having had a personality transplant and being in the depths of despair. It is a gradual thing. Sometimes so gradual that you don’t notice it creeping up on you. Your depression becomes part of your personality. Teenage depression must be a nightmare to diagnose. When do you decide that a hormonal outburst isn’t something more sinister? Luckily for me, I was struck down with glandular fever which took me out of school for a few months. I say luckily because I was absent for so long that I had to repeat my year. The thought of doing this at the same bitchy girls school was impossible so I went to another school. This new school was less academic and more arts based. Without a doubt, if I hadn’t changed school I would never now be an opera singer. Incidentally, it was at this school that my depression was diagnosed.

    So what has this got to do with Dylan Klebold? I don’t think I would ever have gotten to the point where I walked into a school with a fire arm BUT I was on a very destructive path. Probably due to sad stories like these, I feel schools are much more aware of mental health. In fact my 5 year old often tells me that she needs some “me time.” 🤣 I laugh but surely this can only be a good thing. I hope that now, 20 years on from this awful massacre, that parents and teachers are more aware of the mental health issues that affect kids. I also hope that nowadays, that individuals feel more proactive to seek help when they feel they are having a mental health issue.

    As a parent, this is a particularly hard book to get your head around. I guess when the unthinkable happens, society looks for reasons and for someone to blame. No one picked up the signs that these boys were so damaged and dangerous so was this whole disaster a dreadful combination of ignorance about mental health issues and the ease by which these boys acquired guns? I don’t think we will ever know the answer but I applaud Sue Klebold for writing this book and making me question the unthinkable.

    • The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. 5⭐️.

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

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

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

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

    When I look back on the month of April, Jack The Ripper is a name that has come up a lot. At work we opened Jack The Ripper:The Women of Whitechapel, I listened to this great book by Hallie Rubenhold, I bought it for a few friends and I also watched that documentary with Emilia Fox. I have to say, I thought the documentary was pants…..wondering around Whitechapel with your iPad…it was just really pretentious.

    Our production wasn’t about Jack. In fact ‘Jack’ never appeared but was always an ominous presence. The set was coffins hollowed out on the floor. We sang ‘Fourpence a coffin, or tuppence a rope. A penny will buy you a blanket.’ In the 1800s, homeless paupers would save their pennies to sleep in a ‘coffin’ in a doss house. If you didn’t have the money for a coffin you could pay to sit on a bench with a rope stretched in front of you, so you had something to lean on. It was information like this that I swallowed up when reading the book by Hallie Rubenhold.

    The Five isn’t about the Ripper. If you are interested in social history, pick it up now. Rubenhold tells each woman’s story….their falls from grace, living in poverty with children to feed, moving from one abusive relationship to the other and their daily lives on the streets of London. A completely brilliant and desperately sad read.

    That’s all folks. Thanks for reading. See you next month.

    April Kids Reads

    Yay, the end of April. This is where I finally get off the hamster wheel and stop work. Baby not due for a few weeks so I am looking forward to cosy nights in and reading….not very rock and roll. I finished last week and had big plans of reading fab books with the girls. Disappointingly, we have read Stick Man EVERY night. Last night, I attempted a bit of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was going well and even provoked a few laughs. However, as soon as we got to a couple of pages with no pictures, the interest stopped. I find myself turning the pages dreading being faced with no pictures. Not to be discouraged I have decided to let them choose a book each night but also mummy gets a choice. Yes, it makes storytime longer but it also means that Stick Man is diluted a little. I would like to add that I do love Stick Man….just not EVERY night.

    • Hans Christian Anderson born 2nd April 1805.

    One of my favourite films as a child was Hans Christian Anderson with the great Danny Kaye. I remember feeling so, so sorry for the poor cobbler who seemed ostracised by parents in the village for being a storyteller. I found the film almost painful to watch, particularly the part where Anderson tells the story of the Ugly Duckling to the little boy who is bullied for having no hair. Writing this now, it’s strikes me as quite a strange choice for a 7/8 year old child to take to heart so much.

    Growing up, I remember thinking that Anderson was a cobbler who fell in love with a ballerina in Copenhagen. In fact, the real life of the author is nothing like my beloved Danny Kaye film.

    Anderson was the only child born to parents in Odense in Denmark in 1805. As a young child, he was sent to a poor school where he became an apprentice to a weaver. At the age of 14, he moved to Copenhagen. His beautiful soprano voice earned him entry into the Royal Danish Theatre where he had aspirations of becoming an actor. When his voice broke, he decided to dedicate himself to poetry and writing. Anderson’s initial fairytales were revisions of stories he had heard as a child. They were heavily influenced by Christianity and on initial publication, sold poorly. 1845 was a breakthrough year for Anderson as his fairytales were published in 4 different translations.

    So what of Anderson’s legacy?? Disney films, songs, paintings etc. Edie is currently obsessed with the Don Bluth film of Thumbelina and she really enjoys the original story. For those who love the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, the Anderson tale is much darker. No reggae singing crabs here. Instead we have tongues being cut out and the Mermaid feeling like daggers are cutting her legs when she walks. It’s dark guys. Needless to say, it satisfied Edie’s blood lust and is now her story of choice. 😱😱😱🤣🤣

    • I want my Tooth by Tony Ross.

    Major Event in the Andrews household!!! Edie finally lost her first of about 5 wobbly teeth. She was utterly overjoyed. I seem to remember being a little freaked out when it happened to me, but not Edie Mae, no, she views it as a coming of age rite of passage. 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️. We read this book to celebrate. Whatever lengths I go to, to introduce my children to new books, they always find returning to the likes of The Little Princess and Peppa really comforting. I also quite enjoy these books as I can work on my Julian Clary and Jane Horrocks impressions. Clary is seriously hard to get right however!

    • Nothing can frighten a bear by Elizabeth Dale.

    Daddy Bear insists that nothing can frighten a bear – but when there’s a noise in the night, Baby Bear isn’t convinced. The bears set out to make sure there aren’t any monsters but, as they vanish one by one, it looks like Daddy Bear might not be so brave after all!

    We took this book out of the library a couple of weeks ago and the children loved it so much that I had to buy a copy. Firstly I need to say that there is nothing scary about this book so don’t worry about bad dreams. The end is brilliant. The rhymes are great and each rhyme is concluded on the page turn so both Edie and Ceci enjoyed guessing the word. I thought maybe it would be a bit young for Edie (6) but I think she enjoys it more than her sister.

    Right next month there will be more books….promise!!!!! If not I will write a very in-depth discussion about Stick Man.

    Thanks for reading.

    April Beauty

    Woohoo. I have finished work. It is currently 8:02 am and I am leisurely walking the dog whilst contemplating brunch with my sister. I didn’t have a show last night so even though the 3 year old got into bed with us I don’t feel like death. Baby isn’t actually due until beginning of July but work has a holiday in a couple of weeks so I have been really lucky timing wise. My plans???? As every good pregnant woman will say “I plan to redecorate my whole house.” 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️

    • Merumaya Mineral Cleansing Paste. £18.99.

    Ooooooh I love a cleanser that leaves my skin feeling cleaner than a clean thing and this one does!

    It contains Zinc for skin healing, magnesium which helps skin look stress and anti fatigue free….something I definitely need, copper which keeps skin supple, iron to give skin a glow (defo needed), silicon to help form collagen, corindon 100 which is a very fine powered to polish the skin and finally sweet almond oil to nourish and moisturise. What a list!!!! You can put it straight into dry skin to give a good deep cleanse or mix in a little water to dilute a bit. It is gentle enough that skin doesn’t feel tight or tingly but you do get that feeling of a good deep cleanse!!!

    • Everyday Oil. Dr Jackson. £62 for 50ml.

    As a teen, I luckily escaped the misery of full on acne. I did however get a few spots before my period each month. I lived in fear of these pussy, red mountains so after cleansing twice a day with Clearasil I would lather on the Oxy10. Twice a week I would scrub my skin raw with Apricot Scrub and to finish this highly complex skin care routine, I would smear my eyelashes with Vaseline to ‘help them grow.’ My poor skin. No moisturiser, nothing nourishing or hydrating. 🤦‍♀️😱🤦‍♀️😱🤦‍♀️😱🤦‍♀️😱🤦‍♀️😱🤦‍♀️😱🤦‍♀️😱🤦‍♀️😱🤦‍♀️ As a grown up, I have gone to the other extreme and in my opinion you can’t hydrate enough. I bloody love an oil and this one is my current oil of choice. Branded as a unisex product (surely all products are unisex no?), the packaging is lovely and reminds me of those old-school apothecary bottles. Apparently it can be used on nails, skin and hair but in my opinion it too luxurious to waste on my nails and hair. This is a skin treat. It’s made with baobab and Marula oil which is really hydrating and also arnica (the stuff your mum put on your bruises) which helps to calm inflammation and irritation. In my opinion, the arnica is what makes this stuff special…..if you are someone who is prone to spots and steers clear of facial oils because of the fear your face will look like a chip pan….this is the oil for you. It’s absorbed really quickly and helps calm spots as a treatment. I use it after moisturising to seal in all the good stuff. It’s also apparently fab to use after shaving your beard. 🧔 Brilliant buy. Give it a whirl.

    • Smashbox Photo Finish Primer £26.00.
    • Smashbox Photo Finish Radiance Primer. Travel Size £15.00.

    So let’s talk about primers. Do you wear one? To be honest I never used to bother but now I am a bit of an addict. Putting foundation straight onto my face feels a bit weird. I tend to go for Korean brands…Erborian and Skin 79 make brilliant BB and CC creams but I was recently sent these two primers to review so I thought it was worth a shot. The combination of the fact that I work on stage and I am unashamedly a sweaty lady, mean that I need a primer that literally melds my make up to my skin. Both of these did and I didn’t need to reapply my foundation at all. They both cover my horrible open pores and feel really light when wearing. If I had to choose my fave it would be the Radiance Primer for quite a few reasons. Firstly, it is absolutely gorgeous to wear on its own….it provides light coverage whilst giving skin that healthy glow you see on 14 year olds after a game of netball. This is not a glow you often find on 37 year olds who are surviving on chicken nuggets and 5 hours of sleep a night! Remember that thing when you first slept with a bloke and you woke up before him to put on a layer of makeup to convince him you are still luscious even after a night of full on frolics???? Well this is the product you need. It makes you look better than normal with minimal effort. Secondly, it is packed with hyaluronic acid which I bloody love. Skin feels moisturised all day and you don’t get those annoying patches of uneven colour. You also feel that even though you are packing on the makeup, you are giving your skin a bit of a treat at the same time.

    Thanks so much for reading and see you next month. X

    March Reads

    Hi all. I hope everyone is well. I didn’t have very high hopes in terms of reading for March. I started the month with the John Irving which seemed to take FOREVER to read but on finishing, I was obviously inspired to devour another 5 books so I’m pretty happy. I finish work in mid April so I am looking forward to tons of early nights in my bed with a book! Simple pleasures.

    • The Cider House Rules by John Irving. 3⭐️.
    • John Irving born 2nd March 1942.

    ‘The reason Homer Wells kept his name was that he came back to St Cloud’s so many times, after so many failed foster homes, that the orphanage was forced to acknowledge Homer’s intention to make St Cloud’s his home.’ 

    Homer Wells’ odyssey begins among the apple orchards of rural Maine. As the oldest unadopted child at St Cloud’s orphanage, he strikes up a profound and unusual friendship with Wilbur Larch, the orphanage’s founder – a man of rare compassion and an addiction to ether. What he learns from Wilbur takes him from his early apprenticeship in the orphanage surgery, to an adult life running a cider-making factory and a strange relationship with the wife of his closest friend…

    Long books. What are your thoughts on long books? As someone who sets themselves a Goodreads challenge, I admit that I am often guilty of reading shorter books that are about 250-300 pages in length. I am definitely an impatient reader. When it comes to books, I feel a little like a child in a sweet shop….I want to try EVERYTHING, I don’t want to linger too long on one book. At a time in my life when my priorities are my children, feeling like I have achieved something for myself each day is really important to me. Usually this is something as simple as remembering to put my eye cream on. 😂🤣. Getting through at least a book a week makes me feel positive and challenged. The challenge of getting through 720 pages of The Cider House Rules in a week was a challenge too far. I felt like I was barely making a dent in it…I’m sad to say it was a little soul destroying and frustrating. Once I hit the 60% mark however, I raced to the finish line and I now feel crazy happy….not least because it has freed up space on my book shelf to fill with new books. 📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚

    So did I enjoy it?? Yes but I didn’t love it. It was a little slow and rambling for me. I enjoyed the beginning of the book the most. Dr Larch was a brilliant character and I enjoyed all the stuff about back-Street abortions. I listened to a podcast with John Irving and it makes sense to me that he is so heavily influenced by Charles Dickens. Irving seems obsessed by haunted figures. Scarred, damaged characters – prostitutes, abandoned children, ether addicts…. they all appear in this book. Don’t let this put you off however. In amongst all the damaged souls, Irving manages to inject humour and lightheartedness. Unfortunately, for me however, the enjoyment and the time it took for me to read the book were not directly proportionate.

    • A Stitch in Time by Penelope Lively. 2⭐️.
    • Same Penelope Lively born 17th March 1933.

    Maria is always getting lost in the secret world of her imagination…

    A ghostly mystery and winner of the Whitbread Award,republished in the Collins Modern Classics range.

    Maria likes to be alone with her thoughts. She talks to animals and objects, and generally prefers them to people. But whilst on holiday she begins to hear things that aren’t there – a swing creaking, a dog barking – and when she sees a Victorian embroidered picture, Maria feels a strange connection with the ten-year-old, Harriet, who stitched it.

    But what happened to her? As Maria becomes more lost in Harriet’s world, she grows convinced that something tragic occurred…

    Perfect for fans of ghostly mysteries like ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’.

    Last month I attempted to read Milly Molly Mandy to Edie. It was a complete and utter failure. My 5 year old city girl was underwhelmed with quaint country life. She couldn’t believe that Milly Molly Mandy spent her time picking blackberries and running errands. “The most boring book ever” I was told. This got me thinking about how literature has changed. Edie is too young to read A Stitch in Time….the back of the book says it’s recommended for 9 year olds. Having said that, I don’t think she would enjoy it when she gets to 9. I am embarrassed to say that me at 37 found it dull!!!! Looking at reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, the star rating seems high but nearly every review is written by an adult who remembers it from their youth.

    A Stitch in Time won the 1976 Children’s Whitbread Award so at the time it was obviously incredibly popular. Undoubtedly, the writing is lovely and the character of Maria is beautifully drawn. I particularly enjoyed Lively’s description of Maria’s parents who were obviously the dullest of the dull. My issue with the book is that nothing really happened. It is slow but I guess that is because in the 70s, the pace of life was slower. Nowadays, we are spoiled by the internet, social media etc. We are used to things happening immediately, at the touch of a button…..you can even turn your house lights on with your mobile phone! I guess we don’t have to work at things as much. This book made me think how much the Harry Potter phenomenon must have changed literature. I’m not saying I need magic and giants but I need SOMETHING and I know my children definitely do.

    • The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. 4⭐️.
    • W.C. Minor died 26th March 1920.

    The making of the Oxford English Dictionary was a monumental 50 year task requiring thousands of volunteers. One of the keenest volunteers was a W C Minor who astonished everyone by refusing to come to Oxford to receive his congratulations. In the end, James Murray, the OED’s editor, went to Crowthorne in Berkshire to meet him. What he found was incredible – Minor was a millionaire American civil war surgeon turned lunatic, imprisoned in Broadmoor Asylum for murder and yet who dedicated his entire cell-bound life to work on the English language.

    Wow just wow. I am so pleased I read this book. I first heard it mentioned on the brilliant podcast What Shall I Read Next. It was described as a non fiction account of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary and the story of WC Minor who contributed 12,000 words and definitions but was also a patient of Broadmoor. Does that not sound like the most amazing tale??? I bought it straight away.

    Without a doubt, this is an utterly amazing tale and one I knew nothing about. When you discover a book like this you feel slightly like you have been given a box of treasure! It has never occurred to me how dictionaries came to be and how they were compiled. I remember when I started secondary school we were told we had to invest in a ‘proper’ dictionary (I guess the word ‘proper’ here, means ‘grown-up’ ie no pictures) and a posh calculator. I never did discover what all those buttons on my posh calculator did and I never did take my ‘proper’ dictionary into school because it was hardback and massive. It still sits on my bedroom shelf back at my parent’s home. The very idea that the dictionary came to be thanks to volunteers who would pour over endless books from different time periods, tracing the root of each individual word is mind blowing!!! Can you imagine the time this took?!?!

    Minor’s story is an incredibly sad one. Born in Ceylon in 1934, he served as an army surgeon in the American Civil War. It is thought that Minor’s mental health problem came as a result of being tasked with branding an Irish deserter. After the war, Minor returned to New York city where he was a frequent customer of the prostitutes in the red light district. By 1868, the army had learned of his mental deterioration and he was transferred to an asylum. In 1871, Minor decided to move to London for a change of pace. His paranoia became out of control and in 1872, he fatally shot George Merrett. Merrett was not previously known to Minor who wrongly believed Merrett had broken into his rooms. He was found not guilty by insanity and sent to Broadmoor where he was given access to comfortable rooms and a library. During his incarceration, he read an advert by Dr James Murray for volunteers to help with what would later become the Oxford English Dictionary. Minor became one of the largest contributors of the dictionary. Dr Murray didn’t meet Minor until 1891 and it was only then that he learned about Minor’s background. Sadly, Minor’s condition deteriorated. He started to believe he was being abducted from his cell and forced to abuse children. These delusions reached a peak in 1902 when Minor cut off his own penis. With Murray’s help, Minor was deported back to the US.

    This book not only gave me an insight into how the dictionary was compiled but it also taught me about the relationship between Minor and Murray-an unlikely friendship based on a mutual respect which helped to create the Oxford English Dictionary.

    • The Foundling by Charlotte Brontë. 3⭐️.
    • Charlotte Brontë died 31st March 1855.

    Written when she was seventeen, The Foundling is a classic fairy tale, set in the imagined kingdom of Verdopolis, which will delight fans of Charlotte Bronte’s later work. Edward Sydney is abandoned as a baby but finds a ‘protector’ in Mr Hasleden, a rich local landowner who declares an interest in the child, and claims him as his own. The boy grows up believing Hasleden to be his father, but, after his death, Edward discovers evidence of his real name and the circumstances of his birth. Full of curiosity about his true origins, he decides to set off on a journey to the mythical kingdom of Verdopolis. There, after several adventures, he meets and falls in love with the noble Lady Julia, only to find she is betrothed to another…

    A few months ago I picked up two books by Charlotte Brontë from a library sale. 20p each! Total bargain. They have sat in my cupboard, untouched and undiscovered until last week when after trawling through the MASSIVE tome that was The Cider House Rules, I felt I needed a book under 200 pages. Similar to my discoveries about the Oxford English Dictionary in the Simon Winchester, this book by Charlotte Brontë has opened up the world of ‘juvenilia’ of which I knew absolutely nothing. The term ‘juvenilia’ is usually given to books written by authors in their youth. In 1826, Patrick Brontë gifted his son, Branwell, a set of toy soldiers. Charlotte, Anne and Branwell each picked soldiers and used them to create characters and lands which were used in their stories, plays and poetry.

    So, the story…. it was full of magic, strong men, pathetic women and amazing insults:

    ‘Get up, heap of baseness, and be gone instantly from my presence!’

    ‘Do your worst, driveling dotard.’

    If I had to use one word to describe it I would say melodrama. I don’t want this to take away from the fact that Brontë wrote this at 17! 17! At 17 I was stealing alcohol from my parents drinks cabinet and snogging boys in parks. Reading Brontë’s work is without a doubt humbling and thanks to her ‘driveling dotard’ is now my insult of choice .

    • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. 4⭐️.

    WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017

    A STORY OF LOVE AFTER DEATH

    ‘A masterpiece’ Zadie Smith
    ‘Extraordinary’ Daily Mail
    ‘Breathtaking’ Observer
    A tour de force’ The Sunday Times

    The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War

    The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

    From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

    Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?

    This is Saunders’s first novel having dedicated himself to the short story genre in the past. The novel is based on fact- during the Civil War Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie died of typhoid Fever. Lincoln did apparently visit the body of his son twice on the day he was interred. The whole novel takes place during this one evening. The setting of the novel is The Bardo which is the land between the living and the dead. The novel is a strange collection of quotations, some real and some not.

    This was a book club read and I am sad to say that it was pretty unpopular, in fact, a lot of people didn’t finish. I have to admit that my thought are a little confused. The reason is that I read the book in conjunction with listening to the audiobook. Usually, I struggle to concentrate on audiobooks but in this case, it was the audio which spurred me on to finish the book. The audio is epic with 166 voices. Apparently Random House are hoping for a World Record for most voices on an audiobook. The cast includes Don Cheadle, Susan Sarandon, Julianne Moore and David Sedaris. Over 6 months, the speakers recorded their lines in 17 different studios across America. The recordings were then sent to the audio editor Ted Scott who pieced it all together. Lincoln in the Bardo is a book which translates so well to audio. The book almost reads like a script with snippets from characters and quotes from books so to have each one of these voiced by a different actor makes it much more accessible. Listening to it also slows the reading down. I am definitely someone who can rush reading. The one line snippets and sections of the book which highlight the fact that history is an unreliable narrator, I know I would have skimmed and therefore completely missed the point.

    Saunders calls this an experimental novel. At first I thought this was a disclaimer, almost as if Saunders was making an excuse in case it didn’t work out….”sorry if you don’t like it guys, it’s just an experiment.” For me, this was an experiment that paid off.

    The writing is beautiful, poignant and moving. There is one passage in particular that broke me:

    I was in error when I saw him as fixed and stable and thought I would have him forever. He was never fixed, nor stable, but always just a passing, temporary energy-burst. I had reason to know this. Had he not looked this way at birth, that way at four, another way at seven, been made entirely anew at nine? He had never stayed the same. Even instant to instant.

    He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness.

    Only I did not think it would be so soon.

    Or that he would precede us.

    This passage is Lincoln talking about the death of his son. I think this must perfectly describe the loss of a child: almost a magical entity that is not meant for this world….a burst of energy.

    One of the most interesting topics that the novel brought up was that history is an unreliable narrator. We reply on people of the time to relay events but everyone sees things differently. There were a couple of chapters that expressed this beautifully. One, describes the moon on the night of Willie’s death and the other the facial features of Abe Lincoln. The majority of accounts differ which makes the reader question who to trust.

    I would say that it takes a good 60 pages to get into the swing of this book. Once you get used to the method of writing and the world that Saunders creates you will be massively rewarded. I am so pleased I read this book and can honestly say that I have never read anything like it. There are also tons of discussion points which would make it a great book club choice.

    • After the Party by Cressida Connolly. 2.5 ⭐️.

    ‘I always wanted to be friends with both my sisters. Perhaps that was the source, really, of all the troubles of my life…’

    It is the summer of 1938 and Phyllis Forrester has returned to England after years abroad. Moving into her sister’s grand country house, she soon finds herself entangled in a new world of idealistic beliefs and seemingly innocent friendships. Fevered talk of another war infiltrates their small, privileged circle, giving way to a thrilling solution: a great and charismatic leader, who will restore England to its former glory. 

    At a party hosted by her new friends, Phyllis lets down her guard for a single moment, with devastating consequences. Years later, Phyllis, alone and embittered, recounts the dramatic events which led to her imprisonment and changed the course of her life forever.

    This is the first time I have come across a book discussing Sir Oswald Mosley’s party The British Union and the fate of its followers during WW2. Apparently, around 800 of his supporters were imprisoned without trails or access to legal representation under the Defence Regulation Act.

    Connolly said she was inspired after reading a book called Blackshirts on Sea: A Pictorial History of the Mosley Summer Camps 1933-1938 by A. J. There seems to be relatively little fiction written about The National Union of Fascists and how Oswald Mosley came to power and I was definitely excited to discover more about this period of history. Unfortunately this is where my issues with the book lay. I felt there was minimal character development so I struggled to empathise with the characters and the historical detail was so scant I felt utterly frustrated. The book was readable and the writing good but the novel just left me feeling a bit ‘meh.’ I can’t really work out Connolly’s intentions….she managed to write a novel with minimal story and no historical depth.

    Thanks for reading. See you next month.

    March Beauty

    Hi all. 3 completely wicked products this month. None of them crazy money and all completely fab.

    • The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution. £11.20.

    In my constant quest to look like I have had 8 hours sleep when in fact I have had 5, this stuff from The Ordinary is the business. 🤩🤩🤩🥳🥳🥳🤩🥳🤩🥳🤩🥳🤩 It’s cheap, it works and it lasts yonks. As with all peels, don’t go crazy…once, twice a week and don’t follow it with your glycolic toner, retinol serum etc. I read a review on Amazon of a lady who used it every night…I’m convinced she looks like Anjelica Huston in The Witches….sans mask! 🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️A couple of words of warning…………………

    1. It tingles a little. Don’t be alarmed. Man up!

    2. When the peel is on it looks like you have smeared your face in the blood of vestal virgins. Maybe don’t apply when there is any danger that the postman will knock at the door. This is without a doubt a nighttime ritual when the blinds are down and you are alone. ⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️ Anyway, it works. In fact I just did the school run without make up. Am still wearing massive 🕶 – it doesn’t eliminate eye bags but my skin is clearer, sun spots reduced and open pores….what pores???

    • Hask Purifying Deep Conditioner with charcoal and citrus oil.
    • Boots. £2.99.

    I have to admit that I am pretty good about maintaining my hair cut and colour. This shouldn’t really be a boast as since my amazing hairdresser has moved to Leeds, she hops on the megabus every 6 weeks (🤪🤪🤪🤪🚍🚍🚍) and comes to London to do a handful of haircuts for clients. Brilliantly for me, this involves minimal effort. I can sit in my kitchen in my pjs, safe in the knowledge that my whole family are queuing up in a production line to get their hair done without leaving the comfort of our own home. Lazy, lazy, lazy. I actually live in fear for the day that will surely come when Elthia wakes up, wonders what the hell she is doing, decides not to board the megabus at 5 in the morning for a 6 hour journey and we never see her again. This day will happen and I will have stop being a lazy bitch and drag my family to a salon!

    So, as I say, my colour and cut are always pretty up to date. The condition of my hair is unfortunately crap!!! I received this hair mask in a beauty box and it’s brill. Bloody everything has charcoal in nowadays doesn’t it? I was a little concerned before opening that it would stain my blonde hair but as you can see, it doesn’t really have a colour. It smells really citrusy which I love and is absolutely fine to use on coloured hair. I particularly like the fact that’s it’s purifying so it removes all the product build-up (a lot of dry shampoo and hairspray) and leaves my hair feeling baby soft and with a new lease of life! You can buy this little packet of Joy for just £2.99 from Boots. My hair is chin length and the packet has lasted 3 washes which is great. Defo worth a try.

      Kate McIver Secret Weapon Serum. £34.99.

    Woohooo! Another beautiful product that works like a dream. Secret Weapon Serum by Kate McIver. 🌟❤️🌟❤️🌟❤️🌟❤️🌟❤️In 2016, Kate was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Treatment left her skin dull and dry. Using her knowledge from her job in skin aesthetics, she decided to make a product that would give women their confidence back. 🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌The Serum is oil based so it instantly feels hydrating and really pampering. It contains borage, rosehip and evening primrose which contain fatty acids to develop healthy skin. These 3 ingredients contain Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which encourages the production of collagen and elastin which fight wrinkles and encourage that ‘well -rested-glow’ something I am always on the hunt for. All natural, no harsh chemicals and suitable for vegans. It’s honestly totally gorgeous and if your tired, dull, dehydrated skin needs a treat you should try it. 💞💞

    Anyway thanks for reading. See y’all next month .

    March kids reads

    I am writing this on my walk to the tube station. I have turned into one of those utterly annoying people who write on their phones whilst walking!!! God how vexing! I am ashamed of myself. The sun is shining and I’m not wearing a coat. Spring has definitely sprung. This is my last week of working in the day. From next week until the 13th April I just have shows at night. My last show is a matinee of the Merry Widow on the 13th and then I’m done! The baby isn’t due until the beginning of July but lumbering around being pregnant on stage is pretty rank so I decided to take the time off. One of the things I am most excited about is reading to my girls every night….that and a nightly bath!!!

    • Theodor Seuss Geisel. Born 2nd March 1904.

    Dr Seuss is a firm favourite in our house. I am surprised and a little ashamed to say that he is an author who passed me by when I was younger. This month, on my walks to the station, I decided to listen to some podcasts on the authors I’ve read and it turns out that Dr Seuss was a pretty interesting guy. Firstly, we are all saying his name wrong. Apparently the correct pronunciation is Zoice!!! This is totally the kind of stuff I love finding out. From now on, I shall be utterly smug when his name comes up in conversation.

    The Cat in the Hat is probably one of his most famous books and was published in 1957. Cat in the Hat was intended as a children’s primer with 225 words. His editor then bet him he couldn’t write a book with 50 words….Green Eggs and Ham was created

    I think the best podcast I listened to was called Stuff you Should Know. This is an American podcast and the hour was packed with tons of interesting information about Dr Seuss. In recent years the Read Across America project which has always backed Dr Seuss books decided to move away from promoting the author in favour of more racially diverse books. Apparently, last year, a library refused a gift of Dr Seuss books which were sent by Melania Trump. The library said that the books were “steeped in racist propaganda and harmful stereotypes.” Anne Nealy who is a Professor of Children’s Literature at Vanderbilt Universitu said “Theodor Geisel was a product of his time. We should not judge him by today’s standard but we must evaluate the books that we decide to share with children using today’s standards.” Is this political correctness gone a bit mad??? Whatever your views, I think Anne Nealy hits the nail on the head. As a mother who enjoys reading these books to her children, I would agree that they certainly aren’t racially diverse, however my kids and I enjoy them and they encourage my daughter to read.

    • A Stitch in Time by Penelope Lively.
    • Dame Penelope Lively born 17th March 1933.

    Maria is always getting lost in the secret world of her imagination…

    A ghostly mystery and winner of the Whitbread Award,republished in the Collins Modern Classics range.

    Maria likes to be alone with her thoughts. She talks to animals and objects, and generally prefers them to people. But whilst on holiday she begins to hear things that aren’t there – a swing creaking, a dog barking – and when she sees a Victorian embroidered picture, Maria feels a strange connection with the ten-year-old, Harriet, who stitched it.

    But what happened to her? As Maria becomes more lost in Harriet’s world, she grows convinced that something tragic occurred…

    Perfect for fans of ghostly mysteries like ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’.

    Last month I attempted to read Milly Molly Mandy to Edie. It was a complete and utter failure. My 5 year old city girl was underwhelmed with quaint country life. She couldn’t believe that Milly Molly Mandy spent her time picking blackberries and running errands. “The most boring book ever” I was told. This got me thinking about how literature has changed. Edie is too young to read A Stitch in Time….the back of the book says it’s recommended for 9 year olds. Having said that, I don’t think she would enjoy it when she gets to 9. I am embarrassed to say that me at 37 found it dull!!!! Looking at reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, the star rating seems high but nearly every review is written by an adult who remembers it from their youth.

    A Stitch in Time won the 1976 Children’s Whitbread Award so at the time it was obviously incredibly popular. Undoubtedly, the writing is lovely and the character of Maria is beautifully drawn. I particularly enjoyed Lively’s description of Maria’s parents who were obviously the dullest of the dull. My issue with the book is that nothing really happened. It is slow but I guess that is because in the 70s, the pace of life was slower. Nowadays, we are spoiled by the internet, social media etc. We are used to things happening immediately, at the touch of a button…..you can even turn your house lights on with your mobile phone! I guess we don’t have to work at things as much. This book made me think how much the Harry Potter phenomenon must have changed literature. I’m not saying I need magic and giants but I need SOMETHING and I know my children definitely do.

    • The Sheep Pig by Dick King Smith.
    • Dick King Smith born 27th March 1922.

    The Sheep-pig is one of Dick King-Smith’s most famous tales. It shot to further fame when the film adaptation, Babe, was released in 1995. 

    ‘Why can’t I learn to be a Sheep-Pig?’

    When Babe, the little orphaned piglet, is won at a fair by Farmer Hogget, he is adopted by Fly, the kind-hearted sheep-dog. Babe is determined to learn everything he can from Fly. He knows he can’t be a sheep-dog. But maybe, just maybe, he might be a sheep-pig.

    ‘An unexpectedly thrilling, funny charmer of a book’ – Guardian
    ‘Dick King-Smith is a huge favourite with children’ – Observer

    ***Winner of the Guardian Fiction Award***

    Dick King-Smith served in the Grenadier Guards during the Second World War, and afterwards spent twenty years as a farmer in Gloucestershire, the country of his birth. Many of his stories are inspired by his farming experiences. He wrote a great number of children’s books, including The Sheep-Pig (winner of the Guardian Award and filmed as Babe), Harry’s Mad, Noah’s Brother, The Queen’s Nose, Martin’s Mice, Ace, The Cuckoo Child and Harriet’s Hare(winner of the Children’s Book Award in 1995). In 2009 he was made an OBE for services to children’s literature. Dick King-Smith died in 2011 at the age of eighty-eight.

    Dick King Smith was born on the 27th March 1922 and The Sheep Pig was published in 1983. 🐷🐑🐷🐑🐷🐑🐷🐑🐷🐑🐷🐑 Sadly, I didn’t read any of these books when I was a child so I am really enjoying it now. Edie (6) is also enjoying it although it has thrown up some interesting questions about where we get sausages from. Thankfully, Edie is not in anyway sentimental and sausages remain her food of choice so all is well. 🥓🥩🍖🥩🥓🍖🥩🥓🍖🥩🥓🍖🥩🥓🍖

    On Saturday I was feeling particularly lazy and decided to put the film on for the girls. I was fully intending to doze all the way through it but I sat there enraged. Was it the the ludicrous Americanised view of English country life? No, I admit, I quite like the artificial American ideal of hazy sunsets, thatched cottages and picture prefect farms. No, what really got my goat (🐐) were the ridiculous amounts of American accents. If you are making a film based on a British book, set in Britain why not use English accents. Pregnant, hormonal, me???

    The Sheep Pig is a really fun book to read aloud and I feel the need to give myself a MASSIVE shout out as my voices are on point. If anyone is looking for someone who can do a great west-country farmer or a ewe with foot-rot then I’m your girl. 🙌👍🙌👍🙌👍🙌👍🙌👍🙌👍🙌👍🙌. In conclusion, great book for for 6-8 year olds. It’s also worth mentioning that in this copy, there were enough illustrations to keep Edie well entertained.

    Anyway, have a great month.

    Thanks for reading.

    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!!! 🙄

    • 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 (😱🙄😄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 (😱🤣🙄 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 .