March reads

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

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

1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid 3*

Words… magical realism, refugee, love.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017

SHORTLISTED FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FOR FICTION

NOMINATED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR FICTION

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

The Times Top 10 Bestseller

Guardian Top 10 Bestseller

The New York Times Top 5 Bestseller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Words……psychology, parents, indoctrination.

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

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

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

Words….anxiety, depression, humour.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FEEL TRULY ALIVE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The Humans by Matt Haig. 4*

Words….hilarious, touching, aliens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words…..Deep South, racism, acceptance.

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

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

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

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

Words….1950s, slum, hardship.

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

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

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

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

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

Words…..chimps, memory, siblings.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014

The Million Copy Best-Seller

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

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

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

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

 

Until next month!

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