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.

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