The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this novel.

I often feel that short stories are given short shrift by reviewers.  People seem to review each story as a novel and are often disappointed if every story isn’t up to a certain standard. For an author I can imagine the genre of short story feels like an indulgent treat. It must offer such a sense of freedom. All those snippets of ideas that come to you on a daily basis are able to be fashioned into a story. It’s doesn’t have to have the length of a novel but it is a way to indulge creativity.
As a reader, I love a short story.  I love the fact that I can dip in and dip out and I also find it very freeing that if I don’t like one story, I can move on…no hard feelings. 

William Boyd is an author I have loved for a long time. I love his writing, language and characters. Without a shadow of a doubt I can forgive Boyd if I don’t love each one of his short stories (which as expected, I didn’t) but the stories I loved are like having a box of Cadbury Heroes…tiny minatures stories written by one of my favourite authors.

For me, the opening and ending stories were my favourite. Ludo, the art dealer who gets his kicks in life from kissing women other than his wife. His dalliances go further however, when a young woman presents him with the opportunity of selling a painting by Freud. 

I also loved the tale of the actor Alec Dunbar. An actor who turns up at an audition only to be told they were expecting an actress called Alexa Dunbar. This leads him to take on a job, delivering a package to Scotland. What I loved about this story is it ended in a completely different place than where is started….the story became something I wasn’t expecting. 

I really enjoyed the fact that the majority of the characters in the stories work in the arts in some manner. As someone who is also in the arts I found Boyd’s characters and their lifestyles very real and believable. The titular Bethany Mellmoth really rang true. Flitting through numerous jobs in the hope that one would be a perfect fit. Alex Dunbar taking a delivery job just to earn extra cash when an audition doesn’t go his way.

If you are a fan of William Boyd but not a fan of short stories I urge you to pick this book up. You might not love every story but there are some total gems.

Thanks again to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Mindhunter. Top viewing.

This last week has been a treat. I have been able to watch a box set. A whole box set in 7 days. That is about 70 hours of TV in 7 days. Those of you with children know that this is impossible, unheard of. My children went away for half term and I have been in bed with a cold all day. Heaven. 

So, Mindhunter. What a brill show. Classy, great acting, based on truth so sort of feels like I’m learning something. 

This Netflix series is created by Joe Penhall and is based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E Douglas and Mark Olshaker. 

The series centres around agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) who interview serial killers in order to profile them and use this knowledge to solve ongoing cases. 

Groff and McCallany are brilliantly cast as Ford and Tench. Groff, the handsome, keen, ambitious agent against McCallany’s world weary, chain smoking agent. Agent Ford is a much more straightforward character than Tench. Happy to share what he needs to in order to gain the trust of the killers to get a good interview. His excitement and ambition for the job is all consuming and is discussed frequently even with his girlfriend. By the end of the series, Ford has become over confident and slightly smug but as a viewer you forgive him this as his methods are working. Tench is a complicated man. He often struggles to hide his revulsion of the killers he is interviewing and as an old-school detective, often struggles with Ford’s methods. His home life is also interesting. Father to an adopted son  who won’t talk which puts an obvious strain on his relationship with his wife.

The series has kept me topped up with my dark serial killer fascination. Ed Kemper, The BTK Killer, Jerry Brudos and Richard Speck are brilliantly portrayed. Special mention goes to Cameron Britton whose well researcher Kemper was brilliant. 

This series is definitely worth a watch. 10 episodes at about 50 minutes each. Also if this kind of stuff floats your boat listen to these podcasts….My Favourite Murder and Casefile. I also would like to mention American Horror Story in particular the series Hotel which I have also just finished and LOVED. Gaga is a total legend. Check it out.

Happy Halloween.

Motherhood Reimagined by Sarah Kowalski

I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this novel.

This is a book which will stay with me for a long time. This is the first book on fertility issues I have read but the book was calling to me as I am now at slap bang in the ‘baby phase.’ My friends and I have moved on from weddings and we are now at that stage of having and trying to have babies.

Fertility is something which is taken for granted. When you first become sexually active you spend your life trying not to get pregnant and living in fear that a ‘mistake’ would be made and you would fall pregnant. As young women, we brazenly go through life assuming that we are all fertile goddesses and, if you happened to have unprotected sex, you will become a mother nine months later. When you plan your life do you ever allow for infertility problems, divorce, illness? Of course not. You assume you will breeze through life unscathed by the ups and downs. They happen to other people. People on Eastenders and Hollyoaks. Not to people like you.

Sarah Kowalski was one such woman. As a child, she loved children and assumed she would always become a mother. Like a lot of modern women, her career and life in general took centre stage ‘somewhere between my rocket-speed career and my jet-setting, single life, I’d completely lost my resolve to have children.’ She became a high powered  corporate litigator. However disaster struck and she was diagnosed with a type of repetitive strain injury called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. She went from an energetic, sociable woman to someone who was in constant pain. She didn’t have the strength  to wash her own hair or even put her key in the lock. She left her job and started to research alternative therapies like Feldenkrais and Qigong. It is through Qigong that Sarah met the most patient man in the world. Chris. Through Chris’s Qigong sessions Sarah decided she would start the journey to motherhood and she embarked upon Project Baby. As any woman knows, when Project Baby starts it is completely all encompassing. 

This is when the book became slightly frustrating for me. As a woman who struggles with depression, I have always gone for the quick fix….medication. Counselling didn’t work for me. I didn’t want to chat, I wanted a cure. This is where Kowalski and I differ.  I struggled with Kowalski’s initial objection to IVF, donations and her disregard to the information provided by the medical experts. The odds were so stacked against her, her time was running out and it was incredibly unlikely that acupuncture and Chinese herbs were going to make a difference. But that was her journey, and although the constant sobbing phone calls to Chris were irritating for me as a reader, Kowalski felt she had to run through all her options before she moved onto donation. On finishing the book, my feelings of frustration changed into feelings of respect. This was a process that Kowalski had to go through. She felt she had to exhaust all her options before she moved onto IVF and donation. Luckily Kowalski was not constrained by her financial situation. Money was no object in quest to have a baby. This is obviously not the case for a great many women out there and I wish Kowalski had acknowledged this. Her route to motherhood would not necessarily have been the one I would have taken. but it was her’s and that was an inspiration. 

I use the word ‘journey’ because that is really what this book felt like for me as a reader. Fertility is such a massively contentious issue. I was lucky enough to fall pregnant easily but I know a lot of people who didn’t. As one of the ones who didn’t struggle, I often feel like I am not qualified to have an opinion on fertility issues and I am so scared of saying the wrong thing. All I can say is, as a mother I can only imagine how it must feel when you are faced with the very real possibility that you might not have children of your own. For those amongst us who have always planned to become parents, to discover that you might not be able to fulfill that destiny. When you feel your body isn’t doing what it should. When everywhere you look, you see pregnant people. Utterly heartbreaking. 

Sarah Kowalski is a woman we should all admire. To go through this journey alone is utterly inspirational. In a sense Chris almost became her partner. Lacking the steady constant a partner or family member would provide, Chris took on the role. He helped her choose a sperm donor, channeled her anger and was even present during her labour.  I wonder had Sarah had that sounding board in the form of a partner maybe she would have come to the decision of donation quicker? If she had that person who could literally take the decision out of her hands things may have been easier. I wanted her to have someone to say ‘Stop. This isn’t working. Let’s try something else.’

As I have made clear, this was not an easy read. I feel like I went through the whole range of emotions with Sarah. Hope, frustration, excitement, disappointment, happiness. This was the kind of book that made me actually audibly react on the train which was often embarrassing. I also often felt quite stressed on arriving at work having read a few chapters on my journey. I want to make it clear that by no means is this a criticism of the book. I completely engaged with it and learned a lot. This book should be read by anyone who wishes to become a parent. Who knows if your journey will be easy but if it’s not I am sure Kowalski’s book will offer hope and comfort.

Thanks again to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

This Works!

Anyone who reads my blog will by now have worked out that I am no expert on any of the things I write about. All I know is what I like and what works for me. 

So this is the stuff I need to talk about. Espa Overnight Hydration Therapy. This product is totally wicked and I think it may be that holy grail product that until now has eluded me. This masque has now become a stalwart of my Sunday night pamper. Before having kids my pamper night was Friday to prepare me for the weekend of social gathering which awaited me. Since having kids my pamper is a Sunday to try and erase the ravages of war from my face which comes from a weekend with my children. 

I slather this stuff on my face after a bath and then I get into bed hoping I will get a full 7 hrs on non interrupted sleep. I wake up looking like a goddess. Honestly I do. Skin looks plumped and radiant. By about 8:15 as I’m leaving for the school run I look crap again but between 6:30 and 8:15 I look brilliant. So if you are looking for a full 1hr 45 mins of radiant beauty try this product and you will not be disappointed. I would like to add that if you don’t have 2 nightmare kids and look a lot better than me to begin with anyway, then I would fully expect you to see the results of this masque for longer than 1hr45. 

Jokes aside this really is a fab product.

Anyway thanks for reading!

Just in time for Halloween

My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this book.

It is obviously no coincidence that the publication of this book coincides with Halloween. There is something magical that happens when the nights draw in and the leaves turn from green to orange and red. This book is so perfect for this time of year. Not only is it about witches but Hoffman has this incredible talent for writing books that are so evocative you can actually smell the magical plants in Aunt Isabelle’s greenhouse. There is something so comforting with reading the right book at the right time of year and this book is like cocooning yourself in a big, fluffy duvet and drinking a delicately spiced cup of chai. 

The Rules of Magic is the prequel to Practical Magic which was not only a brilliant film with Sandra Bullock (who doesn’t find a Sandra Bullock film comforting???) but was the hugely popular 1995 novel by Alice Hoffman. 

The Rules of Magic tells the story of Franny and Jet who are the two aunts in Practical Magic and also their brother Vincent.  I have read a couple of reviews from people who disliked this book because of the magical realism. I would like to say that first and foremost this is a novel about family and the relationship between siblings. This isn’t a story about wand waving and ‘avada kedavra.’ If anything, the magical elements are about alchemy which is really interesting. I was particularly intrigued to learn about New York being a centre of alchemy in the early Twentieth Century. Love is also a major theme in the book. How do the Owens’s get around the curse which states that no Owens can find love? 

Hoffman’s writing is wonderful. It never feels rushed. It is beautifully descriptive and I also love how she creates an ominous feeling throughout the novel without it becoming an uncomfortable read.  This was a beautiful novel and one I will be buying for a lot of my friends. 

Thanks again to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.

Autumn Motivation

I completely love it when the nights draw in. The start of Strictly Come Dancing and the shorter days signify the countdown to Christmas and I am definitely one of those people who genuinely wish it could be Christmas every day. 

The darker nights also give me the confidence to go running.  This activity has to be done in the dark because………

I look like this

And also I love being nosy and running past people’s houses. 

This also comes at a time when we are thinking about having another baby. Both my previous pregnancies ruined me as I suffered with hypremesis gravidarum, umbilical hernia and also PND. I must be mad wanting to do it all again but I genuinely feel like I’m not done. Anyway I have set myself a goal. I am not even going to start to ‘try’ until I am fitter than I have ever been and I have managed to wean myself off my antidepressants.

So far so good. I even went running today after quite a heavy dinner party last night. I am slightly worried I have broken my dog though. 

I also wanted to list some podcasts that I use to keep me going.

  1. Casefile. Really good podcast which documents murder cases. 
  2. The Last Podcast On The Left.    This podcast makes me laugh a lot. Quite dark subject matter but the 3 guys who host it are hilarious.
  3. My Favourite Murder. This is also hilarious . Making murder funny should be so wrong but these 2 women manage to handle really dark subject matter in an often light hearted way and they also have a massive cult following.
  4. Woman’s Hour. Radio 4
  5. All The Books. Really good book based podcast. 

The Blackbird Season Book Review

Rating. ***

An ARC of this book was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The novel is set in a small town in Pennsylvania called Mount Oanoake. The town made its money from a paper mill which we learn is now disused which obviously results in an air of depression. The town seems to be divided between the haves (people like Jennifer Lawson) and the have nots (The Hamm’s). ‘You were no one if you were poor in this town. More accurately, you were just like everyone else who didn’t matter.’ All is plodding along in Mount Oanoake until one day a thousand dead starlings fall on the baseball field. During the press investigation of this phenomenon, a reporter sees Nate Winters (the well-respected and loved baseball coach) embracing one of his students (Lucia) in from of a motel. Events become more complicated when Lucia claims to have been having an affair with Nate. Lucia later disappears and the main suspect is Nate. His good friend Bridget is the only one who truly believes him and sets out to clear his name.

This is exactly the kind of thriller I am drawn to….why?? I think a small town setting really works in a thriller. The novel becomes completely character driven and not plot driven. This was true of Moretti’s novel which if I’m honest was a bit of a slow burn and it was the small town reaction to the scandal which was so intriguing. Guilty until proven guilty is the motto of this town. My issue with the book is that I really disliked the majority of the characters. Nate was the kind of teacher that you would worry about if he taught at your child’s school.  Following his students on social media to gain the kind of adoration he felt he was lacking at home??? He seemed like spoiled child. My favourite chapters were Alecia’s. She was the character I really engaged with and this is where I really felt Moretti’s writing shone. Alecia’s struggle with her autistic son Gabe was truly moving, utterly believable and heart-wrenching. Alecia’s wonderful parenting of her son actually made me resent Nate all the more and unfortunately even Bridget (who we are supposed to love) made me really angry when she told Alecia to think about Nate for once instead of always focusing on Gabe. Alecia was the only character I cared about or respected….I just couldn’t work out why she fell in love with Nate in the first place.

All in all, I felt this had the makings of a good book but for me I wish the characters had been better developed.

Thanks again to the publisher for the ARC.