4 Very varied book reviews.

It has been yonks since I put up some book reviews and the irony/impropriety of reviewing a children’s book, a parenting guide, a wine guide and a book of poetry based on depression is not lost on me. If this grouping of books offends you, please stop reading now. Interestingly, I did not plan to read these books around the same time but for me, they are beautifully linked. I am a parent to two girls under five, I have depression and I really like a glass of wine. There, all linked and packaged up with a nice bow.

A LION IS A LION by POLLY DUNBAR

Is a lion still a lion if…he wears a hat? And carries an umbrella, too?

And is a lion still a lion if he says, “Oh yes, lunch would be lovely, thank you.”

And he asks you for…a BITE?

Firstly, I would like to say how much my daughters and I loved Polly Dunbar’s illustrations. My 4 year old told me ‘they were easy to understand.’ I think by this she means that the pages weren’t so busy that her 4 year old brain suffered with sensory overload. I often find books for children are so full of bright colours, big words, all singing and all dancing that children are so distracted that they lose the thread of the story. Not so with the book. The pictures are simple and beautifully drawn. My children and I particularly likes the ‘danger moments.’ This is when the lion decides he would quite like to eat the children in the story. Cleverly, Dunbar uses the colour red as a page background which prompted a lot of discussion with my 4 year old about red meaning danger. She is apparently steering clear of red food for a while. The message behind this book is also really empowering to children, particularly before bedtime. If something scares you/tries to eat you….chuck it out of your house and tell it ‘No! No! No! NO!’ This is a lovely book, really enjoyed by my 2 and 4 year old.

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

I initially requested this ARC because I want to read more poetry. I am sorry to admit that I am a bit of a novice when it comes to reading poetry and my vision of it is fuelled by memories of plodding through A Level poetry which I often found tedious. So far, in my tasting menu of poetry, I am really enjoying modern poetry and I thought the subject matter of Benhaim’s new book of poems would definitely be something I could relate to.

Benhaim, is not a poet I am familiar with so before embarking on her collection I sat down with a cuppa and got onto Google. I was hoping to find a Wikipedia post giving me some background. This was unfortunately not to be. Instead, I became immersed into the world of Slam Poetry. To Slam Poetry virgins like myself, Slam is a competition which originated in 1984 in Chicago. It was intended as a way to move poetry away from stuffy libraries and bring it out to audiences. Poets take to the microphone and compete against other poets. Slam poetry is Benhaim’s background. It is worth watching her perform her poem ‘Explaining my depression to my mother, a conversation.’ This video has been viewed 6 million times on Youtube.

Having watched everything of Benhaim’s I could find, I embarked on her book. I loved these poems. So many of them spoke to me and even though the main subject matter is depression, a had a wry smile on my face as so much of what she said made sense to me:

In some stories,

the protagonist has to kill the bad thing to

release its light.

in my story,

I am the protagonist & the bad thing,

I have to learn how to bend the light out of myself.

I can do that magic.

So many beautiful thoughts and ways of expressing them. I think my favourite poems were ‘How to fold a memory’ – her words created such wonderful and fragile imagery. ‘Another plain truth,”poem for the moment after you left,”so my friend tells me she identifies as a mermaid,”feed a fever, starve a cold,’ ‘what I told the doctor, the second time,’

These poems, short stories really came alive to me after having watched how she performs. I completely have her voice in my head and it really helped my to get used to her conversational style.

A really wonderful book of poetry and I will definitely recommend it to others.

Oh Helen McGinn where have you been all my life??? Thank god I have found you now. I feel as I am now in my late 30s (argh) it is time for me to get into the club. The club I talk is the Club of Wise Ones What Know About Wine. I had friends who joined this club in their early 20s and I thought it was all a bit pretentious. I just wanted to get pissed on whatever was cheapest in sainos. If something was on offer, I would buy it….as long as it was in the £6 and under price bracket. In the year before we jumped on the baby train my husband and I went on our last big holiday. We went to America and spent a lot of time in Napa. We hired bikes and I have slightly soft focused memories of us cycling around various vineyards, trying to pretend we weren’t pissed and that we knew vaguely what we were on about. We didn’t, and it made me realise I wanted to be part of this club who did know.

I live in South West London which is an area often referred to as Nappy Valley. Everywhere you look, there are pregnant people, Range-Rover priced buggies, sleep consultants, breast-feeding consultants, mothers who are wearing jumpers with slogans describing how they are just blagging motherhood (they aren’t. Their idea of blagging motherhood is to feed their kids chicken nuggets one night a week instead of organic bolognese). Controversially, i have found since living here, I am slightly allergic to this group of women ( by all means, it is not the women round here) who quaff prosecco whilst holding baby Zara (who is dressed in Bonpoint) wanking on about how knackered they are. As a result, i tend to veer away from blogs and books with the title ‘The knackered/yummy/ confused/baffled/hysterical mummy.’ Helen McGinn has without a doubt proved me wrong and made me realise that my prejudice is ridiculous.

This book is so readable without being too easy. It is definitely a book which I shall keep and often refer back to. This does not read like an idiots guide to wine, but its simplicity in content makes you feel that you are getting to grips with how wine works without being bamboozled by the complicated stuff.  For a wine beginner, this is definitely the book for you. Its humour, lack or pretension and brilliantly structured chapters make it a really fun read. The chapter about book clubs and wine has inspired me to start my own wine tasting/book reading club. Thanks Helen. Top work.

 

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

In my review above I have already given my opinions on the trend that is self-deprecting parents writing books and blogs on how they bare winging parenthood. This phenomenon has really taken off in the last few years and I feel we are inundated with similar parenting manuals. Having said that, I requested this ARC because I hadn’t read anything from the father’s point of view.

Sam Avery is a funny guy. He should be…he is a stand up comedian. He also has twin sons which will provide him with enough funny material for the next 15 years. His first chapter, entitled Diary of a Two-Year-Old made my openly guffaw on the train. I made my husband read it whilst we were trying to stay awake over a glass of wine last saturday. We did that knowing laugh, that parents do when we discover that we all go through the same thing. Also, his chapter on soft-play was brilliant.

My only issue with this book, is that for me, I think I would have enjoyed it more had I read it a little more sporadically. Avery is hilarious but if you read it in one sitting you get slightly bored of the humour. Pretty much every paragraph has a simile or analogy which eventually become totally frustrating. I felt I was drowning in Avery’s need to make me laugh every 5 seconds and as a result, as the book continued, to became less funny.

Having said that, it was really refreshing to read a man’s take on parenthood and it would be a great book to give to any soon to be dad’s.

 

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas people.

I am happy! Am I happy?

Mentally I am struggling at the moment. The hamster wheel seems to be turning much quicker than I can currently run and there have been a couple of times in the past week when I have fallen off. Bruised, embarrassed and ever so slightly mortified I have to brush myself down and jump right back on.

Generally I have what I call a Windscreen of Sanity (it’s pharmaceutical name is Citalolpram) which I use to con myself and others that I am doing ok. To be fair, the majority of the time, I usually am…doing ok. This week however, my windscreen seems to have developed a couple of hairline fractures which we all know, in winter can develop into full on cracks.

The first chip was last Saturday. It was my daughter’s 2nd birthday. In true Motherland style my husband was in Margate on a stag and my wonderful and very helpful in laws were down helping. I have had shows nearly every night and we were had an opening night that evening. I knew I was in a state when I was quaffing room temp, pink prosecco which I had won in a tombola, whilst searching in the bins for stickers which had been chucked out with the wrapping, and trying not to lose my shit with my MIL who wanted to know where the most useful place was to store the cheese grater. Needless to say, I lost my shit. I started crying and had to pretend to my daughter that it was because there were raw onions in the bin.

Chip 2 happened when a very good but often slightly aggressive friend took a joke the wrong way which upset me. I literally wanted the ground to swallow me up.

Anyway the hairline chips now feel like cracks and I am trying to claw my way out of the pit.

All very dramatic I know.

So, I decided to go against the grain and not do a Friday Rant on FB. Instead I did a Dig Deep Friday in which I asked people to name things which made them happy. Not saccharine things like kids, dogs and husbands but random things like getting your teeth cleaned at the hygienist and a good deoderant.

My happies were anchovies, capers, Parma ham, Riverdance and well shaved legs. The comments started rolling in….some really good ones:

1. Cups of tea with exactly the right amount of milk drunk at exactly the right temperature.

2. Baby puffins being called pufflings.

3. Bake off.

4. Muppet Christmas Carol

5. New PJs

6. Avoiding kids bathtime

7. Alpacas

8. Bacon

9. A new book.

All in all 76 comments. Funnily however, it left me and others feeling a little empty inside. It was slightly akin to that feeling you get on NYE when YOU MUST HAVE FUN! Maybe Friday Rants is a bit of reverse psychology. The feeling of getting a rant off your chest and others agreeing with you is brilliant. Maybe it’s because I am British and I love a moan but now when something annoying happens I jot it down and store it up until Friday when I know I can mention it on FB and it will be much less annoying and hopefully a little uplifting. Who doesn’t love a moan and who doesn’t love a moan with others agreeing? Anyway I think Dig Deep Fridays is a useful exercise and one I think I will post every 3 weeks. I already have a few happies written down which make me smile when I look through them.

Anyway what are your rants? What makes you smile?

Thanks so much for reading and have a good week.

Just trying to keep up with life

Today is one of those days when I get on the tube and breathe a sigh of relief and then remember it is only Tuesday. How is it only Tuesday??? I feel like I have been running at 100mph so how can it only be Tuesday. Then I think ‘Come on Els. Don’t get too excited for the weekend. They aren’t how they used to be.’

Writing this, I now feel unbearably guilty that I have kids, a fab job, lovely family, husband, friends etc and still have low times. But this, I’m afraid is a low time. I can tell I’m low because the slightest thing added to my already full plate is enough to send me potty. This morning it was an email from Amazon reminding me to return an item. It is now all I can think about. I guess because the little things (like the amazon delivery) I feel I can control. It’s the Hamster Wheel of Life I feel that I have no control of and I just want to get off for 24 hours.

Every morning the same. Youngest child comes into our room and only wants me. This should be nice and I should love it but sometimes it’s just exhausting. Eldest child has the same strops I used to have as a child….my tights are uncomfortable, my hair has bumps. There is a scene in Sing (which we watch every day) when Rosita the knackered-mum-pig makes a recording of herself so she can leave the house and do something she wants to do. That’s what I feel like doing for the morning routine. I swear I say literally the same thing everyday at exactly the same time. 7:52 is the row about tights and 8:01 is the row about bumps in hair. Eventually they look presentable and we head downstairs to have a row about breakfast. “No you can’t have f&@£ing chocolate cake.” 10 minutes later….”f£&k it. Have chocolate cake but make sure you have a banana with it.” We leave the house. Youngest child is insistent on bringing a telephone on a string everywhere we go…consequently we are late. Have I mentioned that I still haven’t had a shower and I have last night’s dream dribble crusted around my mouth????

Finally I get on the tube to work and I start breathing again. Wow. Sometimes I feel like I’ve totally got it. Other times I feel like I am just pretending and I need someone to lock me in a room for 24 hours where I can just rock and hum random tunes to myself. The funny thing is, that this 100mph living becomes the norm. Almost a habit, so it becomes almost impossible to relax even when I have the time to.

I guess this is why blogging helps. For the last 15 minutes I have ranted at my 30 followers and I now feel better. So thanks guys and if any of the rest of you feel like exhausted hamsters, please know you are not alone and I feel your pain.

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.

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. 

Winter fixes

Happy Friday folks. 

Just a quick one. This stuff is brilliant. I have been smearing it all over my 4 year old when she is asleep. How is it young children sleep so deeply???? Basically, Edie has really bad dry patches on her face and around her mouth at the mo and she is utterly against putting anything on her face other than MAC Russian Red lipstick. Therefore I am sneaking in to her room at night and basting her in this stuff. All I can say is STUPENDOUS. It’s pretty thick, has the consistency of Vaseline and a little goes a long way but it really does work.
Have a great weekend.

Punished by my kids


Is it just a coincidence that when you finally get a night off from parenting, you seem to suffer the wrath of your kids for days?

We had an opening night on Thursday so I went to the First Night party and then on to a bar. I had fun!!! It’s lovely going out with my work colleagues. To these guys I am just Ella. Not Ella with 2 kids, just Ella. It also massively helps that I am still the youngest member of the female chorus and yes I guess that does make me feel young. Well younger!!! Don’t get me wrong, I adore being a mum but I also like the fact that I have an outlet (my job) where for a few hours a week I can not only become Ella again but also a whole load of other crazy characters. On Thursday I was decked out like a Egyptian. 

Anyway, the show went well and I went out to celebrate. Since then, my youngest has come down with the mother of all colds and the RAGE. She has been up since 5 both mornings and unless I am cuddling her and watching nursery rhymes  on YouTube she goes nuts. It’s nice to be wanted and all but the RAGE that is contained in my 22 month old is just ridiculous. 

So having woken up at 5:14 yesterday after only 3 hours sleep, I had to get Edie to school. Of course it was pissing it down. We weren’t allowed on 3 buses as there were already buggies so by the time I arrived at school I was a very sweaty mess. I then sat through Edie’s first assembly. Who knew there were 4 different songs composed about turnips?!?!  My youngest daughter Ceci spent the time growling (yes actually growling like Regan from the Exorcist) at everyone who came near her. The RAGE surfaced. Not only does she growl she actually bats people away with her hand. I try to pretend that she is simultaneously clearing her throat and waving to people but it’s pretty unconvincing . The RAGE continued to bubble. We went to a new playgroup where Ceci continued the throat clearing and waving and then added hitting to the mix which I couldn’t pretend was anything other than hitting so we left. 

Oh Ceci you are one feisty woman. You look like an angel but definitely sting like a bee. I hope this is just a phase. A phase when you are just frustrated because you haven’t got the language you need to communicate. Anyway, until you have those skills, I definitely need more than 3 hours sleep and a clear head to deal with the RAGE.