September/October Read

Apologies for Sept and Oct being lumped in together. I can only blame A Little Life which took me pretty much all of September and a little bit of a October to get through! Can’t say I regret it…..I think this book will be one of my all time favourites!!

  • Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje. 3⭐️.
  • Michael Ondaatje born 12th September 1943.

In 1900, the Storyville district of New Orleans had some two thousand prostitutes, seventy professional gamblers, and thirty piano players. It had only one man who played jazz like Buddy Bolden. By day he cut hair in a barber shop and at night he played his cornet, which he’d polish up until it glistened like a woman’s leg. Then, at the age of thirty one, Bolden went mad. Obsessed with death, addicted to whisky, and in love with two women, this jazz legend’s story is beautiful and chilling, like a New Orleans funeral procession where even the mourners dance.

Coming Through Slaughter was published in 1976 and won the First Novel Award in Canada. Until this point Ondaatje was primarily a poet and this is very clear in the writing of Coming Through Slaughter. The language is so lyrical and the plot so meandering it felt like an improvised piece of Jazz. Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry calls each section a riff. I had a hard time for the first 20 or so pages trying to get to grips with the structure. I kept putting it down which was easy to do as it seems to be written a paragraph/chunk at a time. It almost seems like Ondaatje would write a section and then return a day later. This would make the novel seem quite disjointed. However, as soon as I stopped looking for a story and just allowed Ondaatje’s words to wash over me I really enjoyed it. I think this is a really useful discipline as a reader. I find I often approach books with my own assumptions on how the story should play out. This is definitely down to the control freak in me. Reading a novel like this which challenges me to just enjoy the ride is so satisfying.

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. 5⭐️.
  • Hanya Yanagihara born 20th September 1974.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an inspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel painter pursuing fame in the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as a centre of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, is Jude himself; by midlife a terrifyingly talented lawyer yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by a degree of trauma that he feels he will not only be unable to overcome-but that will define his life forever.

In a novel of extraordinary intelligence and heart,Yanagihara has fashioned a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark and haunting examination of the tyranny of experience and memory.

Hanya Yanagihara lives in New York City.

This book was the reason I didn’t post last month….it took me ages to read. A Little Life is an epic work not just in terms of scale (720 pages) but also in emotion. I have lived with these characters for 4 weeks and now they are well and truly ingrained in my little life!!! I finished this book a couple of days ago and I feel bereft. Usually, I try to read as many books as possible in a month and that number combined with the fact that I have a clean bathroom (god I am a sad case) makes me feel like I have achieved something!!! However, when I started this book I knew my monthly book number was going to be LOW. That being said, this book is INCREDIBLE and without sounding like a bit of an idiot, reading A Little Life has changed me for the better.

A Little Life was written in 18 months which is incredible when you see the size of it. Reviewers have described it as ‘harrowing’ and ‘brutal.’ It is both of those things and then some. Yanigahara does not shy away from scenes of sexual abuse, drug abuse and self harm. The book is also impossible to put down, partly because you are desperate to know Jude’s story and also because Yanigahara has created some beautiful characters.

The characters are what drive this novel. Set mainly in NYC there is no mention of any major world events including amazingly 9/11. Nearly all the characters are male and you would think that such a long book would become tedious. Nope, not at all. This is a book that made me really question what I would do to help Jude. I went through great chunks being angry that that people were enabling Jude’s self harming. Then I started to wonder if some people are just too damaged to save. 3 weeks after finishing and I still can’t stop thinking about it. Definitely one of my all time faves.

  • Lowborn by Kerry Hudson. 3⭐️.

Kerry Hudson is proudly working class but she was never proudly poor. The poverty she grew up in was all encompassing, grinding and often dehumanising. Always on the move with a single mother, Kerry attended nine primary schools and five secondaries living in B&Bs and council flats. She scores eight out of ten on the Adverse Childhood Experiences measure of childhood trauma.

Twenty years later, Kerry’s life is still unrecognisable. She is a prize-winning novelist who has travelled the world. She has a secure home, a loving partner and access to art, music, films and books. But she often finds herself looking over her shoulder, caught somehow between two worlds.

Lowborn is Kerry’s exploration of where she came from. She revisits the towns she grew up in to try to discover what with being poor really means in Britain today and whether anything has changed. She also journeys into the hardest regions of her own childhood, because sometimes in order to move forward we first have to look back.

This was a book club pick and our second non-fiction having read Educated by Tara Westover the previous month. I mention Educated because I think this book had a real impact on how Lowborn was enjoyed. Both books tell of the author’s difficult childhood and the impact that childhood had on their adult life. The majority LOVED Educated whereas Lowborn left every member of our book club a little unmoved. It just seemed a little, well, lacking. We couldn’t work out if it was a memoir or a social commentary. We felt that Hudson’s writing was incredibly detached. Hudson had such traumatic and sad childhood but we felt that if as an author you choose to write a memoir, you have to let the reader in. A lot of her stories were left unresolved and as a reader I was left feeling frustrated and a little cheated. We were all shocked by the section about the STI but also confused by the fact that Hudson mentions it and then moves on. I have to say that this book prompted the best discussion we had had in ages. We were all slightly baffled why this book got such incredibly good reviews. We wondered if when a book has such contentious and emotive subject matter, do reviewers avoid criticism? Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad book, we just felt that this book offered Hudson a platform to really comment about poverty and maybe promote change but unfortunately she didn’t take up that particular gauntlet.

  • The Gathering by Anne Enright. DNF.
  • Anne Enright born 11th October 1962.

The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn’t the drink that killed him-although that certainly helped-it was what happened to him as a boy and his grandmother’shouse, in the winter of 1968.

The Gathering is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars.

This was the winner of the Man Booker in 2007 but unfortunately it was one I didn’t finish. I persevered up until page 100 and then decided that I had spent the last week trudging through the pages and it was all feeling like a bit of a chore. So why wasn’t it for me??? I think there was potential – a complicated family, a hushed up secret etc but it was all a bit too vague. Veronica, the protagonist delivers the story as a stream of consciousness. I admired Enright’s ability to write Veronica’s memories as fuzzy, disjointed and unreliable as real memories often are but as a reader I just found it a little frustrating and hard to get my teeth into.

  • The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein. 3 ⭐️ .
  • Elena Ferrante born 18th Oct 1943.

“One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me. He did it while we were clearing the table…”

This compelling novel that shocked audiences in Europe with its unsentimental and unyielding depictiom of motherhood, marriage and solitude, tells the story of one woman’s headlong descent into what she calls an “absence of sense” after being abandoned by her husband. Olga’s “days of abandonment” become a desperate, dangerous freefall into the darkest places of the soul as she roams the empty streets of the city that she has never learnt to love. When she finds herself literally trapped inside the four walls of her apartment in the middle of the summer heat wave, Olga is forced to confront her ghosts, the potential loss of her own identity, and the possibility that life may never return to normal again.

Rarely have the foundations upon which our ideas of motherhood and womanhood rest been so candidly questioned. Some readers have found Ferrante’s depiction of an abandoned woman scandalous and reprehensible, others relentlessly honest. But readers and critics alike agree: The Days of Abandonment demands serious attention. First published in Italy in 2002, it went straight to the top of the bestseller lists and stayed there for almost a year. It has been translated and published into over a dozen languages.

I feel I have read some pretty hard-hitting stuff over the last couple of months. I’m definitely due a comic read.

If I had to use one word to sum up Ferrante’s novel it would be ‘uncomfortable.’ I think perhaps reading this book at this time of my life made it particularly poignant and affecting. I am currently 17 weeks into my maternity leave with my third child. My days consist of looking after my children which I do love but I miss my work and my colleagues. My children are my world but I do think that since becoming a mother I have lost a bit of my identity. Being on maternity leave makes me feel particularly vulnerable. Olga’s situation in the book resonated with me a lot. How would I feel if my husband left me? Right now, as a mother with young children and without my job, I know my life would fall apart. As a mother of three girls I am a little mortified at how ‘un-girl-power’ this is but right now, more than ever before I rely on my husband. In the words of the great Phoebe Buffay, he truly is ‘my lobster.’ We are united in this roller coaster world of bringing up our children and if he were to leave, I am convinced I would fall apart.

‘I had put aside my own aspirations to go along with his. At every crisis of despair I had set aside my own crises to comfort him … I had taken care of the house, I had taken care of the meals, I had taken care of the children, I had taken care of all the boring details of everyday life…’

Abandoned by her husband, Olga’s life spirals and she essentially has a breakdown. She neglects her kids and dog and seems to abandon all sense of propriety. She hits her husband and his new girlfriend on the street, uses awful language and also embarks on one of the most awkward sexual encounters I have ever read.

Ferrante’s writing is brilliant. Reading this book is like watching a film that makes you feel uncomfortable but you can’t look away. It has been a while since I have read a book that has depressed me quite so much….2 weeks after finishing it, I am still thinking about it.

Thanks for reading.

Spooky October Kids Reads

I’m writing this sat in the car heading back to London from my parent’s house in the midlands. It was lovely to spend the last week in the countryside. This is without a doubt my favourite time of year. The leaves are changing colour and there is definitely the winter chill in the air. Family chat has shifted from beaches and suntan lotion, to Halloween, bonfires and CHRISTMAS!!! Love it. Clocks go back tomorrow and the days get shorter. Woohooo!

  • Mrs Blackhat by Chloe and Mick Inkpen.

Mrs Blackhat’s cat is obstinately ginger. She needs a special spell to turn him black. So she logs onto her Shopalot account…

I wanted to put on some spooky kids reads for October. 🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️🧙‍♀️Mrs Blackhat is by father and daughter team Chloe and Mick Inkpen. Mrs Blackhat loves the colour black. EVERYTHING is black except for the 🐈….which is ginger. As an internet savvy witch she decides to shop online for a potion to turn the moggy black!👻👻👻 I love reading this book. It’s really fast paced with great rhymes. Have you seen that vid where the dad raps the Gruffalo???? Well I sound just like that in a very uncool south west London kind of way. Anyway the girls think it’s hilarious!

    Usborne touchy-feely books.

Now I know Maisie is my last child, I feel the expiration date of these brilliant Usborne books is looming on the horizon. I’m generally not a particularly sentimental person but these books have been staples in my house throughout all three of my daughters baby years – trying to uncurl their little chubby fists so they can stroke the different textures and saying in my upbeat-mum-voice ‘can you find the mouse?’ Maisie is a little too young to do anything apart from dribble on them but what has been particularly special this time around is now Edie can read them to her sister whilst doing a very good impression of my upbeat-mum-voice. 😍😍. Right I have to stop now as I’m welling up…..get a bloody grip woman. Anyway thank you to Usborne and your touchy-feely books, you have been epic!

    Steve Backshall’s Deadly 60.

Ok, so this might be a bit of an unexpected entry for my month of spooky kids reads but I had to include it because Edie LOVES this book and she loves it because she loves the terrifying spiders, bats and snakes. The other day I asked my friend for some book recommendations for 6 year old boys. She suggested non-fiction in particular. Without a doubt she is right. What 6 year old doesn’t love showing off their random fact knowledge?? Edie has been learning about the Fire of London in school and you can’t shut her up with her Samuel Pepys banter. The bottom line is that kids love a good showing off session so give them a non fiction book and they will devour it.

I had my proudest mum/book worm moment at Parents Evening last week when Edie’s teacher commented on Edie’s love of reading. I told Edie what was said and since then there has been no stopping her….reading all the time….if there is an audience. I think Edie is competent enough to read pretty much anything now. Anything she can’t read she tries to sound out. Suddenly reading has clicked and she is enjoying trying out lots of different books. The Steve Backshall book is perhaps a little old, with quite a few tricky words but Edes loves a challenge. It did take us 45 mins to read the section on sloth bears but we are now world experts so its all good!

Thanks for reading. Happy Halloween!

September Kids Reads

Well it is now the end of September and I feel like I have finally got some time to spend with Maisie. Edie went back to school on the 2nd and Ceci started nursery on the 19th. Today was my first empty day to spend time with my baby. Due to the fact that Maisie was born just 2 weeks before the summer holidays, I really haven’t spent any time with just her. Today was the first day that I just sat in bed and let her fall asleep on me without having to divide my time between my other children. It was so precious and for a good hour I just looked at her!!!! 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️I feel very lucky.

  • Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken. Illustrated by Quentin Blake.
  • Joan Aiken born 4th September 1924.

Rescued from a late night hit-and-run by kind-hearted Mr Jones, Mortimer the raven quickly becomes a rather unusual family pet, with a VERY large appetite. Though Mrs Jones has misgivings, particularly after Mortimer’s night-time activities in the fridge, daughter Arabel falls in love at first sight. But when Mortimer vanished along with a priceless diamond brooch and a criminal squirrel, poor Arabel fears he may have bitten off more than he can chew.

My husband doesn’t understand the concept of blogging or Instagram. He has become a bit social media phobic and is of the view that people become a bit mad and obsessed. The fact that I left my copy of Arabel’s Raven in the fridge after taking the above picture didn’t do much to convince him I wasn’t a little bonkers. 🤪🤪🤪🤪🤪

I remember reading The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and A Necklace of Raindrops as a child but Arabel’s Raven must have passed me by. Written in 1972 with brilliant illustrations by Quentin Blake. I started reading this to Edie last week but she got bored a bit too quickly. She enjoyed fridge-loving, staircase-eating Mortimer and the evil squirrel but wanted to see more of Arabel who is a little passive in this book. 🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿

  • Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl.
  • Roald Dahl born on 13th September 1916.

Boggis is an enormously fat chicken farmer who only eats boiled chicken smothered in fat.

Bunce is a duck and goose farmer whose dinner gives him a beastly temper.

Bean is a turkey and apple farmer who only drink gallons of strong cider.

Mr Fox is so clever that every evening he creeps down into the valley and help himself to food from the farms.

Now the farmers have hatched a plan to bang bang bang shoot Mr Fox dead but just when they think Mr Fox can’t possibly escape, he makes a fantastic plan of his own…

I couldn’t let September pass without a mention for the great Roald Dahl. It seems particularly pertinent today as Ozzie won Matilda tickets in the lottery and he is taking Edie tonight….yes on a school night. Bad mum alert. I fear I will be reaping the rewards for this late night for a while!!!!🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️😱😱 Incidentally if you are London based and it’s relatively easy to get to the theatre it is totally worth putting your name down for the lottery. We also won front row seats to Hamilton a few months ago!!!

As a total book geek it has been completely wonderful re-reading some of my childhood favourites with Edie and Ceci. I am definitely guilty of being a little over enthusiastic and making a few book related mistakes. The Naughtiest Girl in the School was one such error. I am sorry to say I gave up after chapter 1….I had to stop every few seconds to explain words like ‘beastly’ and ‘governess.’ Roald Dahl is an author I was desperate to introduce Edie to. George’s Marvellous Medicine and The Magic Finger have been hits but nothing has come close to Edie’s love of Fantastic Mr Fox. Although the story is obviously brill I think it’s a hit with little ones because it’s fast paced, has short chapters and the pictures in the colour edition are brilliant. Edie basically needs a picture every page to keep her interested!!! For my kids, a short chapter is pretty much vital….each chapter in this book ends on a bit of an Eastenders-esque cliff hanger and they are short enough that if storytime isn’t going particularly well, it is easy to abort!!

  • The Usborne Book of Drawing, Doodling and Colouring Fashion.
  • Okay so this isn’t a story book but it is definitely worth a shout out as it kept my kids occupied during many a rainy day on our glamping holiday. This was recommended by a dad on Instagram. I love Instagram for book recommendations….particularly kids books. You get a lot of bang for your buck with this colouring book and what I particularly like is there is the opportunity for kids to develop their own creativity by creating their own designs. Edie was totally immersed as was Ceci who created some very Hannibal Lecteresque looking designs.
  • A story about a lion and a duck- and having the courage to be yourself.

    Where do you get your book suggestions? For children’s books I rely on the library. We go once a week and take out the maximum amount of books. Anything we really love, I tend to buy for the kids…..books are definitely what I spend my money on. I have cupboards and drawers full of them.

    How to be a Lion has been a huge hit. My husband did storytime last night while I went for a run. When I got back, he wouldn’t shut up about the ‘incredibly empowering’ book he had just discovered. . As a non reader, the only books he picks up are the kids ones at story time so it’s important to get him some top material.😊🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️A fab message to little ones just starting school…be true to yourself, be kind and stand by your friends. Ed Vere handles the subject of bullying in a really empowering way and it’s defo one of the best kids books we have read in a while. A big high five to all the Leonards who feel a little bit different but have the courage to stick to their guns. 💪 🦁 🦆

    August Reads

    August has been a slow month. The Summer holidays have felt loooooong. I am writing this during the last week of the school holidays. We are on holiday in beautiful Wales. We spent 2 nights in the Celtic Manor. This hotel reminded me of something you would find in the US. Absolutely massive hotel. I don’t think I have ever stayed anywhere with an underground car park and endless escalators. There was lots of stuff for kids to do and eating in the bar in the evening was fab as there were tons of kids so I didn’t feel self conscious being there with a crying baby. The downside was that we were staying in the Manor House which is part of the hotel but the other end….it’s a bit like the Celtic Manor’s poor relation. No escalators in this part of the hotel. Ozzie got proper annoyed with carrying the buggy. We also had a really dark and dingy room. Having a shower was like being at the bottom of a well.

    We then spent 3 nights at a glamping site called Wild Wellingtons. This site is just beautifully done. It’s pretty small – 2 pods sleeping about 5, a shepherd hut sleeping 4, a communal kitchen, 2 beautiful bathrooms, fire pit and a great play area. We were in the shepherd’s hut which had 2 bedroom and the most comfy beds. Edie and Ceci had the most wonderful time running all over the place doing what kids do. Tom and Sinead the owners were fab. I was amazed to learn that Tom pretty much built the place by himself. Sinead added tons of brilliant touches – egg boxes for the kids to collect bugs, a beautiful welcome pack, activities for the kids.

    We are now staying at a brilliant place called Clydey Cottages. I can’t recommend it enough if you have young kids. Accommodation is lovely and cosy. All cottages have wood burners. Warm pool, play room and soft play for kids. Big DVD library, tons of baby equipment. I feel relaxed and I even finished a book this morning!!!

    • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. 5⭐️.

    Yegondo, Korea 1911. A club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then a Christian minister offers a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

    Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country where she has no friends and no home. Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.

    I am a pretty fast reader. I love nothing better than going to bed at the same time as the kids and reading for hrs! Beds are for books not sex!🤣📚Anyway since the summer holidays started and Maisie was born my bed is just for sleep…and not much of it. 🤬. It has taken me a full month to get through Pachinko 🤦‍♀️. For me to enjoy a book I usually have to get through the first 60 pages in one go so I get hooked. It took me about 5 days to get through the first 60 pages of this book just due to lack of time and absolute exhaustion. That being said this is a 5⭐️ read for me. I have lived with 4 generations of this Korean family for a month now and i feel a little bereft now it’s finished. In many ways this was a quiet book – no major action sequences. It was just a beautiful book about family and how the decisions you make affect future generations. Anyway if you love a family saga pls read this book. I adored it!

    • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. 5⭐️.
    • Kamila Shamsie born 13th August 1973.

    For as long as they can remember, siblings Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz have had nothing but each other. But darker, stronger forces will divide Parvaiz from his sisters and drive him to the other side of the world, as he sets out to fulfil the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

    Wow this book. Just wow!!! It’s been a long time since I have found a book so sad, distressing and moving.

    On 18th September 2004, Liverpudlian man Kenneth Bigley was kidnapped by an Islamic extremist group. The group said they would release Bigley and his two colleagues in 48 hours if coalition forces released their Iraqi women prisoners. Bigley’s colleagues were killed when the deadline expired. Ken Bigley was beheaded two weeks later. I remember Mr Bigley’s exhausted and terrified face on the front pages of all the papers. Each morning I woke up hoping that our Government had managed to intervene and save that poor, innocent man. On the 22nd September, the captors released a video of Ken Bigley begging for his life. Despite all efforts to save him, Ken Bigley was beheaded on 7th October.

    Shamsie’s Home Fire won the a Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018. I can honestly say it has been a long time since a book has moved me like this. This is a hard and uncomfortable read but Shamsie handles the subject matter with great sensitivity. Shamsie based the novel on on Sophocles’s play Antigone. Not having studied classics I rushed to Wikipedia….god it’s confusing so I shall save you from my opinions about Sophocles. I did manage to work out that Antigone is represented by Aneeka. Aneeka’s twin has followed in his father’s footsteps and joined ISIS, working in their media unit. Incidentally it’s the media unit that would have been responsible for filming the execution of Ken Bigley. When Parvaiz decides he wants to come back to the UK, Aneeka begins a relationship with Eammon, the son of the Muslim born Home Secretary:

    “I wanted Eamonn to want to do anything for me before I asked him to do something for my brother. Why shouldn’t I admit it? What would you stop at to help the people you love most?”

    This is a a relatively short book that packs an almighty punch. The first 30 pages were a little slow but after that I couldn’t put it down. I knew a story about a Jihadi terrorist was unlikely to end happily but I was unprepared for just how upsetting and moving the book would become and I know this novel will stay with me for a very long time. A book about faith, lack of faith, devotion, love and family. A brilliant read.

    • Caitlin Doughty born 19th August 1984.

    As a practicing mortician, Caitlin Doughty has long been fascinated by our pervasive terror of dead bodies. In From Here to Eternity she sets out in search of cultures unburdened by such fears. With curiosity and morbid humour, Doughty introduces us to inspiring death-care innovators, participates in powerful death practices almost entirely unknown in the West and explores new spaces for mourning-including a futuristic glowing -Buddha columbarium in Japan, a candlelit Mexican cemetery, and America’s only open-air pyre. In doing so she expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with ‘dignity’ and reveals unexpected possibilities for our own death rituals.

    My husband’s nan died at the beginning of July. She was 96, so had had a good life. She left behind her 3 daughters, 7 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren. Luckily, she didn’t suffer a long and horrible illness. She slipped away in her sleep surrounded by her family.

    The funeral was about a month after nan died. Driving back to London afterwards, my husband and I were feeling reflective. I haven’t been to many funerals and thankfully, I haven’t lost many loved ones, so death isn’t something I think about particularly. I’m not scared by it, more intrigued. It’s something I know I will have to confront…my parents and my own. I only hope that when death comes it will be like Nan’s and those I love, including myself will just slip away.

    Last week, sitting in the funeral car, following the hearse at 19 mph, watching dog walkers and postmen remove their hats out of respect, I started to think what I would want, or rather, what kind of sanitised-death-spectacle I want my family and friends to attend. My husband decided he wants to be thrown into the sea and then for everyone to go to the pub and I see his point. I definitely don’t want the sombre funeral home send off – coffin disappearing behind little velvet curtains, undertakers (who I’m sure are lovely but people I have never met) loading my coffin into a slowly moving car. The whole spectacle of a funeral is quite scary. I don’t mean the nice readings, I mean the bare bones (pun intended), the logistics.

    Where I live in SW London, there is a funeral home in between a Tesco Express and a Costa Coffee. There is no secret back entrance for bodies to be unloaded or loaded. We pass said funeral home on our way to nursery in the morning. We often have to wait while a coffin is loaded into a hearse. It obviously prompts lots of questions from my daughters. The coffin gets loaded and then people continue their day….taking kids to nursery, picking up milk and bread or buying a latte. It often strikes me weird – a life gone while we continue on. But that is what happens isn’t it?

    This gets me onto Caitlin. If you haven’t heard of Caitlin Doughty she is a mortician, blogger, YouTube star and author. I read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes after it was recommended on the brilliant What Should I Read Next podcast. I loved it and have since suggested it to lots of friends. Doughty advocates death acceptance. She encourages us to accept death as something that will happen to all of us. She describes Westerners as ‘death phobic’ and suffering from ‘death anxiety.’ On reading From Here To Eternity it is clear that we are far from embracing death as readily as other cultures. I am happy that nan got the funeral she wanted….I’m not sure as a culture we are ready to live with our corpses like in Indonesia but it was definitely an illuminating read and provided food for thought!

    Thanks for reading this month!!!

    August Kids Reads

    Hi all. I hope you have had a good summer….I can’t believe it is nearly over. Next thing we know it will be Christmas….hasn’t this year just flown by???? So this time last month I was pretty intimidated by the prospect of a summer looking after a 6 yr old, a 3 yr old and a newborn. Well I am proud to say I survived relatively unscathed. My days were sponsored by berocca in the morning and a glass of wine at night and then bed fit me at 8pm. Book wise, August has been poor and for this I apologise. I am sad to say that after a day of fun-filled activities with 3 kids, I have fallen asleep before story time on numerous nights or if not asleep, I am feeding the baby so have plonked the other two in front of the TV. I am hoping September will be an improvement.

    • Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam. The Diamond Chase by Tracey Corderoy.

    There are diamonds galore at the grand ball and detective dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam are cooking on the job when disaster strikes!

    Somebody’s swiped Lady Kate’s Tiara! But who can it be? And can the doggy duo catch the thief before he scarpers?

    My girls and I love this series. Good pictures and brilliant rhymes. Always a moral in the story and always encourages the conversation about apologies helping to make things right. Ceci, 3 is definitely not a fan of the wordsorry.’

    My girls love a search in a book and it becomes pretty competitive to find the little 🕷. As a mum I am happy as there are lots of opportunities to practice my acting skills and work on my accents. 🤣🤣🤦‍♀️

    • The Great Fairytale Search by Chuck Whelon.

    A truly magical search book brimming with enchanting scenes from kids’ favourite fairytales. Children can find Cinderella’s glass slipper, seven little lamps in the cottage of the seven dwarves and even the Big Bad Wolf hiding in the forest.

    • Spot the dinosaur on the Island by Stella Maidment.

    From spiky stegosauruses to speedy velociraptors, there is so much to see on Dinosaur Island!

    With a hidden baby T.Rex to find in every scene and fun facts to discover throughout, step inside for hours of entertainment.

    • Where’s the Mermaid by Chuck Whelon.

    Join Meria and her friends on their exciting adventure around the world.

    Explore 16 amazing locations -from the Mer- Kingdom deep under the waves, to a paradise island, the frozen Arctic, a hectic circus and a scary sushi bar.

    I thought I would curb my jealousy of those who are jetting away to sunnier climes and feature some books that could while away some holiday hours or times on the plane. ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️My kids love a book with a search. I give them each about 5 things to look for and it keeps them quiet for at least 5 mins until they try to get super competitive with eachother. 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️ Ceci 3, loves the dinosaur and fairytale book. 🧚🏻‍♀️🦖🦕🧚🏻‍♂️🧚🏻‍♀️🦕🦖🧚🏻‍♀️🧚🏻‍♂️🦕🦖🧚🏻‍♀️Edie 6, loves a bit of 🧜🏼‍♀️ action. All 3 are massive hits and give me enough time to drink a hot cuppa or a chilled glass of white.

    • The Queen’s Orangutan by David Walliams.
    • David Walliams born 20th August 1971.

    Written exclusively for Comic Relief 2015 by David Walliams. From Number One bestselling picture book duo, David Walliams and Tony Ross, comes this spectacularly funny story for children of 3 and up.

    A bored queen.

    A birthday wish.

    An outrageous orang-utan.

    Everything’s about to go bananas!

    Written by David Walliams as an exclusive children’s picture book especially for Comic Relief – David will be giving all of his proceeds from the book to the charity. The illustrator, Tony Ross, will waive his royalties and HarperCollins UK will also donate all profits from the publishing of the book – at least £3 from each copy sold will go to Comic Relief.

    The Queen’s Orangutan is our book du jour at the moment. This basically means that I read it to my kids every night.🐒🐒🐒🐒🐒🐒🐒🐒🐒🐒🐒 Usually reading the same book EVERY night makes me want to kill someone but I honestly find it impossible to have murderous thoughts about the wonderful Walliams. This book is a really fun read with tons of opportunity to work on your royal voices!!🤣Illustrations by Tony Ross are brilliant as always and pokes fun at the royals…Prince Phillip is a little red-nosed and looks like he enjoys the occasional bevy. 🤣. As you can see from the pic, Cill thinks it’s hilarious…or it could be the fact that Maisie had just filled her nappy!

    Thanks for reading all. It is now 18:25 so I am going to get ready for bed!!🤦‍♀️

    July Reads

    Well I have to say I am pretty chuffed with this months reading. I feel I got through a decent amount. The majority of reading happened before baby Maisie arrived and the other 2 girls were still in school and nursery. Since Maisie’s arrival, I think I have read a grand total of about 2 pages a day of Pachinko which pains me as I have been looking forward to reading it for ages but I just can’t keep my eyes open at the end of the day. Having said that, a less enjoyable book I would have kicked to the curb so that is a positive.

    • Still Life by Louise Penny. 4⭐️.
    • Louise Penny born 1st July 1958.

    The award-winning first novel from worldwide phenomenon Louise Penny.

    The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines – a place so free from crime it doesn’t even have its own police force.

    But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets .

    Happy Birthday to Louise Penny born on 1st July 1958 which is also Canada Day. 🇨🇦 🎂🎈🎂🎈🎂🎈🎂🎈🎂 I finally picked up this book after frequent recommendations on my favourite bookish podcast @whatshouldireadnext. If you enjoy reading you should definitely check it out. Each week a guest talks about their three favourite books, one book they disliked and what they are currently reading. The host, Anne Bogle then gives them three recommendations. I really enjoy it as does my Amazon account.

    So, onto Louise Penny. Can a murder mystery be comforting??? According to Hilary Clinton, Penny’s books gave her solace after her election defeat. I understand what she means. This was a really comforting read and according to google, there are still 19 I haven’t read!!!!😀😀😀😀😀😀😃😃😃 Inspector Gamache is actually a nice guy. He is happily married. He (so far) doesn’t seem dark and twisty with a substance abuse problem and skeletons in his closet. How refreshing! This book reminded me of the tremendous Agatha Christie. It wasn’t brutal and Penny is obviously going to take her time introducing us to the inhabitants of Three Pines. 🌲🌲🌲. If you like you murder mysteries without gore and smattered with picket fences, brioche and maple syrup, give this a whirl. 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

    • Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig. DNF.
    • Matt Haig born 3rd July 1975.

    The world is messing with our minds. What if there was something we could do about it?

    Looking at sleep, news, social media addiction, work and play, Matt Haig invites us to feel calmer, happier and question the habits of the digital age. This book might even change the way you spend your precious time on Earth.

    Oh Matt, I am sorry to say I have given up!!!! I picked up this book after LOVING Matt Haig’s work. I adored Reasons to Stay Alive and The Humans was one of my favourite books of last year. I started it whilst lying in the bath brimming with anticipation. After 15 pages I felt a little irritated. I agree with a lot of his points….the world is going mad. We do spend to much time on social media. We are inundated with filtered images of people with perfect lives, families, jobs and bodies. I agree and I’m aware of this and I try not to let it bother me. Reading a book that constantly repeats this point left me feeling stressed, anxious and frustrated!!!! I decided that I needed to dilute my reading experience by picking up another book and reading a little of Matt every day. The other book I picked up was The Road. If you know this book you know it is a depressing read. It’s bleak. I found The Road less bleak than Matt’s. Picking up Nervous Planet made me grumpy so on page 86 I called it a day.

    Matt says:

    I am trying to write about the messiness of the world and the messiness of minds by writing a deliberately messy book.

    It’s format is similar to Reasons To Stay Alive – short chapters, lists and musings, presumably to hold our attention in a world where we are so distracted. The point he makes is correct – modern life, the pace, the news, social media is having a direct impact on our mental health. All this I agree with. We need to take some time and regroup. My husband and I are aware of the fact that we shouldn’t sit in bed on our phones. But you know what…..sometimes, after a long day in work and an evening with the kids and the drama that ensues with bathtime, you just want to do something mindless like checking Facebook. I’m not going to feel guilty for that and it doesn’t make me in the least bit anxious. What did make me anxious was signing up to an app that constantly told me how much time I spent on my phone. I am aware, I don’t do it when my kids are around and I’m getting into the habit of leaving my phone upstairs.

    The great thing about reading is that it’s so subjective. Looking on Goodreads, I am in the minority of people who didn’t get on with this book. If you are someone who struggles with anxiety, pick this up….seeing Matt express his worries may make you feel better. Also, by reading it, your mobile phone is hopefully on the bedside table and not in your hand so all is good!!!!!

    • Runaway by Alice Munro. 3⭐️.
    • Alice Munro born 10th July 1931.

    The matchless Munro makes art out of everyday lives in this dazzling new collection. Here men and women of wildly different times and circumstances, their lives made vividly palpable by the nuance and empathy of Munro’s writing. Runaway is about the power and betrayals of love, about lost children, lost chances. There is pain and desolation beneath the surface, like a needle in the heart, which makes Runaway more potent and compelling than anything she has written before.

    This is my second book this month which is written by a Canadian author and my second recommendation from the What Should I Read Next Podcast.

    I really enjoy a short story. If I’m ever in a bit of a reading slump I find short stories so much easier to embark on as opposed to a novel. I always finish a short story compilation by asking myself is it harder to write short stories or a full novel???? When you think about books you have read that have been 5⭐️ reads, I am sure there are the odd 40 pages that didn’t work for you but you judge the book as a whole and still award it a good score. With short stories, I feel that the stakes are higher. If there are 40 pages that you dislike, that is often a whole story that left you cold. As an author you have less time to turn it around and make it right!

    Right off the bat I want to apologise to Alice Munro. I read this compilation the week before my baby was born. I was grumpy, hot and not sleeping. I enjoyed it but I didn’t LOVE it. Solid 3⭐️ from me. Writing this, 3 weeks later, a lot of the stories I have forgotten. I really enjoyed Tricks, Passion and the three stories involving Juliet.

    I feel in a less-sleep-deprived state I would enjoy Munro more. Maybe this isn’t her best compilation but I know I will give her more of a chance.

    • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

    Yegondo, Korea 1911. A club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then a Christian minister offers a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

    Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country where she has no friends and no home. Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.

    This is my current read and I’m sad to say there isn’t a hope I will finish it by the end of the month! Having been a reading machine at the beginning of July, baby Maisie has turned me into a zombie who averages a paragraph a day. So far, there hasn’t been a paragraph of this book that I haven’t loved so that is promising. Review to follow next month….or the month after that…..or the month after that. 🤦‍♀️🤣

    • The Road by Cormac McCarthy. 4⭐️.
    • Cormac McCarthy born July 20th 1933.

    A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves against the men who stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food – and eachother.

    This book has been sat on my shelf for years! I have suggested it as a read for numerous book clubs and it has always been turned down on account of the ‘depressing’ factor. OK, yes. It certainly wasn’t a laugh a minute….I mean I don’t think I laughed once but obviously that is not the point of this book. There are pretty much only two characters, minimal fast-paced action sequences but I honestly could not stop reading. I LOVED this book. The writing was beautiful in an utterly unpretentious way. No long, flowery sentences for McCarthy, but quite simplistic prose that only emphasised the stark simplicity of the story….a father and a son’s struggle to live.

    The word struggle is how I would describe this book. The imagery of trudging through all weather – shoes breaking, clothes sodden, starving, pushing a shopping trolley with all your worldly possessions and for what? To get to the coast and for what? What will you do when you arrive? As a reader, it is impossible not to be moved and feel complete pity for their hopeless plight. Brilliant, beautiful, moving book.

    • Educated by Tara Westover.

    Tara Westover and her family grew up preparing for the End of Days but, according to the government, she didn’t exist. She hasn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she never set foot in a classroom, an no medical records because her father didn’t believe in hospitals.

    As she grew older, her father became more radical and her brother more violent. At sixteen, Tara knew she would have to leave home. In doing so she discovered both the transformative power of education, and the price she had to pay for it.

    Educated was this month’s bookclub choice. Unfortunately I am not going to the meeting due to the new baby but I know that it will be one of those meetings where everyone says how much they loved the book. This is our first non-fiction/memoir and at first there was a fair bit of resistance to it. However, even those who come to book club to read the Russian Classics enjoyed this. Maybe there are some similarities….Educated is certainly not short of heart wrenching passages but I love the fact that Westover writes without a hint of melodrama.

    Westover is without a doubt a great female role model. Her resilience and strength she shows not only when faced with her physically and mentally abusive family but also with regards to her education is mind blowing. Westover is undoubtably a victim but this isn’t a ‘pity me’ memoir. What Westover has achieved is empowering.

    Thank you for bearing with me this month. As I say I am a little sleep deprived but very happy.

    See you next month.

    July Kids Reads

    Well July has been a crazy month. Maisie was born on the 3rd….thankfully I didn’t have to wait until I was 41 weeks. I am so relieved that she is finally here. The past 38 weeks were full of anxiety that I would be told those fateful words again….’I’m sorry but it’s not good news.’ I think the pessimist in me was always preparing myself to hear those words so when Maisie was born I was quite shocked. Ceci and Edie are being brilliant big sisters. Very hands on….VERY!!🤦‍♀️. I have to say that I’m slightly daunted by 6 weeks of summer holidays with 3 kids buy hey ‘Go hard or go home.’

    • Heidi by Johanna Spyri
    • Johanna Spyri died 7th July 1901.

    I remember having a VHS tape with the Shirley Temple film of Heidi. It was black and white and I thought it was mega dull. I mean black and white?!?!? I would always press fast forward to get to The Sound of Music which was also recorded on the same tape.

    I have bought a few of these Usborne books for Edie. She loves them. Lovely pictures, short chapters and a simplified story. Since becoming a big big sister she has taken to reading a story to Ceci and Maisie at night. Although this adds an extra 20 minutes to the bedtime routine it is not something I want to discourage….in fact I hid outside their bedroom with my glass of wine feeling pretty proud! 🥰

    • Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto.

    When Flinn discovers a pirate hiding in a cupboard, it’s all aboard, me hearties, for a real live pirate adventure! But there are some mean baddies on the loose……

    Will fearless Flinn be able to captain the ship and defeat the Pirate Dinosaurs?

    The other day I did a post about what I look for in a children’s book. If I’m going to read it every night I appreciate a good rhyme, fun illustrations and the opportunity to indulge my inner actress with some epic voices. My lovely friend sent me these 3 books which were adored by her children. My girls LOVE them! No rhymes but brilliant pics and my Cornish Captain Stubble voice is already worthy of an Oscar…..sorry to brag. 🏴‍☠️ 🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️These book are high-octane, swash buckling adventures so make sure you follow it with something suitably dull or the kids will never go to bed!!!

      Grandmas from Mars by Michelle Robinson. Illustrations by Fred Blunt.

    Fred and Nell’s parents are off to a meeting. But first they tell Grandma, “Here’s what they’ll be eating. It’s school in the morning, they can’t be up late. So: homework, a bath – and in bed before eight.”

    But, HANG ON, there’s something not quite right about Fred and Nell’s Grandma. In fact, she’s acting very strangely indeed. And is that a spare eyeball? A tail? A striped tongue? That’s not their grandma, it’s an ALIEN….RUUUUUUUUNNN!

    Yesssssssssss! It rhymes, it’s pacy, it has opportunity for melodramatic voices and the illustrations are great. It’s a hit from the kids and more importantly from ME!!!! We love this book. Ceci (3) finds it just the right amount of scary and proudly told her Grandpa that her new favourite book is the ‘scariest thing in the world.’ It’s really not!

    Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a great summer.

    See you next month.