July/August Reads

Hello all. I have been in two minds about posting this month. I feel the last 6 months of covid have caught up with me and I am just feeling really low. The family are all well and fine but I am just exhausted. My husband is working every hour to prove his worth in the light of future redundancies. I am exhausted with looking after the kids. I haven’t worked now since March 2019 and I just feel like I have lost a huge chunk of who I am. Even reading has become a bit of a chore so I apologies that this post is a little lacklustre.

Finally back to work and singing again in the next few weeks. Doing a Boheme and so excited to feel like me again.

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape.

Afra has lost her sight, and so they embark on a perilous journey towards an uncertain future in Britain. As they travel, Nuri is sustained by the knowledge that waiting for them is his beekeeper cousin Mustafa, who is teaching fellow refugees in Yorkshire to keep bees.

Nuri and Afra have to set off through a broken world, on a dangerous journey in which they will confront the pain of their unfathomable loss, and in doing so find a way back to each other again.

I remember so clearly the front page of the newspaper with the devastating image of Alan Kurdi. Alan was a 3 year old boy who drowned when his family tried to flee Syria and reach Europe. In 2015, Alan was 1 year older than my daughter and I couldn’t help but imagine what Alan went through in days leading up to his death. At that time, the Syrian crisis dominated the headlines. Now it is nowhere to be seen. However, people are still displaced. Lefteri says:

 It still exists, those people have still been displaced, they’re still trying to settle, they’re still traumatised. Where is everything now?”

In 2016, Lefteri spend two months working on Athens at a centre for women and children who had been displaced by war. She was inspired by the people she met and the stories she heard. On her return to England she started to plan the novel. She decided that she wanted Nuri to be a beekeeper so she contacted Dr Ryan Alsous who had set up the Damascus University Beekeeping programme. He and his family had settled in Huddersfield having fled Syria in 2013.

This was our book club choice this month and surprisingly it caused some division in the ranks. Myself and another girl really enjoyed the book but three members didn’t agree – “too easy” and “it was almost like Syria for dummies.” I think there can often be a lot of snobbery surrounding book club choices. Chicklit and page turners are often looked down upon. Maybe people think that the more high brow the book, the more impressive people’s opinions are. Book snobbery is definitely something I have been guilty of and I am proud to stay that I am reformed. I bloody loved Grown Ups last months having previously relegated Marion Keyes to the Chick Lit Sin Bin. I think it’s needs to be recognised that writing a page turner is an incredible skill. Any author that manages to keep the majority of the social media, Netflix obsessed masses turning pages is a bit of a magician in my opinion.

This was a brilliant book and it was great to read more personal stories of the individuals who are affected when fleeing a country. This was also a story about grief and PTSD which I think is rarely written about. A beautiful book.

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. 5⭐️.

‘Our time together is about to begin, my reader. Possibly you will view these pages of mine as a fragile treasure box, to be opened with the upmost care. Possibly you will tear them apart, or burn them: that often happens with words.’

You hold in your hands a dangerous weapon loaded with the secrets of three women from Gilead. They are risking their lives for you. For all of us.

Before you enter the world, you might want to arm yourself with these thoughts:

Knowledge is power

and

History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.

The Handmaid’s Tale was my A Level set text. I adored it. Really adored it. That and Goodnight Mister Tom are probably the only two books I have read more than once.

Loving a book so ferociously often means that nothing can live up to it. Sequels usually disappoint but not in this instance. Cleverly, Atwood doesn’t pick up where she left off….although Offred is always at the back of my mind. Fifteen years have passed and now Atwood is more concerned with the lives of the Aunts. I think this fresh perspective is really sensible….Atwood isn’t trying to recreate Offred’s story. Aunt Lydia is the main subject in this sequal and I really enjoyed seeing how she became an Aunt and fitted into the Totalitarian regimes. I didn’t find the book as dark as the original….maybe I am now used to to idea of Gilead but also this novel is much more plot led than character led. A brilliant read.

  • Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux. 4⭐️.

Gawky and socially awkward, Louis Theroux might be an unlikely television star, but his award-winning documentaries have won him millions of fans around the world. Now he turns his questioning eye on himself and wonders, why do people tattoo his face on their body and would it be wrong for him to encourage them? And are the same qualities that make him good at documentaries also making him bad at life?

Insightful and funny, Gotta Get Theroux This takes us from Louis’ anxiety prone childhood to an unexpectedly successful career that has seen him immersed in the weird world of paranoid US militias and secretive pro wrestlers, get under the skin of celebrities and take his life in his hands investigating American prisons.

Has Louis woos his beautiful wife Nancy and learns how to be a father, he also dares to take on the powerful Church of Scientology. Just as challenging is the revelation that one of his old subjects, Jimmy Savile was a secret sexual predator, prompting him to reflect on the nature of evil he has spent decades and uncovering.

I have loved Louis for a long time. I have memories watching his documentaries with my now husband and I was also lucky enough to watch his film about Scientology at the Royal Festival Hall. I think I picked the book up, wanting to discover more delicious tidbits about his subjects. I have to say that the book did deliver this but only after the first 25%. No offence Louis, but I’m not particularly interested in your au pairs and schooling, I want to get to the good stuff.

I was particularly moved by Louis’s writing about Jimmy Savile. I hope for Louis, writing this book was cathartic. Louis clearly questions himself in the whole affair….was he blind, should he have pushed Savile more on the subject, should he have delved deeper? Quite rightly, Savile is clearly a subject that keeps Louis up at night and this book does go some of the way into addressing how much of the predator Louis chose to see.

  • The Corset by Laura Purcell. 4 ⭐️.

Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she finds herself drawn to Ruth, a teenage seamstress – and self-confessed murderess – who nurses a dark and uncanny secret. A secret that is leading her straight to the gallows. As Ruth reveals her disturbing past to Dorothea the fates of these two women entwine and with every revelation, a new layer of doubt is cast….

As a teenager, I read a lot of historical fiction. Phillips Gregory and Sarah Waters were firm favourites. It’s a genre that I don’t revisit often but when I do, I always find it very comforting. Maybe it’s the imagery of candlelight, the rustling of skirts or maybe it’s the fact that whatever bogeymen I find within the pages, they are bogeymen from the past.

I really enjoyed this book. Told in Dorothea and Ruth’s voices, it was easy to be transported to the grey, dank and depressing streets of working class Victorian England. My only gripe would be the end of the novel. Purcell chose to add a supernatural element which I think was unnecessary and for me, it too away the starkness and emotion of the ending.

Thank you for reading. I hope you are all safe and well.

Els x

May Reads

Hi all and apologies for combining May and June’s posts. All I can say is that reading wise I have been slow. My kids have gone slightly feral and are now night owls – current bedtime for the 4 and 7 year old is about 9pm. In my defence they are put in bed at 7:30 but clearly my homeschooling is only exhausting me….they are wired. This means when they finally go to sleep, I am left to tackle to war zone of a house or go for a run. By the time I drag my weary carcass into bed I manage to keep my eyes open long enough to grunt a goodnight to my husband and then I am unconscious. To be honest, it’s a miracle that I have read anything at all!!!

  • Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. 4🌟.
In this internationally best selling memoir and passionate analysis of a culture in crisis, ‘Hillbilly’ – born Yale Law graduate J.D. Vance takes a probing look at America’s white working-class through his own experiences growing up.
The book tells a true story of what social, regional and class decline feels like when you are born with it hanging around your neck. As his family’s saga plays out, the book shows how J.D.’s grandparents, aunt, sister and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty and trauma.
Writing with piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history. Hillbilly Elegy is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of the population. It is unmissable reading in these times of political upheaval.

These are politically dark times to say the least. There is not much that would surprise me now. I used to be pretty disinterested in politics but the sheer madness of the world is making me sit up and want to learn more. As different as the US and the UK are, both countries policies are made by complete buffoons. This book has been hailed by the Times as: ‘a book to help understand Trump’s win.’ As yet, a book hasn’t been written to help me understand Brexit or Boris Johnson’s election, but I thought Hillbilly Elegy might explain some things to me.

Vance is a self-proclaimed hillbilly and it’s a badge he wears with pride and with no feeling of disrespect. He was raised by his grandparents in Middletown, Ohio. His mother was addicted to painkillers and later heroin, and his maternal grandfather was an alcoholic. Due to his mother’s inability to maintain a stable relationship and her addiction to drugs, Vance lived with his grandmother, “Mamaw.” According to Vance, this type of childhood is not unusual in the “Rust Belt.” Unemployment is high and substance abuse is rife.

Vance writes the story of his life. He describes that even though he was lucky enough to escape the Rust-Belt of Ohio, he was still chased by the ‘demons of life’ he thought he had left behind. Without a doubt his is a success story. He was lucky to have a grandmother who provided him with the stability he needed which in turn gave him the confidence to seek a better life for himself. He joined the Marines and served in Iraq and later read Law at Yale.

In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance gives an honest portrayal of American , white working class. A fiercely loyal group of people who voted for a Trump because they felt he would preserve the “American Way of Life.” These are voters who are afraid of change and are worried that if you are white, male and Christian, you are likely to be discriminated against.

To define these two groups and their approach to giving – rich and poor; educated and uneducated; upper class and working class – their members increasingly occupy two separate worlds. As a cultural immigrant from one group to the other, I am acutely aware of the differences. Sometimes I view members of the elite with an almost primal scorn – recently, an acquaintance use the word “confabulate” in a sentence, and I just wanted to scream. But I have to give it to them: their children are happy and healthier, their divorce rates are lower, their church attendance higher, their lives longer. These people are beating us at our own Damned game.

I really enjoyed Vance’s writing. This is not a sob story and he does not play the victim. He does not seek to distance himself from his upbringing. He is proud of where he came from ‘we hillbillies are the toughest goddamned people on this earth.’ He ask questions that are relevant and important without ostracising himself from the people he grew up with:

Are we tough enough to build a church that forces kids like me to engage with the world rather than withdraw from it? Are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children?

So did this book help me to understand Trump’s win?? I think Trump is an idiot, a spoiled brat with bad hair playing at politics. This book has made me see the reasons many voted for him….see, but not agree.

  • Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. 4 🌟.

All Lina wanted was to be desired. How did she end up in a marriage with two children and a husband who wouldn’t touch her?

All Maggie wanted was to be understood. How did she end up in a relationship with her teacher and then in court, I hated prior in her small town?

All Sloan wanted was to be admired. How did she end up a sexual object of men, including her husband, who like to watch her have sex with other men and women?

Three Women is a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions.

When it comes to stories about relationships, I have a massive aversion to anything romantic, sugary and most importantly anything in which the female has an inner goddess. Yuk. I am a little embarrassed to say that had this book been about happy, functional relationships, I would not have picked it up. I like my relationship storylines to be gritty and realistic. Characters don’t have to be likeable but I have to believe them. Three Women is a work of non-fiction so the ‘storylines’ were real. This resulted in a brilliant if somewhat depressing snapshot of female sexuality. Lisa Taddeo still feels we are a long way off sexual equality. Maggie’s story revolves around her teenage relationship with a married school teacher and the subsequent court case. Lina, sexually abused at school, leaves her unhappy marriage only to begin a relationship with another man who calls all the shots. Sloane, who incidentally is the character I struggled to connect with, seems to have the happiest relationship with her partner – both are swingers but it is Sloane who is the subject of gossip and scrutiny.

This was a book club pick and although people thought it was pretty depressing, it’s readability made it a definite lockdown hit. I have to say that our meeting discussing this book would definitely have been improved by discussing it in a pub over a glass of wine!!!! Trying to discuss a book about sexual desire with a group of women who don’t know eachother massively well, over Zoom, after a day of lockdown home schooling was slightly tricky. I wonder how different our discussion would have been if we were altogether in a pub with a glass of wine???

So what was discussed? We discussed Taddeo’s concept. The book was always intended to be about desire but not necessarily female desire. She interviewed men as well as women but the final three women’s lives were so all consumed by their sexual needs that it became obvious the book would be about them. We had an interesting discussion about the men in the book….all of whole we decided were as damaged as the women. I don’t think any of the characters were happy.

Anyway if you are looking for a salacious read that will make you feel slightly smug about your own dull sexual needs then this is the book for you.

  • Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman. 3🌟.

As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak, to what she was allowed to read. Yet in spite of her repressive upbringing, Deborah grew into an independent – minded young woman whose stolen moments reading about the empowered literary heroines of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her to imagine an alternative way of life among the skyscrapers of Manhattan. As a teenager, she found herself trapped in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew. The tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities grew until she gave birth at 19 and realised that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path to happiness and freedom for herself and her son. 

Probably like a lot of people, I watched Unorthodox on Netflix during Lockdown. I was enthralled. I felt like I wanted to know more about Judaism so as well as reading the book, I watched Strictly Kosher and Unorthodox on YouTube and also One Of Us on Netflix. My appetite still unsated, I took to google and spent a lot of time reading http://www.myjewishlearning.com.

So why the obsession….and yes, I think I am a little obsessed. I grew up in a very culturally undiverse area of rural England. Everyone had white faces, two kids, shopped in Sainsburys and went to church on a Sunday….not necessarily because everyone was religious….it’s just ‘what nice people do.’ When I was 8, I started at the convent school in our local town. We weren’t catholic but it fed a lot of children to the secondary school my parents wanted me to eventually attend. I found it all a little terrifying. I remember in the chapel a very realistic and huge statue of Jesus on the cross – blood dripping from his crown of thorns, his hands and feet. I found the nuns (particularly the old ones) sinister and a bit spooky. We prayed A LOT. At the beginning of the day, after break, before lunch, after lunch and at the end of the day. I remember for prayers we had to sit cross legged with our hands open and resting on our knees to encourage Jesus to ‘lie in our arms.’ In our RE lessons, the wonderful Mrs Nichols read stories of the Saints. I remember us all wanting to hear there bloodthirsty ones of how they died. No wonder I was intrigued and not a little scared by religion. I guess the thought that someone can live their whole life according to their religion intrigues and interests me. The idea that an unknow entity can dictate what you eat, who you talk to, how you dress etc.

Unorthodox answered so many questions about the Satmar society. A group of people who have been so persecuted in history that they feel safety in their own insular world. Deborah writes really well and I respect and admire her. Ultimately, she wanted what we all want for our daughters – freedom to express herself, freedom to read the books she wants, freedom to dress how she chooses, the opportunity to have the education she wants. Deborah Feldman wanted more for her life than to marry and have children.

Below are a couple of quotes that give you an idea of Deborah’s character. If you have watched and enjoyed the series please read the book, I really enjoyed it.

I wonder if Eli feels like he is Satmar, like it’s in his blood and can never be washed away. I make a note to ask him that, when we are alone. A bold question, but I can disguise it in innocent words. I need to feel him out, see if he has his own opinions about the world we live in, or if he just parrots the views of those around him. I may not have a real say in the matter of my own marriage, but at the very least I would like to enter into the arrangement armed with as much knowledge and power as possible.

The phrase, what God wants, infuriated me. There is no desire outside human desire. God was not the one who wanted Mindi to have children. Could she not see that? Her fate had been decided by the people around her, not by some divine intervention.

  • Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh. 5🌟.

The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop. Trapped between caring for her alcoholic father and her job as a secretary at the boys prison, she tempers her dreary days with dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, her nights and weekends are filled with shoplifting and cleaning up her increasingly deranged fathers messes.

When the beautiful, charismatic Rebecca St John arrives on the scene, Eileen is enchanted. But soon Eileen’s affection for Rebecca will pull her into a crime that far surpasses even her own wild imagination.

This is my kind of book. I love a book where you delve into the life of a person….this is the nosiness in me coming out. When I look back on my favourite books of this nature, Olive Kitteridge springs to mind. Like Eileen, both books are set in New England and both books give an intimate portrait into the protagonist. I think for me, I don’t have to like the central character, I just have to feel like I know her. People are interesting and Eileen is certainly that.

I found the book hauntingly sad. A woman who has slipped through the cracks, who spends too much time in her own head. Eileen is marginalised because she is ‘a bit odd.’ We all know people we have avoided just because they are different. The novel is both dark and at times hilarious. Eileen is strange, a little disgusting but ultimately endearing and I found myself feeling quite attached to her. I am not a crier but this section towards the end of the book made me cry. Who can explain why some books move us more than others….I loved it.

I said goodbye to the house from where I stood over the bathroom sink. I tell you I felt strangely calm. The weight of the gun, the money in my purse told me yes, it’s time. Get out of here. I had my last moment with myself in that place, in front of the mirror with my eyes shut. It hurt to leave. It was my home, after all, and it meant something to me, each of the rooms, each chair and shelf and lamp, the walls, the creaking floorboards, the worn banister.

Thanks so much for reading.

June Kids reads

Hi all. How is homeschooling going? I have finally hit a wall with Year 2 Maths. I knew at some point I would start to struggle but I was hoping it was going to be around Year 4. No, maths for 7 year olds is where I’m stumped. I have had a particularly frustrating morning counting vertices of 3D shapes….give me strength!!!! Argh!!!!!

  • Fergal is Fuming! By Robert Starling.

Fergal is a nice chap, but when someone tells him what to do, Fergal gets very… Very… Angry.

I wanted to do a post with at least one book about anger. Some of you may look back on your family time during lockdown as an idyllic time – searching for fairies in the woods, making daisy chains, family painting sessions. If this is you then I am happy for you – really – a little jealous perhaps but ultimately happy for you. Although family time in the Andrews household hasn’t been all bad, I am sick of hearing Cilla saying “mummy, Edie is being woode to me.” She means ‘rude’ and to be honest ‘rude’ is too polite a term. All of us are now struggling with Lockdown. I think for Edie, it is particularly tough. She is a really sociable and tactile child. She told me the other day that she is just “desperate to hug someone that isn’t you mummy.” I think she also finds life a little scary at the moment. I made the mistake of taking her to Sainsbury’s a couple of weeks ago and it terrified her. The masks, plastic shields are all too much. Ceci is faring slightly better – she is just bored!

When I started to read Fergal is Fuming at bedtime a couple of nights ago it was perfect timing. Edie had just told her dad that she hated him for the 5th time that day….this particular outburst occurred when Oz asked her to take her false nails off for bed (false nails, 7 🤦‍♀️😂😂). If screams of “it’s not fair” are bouncing off your walls this is the book for you. Joking aside, I love the fact that this book gives children (and grown ups) strategies for coping with anger in an unpatronising way….altogether now……1, 2, 3, 4……and breathe.

  • Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield.

“I wonder” – Petrova looked up – “if other girls had to be one of us, which of us they’d choose to be?”

When my sister and I were children, we would go to visit my grandparents in Carlisle every holiday. My mum would always buy us an audiobook on cassette for the car. This year, a lovely friend bought Edith a copy of Ballet Shoes for her 7th birthday. As soon as I started reading it to her I remembered the rhythm of Jan Francis on our cassette tape all those years ago. Indeed, it was so ingrained in my memory I think I read it in exactly the same way – nana was cockney (not cool that ‘the help’ is portrayed with an East London accent….apologies), Madame was obviously Russian, the two doctors were incredibly posh, Petrova slightly boyish, Posy with a lisp and Pauline was very RP.

When reading this to Edie, I am aware that it is probably too old for her. There is a lot written about earnings….(always in pounds, shillings and pence), working in the theatre and also a fair bit about Shakespeare. I assume that she might find some of it boring but Edie is a great one for hearing what she wants to hear and ignoring what she doesn’t!! When asked tonight what she likes about the book she said ” I love the fact that there are 3 sisters – like me and I also like the fact that even though they are young, they are allowed to act on the stage.” Being a performer is now Edie’s ambition 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️. What with the fake nails and dangly earrings she was always going to be a bit of a diva but this book has now cemented her dream. 🩰🎭🩰🎭🩰🎭🩰🎭🩰🎭🩰🎭🩰🎭🩰🎭🩰

My favourite bit of the book is the section where Pauline behaves horribly to Winifred. Pauline is lucky enough to get the part of Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Winifred is engaged as her understudy. Success goes straight to Pauline’s head and she behaves badly towards Winifred – bossing her around, asking her to fetch items that she should get herself and generally just being a spoiled brat. This prompted a brilliant conversation with a Edie about how appalling Pauline’s behaviour was becoming. I made the point that thanks to Covid and endless homeschooling, I am feeling a little like Winifred – less and less like a loved mum and more and more like a skivvy. Thanks to Ballet Shoes each time I feel the girls are treating my rudely I say I am feeling like Winifred and I get an apology!!!! 👏

Anyway, lovely read and it made me miss my job in the theatre so much. Fingers crossed the West End reopens soon. Also in response to the quote above, Edith would like to be Pauline because she wants to be famous. Ceci would like to be Poylin (Pauline) because she has long hair and is pretty. 😂🤦‍♀️

  • Doggies by Sandra Boynton

Finally one for Maisie who is going to be 1 next month. 🎂 🎁 . Wonderful Aunty Laura bought Maisie this book for Christmas and it has become a favourite. As Maisie is my third daughter, I am determined to read her something other than our reliable but falling apart That’s not my….. books. 🐶 🐕🐶🐕🐶🐕🐶🐕🐶

It seems that Sandra Boynton does EVERYTHING – author, illustrator, humorist, song writer, director and music producer. This book is such fun to read – who doesn’t love doing ridiculous dog impressions. It has certainly added a few extras to my list of dog impressions:

woof, yap, nnn, ruff, bow wow, ar rooff, arf arf, grrrr and raow.

Ar rooff is our fave. Maisie thinks it’s utterly hilarious. 🐕🐶🐕🐶🐕🐶🐕🐶🐕🐶🐕

See you next month. Thanks for reading.

March/April reads

Apologies for the lack of post last month. As well as drowning in lockdown homeschooling, I was also drowning in Sapiens. This book took AGES to finish and I didn’t see the point in doing a post with just 2 books.

THE MILLION COPY BESTSELLER

Fire gave us power. Farming made us hungry for more. Money gave us purpose. Science made us deadly. This is the thrilling account of our extraordinary history – from insignificant apes to rulers of the world.

Earth is 4.5 billion years old. In just a fraction of that time, one species among countless others has conquered it: us.

In this bold and provocative book, Yuval Noah Harari explores who we are, how we got here and where we’re going.

‘I would recommend Sapiens to anyone who’s interested in the history and future of our species’ Bill Gates

Book Club Musings.

Each month on our book club FB group I post 6 books. A mixture of male and female authors, fiction, non fiction, modern and classics. People are invited to vote and the most popular book is read the following month. Sapiens was our choice for March and it won the poll by quite a long way. When it came down to the meeting there were 4 of us there. Only 1 out of 4 had finished the book and that person had read it previously so this time just dipped in an out. This got me thinking…..(Cue Carrie Bradshaw)….is what we think we want to read really what we want to read??? I worry that in this crazy world, where we are running at 100mph, always listening to that little voice in our ear telling us to achieve more, run faster, drink less, we want our reading to reflect that and we think we want to be challenged. People are too embarrassed to sit on the tube reading Jilly Cooper. I think our book group wanted the challenge of reading Sapiens but when it came down to it, hardly anyone managed it. I found it really heavy going. Sapiens is a book which you need to absorb. You need time to think about the mind blowing points that are being made. Trying to absorb Sapiens whilst lying in the bath, at the end of a long day, being constantly interrupted by a 4 year old with an over-active bladder made it quite a frustrating experience. That is my excuse. Other excuses were similar….”I do most of my reading on the tube and this isn’t the kind of book you can read when you have to keep changing trains on the way into work,” “to be honest, at the end of a long day in the office, I just want to read the literary equivalent of Love Is Blind, not something that requires actual brain cells.”

This is a book that doesn’t suffer from a dip in and out way of reading….in fact I think it benefits from it!! Because of this, I’m not sure it is a great choice for a book club. Reading this book to a deadline did not work for us and I think resulted in a disservice to the book. So if you are tempted to pick this up, and you definitely should, give yourself some time. Don’t rush!

  • The Last King Of Scotland by Giles Foden.

What would it be like to become a Idi Amin’s personal physician? Giles Foden’s best selling thriller is the story of a young Scottish doctor drawn into the heart of the Ugandan dictator’s surreal and brutal regime. Privy to Amin’s thoughts and ambitions, he is both fascinated and appalled. As Uganda plunges into civil chaos he realises action is imperative – but which way should he jump?

Generally I find that films don’t live up to the novel. It was the other way round with this book. I have seen the film twice and I urge you to watch it if you are stuck at home and in need of stimulation. Forest Whitaker is INSANELY good and quite rightly won numerous awards. The film is based on the book and has made some significant plot changes. This is historical fiction. The character of Nicholas Garrigan does not exist but he could be based on Bob Astles and Scottish doctor Wilson Carswell. I would say that the book is definitely more historically accurate than the film.

I’m not going to say much about the book because the copy I have is clearly a bit of a dud. I read to page 218 and incredibly annoyingly at this point 33 pages were omitted and replaced with pages 91-122. I am ashamed to say that it took my sleep deprived mind about 10 pages to realise I had read them all before!!! 🤔🤔 Really annoyingly, I think the pages missing were pretty crucial and involved Garrigan’s arrest by Amin. The book resumed at page 251 but by then I felt pretty confused and a little like that thing when something is being explained to you which you don’t understand but you nod, smile and pretend that you do…..to be honest this is my default mode. Anyway, hey ho, definitely watch the film!!!

  • Grown Ups by Marian Keyes.

Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, ththeir beautiful, talented wives and all the kids spend a lot of time together-birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they’re happy family. Johnny’s wife, Jesse– who has the most money then insists on it.

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much…

Everything stays under control until Ed’s wife, Cara, gets concussion and can’t keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Jonny’s birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out their secrets.

In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults find themselves wondering if it’s time – finally – to grow up?

Book snobbery, book ignorance. Call it what you will but I am guilty of it. My mum sent me this book just after lockdown was announced. I would never have chosen it myself. After reading Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married (also bought by mum*), Marian Keyes had been chucked in Ella’s Small-Minded-Book-Snob-Skip. Keyes languishes in the skip of doom with the likes of Sophie Kinsella, Jane Green and Helen Fielding. Basically anything that I would put in the Chick Lit category. Anything that involves a female protagonist who moans about their weight and finding a man. Any book whose book jacket says something like:

Arabella thought she had it all….a great job, fabulous clothes, a beautiful house. Her only problem??? Men! Why did she always fall for the bad boy?Then she meets Tom and discovers that sometimes it’s hard to make the right choices.

Any book that has a bright pink cover, a loopy-fonted title and a picture of a wedding cake, a nonchalantly discarded stiletto or a discarded tie. All of these books get chucked in the skip.

After trudging through Sapiens, I decided I deserved something a little easier on the old brain cells. Yes, this book is undoubtedly easier, no major evolutionary chats here!!! I bloody love a book about dysfunctional families/relationships/marriages and that is what this book is all about. It’s also well written with believable and likeable characters. It’s was over 700 pages but I whipped through it.

*Interestingly, although mum has now bought me 2 Keyes novels, I have never seen her reading a Marian Keyes herself.

  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

For years, rumours of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she learns to be loved. Went two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens up herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

What kind of books do you want to read in Lockdown? I have been pondering this and I do have a few important criteria:

1. I don’t want anything that involves being on a beach, travelling somewhere fun or looking for adventure.

2. I don’t want anything really challenging. After a day of looking after 3 kids, homeschooling 2 of the little blighters and being ‘mummed’ CONSTANTLY I need something that I can just read. I do not need to feel intellectually challenged. Key Stage 1 fractions are challenging enough.

3. I don’t want anything that takes me ages to get into. I want short chapters and something that hooks me immediately. It also needs to be a book that I can pick up and put down easily.

Crawdads fitted the bill quite nicely thank you. I know people LOVE it. It was a solid 3.5 ⭐️ from me which I rounded up to 4⭐️. I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it was life changing but I stayed up til 2am reading it and believe me, at the moment not much keeps me awake past 9pm!!!

Anyway I hope you are all safe. Thank you so much for reading.

March Beauty.

Today is Sunday 29th March and I am struggling. Lockdown is hard in the week but it seems so much harder at the weekend. The whole family still have that ‘weekend mindset’ and right now that just leads to disappointment. Every day is the same. It’s like being in Crimbo Limbo but without the turkey and with a terrifying pandemic. In fact, if at Christmas lunch someone had a crystal ball and said that this would be the state of the world come March I would have thought it was the synopsis of a bad channel 5 film.

Three kids under seven including an right month old who is still up three times a night. A month ago I thought I was bossing it. Tired but coping. Three kids under seven and a pandemic is a completely different scenario. Hats off to those who are managing it. I am struggling.

  • La Roche- Posay Redermic R Retinol Cream. £24.00.

This was my first frolic down Retinol Boulevard and I am now a convert as my skin is definitely brighter and smoother since using.

So Retinol/retinoids/vitamin A. There is not much that this bad boy doesn’t do. Acne, aging, pigmentation, scarring, rosacea…. retinol is the skincare golden ticket. I have to admit that I was always a bit wary. Gone are the days of a simple Oil of Olay skincare regime. Retinoids, acids, BHAs, AHAs, they all sound a little terrifying and make me feel like I am back at school struggling with chemistry. So even though this isn’t a doctor prescribed retinol, I was pretty careful. I applied it every other day, I avoided the creases round my nose and just applied to cheeks, forehead and chin. I had no irritation so after a couple of weeks I progressed to every night. You only need a pea sized amount so it will last you. This tube has kept me going for 6 months now. For me, this product has definitely made my skin smoother…no bumpy bits, my skin looks more even- fewer red bits, although my chin still needs work. I can’t say for definite that it has done a Benjamin Button on me and made me look 10 again but right now my skin is in pretty good shape so it’s defo a product that I will continue to use!

  • Yo Glow Wishful. £34.00 *

Yellow!!!! I LOVE yellow. I think if I was in advertising, I would put everything in yellow. It conjures up feelings of happiness, sunshine, warmth, lemons, freshness….basically all good things. The sun is shining permantly at the moment and it’s like Covid19 is giving us all the finger and doing a particularly evil laugh. My way of compensating this is to have daffodils in every room. My little bit of sunshine indoors. ☀️ 🌼 🍋☀️🌼🍋☀️🌼🍋☀️🌼🍋☀️🌼🍋☀️🌼🍋☀️🌼🍋☀️🌼. I was kindly gifted this product so I was already excited about using it and then Caroline Hirons said it was proper good….hopes were high. You apply it to dry skin (this is not a makeup remover) and massage in for about a minute. Scrubs often contain gritty bits but this uses cellulose which combined with fruit acids and the friction of massaging your skin makes little cellulosy balls. This is NOT I repeat NOT bits of your skin. It smells really nice and citrusy. When you rinse it off your skin feels so lovely and smooth. Mine skin felt smoother than a baby’s buttocks and not tight at all. My makeup went on like a dream.

*Kindly gifted.

  • L’Oreal Pro Glow Foundation. £8.35 Amazon Pantry.

Are you guys still wearing makeup?? One of the only good things about being in lockdown is that I am saving tons of money by not wearing any makeup. The other day I taught a singing lesson on Zoom so I decided to put a bit of slap on. Whambam my mood lifted. I felt like I was putting my game face on. Faking it in this instance really did make it.

Anyway, THIS FOUNDATION!!!!!! I love this foundation. Pre-Corona mornings in my house were totally nuts. Edie is always desperate for an intricate hairstyle with ‘no bumps.’ Ceci is usually livid that her Weetabix is too wet (honestly the weetabix saturation point is a big deal for Cill) and Maisie invariably is still wearing last night’s nappy. I have just about managed a shower long enough to wash off the ridiculous night sweats that I am coping with. I smear some makeup on my face, grab my trusty jogging bottoms and manoeuvre the massive buggy, grumpy cilla + scooter and Edie with her bump free hair to school. I am ALWAYS sweaty and stressed.

When I get home I get 5 mins to take my first look at my face. When wearing this foundation I am always pleasantly surprised. I actually look ok. In fact my skin looks…..(dare I say it without sounding like an arrogant tit)……good. Really good. It looks clear, glowy and not like I have been up all night feeding my ridiculous 8 month old who is still incapable of sleeping any longer than 2 hrs. As well as being a cleanser junkie I am a foundation junkie. I have tons of the stuff but hands down THIS IS THE BEST. Only available on Amazon at the mo. If you are haggard and knackered give this a whirl. Doesn’t feel too heavy, really glowy and lasts through a really sweaty and stressed school run.

Thank you for reading. Stay safe!!! Wash hands!

January Beauty

Hi all. It’s been a while since I have done a beauty post. In fact I started this one in January!!! I am not someone who starts the year with resolutions to diet, not drink, exercise, put my phone down. In all honesty January is miserable enough without berating myself every time I reach for the biscuit tin. I am of the mind that everything in moderation is all good. Which brings me nicely onto the topic of this post. Moderation is not in my vocabulary when it comes to cleansers. I bloody love a cleanser. Working in the theatre, wearing a face of heavy makeup, under hot lights and also being a bit of a sweaty lady means I crave the feeling of clean skin. I can’t take my make up off fast enough. I am more than happy to sit on the tube or do the school run with a clean, make up free face.

So this post is about taking off the glitter and getting down to the bare essentials. So here are my cleansing faves.

  • Wonder Balm by A Pony Called Steve. From £12.

I must admit that it was the name of this company that enticed me to buy….my husband calls me an easy sell. Anyway A Pony Called Steve….incredible name and I bought a pot for my sister for Xmas thinking it would make her laugh. As I did my research about this company, I just liked the product more and more. The company is the brain child of Emma and Aminah and Steve is Aminah’s Shetland pony. 🐴. The company has been operational for 5 years. They sold their products to loads of UK retailers but last year they decided to stop trading with retail outlets and to devote their time to their best product… The Wonder Balm. If you are someone who loves a small, personal business then you need to check this out. They make the product at home and not in a massive factory. All the ingredients are natural and it’s in a recyclable tin. The best bit is that it is completely lush!! It’s a really nourishing balm that smells all citrusy. You warm it into you hands and then massage it onto dry skin. It feels thick and pampering. It totally dissolves all make up and is completely fine to use on your eyes. You need a cloth to remove it but once washed off skin is soft, moisturised and glowing.

If you like this product you can sign up to a subscription so you never run out and UK shipping is free!!!

  • Jordan Samuel The After Show Treatment Cleanser. £20.00.

During this maternity leave, to satisfy my performer urges I have joined adult tap. Every Wednesday evening, my sister and I don the lycra, down some wine and mosey down the road to work on our time step. I’m going to be honest, I am pretty shit. I think this is mainly because I can’t stop giggling (wine induced) and because my body is now haggard and exhausted and no longer works like it did 10 years ago. Anyway we go down and prick about like Miranda Hart….our teacher, Miss Emma is probably too young to know who Miranda Hart is!

So this is one for all you footlight fannies out there. Jordan Samuel skincare has just landed in the UK and you can get hold of it at Cultbeauty. People RAVE about it. Jordan Samuel was a professional ballet dancer. He was becoming increasingly frustrated by the havoc stage lights, sweat and heavy makeup were causing to his skin. He therefore decided to make his own brand – bloody love a proactive man.

This cleanser is a dream at getting off makeup….particularly heavy eye makeup. It comes out the tube as a clear gel and to me it smells slightly citrusy. As soon as you put it on your skin it becomes an oil. You then rinse it off. Not only does it remove make up but it also contains fruit acids to gently exfoliate. This product is ideal for dry or combination skins but there is also a sensitive skin version without the fruit acids. Just completely lush.

Right off to work on my pick-ups

  • The Body Shop Camomile Cleansing Butter. £11.

Wow, the Body Shop has come a long way from the beloved bath pearls and 🍓 soap of my youth. Without a doubt the Camomile Cleansing Butter is my absolute fave cleansing balm. It feels lighter than the balm from A Pony Called Steve. The fragrance is quite subtle and it removes make up speedier than a speedy thing. Doesn’t sting or irritate the eyes and is suitable for sensitive skin. A recent article in The Sun newspaper also said it worked brilliantly at protecting scalp from hair dye, ridding babies of cradle cap and removing stains from carpet. Whilst I cannot comment on its carpet cleaning capabilities (there is absolutely no way I am smearing it all over my carpet), I did dye my eyelashes and brows at the weekend. I used this balm instead of Vaseline to protect the skin and it worked brilliantly. Tippity top!

  • Natura Siberica Soap for Deep Facial Cleansing. £11.98.

This product is described as a deep cleanse which I try to do about twice a week in my quest to purge the pores. You apply it like a mask onto dry skin and then rinse with warm water. I have to admit that often being pushed for time, I sometimes just apply in the shower and use as a normal face wash – sorry Natura Siberica. It feels surprisingly light and lathers up a little which I like. As a deep cleanse I was expecting a bit of tingling, maybe a slight tight feeling but happily this didn’t happen. My skin felt soft and moisturised after using. The INCI list is full of natural ingredients, none of which you need a chemistry degree to decipher. Top of the list is oblepikha (sea buckthorn) oil which is rich in vitamin C to regenerate the skin and also soften. The product also contains Siberian Cedar Oil which is rich in vitamin E which adds to the moisturising factor. The full list can easily be obtained on t’internet but do not be put off by the word ‘soap’ – this product will not make your skin tingle, feel tight or dry. It has a definite scent. To me it smells slightly almondy. The price isn’t prohibitive and my little tub has lasted two months and is still going strong. One thing I will say…..make sure you wash off properly. Twice I have come back from the school run, looked in the mirror and seen remnants in my sideburns (😂) and around my jawline…..however if the chimney sweep look is your bag, that that is obviously all good.

  • Beauty Pie Japanfusion Pure Transforming Cleanser. Typical Price £25. Members pay £6.

I have been toying with the idea of joining Beauty Pie for a few months now and before Xmas I finally did it. I pay £10 a month which gives me a £100 a month spending limit, and this is the important bit, based on their typical price for a product. This sounds like a lot of money to spend but actually it doesn’t go that far. The typical price for a nail polish is £15, a lipstick £20 and the Japanfusion cleanser £25. As you can see it does eat up your spending limit. I think of you paid the £5 a month subscription you would get 3 products max. That being said, I have loved every product I have received so far.

So, Japanfusion….firstly I would like to say that I love the packaging. It’s like a big, squeezy, pink toothpaste tube. You can cut it in half to make sure you get every last drop out so you aren’t left with that annoying feeling of chucking something away with some of the precious stuff still lurking at the bottom.

This stuff is like a superhero chameleon. You apply it to dry skin and it feels like a really rich moisturiser, after massaging for about a few seconds it transforms into an oil. At this point, if you add water to emulsify, it becomes a milk. It’s like 3 for the price of 1. It’s unperfumed and leaves your skin soft, moisturised and without that tight feeling. Brillo.

Thanks for reading.

February Reads

Hello all. Apologies that this post is a couple of days late. I have decided to give myself a bit of a break and stop telling myself off if I don’t manage to post at exactly the right time every month. The end of the month gives me the feeling of stress I used to have on a Sunday night when I was at school and I had to hand in my homework the next day. So instead of rushing to get my thoughts in order, in between looking after the kids, I am just going to take my time and stress less. I hope that is ok!!

  • Sunburn by Laura Lippman. 3🌟.

They meet by chance in a local bar in a small town in Delaware. Polly is heading west. Adam says he’s also passing through. Yet she stays and so does he – drawn to this mysterious redhead who unnerves and excites him. Over the course of one hot summer, they abandon themselves to a steamy affair. But each holds back something from the other – dangerous, even lethal, secrets….

Who writes the blurb on the back of book jackets? Is it someone in marketing??? I really enjoyed Sunburn by Laura Lippman bit if it hadn’t come recommended (from the brilliant podcast What should I read next) I would NEVER have picked it up. The blurb on the back of the book jacket makes it sound like a trashy Mills and Boon- steamy affair, dangerous secrets 🤮. I think the book description does the book a bit of a disservice….I would not call it steamy but this lack of steam relieved me somewhat – who wants to read about shaking headboards when your sex life is currently deader than a dead thing. Anyway it was a pretty good read. A solid 3/4 star. Perfect for a holiday when you don’t want anything too taxing. The moral of this post is to buy your books based on recommendation and not on the blurb on the back .

  • Peach by Emma Glass. 3🌟.

Peach is a teenage girl like any other. She has college, and her friends, and her parents and the new baby, and a lovely boyfriend Green. She has her friend Sandy, and Sid the cat, and homework to do.

But something has happened-something unspeakable – and the world has become unfamiliar, fractured into strange textures and patterns. Reading through her refracted universe, Peach knows that the people she loves are in danger, real danger. If she is not to be swallowed hole Peach must summon all her courage and find something nameless and strange that lies within her.

What are your thoughts on books that are a bit different? I originally used the word ‘odd’ instead of ‘different’ but it goes without saying ‘different’ is different for everyone. For me this book was different. My husband bought it for me and he always seems to buy me books that I wouldn’t necessarily pick up myself. I am a typical cancerian and by this I mean that I am comfortable in my comfort zone. With books it means that I know what I like and that is what I gravitate towards. Anyway, Coming Through Slaughter (which I reviewed a few months ago) and Peach were both my husband’s picks, they were both out of my comfort zone, both very poetic, both almost like a stream of consciousness. Both reminded me of those dreams you have when you have had a bit too much to drink and everything seems a bit weird. 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷Both books were short so I just buckled in and allowed myself to be taken for a ride. It’s definitely good to challenge myself when it comes to reading. This is the main reason why I enjoy book club….I am currently trudging through Sapiens which is a book club read and definitely not something I would have picked up otherwise.

Anyway, onto Peach. This book comes with massive triggers for sexual assault, animal cruelty, cannibalism. When you think that the book is only 112 pages long you are in for a pretty intense ride. I found it visceral, brutal and disturbing. There were times where I literally winced when reading. Like Peach, Emma Glass is a vegetarian. To research the book, she forced herself to cook a sausage: the gristle, fat and slime disgusted her and consequently Peach’s rapist becomes a sausage. Is he a literal sausage or in Peach’s disturbed mind does he just have sausage attributes? The same with Mr Custard and Green. Indeed, all the characters are ‘things.’ Initially, I was frustrated by this but as the book went on, I discovered that it didn’t really matter. Enjoyable??? No, this book is not enjoyable. Disturbing?? Yes and definitely a book that will stay with me. 🍑 🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑🍑

  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. 4🌟.
  • Charles Dickens born 7th February 1812.

Dark, mysterious and mordantly funny, Oliver Twist features some of the most memorably drawn villains in all of fiction – the treacherous gang master Fagin, the menacing thug Bill Sikes, the Artful Dodger at their den of thieves in the grimy London backstreets. Dickens’s novel is both an angry indictment of poverty, and an adventure filled with an air of threat and pervasive evil.

I am embarrassed to say that it has taken me so long to read this book because having seen Carol Reed‘s film Oliver, I thought I knew the story. 😯😯🙄🙄. DON’T ASSUME YOU KNOW A BOOK BECAUSE YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE. As a ridiculously keen reader, and this being a book blog, I am MORTIFIED to admit that I am GUILTY. Mr Dickens, I humbly apologise. If you are a fool like me and think you know the story because you have seen the film, I urge you to REVIEW THE SITUATION. 😂🤣

On reading the novel, I am surprised that it lends itself so well to a musical. The book is really dark and Dickens uses it to highlight his opinions on child labour, poverty and the Poor Laws. Unlike the musical,although Oliver is the title character, he is not the most featured character. On finishing the book, I don’t really have much of a sense of who Oliver is….apart from a young, naive orphan who wants to be good.

I don’t think you can mention the novel without talking about anti-semitism. According to the font of all knowledge….Wikipedia, Fagin is referred to as ‘The Jew’ 274 times in the first 38 chapters. When criticised by the Jewish Chronicle, Dickens responded:  “it unfortunately was true, of the time to which the story refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew.” After numerous criticisms, Dickens changed the rest of the text and for the remaining chapters Fagin is barely called ‘the Jew.’ Being a big fan of the musical, I was interested to read that Ron Moody also struggled with the anti semitism. Of Fagin he said:

….. as a Jew, I could never play such an evil, corrupting character. So I made him into a clown and turned the songs, which Lionel Bart had intended to be sung straight, into comedy. To me, numbers such as I’m Reviewing the Situation leapt off the page as comic turns, but Bart accused me of ruining the show.

Without a doubt the difference in character between Dickens’s Fagin and Moody’s was a shock. In the novel there is nothing of the ‘clown’ about him. He is the brains behind the criminality in the book and Sikes is essentially just a big thug.

I love Dickens’s writing. Granted, there are a few long-winded passages (the quote below is one of the longest sentences I have ever read), but I loved the flow and pace of the novel.

Dickens is an author who has the ability to terrify, amuse and to pull on the heart strings . The chapter when Fagin is awaiting his execution is really affecting. Few books have made me cry but I found this passage from Nancy really upsetting. Here, I think Dickens completely summed up why people often stay in abusive relationships. So very sad.

‘When ladies as a young, and good, and beautiful as you are,’ replied the girl steadily, ‘give away your hearts, love will carry you all lengths – even such as you who have home, friends, other admirers, everything to fill them. When such as me, who have no certain roof but the Coffin lid, and no friend in sickness or death but the hospital nurse, set of rotten hearts on any man, and let him fill the place that parents, homr, and friends filled once, or that has been a blank through all our wretched lives, who can hope to cure us? Pity us, lady,-pity us for having only one feeling of the woman left, and for having that turned by a heavy judgement from a comfort and pride into a new means of violence and suffering.

Until next month. Thank you so much for reading .

January reads.

Happy New Year all! I hope everyone had a fabulous Christmas and received tons of good books. Surprisingly, books were a bit of a rare present for me this year but I now do an excellent line in jumpers. Probably one of my highlights of the festive period was my sister in law organising my Monica Geller Book Cupboard of Doom. It now looks beautiful and I can see exactly what is in there!!!!

  • Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout. 5 🌟

Olive, Again follows the blunt, contradictory, yet deeply lovable Olive Kitteridge as she grows older, navigating the second half of her life as she comes to terms with the changes-sometimes welcome, sometimes not-in her own existence and in those around her.

Olive adjust to her new life with her second husband, challenges her estranged son and his family to except him, experiences loss and loneliness, witnesses the triumphs and heartbreaks of her friends and neighbours in the small coastal town of Crosby, Maine and, finally, open herself to new lessons about life.

Its hard to put into words what makes Elizabeth Strout’s writing so utterly perfect. Her books aren’t fireworks and cliff hangers. They are just a perfect parcel of beautifully well-observed characters living their ‘normal’ life.

I think it is often a dangerous thing for an author, actor,director to revisit a character. The age-old problem of a sequel never being quite as good as the original. Not so with Olive Again. I just loved every minute I spent reading about this cantankerous, gruff but completely loveable woman.

There is something comforting about Strout’s writing. Reading Strout is like sitting in a massive, squishy chair with a perfect hot chocolate. All her characters are completely believable and relatable. Olive reminds me of my secondary school English teacher. When we were divided into sets for our lessons, this teacher was the one who no one wanted. Everyone wanted the cool teacher who peppered his sentences with words like ‘shit’ and ‘bollocks.’ We wanted the cool sweary guy to teach us. No one wanted the real life Olive Kitteridge, but this was the teacher we ended up loving…..not someone who suffered fools but ultimately fair and with a heart of gold.

So yes, if you like a book about real people, with real lives, pick this up. Don’t expect twists and turns and exciting plot devices……Strout doesn’t need gimmicks to create a perfect and moving story.

  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. 4🌟.

Danny Conroy grows up in the Dutch House, a lavish folly in small-town Pennsylvania taken on by his property developer father. Though his father is distant and his mother is absent, Danny has his beloved sister Maeve: Maeve, with her wall of black hair, her delicacy, her brilliant. Life is comfortable and coherent, played out under the watchful eyes of the house’s former owners in the frames of their oil paintings.

Then one day their father brings Andrea home. Her arrival will exact a banishment: a banishment whose reverberations will echo for the rest of their lives.

As decades pass, Danny and his sister are drawn back time and again to the place they can never enter, knocking in vain on the locked door of the past. For behind the mystery of their own enforced Exile is that of their mother’s self imposed one: an absence more powerful than any presence they have known.

One thing I have definitely noticed since starting my maternity leave is how few books I am getting through. BM (before Maisie) I was averaging about 8 books a month. Commuting into work, sitting in the dressing room and reading in bed at night meant I could devour books. Now I am averaging about 1 book a month….not conducive to a book blog. This is going to sound quite melodramatic but I think this lack of reading time massively affects my mental health. Reading is my self-care. It’s my ‘me time.’ It means I can escape into a world where no one is going to ask me for a bottle of milk or to wipe their bottoms. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mum but having some time for myself each day makes me a much better parent. The sense of achievement I feel when I finish a book is immense. The fact The Dutch House took me a whole month to read makes me a little sad. Books are like a good wine….you need to lap them up not sip them for a whole month. 😂. For me, sipping a book leads to a disjointed, unenjoyable read. When I look back on the books I have loved, they are often holiday reads….books that I have been able to immerse myself in for a few lazy days.

Having said all the above, a sipped book which still achieves a 4 🌟 rating must mean it’s a goodun’. This book had all the ingredients of a great read for me….brilliant characters (some I hated, some I loved), a family saga and beautiful writing. The book almost felt like a fairy tale: the idea that the children had to essentially fend for themselves due to the evil stepmother, the death of the father and the absence of the ridiculous mother who chose to travel the world to help others rather than look after and nurture her children. I think I despised Elna more that Andrea. I thought Maeve was a brilliant character. I loved all her decisions and I felt she was utterly relatable. It was also lovely to read about such a strong sibling bond. Really good book and I will definitely be reading more Patchett.

  • My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. 4🌟.

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in making Philip his heir, knowing that he will treasure his beautiful Cornish estate. But Phillip’s world is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and then dies suddenly in suspicious circumstances.

Before long, the new widow-Phillips cousin Rachel-arrives in England. Despite himself, he is drawn to the beautiful, mysterious woman. But could she be Ambrose’s killer?

Ooooooh Daphne you are my fave. Rachel is a strong, complicated, worldly and intelligent woman. She may or may not be a murderer but let’s not pick holes in the poor woman shall we?

This was our book club pick for January and I am happy to report that the great Du Maurier definitely challenged people’s preconceptions on classic literature. I think a lot of people were quite daunted by the ‘classic’ connotations of this book and wonderfully, everyone who read it, absolutely loved it.

For me, the book isn’t really a ‘did she, didn’t she?’ story. This book is about sex and the power sex has to manipulate and control. Sadly, I am very unforgiving of women in literature. I’m sure it makes me seem very small minded and unkind but I loathe female characters who are stupid, ridiculous about men, overly girly and vacuous. Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey did my head in. Constant referral to her ‘inner goddess’ and her submission to a man made me HATE her. So, in this novel, I can forgive Rachel for the fact that she may have murdered a man….she is intelligent and she clearly rules the roost. She is interesting….I wanted to know more about her.

Can you actually change a man??? In the spirit of New Year New You I am going to attempt to change my husband. Sex* in 2020 is off the cards as 6 month old Maisie has decided that the only way she will sleep for a 2 hr stretch is if she sleeps between us, so I have just raided the charity shop for some books to entice Ozzie to put the iPhone down. I am fully expecting all these books to be in the same position on the bedside table in June although they will be covered in dust and cobwebs. Come on Ozzie, read a book, you’ll like it.

*Edith, Ceci and Maisie if you ever grow up and read this post, we have only ever had sex 3 times and you guys were the result. It was horrible and awful but we had to do it it create life, to create you. Sometimes it was worth it. 😂

Anyway that is all for this month. Thanks for reading.

January Kids Reads

  • Happy New Year. Apologies for the lack of post in December. December was completely nuts. We decided to have our first Christmas at home. Until now, Christmas involved packing the car to the rafters and driving either to the midlands (to see my parents) or to the Wirral ( to see Ozzie’s parents) and then repacking the car on the 26th December to visit the other set of grandparents before heading back to London in the New Year. 2019 was the year we said “enough” and requested EVERYONE come to us. We had 13 for Christmas dinner and had to fashion an extra long table with the addition of a couple of desks. Anyway it was bonkers, mad and exactly the way Christmas ought to be.

    • Witches in Stitches by Kaye Umansky.
    • Kaye Umansky born 6th December 1946.

    Kaye Umansky is probably best known for the Pongwiffy series. My little sister loved them. I however was a big fan of Witches in Stitches. Published in 1987, this was in the format of a magazine for witches and ghouls complete with recipes, lonely hearts and a classified section. It was great!

    I managed to find this book on eBay and snapped it up for a mere 99p. This is one of those books which conjures up really funny memories. Each year in my secondary school we would all have to write something to put into the school magazine. Always keen to find a shortcut I decided to brazenly plagiarise a poem from Witches in Stitches. The poem in question was I’m Sick of That Hansel and Gretel….I also traced the illustration. I remember being asked to see the teacher, she was obviously deeply suspicious but hadn’t had the pleasure of reading Witches in Stitches so I managed to get away with it and my’ poem and illustration made it into the school magazine. How completely arrogant and utterly stupid was I???? Actually not as stupid as my best friend who plagiarised the oh so famous Not Waving But Drowning by Stevie Smith. Unfortunately for Holly, our English teacher had obviously come across Stevie Smith so not only did she not make it into the school mag but she also got a Saturday detention. Ah the arrogance of youth.

    • Lifesize Dinosaurs by Sophy Henn.

    Discover how you measure up against some incredible life-size dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. Try on a Utahraptor claw and a Pteranodon beak, compare your nostrils with a Diplodocus, wear a Stegosaurus plate, and watch out for the giant Tyrannosaurus rex mouth when you open up the foldout pages.

    My kids are crazy wonderful little weirdos. I think when my husband realised we were only capable of creating the fairer sex I think he was terrified his life would revolve around pink and bunnies. Dainty flowers my daughters are not. A lot of the time we both find our girls a little baffling. How do you explain Edie’s obsession at 2 years of age with the Lion King?? Ok ok a lot of kids are into The Lion King. Edith however only really liked one bit which we had to keep rewinding for her….not Hakuna Matata, not Can You Feel The Love Tonight. No, no, Edie’s most favourite part of The Lion King was the bit when Mufasa gets trampled by a stampede of wildebeest. Thankfully now 6 she has grown out of this blood lust and is now much more obsessed with her hair and her hamster. Ceci’s interesting little quirk is her love of Jurassic Park…particularly the bit with the T-Rex and the ‘fitter’ she means Spitter. She loves nothing more than watching the film with us or her grandparents and explaining what is happening while we pretend to be afraid. As I’ve said before, kids (or my kids) love nothing more than thinking they know more about a subject than you do. As a result, both my girls love this brilliant book by Sophy Henn. I have bought it for tons of the girls friends and everyone thinks it’s great. Ceci is obsessed with the pull out T-Rex mouth and I am feeling fully confident if not a little smug about Edith’s up and coming a Dinosaur school project. #bossingit.

    • Dinosaur Juniors by Rob Biddulph.

    High fives, fist bumps, big hugs, applause…..for disco-dancing dinosaurs!

  • Nine dino eggs but little Greg hatches later than everyone else. The story follows Gregosaurus trying to make some prehistoric friends when everyone has already found their best bud. It all ends well with the dinosaurs throwing him a Happy Hatch Day Party. 🦕 🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕
  • This is a proper value for money book. By this I mean that as your children get older, this book that keeps on giving. For really little ones the pictures are colourful and not so crazy busy that your children will suffer from sensory overload. Ceci at 4 is a massive fan….mainly because it is about dinosaurs but also for children of Ceci’s age there are things to count and plenty of things to spot. Older children can take advantage of the detail in the pictures – types of dinos, musical instruments. The story is told in rhyme which keeps me happy….I love a rhyme!!❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
  • This would be a great book to give to a child who is starting a new school/nursery halfway through a year, when they are the only newbie and everyone else has settled into a routine.🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖🦕🦖
  • Also, slightly terrifying picture of Ceci. She is looking a little sinister. Edie is holding Daisy her new hamster. This is the new addition to the Andrews clan. All going well so far….making Edie clean her out every week is proving challenging but we are persevering. 🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹🐹
  • Thank you all for reading!

    November Reads

    Excuse the lateness of this post. We are in the midst of a delightful, festive outbreak of hand, foot and mouth. We are basically housebound and are spending our days watching Home Alone and Home Alone 2 on repeat. The girls 6 and 4 think it is the most hilarious thing EVER.

    Anyway, Merry Christmas to all! I hope Father Christmas brings you some good books!

    • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. 4⭐️.
    • Marjane Satrapi born 22nd November 1969.

    The intelligent and outspoken child of radical Marxists, and a great granddaughter of Iran’s last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. This is a beautiful and intimate story full of tragedy and humour-raw, honest and incredibly illuminating.

    This was my first time reading a graphic novel. Whilst looking up Satrapi on Wikipedia I learned that she hates the term ‘graphic novel:’

    ‘People are so afraid to use the term ‘comic.’It makes you think of a grown man with pimples, a ponytail and a big belly. Change it to ‘graphic novel’ and that disappears. No: it’s all comics.’

    This should give you a small insight into Satrapi. She is a straight talking, no bullshit kind of woman.

    This ‘comic’ is Satrapi’s autobiography that tells of her childhood and teenage years growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. I thought it was BRILLIANT. I think I was most surprised by how moved I was. Satrapi’s simple black and white images don’t detract from the story which is ultimately about a girl growing up….learning about boys, friendships and her own identity against the harsh fundamentalism of the Iranian regime. 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏Aimed at YA, it is a great tool to challenge Western stereotypes, treatment of women and also it provides a platform to discuss fears of the Middle East. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ My only criticism is the size of the writing….my 38 year old eyes struggled to read the teeny tiny writing. 😂

    • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. 3⭐️.
    • Tayari Jones born 30th November 1970.

    Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of the American dream. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. Until one day they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could’ve imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit.

    Devastated and unmoored, Celestial finds herself struggling to hold onto the love that has been her centre, taking comfort in Andre, their closest friend. When Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, he returns home ready to resume their life together.

    Hmmmmmm. It’s a funny thing when a book is lauded by the media and when you read it you are left feeling a little, well, meh. This book recently won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and so I was really excited to pick it up. It was very readable and I got through it quite quickly but the only character I liked was Big Roy and he was a secondary character.

    Feeling a little like ‘I wasn’t quite getting it,’ I decided to read some reviews. After reading a review on rewritelondon.com I learned:

    With 2.3 million people in prison or jail, the United States leads the world in incarceration. Of this excessive, unjust number of incarcerated individuals, Black men are disproportionately represented – 1 in 3 Black men are likely to be imprisoned in their lifetime as compared to 1 in 17 white men.

    Unfortunately for me, this book was trying to do too much. I felt Roy’s wrongful imprisonment needed to be made more of. I guess the whole point was the impact of mass incarceration on a marriage but I don’t believe Roy and Celestial’s marriage would have survived anyway. Even without a jail term, their marriage was already struggling. They already had trust issues and I don’t believe they actually really knew each other. As a result, as a reader, I didn’t really care. I disliked them both, I was unconvinced by their marriage in the beginning so in the end when it broke up I couldn’t care less.

    That being said, I am clearly MASSIVELY in the minority. People love this book. For me it just left me feeling a little cold.

    • Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. 5⭐️.

    For a while, Daisy Jones &The Six were everywhere. Their albums were on every turntable, they sold out arenas from coast to coast, their sound defined an era. And then, on the 12th of July 1979, they split.

    Nobody ever knew why, until now.

    They were lovers and friends and brothers and rivals. They couldn’t believe their luck, until it ran out. This is their story of the early days and the wild nights but everyone remembers the truth differently.

    The only thing they all know for sure is that from the moment Daisy Jones walked, barefoot, onto the stage at the Whisky, the band were irrevocably changed.

    This was our book club pick for November and all in all it was a hit. I loved it. It was a quick, pacy read and perfect for me right now. Sleep deprivation has well and truly hit home and I need a book that is going to grab my attention from page 1 and not finally at page 61.

    The format of the book is just brilliant. It took me right back to the days of reading Take That interviews in Big Magazine with my friends at school. A few of us, me included, had to google if they were actually a real band. I loved the contradictions you get from different people when asked about the same thing:

    Graham: “Billy was always in charge, you know? Billy wrote the lyrics, Billy composed and arranged all of the songs. If Billy goes to rehab the tour is over. If Billy is ready to go back to the studio, we all have to report for duty. He ran the show.”

    Billy: “We were all a team.”

    It was all just so believable and kudos to Jenkins Reid for the mammoth amount of research she must have done to make all the characters appear so real and individual.

    We had a great discussion at book club about the lyrics for the album being placed at the end of the book. Some loved it. I personally skim read them. I preferred to imagine the lyrics…the ones written down didn’t come close to the brilliance of the ones I imagined. 😂.

    As well as being a novel about the music, this is a love story. Normally I avoid love stories like the plague but this kind of love reminds me of Sally Rooney’s novels – messy, painful and realistic.

    This book was a unanimous hit in my book group. Some members who enjoy the more high brow choices we read felt like they needed something ‘more.’ Those members enjoyed it but like to feel they have been intellectually challenged by a read. This book isn’t a challenge but it’s bloody enjoyable and for me that is what I need from a book. At the moment, life is challenging enough. I want to get into my bath at the end of a day and be immersed in a brilliant read. In my opinion, Daisy Jones was just that, a brilliant read.

    Thanks for reading.

    See you next month. X