March Reads

Hi all. I hope everyone is well. I didn’t have very high hopes in terms of reading for March. I started the month with the John Irving which seemed to take FOREVER to read but on finishing, I was obviously inspired to devour another 5 books so I’m pretty happy. I finish work in mid April so I am looking forward to tons of early nights in my bed with a book! Simple pleasures.

  • The Cider House Rules by John Irving. 3⭐️.
  • John Irving born 2nd March 1942.

‘The reason Homer Wells kept his name was that he came back to St Cloud’s so many times, after so many failed foster homes, that the orphanage was forced to acknowledge Homer’s intention to make St Cloud’s his home.’ 

Homer Wells’ odyssey begins among the apple orchards of rural Maine. As the oldest unadopted child at St Cloud’s orphanage, he strikes up a profound and unusual friendship with Wilbur Larch, the orphanage’s founder – a man of rare compassion and an addiction to ether. What he learns from Wilbur takes him from his early apprenticeship in the orphanage surgery, to an adult life running a cider-making factory and a strange relationship with the wife of his closest friend…

Long books. What are your thoughts on long books? As someone who sets themselves a Goodreads challenge, I admit that I am often guilty of reading shorter books that are about 250-300 pages in length. I am definitely an impatient reader. When it comes to books, I feel a little like a child in a sweet shop….I want to try EVERYTHING, I don’t want to linger too long on one book. At a time in my life when my priorities are my children, feeling like I have achieved something for myself each day is really important to me. Usually this is something as simple as remembering to put my eye cream on. 😂🤣. Getting through at least a book a week makes me feel positive and challenged. The challenge of getting through 720 pages of The Cider House Rules in a week was a challenge too far. I felt like I was barely making a dent in it…I’m sad to say it was a little soul destroying and frustrating. Once I hit the 60% mark however, I raced to the finish line and I now feel crazy happy….not least because it has freed up space on my book shelf to fill with new books. 📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚📚

So did I enjoy it?? Yes but I didn’t love it. It was a little slow and rambling for me. I enjoyed the beginning of the book the most. Dr Larch was a brilliant character and I enjoyed all the stuff about back-Street abortions. I listened to a podcast with John Irving and it makes sense to me that he is so heavily influenced by Charles Dickens. Irving seems obsessed by haunted figures. Scarred, damaged characters – prostitutes, abandoned children, ether addicts…. they all appear in this book. Don’t let this put you off however. In amongst all the damaged souls, Irving manages to inject humour and lightheartedness. Unfortunately, for me however, the enjoyment and the time it took for me to read the book were not directly proportionate.

  • A Stitch in Time by Penelope Lively. 2⭐️.
  • Same Penelope Lively born 17th March 1933.

Maria is always getting lost in the secret world of her imagination…

A ghostly mystery and winner of the Whitbread Award,republished in the Collins Modern Classics range.

Maria likes to be alone with her thoughts. She talks to animals and objects, and generally prefers them to people. But whilst on holiday she begins to hear things that aren’t there – a swing creaking, a dog barking – and when she sees a Victorian embroidered picture, Maria feels a strange connection with the ten-year-old, Harriet, who stitched it.

But what happened to her? As Maria becomes more lost in Harriet’s world, she grows convinced that something tragic occurred…

Perfect for fans of ghostly mysteries like ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’.

Last month I attempted to read Milly Molly Mandy to Edie. It was a complete and utter failure. My 5 year old city girl was underwhelmed with quaint country life. She couldn’t believe that Milly Molly Mandy spent her time picking blackberries and running errands. “The most boring book ever” I was told. This got me thinking about how literature has changed. Edie is too young to read A Stitch in Time….the back of the book says it’s recommended for 9 year olds. Having said that, I don’t think she would enjoy it when she gets to 9. I am embarrassed to say that me at 37 found it dull!!!! Looking at reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, the star rating seems high but nearly every review is written by an adult who remembers it from their youth.

A Stitch in Time won the 1976 Children’s Whitbread Award so at the time it was obviously incredibly popular. Undoubtedly, the writing is lovely and the character of Maria is beautifully drawn. I particularly enjoyed Lively’s description of Maria’s parents who were obviously the dullest of the dull. My issue with the book is that nothing really happened. It is slow but I guess that is because in the 70s, the pace of life was slower. Nowadays, we are spoiled by the internet, social media etc. We are used to things happening immediately, at the touch of a button…..you can even turn your house lights on with your mobile phone! I guess we don’t have to work at things as much. This book made me think how much the Harry Potter phenomenon must have changed literature. I’m not saying I need magic and giants but I need SOMETHING and I know my children definitely do.

  • The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. 4⭐️.
  • W.C. Minor died 26th March 1920.

The making of the Oxford English Dictionary was a monumental 50 year task requiring thousands of volunteers. One of the keenest volunteers was a W C Minor who astonished everyone by refusing to come to Oxford to receive his congratulations. In the end, James Murray, the OED’s editor, went to Crowthorne in Berkshire to meet him. What he found was incredible – Minor was a millionaire American civil war surgeon turned lunatic, imprisoned in Broadmoor Asylum for murder and yet who dedicated his entire cell-bound life to work on the English language.

Wow just wow. I am so pleased I read this book. I first heard it mentioned on the brilliant podcast What Shall I Read Next. It was described as a non fiction account of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary and the story of WC Minor who contributed 12,000 words and definitions but was also a patient of Broadmoor. Does that not sound like the most amazing tale??? I bought it straight away.

Without a doubt, this is an utterly amazing tale and one I knew nothing about. When you discover a book like this you feel slightly like you have been given a box of treasure! It has never occurred to me how dictionaries came to be and how they were compiled. I remember when I started secondary school we were told we had to invest in a ‘proper’ dictionary (I guess the word ‘proper’ here, means ‘grown-up’ ie no pictures) and a posh calculator. I never did discover what all those buttons on my posh calculator did and I never did take my ‘proper’ dictionary into school because it was hardback and massive. It still sits on my bedroom shelf back at my parent’s home. The very idea that the dictionary came to be thanks to volunteers who would pour over endless books from different time periods, tracing the root of each individual word is mind blowing!!! Can you imagine the time this took?!?!

Minor’s story is an incredibly sad one. Born in Ceylon in 1934, he served as an army surgeon in the American Civil War. It is thought that Minor’s mental health problem came as a result of being tasked with branding an Irish deserter. After the war, Minor returned to New York city where he was a frequent customer of the prostitutes in the red light district. By 1868, the army had learned of his mental deterioration and he was transferred to an asylum. In 1871, Minor decided to move to London for a change of pace. His paranoia became out of control and in 1872, he fatally shot George Merrett. Merrett was not previously known to Minor who wrongly believed Merrett had broken into his rooms. He was found not guilty by insanity and sent to Broadmoor where he was given access to comfortable rooms and a library. During his incarceration, he read an advert by Dr James Murray for volunteers to help with what would later become the Oxford English Dictionary. Minor became one of the largest contributors of the dictionary. Dr Murray didn’t meet Minor until 1891 and it was only then that he learned about Minor’s background. Sadly, Minor’s condition deteriorated. He started to believe he was being abducted from his cell and forced to abuse children. These delusions reached a peak in 1902 when Minor cut off his own penis. With Murray’s help, Minor was deported back to the US.

This book not only gave me an insight into how the dictionary was compiled but it also taught me about the relationship between Minor and Murray-an unlikely friendship based on a mutual respect which helped to create the Oxford English Dictionary.

  • The Foundling by Charlotte Brontë. 3⭐️.
  • Charlotte Brontë died 31st March 1855.

Written when she was seventeen, The Foundling is a classic fairy tale, set in the imagined kingdom of Verdopolis, which will delight fans of Charlotte Bronte’s later work. Edward Sydney is abandoned as a baby but finds a ‘protector’ in Mr Hasleden, a rich local landowner who declares an interest in the child, and claims him as his own. The boy grows up believing Hasleden to be his father, but, after his death, Edward discovers evidence of his real name and the circumstances of his birth. Full of curiosity about his true origins, he decides to set off on a journey to the mythical kingdom of Verdopolis. There, after several adventures, he meets and falls in love with the noble Lady Julia, only to find she is betrothed to another…

A few months ago I picked up two books by Charlotte Brontë from a library sale. 20p each! Total bargain. They have sat in my cupboard, untouched and undiscovered until last week when after trawling through the MASSIVE tome that was The Cider House Rules, I felt I needed a book under 200 pages. Similar to my discoveries about the Oxford English Dictionary in the Simon Winchester, this book by Charlotte Brontë has opened up the world of ‘juvenilia’ of which I knew absolutely nothing. The term ‘juvenilia’ is usually given to books written by authors in their youth. In 1826, Patrick Brontë gifted his son, Branwell, a set of toy soldiers. Charlotte, Anne and Branwell each picked soldiers and used them to create characters and lands which were used in their stories, plays and poetry.

So, the story…. it was full of magic, strong men, pathetic women and amazing insults:

‘Get up, heap of baseness, and be gone instantly from my presence!’

‘Do your worst, driveling dotard.’

If I had to use one word to describe it I would say melodrama. I don’t want this to take away from the fact that Brontë wrote this at 17! 17! At 17 I was stealing alcohol from my parents drinks cabinet and snogging boys in parks. Reading Brontë’s work is without a doubt humbling and thanks to her ‘driveling dotard’ is now my insult of choice .

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. 4⭐️.

WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017

A STORY OF LOVE AFTER DEATH

‘A masterpiece’ Zadie Smith
‘Extraordinary’ Daily Mail
‘Breathtaking’ Observer
A tour de force’ The Sunday Times

The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War

The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?

This is Saunders’s first novel having dedicated himself to the short story genre in the past. The novel is based on fact- during the Civil War Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie died of typhoid Fever. Lincoln did apparently visit the body of his son twice on the day he was interred. The whole novel takes place during this one evening. The setting of the novel is The Bardo which is the land between the living and the dead. The novel is a strange collection of quotations, some real and some not.

This was a book club read and I am sad to say that it was pretty unpopular, in fact, a lot of people didn’t finish. I have to admit that my thought are a little confused. The reason is that I read the book in conjunction with listening to the audiobook. Usually, I struggle to concentrate on audiobooks but in this case, it was the audio which spurred me on to finish the book. The audio is epic with 166 voices. Apparently Random House are hoping for a World Record for most voices on an audiobook. The cast includes Don Cheadle, Susan Sarandon, Julianne Moore and David Sedaris. Over 6 months, the speakers recorded their lines in 17 different studios across America. The recordings were then sent to the audio editor Ted Scott who pieced it all together. Lincoln in the Bardo is a book which translates so well to audio. The book almost reads like a script with snippets from characters and quotes from books so to have each one of these voiced by a different actor makes it much more accessible. Listening to it also slows the reading down. I am definitely someone who can rush reading. The one line snippets and sections of the book which highlight the fact that history is an unreliable narrator, I know I would have skimmed and therefore completely missed the point.

Saunders calls this an experimental novel. At first I thought this was a disclaimer, almost as if Saunders was making an excuse in case it didn’t work out….”sorry if you don’t like it guys, it’s just an experiment.” For me, this was an experiment that paid off.

The writing is beautiful, poignant and moving. There is one passage in particular that broke me:

I was in error when I saw him as fixed and stable and thought I would have him forever. He was never fixed, nor stable, but always just a passing, temporary energy-burst. I had reason to know this. Had he not looked this way at birth, that way at four, another way at seven, been made entirely anew at nine? He had never stayed the same. Even instant to instant.

He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness.

Only I did not think it would be so soon.

Or that he would precede us.

This passage is Lincoln talking about the death of his son. I think this must perfectly describe the loss of a child: almost a magical entity that is not meant for this world….a burst of energy.

One of the most interesting topics that the novel brought up was that history is an unreliable narrator. We reply on people of the time to relay events but everyone sees things differently. There were a couple of chapters that expressed this beautifully. One, describes the moon on the night of Willie’s death and the other the facial features of Abe Lincoln. The majority of accounts differ which makes the reader question who to trust.

I would say that it takes a good 60 pages to get into the swing of this book. Once you get used to the method of writing and the world that Saunders creates you will be massively rewarded. I am so pleased I read this book and can honestly say that I have never read anything like it. There are also tons of discussion points which would make it a great book club choice.

  • After the Party by Cressida Connolly. 2.5 ⭐️.

‘I always wanted to be friends with both my sisters. Perhaps that was the source, really, of all the troubles of my life…’

It is the summer of 1938 and Phyllis Forrester has returned to England after years abroad. Moving into her sister’s grand country house, she soon finds herself entangled in a new world of idealistic beliefs and seemingly innocent friendships. Fevered talk of another war infiltrates their small, privileged circle, giving way to a thrilling solution: a great and charismatic leader, who will restore England to its former glory. 

At a party hosted by her new friends, Phyllis lets down her guard for a single moment, with devastating consequences. Years later, Phyllis, alone and embittered, recounts the dramatic events which led to her imprisonment and changed the course of her life forever.

This is the first time I have come across a book discussing Sir Oswald Mosley’s party The British Union and the fate of its followers during WW2. Apparently, around 800 of his supporters were imprisoned without trails or access to legal representation under the Defence Regulation Act.

Connolly said she was inspired after reading a book called Blackshirts on Sea: A Pictorial History of the Mosley Summer Camps 1933-1938 by A. J. There seems to be relatively little fiction written about The National Union of Fascists and how Oswald Mosley came to power and I was definitely excited to discover more about this period of history. Unfortunately this is where my issues with the book lay. I felt there was minimal character development so I struggled to empathise with the characters and the historical detail was so scant I felt utterly frustrated. The book was readable and the writing good but the novel just left me feeling a bit ‘meh.’ I can’t really work out Connolly’s intentions….she managed to write a novel with minimal story and no historical depth.

Thanks for reading. See you next month.

January Reads

Happy New Year all. Hope you all had a restful Christmas and are feeling refreshed for 2019.

Reading wise, 2019 has gotten off to a blinder. The House of Silk is a definite 5⭐️ read for me. January will also see me re-evaluate my rating system. In the past, 5⭐️ reads were very rare and I think in the past I have often been too harsh. 2019 will see much more positive ratings from me.

  • The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. 5⭐️.

‘Horowitz has captured Holmes Heaven’ (THE TIMES) – THE HOUSE OF SILK was the first official new Sherlock Holmes mystery and a SUNDAY TIMES bestseller.

THE GAME’S AFOOT . . .

It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks. 

Intrigued, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston and the mysterious ‘House of Silk’ . . .

Well if this is a sign of things to come in 2019, I am a very happy reader. I loved this book. In fact that was nothing I didn’t like about The House of Silk. As a self-proclaimed book worm I am ashamed to say that I haven’t read any Doyle. I am planning to rectify this ASAP but I acknowledge reading the new version before reading the original author isn’t ideal.

Anthony Horowitz is certainly qualified to write a mystery novel and according to reviews, he has been respectful of Doyle’s formula: no high action, no love interests, bringing back well loved characters etc. In the author’s blurb at the back of my copy he makes his disdain for the high action in the Robert Downey Jnr film pretty plain. If Horowitz’s novel makes people pick up some Doyle then surely this is a good thing.

As a Sherlock virgin what did I love??? The neatness of the plot was a big plus for me. Characters were introduced and then reintroduced. Ends were tied up. I didn’t have to keep flipping back through the book to remind myself who people were. I felt safe with Holmes and Watson. I was comforted in the knowledge that that good would conquer evil but the journey was definitely an exciting one . I enjoyed the Victorian setting. It felt like a cosy book, perfect for the winter months.

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. 5⭐️.
  • J.D. Salinger born 1st January 1919.

The Catcher in the Rye is J . D. Salinger’s novel of disaffected youth.

Holden Caulfield is a seventeen- year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Navigating his way through the challenges of growing up, Holden dissects the ‘phony’ aspects of society, and the ‘phonies’ themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection.

Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood behind, The Catcher in the Rye explores the world with disarming frankness and a warm, affecting charisma which has made this novel a universally loved classic of twentieth-century literature.

J. D. Salinger was born in 1919 and died in January 2010. He grew up in New York City, and wrote short stories from an early age, but his breakthrough came in 1948 with the publication in The New Yorker of ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’. The Catcher in the Rye was his first and only novel, published in 1951. It remains one of the most translated, taught and reprinted texts, and has sold some 65 million copies. His other works include the novellas Franny and Zooey, For Esme with Love and Squalor, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, published with Seymour – An Introduction.

When choosing books for our book club I post a selection of 4 or 5 reads from differing genres, authors from different countries etc. I want to offer a wide range of choice. People vote for their choice and the most popular book is the one we read. This means that people have a say and can opt in or out depending on the book chosen.
I have to admit, that when Catcher was the book picked I was a little disappointed. It’s ‘classic’ status put me off. I had visions of myself trying to plough through a high brow novel whilst cooking chicken nuggets for the kids or desperately trying to read it and keep my eyes open late at night. Sadly, the term ‘classic’ intimidated me. Thanks to A Level English I associate Classics with books that have to be picked apart and analysed. I mean did your teacher ever ask you in English class if you actually enjoyed the book you were studying???
As with a lot of things in life, I was wrong about Catcher. I LOVED this book. I want to shout it from the rooftops “I loved Catcher. I’m not intimidated. I got it.” I think however, the reason I loved it and ‘got’ it was because I read it at the right time. This is a book which is often read in school. If I had read this at 14,15, 16 I think Catcher would be yet another book, destined for the pile of dull, uninteresting books that are a massive slog. How many great books a ruined by being picked up at the wrong time?
For me, a mother of 37 this is about a grieving boy. A boy who has been packed off to school, who has tried and failed to fit in and as he becomes more angry and disillusioned, he is failed by those who could and should help. I wanted to mother Holden. I found him utterly endearing. Teenagers are complex creatures. Trying to work out who they are, desperate to be accepted, trying on numerous personalities to find the one that ‘fits.’ I feel that I was like this as a teenager. Trying to be one of the cool, clever kids and never quite fitting in. I was definitely angry. As a teenager however I would not have been able to recognise this fact. As an adult, I can look back on those years with a bit more understanding. Underneath all the bravado, swearing etc, Holden is just a sad, angry, mixed up kid. He is almost too sensitive. The love and protectiveness he feels towards his sister is a prime example of this.

  • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. 4⭐️.
  • Erik Larson born 3rd January 1954.

Berlin,1933. William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered academic from Chicago, has to his own and everyone else’s surprise, become America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, in a year that proves to be a turning point in history. 
Dodd and his family, notably his vivacious daughter, Martha, observe at first-hand the many changes – some subtle, some disturbing, and some horrifically violent – that signal Hitler’s consolidation of power. Dodd has little choice but to associate with key figures in the Nazi party, his increasingly concerned cables make little impact on an indifferent U.S. State Department, while Martha is drawn to the Nazis and their vision of a ‘New Germany’ and has a succession of affairs with senior party players, including first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. 
But as the year darkens, Dodd and his daughter find their lives transformed and any last illusion they might have about Hitler are shattered by the violence of the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in the summer of 1934 that established him as supreme dictator. Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the times, and with brilliant portraits of Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Himmler amongst others, Erik Larson’s new book sheds unique light on events as they unfold, resulting in an unforgettable, addictively readable work of narrative history.

In my blog I like to list the books in the order of births and deaths during that month. However, this is not necessarily the order in which I read them. Today is 28th January and I am only 200 pages into this book. This is not going to be a quick read for me but it is one I am really enjoying. Having read a lot of books about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany this is a narrative history which we really experience from the witnesses. The novel is really objective in discussing the rise of the Nazi Party. I don’t feel he condemns those involved but rather he gives us a well rounded idea of what it was like to live in Berlin during those terrifying years. For those who are interested in that period of history this is definitely work a read.

    My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. 3⭐️.
    Elizabeth Strout born January 6th 1956.

Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed. They have not seen one another in years. As they talk Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was she eventually arrived in the big city, got married and had children. But this unexpected visit leaves her doubting the life she’s made: wondering what is lost and what has yet to be found.

The first time I discovered Elizabeth Strout was when I watched the TV adaptation of Olive Kitteridge with the brilliant Frances McDormand. I adored the adaptation. The acting was superb. I read the book soon after and I loved it just as much. I think it’s quite a rare thing to like a TV adaptation or film the same amount as a book but this shows just how great McDormand was.

If you haven’t read any Elizabeth Strout what do you need to know? She writes quiet books about people and relationships. Her novels are set in small town America so are complete with that feeling of claustrophobia, gossip, prides, prejudices and habit that are often associated with settings such as these. Strout’s genius is in her characters. The conversations are just so well written and nuanced that the characters are immediately believable.

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. 3⭐️.
  • Agatha Christie died 12th January 1976.

Agatha Christie’s most famous murder mystery, reissued with a new cover to tie in with the hugely anticipated 2017 film adaptation.

Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.

Isolated and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must identify the murderer – in case he or she decides to strike again.

I finished this a couple of nights ago having whipped through it in a couple of days. Surprisingly I didn’t love it. I say surprisingly as I really enjoyed And Then There Were None. So what didn’t float my boat (train) about Orient Express????

I hate to say this and I am sure this will be an unpopular opinion but I disliked each and every character including Poirot . Actually, the word dislike is probably wrong. I disliked Poirot-smug and annoying. The other characters I had no feelings for at all and that is where the problem lies. For me, a good thriller/murder mystery is about the relationships between the characters. Why did they commit the crime. I didn’t feel there was any character development and as a result no suspense. To me, it just seemed like an exercise to show Poirot’s intelligence which made it quite dull. As a reader, you are always confident that Poirot will solve the crime so that isn’t particularly exciting. Sorry Agatha.

  • A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale. 5⭐️.
  • Patrick Gale norm 31st January 1962.

‘Do you need me to pray for you now for a specific reason?’
‘I’m going to die.’
‘We’re all going to die. Does dying frighten you?’
‘I mean I’m going to kill myself.’

When 20-year-old Lenny Barnes, paralysed in a rugby accident, commits suicide in the presence of Barnaby Johnson, the much-loved priest of a West Cornwall parish, the tragedy’s reverberations open up the fault-lines between Barnaby and his nearest and dearest – the gulfs of unspoken sadness that separate them all. Across this web of relations scuttles Barnaby’s repellent nemesis – a man as wicked as his prey is virtuous.

Returning us to the rugged Cornish landscape of ‘Notes from an Exhibition’, Patrick Gale lays bare the lives and the thoughts of a whole community and asks us: what does it mean to be good?

Everything I have read by Patrick Gale I have loved. Like Elizabeth Strout, he writes about people. The kind of people you know, meet on the street, sit next to in work. People who, on the surface seem ordinary but these authors know that people are never ordinary and each person has a story. Their decision to write about ‘ordinary’ people mean that as a reader, you relate with the characters. You can empathise. Since starting this blog and having to think why I like books, I now know that I don’t need action packed novels. I like books that paint vivid characters with relatable stories. I like to know what makes people tick and Elizabeth Strout and Patrick Gale are authors who perfectly encapsulate this. There was not one character in this novel who I didn’t, on some level, empathise with. Even the unlikeable Modest Carlsson. The section about Dorothy losing so many babies also tugged at my heart strings. On reading a review in the Observer, Julie Myserson says one of Gale’s strengths is his narrative compassion:

He understands how it feels to be anyone, man, woman, child, young or old.

Like Strout, Patrick Gale is an author I trust. These are authors who are always going to hook me with beautiful writing, believable settings and incredible well observed characters.

  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Audiobook read by Roxane Gay.

Pink is my favourite colour. I used to say my favourite colour was black to be cool, but it is pink – all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.’

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of colour (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny and sincere look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

In my blog about children’s books I mentioned how, as a child, on long journeys, my parents would play us cassette tapes of stories. My sister and I would gaze out the window listening to brilliant audios of Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book etc. I tried this with my 5 year old on our journey back home for Christmas. I downloaded George’s Marvellous Medicine read by Derek Jacobi. She managed to concentrate for about 15 minutes. I tell this story because worryingly, like Edith, I am similar. Audiobooks would definitely not be my medium of choice. I wonder if it’s something to do with living in London, rushing around- my mind is so easily distracted. I am like a horse that needs blinkers. I need to hold a physical book to shut out all the distracting sights around me. This is definitely something I plan to rectify in 2019. I need to learn to quiet my brain and to concentrate.

This is my second book by the brilliant Roxane Gay and series of essays on feminism, racism, gender and sexuality. I enjoyed it (maybe not so much as had I read it). I like what she has to say. I agree with the vast majority of her views and she gets me thinking about issues that as a white, heterosexual female I often take for granted. I also love the fact that in a book about a serious topic, Gay still manages to carve out humour in her dry, take no prisoners way. The humour stopped me feeling like I was being lectured every time I pressed play. They essay about chess was brilliant!!!!!!!

Right on to February. Today is the 1st and I am writing this on the tube. I had a very wet walk to the station and am not trying not to let my drenched mac touch the clearly very expensive suit of the man sitting next to me!!!🙄🙄🙄🙄

Have a great month and thank you for reading.

January kids reads

Hi all. Well it seems that the longest month EVER is coming to an end and with it go my nights off. It’s a major flaw in my personality that as an opera singer, I hate working nights. As a mum with young children it’s a bit pants. I see the girls in the morning, send them to school and don’t see them until the next morning. I spend a massive chunk of time feeling guilty and obsessing about the time I am missing and will never get back with my children. The only bonus is come April, I have some time off with them and hope to overdose them with brilliant books!!!

  • Hamilton’s Hats by Martine Oborne and Axel Scheffler.

Hamilton the Pig is very fond of hats – big hats, small hats, tall hats and suitable-for-every-and-any-occasion sort of hats. Hamilton loves hats so much his mum starts to worry that he’s a very vain little pig. Little does she know that Hamilton’s favourite hats will teach him some very important lessons!

Hamilton’s Hats by Martine Oborne is a wonderfully funny tale, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, the award-winning creator of The Gruffalo.

It is definitely the sign of a book addict when you discover books you didn’t even know you owned! I have no idea where and from whom we acquired this book but it was a new read for all of us. The girls really enjoyed it. There is a double page at the end with loads of different hat pictures so we had a fun game of guessing which of us would wear which hat.

  • Lewis Carroll died 14th January 1898.

I remember car journeys as a child (long before iPads were invented), when my parents would play a cassette tape to help pass the time. I remember staring out of the car window listening to fairy tales, The Jungle Book and Roald Dahl. I tried this with my children on the way back to my parent’s house for Christmas. I downloaded George’s Marvellous Medicine read by Derek Jacobi. I think it held Edie’s attention for all of 15 minutes.

My sister and I loved our BBC recording of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass read by the incredible Alan Bennett. Looking Glass has always been my favourite out of the two and Bennett’s dead-pan reading made the nonsense seem even more ridiculous.

  • The Trouble With Mum by Babette Cole.
  • Babette Cole died 15th January 2017.

The trouble with Mum is that she’s a witch, and just can’t help turning people into toads, and other such embarrassing things. Finally, however, her odd talents find a good use. By the author/illustrator of “Three Cheers for Errol”, “Tarzanna” and “The Hairy Book”.

Oh the wonderful Babette Cole. I remember reading this book (which was published in 1983) as a child and now I am sharing it with my own children. Surely this is the sign of a good book…a book that stands the test of time. My children laugh at and love the same things that I did (and still do). The illustrations are fabulous. There is loads to look at and spot. The text is large so Edie can start to read it herself. Babette Cole reminds me a little of the Winnie the Witch books by Valerie Thomas in that they both contain the right amount of yuk to keep children entertained.

  • AA Milne born 18th January 1882.

  • Rudyard Kipling died 18th January 1936.

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
  • First published on the 28th January 1813.

BabyLit(R) Storybooks give classics new life for the next generation of early readers.

In Pride & Prejudice, children are invited into the Regency period to meet the Bennett sisters, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and other beloved characters from Jane Austen’s classic tale. Elegant balls, surprise proposals, and a visit to Pemberley are just a few events to look forward to in this story about appearances, misunderstandings, and love. Quotes from the original text are woven throughout this retelling, and the imaginative artwork will engage readers of all ages. This is a book to be treasured throughout childhood and beyond.

I picked up this copy when we went to Jane Austen’s house this summer. We had a brilliant day. The sun was shining, beautiful flowers in the garden, nice pub lunch. The kids had a great time. Edie dressed up as Jane Austen, Ceci wrote with a quill and they did a treasure hunt in the garden…it is definitely worth a visit.

As a reminder of our lovely day I picked up this book for the girls. This was the beginning of my love affair with Baby Lit. This is a brilliant company that takes classic books and makes them approachable to younger readers. There are the primers for little ones, which introduce them to numbers and shapes. For the older children there are story books which simplify the classics. This copy with story retold by Stephanie Clarkson and art by Annabel Tempest is beautiful and would make a great gift. Edie and Ceci love looking at the girls dresses and in my opinion it’s never too young to introduce children to Mr Darcy.

Anyway, see you all next month.

Thanks so much for reading.

November/December Reads

Hello all. I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

I didn’t do my November round up last month because I am well and truly in a reading slump. It’s definitely hormonal and I’m sure it will pass in a few weeks but right now I am completely and utterly struggling to concentrate on anything. At the end of November I looked back at what I had achieved reading wise and it was utterly minimal. My way round this was to lump Nov and Dec together in the hope that I will have something decent to say about the very few books I have managed to get through. So, here goes….I hoping January brings with it some reading vim and vigour.

  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer.
  • Andrew Sean Greer. Born 5th November 1970.

Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the post: it is from an ex-boyfriend of nine years who is engaged to someone else. Arthur can’t say yes – it would be too awkward; he can’t say no – it would look like defeat. So, he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world. 

From France to India, Germany to Japan, Arthur almost falls in love, almost falls to his death, and puts miles between him and the plight he refuses to face. Less is a novel about mishaps, misunderstandings and the depths of the human heart.

Do you believe how much you like a book is directly proportionate to how much time you dedicate to it??? First book fail of the month and it’s not the fault of the book! 😞😞😞😞😔😔 I have been really busy in work and my head has been everywhere but nowhere near my current read.

Each time I have picked this up I have been asleep by the end of the page. The accolades on the front cover are taunting me. I look at the cover and feel slightly like Arthur falling and trying to regain control. As the Winner of the Pulitzer, I am sure it is wonderful but I sense a slump coming on and I need something that is going to grab me immediately.

I am so sorry Andrew Sean Greer. It’s most definitely not you. It’s me. ☹️☹️☹️☹️☹️ Also, Happy Birthday for the 5th! 🎂🎂🎂

  • Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro. Birthday 8th November.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

In one of the most acclaimed novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, Never Let Me Godramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

Ishiguro is an incredible writer and this novel is going to stay with me for a really long time. I really regret not choosing it for a book club read as there is so much to discuss.

This novel is a slow burn but the subject matter really does pack a punch. The primary topic is ‘collusion.’ How a society can collude with a regime which is obviously wrong but no one wants to speak against it. How people often feel too hopeless to rally against their own fate . This is not a novel about fighting back in the vein of The Hunger Games or Divergent. I think initially this frustrated me. Why did no one rebel???? But this question is also what makes the novel so interesting. I also think the film which was directed by Mark Romanek was also brilliant.

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
  • Neil Gaiman. Birthday 10th November.

There is something strange about Coraline’s new home. It’s not the mist, or the cat that always seems to be watching her, nor the signs of danger that Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, her new neighbours, read in the tea leaves. It’s the other house – the one behind the old door in the drawing room. Another mother and father with black-button eyes and papery skin are waiting for Coraline to join them there. And they want her to stay with them. For ever. She knows that if she ventures through that door, she may never come back.

Gaiman is an author I only really started to get into last year. The Ocean and the End of the Lane was my favourite book last year. I think Edie is a little young for this (although I did read a review of a 4 year old boy who listened to it on audio and loved it). I think we will try it in a year or two.

Coraline is a great heroine and a great role model for kids…..

“Because,’ she said, ‘when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.”

👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

Coraline is quirky, independent, adventurous, intelligent and curious. Gaiman is a master at writing non-condescending books that appeal to adults as well as children. I also applaud the fact that he doesn’t shy away from the creepy… I often feel that as parents we are so scared of our kids being scared. Edie definitely handles creepy things like a pro. I think as parent I am happy for Edie to read something a little scary as long as there is no gratuitous violence and also makes the point that good can conquer evil. I don’t want her to feel that the horror can continue. In Coraline, Gaiman does just that.

    Us by David Nicholls.
    David Nicholls. Birthday 30th November.

David Nicholls brings to bear all the wit and intelligence that graced ONE DAY in this brilliant, bittersweet novel about love and family, husbands and wives, parents and children. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2014.

Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home. 

He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together.

So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.

The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.

What could possibly go wrong?

I really enjoyed this novel. For me it has the perfect ingredients of short chapters, believable characters and humour. I also love a book that looks at relationships in a realistic way. I don’t want to read books about the heady romanticism of young love. I don’t want anything that is going to make me feel nostalgic and misty eyed about my marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband but we are in the throes of children under 6 and I barely have time to shower let alone plan a romantic evening in. I am confident we will get back to that stage but right now, keeping 2 little humans alive is the priority.

David Nicholls is a master at writing utterly believable characters. Everyone will be able to relate to, or know similar people. As a result, his books are so easily accessible and as humorous as they are, there are often very poignant moments.

  • Emily Dickinson born 10th December 1830.

  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
  • Shirley Jackson born 14th December 1916.

The best-known of Shirley Jackson’s novels and a major inspiration for writers like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, The Haunting of Hill House is a chilling story of the power of fear.

‘Shirley Jackson’s stories are among the most terrifying ever written’ Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch and The Secret History

Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely assistant; Luke, the future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past. As they begin to cope with horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead. For Hill House is gathering its powers – and soon it will choose one of them to make its own. Twice filmed as The Haunting, and the inspiration for a new 10-part Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House is a powerful work of slow-burning psychological horror.

Shirley Jackson was born in California in 1916. When her short story The Lottery was first published in the New Yorker in 1948, readers were so horrified they sent her hate mail; it has since become one of the most iconic American stories of all time. Her first novel, The Road Through the Wall, was published in the same year and was followed by five more: Hangsaman, The Bird’s Nest, The Sundial, The Haunting of Hill Houseand We Have Always Lived in the Castle, widely seen as her masterpiece. Shirley Jackson died in her sleep at the age of 48. 

If you enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House, you might like Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

‘An amazing writer … If you haven’t read her you have missed out on something marvellous’ Neil Gaiman

‘As nearly perfect a haunted-house tale as I have ever read’ Stephen King

‘The world of Shirley Jackson is eerie and unforgettable’ A. M. Homes

‘Shirley Jackson is one of those highly idiosyncratic, inimitable writers…whose work exerts an enduring spell’ Joyce Carol Oates.

Oh Shirley, Shirley. I owe you an apology for reading your book when I wasn’t in the best place. I decided to set this book as a Halloween read for book club. It came at a time when everyone was posting about it all over Instagram, and I think, as is often the case, the book didn’t live up to the hype for me. The anticipation was so great that it fell a little flat for me. I think I will be in the minority who feel that the book picked up a bit when Mrs Montague and Arthur Parker arrived. For me, their arrival injected some much needed tongue in cheek humour. We have always lived in the castle is on my book shelf and I definitely owe it to Shirley to give her another go when I am in a better head space.

  • The Nutcracker by ETA Hoffmann.

The story that inspired the legendary ballet, presented in a beautiful hardcover edition perfect for giving as a gift.

Written in 1816 by the German Romantic E. T. A. Hoffmann for his children, nephews and nieces, The Nutcracker captures better than any other story a child’s wonder at Christmas. Since its publication, it has inspired hundreds of artists and adaptations, most notably the legendary ballet, scored by Russian composer Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Today, the story – and its enchanting images of sugar plums and nutcrackers, mistletoe and the Kingdom of the Dolls – continues to cast its fantastical spell on readers of all ages.

E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) was one of the major figures of European Romanticism, specializing in tales of the fantastical and uncanny. He was also a music critic, jurist, composer and caricaturist. His Tales of Hoffmann, available in Penguin Classics, includes such masterpieces as ‘Mademoiselle de Scudery’, one of the earliest example of crime fiction, and Hoffmann’s terrifying version of ‘The Sandman’. 

Joachim Neugroschel won three PEN translation awards and the French-American Foundation Translation Prize. He translated Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, among other works, for Penguin Classics.

I have to say that I am not one for buying beautiful books. Books probably see me coming and cower in the corner. I am a book’s worst nightmare. People choose not to borrow my books. I read them in the bath, they sit in my bag and get covered in whatever delicacy I have forgotten to remove for the bottom corners….usually old raisins. I only use a bookmark if I have a spare photo lurking around, but usually I fold down a corner. I am not a girl who instagrams her beautiful hardback copies of Jane Austen novels. Since having children however, people have bought the girls beautiful copies of books. The Nutcracker has been sat on my shelf for a couple of years and this Penguin Classic copy is absolutely beautiful. Right here comes the shocker….the ballet is tons better!!!! Tons. I persevere but I have to say, as soon as we got to the section about the sausage (!!!) I started skimming. Yup, not a patch on the ballet.

    Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman

In this beautiful book of classic fairy tales, award-winning author Philip Pullman has chosen his fifty favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm and presents them in a’clear as water’ retelling, in his unique and brilliant voice. 

From the quests and romance of classics such as ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella’ to the danger and wit of such lesser-known tales as ‘The Three Snake Leaves’, ‘Hans-my-Hedgehog’ and ‘Godfather Death’, Pullman brings the heart of each timeless tale to the fore, following with a brief but fascinating commentary on the story’s background and history. In his introduction, he discusses how these stories have lasted so long, and become part of our collective storytelling imagination. 

These new versions show the adventures at their most lucid and engaging yet. Pullman’s Grimm Talesof wicked wives, brave children and villainous kings will have you reading, reading aloud and rereading them for many years to come.

On 20th December 1812, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first edition of fairy tales. The original edition contained 86 stories. By the time the collection was on its seventh edition in 1857, there were 211 fairy tales.

If like me, you are a book worm who was raised on stories of witches, princes, princesses and elves this is a must read. I loved Pullman’s introduction which discusses how and why these stories have stood the test of time. Also, after each story, Pullman discusses its history and any tweaks he has made.

As a mother of daughters, I was pleasantly surprised by the female characters. I was expecting insipid princesses, pining after their princes. Granted, a lot of women are portrayed as evil, greedy step mothers but there were plenty of courageous girls, and for all the wicked women, at least they are interesting characters.

Anyway, here’s to January. I promise it will be better!!!

October reads

Hello all and Happy Halloween. 🎃💀👻💀😺🎃👻💀🎃😼🎃💀😼👻

I hope you have all had a brilliant month. Life has been hectic here. We opened Lucia Di Lammermoor last week which is full of blood and guts and perfect for this time of year. We are opening the Britten War Requiem in a couple of weeks. Benjamin Britten was a pacifist but wrote The War Requiem for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral which was badly bombed in WW2. The libretto is traditional Latin texts and poems by Wilfred Owen. It’s going to be amazing.

Family wise, my children have finally gotten used to our new au pair. This is the first time we have had an au pair and it has changed our lives. The girls seem really settled and have even picked up some Italian which is all good! She is coming Trick or Treating with us this evening. We are taking a vampire and an evil cat 👿 with us . I am sure there will be tantrums a plenty.

Anyway….onto the books……..

The combo of two young kids and a full time job means that ‘me’ time is a rare, beautiful and very appreciated thing. I genuinely feel that I have achieved something when I have the time to shave both armpits in the shower. yes, you read that correctly…more often than not my armpit hair is different lengths due to the constant interruption of shower time with the arrival of a small person who needs a wee. So you can imagine my smug satisfaction that I have smashed my Goodreads challenge. Yay to Goodreads, I may have armpit hair of differing lengths but I have read a shit ton of books.

Carry On Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. 3⭐️.

  • P.G. Wodehouse 15th October.
  • Description: Short stories, funny, farce.

These marvellous stories introduce us to Jeeves, whose first ever duty is to cure Bertie’s raging hangover (‘If you would drink this, sir… it is a little preparation of my own invention. It is the Worcester Sauce that gives it its colour. The raw egg makes it nutritious. The red pepper gives it its bite. Gentlemen have told me they have found it extremely invigorating after a late evening.’)

And from that moment, one of the funniest, sharpest and most touching partnerships in English literature never looks back…

Well this is my first foray into Jeeves and Wooster and I don’t think it will be my last. I have learnt tons of new vocal which I shall try to use on a daily basis…eftsoons, topping and rummy. Each story is around 20 pages long so it is a book which is easy to pick up and put down.  This is proper comfort reading. Nothing bad happens and all ends well. Utterly topping what ho!

I would also like to point out the cover…do Wooster’s hands look ridiculously feminine or is that just me??

Only Dull People are Brilliant at Breakfast and Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime by Oscar Wilde. 5⭐️

  • Oscar Wilde 16th October.

Both these books are from Penguin’s Little Black Classics series. Only £1 each and are a completely perfect way to dip into classic authors . Particularly brilliant if like me, the thought of reading a 400 page classic is a little daunting. Only Dull People is a fab book of Wilde’s quotes. I particularly liked this one:

She talks more and says less than anybody I ever met. She is made to be a public speaker.

Arthur Savile reminded me of Dorian Grey. In this book, Wilde parodies the Gothic genre. Wilde is so witty and this is a great introduction into his writing style.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. 2⭐️

  • Ariel Levy 17th October.
  • Description: memoir, miscarriage, feminism?????

Argh. I didn’t love this. In fact, I often felt so frustrated by Ariel and her white privilege that I wanted to throw the book across the room. Like Ariel, I also miscarried my baby at 5 months. I found writing about it incredibly cathartic and it was an exercise that I really benefited from. I suspect Ariel had the same experience when writing her memoir. My issue is that usually a memoir has an important message to impart and to be honest, I’m not sure this did.  This is where my frustration lies. Unfortunately Ariel, there are no rules you can live your life by. Life can throw you a curve ball. Sometimes its shit but that’s life. I would like to say that her writing is beautiful. I adored her vocabulary, I just struggles with her as a person. Sorry Ariel!!!

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier. 1⭐️.

  • Tracy Chevalier 19th October
  • Book description: medieval, like a Mills and Boon, MAIDENHEAD.

From the bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring comes a historical tale of love, sex and revenge.

Keen to demonstrate his new-found favour with the King, rising nobleman Jean Le Viste commissions six tapestries to adorn the walls of his château. He expects soldiers and bloody battlefields. But artist Nicolas des Innocents instead designs a seductive world of women, unicorns and flowers, using as his muses Le Viste’s wife Geneviève and ripe young daughter Claude. In Belgium, as his designs spring to life
under the weavers’ fingers, Nicolas is inspired once more – by the master weaver’s daughter Aliénor and her mother Christine. They too will be captured in his threads.

This was like a medieval Mills and Boon. Some utterly hilarious quotes ‘The sight of her tongue made me hard. I wanted to plough her.’ 🧐

‘Come closer my dear and see my plums. Squeeze them.’ 🍌🍒 (why isn’t there an emoji for plums?) 😂🤣😆 Also she used the word ‘maidenhead’ A LOT.

This book was given to me by a friend who described it as ‘life changing.’ Really????? Really???? I don’t think I can be friends with this woman anymore. 😱😱 Anyway I couldn’t take it seriously so it wasn’t for me. Sorry to all Chevalier fans.

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse. 3⭐️.

  • Kate Mosse 20th October.
  • Description: France, WW1, grief.

A haunting ghost story from the French mountains.

The Great War took much more than lives. It robbed a generation of friends, lovers and futures. In Freddie Watson’s case, it took his beloved brother and, at times, his peace of mind. Unable to cope with his grief, Freddie has spent much of the time since in a sanatorium.

In the winter of 1928, still seeking resolution, Freddie is travelling through the French Pyrenees – another region that has seen too much bloodshed over the years. During a snowstorm, his car spins off the mountain road. Shaken, he stumbles into the woods, emerging by a tiny village. There he meets Fabrissa, a beautiful local woman, also mourning a lost generation. Over the course of one night, Fabrissa and Freddie share their stories of remembrance and loss. By the time dawn breaks, he will have stumbled across a tragic mystery that goes back through the centuries.

By turns thrilling, poignant and haunting, this is a story of two lives touched by war and transformed by courage.

This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and it’s one of those little gems I didn’t know was there.

In work we are rehearsing the Britten War Requiem and with Remembrance Day fast approaching, The Winter Ghosts was a very poignant and atmospheric read. This book is beautifully researched and hauntingly sad. Freddie, loses his brother in the Great War and Mosse’s descriptions of grief, particularly in relation to men were very moving.

A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler. 3⭐️

  • Anne Tyler 25th October.
  • Description: black sheep, elderly, likeable protagonist.

Barnaby Gaitlin has less in life than he once had. His ex-wife Natalie left him and their native Baltimore several years ago, taking their baby daughter Opal with her. He acquired an unalterably fixed position as the black sheep of the family. And this family isn’t one where black sheep are tolerated. The Gaitlins are rich and worthy, supposedly guided by their own special angel to do the right thing…

This was a solid 3 star from me. It wasn’t a crazy exciting, roller coaster of a read but I still enjoyed it. This was a character driven novel and I really enjoyed Tyler’s writing of the wonderful Barnaby and his horrible family. Tyler is a wonderful writer and I found her sections about the elderly so very moving:

The jars they can’t unscrew, the needles they can’t thread, the large print that’s not quite large enough, even with a magnifying glass. The spectre of the nursing home lurking constantly in the background, so it’s, “Please don’t tell my children I asked for help with this will you?” and, “When the social worker comes, make like you’re my son, so she won’t think I live alone.”

If you love beautifully observed and well written characters, pick up an Anne Tyler.

Hunger by Roxane Gay. 4⭐️

  • Roxane Gay 28th October.
  • Description: memoir, rape trigger, obesity.

‘I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.’

New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and bodies, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she casts an insightful and critical eye on her childhood, teens, and twenties-including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life-and brings readers into the present and the realities, pains, and joys of her daily life.

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and authority that have made her one of the most admired voices of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to be overweight in a time when the bigger you are, the less you are seen. Hunger is a deeply personal memoir from one of our finest writers, and tells a story that hasn’t yet been told but needs to be.

Thank you Roxane. Unlike Ariel Levy, this is a brilliant memoir. Roxane has something important to say, and she says it in a brave and courageous way.  This book isn’t to garner sympathy, indeed, I don’t feel Roxane is someone who mopes about her life feeling sorry for herself. In her own words, she has been through something that countless of other women have experienced. I don’t believe this memoir has been written to highlight rape. Gay writes to explain what how this awful, horrific experience has created the relationship she has with her body. It is a heartbreaking, truthful read and one that has made me think deeply.

I am not brave or heroic. I am not strong. I am not special. I am one woman who has experienced something countless women have experienced. I am a victim who survived. It could have been worse, so much worse. That’s what matters and is even more a travesty here, that having this kind of story is utterly common. 

Normal People by Sally Rooney. 4⭐️

  • Description: Bildungsroman, Ireland, realistic relationships.

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.

Not a Birthday Read but a book club read and our choice when the Booker Long List was released. Absolutely gutted that this didn’t make the short list. Sally Rooney is definitely one to watch.

Its no secret that I HATE and LOATHE romantic fiction. I have been married for 7 years but with my husband for 17. I do not want to read books that make me nostalgic for the heady, days of our romantic love. I want to read books that make me feel better about how oftentimes, relationships are sodding hard work. I want my female characters, to be likeable women. Not ridiculous man mad idiots with their own inner goddess (I HATED 50 Shades). This is why I love Rooney. Her characters are not always likeable and the relationships are frequently complicated but that is life isn’t it??? Her books are realistic and her characters are brilliantly well observed. Love her!

Anyway, thanks so much for reading. Please check out my Instagram:

http://www.instagram.com/ellamkpbooks

Children’s Reads for September

I have decided from now on to do something different with my blog. Each month,  I am going to focus on books whose authors were born or died during that month. There will be some exceptions like when I have a specific book to review or I am just so excited to share a book with you all. I will also be doing this in my posts about adult books. One thing I have noticed, is that with a lot of modern book releases, it is hard to find a date of birth of some authors, so apologies that during some months, I may have to bend the rules.

  • Jane Hissey. 1st September 1952.
  • Ruff

A woolly dog bounces into the playroom with no name and no home. But worst of all, he says he has never had a birthday! Luckily, Old Bear and the other toys are bursting with brilliant birthday ideas for their new-found friend.

I remember reading these books with my sister when we were children. Picking them up again 30 years on and they haven’t aged at all. Both my girls enjoyed the books – Edith (5) more than Ceci (3). The pictures are absolutely stunning and Edie loved reading about Old Bear and Ruff to her school of toys.

  • Julia Donaldson. 16th September
  • The Snail and the Whale

One little snail longs to see the world and hitches a lift on the tail of an enormous whale. Together they go on an amazing journey, past icebergs and volcanoes, sharks and penguins, and the little snail feels so small in the vastness of the world. But when disaster strikes and the whale is beached in a bay, it’s the tiny snail’s big plan that saves the day!

I think The Snail and the Whale is one of my fave Donaldson books. I love the sentiment that no matter how small you are, you can still do amazing, brave things. Also how humbling it is to be aware of the size and magnificence of our planet. Its impossible to mention Julia Donaldson without a massive nod to Axel Scheffler. I say his name and a rock star image is conjured up…..Axl Rose. Scheffler is nowt like Axl Rose 😂. His illustrations are completely epic. Really engaging and there are always lovely little details to spot. Ceci (2) loved looking for the tiny snail in every picture.

  • The Detective Dog

There once was a dog with a keen sense of smell.
She was known far and wide as Detective Dog Nell.

Peter’s dog Nell has an amazing sense of smell. Her ever-sniffing nose is always hard at work solving mysteries and finding all Peter’s lost toys. But Nell has other talents too . . .

When she’s not cracking cases, Nell goes to school with Peter and listens to the children read. Books about dinosaurs, books about space and even books about dogs – Nell loves them all! But one day Peter and Nell arrive at school to find all the books have disappeared! Who could have taken them, and why? Luckily, Detective Dog Nell, with help from the whole class, is ready to sniff out the thief!

Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by the multi-talented illustrator and print-maker Sara Ogilvie, The Detective Dog is a fast-paced celebration of books, reading, libraries and the relationship between a little boy and his rather special dog.

The story is about Nell the Detective Dog who helps a class hunt down a book thief. Ted (the thief) is overjoyed to discover that he can borrow books for free from his library. His stealing days are over!!!

Any book that promotes the use of libraries is top banana! As children, my sister and I were taken to the library a lot. As a mum, I go at least once a week…storytime, rhyme time and just taking books out. I remember, as a child being so excited to take 8 books home. Playing librarians was a common childhood game. I used to be intrigued by the barcode scanner….this has now lost its joy when I am standing at the self checkout in Sainsbury’s and the scanner goes on the blink.

For a book to be a hit for Edie and Ceci, the story has to be fast paced, exciting, brilliant pictures with tons to look at and it is a massive bonus if the word ‘poo’ appears. ‘Poo’ makes an appearance on page 2 so my discerning girls are happy. Is is also important to say that Sarah Ogilvie’s pictures are fab with tons to spot. Brilliant book. Happy Birthday Month Julia Donaldson!

  • Eric Hill September 7th.

Eric Hill OBE. What a legend. Born in 1927. The Spot books have been translated into 60 languages. It is reported that he said “children have far more intelligence and style than many adults credit them with.”

This book is a special copy for me. My dad bought it for my eldest daughter Edith, on a shopping trip. It means so much because it is always Nana who spoils my children, bringing them presses and cakes. This was a gift chosen by ‘Pampa’ with no input from Nana, so to me, it is very special.

  • The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield.

One day, a young bear stumbles upon something he has never seen before in the forest. As time passes, he teaches himself how to play the strange instrument, and eventually the beautiful sounds are heard by a father and son who are picnicking in the woods. The bear goes with them on an incredible journey to New York, where his piano playing makes him a huge star. He has fame, fortune and all the music in the world, but he misses the friends and family he has left behind. A moving tale of exploration and belonging from an exciting debut author-illustrator.

This book is very loved in our family. My sister bought it for Edith and it has been one of those books that I buy for all my friend’s children. The sentiment behind the story is beautiful: your true friends will support and encourage you in your talents without envy. Your true friends will let you spread your wings and fly and when your heart leads you home, your family will be there with open arms. Edie, Ceci and I had a funny chat about things that make us so happy you forget where you are….Edie – sweets and Ceci – her dummy. Nothing as profound as music. 😂. As an over emotional musician, I find the book ridiculously moving. Edie tells me off for crying at the end! The illustrations are so beautiful. Can’t wait to read the next book The Bear, the piano, the dog and the fiddle.

  • Hide and Seek by Taro Gomi

In the tradition of classic hidden pictures, international favorite Taro Gomi slyly infuses his dynamic original art with objects that don’t go where they belong. A crocodile’s grin is a toothbrush; a butterfly’s dots are hearts. Young readers will delight to find the unexpected treasures hidden in the brightly coloured illustrations.

My little Cecilia/ceci/Cilla. I can’t say she lives in her sister’s shadow. Ceci is a force to be reckoned with, but when it comes to choosing the films we watch or the books we read, her older sister often overrules. At 3, she has grow out of the brilliant That’s not my….series and the constant asking for Peppa does get a little boring. Ceci does however love this book by Taro Gomi. Gomi is a very famous Japanese author. Ceci loves spotting the everyday objects hidden in the animals . If you are ever looking for a good book for a little one, give this a go.

  • Dr Seuss. Died 24th September 1991.
  • Horton Hears a Who

Horton the kindly elephant has his work cut out saving the tiny Whos who live on a speck of dust – no one else believes they are there! But Horton eventually convinces everyone that, ‘a person’s a person, no matter how small’!

‘A person’s a person, no matter how small..’

Horton the elephant sets out to save the inhabitants of a speck of dust, in this classic and hilarious tale about friendship and respect, from the inimitable Dr. Seuss.

Born Theodore Seuss “Ted” Geisel in 1904, he wrote and illustrated over 60 children’s books. In our house Horton is a massive favourite. Edie loves the book and the Jim Carrey film. The message in the book ‘a person’s a person no matter how small’ combined with the idea that if people work together as a group they have the strength to change things is so important and relevant to teach to our children.

Hilariously, the Grinch cartoon is on our tv very frequently. It is watched at least once a month so we feel festive all year round. Edie is obsessed with the scene when the grinch does his massive smile. Dr Seuss you are a legend. Thank you.

  • T.S. Eliot. 26th September
  • Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Happy 130th Birthday T.S. Eliot. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was written in 1939. Cats was one of the first shows I ever saw in the West End. I remember the band starting and literally just crying I was so excited. I remember really wanting to be the white cat. I found it on YouTube the other day and Edie was utterly entranced. She now knows all the words to Jellicle Cats. For me though, Gus is my favourite. I bought this book, illustrated by the legendary Axel Scheffler quite recently. It’s a brilliant way to get kids into poetry.

Happy Birthday to Stan Berenstain. One half of the Stan and Jan duo who wrote the Berenstain Bears. I think these books might be relatively rare over here in the UK. My sister and I discovered them when we were children and we were on holiday in Canada. Our older cousins loved them. Interestingly, they were inspired by the Dr Seuss books. The Berenstain’s wanted to write a series which focused on the issues parents faced. They were criticised for not moving with the times but I think this is part of the charm. Too Much Birthday has a very special place in my heart and is a phrase my parents used to use when we got a bit over emotional at our parties. Edie loved it as she is the same age as Sister Bear. She now wants a birthday party with ponies and a carousel. I remember feeling exactly the same after reading it at her age.

Thank you so much for reading. See more updates on Instagram @ellamkpbooks. Next month, I am going to combine some birthday reads with some spooky favourites. Edith loves a good scare.

August Reads

Well I am well and truly out of my slump. Really positive month. 8 books read in total. 2 of those not finished. 1 non fiction. Also some really good children’s books.

No major plans for September although I do want to read Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends before I embark on Normal People for our October book club.

I am also planning a month of scary reads in October so I am enjoying researching those. What are the scariest books you have ever read including non fiction?

  • 1. Kiss kiss by Roald Dahl. 5*

Description: short stories, varied, weird.

In Kiss Kiss you will find eleven devious, shocking stories from the master of the unpredictable, Roald Dahl.

What could go wrong when a wife pawns the mink coat that her lover gave her as a parting gift? What happens when a priceless piece of furniture is the subject of a deceitful bargain? Can a wronged woman take revenge on her dead husband?

In these dark, disturbing stories Roald Dahl explores the sinister side of human nature: the cunning, sly, selfish part of each of us that leads us into the territory of the unexpected and unsettling. Stylish, macabre and haunting, these tales will leave you with a delicious feeling of unease.

‘Roald Dahl is one of the few writers I know whose work can accurately be described as addictive’ Irish Times

Roald Dahl, the brilliant and worldwide acclaimed author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and many more classics for children, also wrote scores of short stories for adults. These delightfully disturbing tales have often been filmed and were most recently the inspiration for the West End play, Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales by Jeremy Dyson. Roald Dahl’s stories continue to make readers shiver today.

I ADORED this book. What a total legend Roald Dahl is. His imagination completely blows my brain. I can’t imagine another author who can pull off such a varied range of stories with such aplomb. Antique hunting, poaching, sexually frustrated vicars, scary b&bs, revenge on a husband. Each time I embarked upon a new story I had no idea of what to expect and each time I was surprised and intrigued.

  • 2. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. 4.5*

Description: sibling rivalry, trigger for rape, arranged marriage.

Shanghai, 1937. Pearl and May are two sisters from a bourgeois family. Though their personalities are very different – Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid – they are inseparable best friends. Both are beautiful, modern and living a carefree life until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away the family’s wealth, and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to two ‘Gold Mountain’ men: Americans. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, the two sisters set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the villages of southern China, in and out of the clutches of brutal soldiers, and even across the ocean, through the humiliation of an anti-Chinese detention centre to a new, married life in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Here they begin a fresh chapter, despite the racial discrimination and anti-Communist paranoia, because now they have something to strive for: a young, American-born daughter, Joy. Along the way there are terrible sacrifices, impossible choices and one devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel by Lisa See hold fast to who they are – Shanghai girls.

Oooooooh I really enjoyed this and I also read a review in Goodreads which said that the book makes more sense if you read the sequel Dreams of Joy. I am so pleased there is a sequel. I so enjoyed the characters, I know returning to them will be comforting.

This book had everything I love:

  1. A period of history in a country I know little about- Shanghai in the 1930s and LA in the 40s and 50s
  2. A family saga. Relationships between siblings, parents and partners.
  3. Drama.

This really is a book you can sink your teeth into. The subject of immigration is still so incredibly relevant today: particularly in Trump’s America.

  • 3. See what I have done by Sarah Schmidt. DNF

Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018

Haunting, gripping and gorgeously written, SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt is a re-imagining of the unsolved American true crime case of the Lizzie Borden murders, for fans of BURIAL RITES and MAKING A MURDERER.

‘Eerie and compelling’ Paula Hawkins

‘Stunning’ Sunday Times

‘Gripping… outstanding’ Observer

‘Glittering’ Irish Times

Just after 11am on 4th August 1892, the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden are discovered. He’s found on the sitting room sofa, she upstairs on the bedroom floor, both murdered with an axe.

It is younger daughter Lizzie who is first on the scene, so it is Lizzie who the police first question, but there are others in the household with stories to tell: older sister Emma, Irish maid Bridget, the girls’ Uncle John, and a boy who knows more than anyone realises.

In a dazzlingly original and chilling reimagining of this most notorious of unsolved mysteries, Sarah Schmidt opens the door to the Borden home and leads us into its murkiest corners, where jealousies, slow-brewed rivalries and the darkest of thoughts reside.

Well I was expecting to really love this book but after reaching page 153 last night I decided to call it a day. If I had to give it a rating based on what I had read (which is obviously unfair) I would give it 2*.

I just knew it wouldn’t be a book that made me excited to pick up. It wasn’t fast paced enough for me (I was still on the day of the murders by page 153) and I found Lizzie’s constant inane ramblings frustrating and confusing.

Anyway, when reading is your passion, I don’t want to read books that are just ‘ok.’ I want a book that makes me want to stay awake!!!!

  • 4. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. 3.5*

Description: semi autobiographical, 1980s, coming of age.

The dazzling novel from critically-acclaimed David Mitchell.

Shortlisted for the 2006 Costa Novel Award

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2006

January, 1982. Thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor – covert stammerer and reluctant poet – anticipates a stultifying year in his backwater English village. But he hasn’t reckoned with bullies, simmering family discord, the Falklands War, a threatened gypsy invasion and those mysterious entities known as girls. Charting thirteen months in the black hole between childhood and adolescence, this is a captivating novel, wry, painful and vibrant with the stuff of life.

This was my book club choice for a summer read. My intention was to read something light and funny whilst lying by the pool. This book popped up in a lot of articles about funny reads. What is funnier than a teenage boy I thought. Having finished the book, ‘funny’ does not even come into the top five words I would use to describe it. This book is so beautifully written and so well observed that I actually found it quite painful to read. I fell in love with the character of Jason Taylor. In him, Mitchell perfectly captured the voice of a 13 year old. The language, friendships, fears all so real. The sections where Jason is being bullied I found almost too painful to get through. Mitchell’s writing about Taylor’s parents marriage breakdown was perfect. The snidey remarks over the dinner table were perfect, the alliance between Jason and Julia growing closer as a result of it was brilliant. Mitchell’s writing is just so vivid, unpretentious and real.

  • 5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. 4*.
  • Description: wealth, family saga, Mean Girls.
  • The acclaimed international bestseller soon to be a MAJOR MOTION PICTURE starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh and Gemma Chan!

    When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and time with the man she might one day marry.

    What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she’ll ride in more private planes than cars and that she is about to encounter the strangest, craziest group of people in existence.

    Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider’s look at the Asian jet set; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money – and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.

    This is fun, superficial escapism that hooks and reels in even the reluctant reader: Dynastyamong the filthy-rich Chinese community – Independent

    I don’t want to make this post really maudlin but I lost our 20 week old baby this month. Reading is one of the things that is getting me through it. The moments I am reading are pure escapism and I have spend a lot of time over the last week in bed reading. This book was pure escapism. It was fluffy, pink, trashy brilliance. It was like eating a giant candy floss. I want to save the other books in the trilogy until I am in need of cheering up. Really fun read.

    • 6. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. DNF

    THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

    ‘I couldn’t stop reading or caring about the juicy and dysfunctional Plumb family’ AMY POEHLER

    ‘A masterfully constructed, darkly comic, and immensely captivating tale…Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is a real talent’ ELIZABETH GILBERT

    When black sheep Leo has a costly car accident, the Plumb siblings’ much-anticipated inheritance is suddenly wiped out. His brother and sisters come together and form a plan to get back what is owed them – each grappling with their own financial and emotional turmoil from the fallout. As ‘the nest’ fades further from view, they must decide whether they will build their lives anew, or fight to regain the futures they had planned . . .

    Ferociously astute, warm and funny, The Nest is a brilliant debut chronicling the hilarity and savagery of family life.

    My issue with this book is that I felt the exact opposite of Amy Poehler. I didn’t care at all about the Poehler family…in fact I found it all very dull. Gave up on page 108.

    • 7. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. 3.5 stars.
  • Description: race, family, parenthood.
  • ‘To say I love this book is an understatement…It moved me to tears’ Reese Witherspoon

    ‘Just read it…Outstanding’ Matt Haig

    Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

    In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

    Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

    When old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town – and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost…

    One of the things I most loved about this book was that it was a surprise. After reading the prologue I thought I had a fair idea of what this book would be. This is going to be a story about Izzy right? A story of teenage angst and how a family deals with a troublesome child. Wrong Ella! This book was about so much more. Class, race, fertility. The book had such a range of emotions and subjects you would think it would be a read of highly octane drama but it was actually a quiet, character based novel.

    Celeste Ng has an incredible talent for writing very real characters. As a reader, I feel like I went through a range of emotions with every single character. A character I initially disliked, would be a character that I empathised with by the end of the novel. Subjects, that at the beginning of the novel I had a strong opinion about, I often found that my opinion has changed and I had sympathy for the other side of the argument.

    Non Fiction

    • 8. The 24 hour wine expert by Jancis Robinson.
  • Description: short, quite detailed, dull.
  • From the world’s most respected wine critic, the essential guide to wine in 100 pages

    Wine is now one of the most popular drinks in the world. Many wine drinkers wish they knew more about it without having to understand every detail or go on a wine course.

    In The 24-Hour Wine Expert, Jancis Robinson shares her expertise with authority, wit and approachability. From the difference between red and white, to the shape of bottles and their labels, descriptions of taste, colour and smell, to pairing wine with food and the price-quality correlation, Robinson helps us make the most of this mysteriously delicious drink.

    Jancis Robinson has been called ‘the most respected wine critic and journalist in the world’ by Decantermagazine. In 1984 she was the first person outside the wine trade to qualify as a Master of Wine. The Financial Times wine writer, she is the author/editor of dozens of wine books, including Wine Grapes (Allen Lane), The Oxford Companion to Wine (OUP) and The World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley). Her award-winning website, http://www.JancisRobinson.com has subscribers in 100 countries.

    Right, I want to make it clear that I don’t want to turn into a wine wanker but seeing as I must spend about £50 a week on wine, I think it is important to know what I like and maybe to be a little more discerning about why I like it. This book was a quick read but god it was dull. Obviously Jancis Robinson is the expert but as a beginner I want a book to be more accessible. Anyway, when I was awake I did learn a bit about wine.

    Children’s books

    • The Best Sound in the World by Cindy Wume. 3+

    Roy is a lion and a sound catcher. He catches the sounds of the city and makes them into music, trying to avoid the annoying attentions of his neighbour, Jemmy. Feeling like his music isn’t good enough, Roy goes on a journey to find the best sound in the world for inspiration. He hears the pitter-patter of the rain in the forest, the wind whistling through the desert and the hustle and bustle of the souk at sunrise, but none of it helps – he can’t decide which is the best sound. Just as he’s about to give up, he hears a familiar voice… can Jemmy teach him that perhaps there are lots of beautiful sounds, not just one, and that for Jemmy, Roy’s music is the best of all? This gorgeous debut picture book is both a lesson in subjectivity and a heart-warming tribute to the power of friendship.

    What a totally gorgeous book. I am

    A musician and so this really appealed to me as the mum. It also provoked a hilarious discussion….what do we think are the most beautiful and the most horrid sounds in the world. Edith decided the most beautiful sound was bees buzzing. Edith and I decided the most horrid sound was Ceci screaming which she did all the way through the story!!!! We also discussed how some lovely sounds are connected to lovely memories. We liked the way that Jemmy made music fun and maybe helped Roy to take life a little less seriously…..music sounds better when you are having fun!

    • Oscar and the Catastrophe by Alan Macdonald 6+

    The third book in a brilliantly funny new series for 6+ readers from bestselling Dirty Bertie author Alan MacDonald, about a boy and his incredible talking dog.

    Sam had a very ordinary life, until Oscar the dog arrived on his doorstep. Because Oscar has a big secret – he can talk!

    Oscar usually has a lot to say on any subject, but in this book something makes him speechless . . . a CAT has moved in next door! And Carmen the pampered feline is almost as much of a nightmare neighbour as her owner, Mrs Bentley-Wallop.

    But Sam and Oscar have bigger things to worry about. When a jewel thief strikes, it’s time for the daring duo to turn detective . . . Can they sniff out the culprit before it’s too late?

    Edie and I really enjoyed this book even though we hadn’t read the previous two. She is 5 so slightly younger than the audience it is aimed at. However, she really enjoyed the illustrations and the voices we used for each character.

    • The Witches by Roald Dahl

    THE WITCHES by Roald Dahl is the story of a detestable breed of Witches.

    BEWARE.

    Real witches dress in ordinary clothes and look like ordinary women. But they are not ordinary. They are always plotting and scheming with murderous, bloodthirsty thoughts – and they hate children.

    The Grand High Witch hates children most of all and plans to make every single one of YOU disappear.

    Only one boy and his grandmother can stop her, but if their plan fails the Grand High Witch will frizzle them like fritters, and then what . . . ?

  • Because I work in the theatre, one thing I will never take for granted is a night at home because it means that I can read to my daughters. It is really important to me that my children love books as much as me and I believe as a parent it is my responsibility to make reading exciting. Edith is now 5 so I can start reading to her the stories that I loved. We tried Milly Molly Mandy which I enjoyed as a child and unfortunately I don’t think it has stood the test of time although we might try again. I think due to tv, films, iPads etc, attention span of children has decreased so you really need a book that packs a punch to keep a little one interested. Roald Dahl does exactly that. It has enough horror, funnies and gross bits to appeal to any child and as a parent I adore reading them.
  • Anyway see you in September.
  • Thanks for reading.