May Reads

This month included Mental Health Awareness week which I found quite apt as I feel I have been struggling a bit. I am now 33 weeks pregnant and feel massive. We had a late loss last August and mentally this pregnancy has been tough. The fear and paranoia came back with a vengeance and I have been back on antidepressants for a few months now. I now have about 6 weeks left and I am struggling with all the normal things women struggle with in the last trimester. I know how lucky I am to have a baby on the way and I can’t wait to have her here but I am also at that funny stage of being scared of change……I am a cancerian through and through. I am someone who has to find something to worry about. I am scared how the new baby will affect my marriage and my children. I am also trying to do too much….this is pretty typical of me. I know repainting my house at 33 weeks pregnant is not one of my best ideas but I guess I want to feel I am in control of something when I feel currently like I am out of control.

  • Regeneration by Pat Barker. 4โญ๏ธ.
  • Pat Barker born 8th May 1943.

Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland, 1917, and army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating shell-shocked soldiers. Under his care are the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, as well as mute Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper. Rivers’s job is to make the men in his charge healthy enough to fight. Yet the closer he gets to mending his patients’ minds the harder becomes every decision to send them back to the horrors of the front. Pat Barker’s Regeneration is the classic exploration of how the traumas of war brutalised a generation of young men.

Oh my goodness what an amazing novel. Pat Barker did an incredible job researching instances and treatments of PTSD in WW1 soldiers. I have spoken to a lot of people who just choose to read non-fiction but who made an exception to read this brilliant trilogy.

The novel begins with Sassoon’s Soldier’s Declaration:

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.

Sassoon wrote this letter which was printed in the press and read out in the House of Commons in 1917. Although an incredibly decorated and respected soldier, Sassoon was deeply disillusioned with the war- a feeling which probably began with the death of his friend David Cuthbert Thomas. Rather than face court martial, Sassoon was admitted to Craiglockhart hospital where he was treated for shell shock. It is here that he meets a young Wilfred Owen and they are treated by the psychiatrist WHR Rivers. All three of these characters were obviously real people but Barker has introduced many fictional characters to the novel and has weaved them in seamlessly.

The perception of Shell Shock in the novel is particularly moving. The young men who went off to fight for our country had no idea of the horrors they would face. It was to be an adventure. No one would have been mentally prepared for the the conditions, loss of comrades and the fear they dealt with on a daily basis. Even if soldiers had been mentally prepared, treatment and perception of mental illness was still pretty primitive. Indeed the most brutal part of this novel is the electric shock treatment used to regain a soldier’s speech. I was particularly interested and saddened to read how parents reacted to diagnoses of Shell shock in their own sons:

He’d get a damn sight more sympathy from me if he had a bullet up his arse.

The idea of being trapped in your own thoughts and in-turn trapped in the hamster wheel of having to go back out to fight because it was expected of you is terrifying and brutal.

‘You agreed to serve, Siegfried. Nobody’s asking you to change your opinions, or even to keep quiet about them, but you agreed to serve, and if you want the respect of the kind of people you are trying to influencethe Bobbies and the Tommies – you’ve got to be seen to keep your word. They won’t understand if you turn around in the middle of the war and say “I’m sorry, I’ve changed my mind.” To them, that’s just bad form. They’ll say you’re not behaving like a gentleman- and that’s the worst think they can say about anybody.’

I will definitely read the other two books in the trilogy and I urge anyone who loves well-researched novels to pick it up.

  • The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. 3โญ๏ธ.
  • Jon Ronson born 10th May 1967.

What if society wasn’t fundamentally rational, but was motivated by insanity? This thought sets Jon Ronson on an utterly compelling adventure into the world of madness.

Along the way, Jon meets psychopaths, those whose lives have been touched by madness and those whose job it is to diagnose it, including the influential psychologist who developed the Psychopath Test, from whom Jon learns the art of psychopath-spotting. A skill which seemingly reveals that madness could indeed be at the heart of everything . . .

Combining Jon Ronson’s trademark humour, charm and investigative incision, The Psychopath Test is both entertaining and honest, unearthing dangerous truths and asking serious questions about how we define normality in a world where we are increasingly judged by our maddest edges.

I wondered if sometimes the difference between a psychopath in Broadmoor and a psychopath on Wall Street was the luck of being born into a stable, rich family.

This was a pretty quick read and I did enjoy it but it left me questioning…..

1. On the back page Will Self said he ‘laughted like a loon.’ I am mortified to say that I don’t even think I cracked a wry smile!!!!! ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ God I hate it when books say things like that and you spend the time wondering what is wrong with you!!! I feel like this when I pick up a classic…..so scared that I’m just not going to ‘get it’ and then feel stupid. Anyway I feel a little like the joke is on me and I am probably the only person in the world who wasn’t rolling in the aisles.

2. So many of Ronson’s point were on the money. The fact that there is now a diagnosis for every slightly odd mental health tick is a little worrying. I don’t believe it’s helpful to put everything under a ‘syndrome.’ I mean kids being medicated for bi-polar????? This terrifies me. Extremes of emotion surely come hand in hand with young children. I believe ADD is very real and must be very hard to deal with as a parent but diagnosing a child with bi-polar is just terrifying.

3. The Psychopath Test by Bob Hare is really interesting.

These are the points Hare has used….

Ronson makes the point that the difference between a psychopath in Broadmoor and a psychopath in Wall Street is luck, wealth and a stable family. This really got me thinking and is a really interesting point. The chapter when Ronson meets business man Al Dunlap who believes he has a lot of the ‘traits’ on the PCL-R checklist but views them all as positives in the business world is really thought provoking.

Really interesting read and don’t be put off if you don’t laugh like a loon!

  • The Storyteller by Jodie Picoult. 4โญ๏ธ.
  • Jodie Picoult born 19th May 1966.

After a tragic accident which left her deeply scarred, Sage Singer retreated into herself, allowing her guilt to govern her life. When she befriends kindly retired teacher Josef, it seems that life has finally offered her a chance of healing.

But the gentle man Sage thinks she knows is in fact hiding a terrible secret. Josef was an SS officer during the Holocaust and now he wishes to die – and he wants Sage to help him.

As Joseph begins to reveal his past to her, Sage is horrified. 

Does this past give her the right to kill him?A compelling tale about the line between justice and mercy from the internationally bestselling author Jodi Picoult.

Gillian Flynn and Jodie Picoult are my go to authors when I just want a rollicking good read. Nothing too complicated but a story that will keep me turning pages late into the night and I guess that’s what it’s all about no????? Reading a book that you can’t put down. Life is good when you have an enjoyable book on the go.

Since we studied WW2 in school it has been a period in history I read a lot about. I guess I am utterly incredulous how the holocaust, something so horrific happened not that long ago. Since having a family of my own, I read the books and watch the documentaries and films with tears rolling down my cheeks. It’s not often a book makes me cry but this one did. The terror, the brutality that people lived through completely terrifies me and since having my daughters, when I read about children being killed, I see my own girls.

I have to say that my heart sank a little when the love story started to develop. I am not a fan of a love story. I would never choose to read a romance and I often find romantic storylines entwined around the Holocaust in slightly bad taste. I am pleased to say that the love element didn’t ruin the book for me and it didn’t take over the novel.

  • Spring Fever by PG Wodehouse. 4๐ŸŒŸ.

When a man needs only two hundred pounds to marry his cook and buy a public house, one would expect his life to be trouble free, but the fifth Earl of Shortlands has to reckon with his haughty daughter, Lady Adela, and Mervyn Spink, his butler, who also happens to be his rival in love. Mike Cardinal offers to sort out the problem by pretending to be Stanwood Cobbold but his way is blocked by Spink and reformed burglar, Augustus Robb. Confused? Let P.G.Wodehouse untangle the complications in this light-hearted comedy which ends happily โ€“ for almost everyone.

This was our book club read of the month. I have to say that I find picking books for this group pretty tricky. I try to pick 6 books each month and the group vote on which one they would like to read. There tends to be a mix of classic authors and more modern books. The group is mainly made up of young mums who want to get back into reading. A lot of these women have jobs and young kid so for the majority, a book that is easily accessible is the key. This is fine but it does make the conversation a little dry. I remember the best book club I ever did was 50 Shades of Grey. People (including myself) absolutely loathed it and as a result the chat was entertaining and hilarious. I find with my current group that time is precious so if they dislike a book, they give up and don’t come to the meeting…I completely respect this decision. However, it means the meeting is comprised of people who enjoyed what they read which often means that the conversation isn’t that exciting. Maybe I should just be happy that people are reading but sometimes I just want a strong opinion. Hey ho. Never happy I guess.

So this was the June pick and 4/5 people who turned up ‘likedit. I have to agree. There isn’t much to dislike. I can’t say that it is a novel which will change my life but I found it enjoyable. The one lady who disliked it didn’t like the element of farce and thought the character were a little ridiculous. Again, I couldn’t really disagree. An easy, enjoyable, amusing read.

This month started with a revelation. One night while wading through all the dross on Facebook, I came across a post about downloading audiobooks on a library app. Just Wow!!!! I downloaded Libby, put in my library card number and I have a world of ebooks and audiobooks at my fingertips. I am supporting my library and no longer paying for audible. Proper happy!!!

My first listen was Lust by Roald Dahl. If you haven’t read and short stories by the genius that is Dahl, PLEASE DO! Dahl’s imagination blows my brain. He starts a story and you have no idea where it will go. The stories in this compilation all revolve around sex. I loved each one and found them app hilarious.

The 4:50 From Paddington was a quick listen while I painted the bathroom. There is something so comforting about Agatha Christie isn’t there?!? You always know the baddie will be caught. Love it. Also lovely to hear the late June Whitfield playing Miss Marple.

I haven’t yet finished Smut by Alan Bennett. Bennett also deserves a Birthday wave as he was born on 9th May 1934. Like Dahl, Bennett can do no wrong. I completely adore his writing and he makes me laugh so much. His characters are utterly brilliant and very believable. I went to boarding school in Settle, North Yorkshire which is where Bennett lives. He is one of my hero’s and I adored reading Talking Heads for my A Level set text. If you have never picked up Bennett please do. I promise you will be moved and amused in equal measure.

Until next month. Thanks for reading.

April Reads

  • Hi all. Hope April was a good reading month for you. I have stopped work now and am on baby countdown. Really looking forward to May as we have some nice family time away. We are heading to Mousehole in Cornwall for a week for half term. Think it will be the last time we can all comfortable travel in the car. Definitely not going to be as easy with 3 stroppy kids in the back!!!
    • Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz. 4โญ๏ธ.
    • Anthony Horowitz born 5th April 1955.

    Sherlock Holmes is dead. 

    Days after Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty fall to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls, Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase arrives from New York. The death of Moriarty has created a poisonous vacuum which has been swiftly filled by a fiendish new criminal mastermind. Ably assisted by Inspector Athelney Jones, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction, Chase must hunt down this shadowy figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, a man determined to engulf London in a tide of murder and menace. 

    The game is afoot . . .

    The first book I read this year was The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz and I completely adored it. I still haven’t ventured into any of the work by Conan Doyle (that will come in May or July) but as Horowitz is the only author authorised by the Sherlock Holmes estate to write about the great man, I feel I am well prepared and I feel that when I finally meet Doyle’s Holmes, it will be like meeting an old friend.

    Moriarty didn’t disappoint. Holmes and Watson do not appear and the action centres around American Investigator Frederick Chase, and Holmes obsessed Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard. Jones is a character that appears in Doyle’s novel The Sign of the Four written in 1890. Jones appears as a policeman who comes under criticism by Holmes for his poor attempts at deduction. In Horowitz’s book, Jones appears to have taken Holmes’s criticisms on board to the point of obsession. I don’t want to go into detail about the storyline. I will tell you that after the first 50 pages, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are brilliant and Jones and Chase seem to completely model themselves on Watson and Holmes. I will say that this book is more graphic and brutal than the first and I did miss the detail of Victorian London which was such a big part of House of Silk.

    • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. 3.5โญ๏ธ.
    • Barbara Kingsolver born 8th April 1955.

    An international bestseller and a modern classic, this suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and their remarkable reconstruction has been read, adored and shared by millions around the world.This new edition for 2017 features a cover design by award-winning fashion designer, Tina Lobondi.

    This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. 

    They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.

    This book was published in the UK in 1999 and must have been on my shelf for about 15 years. I have to admit that I approached it with some trepidation….firstly, it’s long, 543 pages. I am always slightly wary of long books. I remember as a child feeling very grown up if I was clutching a book with over 400 pages. In fact I would search out long books over shorter novels. Now as a grown up, long books intimidate me. What if it’s just a bore and I have to spend 3 weeks lingering over a book that others have adored but I just find a bit dull??? I suppose I am an impatient reader. I want to try everything – every sweet in the shop and I haven’t got time to dedicate to a massive tome that I’m just not loving. My second reason for reticence was this book was bought for me by my wonderful sister in law. She and many other good friends and readers whose views I respect gave it really high marks on Goodreads. Would I love it as much? Would I disappoint them if I didn’t adore it?

    So, my verdict……???????? A solid 3.5 stars. I can’t say it changed my life. In fact I frequently felt frustrated because it wasn’t the story I wanted it to be. I kept expecting Kingsolver to elaborate on the women’s revolt against Nathan, the evangelical patriarch. Nathan’s relationship firstly with his family and secondly with the community in South Africa was so interesting and sometimes surprising funny, I just wanted more of it…..

    Yet we sang in church Tata Nzolo! Which means Father in Heaven or Father of Fish Bait depending on how you sing it, and that pretty much summed up my quandary. I could never work out if we were to view religion as a life-insurance policy or a life sentence.

    I enjoyed the story jumping for one Price woman to the other and I loved hearing their different perspectives. On reading reviews, Rachel gets a lot of criticism but for me she was my favourite. I thought that as a character she was just so well observed. Starting the novel as a 15 year old, self-centred teenager, she learns nothing and is changed relatively little by her experiences in the Congo. The arrogance of youth that Kingsolver taps into during her chapters is just fabulous. Words that Rachel uses incorrectly and her observations of her surroundings provide a little light relief which for me was much needed.

    That would be Axelroot all over, To turn up with an extra wife or two claiming that’s how they do it here. Maybe he’s been in Africa so long he has forgotten that we Christians have our own system of marriage, and it is called Monotony.

    I am pleased that I have finally read this book. I enjoyed it but feel it probably could have been about 100 pages shorter. I’m sure this sounds like a silly thing to say but for me I was looking for a plot driven narrative and this was definitely character driven. The idea of an evangelical preacher trying to impose his views on his family and a community which ultimately wasn’t interested was the novel I wanted to read and there wasn’t enough of that for me.

    • Engleby by Sebastian Faulks. 4โญ๏ธ.
    • Sebastian Faulks born 20th April 1953.

    Mike Engleby has a secret… 

    This is the story of Mike Engleby, a working-class boy who wins a place at an esteemed English university. But with the disappearance of Jennifer, the undergraduate Engleby admires from afar, the story turns into a mystery of gripping power. Sebastian Faulks’s new novel is a bolt from the blue, unlike anything he has ever written before: contemporary, demotic, heart-wrenching – and funny, in the deepest shade of black.

    Before embarking on this novel I read some reviews. One in particular got me scared….’unreliable narrator‘ and ‘not much happens.’ Uh oh. I have to say that I loathe an unreliable narrator. To trek through a book believing one thing and then to be told that you were wrong at the end is so frustrating. It’s almost like the author is having a laugh at your expense. I want to go on a journey with a book. I want to hold hands with a book for the duration of my reading and not to be told at the end ‘ha! Everything you thought was wrong.’ The comment ‘nothing happens’ also got me slightly worried. I need a book to hook me!

    Anyway, surprisingly I LOVED it. I found it moving, poignant, amusing, dark and interesting. It held my attention throughout although I have to admit that I preferred the second half of the novel. The bullying scenes and Engleby‘s resignation to his fate was excruciating. Faulks writes beautifully and I thought Engleby was a really believable character .

    • A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold. 4โญ๏ธ.
    • Columbine shooting 20th April 1999.

    On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives. 

    For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylanโ€™s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently? 

    These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Motherโ€™s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts. 

    Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Motherโ€™s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent. 

    All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.

    Each time I start trying to put my thoughts down about this book, I delete the line I have just written. It sounds melodramatic but my head is in complete turmoil. I decided to look through other reviews on Goodreads and I have to say I agree with a lot of them even though many are contradictory. I have also watched documentaries to try to help myself make sense of something which seems utterly senseless. I think this is the first point of controversy. Should Sue Klebold try to make sense of such a senseless act? Is she trying to excuse her son’s actions. By writing this book is she disrespecting the memory of the 13 people who died and the 24 people who were injured? If my child had been gunned down in school would I want to read why it might have happened???? Reading why doesn’t change the outcome!! However, if my child, the child I had raised, looked after when ill, wiped away tears when they were sad, laughed at their jokes and supported their dreams did something like this, as a mother, I would look for reasons to try to make sense of it all. I think that is human nature.

    I went completely numb as detailed information about the massacre rained down on us. It was like a documentary so violent and depraved that I would never, ever under ordinary circumstances, have watched it.

    A single fact had emerged, without any ambiguity at all: Dylan had done this thing.

    The event had been planned a long time in advance, and Dylan had participated in the planning. The attack had been carefully times and strategically constructed. Dylan had deliberately killed and injured people. He has derided them as they begged for their lives. He had used racist, hateful language. He had not shown mercy, regret, or conscience. He had shot a teacher. He had killed children in cold blood.

    I was, and will always be, haunted by how those lives ended.

    For Sue Klebold, her husband Tom and her son Byron, I am desperately sad. They are mourning the death of Dylan whilst coming to terms with the fact that he wasn’t the son they thought he was. How do you deal with thoughts like these? I guess the answer is that you don’t. You spend the rest of your life knowing that your son is dead and he is responsible for gunning down innocent people. In writing this book, Sue isn’t trying to excuse the act. At no point do I feel that she tries to get the reader to empathise with her son.

    On reading this memoir, I looked back on my behaviour as a teen. I went to a highly academic girls school in which I never felt comfortable. I wasn’t clever enough. I carved my niche by being the joker and as a result, the teachers thought I was a trouble maker. Looking back on it, I was probably a nightmare to teach but I remember feeling very isolated and misunderstood during my teenage years. I desperately wanted to fit in and if I wasn’t allowed to do things that my friends were able to, I would lie. My behaviour was out of control and I did some things I am ashamed of. As someone who has struggled with depression my whole life, I can say that without a doubt it started at this school. Did my parents notice? I mean they were up at the school frequently, discussing my behaviour with teachers but I don’t think they really saw how depressed I was, partly because no one including myself realised how depressed I was. With depression, you don’t wake up one morning, having had a personality transplant and being in the depths of despair. It is a gradual thing. Sometimes so gradual that you don’t notice it creeping up on you. Your depression becomes part of your personality. Teenage depression must be a nightmare to diagnose. When do you decide that a hormonal outburst isn’t something more sinister? Luckily for me, I was struck down with glandular fever which took me out of school for a few months. I say luckily because I was absent for so long that I had to repeat my year. The thought of doing this at the same bitchy girls school was impossible so I went to another school. This new school was less academic and more arts based. Without a doubt, if I hadn’t changed school I would never now be an opera singer. Incidentally, it was at this school that my depression was diagnosed.

    So what has this got to do with Dylan Klebold? I don’t think I would ever have gotten to the point where I walked into a school with a fire arm BUT I was on a very destructive path. Probably due to sad stories like these, I feel schools are much more aware of mental health. In fact my 5 year old often tells me that she needs some “me time.” ๐Ÿคฃ I laugh but surely this can only be a good thing. I hope that now, 20 years on from this awful massacre, that parents and teachers are more aware of the mental health issues that affect kids. I also hope that nowadays, that individuals feel more proactive to seek help when they feel they are having a mental health issue.

    As a parent, this is a particularly hard book to get your head around. I guess when the unthinkable happens, society looks for reasons and for someone to blame. No one picked up the signs that these boys were so damaged and dangerous so was this whole disaster a dreadful combination of ignorance about mental health issues and the ease by which these boys acquired guns? I don’t think we will ever know the answer but I applaud Sue Klebold for writing this book and making me question the unthinkable.

    • The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. 5โญ๏ธ.

    Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. 

    What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. 

    Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women. 

    Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories.

    When I look back on the month of April, Jack The Ripper is a name that has come up a lot. At work we opened Jack The Ripper:The Women of Whitechapel, I listened to this great book by Hallie Rubenhold, I bought it for a few friends and I also watched that documentary with Emilia Fox. I have to say, I thought the documentary was pants…..wondering around Whitechapel with your iPad…it was just really pretentious.

    Our production wasn’t about Jack. In fact ‘Jack’ never appeared but was always an ominous presence. The set was coffins hollowed out on the floor. We sang ‘Fourpence a coffin, or tuppence a rope. A penny will buy you a blanket.’ In the 1800s, homeless paupers would save their pennies to sleep in a ‘coffin’ in a doss house. If you didn’t have the money for a coffin you could pay to sit on a bench with a rope stretched in front of you, so you had something to lean on. It was information like this that I swallowed up when reading the book by Hallie Rubenhold.

    The Five isn’t about the Ripper. If you are interested in social history, pick it up now. Rubenhold tells each woman’s story….their falls from grace, living in poverty with children to feed, moving from one abusive relationship to the other and their daily lives on the streets of London. A completely brilliant and desperately sad read.

    That’s all folks. Thanks for reading. See you next month.

    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. 3โญ๏ธ.
    • 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. ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ. 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. ๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š

    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. 2โญ๏ธ.
    • Same Penelope Lively born 17th March 1933.

    Maria is always getting lost in the secret world of her imaginationโ€ฆ

    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 arenโ€™t there โ€“ a swing creaking, a dog barking โ€“ 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 Harrietโ€™s world, she grows convinced that something tragic occurredโ€ฆ

    Perfect for fans of ghostly mysteries like โ€˜Tomโ€™s Midnight Gardenโ€™.

    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. 4โญ๏ธ.
    • 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 Brontรซ. 3โญ๏ธ.
    • Charlotte Brontรซ 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 Brontรซ 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 Brontรซ 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 Brontรซ 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 Brontรซ wrote this at 17! 17! At 17 I was stealing alcohol from my parents drinks cabinet and snogging boys in parks. Reading Brontรซโ€™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. 4โญ๏ธ.

    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 โญ๏ธ.

    ‘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 5โญ๏ธ read for me. January will also see me re-evaluate my rating system. In the past, 5โญ๏ธ 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. 5โญ๏ธ.

    ‘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. 5โญ๏ธ.
    • 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. 4โญ๏ธ.
    • 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. 3โญ๏ธ.
      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. 3โญ๏ธ.
    • Agatha Christie died 12th January 1976.

    Agatha Christieโ€™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 โ€“ 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. 5โญ๏ธ.
    • Patrick Gale norm 31st January 1962.

    โ€˜Do you need me to pray for you now for a specific reason?โ€™
    โ€˜Iโ€™m going to die.โ€™
    โ€˜Weโ€™re all going to die. Does dying frighten you?โ€™
    โ€˜I mean Iโ€™m going to kill myself.โ€™

    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 โ€“ the gulfs of unspoken sadness that separate them all. Across this web of relations scuttles Barnaby’s repellent nemesis โ€“ a man as wicked as his prey is virtuous.

    Returning us to the rugged Cornish landscape of โ€˜Notes from an Exhibitionโ€™, 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!!!๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿ™„

    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 itโ€™s not the fault of the book! ๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ˜”๐Ÿ˜” 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. Itโ€™s most definitely not you. Itโ€™s me. โ˜น๏ธโ˜น๏ธโ˜น๏ธโ˜น๏ธโ˜น๏ธ Also, Happy Birthday for the 5th! ๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽ‚

    • 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…..

    โ€œBecause,โ€™ she said, โ€˜when youโ€™re scared but you still do it anyway, thatโ€™s brave.โ€

    ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

    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 doesnโ€™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 donโ€™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. ๐ŸŽƒ๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ‘ป๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ˜บ๐ŸŽƒ๐Ÿ‘ป๐Ÿ’€๐ŸŽƒ๐Ÿ˜ผ๐ŸŽƒ๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ˜ผ๐Ÿ‘ป

    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 ๐Ÿ‘ฟ 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. 3โญ๏ธ.

    • 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, toppingย andย rummy.ย Each story is around 20 pages long so it is a book which is easy to pick up and put down. ย 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 Breakfastย andย Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime by Oscar Wilde. 5โญ๏ธ

    • Oscar Wilde 16th October.

    Both these books are from Penguin’s Little Black Classics series. Only ยฃ1 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 Savileย 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. 2โญ๏ธ

    • 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. ย 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. 1โญ๏ธ.

    • 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 chรขteau. 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 Visteโ€™s wife Geneviรจve and ripe young daughter Claude. In Belgium, as his designs spring to life
    under the weaversโ€™ fingers, Nicolas is inspired once more โ€“ by the master weaverโ€™s daughter Aliรฉnor and her mother Christine. They too will be captured in his threads.

    This was like a medieval Mills and Boon. Some utterly hilarious quotes โ€˜The sight of her tongue made me hard. I wanted to plough her.โ€™ ๐Ÿง

    โ€˜Come closer my dear and see my plums. Squeeze them.โ€™ ๐ŸŒ๐Ÿ’ (why isnโ€™t there an emoji for plums?) ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜† Also she used the word โ€˜maidenheadโ€™ A LOT.

    This book was given to me by a friend who described it as โ€˜life changing.โ€™ Really????? Really???? I donโ€™t think I can be friends with this woman anymore. ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ Anyway I couldnโ€™t take it seriously so it wasnโ€™t for me. Sorry to all Chevalier fans.

    The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse. 3โญ๏ธ.

    • 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 itโ€™s one of those little gems I didnโ€™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 Mosseโ€™s descriptions of grief, particularly in relation to men were very moving.

    A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler. 3โญ๏ธ

    • Anne Tyler 25th October.
    • Description: black sheep,ย 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. 4โญ๏ธ

    • 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. ย 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. Thatโ€™s what matters and is even more a travesty here, that having this kind of story is utterly common.ย 

    Normal People by Sally Rooney. 4โญ๏ธ

    • 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