May Reads

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

  • Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. 4๐ŸŒŸ.
In this internationally best selling memoir and passionate analysis of a culture in crisis, ‘Hillbilly’ – born Yale Law graduate J.D. Vance takes a probing look at America’s white working-class through his own experiences growing up.
The book tells a true story of what social, regional and class decline feels like when you are born with it hanging around your neck. As his family’s saga plays out, the book shows how J.D.’s grandparents, aunt, sister and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty and trauma.
Writing with piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history. Hillbilly Elegy is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of the population. It is unmissable reading in these times of political upheaval.๏ฟผ๏ฟผ๏ฟผ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. 4 ๐ŸŒŸ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman. 3๐ŸŒŸ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh. 5๐ŸŒŸ.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much for reading.

March/April reads

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

THE MILLION COPY BESTSELLER

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

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

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

โ€˜I would recommend Sapiens to anyone whoโ€™s interested in the history and future of our speciesโ€™ Bill Gates

Book Club Musings.

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

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

  • The Last King Of Scotland by Giles Foden.

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

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

I’m not going to say much about the book because the copy I have is clearly a bit of a dud. I read to page 218 and incredibly annoyingly at this point 33 pages were omitted and replaced with pages 91-122. I am ashamed to say that it took my sleep deprived mind about 10 pages to realise I had read them all before!!! ๐Ÿค”๐Ÿค” Really annoyingly, I think the pages missing were pretty crucial and involved Garrigan’s arrest by Amin. The book resumed at page 251 but by then I felt pretty confused and a little like that thing when something is being explained to you which you don’t understand but you nod, smile and pretend that you do…..to be honest this is my default mode. Anyway, hey ho, definitely watch the film!!!

  • Grown Ups by Marian Keyes.

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

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too muchโ€ฆ๏ฟผ

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

In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults find themselves wondering if it’s time โ€“ finally โ€“ to grow up?๏ฟผ

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

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

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

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

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

  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February Kids Reads

Hello all. Being a bit of a lazy bones this morning and writing this while sat in bed. Maisie in the next room asleep. I am listening to the wind giving our roof a battering. We are in the middle of roof angst as we seem to have rain pouring in!!!! ๐Ÿ˜ณ๐Ÿ˜ณ๐Ÿ˜ณ We only got our loft extension done a couple of years ago and it’s clearly not fit for purpose!!!

So this month all three books are faves of my eldest daughter Edie, who is 6. Next month I will make sure I include some of Ceci’s faves.

  • The Nothing to see Here Hotel by Steven Butler. Illustrated by Steven Lenton.

Welcome to The Nothing to see Here Hotel for magical creatures, where weird is normal for Frankie Banister and his parents who run the hotel. When a messenger arrives announcing the imminent arrival of the goblin prince Grogbah, Frankie and his family rush into action to get ready for their important guest. But it soon becomes obvious that the Banister family are going to have their work cut out with the demanding prince and his never ending entourage, especially and it turns out the rude little prince is hiding a secret.๏ฟผ…

The only downside of Edie having caught the reading bug is that she no longer wants me to read to her at night. She gets into bed with her torch and reads aloud to herself (and her poor sister) for a good hour every evening. I have to holler up the stairs every 15 mins to tell her to go to sleep….it’s true, we all turn into our parents. As a result, in order to write reviews for Edie-age books I have to read them myself. In all honesty this is quite good as it quickly ups my Goodreads total and it means Edes and I have a mini book club ourselves.

After finishing this book a couple of days ago, I went on Goodreads to update. I decided not to give it a star rating because it is written for kids and a middle aged woman is definitely not the target audience. Sadly, I saw a few low star ratings and negative reviews written by adults who felt the book was offensive because of the racial connotations. Indeed it’s true that Prince Grogbah wears a turban and has three goblin wives but do people really think that Steven Butler is trying to make a negative statement about people from the Middle East????I am loathe to succumb to this snowflake attitude where literally anything and everything offends someone somewhere. The bottom line is that this is a book written for children and it has to be reviewed as such. My 6 year old (and this 38 year old) loved it. The story is fast paced and hilarious with some brilliant characters. The Molar Sisters and Berol Dunch who is an old wrinkly mermaid who insists on wearing a tiny bikini top were our faves. If your kids love the film Hotel Transylvania, they will ADORE this book. Steven Lenton who we love thanks to his illustrations for Shifty Mcgifty has done a brilliant job. Nearly every page has a fabulous picture with tons of things to spot. Edith (and myself) will definitely be reading the rest of the series!

  • A Book of Bears by Katie Viggers.

Meet the bears! Learn all about the eight different their families, their likes, their homes and more. Who is the biggest and who is the smallest? Which one is the honey monster and which one has anti-slip feet? Fun facts combined with Katie Viggers’ charming illustrations make this the perfect introduction to bears around the world.

Hands down the nicest book I have bought in a really long time. Thanks @luggylibrary for the recommendation. Because of this book, what Edie doesnโ€™t know about Spectacled ๐Ÿ‘“ bears ainโ€™t worth knowing. ๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“๐Ÿค“This beautiful hard back book takes you through 8 bear families – Sloth๐Ÿป, Brown ๐Ÿป, Giant ๐Ÿผ, American Black ๐Ÿป,

Spectacled ๐Ÿป, Polar ๐Ÿป, Asiatic Black ๐Ÿป and the Sun ๐Ÿป. We learn about each family – how well they swim, climb and run and also if they hibernate. Katie Viggers’ illustrations are absolutely brilliant – beautiful but also funny. Edie particular enjoyed the Sloth Bear hair salon….apparently sloth bears have a lot of thick, black, shaggy hair around their faces…who knew?!? I love that there is enough humour to keep a 7 year old entertained but also enough factual content to engage older children. Anyway this is an absolutely beautiful book to buy as a pressie or add to your collection.

  • Meet the Twitches by Hayley Scott. Illustrated by Pippa Curnick.

Meet the Twitches, four tiny toy rabbits who live inside a Teacup House. 

They belong to a girl called Stevie and she loves playing with them. But guess what? These toy rabbits have a secret. They come alive when Stevie isn’t looking! 

Open up the Teacup House – and meet four little rabbit heroes with big ideas!

I had one of those soft-focus mum moments the other night when I found Edie (6) reading this book. I remember reading it to her a couple of years ago and now she is picking it up and reading it herself. I had a quick skim through to remind myself of what happened but the gist is that when Stevie moves house she is gifted a teacup-shaped dolls house with 4 little rabbit dolls. They come to life, get lost, need rescuing….you know the drill. Edie loves the illustrations. I think this book satisfies her need to read ‘big girls books’ but also appeals to her little girl head because it is full of colour illustrations. Hilariously when asked what she likes best she replied “the quality of the paper.” It’s nice paper to be fair….kinda glossy if you know what I mean. Edie loves the descriptions of Stevie’s outfits, and the detail of the teacup house. I remember loving the fact that Stevie’s mum is a single parent. Refreshing to read a book that isn’t about a mummy, daddy, son and daughter.

Anyway, if your 6 year old is in the market for a book with lovely paper, about little rabbits, cute outfits and fried egg jelly sweets, you should pick this up!!

Thanks for reading. X

January reads.

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

  • Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout. 5 ๐ŸŒŸ

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. 4๐ŸŒŸ.

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

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

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

One thing I have definitely noticed since starting my maternity leave is how few books I am getting through. BM (before Maisie) I was averaging about 8 books a month. Commuting into work, sitting in the dressing room and reading in bed at night meant I could devour books. Now I am averaging about 1 book a month….not conducive to a book blog. This is going to sound quite melodramatic but I think this lack of reading time massively affects my mental health. Reading is my self-care. It’s my ‘me time.’ It means I can escape into a world where no one is going to ask me for a bottle of milk or to wipe their bottoms. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mum but having some time for myself each day makes me a much better parent. The sense of achievement I feel when I finish a book is immense. The fact The Dutch House took me a whole month to read makes me a little sad. Books are like a good wine….you need to lap them up not sip them for a whole month. ๐Ÿ˜‚. For me, sipping a book leads to a disjointed, unenjoyable read. When I look back on the books I have loved, they are often holiday reads….books that I have been able to immerse myself in for a few lazy days.

Having said all the above, a sipped book which still achieves a 4 ๐ŸŒŸ rating must mean it’s a goodun’. This book had all the ingredients of a great read for me….brilliant characters (some I hated, some I loved), a family saga and beautiful writing. The book almost felt like a fairy tale: the idea that the children had to essentially fend for themselves due to the evil stepmother, the death of the father and the absence of the ridiculous mother who chose to travel the world to help others rather than look after and nurture her children. I think I despised Elna more that Andrea. I thought Maeve was a brilliant character. I loved all her decisions and I felt she was utterly relatable. It was also lovely to read about such a strong sibling bond. Really good book and I will definitely be reading more Patchett.

  • My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. 4๐ŸŒŸ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Edith, Ceci and Maisie if you ever grow up and read this post, we have only ever had sex 3 times and you guys were the result. It was horrible and awful but we had to do it it create life, to create you. Sometimes it was worth it. ๐Ÿ˜‚

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

January Kids Reads

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

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

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

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

    • Lifesize Dinosaurs by Sophy Henn.

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

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

    • Dinosaur Juniors by Rob Biddulph.

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

  • Nine dino eggs but little Greg hatches later than everyone else. The story follows Gregosaurus trying to make some prehistoric friends when everyone has already found their best bud. It all ends well with the dinosaurs throwing him a Happy Hatch Day Party. ๐Ÿฆ• ๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•
  • This is a proper value for money book. By this I mean that as your children get older, this book that keeps on giving. For really little ones the pictures are colourful and not so crazy busy that your children will suffer from sensory overload. Ceci at 4 is a massive fan….mainly because it is about dinosaurs but also for children of Ceci’s age there are things to count and plenty of things to spot. Older children can take advantage of the detail in the pictures – types of dinos, musical instruments. The story is told in rhyme which keeps me happy….I love a rhyme!!โค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธ
  • This would be a great book to give to a child who is starting a new school/nursery halfway through a year, when they are the only newbie and everyone else has settled into a routine.๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿฆ•๐Ÿฆ–
  • Also, slightly terrifying picture of Ceci. She is looking a little sinister. Edie is holding Daisy her new hamster. This is the new addition to the Andrews clan. All going well so far….making Edie clean her out every week is proving challenging but we are persevering. ๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน๐Ÿน
  • Thank you all for reading!

    Spooky October Kids Reads

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

    • Mrs Blackhat by Chloe and Mick Inkpen.

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

    I wanted to put on some spooky kids reads for October. ๐Ÿง™โ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿง™โ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿง™โ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿง™โ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿง™โ€โ™€๏ธMrs Blackhat is by father and daughter team Chloe and Mick Inkpen. Mrs Blackhat loves the colour black. EVERYTHING is black except for the ๐Ÿˆ….which is ginger. As an internet savvy witch she decides to shop online for a potion to turn the moggy black!๐Ÿ‘ป๐Ÿ‘ป๐Ÿ‘ป I love reading this book. Itโ€™s really fast paced with great rhymes. Have you seen that vid where the dad raps the Gruffalo???? Well I sound just like that in a very uncool south west London kind of way. Anyway the girls think itโ€™s hilarious!

      Usborne touchy-feely books.

    Now I know Maisie is my last child, I feel the expiration date of these brilliant Usborne books is looming on the horizon. I’m generally not a particularly sentimental person but these books have been staples in my house throughout all three of my daughters baby years – trying to uncurl their little chubby fists so they can stroke the different textures and saying in my upbeat-mum-voice ‘can you find the mouse?’ Maisie is a little too young to do anything apart from dribble on them but what has been particularly special this time around is now Edie can read them to her sister whilst doing a very good impression of my upbeat-mum-voice. ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜. Right I have to stop now as I’m welling up…..get a bloody grip woman. Anyway thank you to Usborne and your touchy-feely books, you have been epic!

      Steve Backshall’s Deadly 60.

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

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

    Thanks for reading. Happy Halloween!

    September Kids Reads

    Well it is now the end of September and I feel like I have finally got some time to spend with Maisie. Edie went back to school on the 2nd and Ceci started nursery on the 19th. Today was my first empty day to spend time with my baby. Due to the fact that Maisie was born just 2 weeks before the summer holidays, I really haven’t spent any time with just her. Today was the first day that I just sat in bed and let her fall asleep on me without having to divide my time between my other children. It was so precious and for a good hour I just looked at her!!!! ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธI feel very lucky.

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

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

    My husband doesn’t understand the concept of blogging or Instagram. He has become a bit social media phobic and is of the view that people become a bit mad and obsessed. The fact that I left my copy of Arabel’s Raven in the fridge after taking the above picture didn’t do much to convince him I wasn’t a little bonkers. ๐Ÿคช๐Ÿคช๐Ÿคช๐Ÿคช๐Ÿคช

    I remember reading The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and A Necklace of Raindrops as a child but Arabelโ€™s Raven must have passed me by. Written in 1972 with brilliant illustrations by Quentin Blake. I started reading this to Edie last week but she got bored a bit too quickly. She enjoyed fridge-loving, staircase-eating Mortimer and the evil squirrel but wanted to see more of Arabel who is a little passive in this book. ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ๐Ÿฟ

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I couldn’t let September pass without a mention for the great Roald Dahl. It seems particularly pertinent today as Ozzie won Matilda tickets in the lottery and he is taking Edie tonight….yes on a school night. Bad mum alert. I fear I will be reaping the rewards for this late night for a while!!!!๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ Incidentally if you are London based and it’s relatively easy to get to the theatre it is totally worth putting your name down for the lottery. We also won front row seats to Hamilton a few months ago!!!

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

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

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

    How to be a Lion has been a huge hit. My husband did storytime last night while I went for a run. When I got back, he wouldn’t shut up about the ‘incredibly empowering’ book he had just discovered. . As a non reader, the only books he picks up are the kids ones at story time so itโ€™s important to get him some top material.๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธA fab message to little ones just starting school…be true to yourself, be kind and stand by your friends. Ed Vere handles the subject of bullying in a really empowering way and itโ€™s defo one of the best kids books we have read in a while. A big high five to all the Leonards who feel a little bit different but have the courage to stick to their guns. ๐Ÿ’ช ๐Ÿฆ ๐Ÿฆ†

    August Reads

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

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

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

    • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. 5โญ๏ธ.

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

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

    I am a pretty fast reader. I love nothing better than going to bed at the same time as the kids and reading for hrs! Beds are for books not sex!๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ“šAnyway since the summer holidays started and Maisie was born my bed is just for sleep…and not much of it. ๐Ÿคฌ. It has taken me a full month to get through Pachinko ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ. For me to enjoy a book I usually have to get through the first 60 pages in one go so I get hooked. It took me about 5 days to get through the first 60 pages of this book just due to lack of time and absolute exhaustion. That being said this is a 5โญ๏ธ read for me. I have lived with 4 generations of this Korean family for a month now and i feel a little bereft now itโ€™s finished. In many ways this was a quiet book – no major action sequences. It was just a beautiful book about family and how the decisions you make affect future generations. Anyway if you love a family saga pls read this book. I adored it!

    • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. 5โญ๏ธ.
    • Kamila Shamsie born 13th August 1973.

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

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

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

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

    โ€œI wanted Eamonn to want to do anything for me before I asked him to do something for my brother. Why shouldnโ€™t I admit it? What would you stop at to help the people you love most?โ€

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

    • Caitlin Doughty born 19th August 1984.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thanks for reading this month!!!

    July Reads

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

    • Still Life by Louise Penny. 4โญ๏ธ.
    • Louise Penny born 1st July 1958.

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

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

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

    Happy Birthday to Louise Penny born on 1st July 1958 which is also Canada Day. ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ ๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽˆ๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽˆ๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽˆ๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽˆ๐ŸŽ‚ I finally picked up this book after frequent recommendations on my favourite bookish podcast @whatshouldireadnext. If you enjoy reading you should definitely check it out. Each week a guest talks about their three favourite books, one book they disliked and what they are currently reading. The host, Anne Bogle then gives them three recommendations. I really enjoy it as does my Amazon account.

    So, onto Louise Penny. Can a murder mystery be comforting??? According to Hilary Clinton, Pennyโ€™s books gave her solace after her election defeat. I understand what she means. This was a really comforting read and according to google, there are still 19 I havenโ€™t read!!!!๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜ƒ Inspector Gamache is actually a nice guy. He is happily married. He (so far) doesnโ€™t seem dark and twisty with a substance abuse problem and skeletons in his closet. How refreshing! This book reminded me of the tremendous Agatha Christie. It wasnโ€™t brutal and Penny is obviously going to take her time introducing us to the inhabitants of Three Pines. ๐ŸŒฒ๐ŸŒฒ๐ŸŒฒ. If you like you murder mysteries without gore and smattered with picket fences, brioche and maple syrup, give this a whirl. ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ

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

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

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

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

    Matt says:

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

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

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

    • Runaway by Alice Munro. 3โญ๏ธ.
    • Alice Munro born 10th July 1931.

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

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

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

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

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

    • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

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

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

    This is my current read and I’m sad to say there isn’t a hope I will finish it by the end of the month! Having been a reading machine at the beginning of July, baby Maisie has turned me into a zombie who averages a paragraph a day. So far, there hasn’t been a paragraph of this book that I haven’t loved so that is promising. Review to follow next month….or the month after that…..or the month after that. ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿคฃ

    • The Road by Cormac McCarthy. 4โญ๏ธ.
    • Cormac McCarthy born July 20th 1933.

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

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

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

    • Educated by Tara Westover.

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

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

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

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

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

    See you next month.

    June Reads

    Hello all. I hope my June post finds you well. I am writing this in my bedroom which is hotter and muggier than the sun. I am also sipping raspberry leaf tea in the hope that it might kick start labour. Naughtily, I am eating a packet of haribo that I stole from my daughter’s party bag. I should feel guilty but I don’t. I just feel sweaty and cumbersome.

    Reading wise things have changed this month. No longer do I have two books on the go. Two books definitely worked better when I was commuting into work and sitting in the dressing room. Two out of three books this month have been MASSIVE. I usually avoid huge books for fear of reading boredom. Just by chance all three books have been set in the 1930s and onwards.

    • Out of the Hitler Time by Judith Kerr. 3.5-4โญ๏ธ.
    • Judith Kerr born 14th June 1923.

    Anna was a German child when she had to flee from the Nazis before the War. By the time the bombs began to fall she was a stateless adolescent in London, and after it was all over she became a happily married Englishwoman who had put the past behind her – or so she thought.

    In Judith Kerr’s internationally acclaimed trilogy When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Other Way Round and A Small Person Far Away, we see the world through Anna’s eyes as she grows up – from her much loved family to Hitler’s Holocaust.

    The death of Judith Kerr on 22nd May last month was so sad. Her books are utterly beloved. I remember reading Mog and The Tiger Who Came to Tea as a child and I now read them to my own children. I read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit when I was a teenager and really enjoyed it but I had no idea it was semi-autobiographical or indeed that it was the first book in a trilogy. I am not someone who tends to read a series in one fell swoop. I tend to get distracted by what else is out there. However, this is a trilogy that I believe really benefits from reading in one go. My only concern would be that for me, as an adult the books became progressively more interesting but I think as a teenage reader, the opposite would be true.

    Pink Rabbit was much as I remembered it. The Kerr family fled Germany in 1933, just as Hitler became Chancellor. Anna (Judith’s) father was a theatre critic and author. He was known as a controversial writer and a man who wasn’t scared to say what he thought. As a result he was wanted by the Nazis. The family escaped across the border to Switzerland, then later to Paris and ended up in London.

    Kerr writes of her parents:

    Their lives were destroyed. My brother and I agreed that the childhood we had was infinitely better than the childhood we would have had if Hitler had never happened and we’d stayed in Germany. We loved the change, the interest of different places and learning a language.

    Whilst reading Pink Rabbit I was struck by how resilient Anne and her brother Max were. This was was undoubtedly due to their parents:

    “But it won’t be the same – we won’t belong. Do you think we’ll ever really belong anywhere?”

    “I suppose not,” said Papa. “Not the way people belong who have lived in one place all their lives. But we’ll belong a little in lots of places, and I think that may be just as good.”

    As a parent myself, I can only imagine the fear that Alfred and Julia went through….trying to protect their children whilst at the same time trying to give them as normal a childhood as possible. Indeed, in the novel, Anne says that as long as they are together, then they don’t really feel like refugees.

    The middle book, The Other Way Round, is also aimed at teenagers but I think has more appeal for adults. Anna is now 16 and the Kerrs live in London. The book chronicles the Blitz, Max at university, Anna having a job, joining art classes and falling in love. Alfred and Julia are living in a hotel in London with other refugees. Although, now safe from the Nazis, the impact of their refugee status cannot be denied. Thanks to their language skills, Anna and Max are able to transition to London life relatively easily. Alfred’s lack of English leaves him unable to work so Julia is the sole earner, earning almost too little to live off. I was struck that because of the effects of the war, the older generation were still just ‘surviving’ whereas life for the younger people kept on going. The exhaustion of the previous years, keeping the family safe, losing loved ones, causes a divide between the younger and older citizens and that is something I had never really thought about:

    Many weeks later she heard that Mrs James had become too ill to work and her scheme had been taken over by a charitable organisation.

    “What made her suddenly break down after all this time?” Wondered Anna.

    “Four years of war,” said Mrs Hammond. “And the news being better.”

    When Anna looked at her without understanding she said impatiently, “The thought of peace – when there’s no longer any point.”

    The above quote really made me think. While there were obviously many who rejoiced in the ending of the war, I had never thought about how bleak life was for those who had been so damaged by war that life no longer had any meaning. I guess the prevalent word is ‘hope.’ Younger people like Max and Anna has hope for a brighter future – marriage, children, lifestyles etc. For people like their parents, life would continue to be a battle to survive.

    “You remember,” he said, “what you used to say in Paris? That as long as you were with Mama and Papa you wouldn’t feel like a refugee?”

    She nodded.

    “Well, now I suppose it’s the other way round.”

    “How, the other way round?”

    Max sighed. “Nowadays,” he said, “I think that the only time they don’t feel like refugees is when they’re with us.”

    I think I found the last book A Small Person Far Away the most moving and I’m sad to say that I lost a bit of patience with Anna during reading. Alfred died in 1948. He had a stroke and his wife helped him to commit suicide. In this last book, Anna returns to Germany to look after her mother in hospital who has also tried to take her own life. Anna spends the majority of the book wanting to return to London to be with her husband rather than wanting to look after her mum. I found this really difficult and very frustrating. Julia’s fragility after all she has gone through is very sad. I guess humans can only fight for so long before they are just so exhausted. Julia fought to keep her children safe but as they grew up and needed her less she felt redundant. I can only imagine how exhausted she must have felt:

    I’ve made enough new starts. I’ve made enough decisions. I don’t want to make anymore.

    I loved all three of these books but my lasting thought was not for Anna and her brother. Naively , when you think of the war ending you think of scenes of happiness and celebration. Of relief and new opportunities. I am ashamed to admit that I have never really thought about those whose lives were so damaged by war, that there was nothing left to live for.

    Although the first book is aimed at teenagers, the last two definitely mean more to me as an adult and parent. Definitely worth a read.

    • The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lovell. 4โญ๏ธ.
    • Nancy Mitford died 30th June 1973.

    Even if the six daughters, born between 1904 and 1920, of the charming, eccentric David, Lord Redesdale and his wife Sydney has been quite ordinary women, the span of their lives – encompassing the most traumatic century in Britain’s history – and the status to which they were born, would have made their story a fascinating one. But Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo, ‘the mad, mad Mitfords’, were far from ordinary.

    โ€œI am normal, my wife is normal, but my daughters are each more foolish than the other.โ€ Lord Redesale, father of the Mitford girls.

    Each month I am now trying to read a non fiction. If it manages to tie in with my slightly OCD idea of reading authors who were born or died the month we are in then so much the better. This one does. Nancy Mitford died 30th June 1973.

    It was my mum who first peaked my interest in the Mitford girls. She received the hardback of this book a few years ago and I remember her telling me about Unityโ€™s infatuation with Hitler. Now as a soon to be mum of 3 girls, anything about mad, interesting, female heavy families peaks my interest. This book has it all. On Goodreads it’s subtitle is Thr Saga of the Mitford Family. This is definitely a saga and reads almost like the plot to a soap opera set during one of the most interesting times in UK history. We have fascism, communism, suicide, fertility, infertility, illness (due to the fact that Mama Mitford was utterly against vaccinating her kids).

    Ultimately, I found this quite a sad book. Although the Mitfords had happy times, by the end of the book, there were so many estranged relationships that it was hard to keep up. On our journey back from Cornwall this month, my husband and I listened to Diana Mosley’s Desert Island Discs. This was broadcast in 1989. My husband who knew nothing about the Mitford’s was utterly appalled by Diana: her denial of how many were killed in the Holocaust and her fascination and respect for Hitler. Even 40 years after the war, she was still unable to grasp the sheer horrors of those who suffered at the hands of the fascist regime.

    My husband is currently a little worried about his house full of girls so this is one Iโ€™m not going to let him read! Itโ€™s a saga and a half and well if you love a complicated family, this is definitely one for you.

    • Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

    Apologies to New Yorkers but we appear to have lost the top of the Chrysler Building. ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ฑRules of Civility by Amor Towles was our book club pick. Expectations were pretty high. Reviews have always been amazing and I was really looking forward to reading it. But…………..๐Ÿง๐ŸงI am sure this will make me pretty unpopular but it left me a little cold. I just felt a little, well, meh. ๐Ÿ˜•. I didnโ€™t really warm to any of the characters and the plot was a little lacklustre. Maybe it just wasnโ€™t plot driven or character driven enough for me. It was an almost read for me….the characters and plot were almost interesting enough but not quite. I just didn’t really care!!!

    The writing was beautiful and flowed really well. The lack of speech marks did begin to bother me after a while. Call me a stickler for grammatical convention but I like a speech mark. “I like the fact that they are used to add commentary to conversation,” Ella complained. Complained is an important word here. Without this word it’s up to you, the reader to decide how I said it. You might make the wrong choice and think I said it jokingly. !?!? My point is do you lose an idea of the character without?? Is this why I didn’t really feel for any of the characters?? Did I interpret the conversations wrongly? In hindsight, I don’t think so but it did get me thinking. Also, for me, lack of speech marks makes conversation flow much quicker….too quickly I think, which then results in me skimming.

    I feel doubly disappointed because having listened to a lot of podcasts about the book, Amor Towles sounds like the most lovely man. He even writes at the back of my copy that if your book club meets near his house, he will try to come along!! โค๏ธI am sorry to have failed you Mr Towles itโ€™s obviously not you, itโ€™s me.

    As always, thank you for reading. Really looking forward to July….tons of good authors.