August Reads

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

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

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

  • 1. Kiss kiss by Roald Dahl. 5*

Description: short stories, varied, weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 2. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. 4.5*

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

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

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

This book had everything I love:

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

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

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

Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018

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

‘Eerie and compelling’ Paula Hawkins

‘Stunning’ Sunday Times

‘Gripping… outstanding’ Observer

‘Glittering’ Irish Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dazzling novel from critically-acclaimed David Mitchell.

Shortlisted for the 2006 Costa Novel Award

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ‘Just read it…Outstanding’ Matt Haig

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Non Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

    Children’s books

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

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

    What a totally gorgeous book. I am

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

    • Oscar and the Catastrophe by Alan Macdonald 6+

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

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

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

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

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

    • The Witches by Roald Dahl

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

    BEWARE.

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

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

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

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

    Hi all. Hope you had a great month. My reading over the last 4 weeks have resembled the weather. There have been some reads that were golden rays of sunshine and unfortunately there were also reads that were like standing in a puddle with a hole in your shoes.

    8 books in total. 1 not finished, 1 book of poetry and 1 memoir. 4 4* reads, 2 3* reads, 1 2* reads.

    1. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. 4*

    Description- heartache, love, short.

    #1  New York Times bestseller  Milk and Honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity.

    The book is divided into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. Milk and Honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

    * Self-published edition sold 10,000 copies in nine months in the US, and over 1400 copies through UK Bookscan.

    * Over 1.5million copies sold worldwide.

    * AMP edition has now sold over 71,000 copies through UK Bookscan (June 2017), and is the bestselling Poetry book in 2017 in the UK.

    * As of July 2017, Milk and Honey was the bestselling title in the US – across all categories.

    * Rupi has 1.3m Instagram followers; 130K twitter followers; and 346K Facebook fans.

    * Strong appeal for fans of Lang Laev, author of Love & Misadventure and Lullabies.

    * Rights have been sold in over 20 languages worldwide

    In my opinion, being a poet is a tough gig. I’m basing my opinion on no major knowledge apart from skimming reviews on Goodreads. Each poem is often viewed as a mini book. To rate a book of poetry 4* and above, do you have to like EVERY poem???? Of course not but I often feel that this is required by a lot of readers. Some of these poems spoke to me, and some didn’t. The poems I loved, I loved so much that the poems I liked less fell along the wayside. When I shut the book I honestly feel that my life was the better because I had opened it. These are not long, flowery poems. They are instantly accessible. Incidentally this is one of the common criticisms of the book. Many feel that Rupi’s poems are like snap chats. For me, this isn’t a problem. I am no great poetry connoisseur. I don’t want to wade through endless words to come to the crux of a poem and then not even be 100% sure that I have got it right. The fact that these poems are so short and straight to the point is what I love and if this gets more people like me reading poetry then surely it’s a win!

    As a mother of 2 daughters, this poem in particular spoke to me:

    2. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. 4*

    Description- awkward, sex, atmosphere.

    It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come…

    This month for my book club at work we opted to read The Children Act by Ian McEwan. I have read a fair bit of McEwan but not for a long while so I thought I would get back in the world of McEwan by reading On Chesil Beach.

    What a lovely read this is. The writing of beautiful. The premise is simple. I often feel nowaday that thanks to authors like Gillian Flynn etc we expect a book to have twists and turns and keep us on the edge of our seat. This is where Ian McEwan is a master. He writes books without tricks but his beautiful writing and his stories about humanity keep you hooked. Chesil Beach is a perfect example of this. A newly wed couple are about to embark on their wedding night and what happens in the aftermath. Reading the novel was uncomfortable. This isn’t a criticism. This is what McEwan wanted you to feel. Reading through a couple’s first awkward sexual experience is cringe worthy. I was rooting (excuse the pun) for the characters. I was begging them to forgo class differences, constraints of the sexes and pride and to just talk to each other. To tell each other what they were scared of saying!!! God it was frustrating but in a good way!

    Yes for me this was a hit and I have recommended it to a lot of people. If you like books that do what they say on the tin in an unpretentious, unwaffley way with beautiful writing then give it a go.

    3. The Children’s Act by Ian McEwan. 3*

    Description- law, Jehovahs witnesses, marriage.

    Fiona Maye, a leading High Court judge, renowned for her fierce intelligence and sensitivity is called on to try an urgent case. For religious reasons, a seventeen-year-old boy is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life. Time is running out.

    She visits the boy in hospital – an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. But it is Fiona who must ultimately decide whether he lives or dies and her judgement will have momentous consequences for them both.

    Wow! We had a great book club on this beauty. I have also started doing some research on the authors to present to the group. Ian McEwan is quite an interesting one. A man never to shy away from making his views public. Deeply against extremist religion. He has spoken out against fundamentalist Islam’s views on women and homosexuality. He is a labour voter and was strongly against Brexit.

    As a Book group, we thought McEwan’s views on religion made the result of the court case quite predictable. McEwan is a realist who would obviously not come down on the side of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Indeed, Credsida Connolly writing for the Spectator said:

    religion was never going to be in with a chance. One might argue that the sect he has chosen is easy prey, since most of the reading public are likely to open these pages not needing to be persuaded that Witnesses are little short of nutters.

    Connolly goes on the describe the novel as ‘lacking in dramatic tension’ which we agreed with but also felt that that was not really what the book was about. I think the book is essentially, a character study in Fiona Maye’s marriage, morals and beliefs. In Fiona, McEwan has written a very real character. She is certainly flawed but ultimately likeable and I respected her. I’m sure to be a High Court judge you have to have a method of putting your emotions into a box so as not to cloud your judgement. You would think then, that Fiona would be quite a cold character but we all empathised with her. We also decided that she probably would be quite a tricky woman to be married to. That is not to excuse her husband’s actions but I don’t imagine she would be the kind of wife to wear her heart on her sleeve. Indeed, her husbands request is so very distasteful because he voices what he requires and feels is lacking in their marriage.

    Going off onto a bit of a tangent I also discovered that 2 members of our book club sing in the Gray’s Inn Chapel Choir. They particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the area and said the level of musicianship amongst the barristers and solicitors is incredibly high.

    So all in all a good month reading Ian McEwan. If you like beautiful prose definitely worth picking up.

    4. Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. 3*

    Description- unreliable narrator, care Home, flash backs.

    LONGLISTED FOR THE WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2018

    There are three things you should know about Elsie.

    The first thing is that she’s my best friend.

    The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.

    And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.

    84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?

    From the author of THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP, this book will teach you many things, but here are three of them:

    1) The fine threads of humanity will connect us all forever.

    2) There is so very much more to anyone than the worst thing they have ever done.

    3) Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.

    This was another book club choice and it went down very well….including with the men who I thought would be put off but the pretty battenberg cover.

    I can only speak for myself, but at 37 I am definitely aware of my own aging and now also my parents. This makes Florence’s story about age and dementia even more poignant. It reminded me of Elinor Oliphant in that even though the subject matter is quite tough, it is told in such a simple, gentle and witty way, the book never feels particularly harrowing.

    The reason I only gave this novel 3* is because I felt Cannon was constantly trying to be clever and shroud the story in mystery. For me, the book would have worked a little better if I had been let in on the secret. I guess the control freak in me is coming out. I think I just like books to me simple and well written. That isn’t to say that this isn’t beautiful written, I just don’t like an unreliable narrator and narrators don’t get more unreliable than one with dementia.

    I would like to say that Cannon’s writing is just beautiful and very moving. I loved this quote:

    I think the hardest part of losing anyone is that you have to live with the same scenery. It’s just that the person you are used to isn’t a part of it anymore, and all you notice are the gaps where they used to be. It feels as though, if you concentrated hard enough, you could find them again in those empty spaces. Waiting for you.

    5. The Firemaster’s Mistress by Christie Dickason. Did not finish.

    Description- James I, romance, gun powder.

    In the troubled year of 1605, Papist plots are rife in the gaudy streets of Shakespeare’s London as the fifth of November approaches …

    Francis Quoynt, Firemaster, is recently returned from Flanders and dreaming of making fireworks rather than war.

    Instead, Quoynt is recruited by Robert Cecil, First Minister, to spy on Guido Fawkes and his fellow conspirators. Meanwhile, Sir Francis Bacon is scheming for high position and spying on Quoynt.

    Kate Peach, a glove maker, was Quoynt’s lover before war took him away. Now living in Southwark, she is brought into grave danger. She is a secret Catholic. A fugitive Jesuit is concealed in her rooms. While Francis hopes to prevent the death of King James I and everyone in his parliament, Kate will have to save herself …

    I set myself a new goal this month….I will no longer buy new books unless I attempt to read one of the old ones on my shelf. This particular tome has been up there since 2011. I must have bought this during my bodice ripper phase. God my reading tastes have changed. I have to say I would have persevered if this book hadn’t been 500 sodding pages long. It is a period of history that I don’t know much about but as I say in all honesty I couldn’t be arsed to read it every night. Life is defo too short.

    6. Lullaby by Leila Slimani. 4*.

    Description: quick read, harrowing, Paris.

    The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.

    When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect caretaker for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint and is able to host enviable birthday parties.

    The couple and nanny become more dependent on each other. But as jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, Myriam and Paul’s idyllic tableau is shattered…

    Wow! I finished this book a couple of nights ago and I am still struggling to write down exactly what I think. Having finished this book I am left with a sense of unease and fear which is all down to the Slimani’s writing. This book feels claustrophobic and very, very real. At its centre a couple who have young children and busy working lives. I massively understand Myriam. A woman who although loves her children, is passionate about retaining a piece of herself. Maybe this is so poignant to me because I am exactly at this stage. I have two young children and my husband and I work. Like Myriam, my job is my passion and not doing it would be unthinkable. We have a nanny who we love and trust. This is a story that could happen and maybe it’s so unsettling because a caregiver, murdering her charges is a scenario you would never want to consider.

    There is no unreliable narrator in this novel. There are no plot twists and turn. The very first chapter tells you of the murder of the children. I think this made the novel so much more disturbing. Knowing what was going to happen to the children and imagining what the parents will go through in the aftermath of the murders makes the novel almost painful to read. If you are looking for something gripping, harrowing and impossible to put down give this a whirl.

    7. The tattooist of Auschwitz. 2*

    Description: love story, concentration camp, harrowing.

    I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.

    In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.

    Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too.

    So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.

    Oh Lordy, where to start with this one?!?! I really didn’t like this book but I’m glad I listened to it (audiobook) as I have had to get to grips with why I disliked it so much. Much like The Firemaster’s Mistress, I am not a fan of a love story….historical or otherwise. To me, love stories are dull and formulaic. People fall in love every day, this is not unusual. I have no interest in reading about other people’s love affairs. You know when your mate has one of chats with you about everything her boyfriend has said and you just glaze over and nod while thinking about a million other things??? That! That is what reading a love story is like for me. Secondly, I don’t like fiction about the Holocaust. I know this is based on a true story but it is only ‘based.’ This is still a work of fiction. Non fiction is completely fine and I think it is important that we read what happened and never forget those who perished at the hands of the Nazis. I just find fiction on this subject slightly distasteful. Would Lale and Gita really have been able to regularly have sex??? The part when Lale suggestively rubs the chocolate around her mouth….really????? Just not nice. Of course people will be moved by the subject matter, but I often feel that when an author uses such emotive subject it is sort of like a cop out.

    At this point I would like to say that I have just finished this book and I would like to say that I enjoyed the ending much more than the love story set in Auschwitz. After Lale makes his escape and we learn what later happens to him and Gita is very moving. I love the fact of this book just not the love story which I feel is padded out for fiction. As a result I will change my rating to 3*.

    8. Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth. 4*

    Description: tear jerker, post war, work house.

    In this follow up to CALL THE MIDWIFE, Jennifer Worth, a midwife working in the docklands area of East London in the 1950s tells more stories about the people she encountered.

    There’s Jane, who cleaned and generally helped out at Nonnatus House – she was taken to the workhouse as a baby and was allegedly the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat. Peggy gand Frank’s parents both died within 6 months of each other and the children were left destitute. At the time, there was no other option for them but the workhouse.

    The Reverend Thornton-Appleby-Thorton, a missionary in Africa, visits the Nonnatus nuns and Sister Julienne acts as matchmaker. And Sister Monica Joan, the eccentric ninety-year-old nun, is accused of shoplifting some small items from the local market. She is let off with a warning, but then Jennifer finds stolen jewels from Hatton Garden in the nun’s room. These stories give a fascinating insight into the resilience and spirit that enabled ordinary people to overcome their difficulties.

    One of my most major flaws is that I have literally no willpower. Having stated very strongly in March’s post that I was not going to watch Call the Midwife I started watching it a couple of weeks ago and am thoroughly enjoying it. Unfortunately this has made me enjoy the second book in the series slightly less but that’s my own stupid fault. These two books are depicted in the first series and Christmas Special of Call the Midwife and it’s done really well.

    I have loved these books. Post war London is so interesting and I have learnt a lot. There were many times during reading these books I openly cried on the train. Living in SW London, my husband and I in full time work, both kids healthy it makes me realise that we honestly don’t know how lucky we are. People in 1950s East End London has coped with so much adversity through the wars, lived in squalor and were often hungry and penniless. If you were unable to feed your children the solution would be to enter the workhouse where you would be split up as a family and have to deal with appalling situations of a different kind. The story of Peggy and Frank is utterly heartbreaking. The hardship people lived through were unbearable. What women of the 1950s must think of us with our doulas, sleep consultants, breast feeding consultants I dread to think.

    The 1st of May is a beautiful, sunny day and I am currently in the bus in my sunglasses reading the first book of the month. It’s premise….a man takes his wife and son to look after an empty hotel during the winter months……The Shining.

    March reads

    Towards the end of March I had a complete reading epiphany….wait for it…… I am no longer going to read books on my kindle. I absolutely HATE reading on my kindle. It completely take the enjoyment away from me and as dramatic as it sounds, it makes me feel quite depressed. Apart from my children, dog and husband (in that order), reading is my passion….and for me, books go hand in hand with reading. I love the physical act of holding a book, getting more than halfway through and actually seeing the pages go past.

    I have also decided that from now on I am going to post my monthly reads on instagram. Not the whole reviews obviously but instead of a review I am just going to put down 3 words or phrases that come to mind when I think of each book. Maybe this will spur someone on to pick one up….or not.

    1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid 3*

    Words… magical realism, refugee, love.

    SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017

    SHORTLISTED FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FOR FICTION

    NOMINATED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR FICTION

    *One of Barack Obama’s top ten books of 2017*

    The Times Top 10 Bestseller

    Guardian Top 10 Bestseller

    The New York Times Top 5 Bestseller

    Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal 2018 and finalist for the Neustadt Prize 2018

    ‘Mixing the real and the surreal, using old fairy-tale magic… Compelling, crystalline, unnervingly dystopian’ Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

    An extraordinary story of love and hope from the bestselling, Man Booker-shortlisted author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

    This is Nadia. She is fiercely independent with an excellent sense of humour and a love of smoking alone on her balcony late at nightThis is Saeed. He is sweet and shy and kind to strangers. He also has a balcony but he uses his for star-gazing.

    This is their story: a love story, but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow. Saeed and Nadia are falling in love, and their city is falling apart. Here is a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it.

    This was a book club read and one with which I am on the seesaw of 3 and 4*. Its raining today and I am about to change a manky nappy so I am going to put it at 3*. I think even though this book is so relevant right now, members of our book club were quite disappointed . I haven’t read it, but apparently this book doesn’t compare at all to The Optician of Lampedusa, which had great reviews and people say is very moving.

    The element of magical realism was also a major problem. The very idea that you could just find a door which would lead you to another world, belittled the whole journey of a refugee. No images akin to those of 3 year old Alan Kurdi in Exit West. For us, the whole element of crisis and desperation was missing.

    In conclusion, I think we were all baffled by the accolades this book has received. Is it because the subject matter is so emotive that people aren’t so critical?  Hamid’s idea was interesting and original but at the end of the novel you definitely felt that something was lacking.

     

    2. The Manson Women and Me by Nikki Meredith. 2*

    Words……psychology, parents, indoctrination.

    In 1969, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel carried out horrific acts of butchery on the orders of cult leader Charles Manson. At their murder trial, the lead prosecutor described them as ‘human monsters.’ But to anyone who knew them growing up, they were bright, promising girls, seemingly incapable of such an crime. Award-winning journalist Nikki Meredith began visiting them in prison to discover how they had changed during their incarceration. The more Meredith got to know them, the more she was lured into a deeper dilemma: What compels ‘normal’ people to do unspeakable things?

    Having finished this book, my lasting thought is that it needs editing. Badly. The subject matter really sparked my interest. Although a lot has been written about Manson, I really wanted to know what made the Manson women commit these horrific acts. The interviews between Meredith and Leslie Van Houten and Leslie’s mother were really interesting. Less so with Patricia Krenwinkel who Meredith clearly had less of a rapport with. I wish there had been more interviews and less memoir of Meredith’s life. I would often get to the end of a chapter and think “what was the point in that?” In conclusion, it was a bit ‘meh.’

    3. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. 5*

    Words….anxiety, depression, humour.

    WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FEEL TRULY ALIVE?

    Aged 24, Matt Haig’s world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again.

    A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.

    Oh Matt Haig how joyous I am to have found you!!!

    As someone who has struggled with depression since I was 16, I have tried counselling, CBT, hypnotherapy, Citalopram and reading every book under the sun about depression and anxiety.  This the first book I have read which I feel has been written for me and me alone. I have found over the years that actually the most effective means at making me feel better, is not trying to ‘fix’ me but basically to have someone say ‘it’s shit, but I understand.’ This is what I get from this book and as a result of Haig’s book, I don’t feel like a failure because I struggle with depression, I feel a sense of positivity that I am not alone and even on my darkest days, things will get better.

    I have so much respect for the way this book is written. In a chatty, non judgemental way with just the right amount of statistics and humour. It is really important that this book comes from a male author.

    Without a doubt I would recommend this book to anyone whose life is touched by depression but also to men, boys who are scared to voice their fears, anxieties and sadnesses.

    4. The Humans by Matt Haig. 4*

    Words….hilarious, touching, aliens.

    After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton – and he’s a dog.

    What could possibly make someone change their mind about the human race. .

    Book clubs are funny old things aren’t they? Why do you join a book club? To read more? To read outside your comfort zone and forget your prejudices? I ask these questions because this was a book club read. The majority of the group loved this book bar 2 people. When asked why they said “I hate science fiction.” Undoubtedly there is an element of sci-fi….alien life but this is definitely not all that this book is about. I loved it mainly because it made me laugh and that takes a lot on a delayed south west train in the morning. I also found it very touching. Andrew’s relationship with his wife and particularly with his son was very moving and definitely made me sit up and recognise how easy it is to focus on the unimportant things in life and leave the important things to founder.

    5. A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. 4*

    Words…..America, university, old-school-thriller.

    Dorothy meets a handsome young man with an eye for her inheritance while she is in her sophomore year. They are to be married and her life will be blissful; but Dorothy is pregnant and her fiancé’s plans are ruined, for Dorothy would be disinherited if her father discovered the truth. So the young man provides his bride to be with some pills that will solve the problem. Soon there will be no baby – and perhaps no Dorothy either… A Kiss before Dying, Levin’s first novel, earned him the 1954 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and is regarded as a modern classic.

    This was an unplanned read for me this month. My mother in law came to stay last week. This is tremendous because she is undoubtedly the MOST helpful woman in history. She always offers to do the school run for me which I always accept. For all exhausted mothers out there, you will know what a treat this is. The only snag with this situation is I then feel like I am on holiday and that I have all the time in the world to get myself ready for work….as a result I am always late. On this particular day, I was still leisurely eating a bagel 15 minutes before I was due to leave the house. Admittedly my standards are lower and I definitely don’t look as coiffed heading into work as I used to but I can get ready to leave in 15 mins at a push. What screwed it on this particular day is that my potty training 2 year old decided to piss all over my bed. I left the house feeling grumpy and harassed. I also discovered I had left my book at home. HORROR. I hot footed it into the charity shop and my eye spied Ira Levin.

    The legendary Levin has never disappointed. I have listened to Rosemary’s Baby and The Boys from Brazil on audio book and I can honestly say that in my memory of audio books, these 2 really held my concentration.

    I whipped through this book is 2 sittings. These are the kind of thrillers I love to read. Like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, this book kept me guessing. Who do you trust? I bloody love an unreliable narrator. I haven’t yet watched the film but in my mind it will be like an Alfred Hitchcock. 1950s America is a time period I love reading. I have such a vivid picture in my mind of how the film will look…I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

    6. Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. 4*

    Words…..Deep South, racism, acceptance.

    Amos, Mississippi, is a quiet town. Silas Jones is its sole law enforcement officer. The last excitement here was nearly twenty years ago, when a teenage girl disappeared on a date with Larry Ott, Silas’s one-time boyhood friend. The law couldn’t prove Larry guilty, but the whole town has shunned him ever since. Then the town’s peace is shattered when someone tries to kill the reclusive Ott, another young woman goes missing, and the town’s drug dealer is murdered. Woven through the tautly written murder story is the unspoken secret that hangs over the lives of two men – one black, one white.

    This is a book I am definitely going to buy for my dad. I completely associate my dad with American fiction, particularly that set in the Deep South. He has always been interested in the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. If I had masses of money, I would love to pay for dad to do a road trip round the Deep South. I think he would fully immerse himself in the culture, food and music. It would also be a trip I would adore to make.

    Franklin’s book is not without its accolades. It won the Crime Novel of the Year in 2010. This book so completely evoked the sights, smells and tastes of the South that reading it often felt like I was watching it on screen. The plot is great, but it definitely comes secondary to the brilliant characters.  Larry Ott is a character, which even now, 2 weeks after finishing the book, I still feel a lump in my throat when I think of him. The small town setting, combined with racial tensions and prejudices, made the book feel almost suffocating. In the middle of all these emotions, is Ott who is the brunt of everyone’s suspicion when it comes to the disappearance of the two girls. A painful but great read.

    7. Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. 5*.

    Words….1950s, slum, hardship.

    Jennifer Worth trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, and was later ward sister at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London, then the Marie Curie Hospital, also in London. Music had always been her passion, and in 1973 she left nursing in order to study music intensively, teaching piano and singing for about twenty-five years. Jennifer died in May 2011 after a short illness, leaving her husband Philip, two daughters and three grandchildren. Her books have all been bestsellers.

    Before having children, I used to be an avid fan of the a TV programme One Born Every Minute. I just loved the birth stories and seeing the beautiful babies. Even the sadder episodes I would watch and although I would be moved, the stories didn’t affect me too deeply. Then my own children arrived and my emotional level went through the roof. No longer could I watch films or read stories where children were anything other than happy. Now, even poor Charlie Bucket being unable to buy a bar of chocolate leaves me in bits. If One Born Every Minute or Call the Midwife comes in the TV, I have to switch off. Seeing women in labour is a very different thing when you have been through it yourself.

    My youngest daughter was born 2.5 years ago so when a colleague recommended the novel Call the Midwife to me, I started reading with some trepidation.

    I was very quickly hooked. Although the first scene of labour made me cross my legs a little, Worth’s writing about the East End, the characters she treated there and the nuns with whom she lived was wonderful. The chapters about Mrs Jenkins and the workhouse were utterly utterly heartbreaking. It has been a very long time since a book has made me cry. Life for the paupers in post war London was completely unbearable but yet families still persevered against the odds to look after their families. I have to say, the book hasn’t made me want to watch the tv series as thanks to Worth, I have such a strong image of 1950s London in my head. I am definitely planning on reading the rest of the books in the series.

    8. We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. 4*

    Words…..chimps, memory, siblings.

    Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014

    The Million Copy Best-Seller

    Rosemary’s young, just at college, and she’s decided not to tell anyone a thing about her family. So we’re not going to tell you too much either: you’ll have to find out for yourselves, round about page 77, what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other.

    Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone – vanished from her life. There’s something unique about Rosemary’s sister, Fern. And it was this decision, made by her parents, to give Rosemary a sister like no other, that began all of Rosemary’s trouble. So now she’s telling her story: full of hilarious asides and brilliantly spiky lines, it’s a looping narrative that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning. Twice.

    I read this book in 4 days. If you asked me 3 days ago what I was thinking, I would have said I was close to giving up. Why????? SPOILER ALERT!!!!!! Because of the monkey business. I don’t mind the fact that Fern is a chimp, in fact, it is this very reason that I grew to love the book. I hated that this major plot point wasn’t explained until page 77!!! 77!!!!! Yes, I understand why she did it, but in all honesty, it just pissed me off. If there weren’t so many good books in the world, I would have gone back and re-read pages 1-76 to see what I had missed when I had been spending the first third of the book thinking Fern was a human, but there ARE too many good books!

    Ignoring monkey-gate, when this book finally dropped its cloak of ambiguity, I really enjoyed it and I admit I shed a tear on the last page. I also really enjoyed Fowler’s writing of Rosemary’s memory.  This, yet again is ambiguous, but I guess memory is isn’t it? Do you remember things correctly and in the right order??? I bet my early memories of situations are very different to my parent’s memories of the same situation. Its a really interesting idea and one I felt that Fowler explored really well.

     

    Until next month!

    A month of reading: February.

    The start of February’s reading saw me completely embedded in the 17th century. You know that feeling when you find a book so comforting that you want to retain some of that comfort in your next read???? For some reason I found plague and witch hunts comforting?!?!? Maybe it was the candlelight and mead .

    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. 4*

    From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ‘March’ and ‘People of the Book’. A young woman’s struggle to save her family and her soul during the extraordinary year of 1666, when plague suddenly struck a small Derbyshire village. In 1666, plague swept through London, driving the King and his court to Oxford, and Samuel Pepys to Greenwich, in an attempt to escape contagion. The north of England remained untouched until, in a small community of leadminers and hill farmers, a bolt of cloth arrived from the capital. The tailor who cut the cloth had no way of knowing that the damp fabric carried with it bubonic infection. So begins the Year of Wonders, in which a Pennine village of 350 souls confronts a scourge beyond remedy or understanding. Desperate, the villagers turn to sorcery, herb lore, and murderous witch-hunting. Then, led by a young and charismatic preacher, they elect to isolate themselves in a fatal quarantine. The story is told through the eyes of Anna Frith who, at only 18, must contend with the death of her family, the disintegration of her society, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit attraction. Geraldine Brooks’s novel explores love and learning, fear and fanaticism, and the struggle of 17th century science and religion to deal with a seemingly diabolical pestilence. ‘Year of Wonders’ is also an eloquent memorial to the real-life Derbyshire villagers who chose to suffer alone during England’s last great plague.

    This was my second reading of this book. The first time was after a recommendation by a colleague. He thought it was AMAZING. I read it and thought it was a bit meh. A solid 3*. I think I have a thing that if a book is crazy popular I almost don’t allow myself to enjoy it….it’s almost like I don’t want to relinquish control and let myself enjoy it as much as I should. So, I had to reread it for February’s Book club and this time I loved it. It’s not a 5* but it’s a solid 4* from me. Maybe I was just in a different place, maybe because it hadn’t been massively bigged up, I actually allowed myself to enjoy it without looking for faults. Anyway it was good. A few little niggles….Anna is a great character but I wonder if she was just too modern for the time and although this book was a massive book club hit we all agreed that the ending was slightly ridiculous and seemed to come from nowhere.

    The Witch Finder’s Sister by Beth Underdown. 3.5 *

    When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

    But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women’s names.

    To what lengths will Matthew’s obsession drive him?

    And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

    After finishing Year of Wonders I felt pretty invested in the 17th century so I picked up Underdown’s novel. Although Alice Hopkins is a fictional character, her brother Matthew was the the infamous Witch Finder General, which was a role never acknowledged by Parliament but one he adopted never the less. This was a really interesting and enjoyable read. Such a terrifying time when any woman could be accused of witch craft and once suspected it was impossible to prove you weren’t guilty. A baby dies, people would look at a woman to blame, a man strays from his marriage bed and it would be the woman who had used magic to bewitch him. In a time when women had no voice in society it truly must have been a terrifying time to have been alive.

    Like Year of Wonders I would recommend this atmospheric read to fans of historical fiction.

    Mills and Boon Month

    To celebrate Valentine’s Day I decided to buy a Mills and Boon for ever member of both Book clubs. Crazy generous of me!!!! I heard an absolutely hilarious podcast a few years ago where the three presenters of the show read the same Mills and Boon copy and then discussed it. Unfortunately I struggled to find 40 copies of the same book but after a quick eBay search, I bought a job lot of different titles. The books arrived and titles ranged from The Fireman and the Single Mother, The Boss’s Virgin and Stranded, Seduced…Pregnant. Everyone received a copy and armed with bit of Mills and Boon research, read voraciously. So…..Mills and Boon started publishing in 1908 and was bought by Harlequin in 1971. They publish a set amount of books each month. Any unsold copies get withdrawn and pulped. This means that if you are after a specific title, you have to buy second hand. According to Wikipedia, in 2008, 200 million Mills and Boon novels were sold and every 6.6 seconds, a Mills and Boon paperback is sold.

    We had a hilarious meeting, reading aloud the scenes we found particularly funny. Yes, without a doubt, the story lines are formulaic but to be completely honest, I didn’t hate my book (Island Pleasures by Susan Napier) anymore than I hated 50 Shades of Grey. I think this was probably because my heroine in Island Pleasures didn’t have an inner goddess and I am slightly embarrassed to say that I actually found it sexier. Disclaimer….when I read 50 S of G it was pre kids and my husband and I still had a sex life based on lust rather than that feeling that you just should because you haven’t done it in YONKS.

    Anyway, highly recommend doing a Mills and Boon month is you have a book club.

    A Map of the Dark by Karen Ellis. 2.5*

    FBI Agent Elsa Myers finds missing people.

    She knows how it feels to be lost…

    Though her father lies dying in a hospital north of New York City, Elsa cannot refuse a call for help. A teenage girl has gone missing from Forest Hills, Queens, and during the critical first hours of the case, a series of false leads hides the fact that she did not go willingly.

    With each passing hour, as the hunt for Ruby deepens into a search for a man who may have been killing for years, the case starts to get underneath Elsa’s skin. Everything she has buried – her fraught relationship with her sister and niece, her self-destructive past, her mother’s death – threatens to resurface, with devastating consequences.

    In order to save the missing girl, she may have to lose herself…and return to the darkness she’s been hiding from for years.

    I shall start this review with the word ‘hmmmmmm.’ I have literally just read the last page and that is the feeling I am left with. I often think that writing reviews for books that are a bit ‘meh’ is much harder than writing reviews for books you loved or hated. Then, either way, at least you are passionate .

    In my opinion, this book is just a bit paint by numbers. We have the damaged, tortured FBI agent whole is simultaneously dealing with her own demons whilst trying to save girls from a killer. We have the lovely sidekick, who recognises his partners brilliance and fragility. We have the potential love interest who doesn’t care about Elsa’s past and just wants to love her. The plot twists and turns were obvious and predictable. I feel bad because so far, this is quite a scathing review but I do feel that Ellis needs to up her game if she want to compete with other authors in the genre. Having said that, this book is the start of a series so I’m sure the plots will improve. Unfortunately, this book did not intrigue me enough to see the series out to the end.

    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

    This is going to be the only book in this blog post which doesn’t get a rating. Why????? Wait for it…… I didn’t finish it. I gave up. I am a Night Circus Failure. I admit that I am mortified by these statements. I have read so many reviews and this book is LOVED. Just not by me. I’m sorry. The reason is, I am just not a fan of books about magic, witches and wizards etc. Now for another controversial statement….I didn’t love Harry Potter. I thought it was ok. But as the books got thicker and thicker I just couldn’t be arsed. If Night Circus had been half its length I may have persevered but I guess we’ll never know.

    Penance by Kinae Minato. Translated by Philip Gabriel. 2.5 *

    When a group of young girls are approached by a stranger, they cannot know that the encounter will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

    Hours later, Emily is dead. The surviving girls alone can identify the killer. But not one of them remembers his face…

    Driven mad by grief, the victim’s mother demands the girls find the murderer or else atone for their crimes. If they do neither, she will have her revenge. She will make them pay…

    I feel that the blurb on this book is quite misleading. This book is not about a mother’s revenge. This book is about how a very disturbing murder of a child affects the lives of the other children present. I thought the book started really well and I found it very dark and well written, but after the initial chapter, it was just a formulaic, chapter by chapter account of each girl’s view of the murder and how it affected their life. I’m sure it is worth mentioning that maybe something may have been lost in the translation, but all in all, it wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be.

    Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty. 4*

    At the beginning of the year my best friend’s dad died. I hadn’t seen him since Sal got married a couple of years ago. During my sixth form, I went to boarding school in North Yorkshire. Sal’s dad was the maths teacher. When I was diagnosed with depression in my first year, I often went over for sunday lunch. I have memories of us all sitting round the dining table playing a game called bridges….you pour melted sugar over ice-cream and try to eat the ice-cream without breaking the ‘bridge’ formed by the sugar. Sal’s dad was happy being in the great outdoors, clay pigeon shooting or propping up the bar at the local boozer. He wasn’t very loud but he had a wicked sense of humour. He found out that his skin cancer was terminal in september 2017 and he died, at home a few weeks ago.

    Sal came over for lunch yesterday and we had a few glasses of wine and a good cry. We have been lucky so far in that death isn’t really something we have had to deal with directly. Until now, no-one close to us has died but death is a funny thing as it is something we are all going to deal with….the death of others and ultimately our own. Yet, what happens when we die still seems to be a taboo. We deal with it and we don’t touch on it again.

    I picked up this book having heard a few podcast reviews and I wasn’t disappointed. We should be grateful for people like Doughty coming forward and giving their opinions on the subject of a ‘good death.’ Initially Doughty’s writing seemed a bit blasé but after a few chapters I was completely immersed. Why should death be taboo. It is the one great leveller. No matter how rich, poor, famous, infamous, horrible or lovely….we will all ultimately end up as dust. It is a sobering thought but I do believe it is a thought we ought to have and be aware of. This book has made me think a lot about what I want for the end of my life. The only reason this isn’t a 5* is the chapter on babies. I can make my peace with adults dying but I can’t handle a baby dying who has had no chance of life and I found this chapter a real struggle.

    Thanks for reading and have a great reading March.

    Two book clubs…double the joy.

    Two nights ago I had the first meeting of a new book club I have started. Notice my reluctance to use the phrase (my new book club). I am now the proud member (owner) of two book groups. Book Group 1 is a work book group. I work as a chorister for a London opera company. We work very anti-social hours and as a result are a pretty anti-social bunch. Actually, I don’t want to be unfair to my colleagues….as and when we have some free time we leg it back home to see our long suffering families who are more often than not, lumbered with the unenviable task of looking after the children during the witching hour. Also, probably due to our hours, we don’t tend to mix with other departments. My hope is that eventually, members of other departments will come to book club and we will have a bit of cross-departmental-book-based banter.

    I am really happy with how we pick the books for this book club. We have what is known as ‘The Sorting Hat.’ It isn’t a hat…it’s a box. Throughout the month, members put suggestions into the hat/box. Books they have read and think would provide great discussion, books they would like to read and books that have been sitting on their shelves for yonks. About a week before we are due to meet, the box is given to a member. He or she picks out 3 titles they would like to read and does a bit of research on them. At the meeting, these titles are presented to the group and we we vote on which book we would like to read for the next month. This system seems to work really well. It means that each person has a turn to pick a book and we get a varied mix of titles and genres.

    We meet monthly. Usually in between rehearsals or shows. This weekend we are discussing Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. We will also be in the middle of stage rehearsals for Iolanthe. As a result we will be discussing this novel about the plague dressed as fairies and peers from the House of Lords.

    Book Club 2 (new book club) is based in the area of London where I live. Since having children, this area feels like a village which is so wonderful in an often anonymous and unfriendly city. The group is comprised mainly of mums and dads. People I have met through dropping my children at nursery and school, NCT, next door neighbours. As it is a FB group people have also found the club who have no connection to me at all. People who are new to the area and who want to make friends. How wonderful!!!!

    As this is the second book club I have run, I feel confident to choose the books. I subscribe to a lot of book based podcasts, blogs etc so I am confident that I am recommending good books. Once a month I do a poll on FB. I put forward 3 books. Book 1 will be a Classic, book 2 is something that is in the charts now or something that has won a recent award and book 3 is a bit of a wild card ….basically anything else that has caught my eye. Members of the club vote on which book they would like to read.

    As we are about to enter the Month of Lurve I have ordered Mills and Boon novels for members of both book groups. A few years ago, I listened to a podcast where members of a book group did this exact thing and it was absolutely hilarious. Whatever our thoughts are on Mills and Boon, I know this will give us a giggle, and that’s what it’s all about isn’t it????? Reading because it makes us happy????

    A Year in Books

    Happy New Year!

    I have massively enjoyed my reading this year and honestly feel that at times it has completely stopped my from falling into a black hole of depression. I’m sure a lot of people love a good book to enjoy the escapism. For me, it is more the sense of achievement I have on finishing a book. Since having children my feelings of achievement come from my children attempting to eat a vegetable or them wiping their own bums. Reading is honestly probably the only thing I do on my own now….yes I do wee with my kids present and at least 6 nights a week I have a little person sharing my bed who is not my husband.  Reading however is my quiet time.  Conversely,  I do love the sociable aspect of having a good chat about a book. I have started 2 book clubs in 2017 and I am really chuffed to have made new friends who also enjoy reading. 2017 was also the year of the book multi tasked. I now generally have 3 books on the go. I have to pick these books carefully….if I’m reading a book of poetry, I like interspersing it with fiction. This does depend on how complicated the fiction is however. Some books require complete fidelity and if I sleep (read) around  whilst reading a complicated book, I always seem to be at odds with the plot, characters etc.

    So, without further ado, here are my reads of 2017.

    5*

    1. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
    2. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
    3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
    4. All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard
    5. Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson
    6. The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
    7. Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
    8. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
    9. The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club by Helen McGinn

    4*

    1. The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker
    2. My Life in France by Julia Child
    3. Two Brothers by Ben Elton
    4. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
    5. The House on Cold Hill by Peter James
    6. The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
    7. His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
    8. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
    9. Something Dangerous by Penny Vincenzi
    10. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
    11. Release by Patrick Ness
    12. When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
    13. The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
    14. Four Stories by Alan Bennett
    15. Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym
    16. Conclave by Robert Harris
    17. Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward
    18. On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
    19. A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman
    20. Feminine Gospels by Carol Ann Duffy
    21. Motherhood Reimagined by Sarah Kowalski
    22. The Map and the Clock edited by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke
    23. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    24. The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
    25. Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim
    26. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

    3*

    1. What We Didn’t Say by Rory Dunlop
    2. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
    3. Capital by John Lanchester
    4. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
    5. Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
    6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
    7. Invincible Summer by Alice Adams
    8. Cousins by Salley Vickers
    9. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
    10. Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin by Alan Bennett
    11. Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph
    12. The Angry Chef by Anthony Warner
    13. The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti
    14. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
    15. An Equal Music by Vikram Seth
    16. The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth by William Boyd
    17. The Rotter’s Club by Jonathan Coe
    18. Confessions of a Learner Parent by Sam Avery

    2*

    1. Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
    2. Friends Like These by Danny Wallace
    3. Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
    4. We the Animals by Justin Torres
    5. 30-Second Mythology by Robert A Segal

    1*

    1. The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks

    GAVE UP!!!!

    1. The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
    2. Ruby by Cynthia Bond
    3. A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa, Emma Claire Sweeney
    4. Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy by Neil Astley

    4 Very varied book reviews.

    It has been yonks since I put up some book reviews and the irony/impropriety of reviewing a children’s book, a parenting guide, a wine guide and a book of poetry based on depression is not lost on me. If this grouping of books offends you, please stop reading now. Interestingly, I did not plan to read these books around the same time but for me, they are beautifully linked. I am a parent to two girls under five, I have depression and I really like a glass of wine. There, all linked and packaged up with a nice bow.

    A LION IS A LION by POLLY DUNBAR

    Is a lion still a lion if…he wears a hat? And carries an umbrella, too?

    And is a lion still a lion if he says, “Oh yes, lunch would be lovely, thank you.”

    And he asks you for…a BITE?

    Firstly, I would like to say how much my daughters and I loved Polly Dunbar’s illustrations. My 4 year old told me ‘they were easy to understand.’ I think by this she means that the pages weren’t so busy that her 4 year old brain suffered with sensory overload. I often find books for children are so full of bright colours, big words, all singing and all dancing that children are so distracted that they lose the thread of the story. Not so with the book. The pictures are simple and beautifully drawn. My children and I particularly likes the ‘danger moments.’ This is when the lion decides he would quite like to eat the children in the story. Cleverly, Dunbar uses the colour red as a page background which prompted a lot of discussion with my 4 year old about red meaning danger. She is apparently steering clear of red food for a while. The message behind this book is also really empowering to children, particularly before bedtime. If something scares you/tries to eat you….chuck it out of your house and tell it ‘No! No! No! NO!’ This is a lovely book, really enjoyed by my 2 and 4 year old.

    My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this book.

    I initially requested this ARC because I want to read more poetry. I am sorry to admit that I am a bit of a novice when it comes to reading poetry and my vision of it is fuelled by memories of plodding through A Level poetry which I often found tedious. So far, in my tasting menu of poetry, I am really enjoying modern poetry and I thought the subject matter of Benhaim’s new book of poems would definitely be something I could relate to.

    Benhaim, is not a poet I am familiar with so before embarking on her collection I sat down with a cuppa and got onto Google. I was hoping to find a Wikipedia post giving me some background. This was unfortunately not to be. Instead, I became immersed into the world of Slam Poetry. To Slam Poetry virgins like myself, Slam is a competition which originated in 1984 in Chicago. It was intended as a way to move poetry away from stuffy libraries and bring it out to audiences. Poets take to the microphone and compete against other poets. Slam poetry is Benhaim’s background. It is worth watching her perform her poem ‘Explaining my depression to my mother, a conversation.’ This video has been viewed 6 million times on Youtube.

    Having watched everything of Benhaim’s I could find, I embarked on her book. I loved these poems. So many of them spoke to me and even though the main subject matter is depression, a had a wry smile on my face as so much of what she said made sense to me:

    In some stories,

    the protagonist has to kill the bad thing to

    release its light.

    in my story,

    I am the protagonist & the bad thing,

    I have to learn how to bend the light out of myself.

    I can do that magic.

    So many beautiful thoughts and ways of expressing them. I think my favourite poems were ‘How to fold a memory’ – her words created such wonderful and fragile imagery. ‘Another plain truth,”poem for the moment after you left,”so my friend tells me she identifies as a mermaid,”feed a fever, starve a cold,’ ‘what I told the doctor, the second time,’

    These poems, short stories really came alive to me after having watched how she performs. I completely have her voice in my head and it really helped my to get used to her conversational style.

    A really wonderful book of poetry and I will definitely recommend it to others.

    Oh Helen McGinn where have you been all my life??? Thank god I have found you now. I feel as I am now in my late 30s (argh) it is time for me to get into the club. The club I talk is the Club of Wise Ones What Know About Wine. I had friends who joined this club in their early 20s and I thought it was all a bit pretentious. I just wanted to get pissed on whatever was cheapest in sainos. If something was on offer, I would buy it….as long as it was in the £6 and under price bracket. In the year before we jumped on the baby train my husband and I went on our last big holiday. We went to America and spent a lot of time in Napa. We hired bikes and I have slightly soft focused memories of us cycling around various vineyards, trying to pretend we weren’t pissed and that we knew vaguely what we were on about. We didn’t, and it made me realise I wanted to be part of this club who did know.

    I live in South West London which is an area often referred to as Nappy Valley. Everywhere you look, there are pregnant people, Range-Rover priced buggies, sleep consultants, breast-feeding consultants, mothers who are wearing jumpers with slogans describing how they are just blagging motherhood (they aren’t. Their idea of blagging motherhood is to feed their kids chicken nuggets one night a week instead of organic bolognese). Controversially, i have found since living here, I am slightly allergic to this group of women ( by all means, it is not the women round here) who quaff prosecco whilst holding baby Zara (who is dressed in Bonpoint) wanking on about how knackered they are. As a result, i tend to veer away from blogs and books with the title ‘The knackered/yummy/ confused/baffled/hysterical mummy.’ Helen McGinn has without a doubt proved me wrong and made me realise that my prejudice is ridiculous.

    This book is so readable without being too easy. It is definitely a book which I shall keep and often refer back to. This does not read like an idiots guide to wine, but its simplicity in content makes you feel that you are getting to grips with how wine works without being bamboozled by the complicated stuff.  For a wine beginner, this is definitely the book for you. Its humour, lack or pretension and brilliantly structured chapters make it a really fun read. The chapter about book clubs and wine has inspired me to start my own wine tasting/book reading club. Thanks Helen. Top work.

     

    My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC of this book.

    In my review above I have already given my opinions on the trend that is self-deprecting parents writing books and blogs on how they bare winging parenthood. This phenomenon has really taken off in the last few years and I feel we are inundated with similar parenting manuals. Having said that, I requested this ARC because I hadn’t read anything from the father’s point of view.

    Sam Avery is a funny guy. He should be…he is a stand up comedian. He also has twin sons which will provide him with enough funny material for the next 15 years. His first chapter, entitled Diary of a Two-Year-Old made my openly guffaw on the train. I made my husband read it whilst we were trying to stay awake over a glass of wine last saturday. We did that knowing laugh, that parents do when we discover that we all go through the same thing. Also, his chapter on soft-play was brilliant.

    My only issue with this book, is that for me, I think I would have enjoyed it more had I read it a little more sporadically. Avery is hilarious but if you read it in one sitting you get slightly bored of the humour. Pretty much every paragraph has a simile or analogy which eventually become totally frustrating. I felt I was drowning in Avery’s need to make me laugh every 5 seconds and as a result, as the book continued, to became less funny.

    Having said that, it was really refreshing to read a man’s take on parenthood and it would be a great book to give to any soon to be dad’s.

     

    Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas people.