January Reads

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

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

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

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

THE GAME’S AFOOT . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great month and thank you for reading.

January kids reads

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

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

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

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

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

  • Lewis Carroll died 14th January 1898.

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

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

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

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

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

  • AA Milne born 18th January 1882.

  • Rudyard Kipling died 18th January 1936.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, see you all next month.

Thanks so much for reading.

November/December Reads

Hello all. I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What could possibly go wrong?

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

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

  • Emily Dickinson born 10th December 1830.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Nutcracker by ETA Hoffmann.

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

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

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

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

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

    Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December Children’s Reads

Happy New Year to all you wonderful people. I hope you had a restful break. Is Christmas ever restful??? Maybe not restful then, eventful. We spent Christmas with my parents in Leicestershire and then we went to the Wirral for New Year to stay with my in laws. We head off to Wales tomorrow for a few days for what I hope will be the calm after the storm.

  • Christmas by Dick Bruna

Dick Bruna brings his iconic style to this beautiful re-telling of the Nativity story.

About the Author

Dick Bruna was born in 1927 in Utrecht, Holland. Dick comes from a family of publishers who under the name of ‘A.W. Bruna and Son’ started to print books in 1868. While on holiday in 1955, Dick began to tell his son stories about a little white rabbit who lived in the garden of their holiday home and this little rabbit soon became known to the world as Miffy. Dick Bruna is now one of the most famous creators of picture books in the world. He has written and illustrated 124 books, which have sold over 85 million copies in 50 languages.

When Edie came home a few weeks ago, all excited about the forthcoming Nativity in which she was to play a star, I started to ask her what the play would be about. “Well mummy, the play is called Funky Camels and it’s basically about how funky camels are.” “Hmmmmmmm” was my response and then I asked Edie what she knew about the real Christmas Story. “Well mum. Joseph and Enid had the baby Jesus. Shepherds came and some Kings who brought gold, Frank and mud.” 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️😱😱 Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an issue with schools updating the Christmas story, as long as the children do actually know what the Christmas story is about.

So, I brought out this book by the Miffy author Dick Bruna. A perfect version of the Christmas story for young kids. As you would expect from Bruna, the pictures are eye catching and brilliantly simple. The story doesn’t have a funky camel in sight and just does what it says on the tin….a lovely version of the Christmas story.

  • The Nutcracker by ETA Hoffmann.

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

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

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

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

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

  • Jane Austen born 16th December 1775.

If you are a big Austen fan and looking to start ‘em young, it is definitely worth checking this book out from the fabulous @babylitbooks. This is what is known as an opposites primer…prettt much what you get on the tin. Babies will love it and actually my 3 year old thinks it’s the best thing ever. This morning on the way to nursery she told me she was sad like Brandon!!!😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂 I hope she doesn’t say it too often or people will think I have raised a right show off! @babylitbooks is a company I discovered this year and they are beautiful books. For little ones there are the primers and older children can enjoy the storybooks. My 5 year old loves Pride and Prejudice. Anyway it’s never to early to get your kids into the classics and @babylitbooks are perfect for that.

    Watership Down by Richard Adams.
    Richard Adams died 24th December 2016.

A phenomenal worldwide bestseller for over forty years, Richard Adams’ spellbinding classic Watership Down is one of the best-loved novels of all time. Set in the beautiful English countryside of the Berkshire Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage, and survival follows a band of very special rabbits fleeing the destruction of their home by a developer. Led by a stout-hearted pair of brothers, they leave the safety of Sandleford Warren in search of a safe haven and a mysterious promised land, skirting danger at every turn.

A book that resonates as vividly today as it did nearly half a century ago, this keepsake Oneworld Classic edition showcases more than twenty sumptuous, evocative paintings from Aldo Galli, an illustrator chosen by Richard Adams himself.

I have very clear memories of reading this book and The Hobbit in my first year of secondary school. I remember the books being handed out in English class covered in old wall paper or wrapping paper which we were encouraged to do to keep the covers neat and clean. I have remember feeling really excited because I had loved the film/cartoon and also because it felt like a big, thick, grown-up book. I’m sad to say, the excitement did not last. Everything about our English teacher was grey, including the way she taught English.

Watership Down is a big, dense book. Although it is beautifully written, I am not sure my 11 year old mind would have appreciated this fact. At 37, I have enjoyed it but I am struck by how massive a tome it must have felt to my 11 year old mind. I then got to thinking how many books were ruined for me by dull, dull teachers or readers. I used to take my little ones to story time at the library. We stopped going when Ceci fell asleep….lulled by the monotonous rendition of The Wonky Donkey. I honestly thought it was impossible to make this book sound like a reading of the Financial Times but it appears not. I am a firm believer that if you are lucky enough to have a job which aims to inspire kids, make sure you do so.

  • Hamish the Highland Cow by Natalie Russell.

Hamish is a Highland cow and VERY hairy. He hates having baths and NEVER cuts his hair. Why should he when his shaggy coat is the perfect place to keep his favourite sweet – toffees! But one day his friends get fed up with the increasingly smelly Hamish, and they hatch a plan that involves a hairdresser and, yes, toffees! An exuberant story with bold, bright illustrations from a very talented artist. ‘Russell’s bright-eyed cast, including sheep with coloured rinses, is full of character and her text is deftly delivered – it’s a gift to read aloud.’ Scottish Sunday Herald

This year we spent Christmas with my parents in Leicestershire. On the 27th we loaded up the car again and drove to the Wirral to spend the aftermath with Ozzie’s parents. One of the many reasons I love going to other houses is to browse their book shelves and kids books are no exception. On the first night we read Hamish The Highland Cow. This is a complete joy to read aloud….my Scottish accent is pretty impeccable (even if I do say so myself) and what child doesn’t love a book where you as the adult can do some entertaining voices??? This would also be a great book to buy if you are the owner of a little person who hates getting their hair cut. We have now been on the Wirral for 4 nights and this book has been requested every night. My accent is going from strength to strength and as the reader, I am definitely not getting bored. Thank you Natalie Russell for writing such a readable book.

Thanks for reading and have a great January.

November reads for children

Hi all. Well that’s it for November. It’s been a pretty mental month. We opened 3 new shows in work and I have been out pretty much every night working. As a chorister in a Opera company, the fact that I hate having a show every night is a major flaw. As a mum with young kids it’s pretty pants. I take the girls to school and nursery in the morning and am often gone before they get back . I feel like the worst mum at drop off saying “see you tomorrow morning Edie.” God knows what the teachers think I do for a living. Because I am not doing proper mothering during the day, my girls are constantly waking up at about 3 am and looking for some mum time. I feel and look a little like a zombie.

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker.
  • Bram Stoker born 8th November 1847.

A dramatic retelling of Bram Stoker’s classic horror story retold for children ready to tackle longer and more complex stories. Jonathan Harker has no idea of the horrors that await him in Castle Dracula. An ancient evil is alive and hungry for new blood. Can Jonathan and his friends defeat it? Part of the Usborne Reading Programme developed with reading experts at the University of Roehampton.

We read this at the beginning of the month when Edie was still on a high from Halloween. My daughter is all about the scares and I remember being similar at her age. Witches, ghosts, vampires all completely intrigued me. Edie is also a sucker (🤣) for a love story and that is essentially what Dracula is about. I think if you want to introduce your kids to a little scary then as long as good triumphs over evil then all is well. I would also like to do a big shout out to the Usborne Young Reader books. They are utterly brilliant. The titles are very varied, the illustrations are fabulous and thanks to this range I have introduced Edie to some brilliant Classics which I hope she will love forever.

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
  • Neil Gaiman born 10th November 1960.

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

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

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

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

👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

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

  • Some Dogs Do by Jez Alborough.
  • Jez Alborough born 12th November 1959.

All dogs walk and jump and run, but dogs don’t fly – it can’t be done…can it? Jez Alborough’s uplifting tale will fly off the page and straight into the hearts of anyone who has ever, just for a second, stopped believing in miracles.

Some Dogs Do is a fave in our house. When asking Ceci (3) what she likes about it, she said she likes it because it’s sad. Morose little thing that she is. It’s not particularly sad but as Sid loses his self belief, he finds that he can no longer fly. 🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶🐶

Edie’s review was just as entertaining. “It’s a book of lies mummy. Dogs cannot fly.” 😂🤣😂🤣😂🤣😂

Anyway, I guess that was Alborough’s point. Dream big little ones. Lovely book, lovely rhymes, pictures and message.

  • The Legend of the Great Pumpkin by Charles M Schulz.
  • Charles M Schulz born 26th November 1922.

Celebrate Halloween with Linus, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang in this shaped board book with holographic foil on the front cover!

Linus loves one thing more than his cherished blue blanket: The Great Pumpkin! He believes that on Halloween night the Great Pumpkin will rise out of the pumpkin patch to bring presents to all the kids in the world. Will Linus and his friends ever finally see him? Learn all about the legend of the Great Pumpkin in this adorable board book based on the classic Peanuts comic strips!

Thanks to Birthday Reads I am trying to make a real point of introducing myself and the children to authors born in the current month. As a result there have been some hits….The Secret Garden (Oct) and also some misses….The Selfish Giant which I loved but Edie thought was boring (Oct). There have also been some misses for me. I can’t stand The Rhyming Rabbit by Julia Donaldson (Sept). My husband and I both try to scarper when Ceci requests this. 🐰🐰🐰🐰🐰🐰🐰🐰

Unfortunately The Legend of the Great Pumpkin by Charles Schulz (Nov 26th) is another miss from me. Yes it’s seasonal, but the story is utter pap. Schulz himself seems to get bored of his writing and finishes the book without resolving the already tenuous storyline.🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃 Anyway, thanks to that Law of Sod, Cilla ADORES it. When asking her why, she says because it’s scary (it’s not) and exciting (it’s not). 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃

Happy Birthday for the 26th Mr Schulz. 🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂

And the last book of the month and the biggest hit…….

  • The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith.

The book behind the viral internet sensation of “The Scottish Granny” reading this story to her grandchild, viewed over 3 million times. Based on the popular song, THE WONKY DONKEY has sold over one million copies worldwide. Who ever heard of a spunky hanky-panky cranky stinky-dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey? This hilarious picture book will have children – and adults – braying with laughter!

One for the grown ups more than the kids I think. Ozzie (my husband) would admit to not being a lover of books. For him to enjoy reading to the kids it has to be a funny one. I think the pic shows how much he enjoyed it. 😂🤣😂🤣🤣😂🤣🤣🤣😂

The Wonkey Donkey started out as a bit of a YouTube sensation of a Scottish grandma reading it to her grandson. It really is hilarious.

🐴🐴🐴🐴🐴🐴🐴🐴🐴

Anyway thank you Craig Smith and Katz Cowley, this is utterly hilarious.

October Children’s Reads

Hello all. Hope you all had a lovely October, and are ready for the run up to Christmas! It’s come around quickly hasn’t it?

We have read some brilliant books this month including a new Michael Rosen which would be great as a stocking filler.

  • Michael Morpurgo. 5th September.
  1. Aesops Fables.

A timeless collection of over twenty of Aesop’s best-loved fables, including favourites such as The Hare and the Tortoise, Town Mouse and Country Mouse, Dog in the Manger and The Lion and the Mouse. The tales are retold with warmth and humour by former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo and brought to life by Emma Chichester Clark’s exquisitely playful and distinctive artwork.

Both my daughters love Aesops Fables. Many a car journey have been spent listening to a terrible audio book version on Prime Music. They are beautifully retold by Morpurgo in this collection and the illustrations are lovely.

2. The Butterfly Lion

A lyrical and moving tale of a young boy growing up in Africa, and his lifelong friendship with a white lion.

“All my life I’ll think of you, I promise I will. I won’t ever forget you.”

Bertie rescues an orphaned white lion cub from the African veld. They are inseparable until Bertie is sent to boarding school far away in England and the lion is sold to a circus. Bertie swears that one day they will see one another again, but it is the butterfly lion which ensures that their friendship will never be forgotten.

I picked this book up in the charity shop recently. Its a little old for my 5 year old so I read it one night. It really is a beautiful story and would be perfect for an 8 year old. It tells the story of a boy who lives in South Africa. A lion cub comes to live with his family and they become best friends. When the boy is sent to school in the UK , the lion is sold to a kindly circus owner who lives in France. The boy grows up and fights in the war. Eventually, whilst wounded in France, he manages to track down the circus owner and brings the lion back to England to live with him. A really moving story about a life long friendship.

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde.

  • Oscar Wilde 16th October.

When the Selfish Giant builds a high wall round his lovely garden to keep the children out, the North Wind blows, the Frost comes and the Snow dances through the trees. The Giant wonders why Spring never comes to his cold, white garden. Then one day the Giant looks out to see a most wonderful sight . . .

Oscar Wilde’s much-loved fairy-tale is brought to life again with beautiful illustrations by Michael Foreman and Freire Wright.

I remember my mum and grandma reading me The Selfish Giant when I was a child. When I told my mum that I had bought it for my girls she got all emotional…”such a beautiful story.” She’s right, it is. A beautiful story with a beautiful message.” I found myself getting all emotional while reading it. The language is lovely. I am sad to say that the joy stopped with me. Edie wasn’t bothered and dare I say it, she was bored. The pictures are beautiful but not bright and gaudy like a lot of modern books. It was a slight mistake reading it just before bedtime…endless questions from Edie (5) about why the giant died, who took him up to heaven and the big conversation about God….”Is God actually Father Christmas mummy?” 😂She was happy as it delayed bedtime for a good 20 minutes. I was less happy as it delayed wine time for 20 minutes. 🍷Anyway, a lovely, nostalgic read for me. Thanks Oscar Wilde.

  • Janet Ahlberg. 21st October.

Janet and Allan Ahlberg are a children’s fiction power couple. Allan is the man behind the words and Janet is the wonderful illustrator. They wrote children’s fiction for 20 years until Janet died of cancer in 1994.

1. Miss Wobble the Waitress.

Mrs Wobble LOVES her job as a waitress but, oh dear, there’s one big problem – she wobbles!! And when she wibbles and wobbles and drops jelly everywhere, it’s time for a new job! Luckily, Mr Wobble, and all the Wobble children have a cunning plan 

Written in 1980s, The Happy Family series were firm favourites when I was a child. Mr Creep the Crook was definitely the best. Edie also loves these books. 👨‍🍳👨‍👩‍👧‍👦☕️

2. It was a Dark and Stormy Night.

Antonio, a small boy who has been kidnapped by Brigands, passes a dark and stormy night in their cave weaving for them incredible stories of their own exploits and through this actually solves his own problem of how to escape.

This is a brilliant book for slightly older children. I think probably 7 and above. It’s a mega frustrating book to read aloud unless you are brilliant at doing tons of different voices. I remember really enjoying this one as a child. It felt like an older book but still had the brilliant pictures in it. 🌫🌫💦💦💦💦💦

3. Kicking a Ball by Allan Ahlberg. Illustrated by Sebastien Braun.

For anyone who can’t see a ball without wanting to kick it, head it, shoot it, or boot it! 

‘Not eating an ice-cream
Or riding a bike
No – kicking a ball
Is what I like.’

‘What I like best, yes, most of all
in my whole life is . . . kicking a ball.

A wonderful rhyming story to read aloud, Kicking A Ball will not disappoint fans of Allan Ahlberg. First written as a poem, the little boy in the story has been brought to life perfectly by artist Sebastien Braun. Every parent will be able to immediately relate to the simple joy felt by a boy simply kicking a ball, and how there is nothing else quite like it.

The incomparable Allan Ahlberg takes us on a journey from childhood to fatherhood full of humour, warmth, friendship . . . and football.

This is a favourite of my husband’s. On nights he does a bedtime story this is his choice. About a man who loves kicking a ball above all else. As he grows up, he still plays football with his friends. He gets married and eventually passes his love of the beautiful game onto his daughter. The above two books are a little old for Ceci(3) but she loves this one. ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
    • Frances Hodgson Burnett died 29th October 1924.

    This beautiful hardback Ladybird Classic edition of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a perfect first illustrated introduction to the classic story for younger readers.
    It has been sensitively abridged and retold to make it suitable for sharing with young children from 5+, whilst retaining all the key parts of the story, including the mysterious, locked secret garden. Detailed full-colour illustrations throughout also help to bring this classic tale to life.

    Edie (5) ADORED this Ladybird Classic copy of The Secret Garden .We read a couple of chapters a night and she couldn’t wait to keep reading it. I hope this has something to do with my incredible Yorkshire accent. Anyway, I guess my thinking is that it is never too young to start reading classics to your kids. You just have to find the right version. This copy was very readable with lovely, bold illustrations. 🍁🍂☘️🍀🍃🌿

    Hampstead the Hamster by Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Tony Ross.

    Christmas is coming, and what Leo wants more than anything in the world is a pet hamster. And guess what? He gets one on Christmas morning! Leo names his new pet Hampstead, after an autocorrect mistake on his wishlist. Everything is great, that is until Leo realises that Hampstead is miserable. What can Leo do to cheer Hampstead up?

    Well, its the end of October and in the Andrews household, we are well and truly ringing in the Christmas cheer. Edie (5), really enjoyed this book. She loved the format….’it looks like a grown-up book mummy.’ I think that means that she was impressed that it wasn’t in colour. This is a great read for kids. As a parent, I loved the fact that Leo’s dad is a single parent. I’m sure it is really hard to find Christmas based books which centre around families which are comprised of other than mummy, daddy and 2 kids. I think it is definitely about time unconventional family set ups are more frequently represented in children’s literature. Edie also really enjoyed the pop culture references of Famous Five, Fantastic Mr Fox and The Wizard of Oz. The story is great with lots of pictures and short chapters mean it is really readable with ample opportunity for story time to finish and pop your little darling off to bed. Lots of ‘cliffhangers’ at the end of chapters which kept Edie wanting more. Really fun read and great for a  5 year old’s Christmas stocking.

    Thanks for reading. Until next month. X

    October reads

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

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

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

    Anyway….onto the books……..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Oscar Wilde 16th October.

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

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

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

    The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. 2⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse. 3⭐️.

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

    A haunting ghost story from the French mountains.

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

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

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

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

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

    A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler. 3⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

    Hunger by Roxane Gay. 4⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Normal People by Sally Rooney. 4⭐️

    • Description: Bildungsroman, Ireland, realistic relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

    http://www.instagram.com/ellamkpbooks