July Reads

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

  • Still Life by Louise Penny. 4⭐️.
  • Louise Penny born 1st July 1958.

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

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

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

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

So, onto Louise Penny. Can a murder mystery be comforting??? According to Hilary Clinton, Penny’s books gave her solace after her election defeat. I understand what she means. This was a really comforting read and according to google, there are still 19 I haven’t read!!!!😀😀😀😀😀😀😃😃😃 Inspector Gamache is actually a nice guy. He is happily married. He (so far) doesn’t seem dark and twisty with a substance abuse problem and skeletons in his closet. How refreshing! This book reminded me of the tremendous Agatha Christie. It wasn’t brutal and Penny is obviously going to take her time introducing us to the inhabitants of Three Pines. 🌲🌲🌲. If you like you murder mysteries without gore and smattered with picket fences, brioche and maple syrup, give this a whirl. 🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁🍁

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

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

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

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

Matt says:

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

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

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

  • Runaway by Alice Munro. 3⭐️.
  • Alice Munro born 10th July 1931.

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

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

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

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

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

  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

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

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

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

  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy. 4⭐️.
  • Cormac McCarthy born July 20th 1933.

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

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

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

  • Educated by Tara Westover.

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

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

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

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

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

See you next month.

May Reads

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

  • Regeneration by Pat Barker. 4⭐️.
  • Pat Barker born 8th May 1943.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. 3⭐️.
  • Jon Ronson born 10th May 1967.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the points Hare has used….

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

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

  • The Storyteller by Jodie Picoult. 4⭐️.
  • Jodie Picoult born 19th May 1966.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Spring Fever by PG Wodehouse. 4🌟.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next month. Thanks for reading.

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.
  • The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth

    Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this novel.

    I often feel that short stories are given short shrift by reviewers.  People seem to review each story as a novel and are often disappointed if every story isn’t up to a certain standard. For an author I can imagine the genre of short story feels like an indulgent treat. It must offer such a sense of freedom. All those snippets of ideas that come to you on a daily basis are able to be fashioned into a story. It’s doesn’t have to have the length of a novel but it is a way to indulge creativity.
    As a reader, I love a short story.  I love the fact that I can dip in and dip out and I also find it very freeing that if I don’t like one story, I can move on…no hard feelings. 

    William Boyd is an author I have loved for a long time. I love his writing, language and characters. Without a shadow of a doubt I can forgive Boyd if I don’t love each one of his short stories (which as expected, I didn’t) but the stories I loved are like having a box of Cadbury Heroes…tiny minatures stories written by one of my favourite authors.

    For me, the opening and ending stories were my favourite. Ludo, the art dealer who gets his kicks in life from kissing women other than his wife. His dalliances go further however, when a young woman presents him with the opportunity of selling a painting by Freud. 

    I also loved the tale of the actor Alec Dunbar. An actor who turns up at an audition only to be told they were expecting an actress called Alexa Dunbar. This leads him to take on a job, delivering a package to Scotland. What I loved about this story is it ended in a completely different place than where is started….the story became something I wasn’t expecting. 

    I really enjoyed the fact that the majority of the characters in the stories work in the arts in some manner. As someone who is also in the arts I found Boyd’s characters and their lifestyles very real and believable. The titular Bethany Mellmoth really rang true. Flitting through numerous jobs in the hope that one would be a perfect fit. Alex Dunbar taking a delivery job just to earn extra cash when an audition doesn’t go his way.

    If you are a fan of William Boyd but not a fan of short stories I urge you to pick this book up. You might not love every story but there are some total gems.

    Thanks again to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.