Reading with Kat

Working Mother Book Blogger

I am a big fan of Lisa Genova. I have read 4 out of the 5 books she has written and I love them all. However, this one is my favourite. I prefer the writing style of this book as it is much wittier than her other books; it almost feels like a different writer.

The general storyline is about a high-flyer woman who is married with three kids; they both have high-powered jobs, lots of money, lots of hours. They live in Boston and have a holiday home in Vermont (I am totally jealous!) and a nanny. It looks like they have everything except for time. On her way home from watching her son play Baseball she crashes the car and suffers from brain damage. The damage is called “Left Neglect” which is a condition where the brain does not recognise the left side of anything; she literally cannot see anything or anyone on the left, she cannot use her left arm or leg, and she doesn’t even believe she has them at first. After hospital she has to go through rehab to train her body and mind to recognise the left of everything.

I found this book absolutely fascinating. I have never heard of “Left Neglect” but it sure sounds fascinating the way it is described. She is not blind, but is sort of blind to the left, except if she tries hard (over time) she can see the left, sometimes. I totally relate to this woman, she is trying to juggle working full-time (though her hours are crazy) with a young family and a life. I also love how the book ends, though I won’t post a spoiler, but it was a good ending.

I find the way she described family life with young children so real, that I feel that she must have written this book at the same time that she had young children herself, because it felt so real and present; and so much like the chaos in my own home! I particularly love this little description of her youngest: “Later that night, feeling restless, I get out of bed, creep into Linus’s room, and watch him sleeping in his crib. He’s lying on his back, wearing blue feety pajamas, one arm up over his head. I listen to his deep-sleep exhales. Even years past those fragile newborn months, it still gives my maternal ears relief and peace to hear the sounds of my children breathing when they’re asleep.”

Some of my favourite quotes from the book:

“Dressed like a lunatic”

“Only the beanbags are watching spongebob”

“Parked in the school lot, I grab their two backpacks, which I swear weigh more than they do, get out, and open the back door like a chauffeur. Who am I kidding? Not like a chauffeur. I am a chauffeur. No one moves.”

“Buttoning the length of my shirt with Left Neglect and one right hand takes the same kind of singular, intricate, held-breath concentration that I imagine someone trying to dismantle a bomb would need to have.”

So to sum up, read this book, it is excellent, particularly if you enjoy books about medical conditions and or books about family life. It is not as hard to read as some of Lisa Genova’s books, it does not have a bad ending. That being said, I love all of her books and you can read my review of Still Alice here. I would like to say one final note to Audible – please add this book to your collection, so that I can listen to it. Thank you.

I know that Matt Haig is an important author, particularly drawing attention to mental health issues in many of his novels, but this is the first one I have read. And yes I loved it, far more than I expected to. I can tell that this is the sort of book I will re-read more than once!

Like many of his books, he is drawing attention to mental health issues (this time through fiction) such as depression and anxiety and what can sometimes result: Suicide. This book could be triggering for some, though there is not a lot of detail surrounding the act of suicide; however, the word does come up throughout. The great aspect of this book, is that it can be likened to “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol” the protagonist gets to experience different aspects of her life and finds out what would happen if she were not there; or if she had made different decisions.

The Midnight Library is a place that she travels to whilst she is in limbo (neither alive or dead) and she gets to “try out” any life she wants to; lives that she could have had if she had made different decisions; she gets to become: an Olympic swimmer, a glaciologist, a rockstar, an owner of a winery, an owner of a country pub, someone who works at an animal shelter and many more lives that she could have had; and within each life she learns something new and it helps her to not feel as regretful as she learns more.

I particularly love this quote about being “you”:

“If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and act and think like you. Aim to be the truest version of you. Embrace that you-ness. Endorse it. Love it. Work hard at it. And don’t give a second thought when people mock it or ridicule it. Most gossip is envy in disguise.”

It made me think about my own life; not that I would want to change it, being married with children, whom I would never trade in for anything; but I wouldn’t mind trading in my career for something I was passionate about. Based on the premise of ‘what if you made different decisions?’, I could have been: a teacher, a vet, a lawyer, a singer, an author, working in a shop, running my own business, an occupational psychologist, a counseller, HR professional or a mother of many children (like my grandmother). It does make you wonder, what if?

I loved the ending and I think anyone who is feeling low would probably find this book beneficial, you will also enjoy the story if your mental health is top-notch, as it is very clever. Of course if you suspect you might have depression or feel that you need help, please get in touch with your Doctor or call the Samaritans, or even reach out to a helpful friend or family member. Don’t go through your pain alone.

I had post-natal depression after my daughter was born, and there were a few moments when I fantasised about driving my car off a bridge. My depression became bad enough that my health visitor noticed and asked me to speak to the Doctor, who then arranged counselling for me; which really helped, talking out loud about your feelings and problems can be more therapeutic than you might imagine. I have had low moments during some of our Covid lockdowns, but luckily not as bad as or a low as I was a few years ago.

Please don’t assume the world will be better without you, it will not be better. You are needed and you are loved even if you do not realise it right now.

To end this book review on a slightly lighter note, if you could choose 3 alternate career paths for yourself, what would they be? Mine would be Teacher, Singer or HR Trainer.

Gosh, I love this book. Every now and then you come across a book and you think yes, this is my book, and that’s when you either speed up to find out what happened, or you slow down because you don’t ever want it to end. I slowed down…literally because audible plays books at different speeds, so I slowed down to 0.9 speed, which means I really love this book. Also when I finished, I almost re-read it again, that is how much I loved it.

In the beginning, the protagonist, Oliver is in prison telling the retired detective (Colborne) what really happened. The story then travels back in time to when Oliver was at a very special College (Dellecher) learning to be an actor; but this US College only teaches Shakespeare, how fantastic. We follow a group of 8 actors through a few years of learning their Shakespearean craft, they live together and study together and sometimes art imitates life and life imitates art. The language in this book is of course beautiful, as Shakespeare is interwoven expertly throughout. I particularly loved that the characters often spoke to each other exclusively using Shakespeares’ lines in a sort of word battle; I wish I was able to do that.

Here is an example of the beautiful language:

This,” James said, when he had disappeared. “This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune—often the surfeit of our own behavior—we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars … as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treacherers by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc’d obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting-on!”

The book often jumps back to Oliver being in prison and then back to “those years” so the whole time you keep thinking, what did he do? As you learn more about Oliver you start to wonder how he even ended up in prison, as he does not seem like a person who could do anything bad enough to warrant his 10-year jail sentence.

The narration on Audible is sublime, especially Richard’s voice; he sounded particularly commanding like the Shakespearean roles he played.

The ending was sad but also made you think, maybe…

I have so much more to say about this beautiful book, but I would ruin the book for you if I did, so just trust me on this and give it a try. I don’t really rank the books I read, as you may have noticed, but if I did, this would be an easy 10/10.

If you like well-written tame crime novels, if you enjoy Shakespeare or if you like stories involving students or wonder how do actors learn their craft then you should enjoy this book. This is one of my favourite books of 2021 and was liked by the entire book group who read it with me, which is rare.

So this month (September) I had a family holiday in the Scottish Highlands (wonderful), then my kids started back at school in years one and year five. I was hoping to start going back into the office one day per week, but the rules make it tricky to fit us all in one office. I signed up for my final Masters module, my dissertation, and decided what I am going to do my research on, so I feel like I have made some big decisions. I also joined a local choir, so my nights are becoming pretty busy again.

I have read 7 books (last month it was 6), but for the first time in a long time, I did not finish a single phyical book this month. I think the reason for this is that I have started my Dissertation for my Masters (in Human Resource Management), and that along with working full time and two kids means I no longer have any free time to sit and read a physical book, now I have to read journal articles, this month I have read about 12 journal articles.

These are the seven books I listened to on Audible this month:

  • Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
  • Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (book club)
  • Man’s search for meaning by Viktor E Frankl
  • Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
  • Tales from the Farm by Amanda Owen
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • A Better Me by Gary Barlow

Best and Worst

As always it is hard to choose, mostly because there was only one bad book this month. So I am going to say that since I have read Gary Barlow and Eleanor Oliphant before, I will not choose them, so now it’s between Dear Edward and Flatshare. I think I will choose: Flatshare by Beth O’Leary because I found it very easy to read; and it was nice to read a romantic comedy (or chick-lit as some call it – urgh!). Dear Edward was a brilliant book but far more depressing; as its about a boy who loses his whole family and is the sole survivor of a plane crash.

Flatshare however is fun, light-hearted, predictable yes but well-written and funny and the main characters are very likable, laugh out loud funny occasionally:

“Let’s not beat around the bush, says Gerry who has literally never beaten around a single bush in her whole life.”

It has a clever premise too, one that I have never heard of. Two people share a flat but they never meet. The characters work opposite shifts. They do send little notes to each other and eventually they do indeed meet and change each others’ lives. I am looking forward to reading Beth O’Leary’s other two books.

Cinema

Again slim pickings at the cinema, unless you love Bond (I do not).

Respect – loved it so much I watched it twice. A fascinating look at Aretha Franklin’s life story, and what a life it was. She had 2 babies in her teens, first at age 13 (so sad!) And she became a singer with a record label in her early twenties; though it took some time to be successful. She also helped the cause by singing for Martin Luther King Jr (family friend). Jessica Hudson was amazing; she sang Aretha’s hits like no other could; it was very believable and enjoyable.

TV

I have been fascinated by a couple of crime-related shows this month.

Manhunt – The night stalker – ITV (4 episodes)

There are two seasons, the second season is about the Night Stalker and it is absolutely fascinating. It’s not scary and does not show you what the bad guy actually does so it is pretty tame (compared to say Waking the Dead or CSI). There was one episode where I was literally on the edge of my seat – don’t you love it when that happens? Now that is great TV. I was surprised by how well Martin Clunes plays a straight role, meaning not a comedic role, he was very believable. This is based on a true story, and there is a book.

White House Farm – Netflix (6 episodes)

I think this was on ITV originally, but it passed me by. This one is more distressing than the one above, as you see a little more, and it involves children, though you do not see what happens to them (thank God!). This is based on a true story too, about a man who loses his whole family when his mentally ill sister shoots them all. Another compelling show, although I found the 80s hairdo’s a little distracting.

This is just a mini review, and I am writing it because I don’t think I have left a bad review on my blog – as yet. So for the sake of balance, I would like to give a quick bad review of this book.

Now it is an autobiography and it was narrated by the man himself. He has a nice voice, so I do not have a problem with the narration. What I have a problem with is the fact that this guy comes across as the most arrogant, self-serving, self-satisfied, annoying and juvenile men I have had the displeasure to read about – and I read the biography of Steve Jobs! Please do not let any teenage boys read this book, as it kind of gives them permission to break the law and do bad things. I don’t think he realises the power that he has as a celebrity.

Another thing I detested was his continued references to his wet dreams! I mean how gross is that? I almost switched off after the third wet dream. I am sure that Matthew knows he has a lot of female fans; since he talks a lot about how much money he made from romonatic comedies. He does not know women at all if he thinks we are willing to listen to men talk about their wet dreams. So I am moving on.

I did persevere with the book though, it was compelling in its disgustingness and I still kind of wanted to find out how he managed fatherhood etc. The book became less obnoxious after he had kids (in the book) although there are still too many “bumper stickers”.

There is almost nothing about his movies, or the other actors that he acted with, again this leads me to think he wrote the book for himself, rather than his fans.

I read a lot of autobiographies and this is the first time a famous person has come across as annoyingly arrogant and has made me like them less. In almost every case, I tend to like the person more after I have read their books. If you are looking for some good autobiographies, here are some of my favourites: Kris Kardashian, Rob Lowe, Steve Jobs, Dawn French, Demi Moore, Gary Barlow, Andrew Ridgeley/George Michael, Sue Perkins, Gordan Ramsey, Lamor Odom, Amanda Owen, Melanie Brown, Sally Field, Kevin Hart and Freddie Mercury (biography).

I have to say straight off that I am not a fan of Take That, except for a brief period when I was about 10 years old. I don’t dislike them at all, it’s just not my kind of music. However, I have found with autobiographies that it doesn’t really matter if you like the person or not, most people in the public eye have a fascinating life, and Gary is certainly no exception.

I really really enjoyed his book and I definitely like him now (still not my music though). If you are a big Take That fan or a Gary Barlow fan, be aware that a large part of this book is about food and his weight issues. As someone who is equally obsessed with food and equally if not more so overweight, I was fascinated and enlighted to hear about his food journey. If you were hoping to read all about the early days of Take That, then I am afraid you will be disappointed, as there is only a little of that. However, there is a lot of detail about their re-unions and later album creations and tours. He doesn’t dish the dirt on Robbie Williams, but he does explain (from his point of view) why it all fell apart, and how they got back together.

He also discusses his family, his four children (including Poppy who sadly died at birth, stillborn), and his and his wife’s struggles coming to terms with the death of little Poppy. I was so very sad to read that bit; I cannot imagine losing a child.

I was facinated to read that after Take That split up in the 90s that he had put on a lot of weight. I had no idea (though I don’t read gossip magazines). He also had an eating disorder and was utterly obsessed with food (I hear ya!). And he went on every diet imaginable. I was amazed that someone who has millions of pounds was not able to find a good diet and lose weight, and its amazing all the fads they have out there. It is sad for me because I think if a rich person cannot lose weight, what chance do I have?

I digress because he does manage to lose weight and eat healthily and maintain that lifestyle when he meets the Helmsley sisters, and they introduce him to clean eating. He then moves away from the restrictions of that and just starts cooking everything from scratch and that appears to be his aha moment. I wish I had the time to do that; but alas I am not rich.

Absolutely fascinating book that I would highly recommend if you enjoy autobiographies of famous people and/or are a foodie or struggle with your weight. I should also say that I listened to this book on Audible; and Gary reads it himself. He is a pleasure to listen to (unlike some authors!). Louise Nurding/Redknapp is case in point here (sorry), but listening to her book was actually painful.

Yes this one is terribly late, due to our family holiday in the Scottish Highlands, and my kids going back to school, so I am a bit behind, but I haven’t stopped reading, I read 8 last month, this month it was a bit less as it was the school holidays, so we were out and about, I read 6 and this was my August reading round-up…

What I’ve listened to this month on Audible

Physical Books I read

  • Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
  • Sinatra: The Life by Anthony Summers

Books I read on the “Serial Reader” app

  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Best and Worst

It is always difficult to choose a favourite, I loved Green Mile, and really enjoyed Circe but Left Neglected just really resonated with me, it was one of those books I really didn’t want to end, which is weird based on the subject matter. Left Neglected is about a woman who suffers a brain injury in a car crash and suffers from an injury called ‘Left Neglect’ where her brain does not see the left side of anything. It is fascinating.

The book I enjoyed least this month was ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, which is so disappointing because that is another Dickens book I have not enjoyed. This was really incredibly boring and so hard to follow. Even though I did not enjoy reading ‘Great Expectations’ last month, I enjoyed it far more than this one. I do like the serial reader app though, so I can highly recommend that at least.

Cinema

I have not been to the cinema much this month, definitely less than usual and I did not take the kids at all, which is strange for the school holidays; but there were simply no movies for them.

Herself – I watched that one recently and was terribly disappointed by this British movie; don’t get me wrong it was well made but so depressing with a terrible moral. A woman runs away from her abusive husband, with her kids and because they are not being rehomed any time soon she decides to build the house herself. I won’t ruin the ending for you but I was disappointed.

TV

This month I have been rewatching some classics mostly.

CSI Las Vegas – what a great show, still good now even after all these years. (DVD)

Friends – You can’t go wrong with Friends; I have always been a huge fan, but I try not to watch the same shows over and over, so it has been about 8 years since I watched it; still so so funny and it seems like my 10 year old is enjoying it (though I select the episodes that are not too sexual). (Netflix)

Worth – This is a netflix movie, great but sad movie about the 9/11 attacks and how the government tried to work out how much money to give each of the victims’ families, by using an equation to work out what peoples’ lives are/were worth. I found this movie compelling.

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this book, though I find mythology interesting, I tried reading Stephen Fry’s Mythos and didn’t finish it. Perhaps because Mythos was a bit heavier being a non-fiction book, whereas Circe is fiction. Though the story of Circe is told with non-fictional elements, the story created around what is known about Circe and her family (assuming these were real, of course it is mythology) is created by Madeline and I found the story well written and fascinating.

The book was a little slow to start with (for me), so hang on in there at the start, but once she gets shipped off to her own island, I found from then on it got more interesting and the story was pacier. It’s interesting as she comes across famous creatures from mythology, it’s almost like name-dropping all the famous people she knows. She comes into contact with Helen of Troy, Minotaur, Odysseus, Icarus and so many more. It is great to read little bits about these other Gods and how they relate to Circe and her story.

The general storyline is that Circe is the outcast in her family, her father Helios and mother (sea-nymph) Perse as well as her many siblings ignore her mostly and tell her how unremarkable and ugly she is her whole life. Eventually Zeus banishes her to a deserted island and it is here she learns to become a witch, a super powerful witch who can turn men into the pigs (and yes they definitely deserved it), be aware that something happens to her that may trigger you (abuse), though it goes into very little detail. Eventually she has a child who she struggles with during his childhood but then he brings her a lot of joy and her love for him helps her to become even more powerful. I love the character arc of Circe, from the outcast, forgotten and down-trodden daughter to the one with all the power, able to battle the most powerful Gods.

Though she is not liked by most of her family through the book, I found Circe very likeable, and the narrator on Audible has a good voice, very pleasing to listen to. I haven’t read Madeline Miller’s first book “Song of Achilles”, however now I would like to.

I would definitely recommend this book.

I wasn’t going to write this review, because once again I am awed by famous books, famous novellists (The King!) and famous movies, which this book is all of those. But then I sat next to my colleague at lunch talking about the book, and she had never heard of it – the book or the movie. I could not have been more surprised. The movie – I thought everyone had seen it. I told her that the book was equally good, if not better, but she said, oh no I don’t read horror. So once again, if you’ve never heard of this book – it is not horror. Most of his books are horror, but this one is not. I would classify it as fantasy/mystery/crime and it is not scary, though it does have one disturbing scene, but nothing too offputting for those of you who do not like horror.

If you have never seen the movie or read the book, boy are you in for an enthralling tale, a real page-turner. The story is about a prison officer (Paul Edgecombe) who works on death row in the 1930s. In the book he is an old man writing the story of what happened in the 30s, so it jumps from him as an old man in a retirement home to the story in the 1930s. And what happens during these few years is a remarkable story. John Coffey (like the drink only spelt different) is an extremely large black man (6ft 8inches!), soft and sweet and described as slow. He is accused of murdering (and the R word) two young white little girls (sisters). The police find John Coffey with the two blonde girls dead in his arms as he cries “I couldn’t help it”. A pretty compelling scene, and of course he goes down for the murders and is sentenced to be executed by the electric chair (Old Sparkey). This is where he meets Paul Edgecomb “The Boss” of the Green Mile. But Paul begins to see that not everything is as it seems.

I cannot say much more because if you haven’t seen the movie then you should be surprised and delighted by the magical elements within this story. However, also be prepared to cry.

I was surprised to learn that when this book was released, back in 1996, Stephen King decided to do a Charles Dickens and released the book in instalments. What a great idea. I wish I had known about it then, I would have loved to have read the book in instalments, waiting anxiously for the next part of the book to be released to see what happens next, that’s what TV used to be, one episode at a time. Now with Netflix you tend to get an entire series in one go.

If you have seen the movie, I highly recommend you read the book, as it is pure brilliance.

Now onto Stephen King, this is the first novel of his that I have finished, I tried to read “It” but it freaked me out. However, I have watched many of his movies and loved them all – It (old and new versions), Misery, Pet Sematary (though I almost didn’t make it through that one, boy is it gory!) and The Stand TV series. I think I need to read more of his books because this one was amazing, maybe not horror though, unless I can make room in the freezer (aka Joey from Friends).

What a beautiful tale this is; I don’t know if it’s the lulling sound of the narration as she speaks of the Elephants but I feel like I am gently being rocked back and forth in the warm and safe arms of my mother as she reads me this story.

I love how Picoult has mingled together a fiction story with large non-fictional elements about Elephants; though it does not read like non-fiction, except that I feel like I am at Elephant University, learning everything there is to know about these beautiful creatures.

The story is about tennage Jenna who lives with her grandmother because her father has alzheimers and lives in a “home” and her mother is a mystery. Jenna has spent her whole life trying to find her mother and find out what happened to her. All she knows is that she went missing one night, but it is unclear whether she left of her own volition, or she ran-away from something or someone, or if she is dead. Jenna goes to a psychic to find out – Serenity (who was once a real phychic but seems to have lost her “powers”). She also enlists the help of a private detective who just so happens to be the cop who investigated her mothers case 10 years ago.

I love how the story above is intermingled with the stories of her mother (from her diaries) working in Botswana with African Elephants. According to the book elephants grieve, they visit the grave site of an elephant they love and pay their respects, they are fantastic mothers (the best in the animal kingdom), they never forget (as the addage says) and they can be surprisingly gentle given their size. At the end Jodi explains that everything she has written about elephants is true and comes from recent research from those working closely with Elephants.

This is the kind of book where it is important not to give too much away so I won’t say a lot more, only to say that the book takes a different trajectory to what I had imagined, and the book is so much the better for it. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time, it made me really feel, it was magical.