Reading with Kat

Working Mother Book Blogger

I read 8 books this month, all were audiobooks, though I am still making my way through several physical books.

January 2023 Monthly Round-up

They were:

  • The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
  • How to be Sad by Helen Russell
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • The No-Spend Year by Michelle Mcgagh
  • Dear Dolly by Dolly Alderton
  • The Vaccine by Joe Miller
  • Write it all Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink
  • The Other Bennett Sister by Janice Hadlow

My favourite books this month were: The Book of Two Ways and The Vaccine.

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Piccoult is a fiction story about a woman who survives a plane crash and her life sort of splits in two, and you see the two avenues that her life could take, one with her husband and daughter in New York as a Death Doula (ya ha that’s a job apparently) and her other life as an Egyptologist with her first love in (yep you guessed it) Egypt. It is a complex story, but on audio it was great.

The Vaccine by Joe Miller is a non-fiction account of how BioNTech created the BioNTech Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. It is very scientific but an inspirational story of how two Turkish immigrants living in Germany find each other and develop one of the vaccines that saves millions of lives all over the world. This married couple are amazing, and I loved hearing their story.

My least favourite book of the month was Dear Dolly by Dolly Alderton, not because it is a bad book, it’s just not aimed at me. I am a married lady who is 39 and 13 months old (Thank you Monica) with two kids, most of her advice columns (it is a book of advice columns) are aimed at young single women. So if you are, you will probably enjoy this book as she does give great advice.

What I’ve been Watching

At the cinema

I Wanna Dance with Somebody – I love Whitney Houston, she was my idol growing up, I love all her albums, especially ‘My Love is Your Love’ that album came out when I was 17 and it was my album! Anyway, the movie was so good I watched it three times. Naomi Ackie (a British actor) was so good, she had all her mannerisms down and she sang the first song in the movie – the rest is Whitney (you can hear it), but that’s okay, no-one can sing that good right? I thought Stanley Tucci was very likeable as her manager (Clive Davis) too.

A Man Called Otto – Tom Hanks, he is loveable, less so in this movie (at least at the beginning) as he is a grumpy-a$$ed old man, but wow what a great movie. Tom Hanks played the grump Otto perfectly; Tom Hank’s son played a young version of Otto, he was so good and he is not even an actor. But the person I loved most was Mariana Trevino who played Marisol, Otto’s neighbour who opens his grumpy heart. Yes it is somewhat predictable, but it is beautiful story nonetheless and yes you will cry. Also, this movie is based on the book A Man Called Ove, which is now on my TBR.

At Home

Marvel Universe (Disney Plus) – My 11 year old son and I are making our way through every single Marvel Universe movie in storyline order, we are about 10 movies in (there are about 42 in total), it’s great watching it in order as the stories all make more sense, plus I am watching Marvels that I missed out the first time. This month we watched Thor: The Dark World (definitely not my fave), The Hulk (even though it is not Mark Ruffalo, did you know he hasn’t made an actual Hulk movie), Iron Man 3 (yipee my favourite Marvel) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (much better than the first movie), Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies (I love baby Groot). Next we are both excited to watch Avengers 2 (we both really love the Avengers movies, though he has only seen the first one, I’ve seen them all).

Breakpoint (Netflix) – A sort of documentary series showing young tennis players making their way through the tennis season. I am not a tennis fan (though my husband is) but I loved these shows. Currently there are 5 episodes, but more are coming later in the year.

Firefly Lane (Netflix) – Season 2 was just released, I love this show as it is based on a book I enjoyed by one of my favourite authors – Kristin Hannah. The first season is based on the book, the second season goes a bit off-piste, but the storyline was great nonetheless and left us on a great cliffhanger. The story is about two girls who become best friends when they are about 14 years old, and remain friends all their lives (mostly), they are an unlikely pair with one being glamorous, and the other being dorky with huge glasses. One becomes a famous journalist and the other a housewife.

What an inspiration! I loved this true story of how two Turkish immigrants living in Germany found each other, and set out on a quest to cure cancer with their company BioNTech. On their journey, in January 2020 they stopped their cancer work to focus on a new and more pressing threat, that of the Coronavirus. They started working on a vaccine before the rest of the world even knew what Covid-19 was, before it had even moved out of China – what foresight they had. It was risky to stop their ground-breaking work on cancer and pour all of their energies into something that may not even be needed; but thank God they did, because this was my vaccine, BioNTech/Pfizer, and not just me but 53 million people in the UK have had a COVID vaccine, and all those under 40 had to be administered the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine because there were blood-clot risks with the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine.

I digress, this audiobook explains the entire process that the couple went through, from the first idea through to administering the first doses and beyond to adapting the vaccine for new variants. It was fascinating to learn about the science behind vaccine development and production, I learned much from this book, including what mRNA is and why no-one took it seriously but in the end this was one of the methods that has managed to combat this deadly virus. It is astounding that the usual timeframe for vaccine development is about 5 years, but they managed it in less than one year.

This has a great rating on GoodReads – 4.31 out of 5. You should enjoy this book if you like true-life medical non-fiction and/or if you are fascinated by Covid-19.

I can also recommend Duty of Care, if you enjoy this book, which is Covid told from the point of view of a doctor in the UK, working throughout the pandemic.

It’s always nice to set goals in January, and being January it is therefore forcing me to have a little think about goals related to reading and making it public I may even stick to some of them.

Read 70 books this year

Self-explanatory really, it’s pretty much in-line with the last couple of years and is about the most I can read in a year. I wonder if I should aim higher? But when I try to read too many books I find I rush through them and do not enjoy reading as much because it becomes a chore.

Cancel my Audible subscription

This sounds like the opposite of what I should be doing to accomplish goal 1 but hang in there while I explain. I only intend to cancel my annual subscription, not shut down my account. I have over 400 books in my audible account with at least 50 (maybe even more) that I haven’t read, so if I don’t buy any new books, I am more likely to read the books I already have, and this is just for one year, let’s see if I can last that long without buying any new audiobooks! It will be challenging.

Read 10 books from my bookshelf before buying any new books

I have about 100 books on my physical book shelf (my husband won’t let me have more than one shelving unit for books) and I haven’t read about half of them, so I really need to reduce my TBR both here and on audible.

Attend my local bookgroup

For the first time, I might add. There is a book group in my town that meets once a month, I feel a bit nervous to go, to meet new and local people but I will be brave.

Write and publish more book blog posts than 2022

This won’t be hard as I only posted 5 times last year! To be fair to me though I was finishing off my dissertation, this year I have no more studying to do, so I am free as a bird. Well as free as a full-time working mum can be! 😉

Read 10 classic novels

I read about 5 classics last year, but I still have a long list of classics I want to read. Including but not limited to: The Catcher in the Rye, War and Peace, Catch-22, Macbeth or Hamlet, Daniel Deronda.

Read more physical books

The ratio of audio to physical books is about 8:1 in favour of audio, mostly because I am too busy to sit down with a book most of the time, however, I intend to make more reading time this year.

What are your bookish goals for 2023?

I haven’t blogged as much this year as I would have liked, because I was finishing off my dissertation and Masters (MSc). Now I have stopped studying I have a little more time. However, I still managed to read 70 books in 2022, and below are my top picks for the year, for your inspiration. It may include a couple of books to avoid too.

I’m a week behind schedule but still linking up with TopTenTuesday, hosted by ArtsyReaderGirl.

January

My favourite book of January and possibly the year was If We Were Villains by M L Rio, however, I have already written a full review regarding this amazing novel. Therefore, I will choose an additional favourite of the month, see below.

Audible added a new feature this year where if you had a membership with them (paid monthly) then they would include hundreds of books for free. Three of the books I came across in January were a series of books written by Jeffrey Archer, a famous British novelist but not my normal genre. However, the trio of books were his diaries from his time in prison…yep. Lord Jeffrey Archer was sent to prison (for a crime he didn’t commit, I believe) for 2 years. He spent the first few months in a high secure and notorious prison called Belmarsh (in London) during and after his trial. Therefore his first book is called Hell, the second book Purgatory and finally Heaven. I have to say I found the books utterly captivating; the diary of a Lord in prison…need I say more.

February

I loved The Martian, book and the movie (the book slightly more) but surprisingly, I read Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir in February (same author) and absolutely loved this one too, even though it was sci-fi heavy. Hail Mary tells of a science teacher, a very clever man, who helps to save the world by flying out into space with a team to find out what has happened to the sun. He wakes up on his ship alone and having to work out how to run the ship alone, but then he comes across Rocky (I love Rocky), who helps him and together they endeavour to save Earth. I am trying not to give anything away, so it doesn’t sound great, but if you like The Martian, you need to give this a try. It is full of science but is also funny, I love this quote:

“I penetrated the outer cell membrane with a nanosyringe.”
“You poked it with a stick?”
“No!” I said. “Well. Yes. But it was a scientific poke with a very scientific stick.”

I’m going to write something very unpopular now. The book that I did not enjoy that I read in February was The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. I’m sorry to say it was just not my humour, in fact I did not laugh once. My husband, my dad and many of my friends loved it, but it just wasn’t for me.

March

This month I read a book that really moved me: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (which I wrote a full review of), in addition, I read The Familiars by Stacey Halls which was an interesting period drama though quite slow in places. It was a tale told during the time of witches in 1600s in England. A noblewoman called Fleetwood who is having difficulties with her pregnancies makes a new friend who tries to help her, but anyone who is that helpful is often dubbed a witch. The story is based on the real witch trial of the Pendle Witches. Have to say that this is very well written for a debut novel!

April

I believe that If I Stay by Gayle Foreman was a possible favourite this month. I would class this book as young adult fiction; which I profess to enjoy on occasion (Twilight and Hunger Games being my particular favourites). I enjoyed the back story of the protagonist, seeing her excel in music which is refreshing and the teenage love story was quite believable. There is one scene, the accident, which is visceral it certainly made me gulp, and then what follows is her outside of her body (of sorts) watching and listening to those who visit her whilst she is in a coma.

Another book I read this month, now I wouldn’t go as far to say that I didn’t like the book, far from it, but it was bloody long, too long, painfully long and slow; which is a shame because the first third of the book is very very good. This book is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. On audible this book is 50 hours long, which is the longest book I have listed to, and it is entirely 40 hours too long in my opinion. The beginning and ending are great, but it is too detailed and there are far too many characters to keep track of; it pains me to say the movie is better.

May

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears was certainly one of the most different books that I read last year. I do enjoy historical fiction in general, this one was long and a little hard to read in places. I found the beginning the most accessible and interesting, the second two parts of the book were harder to read. Be aware of potential triggers as women are forced-on by men; and it is treated like it’s no big deal, like calling a taxi, of course to men in the 1700s it was no big deal, but in the 21st century it is hard to read this. I thought the scientific aspects of the book were interesting, it showed how men were learning and finding out about the body through autopsies, which was new at the time.

June

I know I am late to the party on this one, but I only read: Song for Achilles for the first time this month, by Madeline Miller. Last year I read Circe and really enjoyed it. This book was just as fascinating. I cannot deny that I was surprised to learn that Achilles was gay; and not just a suggestion by the author, according to my google search (and we know how accurate that will be *wink*), many references were made in the Iliad to Achilles and Petroclus being lovers. I found that this added an interesting dimension to the story that I was not expecting. I actually found petroclus likeable, however I was saddened by how most of the women in their lives were treated. I guess I shall be anticipating her next book.

July

I have two books from this month that stood out. Firstly, Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins-Reid. I have now read 4 of her books (one mentioned later) and I have loved them all. I wasn’t sure I would like this book as it sounded like chick lit, which I am less enthralled by, in general, but it was more complex than I suspected. Malibu Rising is the story of a famous singer/actor who marries young (before he is famous), marries and divorces June twice, leaves behind 4 children (plus a few more come out of the woodwork) and leaves June to raise his kids all alone with no money, then she dies young and the oldest who is but 17 has to raise her own siblings with no money, whilst she is at school and trying not to let the authorities take her siblings into care. What an A$$ the dad is to leave his children and not help or give them money etc. I have to say that the synopsis of this book is offputting (not my one) which is why I almost didn’t read it, but I am glad I did and it has won an award on Goodreads so it is not just me who thinks so.

My second book is particularly for those who like more obscure books, or interested in gender equality. Kim Jiyoung Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo. This is the first book about Korea that I have read, so it was illuminating to see the difference in culture and upbringing (we were born almost the same year). It was a bit of a mix between fact and fiction but does mostly read like a novel. This book made me mad and not just because I am a gender equality expert; it is difficult to read at times and some of what is said and done to these women can be triggering and/or upsetting.

August

This month I finished reading a physical book called Half A World Away by Mike Gayle. Although I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a fan, I have been reading Mike’s books since my twenties, his humour and his sort of male-lit (if that is really a thing) was appealing to me in my youth; however, I haven’t read one of his books in a long time. A story of siblings separated when they are young due to inadequate parents, one is a cleaner living on the wrong side of town; the other a barrister. They meet for the first time when Kerry finally tracks down her baby brother (who was adopted). I found this book both very real and moving, it was definitely a page turner and easy to read. No doubt I shall be reading this book again in future.

September

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins-Reid was one of two books I was enthralled by this month. I have to say this was a particularly good audiobook; I actually looked at the physical book in the bookshop and thought, not for me, as it was just a list of interviews, but on audible, with all the different actors, it worked well and the voices were authentic, like completely how I pictured the characters would sound. Personally, I found Daisy unlikeable, a totally vain “pretty girl” who is used to getting what she wants. I did find the whole story of how a band got together and toured, wrote music etc, and that along with the internal drama of band members made for a pretty interesting book. Like everyone, I had to check if the band were real, and apparently they are made-up; how clever of the author!

My second book is non-fiction and is an autobiography/biography of Donald Trump, written by his niece Mary Trump: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. I was totally intrigued to learn more about this infamous man and was not disappointed. This book answers every question you ever had about him, and explains how a maniac was created. I was saddened and appalled by how Mary’s dad and Trump’s older brother Fred was treated by his own father and siblings, it was so sad. A compelling read. Most of this information was new to me, because I am not American, so I found it informative, but many American reviews have said they didn’t learn anything new from this book. I liked it.

October

Another Kristin Hannah book, not as good as The Four Winds (which in my mind is a book in another class, truly special) but still a good book is Night Road – the story starts out one way and then a big event happens and turns everything completely on its head. Jude is super annoying; you know those parents that hover over their children at all times, watching their every move, saying careful every 5 seconds, that’s a helicopter parents, and Jude is the ultimate helicopter parent, shame it does not help them. After the event Jude has almost a personality transplant, becomes unrecognisable, I actually want to slap her for how she treats her grand-child. It’s a book that will likely produce strong feelings.

November

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins-Reid was the best of the month, but in case you are bored of this author, to mix it up I shall also give an honourable mention to a biography of Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. One True Loves is a “women’s fiction” book about a young girl who’s husband is lost in a helicopter crash, after mant years of mourning, she finally moves on with her life and eventually gets engaged only for her husband to be found!

Unsurprisingly the Elon Musk biography is about Elon Musk (yeah shock horror), again I knew very little about him so I found his history interesting: growing up in South Africa, going to a no-named University in Canada, his exceptional programming skills at a young age, his early obsessions with living on another planet and electric cars. I also didn’t know that Tesla was not his idea, he was one of the original investors but he did not come up with the idea for Tesla – I thought he did, so I stand corrected. Anyway I won’t give anything else away but I did find it surprising.

December

I have read a few Matt Haig books, and I especially loved the Midnight Library; therefore this month I gave: How to Stop Time a go and was not disappointed. I love Matt’s creativity, this is another book you would classify as fantasy, the protagonist Tom is over 400 years old due to a rare disease, a disease that other people have but thanks to the Albatross society no-one knows about it. It’s such a great idea for a book, I wonder where he gets these ideas from. The most enjoyable parts for me were his interactions with some famous historical figures, but in a natural way, like working for William Shakespeare, like bumping into F. Scott Fitzgerald in a restaurant. This is a powerful book because poor Tom is not normal, and sometimes attracts the wrong attention; and being so old he has to deal with alot of loss.

That’s the best of the 70 books I read in 2022. I hope I was able to offer some inspiration. Have you read any of my recommendations?

December has been a busy month life-wise; and in addition, I am suffering some difficulties with my health which has been harder than I can tell you. However, I have managed to keep up with my reading as it is always a little piece of joy in what can sometimes be a very difficult day/night.

Books

This month I have finished reading 8 books, 2 physical books and 6 on audible, they were as follows:

  • One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins-Reid
  • Money Mum by Gemma Bird
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
  • Night Road by Kristin Hannah
  • Brutally Honest by Melanie Brown (Mel B from the Spice Girls)
  • Neither here nor there by Bill Bryson
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

First, the books I enjoyed the most: The Four Winds was my favourite book of the month, hence why I wrote a full review, but to summarise quickly, it is a powerful book about survival during the dust bowl era in America, during the 4 year drought, about how terribly migrants (those from other states) were treated in California and how bad working life was before the Unions enabled fair pay. It is a shocking book, very sad and powerful.

Another book I enjoyed and was surprised by was a book I randomly picked out at a book shop, by an author I have read before and enjoyed, but the story was deeper and more enjoyable than I thought it would be. One True Loves is about a young girl in love and about to celebrate her first year anniversary, suddenly becomes a widow when her husbands’ helicopter crashes into the ocean. She is broken, devastated and unable to move on, for years she pines away, and then somehow finds the courage to move back home and very slowly move on with her life, she even gets engaged – and then bam her husband is found alive after 4 years! So now she has a husband and a fiance…! I read this physical book very quickly, and I almost am never able to do that. Loved it.

Night Road by Kristin Hannah was as compelling as her novels always are; this time however I found the protagonist to be utterly and supremely annoying and unlikeable, not so that it ruined the story, I just had strong feelings against what she was doing. Jude is a helicopter mum to twins, she is obsessed over them, constantly worried about them and involved in every aspect of their lives, then a terrible event happens and Jude and her family seem like they will never recover. 6 years later and Jude is the worst grandmother you could imagine, her grand-daughter is scared of her and thinks she doesn’t love her and then someone from their past returns. I wanted to slap Jude hard across the face for the way she treated her grand-daughter and more for what she did to Lexi. Interesting story and easy to read.

Brutally Honest by Mel B is just that, it is brutally honest, which is what you would expect from the loud-mouthed ex-Spice Girl. I found her very likeable and I still feel for her, for her difficult marriages, the way Stefan treated her was criminal, literally! I enjoyed hearing about her relationship with Eddie Murphy because you never hear much about his private life, and I am a big fan so it was fascinating. I do love autobiographies of the famous! We always have a certain view of celebrities and they are almost never realistic, so I am glad that my opinion about Mel B has been improved by her book.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was difficult to read and slow-going, particularly at the beginning, however, I am glad I read it and think it is one of those books that we should all read (instead of ‘Of Mice and Men’ at school). It is a tragic and terrible tale of those going West in search of work during the Great Depression in America; it is just as shocking as the Four Winds, however, the language is definitely more poetic and philosophical; it feels like you are reading a classic novel.

Neither here nor there by Bill Bryson was better than I expected. I think because it was set in the 1980s (I think) I thought that it would not be so relevant, since it is a travel book of course, but Bill Bryson’s humour and William Roberts’ narration makes it as appealing as his other travel books. Plus he travels little known countries such as Estonia and Lithuania, so I found it interesting. I may not, however, read it over and over like A Walk in the Woods and Down Under, which are my absolute favourites.

Cinema

I have only been to the cinema once in two months (due to my condition) so do not have any to choose between, however, the one movie I saw was possibly the best movie I have seen all year, and is important for everyone, particularly women to see.

She Said – this movie may trigger you, so be warned it is hard-going. The story is about two investigative journalists in America (women), seeking to uncover the truth behind Harvey Weinstein, and thanks to them we now know the terrible truth of what happened to many of the famous actresses in Hollywood (including Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow and Rose McGowan). Thanks to these journalists, not only was this uncovered but he was fired from his job and was later taken to trial (and is now in prison for sexual abuse). I implore you to watch this movie! I read Rose McGowan’s autobiography last year, which was very hard to read where she doesn’t name him but explains exactly what he did to her and how he went on to ruin her career.

TV

Maxine (Channel 5) – 4 episodes

This limited docuseries tells the story of Maxine Carr, the girlfriend of Ian Huntley during the period that he killed the poor 10 year old girls Hannah and Jessica in Soham (Cambridgeshire). I remember this vividly as it was all over the news. It was a fascinating portrayal of their relationship (Maxine and Ian); and showed how they got together and the fact that Maxine was 100 miles away when the murders took place. I actually felt bad for her; she was just naive and didn’t appear to have any idea what was going on. Fascinating.

The Crown (Netflix) – Series 5

I loved series 4, so much that I inhaled the season in a day, I loved seeing the Charles and Diana drama and the writers interpretation of what he believed may have happened, and season 5 picks up where that drama left off but moving forward into the early nineties, finally, a time that I remember – the music, the cars, the PM and events happening that I remember albeit as a 10 year old. I’m still saddened to see the way Diana was treated.

Okay so straight up, I do not feel that my review will do this excellent book justice, so if you have read this book don’t judge me too harshly.

This is the fifth Kristin Hannah book I have read, so I guess you could call me a fan. This is possibly my favourite of all her books; though it might be in joint first position with “The Great Alone” which is probably equally as good.

It is going to be difficult to review this book without giving too much of the story away, so I will do my best not to include any or many spoilers. The first thing to say is that if you have read “The Grapes of Wrath”, which is also an excellent book, you will see a lot of parrallels in the story; but where it differs is that the Grapes of Wrath focusses on the journey to and the migration to California during the Great Depression. What it touches on but does not focus on, but what the Four Winds does really exemplify are the struggles of farmers living on the great plains during the 4 year drought during the Great Depression – known as the dust bowl. The authors’ description during a dust storm is so evocative and visceral that you almost taste the dust in your mouth as you read. Hannah’s research was impeccable, because the caterpillars crawling through the cracks in the doors; and the birds flying blindly and crashing into the house and the brown milk from the cows just all create a picture of such devastation. How these poor people survived the long drought and the dust storms and the dust pneumonia is beyond me.

The second half of the book follows the family as they travel west in search of work and a new life life in California. What a difficult time they had, how they are treated is more shocking than I can explain. I find it hard to understand how a country (even America) can treat their fellow Americans so badly, just because they were from another state – migrants, Okie’s (even though they were not from Oklahoma). I was also shocked by how little money the pickers were paid, it was basically slavery – not even enough to buy enough food to survive on, let alone anything else like clothing or a roof over their heads.

I won’t give any more away, just read and find out for yourself. Even though it was difficult to read, I felt that I grew and learned something from this book; I was completely ignorant to this piece of American history.

If you enjoyed this book you may want to try The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, or if you would like to try another Kristin Hannah I can highly recommend “The Great Alone.”

I love to read classic novels; though some are better than others. I once challenged myself to read 12 classic novels in 12 weeks – it was tricky but I managed it. I have to admit that I found this book a little slow to start with but then it really took off and I loved it! And I read the physical book, which is rare for me.

I am a huge Jane Austen fan and particularly love Pride and Prejudice, however, I have never read any of the spin-off books based on Austen before, and there have been many, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, it felt like in some ways it picked up where Pride and Prejudice left off (although technically the story starts before Jane meets Bingley). Therefore I did not enjoy the early part quite so much; but then all four girls get married, and Mary is left alone to fend for herself, so to speak; and has to rely on the kindness of her family. She tries living with each of them, one at a time with different difficulties; and then she settles and she finds herself eventually torn between two men. It is very exciting and very Austen.

I love how Mary’s character really comes alive, but authentically; I love how the author uses Austen’s language and it feels true to the original. I love that Mary is bookish and learned, and craves to learn and to discuss what she has learned with others – I very much see myself in her in this respect being a voracious reader and learner myself.

I love how she finally tells off Miss Bingley – now that felt good, she was finally put in her place. The Gardiners are lovely and I enjoyed how well they took care of Mary and took an interest in her that no-one else did.

The quote that best sums up the book, is thus:

“Our happiness depends on ourselves”

If you love Jane Austen, romance or historical fiction and can get past the first few chapters, you will love this book.

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.