Raising a Bookworm

We’re a bookish family and one of the parts of parenthood I’ve looked forward to most is sharing my love of stories with my daughter. I’ve been collecting books for her since birth and have given her the lowest shelf on our bookcase within her reach, but it’s only in the last few months that she’s shown a real interest in stories.

In Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust distributes free books at intervals from birth to five years old to encourage a love of reading and promote literacy. A few of my daughter’s earliest favourites were books she received from the health visitor, including a simple rhyming bed time story called One Sleepy Night and a peekaboo lift the flap book, there was also a rhyming book to help children learn to count in the most recent Bookbug bag by Julia Donaldson called One Mole Digging a Hole that my daughter really likes too.

Although I’ve read to my daughter since birth, once she became mobile she lost interest in books so I picked up a few more interactive sensory books for her from the “That’s Not My” range and a couple of Nosy Crow lift the flap books too to try to keep her interest.

As she’s gotten older, her language skills have developed and her attention span has increased we’ve been able to introduce more narrative stories. One of her earliest favourites that she demanded over and over again was Corduroy by Don Freeman, which tells the story of a bear in a department store who gets overlooked by customers because he’s missing a button on his dungarees and sets out on an adventure to find a button once the shop closes. It’s a really lovely story and one that has aged well since it was first published in 1968.

Another popular classic in our household is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which also happens to have been one of my husband’s favourite childhood stories) which describes the life cycle of a caterpillar hatching from an egg, eating a lot of food and eventually transforming into a butterfly. My daughter practically knows this one off by heart and enjoys pointing out all the foods that the caterpillar eats.

Between Halloween and Christmas last year, my daughter discovered the wonderful rhyming stories of Julia Donaldson and has been demanding “Broom!” (Room on the Broom) and Gruffalo’s Child regularly. For those unfamiliar with these stories, Room on the Broom is about a witch who keeps losing her belongings which are returned to her by various helpful animals she meets on her journey, who all ask to travel on her broom with her and eventually team up to rescue her when a dragon threatens to eat her. It’s a fun story about helping each other and team work. While The Gruffalo’s Child is the sequel to The Gruffalo, in which the Gruffalo’s daughter sets out on a quest to find the big, bad mouse that scared her father in the original story.

I’m looking forward to seeing how my daughter’s reading tastes change and develop as she grows, and have enjoyed this chance to look back at some of the books that we’ve read together over the last couple of years. Have a lovely week. X

January Reading Wrapup

I’ve decided to try monthly reading wrap-ups instead of quarterly, and this year is already off to a strong start as I read six books this month, including one that I’m almost positive will be in my end of year Top 10.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

My first book of 2022 was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas which involves the frail but bombastic patriach of the Lee family, Simeon, inviting his relatives for Christmas dinner. The family is absolutely rife with resentment and rivalry, and on Christmas Eve, Simeon is murdered and his uncut diamonds stolen. The retired Belgian Detective, Hercule Poirot, is invited by the local police to help investigate, and discovers a multitude of secrets and deceptions among the household as everyone from his sons and daughters-in-law to the valet seems to have a motive for murdering the old man. I’ve read a few Poirot mysteries and I thoroughly enjoyed this one that had me suspecting then dismissing the murderer and kept me guessing until the end.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

I picked this up hoping for a wintry adventure but unusually for a children’s book found this a real slog to get through as it’s very slow paced and I never felt the characters were in much danger. The Dark is Rising follows 11 year old Will Stanton who finds that he is the last of the mysterious Old Ones, a group of druidic Guardians who stand against the Dark that threatens the world. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Stanton’s family Christmas and the pagan and Christmas traditions that are laced throughout the story but not enough to redeem this story for me.

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

Set in Beartown, Sweden, this story follows a group of characters all connected to the local ice hockey team. The junior team is preparing for the national semi-finals and a victory would put the struggling town back on the map bringing tourism and investment. The stakes are high and the pressure on the team is immense, but when one player crosses the line outside the rink, the town has to decide between seeking justice and hushing up the crime. Beartown really captures the stifling claustrophobia of locker rooms, high school and small towns, yet it’s balanced with moments of bravery, loyalty and loving, supportive families and friendships. Beartown was absolutely gripping, tense and full of suspense from start to the end, but not without humour and full of insight about families, friendships, community, wealth and poverty, growing up and growing older, and so much more. This is the first part in a trilogy and I’m really looking forward to returning to Beartown and all its characters, and I’m already predicting that this will be one of my favourite books of the year.

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

After Beartown I was in the mood for something lighthearted and this YA fantasy follows a broken hearted young woman, Evangeline, who makes a deal with Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, to stop her beloved from marrying her step-sister in exchange for three kisses. It’s a very light-hearted fairy tale with a wicked stepmother, Prince Charming, capricious Fates and vampires but it’s far from predictable. This is the first book in the series and I’m curious to find out what happens next.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

This is the first part in a fantasy series inspired by pre-Columbian American mythology and culture. Black Sun follows four different characters in the days leading up to a solar eclipse, Naranpa, the Sun Priestess, Xiala a sailor who can control the sea with the power of song, Okoa a warrior from the Carrion Crow clan and Serapio, a human vessel for the Crow God. I really loved the setting and the characters but I felt the pacing let this story down as most of the action happens in the last few chapters so at times it felt like reading an extended prologue, but I’m invested enough to want to know what will happen next.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Eduacation was one of my favourite books last year and while I wait for the final part of the Scholomance trilogy, I decided to borrow one of Naomi Novik’s other books from the library. Uprooted is a strange fairy-tale about a young woman, Agniezska, who is chosen to live with and serve the local wizard, known as the Dragon. Agniezska turns out to be more than just a woodcutter’s daughter and has her own destiny to fulfill as she and the Dragon attempt to stop the Wood that threatens the land steadily swallowing up villages and corrupting everyone that it touches. Uprooted has a lot of interesting ideas and plays with some fantasy and fairytale tropes, and I really enjoyed the magic in this story.

What have you read recently? Have a lovely week. X

2021 ~ My Year in Books

I fell back in love with reading in 2021, I derived so much comfort and pleasure from books, and it was the first year I’ve ever managed to reach my goal of reading 52 books. My final tally was actually 66 books and I reviewed 47 of those on the blog.

I began 2021 with a mystery, a new genre to me, and where better to start than with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie ended up being my most read author, as I read five of her Poirot mysteries last year, though Leigh Bardugo, V.E. Schwab and Maggie Stiefvater were close behind with four books each. I started and finished reading whole series last year, binge-reading trilogies and quartets like Shadow and Bone, The Folk of the Air and The Raven Cycle.

Of the 66 books I read, three were actually re-reads. I re-read Maya Angelou’s Letter to my Daughter, as well as two of my all-time favourite novels Jamaica Inn, Daphne du Maurier’s thrilling and chilling tale of smugglers in Cornwall, and Emily Bronte’s gripping story of obsession and revenge, Wuthering Heights.

I read a real mix of fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, magical realism, children’s fiction with a few autobiographies, classics and even a parenting guide thrown in. More than any other genre I found myself drawn to and devouring Young Adult stories, and I found so many new favourite writers and books among them.

My Top 10 favourite books were comprised of stories that captured my imagination, left me wanting more and that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. Among my favourites were fantasy stories inspired by the legends of King Arthur (Legendborn) and Owain Glyndwr (The Raven Boys), West-African folklore (Raybearer) and Arabian mythology (The Empire of Gold) as well as enemies-to-lovers romances (The Wicked King and Dance of Thieves), paranormal mysteries (Ninth House) and even a classic (Pride and Prejudice). I couldn’t put them all in order, but I tracked down hardback copies of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education to survive rereads and because I couldn’t possibly wait for the sequels to come out in paperback, these two were absolute highlights of my reading year.

I’m setting my goal to 52 books for 2022 as well, though this year I’m really hoping to make a bigger dent in my TBR pile (which seems to permanently hover around 40 books) though my most aniticipated books coming out this year are the concluding parts of Naomi Novik’s The Scholomance trilogy and The Inheritance Games trilogy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and the sequel to Legendborn by Tracy Deonn.

What were your favourite books of 2021? Have a lovely week. X

October – December Reading Wrapup

I’ve ended up with a little backlog of reviews from the final quarter of 2021 so thought I’d share a wrapup of some of the books I read between October and December.

The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The second part of the Inheritance Games trilogy picks up shortly after the first book with the heiress, Avery, and the Hawthorne brothers investigating the mysterious disappearence of their uncle 20 years ago that led billionaire Tobias Hawthorne to disinherit his family and leave everything to Avery instead. The Hawthorne Legacy is loaded with revelations about Avery’s identity and her connection to the Hawthorne family as well as the kidnappings, death threats, explosions and romance that makes this series gripping and so much fun to read.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The great Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot has retired to the English countryside to grow marrows, but when the wealthy Roger Ackroyd is murdered, he’s compelled to investigate, taking on the narrator, Dr Sheppard as his sidekick. This is a very clever murder mystery as Poirot gradually uncovers the secrets each of the suspects is hiding from debt to drug addiction, until he reveals the real muderer, the motive and method. I actually guessed the murderer fairly early on, but still enjoyed as it’s far from predictable with plenty of red herrings and misdirection.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

This had such a slow start that I almost gave up on it, but I’m so glad I persevered as by the end my heart was racing and it brought a tear to my eye. The Once and Future Witches is set in an alternative history in 1893, and follows the three Eastwood sisters, Bella, Agnes and Juniper, as they bring witchcraft to the women’s rights movement. While suffragettes campaign for the vote and the city prepares for Mayoral elections, an unnatural fever spreads and sisnister shadows stalk New Salem. Threaded by retellings of fairy tales, the Eastwood sisters each represent and subvert the feminine archetypes of Crone, Mother and Maiden, and their own relationships with one another are complex combining misunderstandings and betrayals with love and loyalty. This is a story of female empowerment but full of love, courage, family, friendship, sacrifice and magic.

Halloween Party by Agatha Chrisite

Joyce, a thirteen year old girl, reveals that she once witnessed a murder at a Halloween party, and later she is found drowned in pail used for bobbing for apples. When Poirot starts to investigate, he finds that solving the murder young Joyce claimed to have witnessed may be necessary before he can solve her murder. I admit I struggled with this mystery, partly because it wasn’t the atmospheric or spooky read I was hoping for, but also because almost none of the other characters had anything kind to say about the victim all describing her as a liar and a show-off, which seemed callous regarding the murder of a teenager.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

I put off reading this for a long time because I’d heard so many glowing reviews that I wasn’t sure it would live up to the hype. The story follows Adeline “Addie” LaRue who trades her soul in exchange for immortality with an old and capricious diety, who grants her wish but with the caveat that no one will be able to remember her once she is out of sight. Other reviews had me expecting this to be a contemporary romance, and it does focus on two significant relationships in Addie’s life, the first with the toxic, possessive and manipulative God, Luc, who granted her immortality, and the second with Henry, a New York bookseller who becomes the first person in 300 years to remember Addie, but has a few dark secrets of his own. I often find V.E. Schwab’s books have slow beginnings but I actually thought this had a fairly brisk start but lost momentum in the middle and the ending felt rushed, but the pacing issues didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment, it’s a bittersweet and haunting story of love, time, life and Faustian bargains.

Daughter of a Pirate King and Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

This is a lighthearted fantasy swashbuckler duology about a female pirate, Alosa, who is sent on a mission by her father, the fearsome Pirate King, which involves getting taken hostage by a rival pirate crew. The plot is definitely secondary to the romance between Alosa and the First Mate, Riden, but this was so much fun that I didn’t mind at all. In the sequel, Alosa turns against her father when she discovers a brutal betrayal and learns more about her Siren heritage, it’s a tense, angsty and bloodthirsty conclusion but still an easy, fun read.

Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

The second book in this series had a very slow start, but the third lauches straight into the action. The narrative follows Laia as she tries to lead the Scholar Resistance, her lover, Elias who has become the Soul Catcher guiding spirits to the afterlife, and Helene, a Martial Warrior trying to stop the ruthless Commandant and the Nightbringer from destroying the Martial Empire . Reaper at the Gates is tense, brutal and gripping.

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson

I was genuinely surprised to find another favourite so close to the end of the year. Dance of Thieves follows Kazi, an orphan and thief that was recruited into the Vedhan Queen’s Elite Guard, who has been tasked with tracking down a fugitive wanted for treason and mass murder, and Jase, the new Patrei and leader of the Ballenger family from a little country eager to prove their sovereignity and legitimacy. I was absolutely hooked by this enemies-to-lovers to enemies-to-lovers again fantasy romance, full of twists and betrayals as the protagonists struggle with their conflicting loyalties and secrets.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

I don’t read much science fiction but I make an exception for Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series because they are such thoughtful, comforting reads. A Closed and Common Orbit is set shortly after The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, following the ship’s AI which has been downloaded into an illegal, synthetic body, and a human engineer called Pepper who agrees to take care of her. The narrative switches between the AI’s present and Pepper’s past leading up to the present. It’s a slow moving but engaging story about found family, friendship, identity and purpose.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

I picked up this children’s classic when I was in the mood for a wintry story, and thoroughly enjoyed this thrilling and chilling adventure about two cousins, Bonnie and Sylvia, who have to outwit the scheming and cruel governesses and their criminal associates trying to turn them out of their home and seize their family’s wealth.

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry

I’ve been dipping into this parenting book since September, and really enjoyed this reassuring, informative and inspiring book that challenges the reader to consider how their own childhood experiences might be influencing their parenting and offers some solid advice on how to strengthen and improve the relationship between parent and child at any age.

Apologies for the length of this post, but 2021 was a great year for reading and I read so many wonderful books that I wanted to capture my thoughts about. Have a lovely week. X

The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty

My most anticipated book of 2021 was the final part of the Daevabad trilogy, The Empire of Gold. Having been in a bit of a rut before this arrived, I was relieved and delighted by how quickly I was pulled into this wonderful story full of romance, suspense, betrayals, revelations and Arabian mythology.

Set almost immediately after the end of The Kingdom of Copper (reviewed here), the narrative switches between the three protagonists Nahri, Ali and Dara. When Nahri and Ali fled Daevabad, they find themselves transported to Cairo, while Dara has helped Nahri’s long presumed dead mother, Manizheh, to slaughter her enemies (including Ali’s family) and reclaim her throne. The stakes couldn’t be higher as Manizheh turns out to be every bit as ruthless and tyrranical as the King she replaced, forcing Dara into slavery again, and Nahri and Ali to ally with their enemies.

I’ve loved watching these characters evolve and The Empire of Gold is full of bargains, sacrificies and betrayals as the protagonists fight to save the city they all love. Nahri has always been a firm favourite, growing from a con-artist and thief who only dreamed of practicing as a physician to a gifted healer and surgeon, and a brave, compassionate leader, and it was so satisfying to finally learn her identity and parentage. Ali has changed from the idealistic and self-righteous Prince to a self-sacrificing warrior and wise leader. Finally the redemption of Dara, the most loyal warrior of Manizheh and her people who committed unforgivable attrocities in their name, was genuinely moving.

The Empire of Gold was such a bittersweet read in that I’ve fallen in love with these characters and their world, and I was desperate to know how it all ends, but didn’t want to be over either, The Daevabad trilogy has become one of my favourite fantasy series and one I’ll definitely reread. The Empire of Gold is about destruction and healing, love, friendship and family, loyalty and slavery, revenge, sacrifice and redemption, and it’s an incredibly satisfying conclusion to a brilliant trilogy. Have a lovely week. X

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education is the first part of The Scholomance trilogy which follows Galadriel “El” Higgins a student at a boarding school for witches and wizards that is a bit like Hogwarts except that there are no teachers, no holidays and the school itself and about half the other students are trying to kill you before graduation. El has an affinity for spells of mass destruction but is trying her hardest not to become the evil sorceress fate seems to have cast her as. Rude, sarcastic and terminally unpopular, she finds an unlikely ally in her ridiculously and infuriatingly heroic classmate, Orion Lake.

I adored El with her extensive range of creative insults (“you tragic blob of unsteamed pudding” is a personal favourite), she’s such an outsider and outcast who is just trying to survive high school in the most literal sense, and I was rooting for her the whole way as she finds her own little circle of friends and a slow-burn romance, and starts questioning the wizarding enclaves that hoard power and resources leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.

There’s quite a lot of exposition throughout the story explaining the rules of magic, generating mana for spells, the maleficaria (wizard-eating monsters) and maleficers (wizards that kill others for mana), but it didn’t really slow the story down and the plot – covering just a couple of weeks in the school year – trots along at a brisk pace.

The narrative cleverly combines the painful and awkward adolescent experience of trying to fit it and social rejection with the high stakes of constantly scheming students and monster attacks, as well as the rather more mundane stress of trying to pass exams and coursework. The Scholomance seems like the antithesis of Hogwarts, and really captures the loneliness and homesickness of boarding school life.

A Deadly Education is a really refreshing twist on superpowered teenagers and boarding school stories, I was hooked from start to finish and this is easily one of my favourite books this year. Have a lovely week. X

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

I read and loved the Six of Crows duology (reviewed here and here) last year, and I was curious about Leigh Bardugo’s first adult novel set outside of her Grishaverse series. Ninth House is about the eight most powerful secret societies at Yale and how each one specialises in a different type of arcana. Into this world of wealth, privilege and the occult, comes high school drop out and stoner Alex Stern who is admitted for one single reason: she can see ghosts. Alex is invited to join the Ninth House which oversees the rituals of all the other houses. Haunted by both the ghosts she can see on campus but also the mysteries of her past as the sole survivor of a gruesome multiple homicide, she finds herself investigating the murder of a girl on campus and unravelling a more sinister conspiracy in the process.

The narrative switches between Alex and her mentor, Darlington, which was a little confusing at first because Darlington’s narrative is all set in the past while Alex’s runs from the past to the present. This is incredibly well plotted and there are several different mysteries running through the story, the murder on campus, her mentor’s disappearence, the night Alex survived a multiple homicide that she has no memory of, and another related to one of the ghosts haunting New Haven that Alex accidentally befriends, yet the story has a very clever resolution and still sets itself up for a sequel too.

I loved the setting, the descriptions of Yale and New Haven, and the awkward juxtaposition of student life and frat parties with ghosts (or grays as they’re called in the story) and the occult practices of the secret societies. I also adored the characters from Alex who is just trying to survive and make the best of the second chance she’s been given, Darlington the gentleman scholar, and Dawes, the reticent PhD student who works as the Ninth House’s housekeeper to Turner the straight laced detective who is Yale’s liaison with the local police department and the ghost of a local murderer who wants to clear his own name.

I enjoyed Ninth House so much that I tracked down a second copy in hardbook to survive rereads and because I will definitely be buying the second part in the series in hardback as soon as it comes out rather than waiting for the paperback like I normally do. Ninth House was thrilling, original, addictive and delightfully macabre, it’s a story to keep you up reading late into the night but one that might give you a few nightmares too, and a perfect read for Halloween or a dark and stormy night. Have a lovely week. X

3rd Quarter in Books

Evenings have been cold, dark and dreary lately in our part of the world, good for nothing except curling up under a blanket with a cup of something warm to drink and a book to read. Earlier this month, I hit my reading target for the year ahead of schedule and thought I’d share a round up of some of the books I read between July and September.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I’ll preface this review by saying that I loved Practical Magic, it was one of my favourite books last year, and at the end I wanted to know more about the aunts that raised Sally and Gillian, and more about their parents, which is exactly what The Rules of Magic is about. Unfortunately, this had a very different mood and atmosphere from Practical Magic, and I found it quite heavy as the aunts, Franny and Jet, and their brother, Vincent, try to navigate the family curse that love leads to ruin against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. I was disappointed by this prequel which lacked the charm and suspense of Practical Magic.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Set on board a steamboat cruising the Nile, this murder mystery seems like a simple crime of passion with the jilted ex-lover murdering the rich, beautiful and charming rival who stole her man, except that the most obvious suspect also has the most solid alibi and the victim had other enemies among the passengers. One by one the murderer picks off the witnesses before they can expose them, but the retired Detective Hercule Poirot is there to investigate. I thoroughly enjoyed this clever mystery that kept me guessing until the end with plenty of clues and misdirection.

This Poison Heart by Kaylynn Bayron

A young adult fantasy about a girl with the ability to grow plants and a natural immunity to almost all poisons finds herself caught up in a family legacy to prevent a very rare plant falling into the hands of people who would use it for their own nefarious purposes. This Poison Heart was like a cross between The Secret Garden and Poison Ivy and a dollop of Greek mythology thrown in too, I enjoyed the mystery but found it too slow paced and I probably won’t read the sequel.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer is very likely to be one of my Top 10 favourite reads this year, and I read the sequel as soon as it came out to find out if Tarisai succeeded in annointing her own council as the first Empress Raybearer and survived her journey through the underworld to end the sacrifice of hundreds of children to appease the spirits who threaten to bring war, disease and chaos to their lands if they don’t. I found Redemptor a little bit too meandering in places and I missed some of the supporting characters from Raybearer who drop in and out of the sequel, although I enjoyed getting to know a few new characters too. Tarisai’s journey through the underworld was the highlight of the story, a true physical, mental and spiritual challenge with sacrifices and betrayals that me gripped up to the very satisfying conclusion.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown since watching her TED talk on shame several years ago, and have been working my way through her books ever since. Daring Greatly is a book about how to recognise and overcome shame, and practice vulnerability in different spheres of our lives in order to cultivate connection, creativity and integrity. I didn’t think this is one of her best works, and it didn’t have the profound effect on me that I Thought It Was Just Me or Rising Strong did but I did appreciate the blend of research and personal experience, and how Brene practises and models vulnerability, courage and empathy for her children and in her family were the highlights for me.

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn is the most charming and captivating story about a young woman, Maia, who pretends to be her brother in order to become the Emperor’s new tailor – a role forbidden to women. At court, Maia finds herself drawn into the political intrigues between the young Emperor, the Lord Enchanter and the Warlord’s daughter reluctantly betrothed to the Emperor in order to restore peace between the North and South following the Five Winters War. With the gift of her grandmother’s enchanted scissors, Maia embarks on the Warlord’s daughter’s seemingly impossible challenge to create three wedding dresses made from the laughter of the Sun, the tears of the Moon and the blood of the Stars. I simply adored this story that is as much a romance as a coming-of-age quest, though unfortunately I didn’t find the sequel, Unravel the Dusk, as charming or gripping.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Inheritance Games is a fast paced and gripping YA mystery about a seemingly ordinary girl, Avery, grieving her mum and trying to get the money and grades to get into a good college whose life is turned upside down when Tobias Hawthorne – a billionaire she’s never met – disowns his entire family and leaves his fortune and estate to her instead. This reminded me of Knives Out and Rebecca as Avery tries to solve the mystery of why Tobias Hawthorne chose her and finds herself caught up in the scheming Hawthorne family, working with and against Tobias’ four charming and clever grandsons to solve an elaborate treasure hunt with a few assassination attempts along the way. The only thing that let this story down for me was the fairly predictable love triangle between Avery and two of the Hawthorne brothers, but this was a fun mystery with plenty of suspense and I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the trilogy.

Have a lovely week. X

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I’ve been binge-reading lately, finishing one book and immediately starting another, but a little while ago in the midst of a reading slump, I decided to try listening to the audiobook of Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming. I found it really easy to dip in an out of while washing the dishes or cooking dinner, and giving it my full attention at other times. At 19 hours in length it did feel like quite a commitment, but I found it so easy to listen to Michelle Obama narrating her story, from her wry comments (usually poking fun at herself or Barack) to the way her voice cracks slightly when describing her father’s death.

Unsurprisingly, Michelle manages to combine the personal and political describing the discrimination and racism that limited the educational, housing and employment opportunities of her parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents that were mirrored for black people all across the United States. Although there’s no doubt that her own determination, courage and work ethic helped her rise above her humble beginnings, she’s keen to acknowledge and full of gratitude for her parents, teachers and friends who supported and enouraged her every step of the way. Becoming is highly informative, inspiring and relatable and there’s so many themes running through this memoir about race, sexism, disability, poverty and social class but also about family, community, hard-work, determination and ambition.

Michelle’s story covers everything from her childhood in South Chicago in the 1960s, through her awkward adolescent years, her first romances, studying at Princeton University, her career choices, meeting and falling in love with Barack Obama, their struggles with infertility, motherhood, and entering the maelstrom of public scrutiny as he campaigned for and won the Presidency. I really appreaciated how open and honest she is about the resentment she felt about when Barack’s political aspirations interfered with their family’s life, and the compromises they made to find a balance for their family as well as the huge adjustment to life under the spotlight, it’s a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes into their marriage, family life and the inner workings of the White House.

Becoming is an informative and inspiring autobiography, full of humility, humour, vulnerability and candour, and I’d thoroughly recommend the audiobook. Have a lovely weekend. X

The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

Set 17 years after Chocolat (reviewed here), The Strawberry Thief is the fourth book in the series; Vianne and her youngest daughter, Rosette, are still living above their chocolaterie in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes (while her oldest daughter, Anouk, lives in Paris with her boyfriend) and the local florist, Narcisse, causes a stir in the village when he dies and leaves part of his estate to Rosette. Lansquenet is still the same town full of gossip, secrets and simmering resentments, but there’s a new witch in town who threatens Vianne by bringing the winds of change with her and challenging her to face her fears.

The narrative switches between Vianne, Rosette, the priest Francis Renaud and Narcisse who leaves his final confession to Reynaud – though it changes hands a few times through the story. I love returning to these characters to see how they’ve grown and changed, both Vianne and her former nemesis Reynaud, have been humbled by their experiences over the years, and have forged a friendship with one another.

I especially appreciated Vianne’s perspective on motherhood, and that bittersweet mix of emotions between her fierce desire to protect her daughters and the sweet sorrow of watching them grow up and outgrow their need for their parents. Yet as Vianne realises that her fear of commitment is rooted in her fear of loss, her daughters teach her that change can be liberating, and that the past can’t be changed, nor the future controlled but the only time that really matters is now.

I’ve enjoyed all of these stories, finding them all so absorbing, easy to read, full of humour and wisdom, and as comforting as a cup of rich, spiced hot chocolate, yet they’re not without tension or conflict. The Strawberry Thief is a story of secrets and confessions, guilt and forgiveness, parents and children, friends and lovers, fear, loss, love and change. Have a lovely week. X