With daffodils sprouting, Mini Eggs in the shops, and many of us having been stabbed with the glorious first dose of the vaccine, maybe you’re feeling a bit more hopeful? Or maybe not…
Truth is, it’s hard to keep your eye on the prize right now, tough to stay upbeat and positive when we’re still treading water, but I’m going to try my very best for you. How about a joke to kick us off? What’s brown and sticky? A STICK. Haha! *cries forever*
I know you’ve come to expect hilarity in my review, but honestly, I’m struggling to laugh much lately. Like so many of us, I’m tired. I live on my own, I haven’t seen most of my friends for a year and I was made redundant at Christmas. Also, I just turned 39 and the dog can’t bloody well sing Happy Birthday. My mum got me a balloon though. Yay.
Anyway, I’m trying not to be a misery guts, because no one likes a misery guts, but I just wanted to let you know that it’s ok to not be ok right now. Lots of us aren’t. And that’s why I chose this month’s books – for the fact they’re brimming with hope, positivity, love and light, and we all need that wherever we can get it. It’s why, for example, I am so excited about my dental check-up this week. It’s A DAY OUT. I’m even going to put make-up on and, unlike when I donned a red lip to take my four-year-old niece to feed the ducks, no one will ask me why I’ve bothered. Hooray!
So without further ado, let your resident Eeyore crack open the pages of book number one…
The Authenticity Project
You might recognise Pooley’s name from the wildly popular blog, Mummy was a Secret Drinker – which she initially wrote as Sober Mummy before her memoir, The Sober Diaries, uncovered the truth behind her supposedly perfect life. She is, in short, ace, and an excellent writer. This book, however, is a departure, focussed on the fictional tale of a green notebook and a pretty little café.
It’s in that notebook that 79-year-old Julian writes that he is lonely, that he often goes for days without speaking to anyone and that he feels invisible because of his age. After telling his story, he leaves the book in Monica’s café, closing with the enticing line: ‘You might decide to tell your own truth in these pages, and pass my little book on.’ And you can guess what happens next…
Monica endeavours to find Julian, but in the meantime decides to add her truth – essentially that she, too, is lonely. The notebook is found, and found again, until six utter strangers have added their unfiltered stories within its pages and find themselves drawn, like magnets, to the café, to Monica, and to each other. On the face of it, these six are completely and utterly worlds apart – pensioners, full time mums and philandering men. Yet all find they can’t seem to part from one another and despite their best reasons and logic, soon find they’re not quite as lonely anymore either.
It’s a scenario that exists only because they had the courage to speak out about their sadnesses. And as a reward for their bravery, as they meet people who feel the same, it dawns on them that there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’, that no one has it all, or has their shit together. It dawned on me too, leaving me feeling positive, hopeful and fuzzy. It’ll be alright in the end, and if it’s not ok, it’s not the end etc…
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot
Margot is 83 and back in Glasgow after living a life of incredible stories that took her to London, the Midlands and to Vietnam on a fiercely romantic quest. Lenni is originally from Sweden, but moved to Scotland as a child and now, at 17, is nearing the end of her life.
Lenni hasn’t had the chance to create stories yet, but she appears in so many other people’s because of her vibrancy, enthusiasm, lust for life and unparalleled stubbornness. Thanks to a chain of events set off by Lenni, the hospital the pair are thrown together in gets a beautiful art therapy room and while classes are split into age groups, having clocked Margot getting up to some sort of mischief, Lenni insists on plonking herself in the OAP class. Most of the time, the nurses don’t bother arguing with Lenni – she’ll steamroll them anyway.
So, she and Margot unsurprisingly hit it off and soon decide on an art project. With 100 years between them, they’re going to draw artistic representations of key moment in their lives to create a mural. And so we hear their stories, and in between, see the beauty of inter-generational friendship. Moxie is ageless and entirely infectious, and they both have it in spades. Of course, the stories are mostly Margot’s and that could be tragic. You could easily be heartsick at the unfairness of Lenni being denied stories of her own. But believe me when I say, there is nothing tragic about Lenni. Her stories are just as rich and beautiful and Margot’s and the lives she’s touched and sprinkled fairy dust on are too many to count.
It’s just so flipping pure, honestly. Amidst today’s headlines of cynicism, despair and hopelessness, this book set in a terminal hospital ward will vaccinate you against all of that.
The House in the Cerulean Sea
I bought this book because a review told me it’s ‘like being wrapped up in a big gay blanket’ and I was cold at the time and couldn’t think of anything better. I didn’t expect it to bring to mind X-Men.
I like the X-Men well enough – it’s not my first choice for action, but it still provides quality entertainment. I always presumed it was a metaphor for the LGBTQ community – Xavier’s school providing refuge for gifted outsiders from a world that doesn’t understand them, rejects them and reacts to their fear with irrational anger. This book really reminded me of that, without the violence and superheroes.
In this world, where the sea is cerulean, the Department in Charge of Magical Youth employs caseworkers like the very tightly-wound Linus Baker to monitor orphanages where children with special gifts are placed, ‘regulated by the government because of who they are’. One day, Linus is given a top-secret assignment to assess a classified orphanage. Oooh.
So, Linus the bachelor and his cat, Calliope, pack their bags to head to the mysterious facility on an even more mysterious island on a month long assignment, charged with reporting whether to keep the orphanage running or to close its doors, scattering the residents to the four winds.
And then we meet the kids, and OMG, my cold black heart exploded into rainbow sequins. There’s Talia, the grouchy garden gnome who tends to her garden beautifully, Chauncey, the tentacled ‘monster’ who dreams of being a bellboy, Lucy (short for Lucifer), a six-year-old little antichrist, and some other delightful little rascals, all looked after by Arthur Parnassus who is determined to give them as normal a life as possible. It’s a story of acceptance and the importance of having and treasuring your chosen family. It’s also just a beautiful love story that will make you smile even on the darkest of days.
The Flock book club in April
Audrey, my 12-year-old rescue mutt, may or may not be part fox. And she may or may not be 12. All I know is that, since I got her nine years ago, she has been the source of my every emotion. Stress, as she ran away to spend the night in a builder’s yard. Heartbreak as she ran from a burglar and was found the next morning, seriously injured. Pride that she’d landed a bite on said burglar first, making him scarper. Happiness every time her weird smile makes her look like Mutley. Relief as she lies on me when I’m ill with my epilepsy and she knows before I do that I’m ill. And frustration when she eats cat poo, Easter eggs and pizzas without discrimination. Anyway, the point is I know a thing or two about the power of animals – and that’s why April’s book club picks are animal-themed.
As the title suggests, this is about days with dogs in – but it’s so much more than that. As all dog owners know, the ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, polite chit chat as dogs sniff each other’s butts is a joyful human connection for owners – sometimes the only contact they’ll get in a day. And for George, Lizzie and Dan, and their dogs Poppy, Maud and Fitz, it’s something they desperately need in their stress-strewn lives. In this time of isolation (albeit with light at the end of the tunnel), this book is a lovely, hopeful and funny reminder about the importance of human connection (and ace dogs).
Miss Benson’s Beetle
Now, some of you may keep beetles for pets – I don’t know if that’s a thing? But you’ll notice I said animal-themed and not pet-themed, which is why this historical fiction gem about an expedition to find a beetle is in here. It’s 1950 when Margery packs in her crap job, advertises for an assistant and sets off to the other side of the world in search of an actual beetle (that may or may not exist). I mean, there will be beetle chat, of course – but more than that it’s about friendship, connections and actually having the guts to live a life you love, on your own terms.
Samantha Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell)
This kick ass, weird as hell Booker Prize long list is about Kentukis. Are they pets? Are they ghosts? Machines? Who flipping knows, but in Schweblin’s world, they’re everywhere, in houses all across the globe. They’re cute and cuddly, but their eyes are cameras, and humans can choose to have control over a Kentuki living in someone else’s house, watching their every move while playing the role of friend and companion. Nothing could go wrong here, right? Yikes.
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