Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Published by Picador on 17th September

Available from All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say

For as long as she can remember, Cathy Rentzenbrink has lost and found herself in stories. Growing up she was rarely seen without her nose in a book and read in secret long after lights out. When tragedy struck, books kept her afloat. Eventually they lit the way to a new path, first as a bookseller and then as a writer. No matter what the future holds, reading will always help.

Dear Reader is a moving, funny and joyous exploration of how books can change the course of your life, packed with recommendations from one reader to another.

What I Say

“And I know that whatever else may happen in my life, I will love talking to strangers about books. Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved books. She still does. She always will.”

I was going to do a video review for Dear Reader – you know me, there’s nothing better I like than having an opportunity to talk about books I adore to an audience – no matter how few people are watching! To be honest, I realised that two minutes twenty seconds of a Twitter video isn’t long enough to tell you why I loved Dear Reader.

Life at the moment doesn’t really lend itself to me shouting about books on Twitter and Instagram. Personal circumstances have meant that books and blogging have had to take a total back seat whilst I concentrate on looking after my family. Just between us, not having to do it has felt like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders too.

I wanted to tell you that because that’s why I needed to take a break from book blogging and social media. Suddenly shouting about books and retweeting things didn’t seem that important. I’ve still been scrolling through Twitter and Instagram don’t get me wrong, but it’s been a strange experience. It’s as if you are standing outside the school playground when you can still see everything going on through the fence – who is playing nicely together, who is shouting the most, or the loudest, and who is picking on who – I just decided not to step through the gate for a bit.

I posted the blog posts I had promised, as well as pictures of the books that had arrived (thank you so much to everyone who sent me something) but for the last two weeks I have been existing in some kind of bookish limbo – aware of my commitments to people, but having absolutely no desire to pick up a book and read anything.

When the fabulous Camilla Elworthy at Picador very kindly sent me a copy of Cathy’s book a while back, I put it on my shelf to read later because I didn’t feel like I needed it. The past fortnight has been one of huge ups and downs, and on Saturday, feeling slightly overwhelmed and a little concerned by my complete and total lack of bookish enthusiasm, I pulled it down from my shelves and started reading.

The thing is, I couldn’t stop.

Dear Reader made me laugh, made me cry (a lot!), and also made me nod furiously as I read it. I was reading about myself in these pages. Finally someone had totally articulated the pure unadulterated joy of books and reading, and I loved every single page.

I remember the numerous times I have put off doing something so I can squeeze in another chapter, the sheer delight of choosing a book and curling up with it uninterrupted, and the quizzical looks from someone who just doesn’t understand the joy that reading brings. All of this is in Cathy’s book – I said in a comment on Instagram to Cathy that I had never felt so seen!

Cathy intersperses chapters from her own personal life – how she started reading, her career as a bookseller at Waterstones and then working for Quick Reads before becoming a writer, with almost prescriptions for us, books on different topics and themes, to help and educate, to reignite the reading passion we may have lost.

The most poignant part of the book for me is when Cathy talks about her grief in losing her brother Matty. I read Cathy’s memoir The Last Act of Love when it was published, and apart from openly sobbing at some points, I remember feeling her pain and loss so acutely, and was in awe of the all encompassing love she felt for Matty and how she described the feelings of grief so perfectly.

When my Mum passed away last year, I turned to reading as I talked about here – it became the cure to the uncharted heartbreak I was drowning in. Yet this time things are different. I feel overwhelmed by the world beyond my living room, and can’t really connect with anything. As I sit writing this, to my right are my bookshelves, groaning with so many unread books to read that it’s ridiculous – and yet I still ordered two more yesterday. That’s the thing that Cathy understands so well – that the way we feel about books is in our subconscious, and however unlikely it seems, it is always there whatever life may throw at us.

Dear Reader really made me stop and think about my whole approach to reading. In saying this, I am probably ending any chance of ever being sent a proof again, but here’s the thing. Why as a reader and blogger have I become so hung up on having the latest releases to shout about? When I started blogging I simply read what I fancied and talked about it, but as I have told you before, I have noticed recently how having the latest releases it is seemingly all that matters and honestly, I am weary of it.

Cathy’s book gave me the breathing space I needed. She made me realise that reading is not a race, that there is nothing wrong with simply stepping back and looking at the books I already have, rather than being desperate to have the books everyone is telling me I need to be a contented reader. It was as if the answer to my literary dilemmas had been sitting in this book all the time, and now I finally understand it.

Dear Reader is absolutely the book I wish I had had when I was younger. As a teenager I was frequently teased about my love of books and reading. People just didn’t seem to understand my need to have books, the delight in searching other people’s bookshelves, the satisfaction in working my way round the library from children’s fiction to the tantalising moment when I started reading adult fiction. I was lucky in that both my parents read avidly, and when my mum passed away, the only thing I really wanted of hers were the books on her bookshelf, still with the bookmarks in, even though forensic science and social workers memoirs were never my kind of read!

Books give me that emotional connection, an unspoken link with someone else, and a shared memory that can never be forgotten. They are a way for me to start a conversation, to escape from my world for a little while and to learn about new ones, and for me nothing feels better than finding a novel you want to tell everyone they need to read.

Quite simply, books and reading bring me joy, and Dear Reader is an unapologetically glorious love letter to both. I would go as far to say that it is required reading for anyone who has ever felt that they are alone in their love of books. Dear Reader will help you see that in fact that there are numerous people who feel exactly the same way as you do – and it’s a revelation!

It is a book that not only reignited my passion for reading, and added a lot of books to my reading list, but in reading Cathy’s story it made me feel that like her, I will carry on talking to people about books for as long as I can, and reminded me that little girl who loved reading is always there too.

Thank you so much to Camilla Elworthy for my gifted copy.

Negative Capability by Michèle Roberts

Negative Capability by Michèle Roberts

Published By Sandstone Press

Available from all Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

Yesterday ended in disaster. Very late at night, I decided to write down everything that had happened; the only way I could think of coping.
So here goes.
 

So begins Michele Roberts’s intimate and honest account of the year after her latest novel has been rejected by her then publisher. Written with warmth and sensitivity, she navigates the difficult road from depression and anxiety to acceptance and understanding of the value of the friendships which nurture her and make life worth living – whatever happens.

 

What I Say:

“I’d rediscovered, recording them, the pleasures of doing ordinary things,

the pleasures of living day to day.”

I think like many people, I had always assumed that once an author has had a book published, every book they write is edited and it is a done deal that we will see it in the Bookshops.

Negative Capability is Michèle’s Diary – a book about what happens when her latest novel is rejected by her publishers. It is obviously a painful and awful experience for her, and I can imagine that everything you had planned about that book being published suddenly slips out of your hands slowly and absolutely out of your control.

As a response to this, she writes about what it is like to be an author with no book being published on the horizon. This is where it becomes a really absorbing and revealing read, as Michèle opens her heart and life totally to the reality of having to accept that you have no plans. The Negative Capability of the title refers to the idea that instead of reacting to a negative situation, you instead allow yourself to resign to the fact that yes, this is not a good place to be, but that it will get better.

What I really loved about Michèle’s writing is the fact that it is not linear, and it slides beautifully from one moment to the next. One minute she may be talking about her gardens, the next the passing of one of her friends, but it works so well because it is and authentic and visceral experience, and I felt as if I was sat having a drink with Michèle as she talked about her life.

Memories slide from one to the next, we learn about the families she comes into contact with, the lovers she has had, her visits to France and all the social niceties there and the etiquette one is expected to follow. I also felt that it was almost Michèle’s love letter to France, a way for us to understand the deep emotional connections she has to the country and to the people she loves there.  It is also a complete treat for our senses – her pitch perfect and evocative descriptions of the places she visits and the countryside she is in, only serves to draw us closer to her.

I felt that reading Negative Capability was like sitting with a friend who is chatting with you about what they have been going through. It is conversational, clever, witty and so refreshing to read a book by someone who is absolutely candid about every aspect of their life, be it positive or negative.

It is also absolutely impossible to talk about this book without making reference to the many and glorious references to all things food related!  There are descriptions of wonderful informal and simple breakfasts and lunches, of dinner parties and get togethers, and I defy anyone not to read this book and not immediately feel hungry.  The act of eating and being with other people and enjoying the preparation and eating of meals is also a major part of this book, and it made me think about how often for me, the act of eating and being with my family is a rushed and thoughtless one.  We need to understand the importance of being with each other and the joy that sharing food and conversation can bring, as oppose to wolfing down a meal and disconnecting from each other by going to different rooms, or staying in the same one and just looking at our screens.

As we follow Michèle through her year, she offers us insights into the world of writing and her processes.  I am not a writer, just a reader, but I found it really interesting to see how Michele explains the process of writing and the way in which a book goes from a creative impulse to a finished novel on a Bookshop Shelf.  Michele is always honest about every part of it, and I think that it made me understand and appreciate the art of writing so much more.  I realised how much I took for granted about the act of writing something, that I believed it was much more of a formulaic process and that the author went from A to B, but Michèle absolutely dispels that theory.

It is difficult to review Negative Capability, because although it is a relatively short book, it encompasses so much.  Within these pages, all life and death is here.  You are absolutely and totally in Michèle’s life constantly, and feel every emotion with her.  For me, one of the most affecting parts of the book, is when she is talking about grief, after losing people close to her.  Her pain and incredulity at the fact these people are no longer here are translated to the page so sensitively, that for anyone who has lost someone, the words absolutely resonate with you.

Negative Capability is a book that defies categorisation, but it is all the more richer for it. It is a book to be savoured and lost in, and one that will absolutely make you think about many of the things you take for granted on a daily basis, and stop and appreciate everything and everyone around you even more.

Thank you so much to Kealey Rigden at FMcM Associates for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

You’re Being Ridiculous by C.E.A. Forster

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C.E.A. Forster: You’re Being Ridiculous

Published By: C.E.A. Forster

Buy it: here

 

What the Blurb Says: 

A new authorial voice relaying true stories that are likely to both horrify you and make you laugh out loud. Events and conversations are told with pace, humour and humanity as the author shares with you her memories of the situations she has lovingly endured while at the mercy of her numerous foster boys.

It is heart warming, heart breaking and heartfelt in equal measures. It is a memoir of sorts but it is definitely not a misery memoir. C.E.A. Forster is youngish, conceivably pushing middle age, although she would argue as to where that line is drawn, and she is just wanting to share with you the trials, tribulations and sheer joy of her time as a foster carer.

She writes of the sounds of bystanders that she can still to this day hear ringing in her ears, tutting at her apparent inability to control the children in her care and of the mayhem that follows them everywhere, along with her repeated admonition to them of “you’re being ridiculous!” .

Claire has experienced those awful questions in the most public of places concerning the differences between boys and girls and has been informed by a six year old on the habits of mating Turtles. Have you ever heard of pee wars? Have you ever crash landed in a World War II plane and lived to tell the tale? Not to mention some of the topics discussed at the dinner table that would make even the most bold of us blush.

Claire won’t mind you laughing at her or with her and she will leave you knowing, in no uncertain terms, just how much she grew to love these boys and how they will always have a special place in her heart. She hopes that maybe one day they will come back into her life to remind her of their own memories.

What I Say:

Thank you very much to C.E.A. Forster for supplying me with a copy of her book in exchange for an honest review.

I have to admit that I wanted to review this book because I was curious about the world of fostering, having had no experience of it whatsoever.  I naively assumed that because I am a parent, I would understand what it takes to be a foster carer  – I could not have been more wrong!

You’re Being Ridiculous is the story of how Claire started fostering children and how she dealt with the everyday and not so everyday situations she found herself in!

What I found really refreshing about this book is that Claire does not claim to be any sort of foster carer expert, instead we see each situation as she deals with it, and the questions she has to ask herself as to how she should react appropriately.

As a mum, you can pretty much react in any way you want, and say whatever gets you through the tricky situation – as a foster carer, there is an added layer of responsibility and set of guidelines you are expected to follow which only adds to Claire’s dilemmas as she deals with the children in her care.

The situations that Claire and her foster children find themselves in are at times simply hilarious, and the scene in Aldi (you have to read it to believe it!), made me really laugh out loud. That is undoubtedly down to the no nonsense,  relatable way in which Claire writes.

It was also interesting to see how other people in the big wide world react to the sometimes unpredictable behaviour of the children, and that tutting is definitely the universal language of misunderstanding!  As a parent of a child with special needs that really resonated with me, as I have lost count of the number of times I have had to deal with stares and exaggerated tutting when my son doesn’t behave in a certain way.  I always think it would be very interesting to see how people would behave if they had to walk a mile in my shoes, and am sure that Claire must feel the same!

This is not to say that the book is just about the funny things that happen as Claire ventures into the world of fostering.  It is also balanced by the reality of what the young people in Claire’s care are going through.  We don’t know what place they are in their lives, and what they have seen or heard, and cannot begin to comprehend what they are thinking about as they find themselves in the house of a stranger for the first time.  Some of the most poignant scenes are where the children are trying to process what is happening to them, and how they deal with having been placed in Claire’s house.

For me, this is the strength of You’re Being Ridiculous – it could have been a flippant book filled with funny stories, but you can really feel the passion and love that Claire has for what she is doing.  As she gains experience (and that you need to have spares of everything just in case!), she learns how to adapt to each child, and that though one child may be really introverted and another is a non-stop dynamo, the most important thing you can do is just be there for the child when they need you.

You’re Being Ridiculous is not a long book – it comes in at two hundred pages, but it is full of emotion, laughter and compassion, something that jumps out at you from every page.  Claire has clearly found her vocation in foster caring, and her ability to tell her story so well and with so much love for the children who are lucky enough to come into her care, is a joy to read.

I hope that she is going to keep writing it all down for us, and hopefully we will see a sequel to You’re Being Ridiculous soon!

 

everything I know about love by Dolly Alderton

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Dolly Alderton: Everything I Know About Love

Published By: Fig Tree

Buy It: here

What They Say:

When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming a grown up, journalist and former Sunday Times dating columnist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. In her memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, wrestling with self-sabotage, finding a job, throwing a socially disastrous Rod-Stewart themed house party, getting drunk, getting dumped, realising that Ivan from the corner shop is the only man you’ve ever been able to rely on, and finding that your mates are always there at the end of every messy night out. It’s a book about bad dates, good friends and – above all else – about recognising that you and you alone are enough.

Glittering with wit and insight, heart and humour, Dolly Alderton’s powerful début weaves together personal stories, satirical observations, a series of lists, recipes, and other vignettes that will strike a chord of recognition with women of every age – while making you laugh until you fall over. Everything I know About Love is about the struggles of early adulthood in all its grubby, hopeful uncertainty.

 

What I Say:

“Because I am enough.  My heart is enough. 

The stories and the sentences twisting around my mind are enough.”

Let me say from the start, because I am always upfront about my reviews, that I don’t know why I chose to pick up this book other than I had heard lots about it on Twitter, and it was on the ‘New Books’ Shelf in my local library.

I didn’t think that I was in any way the target demographic.  I am a 47 year old Mum of two, who has been married to the same man since 1996, and have been with Mr Reynolds since 1992. Even writing that down surprises me!  Dolly is 29 and as she explains in her book, has not been in a relationship for longer than two years.

So, I thought, we have nothing in common.  I was sure I would read a couple of pages and disregard it as another self-indulgent memoir that was only on my radar due to the power of social media.

If I tell you that I started this book at six thirty this morning, and finished it by midday,  then you can probably guess that I completely misjudged everything about this book.

Dolly Alderton, if by any chance you ever read this blog post.  I humbly apologise to you and have only one thing to say to you.  Thank you – this book resonated with me on every level.

Everything I Know About Love is Dolly’s memoir, explaining what she has learned through her experiences and what knowledge from different points in her life she can share with us.  What makes this book stand out, and I think relatable for every woman, is that this is not some gloating, Instaperfect look at a privileged life that we really couldn’t care about.

Dolly’s writing and her narrative tone reminded me very much of Jilly Cooper’s style, but this is meant as a huge compliment as I love the deftness of touch and humour that both women have in their writing.  The addition of recipes and the asides such as the excruciating baby shower and hen do emails, serve to lift this book way above the usual memoirs with a horrifying realisation that we have all been party to something like this.

Dolly, and her wonderful friends that we meet – (I guarantee you will especially love  Farly, Dolly’s best friend) are normal human beings.  They make mistakes, they drink too much, they sometimes make bad life choices, worry about paying their bills and get themselves into situations that made me wince a few times, but ultimately they embrace life.   Dolly and her friends love each other without question.

As many of us now realise, your family are not always those related to you by blood, they are the ones who are there to listen to your latest relationship disaster, to make sure you have food in your fridge, to be there when life seems to be overwhelming and to sometimes say nothing at all.

Dolly is unflinchingly honest in her memoir.  No topic is off-limits, she is brutally frank as she tells us of her love of alcohol, her online dating disasters and her route to therapy as she struggled to find her way in today’s increasingly pressured society.  Make no mistake, she is not looking for our pity or attention, instead she is saying to us, it is ok for us not to be perfect.  Just because someone might seem to have it all, and appear to be leading the life we wished we had, it doesn’t mean they are any happier than we are.

Everything I Know About Love is the book I wish I had when I was in my twenties.  I too tried to navigate my way through the complexities of being a young woman, but my time was in the early nineties.  I had done the expected thing of A levels and then Leeds University, but nothing prepared me for real life afterwards.

I realised then, and more so now that like Dolly, my friends were truly everything, and together we believed we were invincible and would have done anything for each other. Dolly’s book is a love letter to female friendship, to understanding that you may be in and out of each other’s lives as time goes on, but that you will always be bound by the love, laughter and tears you have shared.

Everything I Know About Love is a beautifully written, razor-sharp and stunning memoir.  I will be pressing a copy in to my nieces’ hands as soon as they are old enough, and will tell them that they should appreciate the women around them, relish the friendships that will endure, and know that they are always enough.

I loved it.