what are you reading right now?

A little bit of book reviewing this evening. I’ve been lucky enough to read some cracking books of late so I thought it was time to share a few.

My first was Jeanette McCurdey’s memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died. This was such a sad and shocking read. I’m always super interested in the lives of child stars, and I feel really sad for the ones that go off the rails. I even find the psychology behind child stardom fascinating. And so this was a real eye opener as we saw what can really happen when children are pushed into the spotlight.

Keeping with the memoir, I then read Richard E Grant’s book A Pocketful of Happiness, all about the grief he has experienced since the death of his wife last year. He doesn’t hold back in this book and because it is narrated by him, you can actually hear his voice cracking as he talks about the moment he lost the love of his life.

Next up was Carrie Soto is Back which I devoured. I have a real love of stories about athletes and this one about a tennis star didn’t fail to impress.

I’m now on to a book called The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict. It is about an actress who somehow becomes tangled up with the Nazis before fleeing and then becoming a Hollywood star – and it’s a true story.

I’d love to hear if anyone is reading anything good that I should give a try. Have a fabulous weekend.

Much Love

Rachel xx

writing a truly unusual book

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I was having a discussion with a colleague today and we got onto the topic of truly unusual books. Rather than books that just have a really different and original premise, we were talking about books that take on a whole new format that has never been done before.

My colleague is much younger than I am and she has only just finished her masters degree, so she has actually been studying this and has loads of interesting ideas that she has researched. I can barely get on board with a Kindle so some of these wacky ideas are a bit much for me, but some were really interesting.

We began by talking about The Appeal by Janice Hallett which I am actually really keen to read. This is a mystery novel that is made up entirely of emails, articles, reports and evidence and the reader pieces together the events to solve the mystery.

Then we really broke out the crazy and she told me about thise woman who wrote a whole book in the snow and took photos and posted them on Instagram. Obviously, once the snow melted, the only record of the story is the photographs.

My colleague then told me about the story she created for her final project at university and I have asked her to bring it in so I can read it because it sounds so cool.

Basically, she created a box full of random items that were actually all connected by her story. To access the story you had to scan the QR code on each of the items and then you could read the individual parts of the story online.

She’s lost the box but she still has the QR codes so she is going to let me have them and then I can read the mystery. And she’s kind of inspired me to have a go at writing something that is not traditional too.

Much Love

Rachel xx

there’s no difference between life and death

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The rattle of the final gasp

Mirrors screams from baby’s lungs,

From birth to death we cry

And love and sleep

But when the deathbed calls

And ghostly shrouds of hospital gowns

Cloak our bodies like the blankets

Wrapped around us on our birthday.

Tears are spilled on both days,

The day we come and then

The day we drift back into nothingness.

I have just finished listening to the audiobook by Richard E Grant. He has written it about the death of his wife and it has really touched me in so many ways. I think that I have been affected by it so much because I have not experienced the death of a close family member, so it all feels so scary- and possible.

Richard and his wife were about the same age as my parents, and I’m a similar age to their daughter, so that also made it hit home just a little more. I haven’t spoken to my mu in several years, and yet I haven’t really thought about how I would feel if the worst should happen to her. Reading this book has given me a bit of perspective in that respect.

The book is so touching because you can hear how much Richard adored his wife, and it’s heartbreaking to listen to that pain. And yet, the end feels so much like birth. There are all the practical things to deal with, like paperwork, there are deep emotions and there is pain.

And I like to think that we go back to the same place we came from before birth.

A bit of a ramble, I know, but hearing someone talk about death always sparks so many thoughts and questions in my own mind. It becomes like a little conversation with myself, babbling on about things that nobody else would understand.

Much Love

Rachel xx

be brave and play the game

green tennis ball on court
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There’s always the chance

That you will suffer

Losses far too huge to bear

But sweet success will only come

If you can take those deathly blows

And win the golden medal that

Every person wishes to have hold.

I’m reading a book about sport at the moment, and I love books about any sport because we can learn so much about ourselves if we participate in the game.

One of the huge lessons that I think a lot of the students I teach struggle to deal with, is that we cannot win everything that we do. There has to be a hundred losses suffered before there can even be one win, because those losses give us the necessary experience.

Someone once told me that ‘if you play your chips all night, you’ll always come out even’. I like that saying because there are many times in life when I feel like I am down on my luck. But actually, if you spread all the goods and bads out, you have a nice even mix.

The thing is, you do have to actually play the game if you want to experience those wins. As a raging introvert, I sometimes choose to sit inside and not take part, but perhaps this is my little tap an the shoulder. The universe is whispering in my ear that perhaps I should get out there and do the things.

Much Love

Rachel xx

highlighting and tabbing your books

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Coloured post-it notes are scattered through

The thick and creamy much-loved pages,

Littered with a spray of day glo

Felt tip pen to highlight quotes

That touched the heart and caught the breath

Of readers round this tender world.

I do not tab, highlight or write in my books. I used to when I was studying. I had to remember large chunks of my texts and so it made sense to underline bits and bend the corners of important pages.

But since I finished my degree over a decade ago, I have got it into my head that writing on books is sacrilege. I don’t even like cracking the spine of a book, for fear of ruining something that is essentially perfect.

However, since I jumped on TikTok, I see so many people writing in margins and using colourful post-it tabs to mark the pages that have tugged at the heart strings.

I’m finiding, since starting teaching, that I also enjoy collecting quotes and there is no way that I’ll remember the book and page number for much more than a few minutes. So, I need to either start going back to writing on books, or finding a notebook to collect my special quotations.

I will leave you with this one from Page 133 of Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid:

I inhabit the silence of this moment with my father, when we are still asking questions and do not yet have the answers.

Carrie Soto, 1995

I’ll probably remember where that quote is until tomorrow morning and then it will be lost forever.

Much Love

Rachel xx

she has a voracious appetite

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She picks up books

And devours the pages

Eagerly tearing strips

To gobble down

So greedily

A speed that’s needed

Stumbling over words

To reach the very end.

Whenever I buy a new book (not from the charity shop or borrowed from the library) it means that I’m really keen to read it. And I bought a book today so I’m very excited.

The book in question is Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Junkins Reid. Reid is probably one of my favourite writers and I love how she has created a universe where her characters all interconnect between books.

Carrie Soto was mentioned briefly in Malibu Rising and there is a husband who had a fling with Evelyn Hugo, and one of the characters popped up in Daisy Jones and the Six. They started off as little Easter eggs and now it has become a complex world that I can’t get enough of.

The funny thing is that I get so excited when I find a book that I need, that I feel like I literally need to inhale the book. And I do mean that literally. When Daisy Jones came out, I remember feeling that I wanted to eat the pages so that I could get the story inside me more quickly.

I think that’s really weird, but it’s a genuine feeling and it means that I really understand what people mean when they say that somebody has a voracious appetite for books – they really do have a physical appetite for those pages.

Much Love

Rachel xx

stories about hotels

wall cladding
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The stories haunt the ancient halls,

Ghosts of distant times, some love

And others bang at wardrobe doors

With anger and resntment in their hearts.

There were conceptions here, and suicides

And once a lady owned this place,

Mad as a box of frogs, she was

And painted all the rooms a neon pink

Before the doctors came

And then the rot set in, and now

The hotel is a relic, a shell

Of its former self, so sad to see

The stripping of its notoriety.

I absolutely love stories about hotels -especially the spooky type. There is something so unknown about hotels. There are so many rooms and so much can happen behind those locked doors that it can make for some fantastic stories.

When I was training to swim the Channel, I regularly went down to Dover on my own for training weekends and I would have to book into a B&B for the Saturday night. I’d always pick a different one and I always found them fascinating places.

They are always in these old townhouses that must have so much history. And then the decoration always looks like it hasn’t been touched since the seventies. If there ever was a tragedy that took place in any of the rooms, I’m sure they just replaced the carpet and then carried on with business as usual.

Does anyone have any good hotel fiction that they recommend? Especially anything with a spooky twist as the leaves are turning and I’m in the mood for something scary.

Much Love

Rachel xx

it’s banned books week

burning book page
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Let’s throw them into raging flames

That lick so angrily at curling pages

Begging to be read before

They disappear for once and all

Because the men in pinstripe suits

Feel words in ink are dangerous

And public folk can’t handle them

So best to rid the world

And keep us safe from harm.

It’s Banned Books Week which is an interesting one, because I very much believe that books are there to teach us about everything that goes on in the world, whether that be good or bad. I don’t think that it should be down to a man in a suit to tell me whether or not I can handle something.

I guess there is a responsibility for the authorities to make sure that a book is not likely to incite violence or hatred, but most fiction will only be exploring these ideas, not telling people to go out and do anything terrible.

I teach at a faith school and they won’t allow the Heartstopper series to be kept in the library because it is LGBT+, and I wonder how much damage that may do to some kids. Surely everybody deserves to be represented, and banning books about groups of people doesn’t do anyone any favours.

So, do make sure that you go out and read something naughty this week – you’re lucky that you live in a world where you can do that.

Much Love

Rachel xx

book review: the reader on the 6.27

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I’m the kind of reader that needs a quirky main character to get on board with. I need someone who says inappropriate things and doesn’t understand why they have offended; I need a character who loves to just read the final chapter of a book; I need a hero who only eats yellow food.

The more unusual the quirks of a character, the more likely I am to fall in love with him or her. One of my all time favourites is Eleanor Oliphant and any book that likens itself to that masterpiece is going to draw me in.

The Reader on the 6.27 was compared to Amelie and that film warmed my heart until it was almost on fire. So I was very excited to dive in and see what Jean-Paul Didierlaurent could offer up.

The main character, Guylain, works in a recycling plant that basically just pulps books that have not sold so that there is space on the shelves for new books. But Guylain takes any pages that have escaped the pulping machine and reads the short extracts to the people on the train he takes to work each day.

There are a host of other characters that are so outlandish, I felt that they were almost Dickensian. I couldn’t help but smile at the little love story that ran throughout, with a toilet attendant, no less. And Guylain’s friend with no legs kind of reminded me of Leiutenant Dan in Forrest Gump.

I gave this book a big fat five stars because I just fell in love with every character we were introduced to. The book fell somewhere between a romance and a fable/ fairytale. It was beautifully written and left me contemplating what the message behind it was – and there were so many lessons to be learned.

At the centre of it all was love and friendship and what that means to us as humans. It shows that it’s messy and complicated but can also be boiled down to something really simple and delicious.

Much Love

Rachel xx

book review: managing expectations by minnie driver

I find memoirs to be one of my favourite kinds of books. But normally the celebrity memoir doesn’t have quite the same charm as they can sometimes become a bit showy and self-congratulatory. However, this wasn’t the case with this one.

I think that it was the essay format that really helped this one along. Having separate little stories to devour meant that it didn’t feel like we were just aiming for the point where our main character gets famous and we should all clap and cheer because they have made it when us mere mortals are never going to achieve even a smidgen of their success.

In Managing Expectations, Minnie does take a close look at her faults and I loved the essays earlier on in the book that charted some of the key moments in her childhood.

The book was written during lockdown and Minnie’s mother died during the writing of it. This meant that the book had a very sad ending because the final essay is about the death. Reading it was painful and I can imagine anyone who has lost someone will find it even tougher. Her mother sounded as though she had such a way with words and I hope that when I am on my deathbed, I can pass on wisdom like that.

If you get the audiobook, there is an extra interview at the end which is well worth a listen. Minnie chats with her friend who is a novellist herself, and they talk about the art of memoir writing and about being an avid reader.

I loved that they pointed out that being human is never one thing or the other. She describes an audition when she was a child, and her response to her friend who was upset about not getting the part was, ‘there is no best, there is just one that gets picked.’ I liked that because I’m guilty of thinking in black and white; if I don’t get picked, to me, it means that I’m rubbish.

I also loved when they spoke about readers being polite people. I had never made that correlation, but now that I’ve heard somebody say it I can’t unsee it.

So, from one reader to another, have a lovely evening and I wish you the happiest of weeks.

Much Love

Rachel xx