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What I’ve been reading

I’m trying to catch up on books that have piled up for review and am delighted to be whittling down the stack rapidly. Here’s what I have been reading lately:


The Queen – a life in brief by Robert Lacey : Robert Lacey has devoted much of his career to writing about the monarchy and this little book is just the ticket for readers looking for an insight into the Queen’s life. The book is peppered with vignettes, insights and quotes sourced from historical records and people present at various events in history. The chronological account of the Queen’s early years followed by the tumultuous recent years with her family falling apart puts things into some perspective for people interested in the monarchy. For those of us caught up in the grief surrounding Diana’s death (I admit it, tears were shed) the account of those days does not shed anything new that the movie, The Queen (with the marvellous and convincing Helen Mirren in the title role) does not. I found the accounts of the Queen’s early life interesting – the recent ones have been on display far too much to be of any new interest. The book is not too detailed – it is a quick read with lots of photographs, some familiar, some new and is something you might want to read in this, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch

When you are someone who tries to keep track of books you have read, a book with someone else’s list is particularly appealing. Nina Sankovitch began a year of reading following her sister’s untimely death at the young age of 46. Inspired by Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking (one of my own Top Three All-Time Favourites), Sankovitch turns to the healing power of words to get her through a grief-induced slump. Because, reading, as we know, is therapy. It is escape.

In the year that follows, Sankovitch gives up “normal” family life and her husband and four kids take over the running of the house while she reads. Her initial efforts at making a time-table or schedule of sorts for her one-book-a-day goal don’t work and she has to scrounge and make do with every ounce of free time available, often going late into the night. Sankovitch reviewed each book the next day after she read it. The range of books is eclectic, interesting. Most books are tied into a memory of her growing-up years or the family or her sister. There is a lesson everywhere. I was slightly shamed to note that there are very few that I have read and I have added a few to my curiosity list. What I liked about this book was her honesty about how she and her family coped with this new and funny schedule to their lives. Would most of us be able to pull this off – ignoring the family in order to read? (And not because we love our families more, but would our families allow us that indulgence?). Nina Sankovitch completes her year of reading with her family still firmly behind her. She continues her endeavour on her website Readallday.org.


With my Body by Nikki Gemmell

With my body is the story of a middle-aged woman, a wife and mother of three who seems to be teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown, a middle-age crisis if you can call it that. The school run, the gossipy friends, the simple and somewhat boring marriage and the humdrum of domesticity are contributing to her feeling of being lost, of wanting more. She loves her husband, but like most marriages, theirs has also settled into a routine, one which she cannot bear any longer. Her sanity is at stake and in desperation, she allows herself to relieve a summer when she was fourteen, when love struck and she turned into a woman. Readers go along this journey of exploratory sex, unexpected discoveries about a woman’s body and a peek into sexual fantasies that are well, fantasies for most of us. Comparisons to Fifty Shades of Grey are inevitable. The two books have many similarities – the young, virginal woman and the older man, the illicit sexual acts, the paedophilia (which both books chose not to take a stand on), the graphic descriptions of sex. If you are easily shocked, this book is not for you.

While all that was very entertaining, I found myself nodding to sentences that reflected the woman’s state of mind, early on in the novel. Annoyingly referred to as ‘You’ throughout the book (it threw me off for a long time, getting used to that second person narrator was a pain), the main character echoed a lot of my own feelings, of being bored with domesticity, of the mind-numbing exhaustion that comes with having a family “The exhaustion is like an alien nestled in your body sucking away all your energy…the exhaustion of never being in control anymore”. And “The memories scream…of the woman you once were. She is barely recognisable now…Find a way to live audaciously. Again…”

Oh yeah.

And a reminder –

“ You need heart-lifters around you now, more than ever”.

I need heart-lifters desperately. Until I find some, books will have to do. 

All books were received courtesy Harper Perennial.


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