31 Dec 2022

One Minute Book Reviews: What I've Been Reading In 2022

2022 mini book reviews

Back again with some mini book reviews, should you be on the hunt for your next read or – like me – quite like reading other people’s book reviews (welcome fellow book nerd). As baby became more active, time for reading decreased as 2022 went on but I hope to prioritise curling up with a book more next year. In the meantime, this is what I’ve squeezed in over the last few months. 

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – I’m not going to rate this one because it was one of those rare occasions where I didn’t finish the book. I’ve wanted to read this for a long time and have heard a lot of good things. Set in New York, in a food restaurant, coming of age; I really thought I would love it. And yet, I painfully struggled through 100 pages or so before accepting it wasn’t happening. The writing was vivid, but I just wasn’t pulled in. Perhaps I will return to it in the future, but it wasn’t for me this time. 

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary – Three women seemingly stood up by the same man on valentine’s day is the premise of Beth O’Leary’s latest novel. This one was more of a mystery in places, and I found the twist quite satisfying. I am a bit of a sucker for a Beth O’Leary book. I just think she does the ‘rom com’ genre really well; avoiding the cheese, loveable characters and tackling issues like harassment and grief with realism and sensitivity. 5/5

Welcome To Your Life by Bethany Rutter – an easy read about a woman in her late twenties who runs out on her wedding day and moves to London to start a new life. Really liked the fact that the main character was plus sized and the representation of modern-day dating, but I felt like we were building towards a I-don’t-need-a-man-to-know-my-worth-vibe ending and so – spoiler – was a bit disappointed when we didn’t get it. 3/5

Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus – Set in the 1960s and following the life of Elizabeth Zott, an unconventional female scientist. Life grants her an unfair hand and through one reason or another, she finds herself a single mother and the reluctant star of America’s leading cooking show, challenging women to change the status quo. This book is absolutely worth the hype in my opinion. The writing is fresh and witty, the characters are fabulous (Six Thirty the dog!) and the story heart-breaking, heart-warming and something of a feminist manifesto. The kind of book that stays with you for a long time afterwards. 5/5

The Year Of Miracles: Recipes About Love + Grief + Growing Things by Ella Risbridger – I adored Ella’s first cookbook/memoir Midnight Chicken (full review here) so I had this follow-up book on pre-order for months and then found it, several days pre-publication date, in my local bookshop which I was very happy about. It was beautiful. Raw, hopeful, joyous, and full of delicious recipes. 5/5

Breadsong: How Baking Changed Our Lives by Kitty & Al Tait – Another cookbook/memoir which I picked up on a bit of a whim and I’m so glad I did. It was so unbelievably wholesome. It tells the story of Kitty who went from a cheerful 14-year-old to being overwhelmed by depression and anxiety. Baking bread was the only thing that made sense to her and within a few months, her and her dad had – almost accidentally – set up The Orange Bakery which now has queues snaking down the street. A delightful read, also full of amazing baking recipes. 5/5

The Blood Traitor by Lynette Noni – the third book in The Prison Healer series. I loved the first one, had slightly mixed feelings about the second and very much enjoyed the third. Bits of the ending felt slightly rushed but otherwise loved the characters, loved the quest, and loved the general round-up to the series. 4/5

The Yellow Kitchen by Margaux Vialleron – A yellow kitchen stands as a metaphor for a friendship between three women who chase love and careers and food in the city of London. And then a trip to Lisbon changes everything. I liked the idea of this book and the themes of food and friendship, liked the hymn to 2019 and the final year before Everything Changed but the friendships at the heart of the story just didn’t quite ring true for me. 3/5

When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill – This book! Potentially my favourite of the year? It’s quite a hard one to describe because it sounds a bit bonkers. In 1950s America, thousands of women transform into dragons, take flight and it is never mentioned again. With wild imagination and sharp writing, we follow Alex growing up in the world left behind. A world that tries to keep women and girls small and isn’t prepared for what happens when they rise up. 5/5

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith – The latest Robin & Strike was as richly detailed, will-they-won’t-they and addictive as ever. As usual, I loved. 5/5

The Wildwater Women by Ellie Wood – a gentle story of a group of women who take up wild water swimming in the Lake District. A sweet novel but I found it a tad too predictable and the dialogue quite wooden. 2/5

The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn – the follow up to the glorious The Salt Path. The Wild Silence is both a prologue and epilogue and it was lovely to find out what happened to Raynor and Moth next. I did find it a tad slow in places and missed the adventure element of The Salt Path, but I will still be going in for her third book soon. 3.5/5

So Long As You Write by Dear Damsels – a beautiful collection of non-fiction, short stories and poetry on the theme of women writing. A manifesto, a pep talk, a reassuring friend in your pocket; I shall be going back to it again and again. 5/5

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman – I’m not normally one for ‘self-help’ style books but my mum raved about this so much that I had to give it a go. Based on the idea that the average human life span is just four thousand weeks, this book rejects the idea that we can do everything in our short time on earth and encourages us to actively embrace our limitations so we can focus on what really matters. It was a liberating read. 4/5

After The Storm by Emma Jane Unsworth – a highly personal and moving account of one women’s experience of post-natal depression and the utter weirdness of new motherhood. You don’t need to have necessarily experienced everything the author has experienced to identify with her story or find reassurance in her recovery. I found it very moving and a little like a friend holding my hand through tough times. 5/5

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson – a modern day witchy-romp following childhood friends and a top-secret government department of witches. It tackles modern-day issues whilst still being funny and nostalgic. Loved the fact it is set in Hebden Bridge and the theme of childhood friendships trying to survive the differences of adulthood. 3.5/5

The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan – a nice, cosy read for the festive season. Edinburgh at Christmas, a bookshop, flawed & loveable characters becoming better versions of themselves – exactly what you want and expect from a comforting and Christmassy book to read by the twinkly Christmas tree. 3.5/5

Happy reading folks, and happy new year x

If We Were Having A Coffee, I Would Tell You... #2

Coffee catch-up

I mean, I don’t actually drink coffee but no need to get into semantics (although I’ll have a hot chocolate or chai latte if you’re ordering). Lemme just take my coat off and dither about which cake I’m going to indulge in, and I’ll be right with you. 

That Covid finally got us… Because I feel the need to apologise for the coughing. Yes, we avoided it for nearly three years, but it finally came for us. Luckily, we are jabbed up to our eyeballs which is a good job because this breathlessness is no joke. It’s like being nine months pregnant again but worse because I lay down and have coughing fits which is just swell when you’ve got a sleeping baby two inches from you. Also, I momentarily lost my sense of taste and smell and was, of course, very stoic about it and didn’t mention it once….  

About our Autumn… A few highlights: 

- My mum and I went to a local book event with Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path which was so interesting. 

- Had a catch up with one of my favourite people, Jordan, when it was just about still warm enough to sit outside, and we ate pizza and had plenty of conversations that started with ‘TMI but…’. It was such a tonic. 

- Bake Off bake along didn’t really happen because, as much as I love Bake Off, the bakes were a bit ridiculous this series BUT I did have a go at making macarons for the first time and was pretty chuffed at how well they came out. 

- Our friends Dan & Guus came to visit for a weekend and it was so lovely to catch up and explore the local area. 

- We took a trip up north to see my Dad for the weekend and our visit happened to coincide with the water being very low at Ladybower reservoir which meant the remains of the lost village of Derwent valley was exposed. It was fascinating! 

- We had our first visit to a pumpkin patch! For me or my child? Hard to say. Surprisingly fun. Involved churros. 

- A weekend with my girls where they generously looked after the little one whilst I had a NINETY MINUTE massage. Bloody love ‘em. 

- A lovely lunch at Lina’s in Kings Cross with my sister. Have really loved exploring more of Coal Drop’s Yard this year. 

- Two festive evenings out with the NCT girls, so very lucky to have met such a brilliant bunch. 

Alfie turned one… a whole year of our boy. A whole year of his crinkly-nosed smile, big brown eyes and fluffy hair. His first year involved soaring highs and crushing lows but our boy is an absolute friggin’ delight and I am so excited for his second year. Also, Gary and I have survived a year of brutal sleep deprivation so I presume we will be presented with a badge and lollipop sometime soon. 

About Christmas… On the whole, it was far better then being in lockdown or being in hospital and there were moments of real joy. But, what with it being Alfie’s first birthday and his first proper Christmas, there was a pressure for it all to be very magical (partly external and partly from myself because I am ordinarily a very festive person) and what with catching Covid and facing the reality of what it means to have a child born at Christmas (it’s intense and busy), it felt a tad overwhelming and manic as well as magical and joyful. I had to have a few words with myself about how a one-year-old hasn’t the foggiest what’s going on so there was no need to feel The Pressure but, hey, we’re only human right? Still, there was Christmas trees and my mum’s cooking and lots of love going round and what more do we need at Christmas time? The lovely limbo time between Christmas and New Year has been a tad different from previous years (turns out one can’t lock the door and lie on the sofa for six days with a one-year-old) but we’ve still managed to forgot what day it is and eaten plenty of leftovers to the soundtrack of Only Fools & Horses in the background. I know it’s cliché but I’m really leaning into the new year reset this year, particularly as I’ll be going back to work in January. It feels like time for a refresh and I’m looking forward to it. 

SO, tell me about your Christmas? 

13 Dec 2022

On The End Of Maternity Leave

On The End Of Maternity Leave

As I write this, my baby boy (less baby these days if we’re being honest) is doing his first official day at nursery. For the majority of this year, I have thought of this moment as the one where Things Change. This is technically true but as is the way with these things, the day itself feels a tad anticlimactic. You hand him over, the lovely staff say ‘see you later’ and then you’re stood on the snowy street feeling slightly weightless without a pram to push. So now I’m sat in Caffé Nero, drinking a chai latte (latest addiction) and typing on my laptop like it’s pre-baby times and not a big deal. It’s weird. It’s kinda… nice? 

Sitting in a café writing is one of my favourite things to do and I haven’t had the opportunity for twelve months. I’m gonna hold my hands up and say I was a tad naive about how intense this year was going to be. I really thought – bearing in mind our boy is nearly one – we would have been able to leave him for at least a full day but probably overnight by now. *Insert sarcastic laughter here*. His disinterest in food, refusal to take a bottle and heavy reliance on milk, whilst all perfectly normal, have meant that I have barely been able to leave him for a matter of hours, let alone overnight. Unfortunately, where I go, my boobs come with me. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve fantasised about being able to leave them behind (there’s a mental image for you). I am not going to moan. We are incredibly lucky. It’s just been very intense with very little let up and I’m ready for change now. 

From January, I will be back at work and if I’m completely honest, I am looking forward to it. Huge amounts of new respect for stay-at-home parents because right now, the idea of sitting at my desk and doing a full-day’s work feels like it will be a day off in comparison. I am obviously slightly glamourising work after a year ‘off’ and I know it’s going to be A Juggle, but I do think this new stage will bring more balance to our lives. The scales are currently all tipped firmly in one direction, and I feel that the combination of having some childcare, the ability to finally being able to leave baby with other people for longer periods and the return of using my brain for things other than nursery rhymes and nappy changes will make life feel more evenly weighted. We can’t afford full-time childcare (discovering the cost of childcare was a thoroughly unwelcome education) so I will be going back to work part-time but, despite the pay-cut, I am looking forward to a mix of work and time with my little man. 

A few months into my maternity leave, I saw one of those little text Instagram posts which said ‘maternity leave is the most busy-bored, happy-sad you’ll ever be whilst also the most tired you’ve ever been. It’s the farthest thing from a vacation and the closest thing to a mental breakdown. IDK how else to describe it. It’s a weird time.’ Everyone will experience maternity leave differently of course but this is honestly the best description I have seen of my experience of being on mat leave. Hard relate, as the kids say. Nothing could have prepared me for the rollercoaster of emotions of 2022 nor of the profound effect of prolonged sleep deprivation on my physical and mental health. It has been so hard at times. And yet, so joyous. Because, equally, nothing could have prepared me for the delight of raising a mini human, of watching him grow and learn. 

Having a baby has felt a little like having a very cute bomb go off in the centre of our lives with the first year spent trying to put all the pieces back together, only the pieces are now different shapes and sizes. It’s bewildering and exciting, exhausting and full of delirious laughter. A lot of people tell you that there comes a point where you feel like you are turning a corner and I finally feel it. I think a moment comes where you no longer feel like ‘new parents’ and simply just parents. Where you feel more relaxed, more accepting, and more like this is your life rather than some weird out-of-body experience. 

I’ve spent most of this year living one-day-at-a-time and now I’m excited and planning for the future, and I feel very relieved to be here. Unsolicited advice on parenting is so irritating but if I could say one thing to any new parent, it would be to respect your own timeline. You and your baby are unique and you can only move at your own pace. You may be technically out of the newborn stage but that doesn’t mean you should suddenly feel less shellshocked or have all your shit together. It’s okay not to love the experience straight away even if everyone else appears to (no matter how much you love your child, I think asking people to enjoy no sleep and vaginal tears is asking too much quite frankly). Keep putting one foot in front of the other and try not to punch people when they tell you it will get better. It will of course, but it takes however long it takes, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that certain things will go away – I am unfortunately still outrageously sleep deprived nearly a year in – but you find that the fog slowly begins to lift and one day you realise you can see clearly again.

It's been one hell of a year. The first year of the best boy I know, but I have no shame in admitting that I am so ready for the next chapter.