My Review of the Lemon Grove… for what it’s worth

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

My score: 8/10, just for the ending alone.

I was lucky enough not to have noticed the hype surrounding this book, as it has been deemed as the “summer read of 2014” by some. So I went in with a pretty clean slate, at least before the book club..


In short, I loved it. Read it. Now.

Embarrassingly I had only read around 40 pages before going to the first ever Underground Book Club (by Books on the Underground) to discuss The Lemon Grove and I felt very out of the loop. Despite knowing pretty much every aspect of the plot by the end of the evening, I still thought I’d give it a fair shot.

The basic story (and this is on the back of the book) is about a married woman who takes an unnatural fancy to the new boyfriend of her step daughter.

The book club members were shocked about all the sordid things that happen in this book. Perhaps because I was ready for this, I wasn’t too put out by it all (it’s only really in a couple of places that you wouldn’t want someone reading over your shoulder on the tube) but the thing that most distressed me was the lack of regret, guilt or care that the main character has in doing the things she does. At one point my heart lifted as she sobbed about her misgivings, but then a few hours later, off she went again! I found this quite unconvincing and I know I’m not alone on this. I felt that her character could have been more fleshed out at the start.

I’ll be honest I didn’t enjoy the book while I was reading it. It felt like the author was patronisingly leading us by the hand – like someone saying “and then I did that, and then we went there, and I felt like this”, and it felt quite immature. I got frustrated with this way of writing, not to mention the excessive detail about everyone’s appearance all the time.

Saying that, I was hooked and I hadn’t even noticed. I had a hundred pages to go when I opened it for the last time and that was that – I had to know what was going to happen. This was so strange as I didn’t even care for any of the characters!

When I reached the end, or what I should describe more accurately as “the point at which the author stopped telling us what was happening”, I felt like I had been slammed in the chest. I realised that the whole reason she was taking us so patronisingly by the hand was so that when we had been led to the end of the cliff, she would let go. And we would decide whether or not we should jump.


Book Review: Why I Loved The Shock Of The Fall

A Review of The Shock of the Fall, by Nathan Filer

I realise now that most readers discovered this book last year, which is when it was awarded the Costa award (whatever that means..). This book really is fantastic, a MUST READ. In this review, I will only give away as much as the blurb on the back of the book – which tells you right away that the narrator’s brother is dead.

I don’t want to go into what it’s about in detail, or what happens through the book, because that’s for you to find out. I simply want to talk about what grabbed me about it and why I was so taken with it. 

The novel reminded me a little of We’re All Completely Beside Ourselves, where I was constantly aware that there was something not being mentioned, like an elephant in the room. Throughout The Shock of the Fall there is a feeling of uneasiness, as if the narrator is unfurling as much of the story as you need  to know at that stage – and nothing more. The elephant in the room is the death of the narrator’s brother, which is so frequently touched upon but not discussed in detail – and as the reader, all you want to do is find out more. The narrator is clearly carrying a great deal of guilt, and until the last few pages this is left unexplained.
I am a big fan of the unreliable narrator. A narrator that you go along with up to the point you realise a few things he said don’t add up – and then you spend the rest of the book wondering what is true. I love the narrator of this book, because though he is not a likable character, he takes you through the story by basically grabbing your hand and pulling you in. At first, I was surprised at the directness of some of the language but as I continued it became my favourite part of the book. It really feels like the narrator is reaching out of the book, grabbing your attention and reeling you in. Like the fourth wall has been breached. I found this technique fascinating and I’d love to find more books that do this. At no point was I disappointed in this book – the end lived up to the build up, and it only got better and better.
I can’t quite believe it’s a first novel, what an amazing achievement. It’s funny, scary, intriguing and sad. This is the one book this year that has really grabbed my attention, and I had to read it from start to finish in one day. Watch out friends and family – this will be under the Christmas tree for you all this year! 
If you have read it, please let me know what you thought 🙂

My #h2Only Challenge: Day 10

In case you haven’t heard, I’m doing the H20nly challenge in aid of the Royal National Lifeboats Institution. (PLUG alert! Just Giving page). This means only drinking water for two whole weeks (no, mum, I’m allowed to eat as normal). To be honest, I mainly chose it for the personal challenge – and also because I was impressed by the creativity of their marketing team (geek) but as I could also raise money for a great hardworking charity that’s fantastic!

I threw myself into it without really thinking – I mean, I already don’t drink alcohol so it can’t be that hard, right? Wrong. I honestly had no idea how much I had come to depend on and look forward to… tea.

This was my last cup on Monday 26th May!

The first couple of days were tough. I kept forgetting that I was only allowed to drink water but thankfully the RNLI had already thought of that, and had sent me a fundraising pack which included coasters with sayings like “water. straight up. ” and “make mine a water.”

In the first few days I did go a bit crazy. I even went through the motion of making a cup of tea in the morning – putting the kettle on, getting the milk out of the fridge, then… pouring myself a pint of water. Might sound weird but it worked! I’ve now gone nearly ten whole days without tea, coffee or soft drinks and I’m pretty sure I haven’t done that before.

I knew it would be good for me but I didn’t expect the affects to be so apparent or immediate. From day 1 I slept better, though I did feel tired during the day for the first few days. About a week in I realised I had way more energy – I’ve actually been sticking to my fitness plan (first time ever!) of running 4 miles every day, either to work or at lunch. Also my skin is clearer and smoother – much better than it feels even after the most luxurious spa treatment. Altogether I feel so, so much better for it!

So now I have to rethink my whole relationship with what I drink. Where before I didn’t really see it as a problem – food is usually the focus health wise anyway – I now know that what you drink has a profound effect on how you feel overall. I can only imagine (please comment if you are one of these people) what it must feel like if you had to give up booze, too.

I realise that this post is pretty self-centred when it should be about the RNLI and their fantastic work (and it really is fantastic. They actually save lives) so I apologise for that – but from the beginning I really just wanted to see if I could do it. It’s a bit like running a marathon – the challenge and achievement is the big thing that takes up most of your energy, and raising money for a charity is a great result on top of all that.

I guess the main point of this post was to say WOOOO ONLY A FEW DAYS TO GO but actually now I think of it, I’m very happy as a water-only person, and I may just try to stretch this challenge out as long as I can…

How to Perfect the Run Commute for #run2workday

Run to Work Day

It’s great to see so many people on board with today’s Run2WorkDay on twitter. I’ve been running to work for a while now, and love it, so thought I would share my experiences and tips about how to get it right – and not end up looking like a scruff for the rest of the day!

the run commute essentials

I have a high-vis running backpack (tenner from Sports Direct) which holds the following on my run commute to work:

  • Clothes for work
  • A wash bag, with the following: wet wipes, face wipes, mini body wash, mini body moisturizer, face moisturizer, underarm deodorant, & dry shampoo (never used it!)
  • Make up bag
  • Small towel

I haven’t included shoes because I keep a couple of pairs of work shoes under my desk, and wear my running trainers home.

the business of washing…

Like many workplaces, there are no showers available in the office where I work. I’ve heard that some run commuters do buy a cheap gym membership and use one of those nearby their work, but I find it much easier just to take my time with the sink technique. You’ll find your own sink technique, but my main tip is to pile your dirty running clothes on the floor around the sink, to catch all the water while you’re splashing away, and save your towel for drying yourself and also the floor afterwards. It’s easier if you can find a larger, or a disabled, loo in your workplace that you can use for 20 mins without anyone wanting it.

mistakes I’ve made

  • Forgetting make up (luckily I wasn’t far from a Boots for emergency mascara)
  • Forgetting underwear (not fun wearing running bra all day. After a 4 mile run.)
  • Forgetting headphones (actually quite liberating)
  • Forgetting inhaler (not so liberating)

things you can do to make your run commute easier

  1. Find a neglected cupboard in your place of work which you can use as your dumping ground. Ideally it would have a lock and you could just pop the keys in your running bag. On the days when you’re not running, bring in your clothes for the days you are running into work. Also keep washing stuff and make up too, to make your run even nicer.
  2. Leave yourself plenty of time. I allow myself 20 minutes after a run to get presentable, so this is factored into my run. I know how long I could take on my run, too, so I assume I’m going to be slow and work around that.

honestly it’s so worth it

I’m very lucky in that I can enjoy running along the canal and through the beautiful Regent’s Park on my way to work. It’s great to mix up the route and see new things – I often spot the lama or the giraffes over the London Zoo fences too! Very surreal.

Lama in Regents ParkI understand that not everyone will have this kind of opportunity, but that’s part of the challenge – how can you mix up your route so that you can go through green areas, urban areas and places that interest you? One option is to run part of the way then hop on a bus or train. Either way you will explore places and take in things you wouldn’t normally – so it’s not only healthy for your body, but great for your brain too!

it’s all about determination

Even when I really don’t feel like it – when it’s drizzling rain outside and a chilly breeze – I convince myself to stick to running to work… and I never regret it. Yes, you have to be quite organised, but in a way even that part is satisfying. People will be in awe of your commitment to health and fitness, and you’d be surprised at how interested and supportive people are. For a few minutes after a run I do look at myself in the mirror and think how will that ever be presentable for a day at work? .. but you’d be surprised – you cool down pretty quickly and won’t even feel ‘icky’ at all. You’ve just got to get a strong routine going with your washing and moisturizing. Tip – use a scented moisturizer. It’ll reassure you that you’re not giving off a bad smell, not that you would be anyway! Of course there’s always the option to run home instead – I just never feel like it at that time.

a distinct lack of lethargy

People often assume that running to work means you’ll be tired for the rest of the day – but it’s quite the opposite. I think I’d feel much more lethargic after a train, tube or bus journey. Running to work, like any other early birds workout, gives you energy that lasts the day!

My top tip – don’t just try it once and give up! If you do that, you’ll never try again. 🙂

Would love to hear from other run commuters, if you feel like commenting below!

My Review of McEwan’s On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

…a reluctant book review

I have to be honest here, I don’t particularly enjoy writing reviews. In fact, I read about ten times as many books as I write about here. This may have something to do with the fact that personally, I do not enjoy reading book reviews. I even go so far as to stubbornly read a book without once looking at the blurb on the back. On top of this, if the blurb on the back is quotes like “this is SIMPLY engrossing” then forget it, the book doesn’t even get opened.Image

Grumpiness aside, I have chosen to emerge from my antisocial cave to give my tuppence worth about Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. This is because on this occasion I am moved to do so, simply because of the fact that I am still thinking about the characters, days after finishing the last page.

Chesil Beach book review

I know I’m very slow of the mark in terms of the height of this book’s fame and interest, and I’m not even sure how well it was initially received (given my aversion to book reviews myself) but I have to say – this novel is one that really stays with you. Exploring dark emotion such as fear, horror and hate, as well as family ties and obligation, On Chesil Beach is complex network of contradictions and human avoidance. (Not even sure if that sentence makes sense so I apologise)

In short, the novel in theory takes place in one fateful evening, but spends a lot of time looking back at past events, all the time building to a climax on Chesil Beach.

I don’t know what it says about me, but I really felt for Florence and found myself relating to the character. The points she raised and also heard were poignant and thought-provoking. I like that this book was challenging in terms of not giving the reader everything on a plate, and making me want to work out the stories behind the characters.

After quite a slow first half, the end really galloped along, and I couldn’t put it down for the last 50 pages or so. I simply had to find out what happened, but mainly how they were each feeling at every stage. I’d recommend this novel (and also Solar, though they are very very different).

looking forward to the next book

I really should be less grumpy about book reviews actually. Only recently I read a blog entry recommending FanGirl by Rainbow Rowell and the conclusion was so solid that I ran to buy it almost immediately. That said, I’m still yet to start it..

Little plug alert: When I can, I buy my books from a lovely bookshop in Hampshire.

Laurence Oxley Alresford Bookshop