memoir

All posts tagged memoir

Mini Pin-It Reviews #26 – Four Random Books

Published October 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four YA novels for you – please see my pin-it thoughts below!

1.) It’ll Ease The Pain: Collected Poems And Short Stories – Frank J. Edwards

What’s it all about?:

In an age of hyperbole and phoniness, Frank J. Edwards creates images and narratives that ring true, yet reveal life to be more interesting than we realized. Even if we have seen hundreds of TV shows about emergency departments, Edwards’ story “It’ll Ease the Pain” paints a portrait of one doctor’s 24-hour stint that is fresh and unforgettable.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

2.) The Princess Saves Herself In This One (Women Are Some Kind Of Magic #1) – Amanda Lovelace

What’s it all about?:

“Ah, life- the thing that happens to us while we’re off somewhere else blowing on dandelions & wishing ourselves into the pages of our favorite fairy tales.”

A poetry collection divided into four different parts: the princess, the damsel, the queen, & you. the princess, the damsel, & the queen piece together the life of the author in three stages, while you serves as a note to the reader & all of humankind. Explores life & all of its love, loss, grief, healing, empowerment, & inspirations.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

3.) Admissions: A Life In Brain Surgery – Henry Marsh

What’s it all about?:

Henry Marsh has spent a lifetime operating on the surgical front line. There have been exhilarating highs and devastating lows, but his love for the practice of neurosurgery has never wavered.

Following the publication of his celebrated New York Times bestseller Do No Harm, Marsh retired from his full-time job in England to work pro bono in Ukraine and Nepal. In Admissions, he describes the difficulties of working in these troubled, impoverished countries and the further insights it has given him into the practice of medicine.

Marsh also faces up to the burden of responsibility that can come with trying to reduce human suffering. Unearthing memories of his early days as a medical student and the experiences that shaped him as a young surgeon, he explores the difficulties of a profession that deals in probabilities rather than certainties and where the overwhelming urge to prolong life can come at a tragic cost for patients and those who love them.

Reflecting on what forty years of handling the human brain has taught him, Marsh finds a different purpose in life as he approaches the end of his professional career and a fresh understanding of what matters to us all in the end.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

4.) How To Be Human: The Manual by Ruby Wax

What’s it all about?:

It took us 4 billion years to evolve to where we are now. No question, anyone reading this has won the evolutionary Hunger Games by the fact you’re on all twos and not some fossil. This should make us all the happiest species alive – most of us aren’t, what’s gone wrong? We’ve started treating ourselves more like machines and less like humans. We’re so used to upgrading things like our iPhones: as soon as the new one comes out, we don’t think twice, we dump it. (Many people I know are now on iWife4 or iHusband8, the motto being, if it’s new, it’s better.)

We can’t stop the future from arriving, no matter what drugs we’re on. But even if nearly every part of us becomes robotic, we’ll still, fingers crossed, have our minds, which, hopefully, we’ll be able use for things like compassion, rather than chasing what’s ‘better’, and if we can do that we’re on the yellow brick road to happiness.

I wrote this book with a little help from a monk, who explains how the mind works, and also gives some mindfulness exercises, and a neuroscientist who explains what makes us ‘us’ in the brain. We answer every question you’ve ever had about: evolution, thoughts, emotions, the body, addictions, relationships, kids, the future and compassion. How to be Human is extremely funny, true and the only manual you’ll need to help you upgrade your mind as much as you’ve upgraded your iPhone.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

COMING UP NEXT TIME ON MINI PIN-IT REVIEWS: Four Graphic Novels.

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I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death – Maggie O’Farrell

Published October 4, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

I AM, I AM, I AM is a memoir with a difference – the unputdownable story of an extraordinary woman’s life in near-death experiences. Intelligent, insightful, inspirational, it is a book to be read at a sitting, a story you finish newly conscious of life’s fragility, determined to make every heartbeat count.

A childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. Shocking, electric, unforgettable, this is the extraordinary memoir from Costa Novel-Award winner and Sunday Times bestselling author Maggie O’Farrell.
It is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger, and what would you stand to lose?

What did I think?:

Where do I even BEGIN with this book? I can’t express eloquently enough the depth of my feelings for this unforgettable memoir or even explain adequately how much it affected me but I’m going to give it a good shot. I listened to the Audible version of I Am, I Am, I Am (which I highly recommend by the way) but it’s one of those books that because it has become a favourite of mine, I simply had to get a hard copy also and was lucky enough to receive one as a gift. This book has had a lot of hype around the blogging/reviewing community and rightly so. After reading a fair few of Maggie O’Farrell’s novels, I already knew she was a gifted, beautiful writer but even after all the critical acclaim, I still wasn’t prepared for the wave of emotions this book invoked. There were points when I was almost a sobbing mess and kind of wished I wasn’t listening to it in public (more on that later) and other parts which made me reflect on the nature of mortality and the fascinating journey my life has been up until now whilst fully appreciating the good things and the great people that I am lucky to have around me and hold them close. I can’t thank the author enough for reminding me how precious they really are.

Maggie O’Farrell, author of I Am, I Am, I Am.

If you’re slightly cynical of the title and wonder how O’Farrell can possibly have had seventeen near death experiences, let me explain. The events that the author discusses are brushes with mortality that both she and her children have suffered in their lives. Some are mere whispers of things that might have been i.e. near escapes, potentially life-altering events and then there are the severe, life-threatening episodes that continue to have a dramatic effect on the author’s emotional and physical health. This ranges from a severe childhood illness that Maggie sadly still suffers repercussions from, encounters with individuals that threaten her life, problems with pregnancy and labour and the current trauma that Maggie finds herself embroiled in that profoundly affects the present and the future of one of her children. This is an honest, raw and deeply moving look at life and death in all its guises that may make you look at your own life in a whole different way but will most assuredly make you happy just to be alive.

I think I’ve become a more emotional person as I’ve got older and gone through different experiences in my life and I do find myself slightly more sensitive to difficult topics, including illness and death. However, I was profoundly moved by Maggie O’Farrell’s story and couldn’t quite comprehend a) the obstacles she has overcome in her life b) how she continues to struggle and cope on a daily basis with her daughter’s heart-breaking medical problems and c) how she manages to maintain such a strong, positive and sunny outlook. I felt humbled, inspired and honoured to be allowed into her world and, as I’ve mentioned, it did make me consider parts of my own life, particularly those parts where I felt a strong personal connection with the author.

I wrote a post a while back about how I’ve been coping with recurrent miscarriages and funnily enough, it seems to be a topic which appears in quite a few books I’ve read recently! I was worried at first about how I was going to deal with reading about it but I’m actually finding it quite therapeutic – now even more so with I Am, I Am, I Am. Miscarriage unfortunately seems to be still quite a taboo subject and when I was going through it these past eighteen months, I didn’t really feel able to talk to anyone who would really understand what I was going through. With this memoir, it’s so strange to say, but finally I feel understood and comforted. Maggie talks about her own loss so articulately and thoughtfully that it was such a relief to realise that all the emotions I was experiencing were perfectly natural and more importantly, that I wasn’t alone. Other people were going through this, other people felt the same way as me and I shouldn’t blame myself on any level. As I listened to this particular passage, I was walking to the train station on the way to work and I have to admit, it wasn’t the easiest thing to listen to whilst I was in public. But holy cow, was it rewarding? The answer is yes.

It’s often quite tricky to dissect a memoir. After all, this is someone’s life, personal experiences, tragedies and triumphs you’re talking about and we all may have differing opinions on it depending what we’ve been through in our own individual lives. However, for me this book was perfection. It reminded me about love, about how special life is and most importantly, how to hope and believe in a better future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries Of A Junior Doctor – Adam Kay

Published September 5, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Adam Kay was a junior doctor from 2004 until 2010, before a devastating experience on a ward caused him to reconsider his future. He kept a diary throughout his training, and This Is Going to Hurt intersperses tales from the front line of the NHS with reflections on the current crisis. The result is a first-hand account of life as a junior doctor in all its joy, pain, sacrifice and maddening bureaucracy, and a love letter to those who might at any moment be holding our lives in their hands.

What did I think?:

I have been hearing about this book literally EVERYWHERE and it has been taunting me for months now, pleading to be read. At the moment and probably for the forseeable future, I work for the NHS as a scientist and come into contact with a lot of junior doctors, usually by phone when I’m giving out patient results. My mum also used to work for an NHS hospital as a nurse on an emergency surgery ward so she too is more than familiar of the importance of forging good relationships with doctors. You could say, as a family, we’re very aware of the crucial need for our health service and I was excited to read a book that would uncover an inner secret sanctum I may not have had complete and exclusive access to before. I actually listened to this book on Audible after recently getting into audiobooks as a way of reading more when I’m out and about and I couldn’t have picked a better first choice of book. This Is Going To Hurt is a no holds barred account of what it’s really like to work for the institution that is the NHS and deals frankly and hilariously with a variety of patients that Adam Kay has worked closely with as a doctor.

Adam Kay, author of This Is Going To Hurt, pictured here enjoying his own book!

This brilliantly funny work of non-fiction is told in the form of diary entries from when Adam was a junior doctor right the way through his career which ended when he was a senior registrar. Some diary entries are shorter than others but in each one, Adam’s dry wit and passion for what he was doing shines through and we hear fascinating tales of his work, mostly in gynaecology that have the power to make you laugh, shock and amaze you and by the end of his journey in medicine, irrevocably break your heart. Adam bares his soul in this memoir and doesn’t hold back from the grittier, nastier side of what it’s like to work as a doctor with the NHS in the current situation that it finds itself now – understaffed, underfunded and supremely underappreciated.

Honestly, what on earth did we do before the NHS?

Throughout this book, when I wasn’t laughing, I was filled with admiration and a new-found respect for the work that doctors do, the severe pressures they are under, the extended shifts that they work, the fatigue and stress that they must suffer and the walls that they have to put up to protect themselves in highly emotive and painful situations. Personally, I would have loved to have been a doctor but even if I had got the grades, reading This Is Going To Hurt only brought back to me what I had suspected about myself all along. I couldn’t do it. I’m a bit of a sensitive soul and the emotional aspect of the job, which is of course unavoidable, would be far too devastating for me to handle. As a result, I give an internal “high five” to EVERY doctor/nurse out there who deals with often heart-rending decisions on a daily basis.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the cases that Kay talks about for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t read this yet but let me assure you, some of the incidents that he recalls are forever etched in my mind, the mental imagery of some will probably never be erased! Obviously, patients have complete anonymity but I often wonder if the real-life patient behind the author’s case reads this book and cringes with embarrassment, recognising the resemblance to their own experience! He doesn’t shy away from detailed, descriptive passages and some recollections might be a bit too graphic for the queasier audience but I found his brutal honestly and candour both refreshing and fascinating. I particularly loved the sections where he bemoans the state and instability of the health service, the expectations placed on doctors and the alarmingly little time given to ensure doctors’ mental heath is being taken care of considering what they have to see and experience during a regular shift.

I can’t stress enough how wonderful and amazing this book really is if you’re in the mood for something that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure. Curious about the experience of junior doctors in the NHS? Adam Kay strips it all back with unflinching honesty and everyone is invited in to observe.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Diary Of A Young Girl – Anne Frank

Published September 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Anne Frank’s extraordinary diary, written in the Amsterdam attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years, has become a world classic and a timeless testament to the human spirit. Now, in a new edition enriched by many passages originally withheld by her father, we meet an Anne more real, more human, and more vital than ever. Here she is first and foremost a teenage girl—stubbornly honest, touchingly vulnerable, in love with life. She imparts her deeply secret world of soul-searching and hungering for affection, rebellious clashes with her mother, romance and newly discovered sexuality, and wry, candid observations of her companions. Facing hunger, fear of discovery and death, and the petty frustrations of such confined quarters, Anne writes with adult wisdom and views beyond her years. Her story is that of every teenager, lived out in conditions few teenagers have ever known.

What did I think?:

The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of those pieces of non fiction that occupies a very special place in my heart. I’ve read it a few times now at different points in my life through my adolescence right through to adulthood and each time I’ve managed to get something unique out of each reading experience. It’s not a five star read for me and that’s only because, I have to be honest, I do find parts of Anne’s diary a bit slower than others but it earns a rightful place on my favourites shelf because of what it’s given me over the years. Over this past year, I’ve challenged myself to a little experiment where I have a current read, a work of non fiction and a favourite re-read on the go at the one time. I set this challenge for myself as I realised I have a host of non fiction books on my shelves that just aren’t getting read and that I need to get round to, whilst also realising that with all the exciting new releases coming in, I don’t get a chance to re-read the books on my favourite shelves. The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of my all-time favourites and after this latest re-read, definitely deserves to keep its spot on the shelf.

Anne Frank, the author of the diary entries put into a collection by her father, Otto Frank.

If you haven’t managed to get round to reading this book yet (and I feel like it should be required reading in ALL schools!), Anne Frank is a young girl from a Jewish family who is forced to go into hiding with her parents, sister and another family when the Nazis descend upon their town and begin to remove all people of the Jewish faith to camps and ghettos, basically sealing their fate to one of misery, poverty, disease and in far too many scenarios, death. Assisted by some friends, the two families are ensconced in a Secret Annex concealed from the world by means of a bookcase which opened onto their tiny living quarters where they were forced to hide for two years. Most of the time they had to exist in complete silence because of the workers in the office below or the proximity of the other houses to their own space. Discovery of the family would result in deportation and execution of all those that hid there and of those that helped them evade the authorities so playing by the rules of the house, being as quiet as possible and desperately awaiting the end of the war became normal life for the families that lived there.

Reconstruction of the bookcase that hid the doorway to The Secret Annex.

Image from: By Bungle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4132164

As I mentioned earlier on in my review, I’ve managed to extract something different from each experience I’ve had reading The Diary Of A Young Girl. Reading it as a teenager, I felt strangely close to Anne and I felt a well of emotions being stirred up regarding the horrific situation she finds herself in, her normal feelings as a young teenager herself (particularly about boys!) and those awkward adolescent moments where the hormones are raging and you feel yourself developing into a woman coupled with the confusion that often accompanies these thoughts and feelings. Having to cope with all of this whilst living in such close quarters with her family, another family and having no means of escape left me feeling so uncomfortable and sorry for Anne that at times, I had to silently applaud her for her tenacity, humour and bravery that is clearly apparent and so endearing throughout her diary entries.

On my latest reading of this book, I got even more than I ever could have expected from it emotionally speaking and that’s because I had the good fortune to visit Amsterdam about eight years ago and more specifically, the house and Secret Annex where Anne Frank was hidden. It was an experience I will never, ever forget, especially when I saw how small their quarters actually were. It was frightening to think that eight people had to live in such a small space and I couldn’t stop saying to my partner how unbelievable it was that they could survive in those cramped, overcrowded conditions for so long and all parties managed to keep their sanity. However, there are two stand-out points that I take away from Diary Of A Young Girl that I find particularly heart-breaking. The first is that Anne’s story does NOT have a happy ending and it’s especially hard to read, knowing this and seeing her joyful optimism for the end of the war, having a normal life and realising her dreams of becoming a writer. This leads me onto the second point – Anne is quite obviously a hugely talented writer. Her diary entries are succinct, empowering, beautiful, raw and so very authentic and it’s devastating to think of what she could have done in her life if she had been given the chance to see the end of the war and become an adult. Even writing about it now makes me feel so emotional and it’s definitely a book I’ll be re-visiting in the future, it’s too important not to.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Gender Games: The Problem With Men And Women, From Someone Who Has Been Both – Juno Dawson

Published August 29, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Why we are all being messed up by gender, and what we can do about it.

‘It’s a boy!’ or ‘It’s a girl!’ are the first words almost all of us hear when we enter the world. Before our names, before we have likes and dislikes – before we, or anyone else, has any idea who we are. And two years ago, as Juno Dawson went to tell her mother she was (and actually, always had been) a woman, she started to realise just how wrong we’ve been getting it.

Gender isn’t just screwing over trans people, it’s messing with everyone. From little girls who think they can’t be doctors to teenagers who come to expect street harassment. From exclusionist feminists to ‘alt-right’ young men. From men who can’t cry to the women who think they shouldn’t. As her body gets in line with her mind, Juno tells not only her own story, but the story of everyone who is shaped by society’s expectations of gender – and what we can do about it.

Featuring insights from well-known gender, feminist and trans activists including Rebecca Root, Laura Bates, Gemma Cairney, Anthony Anaxagorou, Hannah Witton, Alaska Thunderfuck and many more, The Gender Games is a frank, witty and powerful manifesto for a world where what’s in your head is more important than what’s between your legs.

What did I think?:

Disclaimer: As a white, straight woman I realise I have no clue about what a transgender person has gone through in their lives but guess what? Juno Dawson has written this informative, sassy and incredibly thoughtful piece of non-fiction for EVERYONE, no matter what your sexuality or gender. It’s so very accessible and educational but one of my favourite parts about it was the parts of British pop culture that she examined in this frank, raw and hilarious memoir. I was taken back to my own adolescence with tales of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Spice Girls, Strictly Come Dancing, Carrie….I could go on. It was reminiscent for me of more innocent times, before social media became such a “thing” and a troll was just something under a bridge in a fairy story.

Juno Dawson, author of The Gender Games.

The Gender Games is a no holds barred account of Juno’s life, from being raised a male called James and believing she was a homosexual man to realising that all the confusion she held from a very young age stemmed from the fact that she was actually born in the wrong body and should have been a woman. Everything started to slot into place and a lot was explained for Juno but of course, this didn’t make her journey any easier now the puzzle was complete. In fact, her journey was just beginning because now she made the decision to transition into becoming a woman, tell her friends and family and being a public figure and a well known YA author, face the public. Juno had already come across prejudice and bigotry in her life through being a homosexual man, which although more acceptable in modern society is unfortunately still tantamount to a wave of bad attitudes, misunderstandings, taunts and bullying. The Gender Games is not only her story but a story for all of us about identity, gender stereotyping, sexism, rape culture, feminism, race and how it feels when you finally find out who you are as a person and start to learn to love yourself, as Colin Firth might say in Juno’s beloved Bridget Jones’ Diary “just as you are.”

I think I’ve already made clear my own personal views on people who are transgender in other reviews in that I’m aware it’s a very real, very traumatic and confusing experience especially for young children who don’t feel as if they belong in their own body. As I’ve mentioned, I’m never going to be able to fully realise what this is like but I’m willing and happy to be educated about it. Juno spins an absolutely fascinating account of her life that explores gender and all its foibles and it certainly made me think hard about my own subconscious gender stereotypes and make a concerted effort to be more aware of bias in the future. I was completely delighted to discover that this book also delves into other areas, like feminism across the different races which again, was absorbing to read about and initiated a few moments where I had to simply put the book down and think about things a bit deeper for a little while.

Throughout it all, Juno maintains a dry wit and sarcastic edge to her stories but is completely aware of the moments when she’s talking about more controversial or horrific subjects and is fully sensitive and serious about these issues. I feel like out of all the books she’s brought out, this must have been the book she was most nervous about because as a reader, it felt like she laid her soul completely bare for everyone else to read about. I found her story courageous and her personality so humble and down to earth that it was an absolute joy to find out more about her and from the bottom of my heart, I wish her the very best in her ongoing journey to discover herself. This is an empowering and important non-fiction read that I wouldn’t hesitate to push into the hands of everyone I meet so they might be able to learn a little something just like I did whilst reading this fantastic book.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson

Published July 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED, Jenny Lawson baffled readers with stories about growing up the daughter of a taxidermist. In her new book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

According to Jenny: “Some people might think that being ‘furiously happy’ is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.”

“Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you’d never guess because we’ve learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, ‘We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.’ Except go back and cross out the word ‘hiding.'”

Jenny’s first book, LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. FURIOUSLY HAPPY is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it’s about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways-and who doesn’t need a bit more of that?

What did I think?:

I’ve been sitting on this review for a long time now, purely because I don’t know if I can put into words how much I needed this book when I read it recently. This wonderful work of non-fiction is the author’s experience with mental illness, namely anxiety and depression and it is raw, brutally honest and full of the most amazing humour, heart and soul. Jenny Lawson gives us a no holds barred account into her daily struggles keeping her mental health on an even keel but what struck me most about this book was how fantastically upbeat and hopeful it was. Jenny is determined to be “furiously happy,” despite her internal monologues attempting to make her feel otherwise and I had nothing but deep respect and admiration for the way she consistently made the best of a bad situation.

Jenny Lawson, blogger at The Bloggess and author of Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things.

I’m sure we all know how important it is to talk about mental health and not to suffer in silence but it’s strange, I feel like in recent years it’s become even more crucial to let people know they’re not alone. I hope everyone knows my DM box is always open and I’d hate to think of anyone out there staying quiet, hurting inside and acting in ways they might regret, purely because they didn’t feel like they had anyone to talk to. I’ve had my own struggles with mental health which began when I was a teenager and was bullied, carried on right through my adolescence with social anxiety, depression, dodgy friendships and even dodgier relationships and at the moment, even though I’ve gone through a personal year of hell, I’m feeling probably the strongest I ever have been in my life. This however doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days where I question everything including my place on the planet.

This is why Furiously Happy is so important. Personally, I respond best to humour and I often use it as a defence mechanism in my own life. I have a small but very appreciated group of close friends both online and in “real life,” and they’re well aware of using humour to bring me out of a funk or make me realise how lucky I really am in the grand scheme of things. You know who you are guys. So when I read this book I was utterly delighted to be pulled into a world that I could sympathise, understand and most importantly, see myself in the author’s writing. It’s like being taken on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, from sadness to incredulity then compassion to joy. The greatest thing is, I didn’t find it in the slightest “triggering,” as I was never too upset for long before the humour kicks in and we start hearing about voodoo vaginas or dead raccoon rodeos! Yes, seriously.

This book is my kind of humour. Dark, a bit close to the bone, occasionally quite sinister but it tickled my strange little funny bone so much that I found myself desperate to get back to it as soon as I put it down. We need people like Jenny Lawson with her self-deprecating and candid thoughts and feelings. Admittedly, it IS a bit odd in points and reads almost like a stream of consciousness but for me, this was also the beauty of the narrative. You never know exactly what’s coming next and the thrill of that for me as a reader is second to none. I understand some reviewers have commented on her overuse of capitals and that occasionally a joke will feel a bit forced, like she is trying too hard to be funny. For me, that didn’t come across. I just appreciated a brilliantly funny woman being open and honest about her own internal struggles and if it opens up the conversation and gets other people talking and receiving help, that can only be a good thing.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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H Is For Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Published May 16, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

What did I think?:

Recently, I’m getting more and more interested in non fiction, although I have to remind myself to “get reading” it, I have far too many fiction books begging to be read on my shelves. I was aware of H is For Hawk when it first came out and then it won the Costa Award for Best Biography in 2014 so I was even more intrigued to read it. I remember going into bookshops multiple times, seeing it there, picking it up and then putting it back down again. After all, how interesting can a book about training a hawk really be? Then my boyfriend listened to it on audiobook and raved about how wonderful it was. That was it, determined. I HAD to pick it up and read it soon. Well, I finally got round to it recently and oh my goodness, why on earth did I wait that long?! This was a wonderful, touching and fascinating read that gave me a little fuzzy feeling inside and an instant admiration and respect for the author, Helen Macdonald.

The author of H is For Hawk, Helen Macdonald with her goshawk. I love this picture!

Yes, H is For Hawk IS about how Helen learns to train a goshawk with very little previous experience but this book is also about so much more. She originally gets her first goshawk, Mabel after the sudden death of her beloved father and whilst she is struggling with her grief, she finally realises one of her biggest dreams since she was a little girl, becoming a falconer. When she was younger, Helen loved to read the author T.H. White’s non fiction book entitled The Goshawk which described his own experiences as a novice training a bird of prey. She decides to re-visit that book as an adult whilst training Mabel and basking in the memories of her father and the reader is treated to parts of T.H. White’s own story as he battled with both a cranky, independent goshawk and the truth of his own sexuality which he was desperate to hide.

The goshawk (not Mabel, just a random one!) but an absolutely beautiful bird of prey, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I adored reading Helen’s story, from the minute she bought Mabel to the early days of training and the struggles with an incredibly fiesty, stubborn creature. Then there were both heart-breaking and heart-warming passages as Helen’s grief for her father threatens to overwhelm her, leading her to neglect her mental health, shut herself off from friends and social events and make her worry that she’ll never be able to connect with her strange new animal companion. Then there are the triumphs which quite honestly, brought a tear to my eye. I’m a huge animal lover anyway but there was a particular scene in H is For Hawk that really choked me up. Helen has been told that goshawk’s don’t really “play,” but one evening, Helen decides to throw a paper ball at Mabel and the goshawk begins to join in, tossing and crunching the ball and moving her head to stare at Helen through a paper tube, extremely happy and content. This was a huge breakthrough for both Helen and Mabel and it was a passage I had to read over and over again, it was too adorable for words and I loved seeing both Mabel’s personality coming out and Helen’s happiness in the goshawk’s reaction.

This is a far more emotional read than I was anticipating and really demonstrates the nature of grief, which rolls around like waves and may severely affect you some days more than others. I want to thank Helen from the bottom of my heart for being so honest about her suffering and am certain it will help other people going through the same thing, in that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the potential to be happy again. I’m also delighted to have found Mabel, such a huge character and beautiful creature that I’ll find difficult to forget, that’s for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0