Book Review: Older and Wider by Jenny Eclair

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‘If you’re after an in-depth medical or psychological insight into the menopause, I’m afraid you’ve opened the wrong book – I’m not a doctor . . . However, I am a woman and I do know how it feels to be menopausal, so this book is written from experience and the heart and I hope it makes you laugh and feel better.’ JE

Older and Wider is Jenny Eclair’s hilarious, irreverent and refreshingly honest compendium of the menopause. From C for Carb-loading and G for Getting Your Shit Together to I for Invisibility and V for Vaginas, Jenny’s whistle-stop tour of the menopause in all its glory will make you realise that it really isn’t just you. Jenny will share the surprising lessons she has learnt along the way as well as her hard-won tips on the joy of cardigans, dealing with the empty nest (get a lodger) and keeping the lid on the pressure cooker of your temper (count to twenty, ten is never enough).

As Jenny says, ‘I can’t say that I’ve emerged like a beautiful butterfly from some hideous old menopausal chrysalis and it would be a lie to say that I’ve found the ‘old me’ again. But what I have found is the ‘new me’ – and you know what? I’m completely cool with that.’

Today is publication day for Older and Wider, the hilarious new non-fiction book by Jenny Eclair, designed to help you get through the menopause with a smile on your face. Happy Publication Day, Jenny! Huge thanks to Hannah Robinson at Quercus Books for sending me a proof copy of the book. The review below represents my  honest and impartial thoughts about it. (Overly so, please, any man who knows me, don’t read any further, I beg of you. Mum, you too. And my kids. Seriously, you really don’t want to read any further right now. Come back when you hit 40, okay?)

This book arrived on my doorstep yesterday and, I was so looking forward to reading it that I dived straight in and had finished it by this morning. I probably don’t need to say any more than that to indicate that I loved it but, since two short paragraphs don’t make for a scintillating review, I’ll expand a bit.

I am a woman of a certain age (48), and I am the exact market that this book is aimed at, the woman who is just starting out on the menopause journey, feeling confused and alone and scared of what to expect. My mother has always been fairly tight-lipped on intimate personal matters and, when I approached her a couple years ago, seemed to think I was ‘too young’ to be embarking on the menopause and recalls hers lasted only a couple of years in her early 50’s. From my own recollection of events in my mid-teens, I don’t think this is correct and I knew I was going to have to look elsewhere for truthful advice about it (to be fair, my mum did cut out a bit of advice from the Daily Mail when I told her I was struggling with peri-menopausal symptoms and it proved very useful, but more on that later). Well, in this book, Jenny sets herself up as the menopause guru we all wish we had, and tells it like it is, no holds barred.

I love Jenny Eclair, always have, always will. You know when fans of those women (insert name of your least favourite, reactionary social commentator/Twitter agitator here) who tweet ghastly, inflammatory opinions designed as click bait tell you, ‘She is only saying what we are all thinking?’ I am NEVER thinking the things that they are saying but, when Jenny Eclair tweets stuff, it is nearly always exactly what I am thinking. In short, she is someone I trust and, as such, is ideally placed as common sense advice giver on matters menopausal. This book is her A-Z of personal experiences of the menopause and sensible advice on what to expect and how to deal with it, and I thought it was fabulous.

It was January 2017, at the age of not-quite-45, when I realised that I was probably entering my peri-menopausal phase. I’d had a couple of mild symptoms – itchy calves, slight vagueness of memory, the odd night sweat (horrible, let me tell you, to wake up suddenly in the night soaking wet from head to foot, as if someone has thrown a bucket of water over you in your sleep) but I hadn’t thought much of it. It was only when I started to feel like an alien in my own body, as if someone had come and removed my own personality and replaced it with that of a total stranger, that I really became worried. The final straw came one weekend when my partner and I were enjoying a lovely, family walk on a beautiful Welsh beach with our five girls and perfectly photogenic dog, looking like something (hopefully) from a Boden catalogue, I found myself uncontrollably sobbing for absolutely no reason and, when the Irishman asked me what was wrong wailing, “I don’t knooooooooow!” At that point, I thought I had better go and see a doctor.

I went the next week, got a twelve- year -old-ish male locum who couldn’t care less, told me I was too young to be menopausal and, basically, to pull myself together, and that was that for medical help at that point. I expect this experience is not unusual. I decided he was an idiot and I was quite clearly going to have to sort myself out. I took to the internet, read a load of websites that convinced me I was not going mad, was obviously peri-menopausal and that made me feel better. At this point my mother gave me a cutting from the newspaper about a supplement that might help, I gave it a try, it did indeed seem to alleviate some of the worst symptoms (mood swings, crippling period pains and aching muscles) and I plodded on for two-and-a-half years. When the horrific anxiety returned with a vengeance last autumn, I went back to the doctor, got a fabulous, understanding lady of a similar age to myself who finally did a blood test, confirmed my suspicions, offered me a prescription for Vitamin D and lots of options of how to deal with it (I plumped for CBT, which I had tried with great success to deal with anxiety in my early twenties, leaving HRT and anti-depressants as fall back options) and left me feeling vindicated and much happier and less alone. This is what we all need, and what this book offers. A tome of comforting tales of actual experience, no-nonsense advice and reassurance that you are not alone, or going mad.

Plus it is very, very funny. From the dedication page, I was laughing, and I laughed all the way to the end, even at bits which are not at all funny when you are going through them yourself, alone and confused and probably a bit scared that there might be something more seriously wrong with you than a few haywire hormones.

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And this is what this book offers. A normalisation of the whole process. Reassurance that, whilst unpleasant, this is entirely natural, transitory, survivable and a universal female experience. That, whilst we don’t all suffer exactly the same way, there is someone, somewhere out there who is going through exactly the same thing and, thanks to the wonders of the internet and social media, you can probably find her. In fact, she’s probably me, or Jenny Eclair, or the other women who take part in her podcast, or in a Twitter menopause group, or on daytime TV, or your mum, or one of your friends. Go out there, look, talk to each other! None of us has to suffer alone and in silence any more, and sod you, pubescent boy doctor without a clue or any sympathy! But, if you feel a bit shy, or embarrassed, or don’t know any women of the relevant age, this book is a really good place to start.

Not everything you experience will be in here, and you won’t experience everything she does. I haven’t had ‘temper static’ or ‘pop-sock leg’ or ‘desiccation.’ Maybe some of this will come, as I know I am only in the toddlerdom of my menopause life span. I have had the aforementioned itchy calves. I have experienced one armpit (the right) being much, much sweatier than the other at certain times of the month (and no, this is not peculiar to me, my cousin has had the same thing!). I’ve discovered the excess chin hairs she talks about, but also the appearance of a nose hair that must have been growing since birth to have got so long and rope-like before it emerged sudden and unannounced when I was far from a pair of tweezers. Did you know it is not only your head hair that goes grey? No, eyebrow hairs, and those further south too! And why are grey hairs so much thicker and more tenacious? Far from desiccation, my skin and hair have reverted back to a teenage greasiness that I thought I had put far behind me. I’ve much more inclined to pins and needles in my hands and feet than before. I’ve developed an unfortunate sensitivity to cheese (a fact which will horrify Jenny. See, Jenny, you were lucky with the red berries!). I’m sure there are other odd symptoms that other people experience as well. The point is, being abnormal is normal, but you should not be afraid to talk about these things, ask medical professionals for help, and don’t be fobbed off with impatient, embryo, male GPs who never imagined that talking to weeping, middle-aged women about problems with their down-belows was how they would spend their days after cutting up cadavers for seven long years at uni.

Some of the stuff you will recognise, it is scary but normal. When she talks about how your periods change, I could completely relate. When I was a teenager, I had such heavy periods and bad cramps that I would lie sobbing on my bed clutching a hot water bottle to my stomach. I seemed to grow out of them, but they returned a couple of years ago. I now no longer cry and lay in bed, I’ve got much more stoic as I’ve aged, but it’s not fun. Plus they are erratic. Plus, the consistency is definitely different. In fact, it has made me wonder what it must be like in there for the babies of women who have children very late in life. Something akin to hatching a tadpole in a stagnant, algae-choked pond rather that a crystal-clear pool fed by a babbling spring. Alas. My daughters will read this and tell me I am sharing TMI, but this is the point of this book. We need to talk about this stuff honestly, no more hiding away in shame, it only makes us feel lonely and sad and worried.

And it isn’t all doom and gloom. The book highlights all the positives about getting older, and I see these too. More sense of self, and knowing who we are (once you get past the aliens-taking-over-your-brain phase), more time, less angst about where life is taking you. She gives you lots of ideas of things to do to help and take control, from diet and exercise and remedies, to taking up hobbies. I already have mine lined up. I have stashed away enough books to last me a decade (Waterstones is my Lakeland). I’ve started writing my novel. I’m going to learn to read the tarot (playing into the old lady = witch stereotype, I know, I don’t care), practise origami (the Japanese have the best hobbies, although my daughters were a bit disgusted when, after learning about Hikaru Dorodango from Jenny’s book, I wondered aloud what delights we could produce from the waste products of our ponies) and finish the tapestry of The Haywain that I know is lurking half-done on a frame in the loft (I was middle-aged as a teenager, you see). And I don’t think it is a coincidence that I began this very blog at the exact time the peri-menopause symptoms kicked in. Listen to your bodies, ladies, they know what they need.

We need more books like this, that talk openly about the things that affect women, and have been taboo far too long. I don’t write reviews this long often, and only for books that really spark something in me. Last year it was Period by Emma Barnett, and Jenny’s book has affected me even more, because it is so relevant to the current phase of my life. I wish I had had access to it four years ago, before I started feel panicky and lost and a bit scared. When I’d heard a bit about some of the physical symptoms but nothing about the uncontrollable psychological side effects that were terrifying me on that Welsh beach. We need more people we admire and trust to talk about this, loudly and publicly, to take away the stigma. I will be recommending this to all my friends, if I  have any left after this over-share. I’ll be keeping this close as part of my menopause survival kit, alongside my vitamins and big pants, as I navigate the next few years of my, definitely-not-over-yet, life.

Older and Wider is out today in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here and from all good independent booksellers.

About the Author

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Jenny Eclair is the Sunday Times top ten bestselling author of the critically acclaimed novels Camberwell Beauty, Having a Lovely Time and Life, Death and Vanilla Slices, as well as the Richard and Judy bestseller, Moving, the short story collection, Listening In and her latest novel Inheritance. One of the UK’s most popular writer/performers, she was the first woman to win the prestigious Perrier Award and has many TV and radio credits to her name and co-hosts the Older and Wider podcast with Grumpy Old Women producer Judith Holder. She lives in south-east London.

Connect with Jenny:

Website: http://www.jennyeclair.com

Facebook: Jenny Eclair

Twitter: @jennyeclair

Instagram: @jennyeclair1960

Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert; Narrated by the author #AudiobookReview

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Listeners of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author shares her wisdom and unique understanding of creativity, shattering the perceptions of mystery and suffering that surround the process and showing us all just how easy it can be.

By sharing stories from her own life as well as from her friends and the people who have inspired her, Elizabeth Gilbert challenges us to embrace our curiosity, tackle what we most love and face down what we most fear.

Whether you long to write a book, create art, cope with challenges at work, embark on a long-held dream, or simply to make your everyday life more vivid and rewarding, Big Magic will take you on a journey of exploration filled with wonder and unexpected joys.

Anyone poking around my Goodreads profile might observe that I have read this book twice this year already, once via audiobook and one reading of my paper copy. One might rightly, assume, therefore, that this is a book which means a lot to me.

As someone who, cautiously, describes themselves as a writer and has ambitions to get her writing published one day but with no confidence that this is achievable, I am exactly the person that Elizabeth Gilbert is aiming this book at. A creative person who allows fear to hold them back in their endeavours and this is why I love this book so much. It feels like she wrote it just for me and, having someone so successful and whose writing I love, understand me, tell me that she has felt the same and that my feelings are understandable and manageable in a source of such comfort at times when I am struggling.

This is not really a practical ‘how to write’ book. It is a why to write book, and how to overcome the mental blocks that prevent us doing so. In this book, the author talks about all the things that hold us back from fully embracing and engaging in our creative impulses – not just writing but anything at all, painting, pottery, ice skating, anything you do for reasons not of pure practicality – and tries to reassure us that our fears and reservations are normal, universal and conquerable. I defy anyone who has ever wanted to do something creative but has felt embarrassed about it, fraudulent, foolish or afraid about doing so, to read this book and not see themselves mirrored back.

So, for me, this book is reassuring because it makes me feel less alone, and this is important because, as Elizabeth points out, creativity can be a lonely business and we tend to spend a lot of time in our own heads, fretting over our inadequacies and assuming no one else has these struggles. To hear that even the most successful of authors share these moments of angst and self-doubt can help to make use believe that persistence may not be futile and, if we just stick it out, maybe we can make it too.

Look, this book is not going to be for everyone. There is no getting away from the fact that some of her ideas about creativity are a little ‘out there,’ and she admits this herself. She talks about ideas and inspiration as actual living things with will and motivation and that there is real magic involved in the process of creation. Some people will find this hard to swallow and it may put them off but, even if you find these theories too wild to be credible, there is a lot in this book that will be relatable and useful.

She talks about fear and how it can cripple your creativity and this is the most personal of her comments to me. “…we all know that when courage dies, creativity dies with it. We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.’ She is writing my soul here. I have spent far too many hours being literally (and I do mean literally) paralysed with fear into an inability to write. To feel so understood, and also have someone tell me they can help me deal with it is of immense comfort.

“Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.” She’s talking about me again! Perfectionism has been the biggest debilitating factor of my life. It has caused me more anguish, stopped me doing more things, prevented me taking pride in any achievements than anything else in my life. It is absolutely not a virtue, it is a curse and, as Elizabeth says, it is ‘just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat.” Did I mention that her imagery and turn of phrase are also one of the things that make this book such a delight?

She deals with so many topics in this book. How to live with your fear (because there is no getting rid of it), what success can look like and how defining it can help you get over your fear, how to give yourself permission to write, how to trust yourself and the process. Whatever your particular hurdles are that hinder you from creating freely, I’m sure you will find something in here to help you, give you a crumb of comfort and the impetus to keep going. Certainly, for me, this is a book I keep on hand to dip in and out of whenever I need it. To keep the doubts at bay. I am not a person who dogears their books, but my copy of Big Magic has many pages with the corners turned down so I can find a favourite line or paragraph when I need a little boost.

This book tells me it is okay to be afraid. It is okay to fail. It is okay to feel like a fraud. It is okay to call myself a writer even though I have no qualifications in this area. It is okay to be a writer and never get published. Success for me is mine to define and not for others to decide. Time spent doing something you love is never wasted, even if it has no commercial value.

It’s okay to be the skinny lobster in spandex tights.

Big Magic is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Elizabeth Gilbert was born in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1969, and grew up on a small family Christmas tree farm. She attended New York University, where she studied political science by day and worked on her short stories by night. After college, she spent several years traveling around the country, working in bars, diners and ranches, collecting experiences to transform into fiction.

These explorations eventually formed the basis of her first book – a short story collection called PILGRIMS, which was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award, and which moved Annie Proulx to call her “a young writer of incandescent talent”.

During these early years in New York, she also worked as a journalist for such publications as Spin, GQ and The New York Times Magazine. She was a three-time finalist for The National Magazine Award, and an article she wrote in GQ about her experiences bartending on the Lower East Side eventually became the basis for the movie COYOTE UGLY.

In 2000, Elizabeth published her first novel, STERN MEN (a story of brutal territory wars between two remote fishing islands off the coast of Maine) which was a New York Times Notable Book. In 2002, Elizabeth published THE LAST AMERICAN MAN – the true story of the modern day woodsman Eustace Conway. This book, her first work of non-fiction, was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Elizabeth is best known, however for her 2006 memoir EAT PRAY LOVE, which chronicled her journey alone around the world, looking for solace after a difficult divorce. The book was an international bestseller, translated into over thirty languages, with over 12 million copies sold worldwide. In 2010, EAT PRAY LOVE was made into a film starring Julia Roberts. The book became so popular that Time Magazine named Elizabeth as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In 2010, Elizabeth published a follow-up to EAT PRAY LOVE called COMMITTED—a memoir which explored her ambivalent feelings about the institution of marriage. The book immediately became a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and was also received with warm critical praise. As Newsweek wrote, COMMITTED “retains plenty of Gilbert’s comic ruefulness and wide-eyed wonder”, and NPR called the book “a rich brew of newfound insight and wisdom.”

Her 2013 novel THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS is a sprawling tale of 19th century botanical exploration. O Magazine named it “the novel of a lifetime”, and the Wall Street Journal called it “the most ambitious and purely-imagined work of (Gilbert’s) twenty-year career.” THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS was a New York Times Bestseller, and Janet Maslin called it “engrossing…vibrant and hot-blooded.” The novel was named a Best Book of 2013 by The New York Times, O Magazine, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The New Yorker.”

In 2015, she published BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR—a book that encapsulates the joyful spirit of adventure and permission that Elizabeth has always brought to her work and to her life.

Her latest novel is CITY OF GIRLS — a rollicking, sexy tale of the New York City theater world during the 1940s. It will be published in June of 2019.

Elizabeth divides her time between New York City, rural New Jersey, and everywhere else.

Connect with Elizabeth:

Website: https://www.elizabethgilbert.com

Facebook: Liz Gilbert

Twitter: @GilbertLiz

Instagram: @elizabeth_gilbert_writer

Blog Blitz: Through Dust and Dreams by Roxana Valea #BookReview

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I am delighted to be taking part in the one day blog blitz for Through Dust and Dreams by Roxana Valea. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for asking me to take part and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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At a crossroads in her life, Roxana decides to take a ten-day safari trip to Africa. In Namibia, she meets a local guide who talks about “the courage to become who you are” and tells her that “the world belongs to those who dream”. Her holiday over, Roxana still carries the spell of his words within her soul.

Six months later she quits her job and searches for a way to fulfil an old dream: crossing Africa from north to south. Teaming up with Richard and Peter, two total strangers she meets over the Internet, Roxana starts a journey that will take her and her companions from Morocco to Namibia, crossing deserts and war-torn countries and surviving threats from corrupt officials and tensions within their own group.

Through Dust and Dreams is the story of their journey: a story of courage and friendship, of daring to ask questions and search for answers, and of self-discovery on a long, dusty road south.

I absolutely love travelogue novels, especially ones about places I haven’t visited and experiences I am never likely to have myself, as this is the closest I can get to being there myself, particularly is the writing is evocative and immersive. I have always been peculiarly obsessed with reading books about Africa, the more remote corners the better, because it is a world so far away from the one I know and these are places I am unlikely to get to in person. This fascination was ignited by the Gerald Durrell books I read in my teens and has never abated. I wanted to take on overland trip across Africa after uni but my parents wouldn’t allow it and, since then, the opportunity has never arisen, so books are the closest I can get.

This book describes the kind of trip I wished I could have taken myself, and probably the exact reason my parents didn’t want me to go. The author takes a massive risk in making this journey into one of the most dangerous and unknown parts of the world with total strangers, and I was absolutely fascinated and terrified for her at the same time. I very quickly became totally involved in her story, because I could so easily but that younger version of myself that wanted to make such a trip in her shoes, and I was envious and panicked in equal measure throughout. Despite this being a true story, or maybe because it was factual, this was as gripping as any fictional tale, with as many highs, lows and hair-raising moments as you could wish for. The pace is compelling throughout, and I read through it in record time.

The author is Romanian by birth and has lived in many different countries and this has given her a turn of phrase that is unusual and takes a little while to get used to but, in the end, it added to the exotic feel of the whole experience and I really enjoyed it. There is a lot of description of her feelings, and the emotional experience she has along the way. For me, this was one of the things that I liked most about the book, as an empathetic person who always wants to understand the motivations and feelings that underpin everything, this brought the book to life for me. There may be other people for whom the navel-gazing detracts from the travellers tale. Horses for courses.

This book brought Africa, its landscapes, different countries and diversity of people to life for me. It aroused every sense – sounds, tastes, smells, sights and tactile experiences are all described vividly and in detail, it was a tactile reading experience which is a real skill to achieve. I have to say, the book did not disappoint any of my hopes or expectations for it, it was a throughly engaging and rewarding read that I felt fully rewarded me for the time I invested in reading it.

This book has succeeded in feeding my obsession with Africa and my desire to visit these far-flung outposts for myself one day. Until then, I’ll have to seek out more reads like this to take me there from my armchair.

Through Dust and Dreams is available now via this link.

About the Author

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Roxana Valea was born in Romania and lived in Italy, Switzerland, England and Argentina before settling in Spain. She has a BA in journalism and an MBA degree. She spent more than twenty years in the business world as an entrepreneur, manager and management consultant working for top companies like Apple, eBay, and Sony. She is also a Reiki Master and shamanic energy medicine practitioner.

As an author, Roxana writes books inspired by real events. Her memoir Through Dust and Dreams is a faithful account of a trip she took at the age of twenty-eight across Africa by car in the company of two strangers she met over the internet. Her following book, Personal Power: Mindfulness Techniques for the Corporate Word is a nonfiction book filled with personal anecdotes from her consulting years. The Polo Diaries series is inspired by her experiences as a female polo player–traveling to Argentina, falling in love, and surviving the highs and lows of this dangerous sport.

Roxana lives with her husband between England and Spain, and splits her time between writing, coaching and therapy work, but her first passion remains writing.

Connect with Roxana:

Website: https://roxanavalea.com

Facebook: Roxana Valea Author

Twitter: @roxana_valea

Instagram: @roxana_valea

Walking Back To Happiness by Penelope Swithinbank #BlogTour #Extract (@minstriesbydsgn) @malcolmdown @LoveBooksGroup #lovebookstours #WalkingBackToHappiness

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Two vicars, their marriage in tatters with wounds reaching far back into the past, set out on a journey to find healing and restoration. Their route will take them from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, but will it help them find their way home?

Along the 320-mile route across rural France, burdened by backpacks and blisters, Kim and Penelope stumble across fresh truths, some ordinary, others extraordinary. But will they be defeated by the road ahead or triumph over the pain of the past? Is there a chance they’ll find themselves in France and walk back to happiness?

In this simple but enchanting book, part travelogue and part pilgrimage, Penelope invites you to walk with her and her husband on their epic journey as they encounter new faces and new experiences, and reconnect with each other and with God. Every step of the way, you’ll discover more about yourself and what’s really important to you.

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for Walking Back To Happiness by Penelope Swithinbank by featuring a short extract from the book. My thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Tours for inviting me to take part and to the author and publisher for allowing me to reproduce this extract for you.

Extract

“Preparing to do a Great Walk focuses the mind wonderfully. And  makes me realise that gentle Sunday-afternoon strolls are one thing, but walking three hundred and thirty miles carrying a heavy backpack is something totally different.

A long hike once a week needs to become the norm – eight to ten miles might be a good rehearsal.

But things do not go according to plan.

Originally we had planned to retire in July and do The Great Walk Across France two months later; but the selling of the listed property we were using as a Christian retreat house took a further whole year, with new planning permissions imposed by the local conservation officer causing headaches and money and building work. The stress must have contributed to Kim having a stroke very unexpectedly, followed by ocular shingles. Fortunately the stroke left no physical impairment, but he suffered dyslexia-like symptoms and great tiredness. The Walk was put on hold.”

If this has whetted you appetite for the book, you can buy a copy of Walking Back To Happiness here.

If you would like to read some reviews and other content for the book, make sure you check out the other blogs taking part in the tour:

 

About the Author

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Penelope is an avid walker and spends a lot of her time stomping in the hills and valleys near her home outside Bath. She is a chaplain at Bath Abbey and a spiritual therapist and counsellor for clergy (and some normal people too). Since becoming a vicar nearly 20 years ago, she has worked in churches in the UK and the USA, and has led pilgrimages in the UK and in Europe.

She and her husband Kim have been married for more than 40 years and have three children and six grandchildren. Penelope rarely sits down, loathes gardening and relaxes by reading, going to the theatre or playing the piano. She is the author of two books, Women by Design and Walking Back to Happiness and is currently working on her third, due out in 2020: Scent of Water, a devotional for times of spiritual bewilderment and grief.

Connect with Penelope:

Website: https://penelopeswithinbank.com

Facebook: Ministries By Design

Twitter: @minstriesbydsgn

Instagram: @penelopeswithinbank

Love Books Group Tours (1)

Desert Island Books: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson #BookReview #travel #travelwriting #bookbloggers #bookblog #desertislandbooks #readinggoals

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In the company of his friend Stephen Katz, Bill Bryson set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.

Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors.

So, the first of the twelve books that I will be taking with me to my desert island for my Desert Island Books feature is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

I love Bill Bryson’s writing, his travel books in particular, but out of all of them this one is my favourite. I must have read it half a dozen times now and it still fascinates me, makes me thoughtful and makes me laugh, all at the same time. I don’t think I will ever get bored of it.

I had a quick look at the reviews on Goodreads of this book just prior to writing this review. The book has an average of 4 stars, but the most prominent review on the first page was a one star by someone who took exception to pretty much everything about the book’s content and the way it was written, which quite surprised me. The review is so prominent, despite being 13 years old, because it has an exceptionally high number of comments on it, as other Goodreads members debated the merits of the review, and the book, back and forth. It is quite clear that this is a book that divides people.

Oddly, the majority of the things people listed as reasons for disliking the book, were the things that make it one of my favourite reads, so I guess you need to decide if these are things that appeal to you.

This is a book about Bill Bryson’s mid-life trek along the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200 mile wilderness footpath that traverses a mountainous route through the forests of the eastern USA from Georgia to northern Maine. Now, I love to read about other people’s travel adventures, and I find this one particularly appealing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love the USA and this book covers a couple of the areas of the US that I am particularly fond of – the south eastern states and New England. I  personally have been to the mountains of North Carolina, parts of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampsire and Maine. I’ve stayed at the Mount Washington Hotel and travelled to the top of Mount Washington via the famous cog railway mentioned in the book. I’ve been to Franconia Notch State Park in Vermont. I’ve visited the town Bryson lived in when he wrote this book, Hanover in New Hampshire, so some of the places he talks about are familiar and I can clearly visualise them and it is always interesting in a book to get someone else’s view of something you yourself have experienced. Equally, there are many places in the book I have never been but sound enticing, and I know for a fact that, whilst I might dream about hiking the Appalachian Trail, it is something I will never do, so I can live it vicariously through Bryson’s experience.

This book is extremely varied as it covers, not only his actual experience of physically hiking the trail, but a lot about the people he meets, the climate and weather of the region, geology and history of this part of the USA, information about the flora and fauna and how that is changing, the development and management of the trail, socio-political history of some of the areas he passes through, and much more. Some people find this annoying and accuse him of ‘hopping about’. I find it all fascinating and, for me, it gives the whole experience a context and a richness that really brings it to life and gives it relevance in the mind of the reader. The author obviously shares my insatiable thirst to know everything about everything he sees on his travels and really understand it. I do huge amounts of reading about a destination and its history before I travel, which deepens my interest and enjoyment of a place, and this is the perfect approach for those fact hounds amongst us.

Another thing some people seem to find a negative about this book is Bryson himself and his authorial voice. I do wonder if this is a matter of national perspective. Whilst Bryson is American by birth, he has spent the better part of his life living in the UK and his humour is very British in nature. He relies heavily on self-deprecation, sarcasm and irony and this is not a type of humour that appeals to everyone. I recall from his book, Notes From A Big Country, (a book about how he and his British family adjust to life in the US after living in the UK for many years) an anecdote about how his wife had to ask him to stop making jokes with his American neighbour, because his neighbour didn’t understand them and their exchanges were giving his neighbour migraines. Some people seem to think Bryson comes across as mean and a bit superior, but I actually find that the biggest butt of his jokes is always himself and he is actually very amusing and gives the book a very light-hearted and entertaining tone, rather than it being a heavy and torpid read, despite the fact in contains huge amounts of factual information. He has a real way with words; his prose is vivid and lyrical. He writes the way I would love to write and I could read it endlessly.

I read a lot of travel writing, because travel is a passion of mine, and for me this represents the absolute best of the genre, mixing anecdotes with a lot of interesting factual information and history, and conveying it all in a clear, fun and pacy package. If you have enjoyed Bryson’s other writing, you will love this book. If you don’t like him, you will hate it because his voice is strong and clear throughout. Maybe the Marmite of travel books, but I, for one, will never tire of Marmite on my desert island.

If you have been tempted by this review to want to read A Walk in the Woods for yourself, you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. Settled in England for many years, he moved to America with his wife and four children for a few years, but has since returned to live in the UK. His bestselling travel books include The Lost Continent, Notes From a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods and Down Under. His acclaimed work of popular science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, won the Aventis Prize and the Descartes Prize, and was the biggest selling non-fiction book of the decade in the UK.

Tempted by….Books From Dusk Till Dawn: Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie @susanhampson57 @StuartMaconie @EburyPublishing #LongRoadFromJarrow #bookbloggers #amreading #readingrecommendations

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Three and half weeks. Three hundred miles. I saw roaring arterial highway and silent lanes, candlelit cathedrals and angry men in bad pubs. The Britain of 1936 was a land of beef paste sandwiches and drill halls. Now we are nation of vaping and nail salons, pulled pork and salted caramel.

In the autumn of 1936, some 200 men from the Tyneside town of Jarrow marched 300 miles to London in protest against the destruction of their towns and industries. Precisely 80 years on, Stuart Maconie, walks from north to south retracing the route of the emblematic Jarrow Crusade.

Travelling down the country’s spine, Maconie moves through a land that is, in some ways, very much the same as the England of the 30s with its political turbulence, austerity, north/south divide, food banks and of course, football mania. Yet in other ways, it is completely unrecognisable.

Maconie visits the great cities as well as the sleepy hamlets, quiet lanes and roaring motorways. He meets those with stories to tell and whose voices build a funny, complex and entertaining tale of Britain, then and now.

So, it’s back, the feature where I highlight the persuasive power of book bloggers to drive book sales by showcasing books that my fellow bloggers have cajoling me into buying with their honeyed reviews. At the same time, I get to draw your attention to some of the magnificent blogs I follow and tell you what I love about them and why I trust their judgement in recommending books.

A word of warning, this feature stalled a couple of times last year for a variety of reasons, so some of these recommendations go back while. However, I believe that book recommendations age well, like a fine wine, rather than go off like fruit, so their enticing power still remains.

So, for the new year, I am telling you how I was Tempted by…. Books From Dusk Till Dawn to buy this copy of Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie. You can find the review that persuaded me to buy the book here, written by the lovely Susan Hampson who runs this blog.

Why was I drawn to this book? Well, I do like to read some non-fiction in amongst all the fiction I read, and I am particularly drawn to books of social commentary, which this is. I like the sound of a comparison between how the country and the places have changed in the 80 years between the original Jarrow march and Maconie’s recreation, and I think the book is particularly relevant given the recent upheavals and seismic changes taking place in this country over the past few years. I have read several of Stuart’s other books and I like his narrative style. I was particularly drawn by the personal connection than Susan said she felt with the book.

If you like the sound of Long Road From Jarrow, it is available in all formats by following this link. I also highly recommend that you pay a visit to Susan’s blog which you can find at Books From Dusk Till Dawn. The reason I love Susan’s blog so much is that she has a really interesting mix of books on there, not just the mainstream titles, and her reviews are always detailed, personal and mature.

This feature will be moving back to Mondays from next week, so do check out the next one.

Making Pearls From Grit by Isla Aitken (@IslaAitken) #GuestPost #breastcancerawarenessmonth #breastcancerawareness #breastcancer #MakingPearlsFromGrit

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is a cause that is very close to my heart, as it is only two years since my very oldest friend was taken from us at the age of only 48 as a result of a long and painful battle with the disease, leaving behind devastated family and friends, and two children the same age as my own.

In order to help raise awareness and funds to help in the battle against this disease, I am delighted to be hosting a guest post on the blog today from Isla Aitken, author, and herself a breast cancer survivor. She is going to tell us about her experiences and her book, Making Pearls From Grit. Over to you, Isla.

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Diagnosed with breast cancer while on holiday in Japan, former journalist, environmental activist and one-time politician Isla distracts herself with tourist adventures — including snorkelling in the South China Sea, learning about slipper etiquette and negotiating the three Japanese alphabets.

Back in the less exotic UK, in between chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, Isla considers those other scenes from life – such as depression and farting during sex – and realises how people can be fully constructed by life’s obstacles.

When the family cat dies of lung cancer just as Isla is being cured, her anger at the illness’s victory is undermined by her new discovery of the Japanese philosophy of “ikigai”: reason for being.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer while on what was supposed to be an 11-week trip with my husband and two young children to the Far East. I had already had my suspicions that something might be amiss, but with the trip all booked and organised, I decided to go ahead and, prompted by my GP, see a doctor in Tokyo.

Obviously the Japanese healthcare system had not been on our tourist itinerary but, as it happens, it was… well – not enjoyable, which I was about to say and is clearly the wrong word – reassuring. Reliable. 

It took only one ultrasound and one mammogram in one appointment in the Tokyo hospital for the doctor to confirm that yes, I had breast cancer. What did I do? I went and met husband and children in an amusement park and took daughter on the log flume, while husband, according to son, screamed like a child on the rollercoaster.

What else could I do?

With a couple of weeks until the recommended biopsy, and then another couple of weeks until the biopsy result, we had plenty of time to explore Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as planned. And, cancer diagnosis notwithstanding, that was one of the best, most exciting periods of my life!  

We enjoyed tranquil national parks, and the renowned cherry blossom, bullet trains, earthquakes (!), home schooling, temples and shrines, tempura and other unrecognisable food stuffs, snorkelling in a warm and crystal-clear sea… 

The day after my biopsy result – delivered with detailed care and support by two Japanese doctors – we returned to Edinburgh, and my nine months of intensive treatment began. It took 16 chemotherapy sessions, three surgeries and 19 radiotherapy sessions but I was declared clear of cancer in time for Christmas.

I learned a lot in this period. I learned a lot about my own strength and resilience, and I learned even more about the importance of support networks, of being able to communicate with doctors, of having questions answered, of understanding what is going on. Most importantly, I learned so much about the kindness of people – not just friends, but mere acquaintances. There is such a depth of understanding and sympathy in most people, which leads to them wanting to help in whatever way they can – with childcare, or providing cooked meals, or donating money to cancer charities for research and cures.

That – the good will and benevolence of my community – was invaluable.

While I was being treated, I wrote a blog, to keep friends and family in the loop with regard to how I was getting on (and probably to help me process the experience). The blog was brutally honest. It was often wry, always immodest, and occasionally farcical.  And friends started suggesting I write a book, based on the blog.

Which is what I did.

But obviously I couldn’t just regurgitate the blog, as that was freely available online… So, prompted by the recognition of my own strength – realised during my illness – I started thinking about all those other obstacles, scenes and issues I, and many other women, encounter in life, and which we overcome and assimilate into our very beings.

So the book, Making Pearls From Grit, has ended up being, not just a cancer memoir but also an uplifting story of survival, fortitude, courage and kindness. I hope it can let cancer patients know that they are not alone, and that there are so many of us here willing them on; and it will allow friends and family of those with cancer to understand exactly what they’re going through, without having to ask them personal questions.

My own journey is far from over – while I am cured, the emotional impact of the illness has fairly long-term repercussions. But with the support of my friends, my amazing husband and my brave children, I know how and why to enjoy every single day. 

And we will be returning to Japan, to finish our interrupted trip.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I will be donating money from sales of Making Pearls From Grit to Macmillan Cancer Support, Maggie’s Centres, Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Care throughout the month. To find out more and help support the fundraising, please sign up to my newsletter via www.isla.org.uk or like and follow my Facebook page @IAitkenwriter.”

What an amazing story and an amazing initiative. if you would like to buy a copy of Isla’s book and help support breast cancer charities, you can get a copy here. Or make a donation to one of the many charities working to beat this disease such as https://www.cancerresearchuk.org and https://www.wearitpink.org/

About the Author

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Isla Aitken is a former sub editor and PR consultant, who has given up her career to write full time. She is co-founder of a local cancer support group, and has been an active environmental campaigner for many years. Having published two short stories to Amazon, Making Pearls From Grit, a memoir of her experience as a breast cancer patient, is her first full-length book.

Connect with Isla:

Website: http://www.isla.org.uk

Facebook: I Aitken Writer

Twitter: @IslaAitken

Instagram: @readwriteandrave

Kult by Stefan Malmstrom #BookReview #BlogTour (@kpstefan) @silvertailbooks @BOTBSPublicity #Kult

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THE PAST WILL NEVER LET YOU GO…

When a four-year-old girl and her father are found dead in the Swedish city of Karlskrona, the police quickly conclude it was a murder-suicide, a tragedy requiring no further investigation.

But Luke Bergmann, a reformed criminal still haunted by his violent past, believes they are wrong. The dead man, Viktor, was his best friend, and Luke knows he would never commit such a horrific crime.

When more bodies turn up, Luke is certain the same killer has struck again. Alone, he embarks on an investigation which reaches back through decades to his friend’s involvement with a sinister cult and dark secrets are exposed as Luke struggles to keep his own long-buried demons hidden away.

And when Luke finds himself in a killer’s sights, his search for the truth becomes the fight of his life.

Can Luke get justice for Viktor and his daughter and prove his best friend was not a murderer, or will the shadows of the past overwhelm him?

Happily taking my turn on the blog tour today for Kult by Stefan Malmstrom. My thanks to Sarah Hardy of Books On The Bright Side Publicity for inviting me to take part and to the author and publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a really fascinating, if very dark, read that stood out because it was partially based on the author’s own experiences as a young man with Scientology, which leant the story an extra level of authenticity.

I don’t think I am alone in finding cults a compelling subject. The idea that people can be influenced into believing the most extraordinary things that seem totally bizarre to the rest of us, to the extent that they are prepared to distance themselves from their family and friends, devote their lives and money to the cause and enact the most extreme forms of behaviour, including murder, is a topic I find riveting. I have read quite a lot of non-fiction on the subject of cults, and also enjoy fiction books that have this as a central subject matter. The Girls by Emma Cline was a recent novel based around a cult that was very popular, but the attraction of reading a book about possibly the world’s most famous cult, Scientology, by someone who was actually a member was too good an opportunity to miss and this book did not disappoint in any way.

The book is cleverly constructed with three story threads running through it that start off seemingly separate but are gradually drawn together as we go throughout the book until it forms a complete picture at the denouement. One of the threads follows the story of a group of young people as they are enticed into the world of Scientology in a small town in Sweden in the early 1990s. The main protagonist of the book is, Luke, a not quite whiter-than-white American now living in Sweden, who discovers the apparent murder-suicide of his best friend and his friend’s young daughter. However, Luke refuses to believe that Viktor was capable of any such thing and, despite warnings from the police investigating the matter, is determined to discover the truth for himself. The third thread…well you need to read the book for yourself to find out how that weaves in.

This book is gripping, to say the least. I read it in a day and could not put it down. The construct of the book was extremely effective in keeping the reader turning the pages and trying to work out how the pieces fitted together. The characters were cleverly portrayed to make you either love them or loathe them, as appropriate, and they felt realistic and well-rounded. I thought Luke was a great character to carry the story and would be very keen to read further books featuring him. I have to warn readers that some aspects of this book involved extremely disturbing subject matter that some readers may find distressing, but this was not done in a gratuitous manner and was relevant to the story. I found the insight into Scientology the most fascinating part of the book, though. To gain such a glimpse into the secretive world of Scientology from someone who has been there, and hear first hand the kind of damage it can do, was riveting. The author gives us a note at the end regarding how much of the book is fact and how much is fiction and it was eye-opening to say the least.

This is a dark, gripping and tense thriller with a fascinating back story and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bleak but enthralling read.

Kult is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you check out the other reviews posted by my marvellous fellow bloggers on the tour:

BLOG TOUR (7)

About the Author

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Stefan Malmström is a former news journalist who has worked for Sveriges Radio and Swedish TV4. Today he works as a consultant, lecturer and author. At a young age, Stefan was manipulated into the Church of Scientology in Hässleholm, a small town in southern Sweden. KULT, his first book, is based on his experiences in the cult. Stefan lives in Karlskrona in Sweden with his family.

Connect with Stefan:
Facebook: Hjarntvattad
Twitter: @kpstefan
Instagram: @hjarntvattad.se

 

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder #BookReview (@TimothyDSnyder) @TheBodleyHead @MMFlint #politics #nonfiction #brexit #OnTyranny #Fahrenheit11/9

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History does not repeat, but it does instruct.

In the twentieth century, European democracies collapsed into fascism, Nazism and communism. These were movements in which a leader or a party claimed to give voice to the people, promised to protect them from global existential threats, and rejected reason in favour of myth. European history shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary people can find themselves in unimaginable circumstances.

History can familiarise, and it can warn. Today, we are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to totalitarianism in the twentieth century. But when the political order seems imperilled, our advantage is that we can learn from their experience to resist the advance of tyranny.

Now is a good time to do so.

Over the weekend, the Irishman and I watched Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, charting the 2016 US Presidential election campaign and how the presidency of Donald Trump came about (I know what you are thinking, what wild party animals we are!) The documentary featured a gentleman named Timothy Snyder as one of the commentators, who was identified as ‘the author of On Tyranny.’ Since I found his comments in the documentary interesting, I decided to buy a copy of the book.

It arrived on Monday and I dove in immediately and read it in one sitting. At only 126 pages long, it only took me an hour to get through but, aside from its length, the things that compelled me to read it cover to cover in one sitting, and then read it straight through again the following morning, were the frightening historical lessons contained within the pages which are now scarily relevant to what is going on in the political world today, and which we need to remember and heed in order to avoid ending up in horrifying places we swore we would never go to again. Although this book is primarily drawing parallels between the European political history of the last century and the current situation in America, unfortunately our country is now facing a lot of the same issues.

The basic premise of the book is that, although history does not repeat itself exactly, in times of crisis it can flag up the warning signs that alert us to the fact we are heading down a dangerous path, and provide us with the knowledge and tools to avoid repeating historical mistakes. The book is in a very easy to digest format, with twenty lessons we can learn from twentieth century European political history, followed by a brief explanation of the context and how it may be currently manifesting in our society. Some of these ideas were not new to me, I have seen them mooted in other places during my reading and research over the past four years, but some were and, reading all of them brought together in one place and explained so clearly and concisely, was a hard slap to the face which will make any reader sit up and think, on whichever side of the political divide you find yourself. In the current unsettled and unsettling climate, this can only be a good thing.

I have seen a lot of extremes in political discourse recently, particularly on Twitter, with one side talking about the rise of fascism and the other saying this is arrant nonsense. Whatever stance you take, this book is a valuable read which might make you take a step back and consider the truth of what is actually happening. In this book, the author seeks not to say ‘this is definitely where we are heading,’ but ‘look, THINK, remember, be aware, decide where you stand and take action.’ Prevention is far, far better than the cure that proved necessary in the past. There is a famous quote, ‘eternal vigilance is the price of freedom’ which the author uses in this book. This is true today and, in contrast, apathy and inaction are surely its end.

Given the events of the last week in Parliament, some of the chapters rang with particularly resounding alarm bells. ‘Defend institutions,’ was the first, as we have seen our Parliament battling with the Executive for sovereignty over the Brexit issue and, in the last 24 hours, the independence of the judiciary being attacked. ‘Remember professional ethics’ is another topic that I particularly, as an ex-lawyer who follows a lot of legal accounts on Twitter, have seen being strenuously debated in relation to the Government’s suggestion that they may challenge or disregard the Benn Law passed this week and how members of the legal profession sitting in Government should position themselves if it takes such a step. The pieces of advice regarding critical thinking, being willing to say what you believe rather than following the herd and about using language wisely, gave me pause. The book will make you question who you want to be in the current climate and what you are prepared to stand for. Only by standing out and breaking the status quo can change be effected. How brave are we prepared to be as individuals in defence of our values?

There were a couple of quotes that really stood out to me. “The odd [American] idea that giving money to political campaigns is free speech means that the very rich have far more speech, and so in effect far more voting power, than other citizens” and ‘The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.” Two similar ideas that, given the controversy that surrounds the electoral spending and social media influencing during the referendum campaign, must make each of us question just how freely our votes are given and how much we are being influenced by people with their own agendas on both sides of the divide.

Is this too dramatic? I don’t know. I, for one, am certainly finding the current situation alarming. It is tempting to hide from the turmoil, assume it will all sort itself out eventually and we can just hide under the covers (literal, metaphorical or book, take your pick) until it does. The message behind this volume is history has shown us repeatedly that this strategy does not work. We have to pay attention and take action or accept that we have stood by while our values are eroded. This book is a wake up call. It really should be mandatory reading, particularly for those in positions of authority. Maybe we should crowdfund a copy being sent to each of our 650 MPs. After all, they have little else to do for the next five weeks.

On Tyranny is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Michael Moore’s new film, Fahrenheit 11/9, featuring Timothy Snyder is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

About the Author

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Timothy Snyder is one of the world’s leading historians of the twentieth century. An expert on eastern Europe and on the Second World War, he has written and edited a number of acclaimed and prize-winning books about twentieth-century European history.

His internationally bestselling Bloodlands won the Hannah Arendt Prize, the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding, and has been translated into thirty-three languages.Black Earth was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the annual prize of the Dutch Auschwitz Committee.

He is Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a frequent contributor to newspapers and journals on both sides of the Atlantic.

Connect with Timothy:

Website: http://timothysnyder.org

Twitter: @TimothyDSnyder

Period by Emma Barnett #BookReview (@Emmabarnett) @HQstories @Charlo_Murs #Period #amreading #freereading

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‘Don’t be revolted, lead the revolt – preferably with a grin on your face and a tampon tucked proudly behind your ear.’

Emma loathes her period. Really, she does. But there’s something she loathes even more: not being able to talk about it. Freely, funnily and honestly. Without men and women wrinkling their noses as if she’s pulled her tampon out and offered it as an hors d’oeuvre.

But somehow, despite women having had periods since the dawn of time, we’ve totally clammed up on anything to do with menstruation. Why, oh why, would we rather say ‘Auntie Flo’ than ‘period’? Why, in the 21st century, are periods still seen as icky? Why are we still so ignorant about such a fundamental bodily process?

Now, in Period., Emma draws on female experiences that will make you laugh, weep (and, most probably, squirm), in a fierce and funny rallying cry to smash this ridiculous taboo once and for all.

Because it’s about bloody time.

I have been waiting for this book to come out since I heard the editor, Charlotte Mursell of HQ Stories, raving about it back in March. Once I finally got hold of my copy, I was eager to start, and I raced through it. Odd, you might think, to be so keen to read a book about periods but, as the tag line says, this is the book we have all been waiting for and it’s about bloody time it was written.

Those of a squeamish disposition may want to look away from this post, because it is going to be blunt and revealing.

No, actually don’t, because the whole premise behind this book is that periods are a natural bodily function and we should be talking about them, loudly and proudly, all genders, and that the stigma surrounding periods and the silence that shrouds the topic is inherently unhelpful to everyone, perpetuates a certain level of female oppression and needs to stop.

Sound a bit heavy? Well it isn’t, this book is brash, ballsy and downright hilarious, as well as dealing with the subject openly, honestly and head on and should be read by everyone. As a 47-year-old woman who has almost run the full gamut of the female reproductive cycle from starting through child-bearing to now being perimenopausal, I could relate to a lot of what was being said here, and found myself cheering along, whilst also being shocked by some of the information imparted, enraged by other parts, questioning why I had never thought of some of the issues, laughing out loud in horrified solidarity at people’s embarrassing experiences and finally asking myself if I really was as open about this subject as I always thought or complicit in the silence that surrounds this final taboo topic.

I always think of myself as being fairly honest, very opinionated and not at all squeamish. I am the eldest of four girls, have two daughters and three step-daughters, all either in or rapidly approaching their teens, so periods are something I have been surrounded by almost continuously my entire life and something I have to talk about regularly. In the spirit of honesty encouraged by the book, and to illustrate that I have had to be open about my periods from the beginning, I will share my own ‘starting my period’ story with you.

It happened on my thirteenth birthday. Yes, the actual day itself, heralding in my teens and the start of womanhood at the same time. The only hitch was, I was staying over at my friend Alex’s house for the night and had arrived unprepared. Mortifying. Luckily, Alex and I had been friends a long time and I knew her mother well. She was (I’m sure she still is, I have not seen her for many years) a kind and sensible woman, who didn’t make a fuss but just helped me calmly and quietly, sparing my blushes, an act for which I have ever been grateful. Alex also had an older sister, so her mother had already been through this process and was suitably equipped, much to my relief.

The next morning my grandad died and my parents’ concerns were, understandably, entirely taken up with the fall out of that, so the whole episode went largely unremarked upon by my own family. My highly-anticipated birthday trip to Alton Towers was cancelled and the whole thing did not feel like something to be celebrated. My mother then presented me with a glamorous belt to wear around my waist which went through loops at either end of the massive sanitary towels I was given (the days of sticky fixing, slim towels were way in the future) and not much more was said about the matter. I had crippling cramps throughout my teens, which often made me cry with pain, taught myself how to use tampons and just got on with my life, accepting monthly discomfort as simply something to be endured.

I have tried to be much more open with my own daughters than my mother was with me, talking to them well in advance about what to expect, reacting calmly when my eldest started her periods and encouraging her to talk to me and ask any questions she has about anything to do with her body. I must have done reasonably okay, as she does talk to me, as do my step-daughters, although she does sometimes complain that I am a bit too open about bodily functions. She will probably be horrified by this post if she reads it. Parents are SO embarrassing, aren’t they?

I must admit I have to a degree been guilty of perpetuating the idea that periods are something to be ashamed of by giving her the requisite discreet pouch of sanitary products to take to school. Maybe I should be advising her to walk proudly through the corridors clutching them openly. However, I am not sure at 14 and quite shy, that she is ready to be such a period pioneer and I would not force her to face up to ridicule. We obviously still have a way to go before this topic is one that people of all ages can be open about, and I think the older generation will have to lead the way. This book is definitely a step in the right direction.

You may be thinking, this is all very well and interesting, but is talking about these things quite so bluntly really necessary? Why should I read this book? The answer is absolutely yes. Emma gives many reasons why we need to be more open throughout the book, but one issue really stood out to me as an important reason why we should do away with the shame surrounding periods and anything to do with the female reproductive system, and it is to enable women to speak openly with doctors when they feel something is wrong and to be listened to and taken seriously. I have another personal anecdote that illustrates how important this is.

Several years ago, when I first went back on the Pill after starting a new post-divorce relationship, the tablet the doctor gave me resulted in periods of a duration and severity I had never before experienced in my 27 years (at that point) as a menstruating woman. I knew something was wrong and went back to see the doctor. He (yes, it was a he) told me it was just teething troubles and it would bed down. Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself on a Saturday evening in A&E, having had to leave an evening out with friends because I was soaking through a Super Plus tampon every ten minutes and thought I was haemorrhaging. I have never seen so much blood, even post-childbirth. The A&E doctor gave me a tablet to stop it and told me I had to go back to my GP and insist he change my prescription. He did. We women know our own bodies, we know what is normal for us, we need to listen to them and feel able to talk honestly and forcefully to people when we know something is wrong and we deserve to be listened to and taken seriously. Our instincts are the best way to intercept serious problems at an early stage, and the more open we can be about what is normal for each of us and what is not, the better off we all will be. Emma stresses this point in the book and she is 100% correct.

So, next time I am at the doctors filling my pill prescription, I will be asking why it is necessary for me to bleed once a month (hint, it’s not for my benefit), making sure I think about donating sanitary products when giving to food banks and considering the different circumstances women may be in and how they might feel about their periods when I’m talking about them. This book is eye-opening and thought-provoking and should be read by everyone. I will certainly be passing it around amongst my acquaintances. Baby steps in the right direction.

Period is out now and you can get your copy here.

About the Author

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Emma Barnett is an award-winning broadcaster and journalist. By day, she presents The Emma Barnett Show on BBC Radio 5 Live in which she interviews key figures shaping our times, from the Prime Minister to those who would very much like to be. By night, she presents the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight, on BBC Two and hosts Late Night Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4.

Emma was named Radio Broadcaster of the Year by the Broadcasting Press Guild for her agenda-setting interviews. Previously, she was the Women’s Editor at The Telegraph. She now writes a weekly agony aunt column, ‘Tough Love’, in the Sunday Times Magazine and is a proud patron of Smart Works. Period is her first book.

Connect with Emma:

Twitter: @Emmabarnett