The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read – Philippa Perry

Penguin Life

Rating: 4 stars

the book you wish your parents had readThe parenting book du jour, Philippa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, promises that, through kindness, compassion and understanding, you can avoid ‘screwing up’ your child. It takes a big-concept rather than task-specific approach (e.g. there is only one chapter on ‘behaviour’ and no chapters on things like ‘bedtime’ or ‘potty-training’) and comprises six sections: Your Parenting Legacy, Your Child’s Environment, Feelings, Laying a Foundation, Conditions for Good Mental Health, and Behaviour: All Behaviour is Communication.

Certainly it’s easy to see why this is the big parenting sensation of the moment. Its prose is clear and concise, its message is simple, and it offers many great examples of how its philosophy (I would avoid saying ‘methods’) has benefitted families. It’s a quick read, it’s not burdened down with jargon or complex theorising about why the way it recommends is the right way, and it is an enjoyable and interesting as well as a useful read.

I’m writing with some degree of bias, since I am a new parent and this book heartily recommends doing many of the things that align with my own personal preferences; most notably, it is very strongly against sleep training, which I cannot bring myself to do despite the recommendation of more “traditional” parenting advice outlets. Hurrah! I’m off the hook. It is also broadly in favour of a more liberal and permissive style of parenting than an authoritarian and routine-based one, which suits me better in terms of my own lifestyle and preferences for organising myself, so I think I was always going to be warmly disposed to the message of this book.

And the message of the book feels very current: it is about compassion, understanding and adapting with your child. It is not a guide to how to get your child to fit in with you, or another routine (@ Gina Ford), or how to ‘train’ them to behave. In fact, it is more about training parents to engage with their child as another human to connect with rather than an as-yet-unformed adult to be shaped.

So, in the main, I thought this was an accessible, warm, sensible and highly practical parenting book. There were a few moments, however, that jarred with the praise of the book as ‘warm’ and ‘encouraging’. There is a fair amount of commentary along the lines of “If you do x y z you will inhibit your child’s potential for future happiness” or emotionally stunt them in some other way – one does not expect a parenting book to be without warnings – but sometimes patronisingly followed with or preceded by “Now, don’t throw this book away in a temper if you have been doing x y z – there is always time to change your ways.” The assumption that a reader who had been acting contrary to the book’s advice would have a ‘fit of temper’ seemed condescending and also like a sort of smart-Alec trick: if you disagree with me, I know I’ll be making you angry, and if you are angry that only means I’m right. I thought the book would have been better, felt warmer, and felt more collaborative with its readers without this.

Overall, though, I would strongly recommend to anyone. It is as much about our relationship with our own parents as with our children, and contains much interesting food for thought.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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The Porpoise – Mark Haddon

Chatto & Windus

Rating: 5 stars

Mark Haddon is most famous for his remarkable novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, published in 2003 as, unusually, both children’s and adult fiction, and subsequently adapted into an award-winning play at the National Theatre. It won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award – in the Novels rather than the Children’s Books category – and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, as The Curious Incident was considered his first written for adults; yet Haddon also won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime award judged by a panel of children’s writers. The book was also long-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize.

the porpoise.jpgSince then, Haddon has published two more novels and a beautiful collection of short stories, The Pier Falls. And 2019 sees another departure for Haddon in his new novel, The Porpoise, a compelling blending of modern novel with legends, myths, and ancient history. The different strands intertwine in a vivid and electrifying tale, combining episodes of action, from shipwrecks and fierce combat scenes, to daring escapes and shape-shifting moments. His story-telling makes great use of present tense, which sends sparks throughout the whole novel. It’s impossible to define The Porpoise – the plot is based on the Greek legend of Apollonius, who exposes a king’s incestuous relationship with his daughter; fleeing the king’s wrath, Apollonius endures many harrowing exploits. (This legend is the basis for the play Pericles, thought to be written by Shakespeare and one George Wilkins, and it’s a measure of The Porpoise’s extraordinary compass that this pair of Jacobean writers form a sequence of rich scenes.)

“Something peculiar is happening here,” someone thinks. “Time is repeating and rhyming…”

In the opening section, wealthy Philippe is widowed by a horrific plane crash in which his new daughter Angelique is the sole survivor. As Angelique grows up, Philippe keeps her isolated from the world and eventually starts sexually abusing her. Haddon shines a light on the way money distorts the moral atmosphere, and cuts off dissent, making it impossible for outsiders to accept the truth of what is happening, let alone intervene. Philippe’s power over Angelique is complete and she has no one to help her and no way of escaping the web in which she is entrapped. The modern scenes are entwined and interwoven with the ancient tales of Pericles/Apollonius in a way I found gripping and at times shocking. I wanted to read on quickly, but the language was so sparing and beautiful that I had to linger over it.

A remarkable book. Please don’t be put off by mentions of ancient and obscure source material: this is a rich masterpiece of a novel, well worthy of many prizes and of reading and rereading.

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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Baby Books

It’s never too early to start reading with your child. They may not grasp the finer nuances of Crime and Punishment at six months, but that’s no reason not to introduce them to the world of books. To that end, we’ve compiled two lists of books, to read to, and with, your baby. They’re not exhaustive lists, by any means, but every book here is tried and tested, and much-loved. Pull up a softly lit reading chair, and dig in.

Reading with Your Baby

Reading is one of life’s great pleasures, so why wouldn’t you want to pass it down to your children? Books are tactile things, and the sooner you can get your baby used to what they look like, and smell like, the better. A word to the wise, though: once your baby gets to four or five months, they’ll want to get involved with turning the pages / putting the entire book in their mouth. Board books are a great way to read with your child without their ripping out a page of your much-treasured Each Peach Pear Plum.

 

the tiger who came to tea

Mog, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Judith Kerr, who died earlier this year, was a prolific children’s author. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a great choice for older readers, but our favourites for reading with babies and young children are The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and the Mog series. Gentle and funny, with lovely pictures, they’re classics for a reason.

 

giraffes can't dance

Giraffes Can’t Dance

By Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees, Giraffes Can’t Dance tells the story of Gerald the giraffe, who can’t dance… Or can he? Absolutely charming, all in rhyme, and with delightful pictures on every page, this is a must-read.

 

what the ladybird heardWhat the Ladybird Heard

Julia Donaldson is another hugely prolific writer, and is a former children’s laureate. There are lots of books to choose from, but What the Ladybird Heard is our pick for this list. More great pictures, and an exciting and funny story. The lesson will go over babies’ heads, of course, but it’s perfect comfort food for adults too.

 

the worm and the birdThe Worm and the Bird

A bit of a curveball here. Coralie Bickford-Smith’s The Worm and the Bird is what the internet would describe as a big mood. Beautiful, engrossing pictures throughout, and fairly light on text. It’s not the cheeriest read, and some parents will want to avoid, but it has a poetic simplicity that we love, and children can get lost in the pictures.

 

baby orcaBaby Orca

A proper “baby book” to finish off this first list. Baby Orca, illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang, is simple and fun, a finger puppet book which describes the life of a little orca. Visually stimulating and engaging, babies love it. Also check out other puppet books in the series.

 

Reading to Your Baby

What’s the point of reading books my baby won’t even understand? Well, your baby likes your voice, and it’s never a bad time to get them used to how a story sounds – its rhythms and patterns. It’s great for their development, and it’s a wonderful bonding experience. If you have the voice and the intonation for it, you could read absolutely anything – the dictionary and the phone book come to mind – but why not read something you’ll enjoy too?

 

pooh sticksWinnie-the-Pooh

A. A. Milne was well-known in his own lifetime as a “serious” novelist and playwright. What has survived and flourished in the decades since his death, though, is Winnie-the-Pooh. And for good reason. It’s impossible to top the Pooh books and poems for sheer inventiveness, wit, and charm.

 

the wind in the willowsThe Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows was a big influence on Milne’s writing in Pooh, and there are some similarities in the characters, but nothing can match the poetry of The Wind in the Willows. The language ebbs and flows, taking us through all four seasons, down by the riverbank and beyond. As with the Pooh books, the best illustrations are by E. H. Shepard.

 

the bfgThe BFG

There are, of course, lots of Roald Dahl books we could have picked, but The BFG might have the best words. Delumptious, gruncious, squibbling and rotsome. Gobblefunk, whizzpopping, schnozzles and snozzcumbers. It’s a delight.

 

harry potterHarry Potter

We couldn’t not mention this, could we? It’s great to read, though. You can do the voices and everything. It’s impossible to unpick, but somewhere there’s a formula in here for the most addictive book series there is. I’ll say it – J. K. Rowling is a genius. One word of warning: as they go on, they get longer and longer, and creepier and creepier. You might want to stop before you get to the end (if you can tear yourself away), or you’ll risk not finishing until your child is thirty-five.

 

alice in wonderlandAlice in Wonderland

Another classic to round off. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are perfect, weird, mad stories. More great words, more great flowing passages, more great characters, and plenty more opportunities for silly voices. They’ve got it all in spades.

 

Bitter Orange – Claire Fuller

Rating: 5 stars

Another great book from one of our favourite current authors, Claire Fuller, following on from the success of her previous works, Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons; Fuller has a masterly touch of quiet tension, gradually increasing the pressure on her characters. By focusing our attention on a small group of central players, we scrutinise each one in minute detail as though we are seeing them through a microscope.

bitter orange.jpg

Bitter Orange starts almost at its end: “They must think I don’t have long left, because they allow the vicar in.” Frances Jellicoe, the narrator, is struggling with recollections of events which took place some twenty years before, when she was 39. Through her memories, we are introduced to the central characters – Lara, Peter, Frances – and place – Lyntons. As in Fuller’s earlier works the strong sense of a particular place is absolutely key to the work; Lyntons is a run-down country estate which has recently been bought by a wealthy American. Left empty since its days of being requisitioned by the army during World War II, Lyntons is now in a sad state and its new owner has commissioned Frances to give him a detailed report on the garden architecture and statuary. Her younger companions are there to compile a survey of the sadly depleted contents of the house, and the three are all staying in the semi-ruinous mansion. Frances is more or less camping in attic rooms directly above those being used by Peter and Lara. One paragraph gloriously sums up a sense of where they are staying:

My two rooms were on the west side of the house, just below the roof and chimney stacks. It was a floor of a dozen or so rooms heading off a corridor that ran north to south. All the west-facing rooms had a glorious view over Lyntons’ ruined gardens, the paths hidden by overgrown box and yew, a tangled rose garden, fallen statuary and the ravaged flowerbeds, to the parkland, the mausoleum and, beyond, a dark treeline and the hangers in the distance.

The relationship between Frances, Lara and Peter is slowly built up, and we see Frances, who previously led a secluded, lonely life caring for her invalid mother, who has recently died, falling for the undoubted charms of each of her young companions, separately and together. Their way of life and hers are worlds apart, and she is drawn in by Lara’s stories of her past and by the couple’s easy grace and style. They cook delicious meals which they share with her, trawl through the remains of the wine cellar, and happily furnish their allocated part of the mansion with treasures they’ve found remaining around Lyntons. If Frances is at all uneasy with the use the three of them are making of the items they’ve found and with the lack of any progress any of them is making on compiling a report, her doubts are pushed readily to one side as for the first time in her life she is enjoying herself and leading an entirely different kind of life.

The gradual build up of the tension is so beautifully written that it felt very real and almost tangible, as if we were hearing Frances’s own voice describing the few short hot weeks that were the glory days of her life. The end is inevitably bitter and hard, like the bitter orange fruits that are found at Lyntons, and leaves Frances once again alone. There is no sweet sugar to take away the resulting pain, and the final twist to Frances’s recollections is a hard stone she must carry to the end of her days.

I urge you to read this!

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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The Two Hearts of Eliza Bloom – Beth Miller

Rating: 3 stars

eliza bloom.jpg

Eliza is 23, and according to her father, “running the risk of ending up a spinster” in the summer of 1999; she has met and rejected six possible matches, an unacceptably large number. Her mother is growing increasingly despairing of her wayward child until Eliza agrees to meet 28-year-old Nathan, whose grandfather was close friends with Eliza’s beloved grandfather Zaida, and their families are delighted when Eliza and Nathan become an engaged couple just six weeks later. However, within a month fate throws a spanner in the works when Eliza meets handsome Alex through work, and they are instantly deeply attracted to each other.

The action in this book spools back and forth between 1999/2000 and spring 2016. The instant attraction between Eliza and Alex spins her world out of control and, on the morning of her intended marriage with Nathan, she runs away with Alex. In any family this would be a cause of major problems, putting it mildly, but Eliza Bloom is from an extremely conventional Orthodox Jewish family, and has lived her life by an entirely different set of conventions and rules from most young women in London at the turn of the millennium. Her father declares her dead to him and refuses to acknowledge that she is still his daughter, and most of her friends and family follow suit; only her younger brother Dov contacts her to let her know that Zaida is in a care home, having accidentally set fire to his annexe in the family’s home.

I’ve loved Beth Miller’s previous books, but struggled with this one. Because the upbringing of Aliza (to use her original name) has been so different from that of most people, there clearly has to be an explanation of the customs she has grown up with and accepted as essential. I found her capitulation to Alex’s charm and appeal a little hard to credit, as I did his making lists of things she needs to try in “his world”. What I found hard to accept was not her acceptance of the lists, which were constantly pushing the boundaries of what she would do (she’d grown up in a world where nearly everything was tightly controlled, after all), but his making of the lists and desire to push her beyond her lifelong limits of acceptability and desirability. I found it hard to like Alex and believe in their relationship, or to get any sort of feeling for what his and Eliza’s daughter was like. Eliza’s relationships with her family members were well drawn, as was the uncomfortable situation in which she found herself with her best friend, but because of my difficulties with the main characters, I found it really not the ‘feel-good’, ‘laugh-out-loud’ read that so many others have described it as being.

I really wanted to love it as much as I loved Beth Miller’s earlier books, but overall, though it felt like an interesting novel, it was sadly not one I warmed to.  I’m sure plenty of other readers and reviewers will feel exactly the opposite, and also feel it’s a very relevant book for our times, so I would encourage everyone to give it a go and make their own decisions about it.

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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Let Me Lie – Clare Mackintosh

Rating: 5 stars

let me lie.jpgAnna Johnson’s parents have both committed suicide, just seven months apart, and on the anniversary of her mother’s death she receives several cards, one of which is a garish Happy Anniversary card, inside containing the typed words: Suicide? Think again.

Let Me Lie gives us Anna’s narrative as she struggles to deal with a multitude of factors: her parents’ deaths; the looming failure of their business, now run by her uncle Billy; her partner, Mark, whom she met as a therapist under a year before; and her two-month-old baby.

The other narrator is apparently a ghost – that of one of Anna’s parents:

On the day of my death I walked the tightrope between the two worlds, the safety net in tatters beneath me. This way safety; that way danger.

I stepped.

I died.

What happens next to Anna comes about from her reporting of the card at the local police station, to Murray Mackenzie, a former detective who now works in a civilian capacity. Murray’s own narrative then winds in and through those of Anna and her dead parent, as the tale swiftly moves through the next few days, culminating on the last day of the year, with fireworks appropriately exploding around them.

Clare Mackintosh brings many twists and turns to this plot, and it’s impossible to know whose explanation of events to believe. We feel enormous sympathy for Anna and for Murray, who has what could most simply be described as a “difficult” marriage. His wife Sarah is central to the book and she has a key role to play in explaining the mystery; her illness is sympathetically portrayed, as is Murray’s understanding of it and of her. Anna relies heavily on three people: Billy, Mark, and old family friend Laura. By turns we trust and mistrust all three, as they weave through the rapidly churning developments.

Mackintosh has a great talent for writing novels which grip readers and keep them enthralled and mystified. If you’re at all like me, though, it’s best not to read this late at night, as parts of it are not conducive to sleep. And beware, there’s a final twist right at the very end, which will probably give you the shivers and make your spine tingle with dread.

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer

Rating: 3.5 stars

From the name, I was expecting Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion to be somewhat wry and humorous. It was, in fact, very earnest throughout. It follows the story of Greer, an undergraduate at Ryland College whose parents prevented her from getting into her chosen Ivy League school by not filling out the financial aid forms properly. Greer has a boyfriend at Princeton, and a sassy feminist activist and (surprise, lesbian!) best friend Zee who introduces her to feminist icon Faith Frank at a university lecture, after Greer is groped by a creepy guy at a party. The rest of the book follows them into adulthood and forms a sort of contemplation of the complexity of trying to live a ‘feminist’ life, do right by other women and the world, and fight to find meaning.

the female persuasion.jpg

It’s written well and engagingly – it trips along, and isn’t too heavy on detail. There was one bugbear of mine, which was that a plot-essential pet kept being referred to as a ‘turtle’ when I am 99% sure it was meant to be a tortoise (it walked in the grass, lived in a dry shoebox not a tank, etc etc). I actually ended up looking it up and apparently tortoise is a subset of turtle, so perhaps I am justly slain by mine own pedantry, but it was quite distracting nonetheless. It makes one wonder if there was ever a point where an editor asked, ‘Are you sure this isn’t meant to be a tortoise?’

I’m sure there are a lot of readers (without my unwarranted tortoise-based expectations) who would really enjoy this book – it was very typical of that kind of contemporary American novel that follows the lives of young men and women in order to reveal that women are troubled and unfulfilled by every type of relationship, and that many men are emotionally inadequate, apart from the one who isn’t and will happily be the partner of our enduring ingenue (because somehow even in these on-brand feminist contemporary novels there is something of the ingenue about the main female character – with a more cynical best friend, mentor or other foil to balance her out). Greer’s best friend Zee felt like quite a hollow stereotype, and Greer’s journey from quiet little mouse was all too predictable. The book even ended with one of those end-of-harry-potter chapters that ties everything together in a neatly optimistic bow. Discussions of feminism were overt, and every moment a teachable moment about friendship or relationships or the professional world.

None of this is bad per se, of course; it was a novel that had a clear sense of what it wanted the reader to think at the end. An interesting and enjoyable read which I think would appeal to anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of a lesson in their books.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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