Book Review: Eat, Drink, Run How I Got Fit Without Going Too Mad – Bryony Gordon

Bryony Gordon was not a runner. A loafer, a dawdler, a drinker, a smoker, yes. A runner, no. In April 2017, less than a year after she had weighed herself at over 16 stone but stepped off the scales and started training anyway, Bryony Gordon ran all 26 and 3/4 miles of the London Marathon.

If you’re friends with me on Goodreads you’ll know that I’ve adored every book I have read by Bryony Gordon – she’s funny, intelligent and just gets it. Although, this is the one I took longest to pick up. It was about running, something I can’t stand at all – would I really enjoy it? Read on friend, but I think you’ll work out pretty early on what the answer is.

One of the things I like most about Bryony is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. She knows how to laugh at herself and it’s a relief, you feel like you can laugh along too. Calling Prince Harry Hazza? Classic Bryony. Signing up the London Marathon without knowing how long it was? I laughed a lot while reading this and I think most people will.

This is more than a story of just running a marathon, it’s about battling your mental health, finding comfort in others and not giving up. Bryony started something called Mental Health Mates (more about it here) where a bunch of ‘mad’ people could have a get together and walk which is a bloody brilliant idea.

Again, Bryony covers another section of her life and health with unflinching honesty. She talks about the toll that writing Mad Girl had on her mental health and how walking and running gave her a little bit of sanity. Also, if you’re a fan of her other books, there are plenty of Harry’s brilliant reactions to Bryony’s shenanigans too.

If you’re worried this will be a prechy and self righteous book about the power of exercise, don’t be. Yes, Bryony found a love for running but she doesn’t try and force it on the reader at all, she simply writes about the joy and the many challenges she faced.

I found this to be funny, relatable and because of that I gave it 5 stars. Another excellent and honest book by Bryony – she truly is a wonderful human and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to next. Also, I listened to this as an audiobook and can highly recommend!

Book Review: The Sun Does Shine – Anthony Ray Hinton

As a poor black man in the deep south, Anthony Ray Hinton, didn’t stand a chance when the police accused him of multiple murders. Despite the fact he had a solid alabi, the gun they claimed he had used hasn’t been fired in decades and didn’t match the bullets used. Despite his innocence he spent decades on death row inching closer to death before finally being declared a free man.

Throughout the pages I found myself getting angry, frustrated and upset with the lack of care that the justice system had towards this man. The fact that they would not acknowledge the racist actions of the people within their institution is, frankly, disgusting. But that in itself is the power of this memoir.

It was important that Ray showed that he does have his own flaws. It would have been easy to portray himself as squeaky clean, instead he owns up to the dodgy checks or the stolen car in his youth. Should he have done them? No. But he did and he admits it. Those actions, however, do not make him a murderer, simply an easy target for injustice.

There were times that I felt conflicted Ray spoke with kindness about the men around him, despite the fact that some were rapists and murderers but, he reminded the reader, not all were guilty. Some of them yes, but not all. At the end of the book there is a list of all of the people on death row, I read every single one of them and broke down in tears. There will be people in that list who are innocent – who may die.

I gave this memoir, 5 stars, I felt so emotional while reading it as well as angry. The fact that it took so long for Ray to be freed, how much of his life he missed is disgusting. That said, this is an incredibly important read because these are stories that need to be heard. I urge you to read this to really learn about the injustices.

Hard Pushed – Leah Hazard

Saying that midwives are incredible is an understatement. These women (and sometimes men) are the bringers of life, people that labouring mothers can love more than their partners at some points. But who are they behind the scrubs and the smiles? What do they see every day? Leah Hazard has spent years working as an NHS midwife and this is her story.

I absolutely adored this book, because it was so interesting. Through Leah’s eyes, we see snippets of different women as they make their way through labour. From women who are awaiting their first bundles of joy, to teenagers going through it alone, there are a number of stories that made me want to reach through the pages and hug them. Each experience seems to different but so similar at the same time and while this is, as Leah puts it herself, a ‘love letter’ to the women she has helped and her fellow midwives.

While this does have wonderful moments, what stands out is that Leah is not afraid to share the pressure midwives are under. Understaffed, underfunded and often running on empty.  Many midwives have walked away, not because they don’t love their jobs but because they are burnt out. Missed breaks, hospitals fit to burst and often not enough beds. It is one of many memoirs from medical professionals I have read in the past few years that I feel should be required reading for those making cuts to NHS services.

I gave this book 5 stars and devoured it in 24 hours, and that includes a nights sleep in-between. Leah Hazard clearly not only has a talent for writing but also a kindness that exudes from the pages of this book. Like many other medical memoirs, I am in awe of those who care for us in our hours of need. This is incredibly well written and I urge you to pick it up.

A copy of this book was given to me to review via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Notes To Self – Emilie Pine

`The person who loves the addict exhausts and renews their love on a daily basis’ 

Within this short collection, Emilie bares her soul. Sharing with us, some of her most personal stories from growing up with an alcoholic parent to her miscarriage and more. That said, this isn’t a pity party, instead it radiates strength. While I had never heard of Emile before this, I felt like she was someone I could know.

One of the things I enjoyed the most while reading this is seeing Emilie grow up from a little girl who didn’t understand her parent’s separation, a wild teenager to an intelligent woman. It seems that there is nothing that Pine tries to hide from us, and that takes guts. We all change so much from being a child to a fully-grown adult and this collection definitely shares warts and all.

This is a collection that will make you think about your own life, the choices you have made and the reactions you have had. There is an unflinching honesty within Pine’s essays that isn’t seen often. In particular, when speaking about being unable to conceive, I was in awe of the way in which she shared her feelings. Infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth are all covered within these pages and these are the conversations that we often shy away from in society. The fact that Pine speaks about her experiences in such an honest way will no doubt make people feel less alone when they read this.

I gave this collection 5 stars. It only took a day for me to read through this and while there were times that I was on the verge of tears, it’s something that I feel needs to be read. This is definitely just the start of some wonderful work that we’ve going to see from Emilie Pine, and I for one can’t wait.

Thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley for giving me a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book Review: Let Her Fly: A Father’s Journey – Ziauddin Yousafzai

After Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban as a teenager, the world has watched as she has continued to stand up for the right to girls education. By her side has been her father, Ziauddin and now, it is time to tell his story and the fight for equality he has been working on for more than 20 years.

Malala has made no secret of the love and admiration she holds for her father and in this book it is clear to see that the love goes both ways. There were points where I felt that it was so focused on Malala, I wondered about her younger brothers. This is rectified in the book as Ziauddin talks about his sons and, equally, the struggles he has had parenting two boys in a world so different to his own.

One of the things I loved most, was the dedication to his wife. This felt so pure and wonderful that he truly believes that she is his equal and his love. It was important to see that this was so deep routed in wanting equality for his family from within his home, before extending it to the wider world.

I gave this 4 stars, I really enjoyed reading more about Ziauddin, his life and beliefs. The fact that this looked at him as a whole person, rather than just as Malala’s father. This is an intriguing look at what is an extraordinary man.

A huge thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and author for this copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book Review: I Am, I Am, I Am – Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell has had quite a life, forget a cat having nine lives, this tell the story of Maggie’s 17 brushes with death, some are remarkable, some are sad and some will send a chill down your spine. This is about everyday life, survival and appreciating the life you have.

This is a stunning memoir that I wish I could shout about from the rooftops. I listened to this as an audiobook rather than reading and I actually thought it was a great way to engage with the book, it almost made it seem more real.

Spanning decades, every chapter another tale of luck and resilience. In fact, the book itself is for Maggie’s daughter who lives with a condition that is incredibly dangerous to the point she must always be one step ahead.

I’ll admit what initially drew me to this book was the title. ‘I am, I am, I am’ is a quote from one of my favourite novels, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – linking to the idea of your heartbeat reminding you that you are alive and centring you. I liked the link, while the book doesn’t mention this, I’m hoping I’m not going out on a limb here!

Death is something that most of us don’t talk about, it’s a taboo topic in society. Of course, death is sad for those left behind, however, it is a natural part of life. While this can, at times, be an incredibly tough read some of the situations that Maggie has been in are truly horrible but it gives comfort she has survived.

This will remind you of the fragility of life, but also the beauty of it. These are not stories of bitterness or anger, instead, they are about living despite hardships. In fact, it made me reevaluate part of my life too and my own hardships.

I gave this 4.5 stars, this is an absolutely brilliant read. It really does draw you in and I genuinely cared about Maggie and wanted to know more about her and her family. If you’d like a memoir that holds your attention but also makes you think hard then this is for you.

Have you read this book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Ask Me His Name – Elle Wright

The loss of a child is something no parent should have to go through but when they do – so many people are too scared to talk. How do you speak to someone who’s baby didn’t come home? Are you going to make it worse? Should you talk about the baby, use its name? After the loss of her own son, Teddy, Elle Wright wanted to do something.

Wow, this book. It’s hard to talk about because while it was a hard book, there were also times where I smiled. This is, ultimately, a message of hope, change and getting through something unimaginable. I actually first heard about the book in a news article and I felt I had to read it – partially because I know people who have lost babies. I wanted to try and see the world through their eyes.

Elle does not hold back throughout. She takes us deep into how she felt at the time. From her joy to be pregnant, her wishes for her baby all the way to Teddy’s struggles once born, holding her son as he passed and trying to make sense of her life after. She isn’t afraid of hiding her pain but also her frustration at being put in a box for grieving mothers.

Of course, this is a tough read. I needed to take quite a few breaks when reading it. While the book was beautifully written, of course, you do get very emotional. I felt my heart break for Teddy’s parents, his family. I wanted to cry because this is sad, but every time I was picked up by the fundraising they undertook, the hope they had and ultimately, love.

One of the best things about this book is that, at the end, we hear from the people who were around Elle – and also loved Teddy. We hear from Teddy’s Dad, Grandma, Aunt. We often think of how heartbreaking this is for the parents, but you can guarantee that there are more people than we know who are touched by baby loss.

To rate a book like this feels wrong, how can you rate someone’s pain? You can’t. That said, this was an incredible book, more than anything I want to thank Elle for sharing with us, for talking about Teddy. I can’t say that I understand just from reading this book, but now I have insight. This is written in such a beautiful way, while it is raw it also shows a real warmth. I can’t stop thinking about this book. Of course, it’s a 5-star read, I think everyone should read this.

Thank you to Elle, the publishers and Netgalley for my copy.