Arts

Book Reviews: Stories of frenetic family life in Hurrah for Gin

Hurrah For Gin: The Book For Perfectly Imperfect Parents follows on from author Katie Kirby's popular blog

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Hurrah For Gin: The Book For Perfectly Imperfect Parents by Katie Kirby, published in hardback by Coronet

ANYONE with kids may already know the Hurrah For Gin blog, which aims to laugh in the face of the strife and struggles parents face daily. From that, comes author Katie Kirby's first book, made up of similar content, regaling stories of frenetic family life, all illustrated by her humorous stickmen drawings.

It can be hilarious. There are laugh-out-loud moments about how much less you stress about the second child, labour itself and how children conspire against you to ensure they're perfect beings while at nursery, and absolute horrors at home.

But perhaps more surprisingly, there are touching notes about creating a human, brave revelations about a heart-wrenching termination and a chapter written by Kirby's husband, detailing how early parenthood feels from the dad's perspective. It's refreshingly honest and easy to read and it's already a bestseller. Read it and reassure your baby-fried brain that being a parent isn't easy, and is actually very funny.

Claire Spreadbury

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood, published in hardback by Hogarth

HAG-Seed is the fourth novel forming the Hogarth Shakespeare series, including Anne Tyler's retelling of The Taming Of The Shrew and Jeanette Winterson's The Winter's Tale. Atwood's take on The Tempest is intense and extravagant, charting the journey of an expelled artistic director of a theatre company as he tries to come to terms with haunting memories of the loss of his beloved daughter.

Twelve years after living in solitude, after an illustrious career, Felix stumbles upon the opportunity to teach theatre at Fletcher Correctional as part of the centre's literacy programme. To begin with, the inmates aren't so sold on Shakespeare, but after some gentle persuasion, they fall in love with Felix's Tempest, which he has always dreamed of putting on.

Atwood beautifully reimagines Shakespeare's The Tempest as Felix's personal and professional stories so aptly mirror the plot of the mystical and magical play. She writes with gusto and brilliance, making her the dream author to be part of the Shakespeare series.

Heather Doughty

We Were On A Break by Lindsey Kelk, published by Harper

EVER since her debut, I Heart New York, in 2009, Lindsey Kelk has been delighting readers with her fun, feisty, fabulous romcoms; her latest offering is no exception.

Adam and Liv's holiday to Mexico is set to mark the next chapter in their lives together. Adam has planned to propose, and Liv, not one for surprises, has been duly pre-warned by her best friend Cass. But instead of a proposal, the couple get into an argument that ends in him calling for a break in their relationship.

Both unsure of how they got to this point, rather than talking it through and making up, the situation grows worse, and they have to reevaluate whether they were right for each other all along.

Kelk has an enviable knack for writing fiction that has its finger on the pulse of modern life and a brilliant wit that makes her books genuinely and effortlessly comic. And although rather little happens in terms of plot, this novel is as brilliant as Kelk's others.

Jade Craddock

NON-FICTION

Kind Of Blue: A Political Memoir by Ken Clarke, published in hardback by Macmillan

KEN Clarke has been part of Britain's political scene for almost five decades, while prime ministers from Ted Heath and David Cameron have come and gone. The congenial, cigar-smoking image belies a fierce drive, which took him from working-class roots in Nottinghamshire to Cambridge University and a career as a barrister.

In these memoirs, dictated into a tape recorder "usually over a brandy and cigar", he talks frankly about entering Parliament in 1970 and holding posts including education secretary, home secretary and chancellor of the exchequer.

Most gripping is his time in cabinet under Margaret Thatcher, "the best PM he ever worked with", through John Major and later David Cameron – including the EU Referendum. His bluntness is refreshing – attempts by Cameron's press people to control him failed, as he refused to trot out "corny slogans". He ends with harsh words for Cameron – for making "the worst political mistake made by any British prime minister in my lifetime".

8/10

Gill Oliver

The Word Detective: A Life In Words: From Serendipity To Selfie by John Simpson, published in hardback by Little, Brown

WRITING an autobiography about spending 37 years with one company is a tall order – one man's slow climb up to the top job is surely of little interest to anyone but himself? But John Simpson, former chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, pulls it off with panache.

Back in 1976, he joined the quiet ranks of lexicographers unsure of what he wanted to do for a job. It turned out to be helping to take the OED from a hopelessly out-of-date scholarly work to a constantly updated online resource.

Simpson offers a peek at the machinations of Oxford University Press, and also sensitively includes the challenges of caring for his disabled daughter. But he livens up the research and bureaucratic battles by peppering his narrative with facts about common words and phrases which slip readers useful pub quiz knowledge too.

Natalie Bowen

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK

The Secret Horses Of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd, illustrated by Levi Pinfold, published in hardback by Walker Books

DURING the Second World War Emmeline has been evacuated from her dairy farm home in Nottingham to Briar Hill, an old country pile in Shropshire which has been turned into a hospital run by nuns for sick children.

The 'secret horses' of the title are winged beasts who reside in the mirror world – giving Emmeline tantalising glimpses whenever she catches her reflection. But one day, she discovers a real live winged horse called Firefox, injured and living in an overgrown sundial garden. She's soon tasked by the mysterious Horse Lord to keep Firefox safe from the Black Horse by protecting her with a shield made from a rainbow of colours.

Megan Shepherd has drawn on well-known tropes from children's classics and the horses are beautifully captured in descriptions as well as Levi Pinfold's pencil drawings. The Black Horse swoops menacingly overhead, symbolising German bombers and the ever-present threat of death. A powerful story.

Kate Whiting

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