What I’ve been reading – the book a week challenge

I might be a few weeks in but I promised to start reviewing the books in the hope it would keep me motivated (so I don’t fail again like last time) and I get suggestions from you guys to increase my literary scope.

This video is my first in a while, so it is rubbish, but don’t be put off by these frankly incomprehensible reviews (I’m better than this) if you want to send me your books to review. I now have a Kindle too so you can email them. If your not an author and just want to suggest some of your favourite books please comment below or tweet me @thestomabaglady – I read anything and everything apart from sex books (each to their own), SciFi and really awful crime books!!!

Hopefully this will be a weekly thing. This week I’m reading Tango 190, and probably at least two others, so if you have any suggestions go ahead, don’t be selfish, share them!!!


Off work on the road to recovery – lack of motivation and boredom but books galore

Every day I wake up determined to do something other than sit around. I start every morning absolutely positive that I’m going to make the most of my time away from the confides of the newsroom desk, set on learning to speak French fluently, making a lovely meal for my hardworking boyfriend, polishing up on media law developments, creating a website for my alter ego and professional self, or even writing a letter thanking my surgeon for not letting me die during my last hospital stay. Shockingly enough shortly after breakfast all my motivation seems to disappear out of the window and I end up finishing the day no closer to becoming a better rounded person than I was when I had a bowel.

Reading and drinking soya frap in grounds of Chester Cathedral

Reading and drinking soya frap in grounds of Chester Cathedral

Every day of my life, whether I’m at work or not, I have to make a list. Some might say it’s an obsession, I think of it more as a loveable quirk. Most nights I come home with a rapidly growing news list and list of blog topics, video and campaign ideas as long as my arm, and the only way I can fall asleep is by writing a list on my iPad/notebook/dreambook (don’t ask)/or iPhone of everything I need to achieve the next day before my head hits the pillow. If I don’t do this my brain won’t stop chattering all night with a thousand voices screaming at me what needs to be done, how urgently and who I need to ring and probably won’t pick up the phone until way after deadline, until I want to put my pen through my skull and pull out my brain (yuck!!).

The shocking thing is despite having endless days alone in the flat with nothing but painkillers and managing my sore bottom and ostomy bag to fill my empty hours I’m still feeling the need to write myself lists. But despite starting the day with a list of five-ten things to do, from hanging out the washing, to designing my website or doing an hour’s worth of French, by the end of the day I’ve often only crossed one thing off the list. In fact I’ve still got last week’s list up on the notice board with five things (out of 12) still to be done – I’ve transformed into a couch potato and I am both disgusted and shocked!

I’m disappointed in myself. I’m bored, tired and going out of my mind, but for some reason unbeknown to me I just can’t focus on anything at the moment. Every time I try to apply myself to anything I just give up, which is not like me at all. I hate not having a project or goal, but even more than that I hate not having a schedule, something which the working day helps me to maintain. The problem is that when you’re not at work every task is something you can put off until later. The day stretches out endlessly before you, meaning you believe you have hours and hours to do every little thing, but before you know it it’s 5pm and Andy is coming in through the door and I’ve literally done nothing. I actually have to force myself out of the house for a little walk everyday, dragging myself out of the door for my daily exercise (come rain or shine) to get a coffee, read next to the canal or buy more nail varnish, just so I don’t sit staring at crime dramas on the telly and watching reruns of Newsnight on loop all day long.

I guess the best thing about being off work is that I’ve fallen back in love with reading again. As a child I used to literally devour books (yes literally!), it’s a family thing! I could read a novel in a matter of hours and even won prizes from my local library for reading and reviewing hundreds of books – and got to meet Hazel Townsend (claim to fame). At the start of this blog I began my ‘read a book a week for six months’ challenge. I was doing really well, racing through books while trying to work every hour under the sun, study for exams and get cracking with some of my other challenges, until month number five when I missed a week and sacked it off. Why did I give up when I was so close? Because I didn’t want to be a cheat, that’s why. The point of these challenges is that they are meant to be challenging. Managing to read a book a week while working is hard, especially when some are political memoirs or solid classics. There is no point in me doing these challenges if I cheat. The point of this blog is to be honest, and as my mum always said “you’re just cheating yourself”.

So I’ve restarted challenge number 70 with gusto. I’m five weeks in and I’m loving it a bit too much. I’ve probably read the equivalent of three books a week recently, and I don’t feel like slowing down any time soon. Obviously I’m going to run this in conjunction with challenge 98 – the autobiographies, which I’m steadily making my way through atm.

Here are some of the books I’ve read over the past five weeks (I honestly can’t remember the others – there were at least three more on my Kindle which I’ve not put here), as you will see I’ve had a lot of time on my hands:

Seventy-Seven by Andy Murray – I love tennis and love Murray (groan I hear a lot of you say). But as a Murray fan I urge you not to read this book. If you thought he was dull before you read it you will be proved right. This book was mind numbingly boring. Murray describes each point of each match, hardly touches on his personal life, and says everything (no matter how big an achievement) is well “ok”. Argh!

The Little Coffee  Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez – fascinating tale of five extraordinary women in a hostile climate. I couldn’t put this book down, and it helped distract me in the days following my operation. 

Allegiance by Veronica Roth – last in the Divergent series – I was getting a bit tired of these by the time I got to the last one. But they are decent teen books and I would recommend if you want some holiday reading, but get it on your Kindle, the hardback is heavy and hard to hold with joint problems.

The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhadsen – I love crime and thriller novels, which is funny as I hate thriller films. This was decent and I would read another by her, but not a patch on my favourite crime authors.

Shit my Dad Says by Justin Halpern – I loved this. A lovely twitter follower sent this to me and I laughter so much at the quirky sayings and no-nonsense talk that I almost split my stitches.

High Society by Ben Elton – one of my Dad’s books, but I will be reading more by Elton, gripping and funny look at society.

Gone by Michael Grant – the first in a series. I was hooked to start with, but it soon became a bit like a lame version of divergent and the Hunger Games mixed together – a bit samey for me.

Saturday by Ian McEwan – he never disappoints. Gripping from the start and a must read for all McEwan fans.

Breakfast with Tiffany by Edwin John Wintle – funnier than I expected insight into an uncle living with a rebellious teenage niece in New York

Have I got Views for You by Boris Johnson – being a hack myself I loved this. Even though I’m not a lover of the Tories you’ve got to love a bit of Boris!

So not to fill this blog up with book reviews I’ve decided that once a week I will do a video blog on my Youtube channel reviewing my book/books of the week, then every month I will do a blog on how I got on trying to get through books alongside all my other commitments. You can visit my Youtube channel here.


Oh, and if you have any book suggestions please comment below, tweet me @thestomabaglady or Facebook me. I need to spend my days emerged in literature.


Surviving Crohn’s a Review: The Foul Bowel by John Bradley

Living with IBD is no laughing matter. It’s like serving a life sentence, but while

honest, candid and hilarious a must read for those with IBD

honest, candid and hilarious a must read for those with IBD

murderers and pedophiles can get off early for good behaviour, for those unfortunate enough to be issued with the piece of paper branded IBD along with the complimentary hospital tag, life really does mean life.

Over the years I have been through some truly humiliating experiences and many of them have left me shaken and in floods of tears. The pain, the accidents and the true horror when you first realise that you’re going to have to live with this horrific condition for the rest of your life, would be enough to reduce even the most hard man about town into a blithering wreck.

If someone told me that one day I would be looking back and laughing, laughing so hard that my ileostomy scar split, at all the times when I stuck my bare bum in the air like a red bottomed baboon and let some student doctor pump gallons of air up my arse, or at the first time I tried to administer my own suppository and got it painfully wrong, I guess I would have laughed in their face.  But while reading The Foul Bowel by John Bradley that’s exactly what I did.

I’ve seen a lot of comedians over the years, I’ve seen a lot of funny things, but I can’t say that a book has ever made me laugh that much. Sometimes it felt wrong to be laughing at something that has caused me so much humiliation and pain over the years, to laugh at the appalling things this condition has put me through and to marvel at the total incompetence of the doctors, surgeons and dietitians I have encountered over the years. Scrap that…it was just what I needed. Laughter really is the best medicine, and the way John described his barium meal experiences left me creased over in laughter at something I still consider to be one of the most uncomfortable and humiliating moments of my young life.

The subtitle of this book is 101 ways to survive and thrive with Crohn’s Disease, and in a way it is a self-help manual. I didn’t agree with everything John had to say, I didn’t agree with everything he said about wards verse private rooms, as I have had some hilarious and terrifying experiences on the NHS’s crazy communal wards, but I do agree that at least you can watch the world or the madness go by. The candid way that he talked about his work, coping with the disease, having a love life and basically surviving was refreshing, and it made a lovely change to read about the illness from a man’s point of view, something that rarely happens even in this newish era of blogging and the world-wide web.

I read the book on my kindle in coffee shops, hospital waiting rooms and in bed while recovering from my ileostomy op. People must have thought I was reading Jennifer Saunders’ autobiography or some new hilarious comedy from the way I was gripping my stomach and writhing around in pain as the fits of laughter tore at my stitches threatening to tear open my stomach and expose my insides.

This book should be in every gastro ward. No, I’ll go further than that. This book should be given to every single patient when they are first diagnosed with IBD. I guess if I’d read this all those years ago when I was first told I would have to live with an incurable illness for the rest of my life I would have realised I would be able to cope. I guess I would still have realised that having Crohn’s or Colitis is one hell of a rollercoaster, and that my life was going to be one massive battle, but I would have been able to say hey, this guy went through all that and he had time to write a book, he’s doing ok for himself. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if I’d had this at the time all of that was happening I would have been better prepared and it would all have seemed just a little bit less scary.

“Having Crohn’s Disease is like being transported back to being a helpless infant. People talk at you using an incomprehensible language. No one seeks, welcomes or values your opinion. Mummy, in the guise of the medical profession, most definitely knows what’s best for you. Your food is bland, mushy and generally appalling. Your poop becomes an object of fascination for others”., John Bradley, opening of the Foul Bowel.  

Hats off to you John for being so honest.


Counting horses to get to sleep…Balding tickles Winnie and into the Frying pan with Mr Fry

Another finished just seconds before midnight – HURRAH

I love reading so when I first drew up the list for my 101 challenges the idea of reading a book a week seemed like the most simple feat in the world for my little brain to conquer.I thought that with all this time off work following my operation that I would be devouring whole shelves of books, gobbling up the great world of literature so fast that I would soon be knocking on my favourite author’s doors begging for them to pen me a new novel just to satisfy my insatiable appetite. Well, that might be a tad over the top. But, lets say, I thought that I would be reading at least two books a week… I mean a couple of hundred pages a week, surely that’s easy for someone who as a kid won the council’s Acorn Book Club  Award for reviewing hundreds of library books after pretty much living in the dusty bookcases of my under-threat local library pouring over ketchup-stained (and God knows what else stained ) novels and picture books well into the night. I don’t talk about it, but that literary feat earned me a humiliating picture in the local press – the photographer scarred me for life by getting me to pose in my school library next to a pile of books my height, grinning like a demented maniac and looking like I was about to attack everyone in my path. Honestly there have been less scary pictures on Most Wanted and Crime Watch, the story’s headline may as well been ‘Crazy schoolgirl kills for books’ – lock away your bookcases and first editions people ,schoolgirl book murdered is on the loose.

Anyway I know I’m going off track, but despite that being one of the most humiliating experiences of my life,(many more where to follow with the birth of Facebook and camera phones and me basically being me) as back in those good old days when penny sweets cost 1p and you rang or called on your mates rather than tweeting or nudging them everyone bought the local rag called The Free Press and quite rightly pictures of my insane looking smile were waved around in front of my face everywhere I went…Everyone from the lollipop lady to my headteacher had a copy. And, to make matters even worse, being insanely proud parents my folks bought every picture of me and my sister that appeared in the local paper (which was surprisingly a lot, I think we were in it every week), and created a wall of fame that greeted every visitor, milkman, delivery driver and builder who had the misfortune to call into our house. I swear that one time I came down the stairs years later to find my poor local milkman (who I had a massive crush on – he was a part-time fireman) peering up at the wall of dreadful school pictures and looking to my horror at the book photo – this is one of the few moments of my life that I have literally turned the colour of the Ribena berry and hidden away in shame and disgust.

Anyway back to the challenge. So far reading a book a week has proved a lot harder than I thought it would. I have already told you how at the start of the challenge I struggled with the ramblings, non-stop bitching and, quite frankly, tedious parliamentary squabbles of Lord Mandelson, in his autobiography The Third Man. Since then I have not been as bored or frustrated with an autobiography or novel that I have wanted to throw it out of the window, most probably killing an unsuspecting builder or old lady tottering to the local pub for her daily Gin and Tonic, but I have been struggling to finish the books every week. It is not always the author’s fault, it is just that I never seem to dedicate as much time to my reading as I intend to these days.

Every Monday I start the week by picking a new book out of the massive pile of novels, short story collections and autobiographies, that I have borrowed from the library or bought at a ridiculously cheap price from supermarkets, charity shops or even borrowed from friends. I started the pile when I decided to start reading a book a week and that I needed to widen my knowledge of all things in the world by reading 50 autobiographies for this challenge. Each time I pick up a book at a store or randomly from the dusty shelf at the local library I always have every intention of starting the book that day…or at least that week, but now the pile is almost as high as my bed, and although I am determinedly plowing my way through them I can’t seem to stop myself from buying or borrowing any book that catches my eye making the pile seem like a never-ending challenge.  For every book I read and take to a charity shop or send back to the lonely library shelves, where it may remain gathering dust, unloved and unread for 100s of years, I seem to pick up two more – can’t help it, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of this challenge I need to have the firemen air lift me out of this apartment after becoming a super hoarder, living in a flat piled so high with books that there is no room to move apart from a small path through the hardbacks winding its way to the toilet, fridge and microwave. So on that faithful Monday I chose the new book from the pile or, if I’m feeling a little more down with the kids, I flick through my Kindle to select a lucky book as my ‘chosen one’ for the week, then happy with my choice I settle down under the covers and begin to read.

Mind numbing EEEK

Mind numbing EEEK

Ever since I was young I have always had a very stubborn self-discipline attitude when it comes to reading. It doesn’t matter how boring, tedious, disgusting, so badly written it makes your eyes bleed or smelly a book is, once I have flicked open that cover and read the first sentence I have to carry on reading until the bitter end. Even if it takes me a year to read the book, which is what  happened with Tony Blair’s autobiography (which I am forcing myself to read in a week for this challenge – argh gouge my eyes out), I have to finish it. You see, as crazy as it sounds, I have made a commitment to the book, and, essentially, the book has made a commitment to me. Reading a book is like a marriage (ok, not quite as serious or important a commitment as that) you have to put up with the bad, forgive the unforgivable, and eventually you will be rewarded with the most amazing of surprises and treats, unless of course you are reading Dan Brown!!! (sorry Brown fans but they are all the same!!) Of course there will always be the moments when you finish a book and instead of thinking wow I’m glad I stuck with that, and feeling both elated you have finished and upset that it is over and you will have to find another that lives up to its standards, there are those books which leave you feeling like you have just wasted precious nights and hours of your life reading a literary turd that should have been shredded and burnt instead of being bound in a misleading eye-catching cover and unleashed on the world to make stubborn readers suffer.

My problem is that I start off with the best of intentions. I pick up the book, which is usually 400-600 pages long, and get cracking straight away, usually devouring three to four chapters in the first few hours. But then, for my sins (I would like to apologise to all books and authors for this) I get distracted by the shinyness of my laptop, lure of the tellybox or basically fall asleep through the sheer exhausting nature of looking after Winnie 24-7 🙂 Oh, and sometimes I pretty much pass out through just how boring the book actually is!! This usually means that despite the fact that I never have a full night’s sleep and so end up sat up most of the night with my tired eyes pegged open reading books, I still end up waking up on the Sunday and realising I have hundreds of pages left of a tedious autobiography or novel left to read before midnight or I will fail the challenge and have to start again from the very beginning. You see I am no cheat. If I say I will read a book a week I will, and if one week I don’t finish said book within the 7 day limit I will, in my sportsmanly food nature, start again, even if that means five months of non-stop dedicated reading is thrown out of the window and I have to start from scratch demoralised and broken.

I had such a moment with the Stephen Fry autobiography. On the final day (Sunday) I had left to finish the book I was left with 200 pages, YES 200, to read before

Fed up late at night battling through self-obsessed ramblings (fair comment)

Fed up late at night battling through self-obsessed ramblings (fair comment)

the midnight cutoff point. It had been a busy week and I had become completely mesmerised with my new-found friend YOUTUBE 🙂 and had spent many a day pouring over videos, reading blogs, listening to podcasts and basically doing anything that wasn’t reading the book. Despite sitting up every night plowing my way through the self-obsessed ramblings of this thespian and overly intelligent man, I was nowhere near finishing it. I was busy that day too and it was a battle against time, I just about managed it, and thank the lord that I did, as I don’t think I would have forgiven myself or Mr Fry if it had been his self-indulgent work that had spoilt my challenge. You see I chose to read Fry’s autobiography because I thought it would tell me more about his life, about why he is the way he is, and might just help me see past the pompous theatrical character who lord’s over everyone in QI and makes us all feel hideously stupid and lower class with oh so intelligent and snobby facts and figures. I hate judging people, but sometimes when you are pretty much forced to watch someone for years, I have to admit it is hard not to. To me Fry is a self-obsessed know it all, and I hoped that his biography would give him more depth, make him more human and basically destroy the image I had in my head of him lording it over the rest of us mere minions and laughing at the downright stupidity of us common folk.

Parts of his autobiography shook the foundations of my image of Fry…I sympathised with his childhood, his addiction to all things sweet, and with his struggles with trying to fit in. Parts of the book I found funny…but the moment that he headed off to his elitist university he totally lost me and i struggled to see past the self-indulgent nature of his storytelling and the fact he often referred to his struggles but said they were in a previous book 😦 I wanted to scream, but Steven I haven’t read your previous book…this is an autobiography, why would I expect to have to read a series of other memoirs before this??? Surely not??

Anyway as you can probably tell I managed to finish the Fry’s memoir by the skin of my teeth. In fact I think I finished the final sentence and shut the book with a sigh of relief on the stroke of midnight. It was a momentous moment that was quickly followed by me falling fast asleep with the book resting on my chest, making me wake-up in agony feeling like an elephant had slept on my breasts.

The morning after – trying to finish this really dreadful book (Fry’s that is comment comment comment) only a couple of hours left PANIC

Since the start of this challenge I have staggered the autobiographies with the works of fiction, mainly so that if the autobiogs get too hard going, they are, at least not coming one after the other, as this challenge is meant to be fun, not to turn into some mind numbing task that I will regret ever starting. So listed below are the books I have both indulged in and slaved over during the past few weeks (as you can see some weeks I have gobbled down multiple books and on others have struggled to swallow even one measly volume):

  • Peter Mandelson – The Third Man  (eye-opening sometimes in a good way, but also mind-numbingly boring) BIOGRAPHY 1
  • You Had Me AT Hello – Mhairi McFarlane ( a little too similar to my life, funny and easy to read) FICTION
  • The Wish List – Jane Costello (inspired my trip to Leaf tea room in Liverpool) FICTION
  • Dear Fatty – Dawn French (best autobiography to date, almost split my stitches)  BIOGRAPHY 2
  • The Law Clerk – Stan R Gregory (terrible for the book club) FICTION
  • My Life In Black and White – Kim Izzo (surprisingly good read picked randomly from library shelf) FICTION
  • The Fry Chronicles – Stephen Fry (self obsessed but at times enlightening and entertaining )BIOGRAPHY 3
  • The Gurkhas Daughter – Prajwal Parajuly (amazing collection of short stories about Nepalese people’s plights) FICTION
  • My Family and Other Animals – Clare Balding (delightful read, new found respect for amazing woman) BIOGRAPHY 4
LOVED IT...I want to ride a pony I DO I REALLY DO

LOVED IT…I want to ride a pony I DO I REALLY DO

I want to thank Clare Balding here for writing a humourous, honest and moving account of her childhood and young adult years, which kept me from poking my eyes out during the last few sleepless nights where my broken body felt like it was being eaten alive by this post operation itchiness that makes me feel like millions of little creatures are running around all over my body. I have never disliked Clare Balding, but, if I’m being honest (and what’s the point in this blog if I’m going to lie to you all), I have never really liked her. It is not so much because of her, it is the world that she represents that i just don’t understand. I belong to a world of hard news, bargain hunting in Primark, left overs in the fridge and a childhood playing with invisible pets and a punctured football, while in my judgemental mind she grew up riding award-winning horses and eating caviar from a spoon plated with rubies and gold #LOL!!! Her book made me realise that although she had a privileged upbringing, surrounded by race horses and even embarrassing herself in front of the Queen when Her Royal Highness dropped in during breakfast time, Clare Balding had not just an amazing childhood but a tough one too. She was just a kid but she managed such amazing and wonderful things, and changed my perception of the world of racing so much that I even wanted to ride a horse by the end of the biography, even though I am utterly terrified of even the tiniest pony!!! It is an irrational fear that they will kick me, well maybe not so irrational as my gran (who looked like the Queen bless her heart) was once kicked by a horse – in fairness to the poor animal she was invading his personal space.

One night, very soon after I first started her book Andy decided to stay over. Which is always a lovely treat as he is like an oven to lie next to and I can rest my freezing feet against his toasty legs – I recommend a warm-blooded boyfriend over a hot water bottle or electric blanket any day 🙂 Anyway, it was around 2am and I had woken up AGAIN covered in sweat as my body fought to digest what ever morsel of food i had managed to eat that day, and not been able to fall back asleep after emptying Winnie and taking my painkillers. Andy was sleeping soundly beside me as I delved into Balding’s book. I was reading happily away when she decided to share with me the time that her dad decided to try to make her a mug of hot chocolate by filling the kettle with milk…my silent laughter must have sounded like I was sobbing and I shook the bed so hard that I woke up poor Andy, who looked at me with the saddest sleepy eyes ever and rolled over and fell back asleep instantly. From then on when i was reading Balding’s book I put a cushion on my scar to stop it splitting from the laughter and a teddy between me and the slumbering boy…well one of us has to sleep.

If you are reading this Clare I loved your book. I should never have judged you, and you should never have to justify yourself to anyone, but I am sure with all your years trying to prove yourself to your dad, bitchy shoplifting schoolgirls and the entire British public that sort of thing doesn’t bother you any more. After reading your book I have to say that I truly admire your strength, determination and unfailing sense of humour 🙂 Thank you for writing such an honest book and for helping me through those endless moonlit hours filled with unrelenting pain and fatigue. You have a true admirer in me 🙂 Oh, and thank you for choosing a cover that lived up to its expectations and wasn’t a lie – there are too many alluring covers designed to lure readers into picking up utter codswallop with their stunning graphics and interesting titles. And thank you for tweeting me back 🙂 I love you for that….

Anyway next is the 100 Year Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window – this has been on my kindle for yonks and I now have an excuse to read it for the book club…so, the rest of my books will have to be renewed, yet again (sorry Chester readers if you are waiting for one) at the library, while I go back to the digital modern world again.

If anyone has any suggestions for MUST READS or any more AUTOBIOGRAPHIES please leave a comment 🙂



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