Remember, Remember (The fifth of November) – by Judy Parkinson

11 09 2017

I hated history at school, I liked the Victorians and Tudors, probably because of their pretty dresses, but the Romans never stuck, nor did much else.

This is my sort of history book. No article in it is more than 250 words. It opens with a timeline and a list of monarchs, and then from the Roman Invasion around 2000 years ago, up until the end of the Second World War, each significant historical item has one page, and one page only to be explained. It was so easy to read, you could binge or just read a page or two depending what time you had. Bite-sized; perfect.

I’ve had this on my shelf for a while and occasionally used it for reference, but it was great to just read it through over a couple of days (especially having just read some historical fiction and seeing how much of that came up) and get a good overview of the history of my country!

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The Constant Princess – by Philippa Gregory

11 09 2017

I aimed to read a load of books on holiday, but I realised that when I was a child I think I got so much reading done on the long car journeys; now it’s me driving, I’ve lost all that reading time!

I’d been thinking about trying a Philippa Gregory book for a while, and always liked the Tudors, so when it came to topping up an Amazon order to get free delivery I tacked this one on my basket.

She’s written so many books, but helpfully has put a suggested reading order together so you get a chronological flow.

Posted by Philippa Gregory on Monday, July 7, 2014

It may look like I’ve started in the middle, but I decided to go for the one about the first of Henry VIII’s wives, Katherine of Aragon. That said, once I was reading it I kinda wished I’d started one book further back on Henry VII’s wife, but I imagine I’d work my way right back if I did that – maybe one day I will!

We start with Catalina age five in Spain to get a bit of background – at this point she’s already betrothed to Henry VII’s oldest son Arthur (Henry VIII’s older brother), and then quite quickly skip forward nine years to her arrival in England for her wedding to the Prince of Wales.

It’s hard to know how much to share without a spoiler alert because this is based on history – we all know that Arthur died before he made it to the throne because we know there was never a Tudor King Arthur! That said, there’s a lot to read about their relationship, and then of course how she ended up to be married to his younger brother later on.

I’d be fascinated to know where the line is between fact and artistic licence in these books. They are said to be very well researched, but how far does that go? Did a very young Prince Henry really walk her down the aisle to Arthur? Probably. Did Henry VII really storm in her bedroom to check she was attractive when she first arrived to marry his son? Who knows! All sorts of questions arise!

I really enjoyed this and can see me at some point working my way through the series, just got lots of other books to get through in the mean time!





The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

28 08 2017

So a bloke decides he wants to become more intelligent, and so gets all 33,000 pages of the 2002 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and sets out to read them in the space of the year.

Seemed like quite a Gormanesque style of challenge, which I always enjoy, so when my friend picked up on my enjoyment of the idea, she got it for my birthday – perfect!

The book is structured so that you’re always under the subheading of one of the articles he’s decided to tell you about, but often he’ll go off on a tangent, and sometimes a full blown life anecdote.

We learn that he and his wife are struggling to conceive and follow that part of his life, alongside all his attempts to show off his new found knowledge. This includes applying to MENSA, auditioning for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, trying an evening on a college debate teamand even pointing out an error in one of the articles!

He also lists things he thinks you can do to make you more likely to get into the “EB” as he affectionately calls it, things like getting beheaded, being a botanist, etc. He also keeps lists on his computer of ironic facts he discovers, people who married their cousins, all sorts of things.

He spends several hours each morning and evening reading, and so tries out a speed reading course to see if that will help, and later on does admit to skim-reading some of the heftier stuff, though he does pledge to read every word of Q! He also gets to go on a tour of the Britannica office and have a go at editing an article (given his full time job is an editor at a magazine, this is less shocking than it initially sounds!).

It was like reading a short, chatty version of the encyclopaedia – I learnt a few things, not many that will stick (a problem he also found as he went through it!), but interesting at the time. There wasn’t much of a dramatic climax or anything, I thought he might struggle to keep pace, but that didn’t seem to be an issue, but it was fun to just learn and get to know him at the same time. Definitely will try some of his other books!





Spectacles – by Sue Perkins

1 08 2017

I honestly feel like I’ve just spent a week hanging out with this woman! I had high expectations from the book and she didn’t disappoint.

She writes just like she talks, lots of random ad-libs, clever jokes, all sorts. Very clever and very quick!

She describes things so beautifully, and none more-so than her first meeting with Mel Giedroyc, just stunning! She also talks about her family with such affection, amid all their nuances there’s proper love there 🙂

It’s hard to say much about this book because she says everything so much better. All I can say is I read a 400 page book in 8 days – that NEVER happens!





The Humans – by Matt Haig

23 07 2017

Last year I read Reasons to stay alive, and can confidently say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. That book was non-fiction, but Matt Haig has mostly written fiction, which is also raved about and so I asked for The Humans for my birthday this year.

I’ve tried to explain the premise to a few people, and haven’t done very well so here goes nothing: One day, Andrew Martin manages to prove the Riemann Hypothesis and some aliens on another planet, believing that this is a threat to the cosmos, send one of their kind down to earth to destroy this man and anyone else he might have told. Cheery so far, right? So this alien goes down, Andrew is destroyed and the alien takes on the form of Andrew Martin, and seeks to determine what his wife and son know, and who else Andrew might have told, with the intent of destroying all who are aware so that this never gets out.

But in a way, that’s not the point of the book. This is a creature experiencing humans for the first time. He’s learnt about them in theory, but in practice there seems to be a lot more to them, and he’s keen to spend a bit longer working this out before completing his mission. It’s a reflection on us as creatures, which in some places makes you think, and in others is downright hilarious!

As is often the case with this sort of book, I ended up folding down a lot of page corners, and so some of my favourite quotes are below:

  • “It was comforting to know that even in the most remote corner of the universe the laws of sound and light obeyed themselves, although it has to be said they seemed a little more lacklustre here.”
  • “They placed me inside a small room that was, in perfect accord with all human rooms, a shrine to the rectangle.”
  • “Indeed, it is mathematics itself which is the bedrock of civilisation.”
  • “If God exists then what is He but a mathematician?”
  • “A prime number is strong. It does not depend on others.”
  • “I don’t have a name. Names are a symptom of a species which values the individual self above the collective good.”
  • “It was then that I realised the one thing worse than having a dog hate you is having a dog love you.”
  • “Listening to music, I realised, was simply the pleasure of counting without realising you were counting.”
  • “I was still ‘recovering’, you see. Recover. The most human of words, the implication being that healthy normal life is covering something.”
  • “Our beautiful, warless world, where I could be entranced by the purest mathematics for all eternity.”
  • “Overall, the sensation I was feeling was one of conscious decay. In short, I felt human.”
  • “Mornings were hard on Earth. You woke up tireder than when you went to sleep.”
  • “She knew one day her husband would die and yet she still dared to love him. That was an amazing thing.”
  • “Crossing [the road] at an angle that tried to balance the concealment of fear with rapid avoidance – that angle being, as it was everywhere in the universe, 48 degrees away from the straight line on which we had been travelling.”
  • “Whatever it is, you’re becoming a man of honour. And that’s rare for mathematicians.”
  • “The ‘pub’ was an invention of humans living in England, designed as a compensation for the fact that they were humans living in England. I rather liked the place.”
  • I wanted to put the whole preface down but realised that might be bordering on copyright infringement so I’ll let you find that for yourselves in a shop or library!

    There is also a chapter called “Advice for a human”, but given that that contains 97 points I’ll again leave that for you to discover yourself!

    (If it wasn’t clear from the above – I thought this book was brilliant and already have a list of people I want to lend it to!)





Eligible – by Curtis Sittenfeld

12 07 2017

If you saw this on the shelf in a bookshop/library/supermarket/etc you’d be forgiven for having no idea that it’s part of The Austen Project!

This is the first time one of the authors has changed the title of their book. I’m not entirely sure why they did it, but who am I to judge? I think I’ve enjoyed this one the most so far. Some of the previous books have just modernised by throwing in facebook and mobile phone references, but this one had a full blown revamp.

Liz is 38 and a writer for a magazine, Jane is 39 and a yoga instructor, and they live in New York, but have had to go back to the family home as Mr Bennet has a heart attack. Lydia, Kitty and Mary are in their 20s and still living at home and pretty much just living off of the family money. Chip Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy are Doctors/Surgeons, and Chip has recently become famous on a reality TV show called “Eligibe” which is essentially The Bachelor. The Collins subject is dealt with by changing him from a cousin (which was fine to marry in those days!) to a step-cousin (technically fine, but still a bit weird), which seemed like a really sensible change to make.

They don’t stick religiously to the plot either. I won’t ruin this with spoilers but there are two separate characters that take a story line each of Willoughby’s character from the original, there’s IVF, a LGBTQ subplot, and as already mentioned, reality TV – definitely a long way from Austenland, and yet, while you’re reading it, you don’t feel far off at all.

Mr Bennet is still the same wonderful man, and definitely one of my favourite characters with some of the best one liners.

“My dear,” said Mr Bennet, “if a sock puppet with a trust fund and a Harvard medical degree moved here, you’d think he was meant to marry one of our girls.”

“Plenty of men don’t want children.” Mr Bennet took a sip of coffee. “I’m still not sure that I do.”





Deep and Wide – by Andy Stanley

28 06 2017

A six week read isn’t a great start to my 30 books in a year, but I’ve always been a bit slow with non-fiction! For the first time in many many years, this was a book that I was actually asked to read. I think the last time that happened was school, and that also made me a slow reader!

The book was set for a course our church leadership team is on; the book’s subtitle is “creating churches unchurched people love to attend” which is the book in a nutshell. It’s a great re-focus and reminder, and the book had a load of things to think about and consider. I ended up using a pencil as a bookmark so that I could underline lots of bits and pieces.

That said, the guy is a megachurch pastor. My church is not a megachurch. Sometimes that means things he suggests just aren’t practical (three teams of people to put a sermon together?!), and sometimes he uses terminology that just made me cringe (audience instead of congregation), but there are definite things I got out of this book, some more practical, some more theological, but for a non fiction book, I really did enjoy most of it!