Where The Crawdads Sing – by Delia Owens

12 08 2022

It was one of those books that everyone seemed to be reading, that was on the shelves at Tesco every time I went, that they were making a film about; and yet every time I read the blurb, it just sounded a bit dull. But so many people were raving about it and recommending it to me, I gave in, got a copy at my next food shop, and gave it a go.

The story is told as two parallel timelines across the 1950s and 60s, meeting up at the end of the book.

  • In the first, Kya lives in a shack in the marshes, just outside a small town. As a small girl, her family gradually leave, and she lives an isolated life, selling mussels to get by, and collecting feathers, shells and all sorts of things from the marsh.
  • In the second, a body is found by the old fire tower by two young boys, and the challenge is to work out if it was an accident or murder, and if so, who did it?

I really enjoyed that she included a map of the area inside the front cover, to help you keep track of things, I always appreciate a diagram in a book!

It’s beautifully told; to repeat the NYT Book Review quote from the back cover: “Painfully beautiful… At once a murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative and a celebration of nature.”

A strange combination of keeping you guessing, but being warm at the same time. I guess the lesson is, don’t judge a book by it’s blurb!!!

The Man Who Died Twice – by Richard Osman

16 07 2022

Yes it’s another murder mystery, but it was so nice to spend time with the guys in the Thursday Murder Club again!

More murders this time around, and some stolen diamonds too, as well as involvement from MI5 – plenty of drama! That said, it’s still the lovely heart-warming group of friends living in a retirement village, with all their eccentricities and quirks, alongside some very British references! There are many twists and turns as the book progresses, that kept me guessing ’til the end.

I really don’t want to say any more, to avoid spoilers, but there is so much to enjoy, do give it a go!

The Windsor Knot – by S.J. Bennett

25 06 2022

Two years ago I started reading Agatha Christie, and since seem to have got well into the world of murder mysteries, including Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club, and currently binge-watching Death In Paradise on BBC iPlayer. When I found one out there was a murder mystery with Her Majesty The Queen as the person trying to solve the crime, I couldn’t resist!

The morning after a “Dine and Sleep” at Windsor Castle, the visiting pianist is found dead in his room. Of course there is immediately an investigation by the appropriate authorities, but the Queen isn’t sure they’re going down the right path, so on the down-low and with the help of her assistant private secretary Rozie, she makes some enquiries of her own.

It was quite endearing, though I wish maybe the Queen had had a little more air-time than she did. There was there was a fair amount of time given to Rozie as obviously the Queen herself couldn’t be making contact with sources without attracting attention. That said, Rozie, was a good character, and it didn’t detract from the plot at all, just as someone who is a big fan of the Queen, I clearly just wanted to read more of her.

It’s set in spring 2016 so covers events like her 90th birthday, a brief visit from the Obama’s, mentions the upcoming Brexit referendum, and of course, Prince Philip is still on the scene, which made for some excellent moments. There were some lovely references to the respect the Queen gets from the military and her staff, “not because of what she is, but who she is”, which was a nice reflection on her

It was a bit of an easy/trashy read, and I enjoyed it, that said, I’m not sure I’d read a sequel. Much like the Obama-Biden mysteries, it’s fun, but one is probably enough.

Girl, Woman, Other – by Bernardine Evaristo

1 06 2022

Another book I picked up in 2020 after George Floyd’s murder, in an attempt to educate myself and read more widely. But as a slow reader, and wanting to mix the books in with my other reading, I’m still working through them.

I’m sad to say, I was not fond of this book. My main issue with it, which was also an issue with Normal People, The Colour Purple, and Freckles, is that none of the speech has quote marks. I do not understand what this achieves other than making the book really hard to follow what’s happening, and to get into in general, which makes it take much longer to read. This one didn’t even have full stops; the only breaks were paragraph breaks where the narration just flowed through. It did have commas, thank goodness, but to be honest I felt lucky to get even them!

The story is broken into four sections, each of which has three subsections, each about a different woman. The groups of three are people who are linked to each other, but each story is quite separate. Then there are a few looser links between some of the women across the four sections. In a way it felt more like a set of short stories than one continuous one, which maybe explains why it just felt a bit like it didn’t really go anywhere. There is then a section at the end which I thought might tie it all together, but just visited in on some of the characters who happen to be at the same party, some of whom I struggled to remember their back story as there had been so many in between. After the end section there is an epilogue which ties two more ends together, but again I hadn’t been desperately wondering what happened to them.

I wonder if it’s just too high brow for me. It’s a Booker Prize winner, so clearly is deemed to be excellent. I’ve only ever read one other Booker Prize winner which was Life of Pi, and I truly loved it, which is why I wasn’t completely put off trying this one, but I may take a moment before deciding to try another. I’ve had slightly more success with the Costa Coffee Book Awards and the Books Are My Bag Readers’ Awards, so maybe they’re more my level!

The Comfort Book – by Matt Haig

23 04 2022

Matt Haig has written some stupendously good books including Reasons to Stay Alive, Notes on a Nervous Planet, The Humans, and The Truth Pixie; so my expectations were extremely high!

He describes this book as a collection of thoughts that have kept him afloat; have comforted him. It’s a mixture of mostly his own stuff, but also some quotes from others at times.

It’s good, it’s certainly what I needed after the misery of The Bell Jar last week, but something felt lacking. I wonder if this is just because I was expecting too much, or was in a different place to when I’ve read other ones, but to me some bits felt a bit repetitive, and there was a greater focus on some certain philosophies and religions than there has been in his other books, which I guess just shows where he’s at at the moment.

But I don’t want to be too negative, ‘cos if I hadn’t read his other stuff I imagine I’d have loved this! Of course, I have some favourite quotes:

  • “No physical appearance is worth not eating pasta for.”
  • “You don’t stop the rain by telling it to stop. Sometimes you just have to let it pour, let it soak you to the skin. It never rains for ever.”
  • “I hope this email finds you well but, you know what, it is okay if it doesn’t because we all have bad days.”
  • “Forgiving other people is great practice for forgiving yourself when the time comes.”
  • “Introversion is not something you fix via extroversion. You fix it by seeing it as something not to be fixed.”
  • “When a dog lies in the sun I imagine it does it without guilt, because as far as I can tell dogs seem more in tune with their own needs.”
  • “Maybe we aren’t meant to know everything about our lives. And maybe that’s perfectly okay.”

The Bell Jar – by Sylvia Plath

15 04 2022

One of those books that you buy ‘cos you know you should read it at some point. I knew it had something to do with depression, but didn’t know much else about it…

It’s the 1950s, and Esther is a promising college student on a summer internship at a magazine in New York with a group of other girls. This fills roughly the first half of the book; after this she is rejected from a writing class which she was hoping to fill the rest of her summer break with, and so goes home to her mum’s, which is when the severity of her depression becomes evident and rapidly spirals.

This book needs to come with a whole load of trigger warnings; the second half contains several varied suicide attempts, some described in fair detail. Esther is eventually sent off to an asylum and begins her recovery, but this is NOT an uplifting book! This whole second half is a really miserable and difficult read, understandably, and while yes this is a very well written book and had me picking it up it a lot, it was a relief to be finished and get to read something more positive.

The title threw me for a long time. It wasn’t until page 178 of this 234 page edition that the phrase was used! Once it was, it made sense, but I didn’t get the link until then, might just have been my ignorance!

The story was left on a cliff-hanger as she entered an interview with the doctors to determine whether she would be allowed back to college. While it was left hanging more artistically than expecting a sequel, we would never find out Esther’s fate as sadly, Plath committed suicide herself just a month after the book was published in 1963.

Fishbowl – by Bradley Somer

3 04 2022

I tried to read this a couple of years ago, but got so bored with the first chapter that I gave up and put it back on the shelf. But before it went into the charity shop box, I decided to give it one more go.

It seems that if you can get through the first chapter, which is an extended, metaphorical description of an apartment building, then a story actually begins and it’s readable!

The entire book takes place over a half hour period, during which we follow the stories of several people in the building (some of which overlap a little – a la Love Actually style). At the end of the half hour, Ian the goldfish falls from the top to the bottom of the building, and sees little snippets of all the stories, though his fall is weirdly spread throughout the book, so you have to keep an eye on the order of events occasionally.

Once I got into it I did get invested in some of the stories (though not all), and did enjoy it, but gosh, just scrap that first chapter. There were also some random bits in the middle where the author takes about a page to tell you the entire future life story of someone in one of the apartments who has no links to anyone else and isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the entire book, and to be blunt, I don’t care about at all!

There was a quote near the end: “It’s said that everything happens for a reason, but it’s never said that reason is always a good one.”, which I thought was worth sharing.

My favourite thing about the book, and probably the reason I tried again, is that down the side is a flick-book of a goldfish falling from the top to the bottom. I’ve found a video on YouTube of someone doing it, albeit incredibly slowly, enjoy!

Funny You Should Ask… – by The QI Elves

6 03 2022

The QI Elves are the wonderful people who write the questions for the TV show QI [Quite Interesting], and more recently they’ve also been doing a weekly segment on the Radio 2 breakfast show where people call in with questions for them to answer. This book is based on some of those questions, as well as some tangents from those, and some brand new questions. Most are just a page long, some are a couple of pages and there are a couple of occasionally three page answers, but most of those are ones with a lot of pictures in them! It means that it’s all very bitesize and easy to read.

The questions themselves are brilliant, they include things like:

  • Who alphabetised the alphabet?
  • Which fruit came first, the grape or the grapefruit?
  • Why does red mean ‘stop’ and green mean ‘go’?
  • What happens if you try to use superglue on a non-stick pan?
  • Why do Olympic racers run anticlockwise?

A lot of the answers finish with some random related fact, where I learnt wonderful things like

  • A group of ducks on water is called a paddling.
  • Four of the characters from Frozen – Hans, Kristoff, Anna and Sven – are named after Hans Christian Andersen, the author of the film’s main inspiration, ‘The Snow Queen’.
  • Sodium citrate is used in the production of nacho cheese and has the chemical formula Na3C6H5O7.

Some of the answers left me with follow-up questions, but that’s part of the joy of it I think, finding more things to learn!

One Of Us Is Lying – by Karen M McManus

23 02 2022

I’ve been describing this book as The Breakfast Club meets Agatha Christie: five kids from five different American high school stereotypes, all in detention together, one of them dies, whodunnit?

The book is narrated by the four other kids in turn as they try to work out what happened, who did it, and why. Is it one of them, or someone else? The boy who dies had a gossip blog which has a reputation for always being accurate, and had been about to post stories that would ruin each of the other four teenagers lives, so there’s a lot to dig through.

I did guess the solution, but not with all the detail that was revealed, so still enjoyed it as it worked its way through. And now that I’ve finished it, there’s a series of it that has just arrived on Netflix, so I’m ready to see what they’ve done with it!

And it has the added bonus of putting an Abba song in your head every time you look at the cover, even if it’s not exactly the same words!

We Need To Talk About Race – by Ben Lindsay

8 02 2022

This was definitely a challenging read, but it felt important to read it.

The book is aimed at all Christians, black and white, congregation member and leader. Each chapter has a question for reflection for each perspective, which helps process what you’ve just read.

It also has two interludes, one of which was women of colour sharing their stories of what they’ve experienced in church, the real-life examples were pretty hard hitting.

As he acknowledges in the book, a lot of white people, myself included, are scared of talking about race for fear of saying the wrong thing, so really what I’ve put below is just a few bits from pages where I turned the corner down, it doesn’t flow, but I think that reflects that I’m still processing what I’ve read. Even now, I’m scared I’ve said something wrong somewhere in this post, my sincere apologies if this is the case.

  • The black majority church has been growing, partly because people of colour have not felt included in white churches, and so we’ve become a much more segregated church overall, which is not how it was meant to be.
  • Early on he listed a load of privileges white people have that they don’t even realise, which was helpful to give something practical to think about.
  • He talks about the differences between churches being diverse, and churches being inclusive – so often the focus is diversity, but this reminded us that this isn’t the ultimate aim.
  • The importance of acknowledging the churches part in the start of the slave trade, and not just the abolitionists.
  • Is the churches approach to social action more about pulling people from the river than seeing why they’re falling in in the first place?
  • Distinguishing between Social Welfare – serving practical needs of the community, and Social Justice – campaigning and advocacy, addressing what left the community in that state to start with.

And then a line that just stood out to me as something to apply far more widely in life: “Forgiveness without progress is hard. This is not to say we should not forgive.”

I definitely feel this book increased my awareness, and I’ll be recommending it to my Pastor. I want to dig out an article it recommends called “100 ways white people can make life less frustrating for people of colour” by Kesiena Boom, as I’m a person who works well off specific examples. As a Christian in a very white church, and has always attended very white churches, I would recommend this to other white Christians too.