Such A Fun Age – by Kiley Reid

7 04 2021

I’m a huge sucker for hyped books, I always assume they must be hyped for a reason, so that’s what led me to pick this up.

The book focuses on the relationship between Alix and her babysitter/nanny Emira, and the fallout from an evening where, in a supermarket, Emira is stopped by the security guard as they think she’s kidnapped the white child who she has with her.

Emira is 25, works two part time jobs and is painfully aware that by her next birthday she will come off of her families health insurance, whereas all her friends seem to be doing much better as becoming adults. But she also has a beautiful relationship with the little girl she looks after 3 days a week, and seems to understand her much more than her mother does sometimes.

There were several twists in the book (and so I won’t say much more for fear of spoilers), one or two made me gasp out loud, but one I did see from very early on, which is the only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars to be honest!





The Great Divorce – by C.S. Lewis

28 03 2021

I was thinking about what books I should aim to read this year, and having had this set of C.S. Lewis books for several years, I thought I should aim to read at least one each year, and I remember a friend saying how good this one was a long time ago, and at under 150 pages, it seemed like a doable step into “clever” books.

The book is essentially an illustration of Heaven and Hell, expressed in the first person of someone who’s in a grey town, and gets on a bus to a bright country. It feels very much like someone telling you about a weird dream they had, and takes some work to get your head around until they explicitly say what those places represent (around halfway through!), but once that’s happened, it makes a bit more sense!

When he reaches the bright place, everything is so much more solid than those who have arrived, so much so that he describes those from the bus as Ghosts in comparison. There are several stories where Ghosts are met by Solid People who they maybe knew in life, and we see examples of different ways people have lived, which they think are fine and good, but maybe weren’t so much.

Towards the end of the book I think I started to feel out of my depth again, I imagine cleverer people would get more out of it than I did, but certainly I enjoyed it and it gave me plenty to think about from the rest of the book!

A few lines that made me think:

  • “A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that pint, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good.”
  • “Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them.”
  • “Do not fash yourself with such questions. Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and Time until you are beyond both.”
  • “There have been men before now wo got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself. […] There have bene some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.”
  • “I am in love. In love, do you understand?”





Once Upon A Tyne – by Ant & Dec

14 03 2021

I’m not going to claim that this was a high-brow read, it only took me five days. It was just reading a chat between friends as they went through the 30 years they’ve been on telly together. I was a bit too young for them in Byker Grove, but from SM:tv Live onwards I’ve watched most of their work and just enjoyed their “company”! And this book was the same, just felt like you were sat with them while they hung out and reminiscied.

I was concerned there might be a fair amount of overlap with their first book, but given how long it had been since I read that, it wasn’t too bad, that one had more of a personal focus, whereas this is mostly their career.

For the most part, each chapter covers a different programme they’ve been in together with a couple of bonus chapters for bits and pieces, and the royal family. I found the DNA Journey chapter interesting, probably because I never saw the programme!

It could have done with maybe one more proof read, there was one point they referred to the Queen as HRH instead of HM, and there was a sentence where I think a word was missing, but it’s not the end of the world.

The book is full of photos, which makes it really enjoyable (and even quicker to read!), and because of this, every page is glossy paper, and because of that, the book weighs nearly a kilo, even though it’s less than 300 pages – madness! Made it a bit tricky to read while falling asleep at night, but worth it to enjoy the photos properly.





The Midnight Library – by Matt Haig

8 03 2021

I was so so tempted to get this book last year, but exercised excellent self-control and waited until the paperback came out last month!

Nora is not happy in life, decides to end it, and finds herself in a library. This library is between life and death, and offers her the chance to try out all the different lives she could have lived if she’d done things differently. If she had or hadn’t done things she had regretted not doing or doing – be that a massive life choice or a tiny one. There is a book for every single life she could have lived – it’s an infinite library. When she enters a life she doesn’t go back to when the decision was made, she goes into what that version of her life is at this point in time.

With any book that has parallel universes, it’s going to be tricky to please everyone. I think this did a good job overall, a couple of bits bothered me, but I think I’m a very logistical person, so my mind goes into the mechanics of it all when maybe I’m meant to be focussing more on the story!

I guess I had two issues with the way it was done

  1. There’s a lot of talk about there being infinite versions of her life, but when she undoes one regret, possibly very early in life, she’s only presented with one version to try out. But there should be another infinite amount of ways it went based on all the other decisions in her life, and there’s never any mention of all the other ways it could have gone.
    There is one point near the end where this is sort of addressed, but the only response given is that “it’s more complicated than that” as something else is going on, which was a little unsatisfying.
  2. I found it very odd that when she went into a life, she had slightly different bodies, maybe fitter, maybe a bit more insulation, maybe some scarring, so her body has all the changes of the life lived, and yet in her memory, in her mind, she has no recollection of anything that’s happened since the decision that took her down another path. This means she often doesn’t know where she is, the names of the people around her, what she does for a living. To me it felt a bit inconsistent, but as I said before, I think this is because I look too much at the detail. And to be honest, without this, I don’t think the story would work, so it’s definitely forgivable!

The only other thing that bothered me a bit that with some of the first regrets that she tried to undo, she was suddenly HUGELY successful in whatever area that was – yes she may not have been happy, but she was the best at what she did, be that music, sport. This did settle down though as the book went on. Maybe, from my first point above, the book the librarian found for her was the most successful version of that subset of universes!

Please don’t see this as a complaint or a reason not to read this book I really enjoyed it! The concept was brilliant, and the ending itself really satisfying. As I said, I’m just picky when it comes to logistics!

As is often the case, and particularly with Matt Haig books, here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • ‘”And I know you’ve got mental-health stuff”
    “Everyone’s got mental-health stuff.”
    “You know what I mean.”‘
  • “There was an old musician’s cliche, about how there were no wrong notes on a piano.”
  • “A person was like a city. You couldn’t let a few less desirable parts put you off the whole. There may be bits you don’t like, a few dodgy side streets and suburbs but the good stuff makes it worthwhile.”
  • ‘”You’re overthinking it.”
    “I have anxiety. I have no other type of thinking available.”‘
  • “Human brains take complex information about the world and simplify it, so that when a human looks at a tree it translates the intricately complex mass of leaves and branches into this thing called ‘tree’.”
  • “It is easy to imagine there are easier paths, but maybe there are no easy paths. There are just paths. […] Really most lives contain degrees of good and degrees of bad.”
  • “Nora wanted to live in a world where no cruelty existed, but the only worlds she had available to her were worlds with humans in them.”
  • “When you have worries about things you don’t know about, like the future, it’s a very good idea to remind yourself of the things you do know.”
  • “The prison wasn’t the place, but the perspective.”

There was also a quote that sounded like a retelling of 1 Corinthians 13 verses 1-3, but it contains relatively chunky spoilers, so I won’t post it here!





And Then There Were None – by Agatha Christie

23 02 2021

I recently read the following quote from Val McDermid: “Agatha Christie is the gateway drug to crime fiction”, and am finding this more and more so to be true! Having read Murder on the Orient Express last summer, I asked for another for Christmas – my brother got me this and it was excellent!

I don’t know if this true of all of her books, but in the two I’ve read, they’ve started by introducing a whole load of unrelated characters, and then starting to tell the story, this means they can take a while to get to grips with, but in this one I kept a couple of post-its in pages with info that was helpful to flick back to frequently, eg the character intros, why each of them had journeyed to this tiny island, and the rhyme that gives the structure of the story, “Ten little soldier boys” (although it’s had other names in the past, which have also been the title of the book, but have since been deemed less than PC).

But fairly soon, all of them were familiar, and I was hooked! I kept grabbing it to see who was going to be killed off next (it brings out a very dark side!) and if the people I thought might be responsible really were – completely addictive.

I will certainly be asking for another for my birthday!





Dave Gorman vs The Rest Of The World – by Dave Gorman

11 02 2021

When I was putting together my Christmas list (I can hardly say “writing” my Christmas list when I was pulling links together!) I thought how there was only one Dave Gorman book I hadn’t read, and so it was about time I did!

It’s a very simple concept, one day Dave Gorman put a tweet out into the universe asking if anyone wanted to play a game (real life games, not video games). He got replies, and went to play games with those people! There’s a bit in the middle of the book where someone wants to work with him on this “project”, (he definitely has previous with “Googlewhack Adventure”, “Are you Dave Gorman”, and “America Unchained”) but he says no, it’s no project, just something he’s doing for fun in his time off…. He doesn’t explain how he got from there to publishing it in a book!

The games range from Ultimate Frisbee to an Egyptian laser chess game to Cluedo to a random Cornish skittles game. The book is just him talking about the experience, the places he went, the people he met, the games he played. And just with his eye for detail (enjoying the simplicity of Cribbage having 2 pegs for scoring so you never lose your place), and his gentle chatter, it’s a lovely book to read. He met some lovely people, and some complete weirdos (including people who play Monopoly with REAL money), both of which made for fun reading!

For most of the book he keeps a scoreboard of him vs the rest of the world, though it does seem to go missing for some of the middle of the book (And I’m not sure there was a final total)! And for the less common games he puts an explanation in a handy box so we know what’s going on. As a fan of structure, this was pretty pleasing.

As ever, some of my favourite quotes and observations from the book (the last one is the most beautiful):

  • “There’s something oddly energising about sparking a memory from nowhere like that. I don’t think it’s the memory itself that does it. I think it’s the excitement at discovering your brain is so much bigger than you realised.”
  • “At Stockport bus depot I stood and waited. There were maybe fifteen fellow travellers at the same bus stand, all eyeing each other up carefully. No queue had been formed but we’d all made a mental note of the order in which we’d arrived.”
  • “There’s an unhealthy part of my personality that tends to obsess and collect; that will take things to extremes. I can be a dog with a bone at times. But I didn’t want to let it happen again. Not with this. It wasn’t a treasure hunt. There wasn’t a prize for playing the most games in the shortest amount of time.”
  • “I feel naked if I’m not wearing a watch and yet, when I want to know the time, I sometimes find myself checking my phone first.”
  • “There are no referees in Ultimate. Ever. At any level. Messing around in the park? No ref. Playing a rival club? No ref. World Championship final? No ref. Players call their own fouls and have to settle their own disputes. If you’re going to play Ultimate, you just have to accept that paying the game fairly is more important than winning.”
  • “I would’nt describe Liskeard as a pretty place. It’s more prosaic than that. If you think of all the little villages around and about as gorgeous old vintage sports cars – high maintenance, impractical, but lovely for looking at – then Liskeard is the rusty but trusty family saloon. And while those vintage automobiles are all very well, when you want to do the shopping you know which car keys you pick up. (If you want to stick with this motoring analogy, it follows that Plymouth is, um … a transit van.”
  • “I have grown snobbish about the world world of ‘organised fun’. I suspect I’m not alone. Holiday camps? Karaoke? Guided coach trips? […] I instinctively recoil from such things but I don’t know why, because all empirical evidence suggests I’ll enjoy them.”
  • “When we throw our cynicism aside there’s so much more to enjoy.”





Dear NHS 100 Stories to Say Thank You – Edited by Adam Kay

19 01 2021

Last year during lockdown Adam Kay (of “This is Going to Hurt” fame) reached out to some of the nations best loved stars to ask them to contribute to this book. There are tales from all sorts of people, from Dawn French to Malala to Paul McCartney and obviously many many others (I’ll stick a photo of the back cover which lists them all at the bottom of this post).

It’s a compilation of over 100 stories of gratitude. Some will make you laugh (Lee Mack and Greg Wise come to mind immediately!) and others will make you cry, but they all just make you appreciate how lucky we are to have the NHS (and the people that work for it!) in this country. It’s a beautiful book, and so moving to read while we’re back in lockdown again. Well Done Dr Kay.





Quite – by Claudia Winkleman

6 01 2021

I feel the best way to set the tone of this book is to put up the first and last pages:

When this book was first announced I assumed it was the standard celebrity Christmas autobiography given it was an autumn release. As a big fan of Claudia and the way she talks, that would be probably enough of a selling point for me. In actual fact it’s really just her sharing her thoughts on all sorts of things without really telling any of her story, but in doing so, you really feel like you know her better, she chats away (and you can literally hear her voice) and it’s like you’ve been hanging out.

The first chapter is all about napping (a subject very close to my heart!), how good it is for your brain, how to achieve a good nap, how she likes to nap even at Strictly, all sorts! From there the topics go all over the place, from her fringe to fine art to picnics. It’s definitely an eclectic mix, and much as a lot of it is excitable chatter, there’s a lot of depth in some areas too, how high expectations can be a killer, imposter syndrome can be a good thing, and how brilliant it can be to be wrong.

It was such a nice read, something easy to pick up on Boxing Day and, as I’ve said, just feel like you’re listening to a mate talking (I’m aware she’s not my mate, do not panic). If you like Claudia on TV, Radio or wherever, then I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this!





Notes from a Big Country – by Bill Bryson

26 12 2020

Here’s the issue with omnibus editions of books: technically I read the first half of this book over 6 years ago, but really it is a completely separate book!

So this time I was onto the half about America, which is comprised of newspaper columns he wrote for a British newspaper once he and his family had moved back to the USA. This makes it very bitesize in it’s reading style, rather than a flow that keeps you turning the page, but his writing style is so chatty and light that it’s a very easy read. There’s a fair amount of pointing and laughing at some aspects of American life, and some pointing out things about American culture that we may not be aware of.

The really odd thing about reading it now though, is that it’s well over 20 years old, and some of the references, like explaining how some things work that are now antiquated, some ways of life, and just some of the stats or monetary values quoted, feel very old!

But it’s fun, it’s like having a friend chat to you, easy reading, I really enjoyed it!





Turtles All The Way Down – by John Green

24 11 2020

I think this now means I’m up to speed with John Green’s books! He writes very readable books, so I got through this pretty quickly – same as nearly all his books. I knew I was onto a good thing when I’d folded down the first two page corners as something to come back to when I did my favourite quotes from the book!

I don’t know what it is lately with me picking up books not realising that the main character has significant mental health problems – Aza struggles with intrusive thoughts and thought spirals to a major degree that at times really limit her ability to function. It’s written so brilliantly. As someone who can get stuck in a bit of a loop of anxiety sometimes, some of it did resonate (though mine have never been this extreme!), and it felt like the person writing it really understood what it feels like. At one point there’s a two page monologue of a thought spiral, and I totally saw where she was coming from. Technically this is a sub-plot while she and her friend try to work out why a friend’s billionaire dad went missing, but I think it’s this sub-plot that stays with you afterwards.

I would say that if you are in the middle of struggling with your mental health, it may not be the most helpful book to read, but if you know someone who is, or are in a good place at the moment, you may well find it really helpful. There is also a page in the back with a list of websites to visit if you are affected by what you read, so it’s keeping an eye out for its readers, which is good.

Again, I fear I’ve made this sound miserable and heavy, and yes there is weight to it, but her relationship with her best friend Daisy is beautiful, their dining habit is hilarious, the support she has around her is uplifting, and there’s a lot to be said for a book that I read the majority of in just five days!

As is (fairly) normal, here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • “I was beginning to learn that your life is a story told about you, not one that you tell.”
  • “To be honest, I find the whole process of masticating plants and animals and then shoving them down my oesophagus kind of disgusting, so I was trying not to think about the fact that I was eating, which is a form of thinking about it.”
  • “The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”
  • “I don’t mind worriers, worrying is the correct world view. Life is worrisome.”
  • “I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.”
  • “The weather decides when you think about it, not the other way around.”
  • “It’s so weird, to know you’re crazy and not be able to do anything about it, you know? It’s not like you believe yourself to be normal. You know there is a problem. But you can’t figure a way through to fixing it.”
  • “Those seat belts will hurt ya while saving your life.”
  • “The biggest, most important part of the body is the part that hurts.”
  • “The problem with happy endings, is that they’re either not really happy, or not really endings, you know? In real life, some things get better and some things get worse. And then eventually you die.”