The Color Purple – by Alice Walker

14 06 2020

One of the key things I’ve got out of the BLM awareness the last couple of weeks is the need to educate ourselves better. There have been various books recommended, and this was on a fiction list I saw early on (which I can’t find anymore), and it had been sat on my shelf for a long time, and so it seemed a very sensible time to pick it up.

The book is written as letters, initially from the main character, Celie, to God, (though later on this varies a bit and includes letters to and from her sister). Through these letters she essentially tells us the story of her life as a black woman in the American Deep South between the world wars, and of those around her.

It’s not been the easiest book to read, but for a broad variety of reasons:

  • Because she’s talking to God, there’s a lot of assumed knowledge! She talks about people without explaining who they are, and it takes a fair bit of focus to work out what she’s on about at times, particularly at the beginning when everyone she talks about it new to you.
  • No quote marks for dialogue!
  • When Celie is writing (so, for most of the book), it’s written in the dialect she spoke in, the author has referred to this as “black folk language.” It very quickly becomes normal, but was a bit of an adjustment at the start.
  • Time seems to move along without explicitly telling us. By the end of the book I’d say 30-40 years have passed, but it’s not at all easy to see this happen. Someone might refer to how they now have three more children than when you last saw them, or that someone you thought was a kid is nearly as tall as the adults. Hard to keep track of so I just sort of let it happen!
    A quote which just felt so true of life, especially right now: “Time moves slowly, but passes quickly.”
  • Finally, some of the actual content is upsetting, and could be triggering for some. On page one alone, Celie, aged 14 is violently raped by her Pa.





Little Fires Everywhere – by Celeste Ng

2 06 2020

Yes it’s another of those books that’s been everywhere and then adapted for TV. But my theory is, there’s got to be a reason it’s been everywhere and that someone’s put money into making a screen adaptation. It’s gotta be good.

The Richardsons live in an overly planned suburb of picture perfect houses where everyone seems to live picture perfect lives. Mia and her daughter Pearl arrive to rent a small home owned by the Richardsons, having moved house every few months of Pearl’s life and don’t quite fit in with the ideal, but Pearl quickly forms friendships with the Richardson children.

The book starts with a rather dramatic incident, and then flashes back a year to show us how things got to that point. There are back-stories to be discovered, one of which takes a good 50 pages to tell when we finally get to it!

It’s set in the late 90s, which gave some lovely nostalgic moments.

It turns out, yes there is always a reason books go viral (is that a thing? books going viral? oh well, you know what I mean), because it’s a story that grabs you and keeps you interested.





Murder on the Orient Express – by Agatha Christie

25 05 2020

I had always assumed that Agatha Christie books would be a bit stuffy and high brow, and hard work to read. My goodness I was wrong – not that it’s trashy, not at all, but I just read a book in a week, I was completely gripped!

We cover the sleeper carriage of a train which departs from Istanbul and gets stuck in a snowdrift on the same night that someone is killed (this is hardly a spoiler, it’s a murder mystery!), and given that the detective Poirot is already on the train, we work through his investigation, with all it’s twists and turns.

In all honesty, I was completely won over just by the contents page – as a maths and data brain, the structure to this is just beautiful. To some, the idea of this could be off-putting, but don’t worry – even with all it’s organisation, it still flows as one continuous story.

The other thing I really and truly loved about this book was how it helped you keep track of everything going on. There are a lot of characters, a lot of things happening, and so at points in the book we are provided with a labelled map of the train carriage, a timeline of the events we know so far (because Poirot wrote it down to be ‘neat and orderly’, a recap of what we know of all the suspects so far, and a list of questions we still need to answer. I found I had the corner of each of these pages folded down so I could refer back to them easily. It’s just entirely useful!

I hadn’t seen the film, so had no idea what was going to happen, but what was interesting was that while my copy of the book has the film poster as it’s cover (see below), all the characters looked totally different in my head (my Poirot was, of course, David Suchet). I had imDbed to work out who was meant to be who – but that didn’t help at all!

I really want to see the film now!





The Eve Illusion – by Giovanna and Tom Fletcher

19 05 2020

I was a huge fan of Eve of Man when it came out two years ago, but due to the gap between the two books, had forgotten a lot of the plot when it came to this! It turns out, the first couple of chapters help recap what was happening in the last couple of chapters, but given that I couldn’t remember how they got to that point, I decided to do a full re-read of Eve of Man, firstly to get me up to speed properly, and secondly, to just enjoy the full story running together. I haven’t re-read a book in a long time as my “to read” list is always so long, but it was a really nice experience 🙂

A third narrator is added to the story in this book, so as well as Bram and Eve, we now have Michael, who we briefly met in the first book, but we see much more of now. It’s a fun way to tell a story, and fortunately as I binged it, it wasn’t too confusing, but on the occasions I did pick it up mid chapter, I did have to flip back to see who was talking!

Avoiding spoilers (though maybe not of the first book) the story continues as Eve and Bram leave the tower, the only place she’s known, and join the Freevers in their hideout. It was another really gripping read, crazy twists I never saw coming, good people stuff, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! As it’s part of a trilogy, it of course left on a massive cliffhanger again, and I can’t WAIT to see how this is going to resolve!

(That said, I do have a couple of technical questions about one of the plot points, and if anyone else has read it, please let me know so we can discuss!)





The Amber Spyglass – by Philip Pullman

30 04 2020

Last year I read the first two books in this trilogy ready for the TV adaptation that came out, I watched a few episodes but can’t remember if I finished it or not! Either way, I wasn’t in a rush to read the third one. I kinda regret leaving it so long now as even with reading a synopsis of the second book, it was hard to catch up and work out what had happened!

It didn’t help that for a good chunk at the beginning of the book it feels like it jumps around between several groups of people quite quickly, and it was hard to keep track. Not only that but I really couldn’t fathom for a long time who was on what side!

All this said, after my blip with the second book, this was much more engaging and, as per usual, the last 100 pages I read in just a day or two – I’ve spent the whole of this evening since dinner just reading it. It’s so well told, I’m not even going to try and give an overview cos the complexity would make this a very very long post, but it was fascinating trying to work out how all the different parts would resolve.

As I had been slightly forewarned, this book does diss the church more, but the way I see it, it’s a very fictional church, very different to what I know church to be. As I think I said before, at the end of the day, it’s just a story.





The Screwtape Letters – by C.S. Lewis

10 04 2020

Many years ago I got my Grandpa’s very old copy (I think late 1950s, early 1960s?) of this book, which obviously was rather delicate and fragile, so I have kept it safely in a box ever since. A few years later I got the C.S. Lewis Signature Box Set which had a much more robust copy as part of it, and a few years after that, I’ve finally got around to reading it!

The book is a collection of letters from Screwtape (a senior devil) to his nephew Wormwood (a junior devil) – we can clearly tell that there are replies between, but we’re not privy to those. Wormwood has been assigned a ‘patient’ and the letters contain advice, critique and general feedback about how he is doing, what he needs to do differently, and what opportunities to look for.

It’s a confusing read to start with to get your head around the terminology. As a Christian, the phrase “the enemy” would normally mean Satan, and “Our Father”, God, but in this book the roles are of course, reversed! It’s very cleverly written and ends up challenging you in all sorts of areas. There’s a hugely strong warning against luke-warmness, they are excited when the patient is starting to head in the wrong direction, but thinks things are OK so long as he is still a church-goer.

I occasionally found it hard to read, the sentences got quite long in places, and C.S. Lewis is a very clever man, so I think sometimes it was just a bit beyond me, but mostly it’s readable, the content is good and the premise is superb. Definitely worth a read.

At the back is a section which I believe was previously published separately, called “Screwtape proposes a toast”, which is a 20ish page speech that he gives at the graduation at The Tempters Training College for young Devils. It was written maybe 20 years later, and again had good content but was a bit hard going at times – good to see Screwtape in another setting though!

Some of my favourite quotes are below (and remember to bear in mind, these are all written from a devil’s perspective):

  • “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
  • “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle sloe, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
  • “Let him think of [humility] not as a self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind o opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character.”
  • “We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land with favoured heroes attain – not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
  • “Here were vermin so muddled in mind, so passively responsive to environment, that it was very hard to raise them to that level of clarity and deliberateness at which mortal sin becomes possible. To raise them just enough; but not that fatal millimetre of ‘too much’. For then, of course, all would possibly have been lost. They might have seen; they might have repented.”





The Rosie Result – by Graeme Simsion

28 03 2020

This is the final book in this ‘Rosie’ trilogy about Don Tillman.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Don is just a really likeable character (possibly moreso because the books are written in the first person from his perspective). By this book he and Rosie have been married for over a decade and have a 10 year old son, Hudson. Don has a lot of things he’s learned about social interaction, rules and patterns to keep an eye out for to understand things he might otherwise struggle with.

Early in the book there’s a suggestion from the school that Hudson may be autistic and that they should look into having him tested. Don is not keen on this, but the comment has also been made about him. He leaves his job to focus on Hudson, to try and achieve various targets (numbered, of course) to help him to fit in.

A lot of the book questions autism stereotypes, as well as educating neurotypicals in ways they can better help those with autism feel comfortable – one being checking if their preference is to be referred to as ‘autistic’ or ‘person with autism’! There’s definitely a message in the book about how we always think of ‘unable to feel empathy’ as a symptom of autism, but rarely do neurotypical people have much empathy for them – definitely a few challenges thrown in, which is helpful.

I’ve made this sound like a heavy book, it’s not. It’s funny, warm, and interesting! There’s also a whole plot with Don opening a bar given his interest and skill in cocktail making – it’s an easy read, just has a good message to share along with it.





Twas the nightshift before Christmas – by Adam Kay

15 03 2020

“This is Going to Hurt” has been an absolute sensation and after reading it in 2018, when I saw that a short (142 pages) Christmas follow-up was coming out I was very excited to read it. I got it for my dad for Christmas as his career was in the NHS and he’d also loved the first one, and I’ve now borrowed it back from him! (Thanks Dad!)

There isn’t much to add to what I said about the first book (if you haven’t read that, I would read that first, just for a bit more context), it’s just a great insight into the reality of life in the NHS, a few highs – mainly lows of course, but told in a humour that means it’s an entertaining read.

My favourite thing about this was a footnote in the introduction:

“In mt first book, “This is Going to Hurt”, the most common reasons for entries being omitted included ‘too disgusting’ or ‘too Christmassy’. Here I make amends for both.”

If that doesn’t make you want to read it – nothing will!





Noughts & Crosses – by Malorie Blackman

8 03 2020

I remember this book coming out when I was a teenager, I remember loads of people reading it, but I never heard what it was about and never got around to reading it myself. With the coming of the new series from the BBC, I thought I’d finally give it a go, so got myself a copy off eBay and flew through it!

The basic premise is a divided society, where black people (Crosses) have all the power, and white people (noughts) are the downtrodden and oppressed in society. Callum is a nought teenage boy and Sephy is a Cross teenage girl. When they were kids, Callum’s mum worked at Sephy’s house and so they were friends, but as he is one of the first noughts allowed into a Cross school, their friendship is tested. Things progress from there as a group of noughts are trying to form an uprising. It’s a little bit Romeo and Juliet in its nature.

The chapters are narrated alternating between Callum and Sephy, and the book itself covers a few years, so things change a lot, but it’s told really well and keeps you extremely gripped. Technically it won an award for children’s fiction, but it’s definitely not suitable for young children, and the new BBC series based on it is airing at 9pm – there’s plenty of darkness in it!

I’m watching the first episode of the TV series as I write this, so won’t comment on that here other than to say it seems quite different so far!





Factfulness – by Hans Rosling

24 02 2020

There is a reason that on the front of this book is a recommendation from Barack Obama, and on the back, from Bill & Melinda Gates. It’s a very good, and very important book. I’d already heard of Hans from his TED talks, if you’re interested, some of his most viewed ones are at the bottom of the page.

We have a tendency to refer to the developed and developing world, but really the world is divided into more than these two categories, it’s more complicated. He gives us four levels, levels one and four are what we’d traditionally refer to as the first and third world, but this is the minority of the worlds population, he tells us that about five billion people actually live on levels two and three, maybe they have a camping stove to cook on rather than a fire, maybe a moped rather than getting everywhere on foot. He gives a thorough explanation of these levels, more than I can here, along with photos to help cement the idea. You can find a large selection of these on their Dollar Street website.

The subtitle is: “Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think.” Hans takes us through ten instincts we all have about the world, which are outdated, or were never the case at all. For example, the gap instinct, that the world is divided into the rich and poor and that there is no one in the middle, which as explained above is not the case at all, in fact, the majority are in the middle. Or that just because things are bad, it doesn’t mean they’re not improving; things can be bad but better than they were.

The book is filled with these really interesting ideas, and each chapter ends with a helpful summary page, highlighting what the issue with the instinct is, and tips to avoid it, which I’m sure I’ll be referring back to!

I have folded down so many pages of this book that I won’t list all the quotes here, but along with that I already have a queue of people to borrow my copy! I normally really struggle with non fiction and would expect this to take a good few months, but it was only 2.5 weeks! While it’s a data-y book, it’s got graphs (his favourite is here, and a live animated version like those in the videos below, you can play with on their Gapminder website) and things to help understand, and is written in a conversational style, full of anecdotes, and is very easy to read.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the state of our world, and facts to back that up, as well as those just wanting to be able to assess information they receive better.