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.”





Queenie – by Candice Carty-Williams

9 11 2020

Another of the books I picked up over the summer from recommended reading around the Black Lives Matter movement. This book is fiction, which I find easier to read, so thought I’d give it a go. Queenie is a 25 year old of Jamaican descent living in London; she and her boyfriend are ‘on a break’ and she’s not taking it that well.

I guess it was a decent book, but I only gave it 3 stars on Goodreads. This was really because (more in the first half of the book), there are several sex scenes that were just a bit more detailed than they needed to be, particularly one that was violent. It really got me thinking about how books don’t have ratings in the same way DVDs do – seeing this book cover on the shelf, there’s no indication as to what age it would be suitable for. That part of it did calm down and then the book did cover mental health issues in a really helpful way, though again for some, reading it without a heads up could be difficult! I know on my friend Ceri’s BookTube channel she will always share content warnings, and I think this is such a helpful idea, but would be so much better if it was on book covers.

None of this makes it a bad book, I think the mental health stuff that was included was important, and even some of the stuff the character went through in the sex, but that aspect could have been done without being described as graphically as it was in places, that’s all.

Ultimately it’s giving you perspective of life of a young black woman in London, and some of the trials that come with that, that from a position of white privilege, we may never have even considered. I really enjoyed her relationship with her friends and family. It’s not primarily a mental health book, that’s just one element of it, but I was reading this after a (much more minor) blip, and so some of it really resonated, particularly the support she had around her.

I heard someone describe her as a bit of a Bridget Jones character, and I guess she does have some things in common with her, but it has a pretty different feel about it than that.

I will leave you, as I often do, with some of my favourite quotes (and yes they’re mostly mental health related, but just ‘cos they’re the bits that stood out to me!):

  • “So what if something is wrong with you? There’s something wrong with al of us.”
  • “I think that we all need to scrap this idea that normality is something to strive towards. I personally cannot pinpoint or prescribe what it is to be normal.”
  • “Thank you for being my friend, even though I didn’t make it easy.”
  • “As for the anxiety, and the head feeling weird and then the stomach following, even if you do go back to how things were, you made it out before, you’ll make it out again.”





And The Mountains Echoed – by Khaled Hosseini

25 10 2020

I think I set my expectations too high for this book. Having just read The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns and reading this as a follow up, I was expecting greatness, but I guess there’s a reason it didn’t end up on all the ‘books you must read’ type lists that the other two have. It probably wasn’t that bad at all, just comparatively!

The thing I found most odd about it was that the story alluded to in the blurb is over very quickly, and the book jumps through different people’s stories who have maybe been mentioned as an aside in a previous persons story, to the point that you get pretty far removed from the original but then sometimes it jumps back to one more central, but then goes off to someone else who was mentioned before. I just found that most of the time, I found that I just wanted it to get back to the point, and then the ending was relatively predictable from very near the beginning. There were some decent enough stories in it, it just didn’t felt like it flowed properly at all. It also varied throughout between present and past tense, and first and third person. All very odd.

I feel this has been very negative, but as with most books, there were still bits that would normally make me turn down the corners (but it was a library book so I had to settle for taking a photo on my phone!).

  • “When you have lived as long as I have, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour.”
  • “She said there was comfort to be found in the permanence of mathematical truths, in the lack of arbitrariness and the absence of ambiguity. In knowing that the answers may be elusive, but they could be found.”
  • “In my experience, men who understand women as well as you seem to rarely want to have anything to do with them.”
  • “Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift, given randomly, stupidly.”
  • “James Parkinson, George Huntington, Robert Graves, John Down. Now this Lou Gehrig fellow of mine. How did men come to monopolise disease names too?”
  • “I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret.”





Hope Never Dies – by Andrew Shaffer

3 10 2020

I bought this book as a gift for a couple of people a year or two ago, it sounded hilarious and like it would suit their tastes, and then this year I finally got a chance to try it! The thing that made me get it as a present, was the last paragraph of the blurb:

“Part action thriller, part mystery, part bromance, and (just to be clear) 100 percent fiction, Hope Never Dies imagines life after the Oval Office for two of America’s greatest heroes. Together they’ll prove that justice has no term limits.”

If that doesn’t sell it, I don’t know what will!

I finally picked it up now as with the election coming up, it felt timely. Joe Biden narrates the book, and does occasionally ponder on if he’d ever run for office again, but mostly the book is digging into the death of his favourite Amtrak (train company) conductor in suspicious circumstances.

This was by no means great literature, but it was a fun read if you’re looking for something light and escapist!





Elizabeth Is Missing – by Emma Healey

22 09 2020

The final book in the stack from Mum!

Before I read this, I knew it was about a woman with dementia who was convinced her friend was missing. What I didn’t know was that she narrates the book.

I’ll be honest, I really struggled with the first few pages as I adjusted to it – it was almost upsetting to read stuff that is so familiar and close to home, from the perspective of the person who is confused. You can feel her deteriorating through the book, which is tough, but laced with humour as well.

Once I got used to the style though, it was an excellent book – the narrator suffering from dementia is such a clever idea. Maud switches between struggling to work out what’s currently going on (other than being sure that her friend Elizabeth is missing, there’s a note in her pocket that says so), and flashing back to when she was a child and her older sister went missing. Essentially it’s two stories being told in parallel, but one reliably, and one not.

I guess it’s really a mystery book, and that’s what had me hooked, trying to work out what’s happened in her past, and what on earth is going on in her present. It really was a good read, I read it in seven days, crazy fast for me!

It turns out that there’s an adaptation of it on iPlayer at the moment, so hoping to watch that this week, trailer below!





A Thousand Splendid Suns – by Khaled Hosseini

15 09 2020

Having really enjoyed The Kite Runner, I jumped straight on into this one, which while not a follow on story, is the next book Hosseini wrote, and is equally well spoken of.

Both books follow roughly the same time period of 1970s to the early 2000s, and are probably equally miserable, but while the two books are not technically linked, it’s very easy to contrast the two:

  • The Kite Runner really focused on the lives of boys and men in Kabul, the centre of this book was the female characters.
  • The Kite Runner covers escaping from Afghanistan and life outside it, but this mostly stays in the midst of it.
  • From a more technical perspective, The Kite Runner was told in the first person, but this is third person (and 50 pages before the end switches from past to present tense).

The first quarter of the book we meet Mariam who lives with her mother in a shack outside a town called Herat, and learn what brings her to Kabul and follow through her backstory. The second quarter we move on to Laila, who had a mention in Mariam’s story as the baby of a neighbour, but they haven’t really overlapped; again we hear her backstory up to the point where her and Mariam’s worlds collide. That brings us to the last half of the book, where we see their relationship and their struggles together.

Just like his first book, he manages to share a miserable story in a brilliant way which is so readable. It also feels really educational, I learnt a lot about the geography and history of the area. This book feels like you get more of the history than the previous one as most of the book stays in the country.

A couple of my favourite out-of-context quotes:

  • “Mariam set about cleaning up the mess, marvelling at how energetically lazy men could be.”
  • “Rasheed regarded the Taliban with a forgiving, affectionate kind of bemusement, as one might regard an erratic cousin prone to unpredictable acts of hilarity and scandal.”





The Kite Runner – by Khaled Hosseini

5 09 2020

The next book in the pile I borrowed from my mum is The Kite Runner, I picked it up because it’s always listed on those lists of “books to read before you die” etc, which normally means, it’s quite good!

I was warned before I read this that it’s not a cheerful book, both by friends who’ve read it, and by the quotes on the front cover: “devastating” and “heartbreaking” are pretty stark! And the warnings were right, it’s not happy, it’s a miserable book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not very good! In fact, partway through the book one of the characters says something which I think sums it up: “Sad stories make good books.”

The story follows Amir as he grows up in Afghanistan with his friend Hassan, through his escape to America when the country is invaded, and to when he has to one day return. At some points it just feels like a book of one awful thing after another, in fact, when I was 70 pages from the end I was on the phone to my mum and said how there was probably time for something else horrible to happen, and I wasn’t wrong!

But for those of you who are put off by this, I will reassure you that it does end on a hopeful note, and it was one of those books I just couldn’t wait to pick up again each time I wasn’t reading it. Normally at night I read a fall pages and can’t keep my eyes open, but one night I was reading this til 1am, definitely addictive!