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?”





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.”





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.”





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!