The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus – by Dr Hannah Fry & Dr Thomas Oléron Evans

29 12 2021

Maths & Christmas, what more could you want?!

From predicting the Queen’s Speech using Markov Chains, to how to wrap presents using the least wrapping paper, it covers all elements of the festive season! It’s nice and accessible too, with lots of notes for further reading for those who want to fully geek out (the number of articles that seem to have been written on cooking a turkey seems to be insane!)

It’s not a heavy book, lots of chatter and humour makes it easy to read, and lots of diagrams too, so you really fly through the 150 pages!





Letters from Father Christmas – by J.R.R. Tolkien

29 12 2021

From 1920 ’til 1943, Tolkien wrote letters to his four children (over an age range of 12 years), as from Father Christmas; with shaky writing from the cold, suitable North Pole stamps and postmarks, and hand-drawn illustrations to accompany them.

In the 1976, three years after he died, his daughter-in-law compiled these into a book for people to enjoy, and last year, to mark the centenary of the first letter, this edition was published.

He shares stories of things going on in the North Pole, with his companion the Polar Bear, problems every few years from goblin attacks, and these are also covered in the illustrations. He uses these some years to explain why they might not get what they expect, but always acknowledges the letters they’ve written too.

It’s a lovely warm hug to read over the Christmas period, I saw that someone said they read one letter to their kids every night over advent as a build up to Christmas Day, which I thought was quite sweet!





Freckles – by Cecelia Ahern

11 10 2021

I’ve read everything Cecelia Ahern has written, but normally try to wait for paperback, so when my friend got the hardback copy and then passed it on, I was thrilled to not have to wait!

Allegra Bird is a traffic warden just outside of Dublin, and is unnerved when an angry driver tells her that people are the average of the five people they spend the most time with, and so hers must be awful. She realises that she doesn’t know who her five people are, and that’s the focus of most of the book. There’s also a storyline about her trying to meet her mum who gave her up when she was born.

It was ok, but definitely not my favourite among the other books she’s written. I have two main frustrations:

  • She decided not to use speech marks, which she hasn’t done before, but I’ve found a couple of other books do recently. I don’t get the point of this, all it really seems to do is make it harder to read!
  • The ending wasn’t strong. It was anti-climactic, convenient and just a bit twee. I was disappointed to be honest.

I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, not awful, but low for me I guess.





Sh**ged Married Annoyed – by Chris & Rosie Ramsey

23 09 2021

Yes, it has a rude word in the title, yes, some of the content isn’t the most edifying, but I’d just finished a 200-year-old novel that took forever and needed something trashy to fly through. Named after their stupidly successful podcast, there is some pretty rough stuff in there, scattered between just a load of chat between husband and wife.

Like the Ant and Dec books I’ve read, they’ve got different fonts to identify who’s talking, and a third font for the many, many letters from the public.

If you can get past some of the slightly gross stories, the rest of it is just a funny and easy read!





Emma – by Jane Austen

17 09 2021

I’ve watched so many adaptations of this book, but never got around to reading it (though I did read the Alexander McCall-Smith version for the Austen Project a few years ago). But under my new goal of reading one Austen a year (among other things), I chose this as it’s the one I knew best of the ones still unread, so it was the obvious choice!

For those unaware, Emma is about 20 and lives a life of comfort and ease to the point of being somewhat spoilt, with her hypochondriac father. She has a habit for matchmaking, though doesn’t intend on marrying herself. She’s not someone you’d like in real life, but goes on quite a journey throughout the book. It’s a story about class and relationships, and looks at several pairings of people as you work your way through.

I really enjoyed it, but for some reason it took me 10 weeks to read! I didn’t realise it was broken up into three volumes, but at nearly 500 pages, I guess that makes sense! The other thing that really surprised me was that for a book that’s only just over 200 years old, how different some of the spellings are, I tried to note some down as I went:

“stopt”, “chuse”, “shew”, “dropt”, “staid”, “Swisserland”, “Surry”, “surprized”, “every where”, “every thing”, “what ever”, “&c”.

I quite like some of those, but they’d all be seen as wrong these days!

It feels like a warm hug of a read, probably because it’s just such a familiar story to me, but then again, there’s a reason why it’s a classic!

I will leave you with trailers for three of my favourite Emma adaptations if you want to dip your toe in:

Firstly, the BBC version from 2009, this is a 4 part series so gets in a lot more detail. I think Romola Garai is my favourite Emma in an adaptation.
Then the film that came out a couple of years ago, I always like to have a film and a series version incase you don’t have time for a full series! Bill Nighy is excellent in this as Mr Woodhouse!
And finally, one of my favourite films of all time, Clueless – the story of Emma, but redone for a 90s US high school – and including the never-aging Paul Rudd.




The Thursday Murder Club – by Richard Osman

3 07 2021

I was so proud of myself for waiting for the paperback of this to come out, I’ve wanted to read it for ages! My parents gave it to me for my birthday, with my mum asking as I unwrapped it, if she could borrow it when I’m done! (Of course I said yes!)

Cooper’s Chase is an upmarket retirement village built up around an old convent in Kent, and four residents (Joyce, Elizabeth, Ibrahim and Ron) meet on a Thursday in the Jigsaw Room and go through old unsolved murder cases to see what they can discover.

But then there’s a murder in the village, and they decide to do what they can to investigate. They’re a bit rebellious, not always keeping the police informed when they discover something, and then wanting to trade information with them!

It’s a lovely bunch of people, all with really defined characters, there’s a decent backstory to each of the police officers involved too. It’s so so weird that a murder mystery could be warm and fuzzy, but it is!

Also, because Richard Osman wrote it, there are obviously some random thoughts he’s thrown in, including an excellent analysis of Escape to the Country which Dave Gorman would be proud of, and insistence on the correct way to work through a double layered box of biscuits, the idea of retirement village developers looking for 60+ year olds in Waitrose cafes, and this highly relatable line: “He had read a headline about Diet Coke once, which was so worrying he had chosen not to read the article.”

My only slight slight niggle? I don’t understand why there’s a dog on the cover – any insight is welcome!





Run Baby Run – by Nicky Cruz with Jamie Buckingham

13 05 2021

Since reading The Cross and The Switchblade last year, which is about David Wilkerson and his work with the gangs in 1950s New York, I’ve been keen to read this which tells the story of one of the most powerful gang leaders he met, and his journey to Christ. I borrowed this copy off my mum, which her friend gave her for her birthday in 1971! Once I had re-taped the front cover so that it was a bit less fragile, I got going!

You kind of think that there at least had to be something in Nicky, some potential for good that would have come out in the end anyway, but from the first half of the book, you really don’t see it. As it’s told from his perspective, you get a real sense of his bloodthirstiness, his real enjoyment of violence, it’s pretty scary! And therefore even more amazing to us mere mortals, that he could come, not only to know Jesus, but to be an incredible witness for Him! The particular focus of his ministry is those still in the gangs and later, those whose lives are being wrecked by drugs.

It’s really encouraging to see that he doesn’t necessarily have a smooth journey, more than once there’s a real crisis of faith, of confidence in what he’s doing – it’s helpful to see that while he has this amazing story, he is still human just like the rest of us!

A hugely powerful and challenging book, just like Wilkerson’s was, and I’d hugely recommend it.





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!