The Diet Compass – Bas Kast – 01.05.21

When a slim fit 40 year old collapsed with chest pains, he realised that he could no longer get away with his unhealthy junk food diet, and went all out researching the science behind what constitutes a truly healthy diet.

I don’t read many non fiction books, less still ‘self-help’ type books because I’m annoyed by people who get obsessed by fads and pseudoscience nonsense, but what I liked about this book was that the author also hated all the bunkum out there and actually looked at the wealth of peer reviewed and properly tested scientific papers and weighed up their findings to put together a well informed guide.

A lot of his findings just agreed with the conclusions I’ve already come to about healthy eating and lifestyle (who doesn’t like being told they are right, right?!) but my one major takeaway, funnily enough was to switch to filter coffee over French press or capsules as he points out papers showing the benefits of drinking coffee when made using this method as the filter removes harmful chemicals but leaves the ones that are actually good for you.

Fun book. My husband got annoyed at me for constantly telling him nuggets of information I’d just read!

Another Time, Another Place (Chronicles of St. Mary’s Book 12) – Jodi Taylor – 29.04.21

Although I love Jodi Taylor’s books, somehow this one didn’t excite me as much as most – I just felt a little bored by the premise and not so invested as I usually feel in her stories. I thought the twist was kind of obvious, and I missed some of the regular characters who were absent for this one. Still a good book though.

The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro – 26.04.21

Man, this book was a real slog to read. My first thought, when I finally finished it, was ‘thank goodness that’s over’ and my second thought was that I wanted to go online and read up other people’s interpretations of it because it was still swirling through my mind.

Spoiler alert – I’m going to discuss the whole book so if you don’t want to be spoiled you should look away now.

The premise of the book is that a world renowned concert pianist, Mr Ryder, arrives at an unnamed European town with a vague idea that he is giving a performance, but also a sort of important keynote speech at an event a couple of days later.

The whole book reads like a surreal anxiety dream, with impossible twists and turns, like the characters travel a long distance but end up where they started, or that one minute characters have never met, and the next they are sharing reminiscences from several mutual experiences. Mr Ryder is in a constant state of confusion and never seems to be sure where he should be and what he should be doing and anyway wherever he goes he is met with obstacles and set backs and new calls on his attention. He meets many characters who could all represent aspects of his own psyche or life experience – a small boy who feels protective of his mother and ignored by his father, a young man whose budding musical career is belittled by his parents, an old man who stoically works hard even thought it is costing him his health, as well as cases of unrequited love, love lost over time or love in danger of being lost due to lack of communication.

All through the book I was trying to work out what was really happening – was the whole thing a dream? Is Mr Ryder a patient in a mental health institute, or suffering from dementia? I even wondered if the town was actually purgatory and Mr Ryder had to atone from the sins of his life before passing on.

Well, the book ends and we are never told.

Did I like it? No! yes? I don’t know. Was it genius or pretentious drivel…? Hmmm, probably the former, I guess, although I don’t really think it’s a book I enjoyed reading. But, saying that, I’m quite enjoying thinking about and analysing the experience now that it’s over…..

Everyday Magic: The Adventures of Alfie Blackstack – Jess Kidd and Beatriz Castro – 9.04.21

Everyday Magic: The Adventures of Alfie Blackstack eBook: Kidd, Jess, Castro,  Beatriz: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

I think Jess Kidd is a fabulous writer and I have loved everything I have read/listened to by her so far. Her other books (that I am aware of) have been for adults, all with some supernatural or magical realism element (my fav!) and written with dark wit but also real human feeling and depth of characterisation as well as interesting and well rounded plots. When I heard she had a kids book coming out, I went ahead and preordered it, even though I’m 51!

Well, I loved it! With elements of Roald Dahl and Diana Wynne Jones (and JK Rowling, because of the magic and all that…). A young boy loses both his parents to independent and equally gruesome accidental deaths and goes to live with his estranged aunts, who turn out to be practising witches and he discovers his magical heritage. Jess Kidd, I think manages to strike the perfect balance of humour/pathos/peril and heartwarming ‘ah’ moments as we get to know the characters and thankfully the book ended with an opening to a sequel/series, which I would definitely be buying and reading if it did come out!

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V.E. Schwab – (AUDIOBOOK) – 25.04.21

I very much enjoyed listening to this audiobook. As always I listened mostly on my pre-work morning runs, and I have really enjoyed my runs of late due in no small part to my pleasure at this story.

Adeline Larue was born in France in the 18th century, and was not satisfied to accept the life of women in rural France at the time – to be married off young, bear children, run the home, cook, clean etc etc. She managed to avoid marriage for a while, but when aged 23 her parents had had enough and arranged a marriage for her, she couldn’t bear the thought and ran into the woods just before her wedding. Since childhood she had befriended the local ‘wise woman’ who taught her to pray to the old gods, and that’s exactly what she did.

This time, someone answered, and Adeline made a deal. She asked for time to be herself, to be free and not to be beholden to anyone, and in return she offered her soul to the god when she was finished with it. As anyone knows the gods/fey/faeries/ daemons will always twist deals with mortals and as Adeline (now Addie, as she loses her name in the deal) discovers she is now instantly forgettable – as soon as anyone loses sight of her they forget ever having known or even met her. She is also immortal, and thought she can feel pain and hunger etc, these things cannot do her permanent harm.

We follow Addie’s story for three hundred years, with flashbacks interspersed with the modern day story of Addie in 2014 New York. I found the book intelligent, thought provoking, exciting, fun, romantic (but not in an annoying way)- just all round really good. I tried to guess the ending (as you do…) and although I was kind of half right, the actual ending was much better and more satisfying than the one I came up with.

I liked the narrator as well (Julia Whelan) especially her French accent. At times I couldn’t make out if she was saying ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ which is probably down to my bad hearing more than anything else, but made for some confusing dialogues!

The Other Half of Augusta Hope – Joanna Glen – 08.04.21

I read the second half of this book in one sitting when I couldn’t sleep one night, and I was totally gripped by it. I remember lying in bed thinking gushing adjectives about how incandescent, perfect, heart wrenching and beautiful it was.

The book tells parallel stories, in alternate chapters, of Augusta, a twin in a very middle class suburban family in the South of England who feels out of place, and Parfait, a boy growing up in war torn Burundi and suffering terrible atrocities and traumas.

Both Augusta and Parfait dream of escaping to a different life and a tragic happening when Parfait finally makes it out of Africa to the shores of Spain at the same time that Augusta’s family are holidaying in Spain shapes both of their lives.

Looking back on the book, and analysing it, I can’t help thinking the the story is very contrived, and our heartstrings are constantly plucked at with what could be unkindly construed as manipulative melodrama, and yet, I still remember how much I loved the experience of living the drama with the characters, so I think I’ll stick with my gut and not my head and say it’s a great book!

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World – Elif Shafak – 04.04.21

According to this book (I don’t know if it’s true or not), scientists have shown that brain activity can continue for up to 10 minutes 38 seconds after clinical death, and that is the premise for the first half of the novel, as we share the thoughts of Leila, a sex worker in Istanbul for the ten and a half minutes immediately after her murder. She remembers her life, from her birth and childhood, to the circumstances that lead to her becoming a sex worker. These memories are hung around her meetings with five significant people who she has loved and who have loved her. We also get a short back story for each of these characters, making this part of the book a little too disjointed for my tastes, almost like a series of connected but separate short stories. For me, the second half of the book, where these five friends of Leila’s come together to try to give her a proper burial is where the book really comes alive – it has humour, pathos and shocking stories of abuse within families and in greater society not unique to the Turkish culture, but interestingly framed within it.

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker – (AUDIOBOOK) – 31.03.21

I was quite excited by the opening of this book. The premise, told by the main protagonist, a girl, Julia, aged eleven at the beginning of the book, is that the rotation of the Earth is slowing, so that day lengths are increasing. We are never told why this is happening, but I was fascinated by the science of what effect this would have on life. Things like gravity increasing, due to the lessened effect of centrifugal force which counteracts some of the force of gravity. Unpredictable eclipses and other phenomena like solar flares, etc. Increase in solar radiation and the dying off of plant life. That part I loved. I didn’t love so much the coming of age family drama aspects of the story. I do appreciate that an end of the world disaster story only has true meaning if we bond with the characters going through it and get to know them as real people, I just found myself bored by the endless American Middle School Angst of Julia, fretting over boys and training bras and who is best friends with whom when I wanted to know more about what was happening on a global scale. I thought the book picked up again towards the end, so I’m maybe judging too harshly, as many books dip in the middle.

The Masked City (The Invisible Library book 2) Genevieve Cogman – 23.03.21

The Burning Page (The Invisible Library book 3) Genevieve Cogman – 30.03.21

So, I read the next two books in the Invisible Library series. I’m still trying to decide what I think of the series. I can’t really say anything negative about it – it doesn’t really annoy me (apart from the ‘sexual tension’ between the female lead and just about every male person she comes into contact with). There are a lot of elements that I like – the parallel worlds, the fey (magical people) and the dragons (who doesn’t love dragons??). It’s quite exciting, in a ‘cosy mysteries’ kind of way. I’m not sure why I just like rather than love these books. Still, I’ll keep reading the series, so that says something, I guess….