Feeds:
Posts
Comments

In 2020 when the world went into lockdown, freelance sports commentator Andrew Cotter found himself out of work; after all if there are no sporting events going on, there’s nothing he could commentate on. So, stuck at home and feeling bored he filmed his two Labradors Olive and Mabel eating breakfast, and recorded a sports style commentary about it. When he released it on Twitter, hoping that it might inspire a few laughs, he was stunned by the response he received. So he did another – and another…and a phenomenon was born.

In this book, Cotter talks about how he and his partner Caroline brought Olive and Mabel into their family, and describes life with two beautiful dogs. Very little of the book is about the funny videos; most of it discusses life in general with the dogs, and focuses particularly on the Scottish mountain walks/hikes that they do together.

This was my first book of 2023, and it was a cracker! I read well over 200 pages in two sittings, and would have finished it in those two sittings if I didn’t have to go back to work! I have two Labradors myself, so was very able to recognise a lot of the comical situations he describes, and I think any dog lover would feel the same.

What I wasn’t expecting, and came as a pleasant surprise, was quite how funny this book is. I laughed out loud several times during the reading. Andrew Cotter has a very funny turn of phrase and the way that he described the dogs’ expressions and thoughts was genuinely very amusing. Also, his absolute adoration of Olive and Mabel came through very clearly, and I think anyone who has ever loved a dog would be able to relate to this.

Overall, this was a brilliant way to kick off my 2023 reading and I would recommend this book to everyone, but especially dog owners and/or lovers.

In this fun little book (easily read in one sitting if you feel like it), New York journalist Rebecca Harrington tries out the diets of the rich and famous to see if they are really sustainable and if they actually work. The full list of celebrity diets she follows is:

Gwyneth Paltrow; Liz Taylor; Karl Lagerfeld; Marilyn Monroe; Cameron Diaz; Madonna; Greta Garbo; Victoria Beckham; Beyonce; Jackie Kennedy; Sophia Loren; Pippa Middleton; Carmelo Anthony; Dolly Parton; Miranda Kerr; Elizabeth Hurley.

Make no mistake – this is not intended to be a serious examination of how dieting works. Most diets are tried for only a few days (some of which I don’t know how anyone could actually do for more than a couple of days without passing out anyway). Each chapter focuses on a new celebrity diet, and they are choppy and short chapters, which make for a quick read.

I really enjoyed this book actually. Harrington is self-deprecating, witty and engaging. The book had me giggling to myself several times and I would certainly read more by this author.

However, it did make me think about celebrity diets and how they are sold to the gullible public – if I thought about it very deeply I would actually get quite angry. Most of the diets feature famous faces with no qualifications in nutrition whatsoever, peddling their wares to their fans and making money off people’s desire to be thinner. Miranda Kerr might be a lovely person but my goodness her lifestyle regime sounds utterly pretentious and completely unrealistic for those of us with actual jobs, budgets and time constraints. Victoria Beckham’s diet was inspired by the diet Tom Hanks followed to lose a ton of weight when filming Cast Away. In other words, she followed the diet that he used to make himself look starved! What kind of messed up is this?!

However, as mentioned above this book is not a commentary on the morality or otherwise of celebrities making money from their diets, but basically an undemanding fun read and a nice way to round off my reading for 2022.

Every Christmas I like to read a Christmas themed book, and this was my choice for this year.

Set in 1935, Daphne King is an agony aunt at a local newspaper in London, but dreams of being a serious journalist. When she is sent to do a fluff piece interviewing the director of a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol being performed at the Theatre Royale, matters take a serious turn when the lead actor dies on stage, apparently of a heart attack. But Daphne suspects that there is more to the death and decides to investigate.

All I wanted from this book was an easy enjoyable read, and on that level it definitely delivered. However, there were a few things that niggled at me slightly. The characters were all caricatures, and the females particularly were almost cartoonish. I did like Daphne though and would like to see more of her in future stories.

The story itself was fun with plenty of twists and turns, and enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing, and it was a pleasant enough way to pass some time. Other than that, I don’t have a lot to say…if you’re looking for a meaty serious read, this is not it. If you’re looking for a fun diversion (think Agatha Christie but really really ‘lite’) then this might be something you would enjoy.

Emma Blair falls in love with Jesse Lerner as a teenager and when they get married, they truly believe it’s forever. But just a year later Jesse is missing presumed dead when a helicopter he is in crashes and his body is not found.

Eventually Emma learns to live with her grief and even falls in love again with her old friend Sam. But as she and Sam are preparing to marry, the unbelievable happens…Jesse is found alive three years after he went missing – and he wants to pick up where he left off with Emma.

Torn between the two loves of her life Emma is thrown into turmoil, and deciding where her future lies could cause heartbreak for all three.

I’ve only discovered Taylor Jenkins Reid within the last couple of years, and have loved all of the books of hers I’ve read up to this point. However while I did enjoy One True Loves, I would have to say that it’s my least favorite yet. For one thing, one of the two main men just seemed totally obnoxious and I couldn’t warm to him at all. I won’t say which, and I won’t say what happens in the end, but it meant that I could not invest in Emma’s dilemma because to me it seemed a no-brainer as to who if anyone she should choose.

Also, I did find the fact of Jesse’s survival somewhat too incredible to believe. I know that people can and do survive such incidents as Jesse did, but the whole story of his survival on a tiny islet never seemed very possible (there are no spoilers here; we learn about Jesse’s survival right from the start of the story).

I’d question some of Emma’s actions, and some of both Sam’s and Jesse’s reactions, but of course they were caught in a highly unusual situation, and who knows how any of us might behave under such circumstances.

I still read it quickly and liked it, and I still think that this author can write brilliantly, but if this was the first book of hers I had ever read, I’m not sure I would have rushed to pick up another. But nonetheless it’s an undemanding and entertaining story and I remain a fan of this author.

I had been wanting to read this book for a long time and when I finally got around to it, it was a difficult read – not only because my copy was over 600 pages of densely packed font, but also because there is simply so much information and so many names coming at the reader. In tracing the AIDS epidemic throughout the 1980s, there are so many facets of the story, and it often switches between locations so concentration is key. For that reason I found I could only read 10 or so pages at a time before I needed to put the book down for a rest.

But for all that it almost felt like homework, it was an illuminating read, and I have kept my copy to read again in future. Randy Shilts was an American journalist and author, who obviously meticulously researched his subject and in the end delivered not just a timeline of an epidemic that ravaged the gay community, but a searing indictment on the Reagan administration who ignored it all for years despite thousands of people dying and despite being told frequently that this disease was tearing through the country. This book horrified me and made me furious at the lack of regard for the AIDS victims.

Shilts describes how in the early 1980s several young gay men started presenting with an unusual skin cancer, which led to much speculation about its cause. While doctors and scientists could see fairly quickly that there was a huge problem in the offing, and worked tirelessly to try to find the cause, they were up against not just an indifferent federal government, but politics at all levels, the gay community themselves, many of whom resented being advised to lessen their sexual activities, and the abhorrent negligence of such places as many blood banks in America, who refused to start testing their blood even after it was proven that AIDS could be caught through infected transfused blood. The national and local press were also largely uninterested in a disease that only affected gay men.

Amongst the scientific challenges and breakthroughs – including one very interesting narrative about the rivalry between American and French scientists – and the grass roots political attempts to get the Reagan administration interested in this disease, there are tales of key people in the epidemic, many of whom succumbed to AIDS themselves. These for me were some of the most interesting parts, as they focussed on the human aspect of living with a disease, or seeing friend after friend pass away. It portrayed the desperation and hopelessness that people felt, and the anger at their government for ignoring them. I often found myself googling certain people and events to find out more about them – which was another reason it took me such a long time to read this book.

So not an easy read, but an extremely worthwhile one and definitely worth the investment of time and concentration.

This book is set in 2016 and is narrated by Nuri, a Syrian beekeeper who has a happy life with his wife Afra and their young son Sami, until their world is torn apart by their country’s civil war.

With their lives destroyed, they have no option but to flee their country and seek asylum elsewhere. There are two timelines in this book; one is in England, where they have arrived and hope to be allowed to stay, and the other charts their journey there, during which they face constant upheaval and terrible dangers.

I did enjoy the book on one level, but must also admit to being somewhat disappointed because I think I expected so much more. It’s such an important topic – and very eye opening regarding the harrowing experiences that asylum seekers face and the lengths that they will go to simply to find somewhere to live where they might not face death on a daily basis. However, while the story itself was interesting, I felt a strange kind of disconnect with the characters – they never felt very fleshed out and I found it hard to invest in them. Even though Nuri narrated the book, he still seemed very much to be at arms length throughout.

Overall, a book worth reading and very relevant in the current times, but could have been much more.

This murder mystery is set in the small town in Giverny in France, where Claude Monet lived out his years, and where his house is still a tourist attraction today.

The mystery starts when the body of a well known philanderer is found murdered in the river. The police investigation is headed up by Inspector Laurenc Serenac, a newcomer to the village, and he is assisted mainly by Inspector Sylvio Benavides. Complications arise when Serenac is attracted to the local schoolteacher Stephanie Dupain, who is pivotal to his investigation.

Meanwhile, a young girl named Fanette, who also lives in the village, dreams of one day becoming a famous painter like Monet; a large part of the story revolves around Fanette and her various schoolfriend, who are pupils of the aforementioned Stephanie.

Finally, there is an old lady, who watches the police and the various goings on in the village from a detached viewpoint. She has lived in the village all of her life but is clearly something of a recluse, with her dog Neptune being her only companion.

The old lady’s chapters are told in the first person, but the rest of the story is told in the third person.

I had high hopes for this book, but sadly came away disappointed. The story seemed very disjointed and the police investigation seemed ludicrous. The book was originally written in French and I’m not sure if it was the translation or not, but the writing seemed very clunky and didn’t flow well. Like Bussi’s book ‘Don’t Let Go’ there is very little in the way of characterisation, but while that book did at least have a lot of action, this one seemed to stagnate in a lot of places. I kept reading until the end, as the blurb on the cover promised a huge twist. Well…..there is one and I’m not going to reveal it, but suffice to say that it was ridiculous and just made me really annoyed. Twists are great when they are revealed and then you look back and see that the clues were there all along, but this was not one of those and I ended up feeling cheated.

The one thing I did enjoy were the descriptions of Monet’s house and gardens, as well as Giverny itself. I would like to visit there one day. Other than that though, this one is a thumbs down from me.

I’ve just finished reading A Little Life, and am not sure how I feel about it. I probably should wait a few days to digest it before writing anything, but I doubt I will be any clearer in my mind then.

Essentially the story is about four college friends and their wider social circle, and it follows them throughout their lives. At the epicentre of the story and their lives is Jude St Francis. Brilliant, beautiful, talented and very very broken. Jude never talks to people about his childhood – and when we find out about it, it’s not hard to see why – but it is gradually revealed throughout the book. He has a problem with his legs, so sometimes he needs to use a stick and sometimes he needs a wheelchair. He has no biological family, and is a huge mystery to everyone else. But they love him and accept him just the same. His best friends, Willem, Malcolm and JB all have their own issues, but it’s clear that this is Jude’s story.

There were certain characters I liked; out of the four friends, Malcolm was easily my favorite – but my favorites were ones outside of the core group. Harold and Julia, the older couple who come to mean so much to Jude and vice versa were my absolute favourites.

Here’s where I feel bad though – I really really did not like Jude. When his terrible childhood experiences are revealed – to the reader at least, if not the other characters – I found it hard to imagine such a catalogue of horror happening to one person. (The author has admitted that she did not do research into this issue, and I think it does show.) And despite understanding why Jude has so many problems trusting people in later life, I found him to be tiring and exhausting to read about, and incredibly selfish. It’s hard to see why so many people loved and cared about him, or stuck around, because he generally treated most of the people who tried to help him pretty badly. I think he was supposed to be a sympathetic protagonist, but it didn’t come off that way.

The writing is often a bit overblown and too ‘wordy’ but despite this, I still kept reading and enjoyed parts of the book. If I didn’t feel compelled to finish every book I start though, I may have given up by about halfway. It’s not a book to make you feel good; in fact, it left me on a bit of a downer. There’s a lot of hype about it and I wanted to see for myself what it was all about. It’s not awful, but I won’t be in a rush to read anything else by this author.

Reading this book in a post-pandemic 2022, I can see why it created such a buzz when it was released. The End of Men was written before Covid-19, and the story revolves around a global pandemic with a 90% mortality rate, which came to be known as The Plague. In this story, only men became ill or died with the virus, although women could be carriers. The book begins in 2025, with a Doctor first realising that there is a common link between a very small number of patients who are all mysteriously dying of an unknown cause, with the same symptoms. As the virus takes hold and spreads around the world, there is widespread panic – there were riots, protests, a race for a vaccine. People were told to stay home, shops were closed, public transport was grounded, and families were divided for fear of transmitting the disease. Of course in the real world this now all feels very familiar.

The book is written from the points of view of several characters, the vast majority of which are women. Some only occupy a couple of chapters, while others are main characters which drive the narrative. Despite the large amount of narrators, I did not find it difficult to keep track of who was who, and each character was clearly drawn and believable. There were also a few newspaper articles and blog posts which made up chapters of their own, again all of which added to the story.

As for whether I liked the book – put it this way, I started this book on a long haul flight; I had downloaded a couple of films to watch during the journey but I didn’t get to them, because I could NOT put this book down. I would have found it very uncomfortable reading in 2020, but felt able to tackle it now, and I found it utterly absorbing, with every page and every character drawing me in, whether I liked them or not. It actually made me cry on a number of occasions when people were discussing their sorrow and grief, either for the people they had lost or the lives that they had planned and now would never had. Not all of the characters were likable, and some of them did some pretty awful things, but these were people dealing with a situation they never could have envisioned.

I stayed up late one night (I was jet-lagged but that wasn’t going to stop me) to finish it, and when I had read the last page, I thought it was one of the best books I have read in recent years. If I could read all books with the urgency I read this one, I would triple my reading output!

Anyway, I highly recommend this book (although beware that it may be triggering to people who are suffering emotionally with the fallout from Covid-19), and will definitely be buying anything else that Christina Sweeney-Baird writes.

In this non-fiction book, powerlifter and journalist Poorna Bell discusses the barriers for women and minorities when it comes to getting into exercise. She uses her own story about how she got into powerlifting following the suicide of her husband, and talks about how gyms and personal trainers need to be more inclusive. She also incorporates societal barriers and diet culture, such as how particularly for women, exercise is generally viewed as a way of losing weight, and women are encouraged to do cardio while men are encouraged to lift heavy weights (I’m not actually sure that this last point is actually the case based on my own, admittedly very personal, experience).

There is an important message here – yes, gyms need to be more inclusive and welcoming for women (again in my experience most gyms are already), minorities, and people of all genders and sexualities. The issue is that it feels like every few pages there is the message to ‘make gyms more inclusive’ – but how this can be done is never really explored, and it ends up just feeling like a bit of a rant.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the book – certain parts did resonate very strongly, especially the parts about diet culture, and I thought the parts about how Poorna Bell came to deal with her own grief surrounding her husband’s death were very poignant. However, I do feel that this was a book in bad need of an editor – each chapter was just a list of people from a certain category (maybe a certain age group, religion or sexuality) who described how they felt that exercise was not for them, and then a call for personal trainers and gyms to be better equipped to welcome people from every way of life. It ended up feeling repetitive, and I’m not entirely sure that this wouldn’t have been better as an article rather than a full length book.

I do also feel that while Poorna Bell speaks very highly of the two personal trainers she has herself had, and the gym that she belongs to, the book almost felt like an attack on gyms as a whole and personal trainers in general.

So overall – a great message gets lost in the repetitive style of writing. BUT I enjoyed the parts about Poorna’s own family and her love of powerlifting.