Review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar

 

050 - The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

050 - The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

Rating – 5*

I heard so, so much about this book in the run up to it’s publication this year, and yet I didn’t buy it because I wasn’t sure it was “for me”. I finally relented, purchasing a copy of this in my favourite independent bookshop and oh my word, I am so, so glad I gave in to the hype and read this because this book is, frankly, a work of genius.

I was absolutely hooked on this book. There’s no other way to say it. From the moment I picked it up I didn’t want to put it down and I’m so glad I had 3 days off mid-week to read this in a relatively short space of time without much interruption (aside from doctors appointments and trips to the shop to get food).

The story itself is very immersive due to the nature of the writing style. While the book is set in the 18th Century, and is written in a very complimentary manner to that, it’s not difficult to follow like a “true” classic can often be but it has a lot of the same atmosphere and feel to it. I found myself finding similarities to other books I love, written in recent years but set in a similar portion of history, and I realised that I am a sucker for good historical fiction.

One thing I absolutely loved about this book though is that it’s actually quite dark. I was expecting something a little more lighthearted, and while there were certainly those moments, this was a lot more twisty than I had imagined. Parts of the book are in fact quite oppressive or claustrophobic but it just adds to the strangeness and the charm of it.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. The author is one I’m going to be keeping an eye out for in the future because wowza, I think we’ve got a lot of good things to come from her! Also, the simple fact she’s a UEA Alumni makes me want to support every endeavour she undertakes!

This book is simply wonderful, and I imagine it would make a beautiful Autumn weekend read! I’m always quite late to a bandwagon, but sometimes that’s a very good thing.

Review: How Not to be a Boy – Robert Webb

002 - How Not to be a Boy

002 - How Not to be a Boy

Rating – 4*

I’ve wanted to read this book since it was released. I saw Robert Webb interviewed, talking about it, and I knew that it was going to be an amazing read but when I then saw several people on goodreads give it 4 or 5 stars, I knew it was something special. This memoir is by no means a rose tinted look at the world, or Robert as a person, but it’s honest, poignant, sad and funny all at once – and I loved it.

Robert is the youngest of 4 children, his eldest brother passing away just 10 months before he was born. As such, he grew up a little pampered by his mother and a lot of this book is about his relationship with her – but also the troublesome relationship with his father, who abused alcohol and was abusive to his mother. The crux of this book is his development from boyhood to manhood, and the realisation as an adult (and a father) that societies pressures and programming wasn’t only wrong but harmful.

The book is split in to two sections – “Boys” and “Men” – the former section ending with the death of his mother when he was 17. The overarching themes are what boys are ‘taught’ to be by society, and what men are ‘supposed’ to be in the eyes of society. He touches on his relationships with his family, friends and teachers and how each of them shaped him in to who he is today.

It is sad, but at times it’s laugh out loud funny too. One of my favourite chapters was one in which he was talking about a play he was in which Stephen Fry came to see with his partner, and the late, great Carrie Fisher. The antics which ensued after said play had me giggling for a little while.

‘I want the same thing for boys, men, girls, women and anyone who grew up feeling that none of these worlds held any meaning for them. I want them all to have the freedom to express their individual and contradictory selves with confidence and humility.’ 

This book should be read by a lot of people – young boys and men especially. The overwhelming majority of suicide globally is young men, because they’re taught to suppress their feelings and they shouldn’t – something I think is expertly conveyed in this book with his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. This book would start discussion and I think that is the most important thing of all.

Once again, I listened to the audio version of this (narrated by Robert) which has a little extra bit at the end of him reading his ‘wanky’ teenage poetry without editing it, or himself, so there was lots of laughter from both him and me while listening. I’d recommend this book to anyone in any format, because I think it’s important and everyone should read it.

Review: Parsnips, Buttered – Joe Lycett

001 - Parsnips, Buttered

001 - Parsnips, Buttered

Rating – 4*

To start 2018 I have been on a bit of a comedian book binge. One of my friends read this and gave it 4* on goodreads, as such I wanted to read it because the few times I’ve seen Joe Lycett on my tellybox he’s had me crying with laughter. This book really didn’t disappoint – especially in audio format – and I was laughing throughout. I bought a physical copy on top of the audiobook because I knew I had to give it to my mum to read – and she’s already finished it. She’s not a reader by any stretch of the word, so it’s definitely a good one!

It’s hard to categorise this book, because it’s not much of anything. It’s not really a memoir, but equally it isn’t a self-help book. It is instead a collection of anecdotes and letters/emails that Joe has sent to various bodies/organisations – including a whole section on how he got out of his parking fine, how to annoy scammers, and generally how to wind up people you just don’t like very much. Joe is someone who is just full of energy and mischief, and definitely someone we could all take a bit of inspiration from.

The book itself is absolutely bonkers, but in between all the crazy there are moments where he raises important issues like homophobia, and also terrorism. He has no issue with calling a spade a spade, and manages to make very intense subjects lighthearted and something that, as a reader, I was able to laugh at. While they were funny, it wasn’t that he wasn’t taking them seriously, it was just dealt with in a way which made it entertaining.

I’d highly recommend this book if you like a good laugh, or you just want to learn how to challenge a parking fine. As I said, I listened to it as an audiobook but the physical book is also a beautiful thing with illustrations and the like throughout and I’d recommend both equally!

Review: Warbreaker – Brandon Sanderson

058 - Warbreaker

Rating – 4*

If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you’ll know that at the start of 2016 I read the entire Mistborn series in 2 weeks. Since then I have bought several Brandon Sanderson audiobooks (they’re so bulky I get them in audio format as to not swamp my bookshelves) but haven’t got around to them. However, Warbreaker was the shortest of the books of his I own, and I felt in December it was about time I got around to it.

As with the Mistborn series, the thing that drew me in to this was the magic system Sanderson has cooked up – this time it is based around colour and oh my word, it is glorious. For once I didn’t mind the vast descriptions of colours because in the context of this book it made sense, and made for very good reading. I can’t even describe in depth the magic system in this book, but jeez I don’t know how the man does it – coming up with different magic systems in all of his books, all of which are different and have their own lore. It’s incredible to say the least.

Now, the story is about two sisters, Vivenna and Siri, who are from Idris. Vivenna has been groomed her whole life to become the God King’s wife in order to form a treaty between her home nation and Hallandren, the nation where the God King rules. Her father, the king of Idris, instead sends the youngest daughter Siri to Hallandren. Vivenna naturally goes on a mission to save her sister, war is starting to stir between the two nations and she doesn’t want her sister to be involved in it. It’s fantastic, and an adventure, and ultimately while there is romance it’s a story about two sisters and their love for each other.

I loved both the sisters for very different reasons – Siri is a wild child; kind, caring, opinionated, naive, but sharp as a tack. Vivenna at the start is very pompous, poised character. I didn’t like her all that much but, come the end, she was damn badass and I liked her character a lot more than that of her sisters.

As for the background politics and building war, I didn’t see the bad guy being who it was in the end. Of everyone in the entire story, the dozens of characters that the kingpin could have been, I didn’t see it being that one. So go Mr Sanderson for making me actually gasp at the plot twist, and good on readers of goodreads for using their spoiler tags effectively and not ruining it for people!

There is apparently going to be a 2 more books in this series, but it does work really well as a standalone, which I love. No idea when the next one will be out but I will, most definitely, be reading it.

Audiobooks || Blogmas Day 9

09 - header

It’s the weekend! And today, I want to have a discussion about audiobooks.

Audiobooks aren’t something I thought I would, at the age of 24, be bowled over by and spend hours on end listening to – but they are. Before I got in to them, I honestly thought the selection was limited, I thought they were something that only blind people, or elderly people enjoyed. How wrong I was! I’ll admit I was ignorant, and I have seen the error of my ways over the last few years (in which audiobooks have become one of my favourite things!)

When I last did blogmas in 2015, audiobooks were something I was very new to and had only listened to a handful of. Two years on, however, it is a completely different story. Over half of the books I have read this year I have listened to some, if not all, of the book. I am someone who happily uses a combination of physical and audiobooks, and if anything it only enhances my reading experience. I have found that audiobooks give me a freedom that I couldn’t otherwise have – I can read and do something else. I can play stupid games on my iPad, I can colour, or more recently I have been wrapping gifts while listening. It means I can still read, I can still get that experience of ‘escaping’ that I get with a book but I can do other things alongside it and I love that.

Compared to a physical book, audiobooks can be quite pricey, but they really don’t have to be. I myself do have an audible subscription (which I love) and I get 2 credits a month to trade in against any of their ever expanding library, and I can purchase additional credits at the cost of £17 for 3 – which when you compare the cost of that to the cost of the audiobook alone is stupidly cheap in many cases. Audible nearly always have deals going too – 2 for 1, or buy 3 audiobooks with cash or credits and get a £10 gift voucher to spend are the most common which I often take advantage of! Not only that but they have an excellent returns policy – if you don’t like a book, or a narrator, or you have technical issues, it can be returned no questions. Obviously it isn’t something to take advantage of, you can’t use the service like a library!

Talking of libraries, most libraries have a selection of audiobooks available as CDs in the physical branches. However, a lesser known secret is OverDrive – a fantastic little app which you can sync your library card to and get access to their digital lending library of eBooks and, you guessed it, Audiobooks!

If you haven’t already taken advantage of the First Free Listen on Audible, I’d highly recommend it. You don’t have to continue with a subscription if you get an audiobook and it isn’t for you, but it’s a really good way to experience a first audiobook without splashing out any money.

Hints & Tips:-
First tip if you’re new to audiobooks definitely pick something that will hold your attention as a first listen. You don’t want to pick a long ass book which is dry as stale bread and sends you to sleep (I’ve picked up my fair share of those, trust me!)

02 - harry potterFor something familiar to most people, you can’t go wrong with the Harry Potter series – any of them. In the UK they’re narrated by Stephen Fry, and I believe over the pond it is Jim Dale. They’re something familiar, something you already know the entire plot of, but in a new way. Listening to the audiobooks for the first time was like reading the books anew for me and really breathed fresh life in to the characters.

Go for a book narrated by the author – this can be fiction or non-fiction but because the book is theirs they read it how it was intended. Some recommendations here would be anything by Neil Gaiman (who is an incredible narrator even if I’m not the biggest fan of his books) or find a celebrity you like and see if they’ve narrated their own autobiography!

Don’t be put off by the speed! A lot of people, when I mention I enjoy audiobooks, say “but they’re so long” – they don’t have to be. Generally speaking 1x speed is too slow for me, but most audiobook apps enable you to speed the narration up. With Audible you can go up to x3 speed meaning that a “30 hour” audiobook is suddenly going to be a much more doable, and less scary, 10 hours. And it isn’t fixed – you can speed up or slow down at any point during a book and that’s great. I started listening at 1.5x speed and now most books I do listen to on 3x speed, so don’t be put off by the ‘length’ of a book – because it’s only as long as you make it, essentially!

If you’re worried about not following it, pick a book that you’ve had on your shelf for a long time and find an audio version of it (just be careful if it’s translated, especially if it’s a classic as there is a lot more room for variation in the translation!). Settle down with a cuppa, and both an audio and physical copy of the book. Find the narration speed that works for you and follow along with the book for a little while. If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon feel you’re absorbing enough of what is being said to go do something else alongside it!

Anyway, this has been a very long post today – I am apparently very passionate about audiobooks! I’d love to hear your opinions on them because I think they are becoming less stigmatised now, and I’d love to hear if you’ve listened to any particularly fantastic books lately as I’m always game for a few recommendations! Equally, if you want a more specific recommendation I’m happy to try and assist.

Happy reading!

Review: How to be Champion – Sarah Millican

048 - How to be Champion

Rating – 3*

I love Sarah Millican. She’s one of the few comics I’ve seen live, and is funnier every time I watch the DVD. I can’t wait to see her again in March, because she makes me laugh so much I ache for a couple of days. She is one of the most genuine, lovely people I’ve ever had a like from on Twitter (she’s up there with Clare Balding folks) and everything she stands for I feel passionately about. That’s why it hurts me to say that I only liked this book – I didn’t love it and I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Now, comedians writing books I love, and this is no exception to the fact. I listened to this as an audiobook, and that in itself was a joy. I think maybe if I had paired it with a physical copy of the book I would have enjoyed it far more. Sometimes an audiobook works, sometimes it doesn’t – in this case I think a combination of the two would have made this book a 4 or 5 star read for me. Mainly because Sarah likes lists (I like lists, who doesn’t like lists?!) and they’re most certainly things better read than listened to. On the whole though, I would recommend the audiobook because nothing beats the book being read how the author intended it to be!

The book is a series of anecdotes from Sarah’s life – from her childhood in the North East, with miners strikes and weekend jobs at WHSmith, right the way up to the present day. It covers all of her life quite concisely with a smattering of advice and I really liked that. I love a memoir/biography that throws in some life lessons and I think one of the biggest messages I took from it is love yourself. At the end of each chapter she gives a tip on ‘how to be a champion’ and I looked forward to each of them!

I gave this book 3 stars, and I feel awful about it. 3 stars on goodreads is a solid “I liked it” – and I did, I really did. I really hope she does more writing in the future because I find her so relatable and easy to read. The book did make me laugh out loud on more than one occasion (which was difficult to keep down when I was listening to it, trying to sleep, at 2am). I love what she has to say about body image, mental health and self-esteem. I just found a lot of it repetitive and not entirely my cup of tea, which makes me very, very sad.

Sarah is fantastic, and this book is definitely a read for anyone who – like me – loves the woman. She’s witty, sarcastic, and so many other wonderful things – this book really does show all of that. The book is champion, it really is, it just wasn’t entirely my cup of tea.

I’d recommend anyone who is a fan of her check out the Standard Issue podcast – the magazine was fantastic; the podcast is just a step up from it and I for one love it. It’s a podcast with women, by women, for anyone. It’s a lovely podcast of female empowerment and women standing up for other women, seriously recommend it.

Review: Other Minds – Peter Godfrey-Smith

043 - Other Minds

Rating – 4*

I was drawn in to this book by the cover – it wasn’t something I had planned on picking up or reading, yet the octopus on the front drew me in and I read it cover to cover in two sittings.

I have a bit of a history with the octopus – back in my first year of university I wrote an essay about them, and in researching them I became fascinated by the whole family of cephalopods. They are such interesting, inteligent creatures and this book explores the evolution of them compared to us. I was also quite keen on evolutionary biology when at university (although, let’s not talk about that exam) and it’s one of those subjects that I just love reading about for pleasure. This book brought together two aspects of my degree that I loved, and as such I really enjoyed this book.

One of the most incredible sections of this book – one that I read more than once – was the section about how cephalopods like octopus, cuttlefish and squid are able to change colours. Now that in itself isn’t surprising, most people know that they’re able to change colour, what actually made me quite sad was the revalation in this book that they are all likely colourblind so can’t see the beauty themselves. I also found the section on the aging of the animals an interesting read because I was niavely under the impression that they could live for many years but that’s a misconception and they’re lucky if they live past one breeding season (in the case of females).

The author explores the development of the cephalopod brain and compares it to our own. He highlights how the development of mammalian and avian brains differs to that of cephalopods, and how differently we process information. What is established in this book is that cephalopods look at the word in a very different way to us (in spite of the fact that eyes and vision in general is quite similar, though evolved completely independently from each other). The stark differences between mammalian and cephalopod brains and cognition is likely the closest we’ll ever get to exploring the concept of alien intelligence because neural pathways and the brain in cephalopods evolved separately to those same traits in the mammalian world.

Putting it in to perspective, biologically an octopus is more closely related to a snail than humans, yet psychologically and on an intellectual level an octopus is very close to humans.

My only wish is that there was more science in it. I found that there was often tangents and side-notes, and it erred into the realms of philosophy opposed to science which is fine in moderation but I felt it happened all too often. I’d have loved for this book to have been a few pages longer and just rounded off less abruptly. But on the whole, I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to someone looking for something a little different to read – it’s a very approachable book and the audiobook is absolutely fantastic (but you’ll miss out on the pictures of octopuses and cuttlefish).

Review: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar – Chris Packham

32 - Fingers in the Jar

Rating – 4*

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is one of the most interesting memoirs I have read. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Chris Packham, he is probably best known for presenting shows such as The Really Wild Show and Springwatch for BBC. He has also written a huge number of books relating to wildlife and conservation. I’ll admit, I’m not an avid watcher of shows like Springwatch, but when I read the blurb of this I knew it was a book I just had to read.

This was definitely something special. Told in third person, for the most part, it jumps about his life a bit – between his childhood in the early to mid 1970s and 2003/04 after a period of severe depression which lead to an attempted suicide. It’s raw and it’s powerful and I adored it. One thing which really connected with me is that it does read more like fiction, and maybe that’s how Chris best dissociated himself from his past enough to write this, but it really set it apart from other books in this genre I have read as of late.  It sort of plays out like a therapy session, wherein stories jump in to each other and one thing makes you think of something else – each chapter being a series of tenuously connected vignettes, some first person, some third person, some are when he’s older and others when he’s younger and each chapter finishes on a monologue to his therapist. Throughout, he also relates stories of his childhood through the eyes of other people in his life and that, for me, was a really interesting concept!

I really related to young Chris, in many ways his story reflects my own. He didn’t have friends at school and spent time alone. For him, it was with wildlife and one of the most important parts of this book is his relationship with a kestrel (which he acquired illegally) which taught him so much. While this book is quite melancholy, and discusses quite a lot of difficult topics, there are moments of humour which did make me laugh out loud – I don’t want you to think that it’s all sad!

It was written so beautifully, and poetically. While initially it’s a little difficult to adjust as it’s nowhere near as brutal as some memoirs are, it’s a lot more gentle and poetic, once I was in to it I couldn’t put it down. Honestly, if Chris Packham turns his hand to fiction I will be first in line to buy it because his writing is just stunning.

I would also highly recommend the audiobook, read by Chris himself. It was a joyous listen!

Review: Cheer Up Love – Susan Calman

26 - Cheer Up Love

Rating – 5*

If you don’t know who Susan Calman is, go no further in this review and have a google, find a clip on YouTube – she’s hilarious. She’s appeared on numerous UK TV panel shows including QI, Mock the Week, and (my personal favourite) Have I Got News For You. She’s also does a lot of radio work (Susan Calman is Convicted). When I heard she was writing a book I immediately knew I had to get my hands on it and it did not let me down, in fact it is possibly one of the best books I’ve read all year. I chose to listen to this as an audiobook, and I highly recommend that to everyone, but I loved it so much I immediately went and purchased a physical copy so I could read passages to people.

This book is about depression, but while brutally honest about the experience of living with The Crab of Hate (as Susan so beautifully names it), it is truly one of the most hilarious books I have read. I laughed until I hurt listening to this. It was poignant, uplifting, intensely relatable too. And as for a book to explain depression? I would recommend this over Reasons to Stay Alive – for me, this was immensely more powerful. I’m aware that saying that is very high praise, given how loved Reasons to Stay Alive is. But for me, what that book lacked this book contained in abundance, and it had so much more on top of that.

I feel this is a book which has to be experienced, I have already recommended it to several friends and will be suggesting it to more! It is honestly one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read lately. If you’re unsure as to whether an audiobook is for you, just give the first 5 minutes a go on Audible because I promise you it’s worth it!

Purchase on The Book Depository

Review: Harry Potter Bulk Review 1 || Blogmas Day 7

Something slightly different now, a bulk review. Most people have read Harry Potter or at least seen the movies and as these aren’t special as the illustrated edition of Philosopher’s Stone I thought a bulk review of three books would be a good idea.

I got the beautiful new box set for my birthday and, in combination with the audiobooks being available on audible I have got through these three very quickly.

Chamber of Secrets
While this book is possibly one of the weakest in the series for me, I still enjoy it. There are a number of things I found really frustrating in rereading this. I think that the fondness of this book is purely sentimental because every time I get around to rereading this I like it less.

My favourite character in this book has always been Ron. My feelings for him later on in the series diminish somewhat but in this book Ron is the shining character. His fear of spiders, his broken wand, he was just much needed comic relief in an otherwise quite dull book.

Some of the most key moments of the series happen in this book but aren’t really touched upon until later which is quite interesting to look at. It was quite fun actually to notice these key moments and how they develop in to bigger things later on. Also, we have some great moments at The Burrow and with the Ford Anglia.

Also, we can’t forget Dobby. Dobby somewhat annoyed me in this on the whole, but I still love that little elf.

On the whole, this book leaves me somewhat empty but it also leaves me very excited for what is to come. I gave it a 3* review this time around.

Prisoner of Azkaban
This book always fills my heart with joy. This has always been my favourite in the series. I primarily listened to this one as an audiobook and Stephen Fry really just adds such a wonderful tone to it and brings the characters alive.

I love this book because Remus and Sirius are possibly two of my favourite characters from the series and, I won’t lie, I’m a Wolfstar shipper too. I love these two and I really do love the idea of them together.

One thing about this book that I loved the most is the LACK of Voldemort. This book is very much more character driven. There’s the feud between Hermione and Ron, which while annoying me also amused me because it was pretty clear that Ron was trying to come to terms with the fact she’s a girl and becoming more important to him. In this book I actually loathe Ron for the majority, mainly because I love Crookshanks. Also, it’s worth noting that Dumbledore doesn’t annoy me half as much as he used to, he’s still a moron and if he were a real person I would detest him but as a character I’ve grown to like him.

Shining moment was Christmas with McGonagall “Tripe, Sybill?” will forever be a beautiful moment. In fact, all of McGonagall was fabulous in this book.

I think I will always love this book so it will always be 5* for this.

Goblet of Fire
As I said, Prisoner of Azkaban has always been my favourite. Until this reread of Goblet of Fire. I don’t know why I always disliked this book because this reread I absolutely devoured it. I read it in ONE DAY and I simply couldn’t put it down.

I love that this book started differently to the previous three, no Mr and Mrs Dursley (thank goodness). There is a distinct dark undertone to the start of this book and I feel it really does mark a turning point in the series, it’s where the books became a lot more mature and I really appreciated that this time around.

The pace of this book is much more suited to me. There was so much going on and I enjoyed all of it. I loved the start, as I said, I loved the build up to the Quidditch World Cup and meeting the other Weasley’s, I loved the events there, I loved the preamble to going back to school, the announcement of the Tri Wizard Tournament, the tournament itself, the final task, what happened in the graveyard, aftermath… It’s all just incredible and happens so quickly that this didn’t feel like a 600 page novel.

Once again, Ron annoyed me but in away I sort of understand that from him as it’s pretty clear he’s infatuated with Hermione, coming to terms with these feelings and is easily jealous. But when him and Harry make up I did feel myself getting a little sentimental. The kids going through puberty and discovering their sexuality in quite a discrete way was something I found quite hilarious to read about because they were all pretty clueless!

I love the story on the backburner about the house elves and S.P.E.W; Hermione’s quest for justice is something that I didn’t really appreciate fully until this reread. Also, I love how Emma has become Hermione in that aspect! Also, while on the subject of house elves – DOBBY AND WINKY! I love that little side story.

One thing I have barely touched upon so far is my love of the teachers and other supporting characters. I love the teachers in this book. Hagrid’s growth as a character is something I’d forgotten about and then McGonagall is just her fabulous self as always. Also, in this book while Snape was a bastard (no other way to put it) come the end I had the respect for him that I had always had. There’s no excuse for his behaviours but honestly, it takes a brave man to do what Severus Snape did.

Overall The Goblet of Fire has gone up to a 5* read for me and I’m so excited to start on The Order of the Phoenix!

I will probably do this again for the final three books in a week or so! Until tomorrow!