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!

Review: Back Story – David Mitchell

back storyYes. It’s a book by THAT David Mitchell, the real David Mitchell, the one who has not previously written any books but what a great book it was. I am seriously on an autobiography binge, simply because I’ve discovered that I love listening to them as audiobooks. This was one of the best ones read, or rather listened to – it has to be said I haven’t listened to many but this was a good one that I will be making others listen to parts of.

Just imagine David, on a rant on say Would I Lie To You (I love that show, if you haven’t watched it seriously have a gander on YouTube) and make it a 9 hour long episode of just him. Occasionally it lulls a bit, is more about him (as you would expect from an autobiography) and it’s not as entertaining but there are interludes of him going off tangent and for me these were some of the best parts. It read more like a novel in some respects as every chapter is started by a thought he has had on a walk and it just gets further and further off topic in parts.

Like any memoir, this goes in to his childhood, how he struggled at school, his despair when he didn’t get in to Oxford university (he ended up at Cambridge, he became president of Footlights and that role was his goal), how his career in comedy really took off. There are exploits with many well known people, I particularly loved the insights in to his friendship with Olivia Colman, or Colly as she’s known to her friends.

For me though, the shining light has to be the penultimate chapter – his relationship with Victoria Coren (or rather Victoria Coren Mitchell as she now is). That woman is glorious, anyone can see it, and they are just so adorable. This chapter filled me with a lot of warm fuzzies. It’s available on youtube somewhere if anyone wishes to just listen to a bit, it’s totally worth it. It is pretty out of character, so to speak, it reads completely differently to the rest of the book but I think it’s a nice way to round it off.

Overall this has to be a 4*. It was a great listen, I did enjoy it, but while I love David it was no better than the last autobiography I listened to (Revd Richard Coles).

Review: The Story of Antigone – Ali Smith

antigoneThis is a retelling of Sophocles’ tragedy about a young girl, Antigone, who after a brutal battle has lost both her brothers. One is declared a hero, the other a traitor.  The king of Thebes decided that his nephew, Antigone’s bother Polynices, was a traitor at the time of his death and as such doesn’t deserve a burial. Young Antigone can’t bear to leave her brother and, fully aware that the penalty for honouring her brother’s remains will be her own death, Antigone still goes out of the city to find his body and bury it.

Ali Smith reworks myth so well. Rather than rework this and give it a modern twist, as she did in Girl Meets Boy, she retells the original myth from the perspective of a crow. This, I have to say, is a stroke of genius on her part. It makes the events a lot more interesting and, in a way, more understandable. She even gets interviewed by the crow at the end which is a really great way to insert more back story. It is worth saying that this is aimed at children and I think the perspective it is told in really helps make it approachable for that younger audience – it’s still gory but not quite so gruesome!

I listened to this as an audiobook, Ali herself narrating it, and it was glorious. It really heightened the experience for me. It wasn’t a long audiobook by any stretch at just over an hour and was perfect to curl up and listen to before bed. I do, however, really want the physical book because I have seen it is beautifully illustrated.

This was easily a 5* book. I loved it.

Review: Fathomless Riches – Richard Coles

Fathomless Riches

So I’ve wanted to read this book for a long while, and I actually ended up picking this one up as an audiobook. I had some audible credits and I was absolutely sold on it after listening to the taster. Richard reads it himself which, I find, adds a lot more depth to an autobiography

For anyone who doesn’t know, The Reverend Richard Coles has an insanely interesting life; from popstar in 80s group The Communards to a CofE priest turned comedian. As I said, I wanted to read this for a good period of time before I actually picked it up because Richard’s appearances on shows like QI and Have I Got News For You have turned him in to one of my favourite TV personalities. This book was not a disappointment, it made me laugh, it was interesting and also gave me a little spiritual lifting.

This book is brutally honest, but still respectful of the others involved, and I admired that. There is an insane amount of drugs, sex and rock and roll, especially in the first half. There’s the rise and fall of The Communards, his life through the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, where he lost of many friends. The years that followed where he drifted and then found himself turning to religion, going to university to study theology and his subsequent path to the pulpit.

It does end quite abruptly, just has he has been ordained, but I have been assured that there is a part 2 to come, as to when that will be I don’t know! I look forward to reading, or listening, to it because I’d quite like to hear about his life after being ordained!

Overall I’m going to give this a 4/5. It was great, I loved it, the audiobook was a brilliant decision (I whizzed through it in two sittings) and it affirmed that this man is as great as I thought he was. Highly recommend it!

Review: Matilda – Roald Dahl

matildaThis was one of my favourite books as a child and today I was feeling nostalgic so revisited it. A cold, stormy afternoon is the perfect excuse to revisit a beloved childhood book.

In the end, though I own the 25th Anniversary Edition (which is beautiful and unread), I listened to the audiobook and it just made it so much better for me! Kate Winslet read this beautifully, it has to be said. She breathed a new life in to it that I haven’t felt from the book since I was a child myself, however much I have revisited it over the years.

I still love this book. I will always love this book I think. Matilda is precocious; she reminds me of me when I was little! Maybe not to the extent I read Dickens at the age of 3 or 4, but I’ve always identified with her in some way. She is absoluely unbelievable, that much is given and it’s only more obvious now I’m older, but she is still charming. Her positivity, and all round optimism, is infectious. The Trunchbull is still one of my all time favourite ‘villains’ – up there next to Delores Umbridge!

If anyone doesn’t know the story of Matilda, it follows the story of an unusually bright girl who has very unsupportive parents. She learns to read, write and do mathematics herself at a very young age with the help of a lovely librarian. The first half of the book follows her home life, the second half is her story when she starts school and we follow her as her life changes upon the introduction of (a not so formal) education. Oh, with a little bit of magic…

This was the first “chapter” book I read as a child; I still love it as much now. Though, as I said, the audiobook in which Kate Winslet reads it, has injected fresh life in to it for me and reignited the love I had for it as a 7 or 8 year old when I first read it. So this time, 5/5