Review: How to be Champion – Sarah Millican

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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: When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

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Rating – 5*

I was anxious going in to this book. I’ve heard and read so, so many reviews about this and I had no doubts that it was going to be a book which was going to break my heart just a little bit. Those thoughts were right, and this book was amazing – there really aren’t many other words I can use to describe it.

For anyone who isn’t aware, this book is a memoir. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon, but he was also a English Literature graduate, and held a Masters in the history of medicine before he went on to med school. His writing overlays both the love of literature, and the love of science and medicine, beautifully. The two are rarely combined, but as someone who does love both, I really appreciated who he mixed his knowledge of science and medicine with ideas and thoughts from literature.

At the age of 36, just before he completed his residency as a neurosurgeon, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. One day he was the doctor, the next day he was the patient. This book is his story, the journey he and his family took after that day he was diagnosed. I felt when reading this book that I knew him personally, that I went on this exhausting journey with him.

This book is unfinished; it ends with an epilogue written by his wife – Lucy – because he sadly died before he had a chance to fully complete this. While I’m sad that this is technically unfinished, I felt the note it ended on with his wife’s words, summarised the whole book. It wasn’t until I read the epilogue that I was moved to tears.

Kalanithi, from reading this book, was a caring, intelligent, genuine man who wanted to do good by people. He saw patients as people – not numbers or statistics – and I think a lot of people in medical professions could learn something from that alone.

I urge people to read this book, I read it in 1 sitting on a Sunday afternoon and I’m so glad I finally did.

Review: In Order to Live – Yeonmi Park

018 - In Order to LiveThis review is going to be short. I don’t think I can be coherent about this book in the slightest, and I definitely don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to express everything I felt while reading this book.

The subtitle of this book – A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom – sums it up.

Yeonmi is my age. 8 weeks older than me in fact. And her life, it’s not something I could even imagine. I’m by no means sheltered, I’m aware of the atrocities in this world, but the extremes that this woman has been through in her short life are just beyond my comprehension. My knowledge of North Korea is very limited, as is most peoples knowledge to be honest, but this insight has definitely made me want to research it further.

There aren’t really any words, as I said. This book had me in tears. It’s by no means an easy read, but it’s probably one that has changed my life in a way. I honestly believe this is a book that needs to be on the school curriculum. It’s not a difficult read in the literary sense, but the material in it is often quite difficult to comprehend and process.

I chose not to rate this book. Not because I was undecided, because it’s an incredible book. But to me, this book isn’t about stars/ratings – it’s about something so much bigger than that, and to rate it would be to trivialise what this book represents.

Read it. Listen to it. Tell other people to do the same. This is such an important book, and I can’t believe all what Yeonmi has been through in the same length of time on Earth as me. She’s an incredible young woman and one more people should know the name of.

Review: No Cunning Plan – Tony Robinson

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Rating – 3*

This is by no means the best autobiography that I have read, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. As with many autobiographies, I actually listened to this as an audiobook as Tony Robinson narrates it himself – and I really, really love an audiobook narrated by the author as it gives it a little more depth for me.

No Cunning Plan is his story, as indicated by the subtitle, going in to this I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s not a book which contains soul searching and is instead the story of his life and career as told with wit, charm and a bit of self-deprecation. It is, on the whole, about his career – starting from when he was a young boy in a theatre production of Oliver right up to the present day. There are high and low points, and he’s not afraid to talk about the mistakes and the debauchery he got up to!

One thing surprised me about this and it’s how much Tony Robinson has done. Most people know him from Blackadder and Time Team (both of which I adore to this day, Time Team was my favourite Sunday night viewing as a kid) but I had no idea about how instrumental he was in kids TV, I had no idea about how involved in the theatre he was, nor did I have much clue about how politically active he was – and still is!

I don’t know what exactly I was expecting from this, but it was a perfect weekend listen for me. I plugged myself in and played solitaire and it made me smile. It was easy going and I’m glad I finally got around to it. Ultimately though, I felt it fell a little flat and I think while it was interesting, I came out of it wanting so much more than what it gave. For that I give it 3* but a hearty recommendation to anyone who want’s something easy to read/listen to!

Review: Animal – Sara Pascoe

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Rating – 5*

I picked this up because it was the July book for my book club. I went in to it relatively blind, I didn’t know what it was about and I’m not really a massive fan of Sara’s comedy. so it wouldn’t have been a book I picked up if it wasn’t for that push. I chose to listen to this as an audiobook as I had some credits floating on Audible and I would highly recommend that!

So, the thing that surprised me most about this book is I liked it more than How to Be a Woman by Catlin Moran. Going in to it I had no idea that it would be even comparable to that book, but I would say that anyone who enjoyed that book would definitely enjoy this. It is both brutally honest and very funny, I loved that combination. It is also a very light book, in spite of quite dense evolutionary theory in it, it is very easy to get through and because of that I would say it would be a fantastic place for anyone to start with feminist literature (and it is definitely suitable for younger teenagers, something How to Be a Woman definitely isn’t in my opinion).

There are little nuggets of observation, or autobiographical points, which are seamlessly interwoven with facts about the female body and the evolution of it. And, while a little dubious, the evolutionary psychology studies she has used in this book are very, very interesting. It’s not a subject I was even aware of prior to reading this, and while there are significant flaws in some of the studies and most of them are matters of opinion, they are so bloody interesting! I didn’t always agree with the pseudo-science that some of them appeared to be, but they were nonetheless interesting points.

After reading this I have a new love for Sara. I found this book laugh out loud funny in parts. I really wish I could go back in time and give this to my 14 or 15 year old self because I, undoubtedly, would have found it so eye opening and affirming when I was going through a period of significant self confidence issues and I really do think this would have been a bible when put in my hands.

If you’d like to buy this book, support my blog and purchase through the book depository here

 

 

Review: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar – Chris Packham

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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

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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: 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: Jeremy & Amy – Jeremy Keeling

jeremyandamyIf there is one thing I want to say about this book it is read it. I don’t think I have ever read a memoir in one sitting but I genuinely could not put this down. I even read it while eating my dinner!

This is a story of Jeremy Keeling – a man who co-founded Monkey World in the UK. Many people have probably seen an episode of Monkey Life or Monkey Business, which has been airing on British TV for a number of years now on various channels (Animal Planet, Channel 5 and now Sky!) and this book is his story of how the monkey sanctuary was founded and the uphill struggle it was. It’s a story of love, human nature and, not only is it a personal story it also gives a look in to how conservation has changed in the last 30-40 years.

We follow Jeremy from his early years, growing up on his family zoo where it was commonplace for the puma to have a room in the house and a bear in the outhouse! The story meanders through the pitfalls of his life, the periods he was living out of his car and working odd jobs to the point where he met Jim Cronin; a kindred spirit. From here we read about the birth of Monkey World. From Monkey World we follow the story in to present day, through the devastating loss of Jim and the incredible rescue of 88 capuchin monkeys from Chile in 2008.

At times this is heartbreaking, others it is laugh out loud. The stealer of the show is, of course Amy. Amy the orang-utan which Jeremy himself hand reared. If she could speak I think she would have some incredible stories to tell. He saved Amy and, one day, Amy saved him. It’s just incredible the bond that he has, not just with her, but with all of the other apes and monkeys he encounters daily.

I read this in one sitting. I lost an afternoon because I just could not put this down. It may not be a masterpiece but what I have taken out of this book, it made me laugh and it made me cry. For that reason alone it deserves a 5/5 from me.