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: The Outrun – Amy Liptrot

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Rating – 4*

This book has been one that has caught my eye since I first saw it in bookshops but it wasn’t one I picked up. It didn’t really appeal to me, if I’m honest. But then I had a few credits on Audible, and decided to pick it up as an audiobook because the soft Scottish burr of Amy herself reading it appealed to me. I’ve not been having the easiest of times lately, and just listening to a clip of this relaxed me and I knew I had to have it in my life, if only to calm me down.

It’s one of those books which came in to my life at exactly the right moment. I don’t have the experience with addiction which Amy struggles with in this brutally honest account of her decent in to alcoholism and subsequent recovery. But, a lot of the feelings I could relate to and I found myself connecting with this book. Because of that, throughout it I had a full spectrum of emotions – it had me laughing and moved to tears, and maybe that’s just because of the headspace I’m in right now.

I loved how this book just blurred together so many things. It is a recovery memoir but it is also so much more. There’s so much about wildlife and nature, which I absolutely adored. The writing is beautiful and it read so much more like fiction in parts. One thing I’ve come out of this book with is an urge to visit the Scottish islands and completely lose myself in them, this book was so immersive and Orkney itself became such a big part of it. I found the islands themselves  the biggest draw of this book and losing myself in them was an absolute pleasure.

I gave this 4* because I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much had I have had a physical copy over an audiobook (which I would highly recommend and I listened to the entirety of this in 2 sittings). The experience of an audiobook is something very immersive, and in the case of this book really was a good choice to make – but I don’t think I would have found myself as caught up in the book had it not been on audio.

Ultimately though, I’d recommend this book – I’m not sure who to, but read the description and see if it floats your kayak.

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: Walking Home – Clare Balding

Clare-Balding-Walking-Home-2014It’s very hard to review something that is somewhat autobiographical but I’m going to give it a try and see how this goes because I genuinely need to express my love of this woman. It will be brief, there isn’t too much I can say apart from get out there and read it yourself!

I read My Animals and Other Family a couple of years ago, not long after it was released and I loved it. I don’t often pick up a biography or memoir, so when I do I generally really have to like the person. Anyway, I loved it. It was a book that was very satisfying to read and I knew if Clare released another book (and I was hopeful she would) that I would be jumping in there and buying it as soon as I could. I just really clicked on to her writing style, I could feel her personality coming through the pages and I could pretty much hear her narrating it in my head. Who needs an audiobook?!

I was lucky enough to pick this up, signed, in Jarrolds. I missed the event that Clare did along with a couple of other authors as I was on holiday at the time, so I felt very fortunate to be able to pick up a signed edition of this!

This book on the surface is a lot less about Clare. Each chapter is set around a walk she’s undertaken and her walking ‘journey’. But in and amongst all of the relaying of these walks are personal anecdotes, linked in so beautifully with the atmosphere of the environment you’re in at the very moment. Some personal stories are squished in to the walks and others, the walk fits in around the story. It was so, so very beautifully written there just aren’t words for it.

I can’t lie, I laughed and I did indeed cry. One particular chapter, as a dog owner, made me sob like a baby. It was possibly a little overreaction, but I can’t care. There were some particularly poignant moments, the chapter about Percy – obviously – and also in the chapter in which she was talking about carrying the Olympic torch. To be honest, all of the little bits that made up the Olympics were a highlight for me, I could practically hear her excitement (as I said, after a while she’s practically narrating it in my subconscious).

Lastly, Alice is a amazing. That’s all I can say. Whenever Alice was mentioned, I laughed. The little inputs here and there nine times out of ten had me snort.

Everyone should read both of Clare’s books. There’s no buts about it, you just should.