Category Archives: Books & Reading

Bill Bryson

Have you ever had those authors that you’ve really wanted to like but just can’t get into them?  The books that everybody is raving about but simply pass you by?

Bill Bryson is like that for me.  I’ve picked up his books many times, wanting to read them, wanting to like them.  Everybody swears by him, waxes lyrical about how good a writer he is and how amusing.

I watched ‘A Walk in the Woods’ with my hubby who declared that this was one of his favourite Bryson books and that the book was much better than the film.  I get that.  I’m one of those people who often feel that the book is better than the movie.  With this in mind, I decided to give Bryson another go, this time on Audible.

I’ve recently discovered the joy of audio books.  I love that I can be doing one thing and ‘reading’ a book at the same time.  This is particularly appealing when I’m at work and the task at hand is something mundane and repetitive.  I’ve listed to several of the ‘Last Kingdom’ series this way and thoroughly enjoyed them. I can’t wait to get some time to myself so that I’m able to listen to some more.

Not so with Bryson.

I decided to start at the beginning with ‘The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America’.  I didn’t even get past chapter one.  What was supposed to be comical came out as a deluge of whinge.  It may have been the narrator, who was particularly nasally, but I think I’m just going to have to accept that Bryson simply isn’t my kind of author.  It’s a shame because I’d very much like to have read and enjoyed his books.  Instead I found myself taking the unprecedented step of returning the book to audible because I wasn’t enjoying it!

So, I’m moving on to Patrick O’Brian’s ‘Master and Commander’.  Life is too short for books you don’t enjoy!


The Last Kingdom – Bernard Cornwell

I’ve been meaning to read Bernard Cornwell for a while.  I’ve heard nothing but good things about his novels.  Somehow he has escaped me until now and all I can say is how??  I have truly missed out.

I started ‘The Last Kingdom‘ last week and I am totally engrossed.  I’ve been living and breathing this novel.  Cornwell has described a world so vividly that I can smell the fires burning, see the Viking Ships and feel the fear of the Saxons.

Cornwell’s vocabulary is simply magnificent, descriptive and relevant but not alienating and leaving me reaching for the dictionary every 5 seconds.  I am utterly in love with his writing style and his characters which have real depth.

The Last Kingdom tells the story of Uhtred, a young boy who is born English but adopted by a Dane when he is orphaned, learning the Danish ways and becoming Danish at heart….or does he?  Where does his loyalties lie?  Is he English or Danish?

As I mentioned earlier, Cornwell’s characters are given depth and you grow to love or hate them throughout the novel.  You come to care about their fate.  In chapter 7, something happens which absolutely gutted me.  There were simply no words.  I’m not going to go into details as it will lessen the impact when you read it for yourself (and I truly hope you do decide to read it for yourself because you will be in for a treat!).  I couldn’t believe it.  I text my husband (who has read the books) in shock and I experienced true emotion about that scene.

It stayed with me and I was still thinking about it the next day.  I love books that have that kind of effect on me, that make me feel real emotions.  I wanted to let out a Viking roar and go and avenge the wrongdoings!

George R.R. Martin gets a lot of credit for not pulling punches with his main characters and not being afraid to give them the chop but equally, Cornwell doesn’t either.  He is just more subtle about it.  You don’t see the rain of blows that is going to fall and it hits you that bit harder.  With Martin, it’s become a bit of a cliche and you go into a book wondering ‘who’s next?’.

I haven’t finished The Last Kingdom yet but I felt driven to write about it, shout from the rooftops about how good this novel is and how much you need to read it.  I have the next book in the series lined up and ready to go.

I can’t wait to slip between the covers with Bernard Cornwell and see what lies in store for Uhtred.  In fact, that’s just what I’m going to do now!

The Dynamite Room – Jason Hewitt

Last Tuesday night found me heading off to my local library for an author talk entitled ‘Writing Evil: Fiction and the Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany’.  Essentially it covered books written about World War 2 which has long been a fascination of mine.

I was there to see Jason Hewitt, author of Devastation Road which is a powerful book that I’d highly recommend.  The author talk was great, it was interesting to hear the authors talk about what motivated them to write the novels they wrote, how they felt and see from their point of view what they wanted to achieve with their writing.

The upshot of this was that I went home with Hewitt’s first book The Dynamite Room which, in my opinion, had a lot to live up to in comparison to Devastation Road.

Both are novels set in World War 2 but at the talk, Hewitt did say that he wanted to explore parts of the war that had not been done before.  This book tells the story of Lydia, an evacuee who runs away from Wales where she has been sent.  She returns home to find her home, the village and the surrounding area deserted.  Later on that night a German soldier arrives, telling her that a full-scale invasion is imminent, she must stay indoors and not run away.

When I started reading this book and for the first 100 pages, I wasn’t convinced, I wasn’t feeling the tension but as the story starts to unravel and you get to know more about the soldier and how he came to be in a village in Suffolk,  you begin to see how war changes people and their relationships, how they do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do outside of war.  It is piercingly sad in places, shocking in others. Hewitt doesn’t pull any punches at all and the book is richer for that.  War isn’t pretty, it is piercingly sad and it is shocking.  That’s the reality of it.

What strikes me most about this novel is the sense of loss.  It stayed with me long after I’d finished the book, much like The Book Thief.  I was thinking about how it could have panned out differently and the scenarios that might have lead to that alternative ending.  I think Hewitt admirably demonstrates the humanity of the German soldier despite him being the enemy and clearly shows the difficult decisions he had to make along the way.

Without a doubt, war brings out the worst in humanity.



Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

I came across this book after reading about it in an article.  I can’t remember exactly what article it was but I seem to remember it being in Psychologies Magazine in a column by Sally Brampton, who sadly died earlier this year.

Reasons to Stay Alive is a refreshingly honest and raw account of Matt Haig’s struggle with mental illness.  Written in a humorous fashion, that does not detract from the seriousness of the illness, Haig manages to keep it upbeat in a book that could easily have featured on the more morose.

Whilst not a traditional self-help book, if you have ever suffered from depression or panic attacks in particular, you will recognise something of yourself in this book.  It’s true that mental illness is different for each person but there are some things that it has in common.

This book made me laugh out loud in places (Things you think during your 1000th panic attack), not at the condition but in the wry fashion in which Haig tells it.

Definitely worth a read, Haig tells readers that you can get better and you will find a way that works for you.  For him it was the love of those people around him, running, yoga and literature but the recovery is as individual as the illness.  What works for one may not work for another.


Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriaty



Liane Moriaty never fails to disappoint with her books and her latest offering, Truly Madly Guilty, is no exception.

I want to like her, I really do but I cannot jump onto the Moriaty fan-wagon and sail merrily off into the sunset when she produces such mediocre writing.  There’s always a twist which is anti-climax and leaves you wondering why you waited the whole book for this.

In this book the twist centred around a BBQ and what really happened.  The answer is not an awful lot.

I find Clementine wholly unlikable and Sam a bit wet.  In fact there is nobody in the book that I could relate to at all.

The exception for me has been ‘What Alice Forgot‘ which was the first book I read of Moriaty’s.  A good start and I hoped for more of the same.  Sadly I have been disappointed and she has failed to deliver with other books.

‘Truly Madly Deeply/ will be the last book I read of Moriaty’s.  I don’t think she will be able to recreate ‘What Alice Forget’ and I have found subsequent books lacklustre with characters I don’t actually care about.


Carrying Albert Home – Homer Hickam

I am currently on a self-imposed book-ban.  I have hundreds of books on my ‘to be read’ pile and it’s not getting any smaller.  The Sunday mornings wandering round boot fairs have not been helping!  I’ve been getting books from the library where possible but sometimes a book leaps out at me and won’t let go.  I have to have it!  Right away!

As far as addictions go, my book addiction is fairly tame.  There are worse things to be addicted to.  Hell, I don’t drink, smoke or take drugs.  Friday night is more likely to find me sitting on the sofa with a good book, the cats and a cup of tea than at a wild party (I don’t think I’ve ever been to a wild party in my life!).

So yes, sometimes there are those books.  Any fellow reader will know what books I’m talking about and ‘Carrying Albert Home‘ looked different enough from all the usual dross that frequents Tesco’s shelves to be interesting.

I wasn’t wrong.  This a magical tale set in 1930s America.  The Great Depression is starting to bite, although it doesn’t have a big impact on Elsie Lavender and her stoic husband Homer who live in the coalfields of West Virginia.

Elsie is dissatisfied with her lot.  She lived in Florida before her marriage and longs for more. Her only memento of that time is her alligator Albert, who was presented to her by her ex-beau when she married Homer…

Then one day everything changes. Homer’s patience runs out when Albert chases him from the house in just his pants much to the amusement of the neighbours. Homer declares ‘it’s me or the alligator’, not altogether sure who Elsie will choose.  Elsie doesn’t seem sure either but eventually she decides that they must carry Albert home to Florida….and so begins their epic adventures and road trip.

It’s a charming tale that is described as a blend of fact and fiction.  Some of the tales are so tall that they can only be fiction!

This book reminds me of ‘A Man Called Ove‘, not in content but in style.  It is that same eccentric mix of crazy, quirky and original.  It is memorable in a market of bland, forgettable books, the kind of book that you would recommend to a friend (in fact I did just that yesterday at another boot fair!).

I found Elsie to be slightly selfish and self-obsessed and Homer to be weak but this didn’t detract from the story.  It wasn’t enough to make me hate them either.  It just showed their flaws, made them human.  Albert was absolutely adorable.  His relationship with Elsie reminded me of my relationship with my cat.  It really made me smile.  I’d love to have an alligator if it was allowed and I didn’t think they’d eat my cats!

Hickam is an engaging writer and I’m looking forward to reading his memoir, ‘Rocket Boys’.  Sadly the library doesn’t have it in stock so it looks like I’m going to have to indulge my guilty pleasure of buying books.  That’s going to be tough!



Little Free Library – Penenden Heath, Kent

I have long been an advocate of swapping books and sharing a story that you love.  Growing up I devoured books, there were never enough to satiate my enormous book Little Libraryappetite.  That has definitely spilled over into adulthood if my teeming bookshelves and library habit are anything to go by.

Eleven years ago (has it really been that long?!?) I discovered Bookcrossing which was revolutionary to me.  You label a book, release it once you’ve read it and the idea is that the next reader journals to let you know where the book has been.  In my experience I have a very low success rate, especially when the book is released in the wild rather than being given to another person.  Even if the book is given to another person  I often find that it isn’t journalled.   Don’t be put off though. It is a real buzz to get an email telling you that a book that you released years ago has had a new journal entry!

I first heard about Little Free Libraries a few months ago and was excited to discover that one had opened locally to me in Penenden Heath, Kent.  I’ve been meaning to visit and finding myself with a free day, decided that today was the day!

It was relatively easy to find, although parking was a little difficult as the library was on a residential street.  I managed to turn round at the end of the road and find a parking space.

The library was well maintained, had a guest book for people to list what they’d put in and what they’d taken out.  I wasn’t the first bookcrosser to visit this Little Library!  I took 3 books and put in 4 which was definitely a plus.  It’s rare I come away with less than put in.  Usually I put in 4, I take 4!  I’m such a book hoarder!

I will definitely be visiting again and recommending it to local bookworms.  I hope others visit regularly to keep the selection of books fresh and to keep them moving on.

Little Library 2