Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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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!

 

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what this novel is about but quite simply put, it’s about the Whitshank family.  It centres around Red and Abby Whitshank, their children, grandchildren and Red’s family before them.

It is an engaging and well written narration of everyday family life, warts and all.  There are few surprises.  We have all known a family a bit like the Whitshanks.  None of the characters are perfect but I came to like them partly because of their imperfections.

An enjoyable read that I took time to read and absorb rather than gobbling down in one sitting.

The Cadillac Three, Electric Ballroom Camden (05.02.16)

Genre: American Country Rock / Southern Rock

Band Members: Jaren Johnston, Kelby Ray, and Neil Mason

Support Act: Whiskey Myers

Setlist:

  1. That Girls on Fire
  2. I’m Southern
  3. I’m Rockin’
  4. Tennessee Mojo
  5. Back It Up
  6. White Lightening
  7. Life
  8. Soundtrack To A Sixpack
  9. Whiskey Soaked Redemption
  10. Graffiti
  11. Running Red Lights
  12. Down To The River
  13. Peace Love & Dixie
  14. Get Your Buzz On
  15. Days of Gold
  16. The South

This was my first standing gig and what an initiation it was!  Great band(s), great company and great venue. The Cadillac Three were amazing and such an energy about them.  I hadn’t heard of Whiskey Myers before this gig and didn’t know any of their music but it was enjoyable and you could dance to it.  I’ve downloaded some of their stuff (via my Google Play subscription) since the gig so hopefully if I see them again I will be able to sing along as well as dancing!  They were a great warm up for The Cadillac Three.

The Cadillac Three were absolutely amazing and the tickets were a steal at £15.  I will definitely be going to see them again when they are next in the UK.

 

I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes

There is no doubt about it, ‘I Am Pilgrim‘ is a massive tome of a book, 892 pages to be precise.  Don’t let the size put you off.  It is a fantastic, action packed romp, one that I had to savour and digest, take my time with and enjoy. Now that I’ve finished it I feel bereft.

It is an intelligent, action packed thriller that grabbed me and kept me hooked right to the very end.  The story has lots of little strands and I wasn’t sure how they would come together at the end.  I knew they had to, but I wasn’t sure how this would happen or  what one strand had to do with the others.  For me that’s the mark of a good thriller.

The story starts with the murder of a woman in a Manhattan hotel room and moves on to  a young boy who sees his father publicly beheaded in Saudi Arabia.  All parts of the story are relevant and not a single scene was wasted.  In the end it all comes together with a loud ‘clang’ as the penny drops and you realise what is going on and the story falls into place.

The narrator is a spook who goes by many different names, one of them being Scott so for the purposes of this review I will refer to him as Scott.

I love Scott’s voice.  He is candid and honest, telling the story in a pragmatic manner without a hint of self-pity.  Things simply are how they are.

Parts of the book which are a very unsavoury but Scott doesn’t shy away from talking about them or his involvement in the situation.  Quite simply the acts were necessary to get the job done.  The ends justified the means.

I liked the fact that although Scott would have liked to meet somebody (a woman) there wasn’t a token love interest, although there easily could have been.  The story was a lot more pragmatic than that.  It s a story of international espionage and national security. Love is a weakness that can be exploited.

I felt that the end left it open for there to be more books in the Pilgrim series.  I hope there is.  Scott Murdoch (or whatever he is calling himself in the future) could easily become another Bourne.

Terry Hayes is a very talented writer and I wasn’t surprised to find that he has worked as a screenwriter.  I’m very much looking forward to his next offering ‘The Year of the Locust‘ which is due to be released on 20th April 2017 (according to Amazon).

 

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

I’m going to start by saying that I loved this book.  I really didn’t expect to.  In fact I only bought it because it was on special offer at Tesco and, as always, I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie.

I wasn’t sure if I would click with Cheryl or identify with her at all but she has a way of writing that is refreshing and honest, not at all whiny.  She tells of the good and the bad parts of herself and takes responsibility when she hasn’t behaved well.

*SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT*

I felt sad for the loss of her marriage which broke down as a result of her serial infidelities.  Her husband seemed like a decent man too.  Part of me hoped that she would get back together with him at the end of her journey but real life isn’t like that and she’d probably changed so much by that point that there was no going back.

At the point where Cheryl decided to take to the Pacific Crest Trail she had a rubbish job, ruined job, debts and had just started an unhealthy, drug fueled relationship.  Not good, something had to change.

So she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  I feel a sneaking admiration for Cheryl.  I’ve had times where I would just like to take off and leave the real world behind.  She actually did it.

I was engrossed in her story.  I loved the characters she met along the way, I mourned the loss of Doug at the end of the group, my heart sank when she found she was out of money.

I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to and that is largely down to the refreshing honesty that Strayed displays throughout the book.

I was rooting for her all the way.  I’m glad she completed her journey and found herself along the way.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the film now!!

12.05.15 – Texas – Day 12, Fredricksburg – Corpus Christi

The day started off rainy but humid.  The plan was to go to Corpus Christi via San Antonio.  I was a bit skeptical about San Antonio after our El Paso experience, but my in-laws were keen to see The Alamo.  There was also a mall and a riverside walk that you can also do via boat inside the mall.

20150512_121229I was pleasantly surprised by San Antonio.  The building style and the general feel of the city reminded me a little of New York.  It would have been nice to have spent a bit more time here.  I’m glad I got to see it and experience it.  Maybe in the future I will come back.

I managed to find a post office at which I got stamps for my postcards (and posted them of course!).  I wonder if they will make it home before I do!  Postcards can be notoriously unreliable.  The post office was fascinating because it was inside a courthouse so I had to go thorough security checks and my handbag was searched.  I quipped to the security guard that this must be the most secure post office in the whole country.  I don’t think he understood my humour because he was completely straight-faced when he told me ‘That’s because it’s a courthouse ma’am’!!

I struggled to be engaged by The Alamo.  I know very little about it and living in En20150512_112901gland means that I’m used to much older history.  I was able to switch that side of my brain off though and appreciate it for what it was.  The Alamo was absolutely packed with tourists and school children.  People were pushing and shoving and crowding round cabinets.  It was a weekday but it still too busy for me.  It must be hell at weekends.  I wasn’t able to get any feel for the place and any sense of what it used to be.  There is a model in the gift shop that shows how the site used to be.  For me that was my favourite bit.

The mall was okay.  It wasn’t as big as some of the ones that we’ve been to but it was nice to have a wander round. I fo20150512_134357und it refreshing to go into some shops and be ignored!  It reminds me of home!  We had Japanese for lunch (I thought it was more like Chinese but it was still enjoyable) then after wandering round we relaxed in Starbucks for an hour with a frappuccino for me and a cappuccino for hubby.  Bliss!

I’ve had horrible hay fever since I’ve been on the west side of Texas which has meant I’m waking up coughing and sneezing.  It has really had an impact on my sleeping so it was nice to chill and switch my brain off for a bit.  I’ve looked it up on the internet and there is something called ‘Cedar Fever‘ that Texans get.  I’m out of season but my symptoms are very similar.  Poor hay fevered me!  I do wonder if this makes me a real Texan though because according to the websites, allergies in Texas are par for the course!

When we were on the way out spotted a Bowser backpack that I just had to have!  It is very cool indeed!

20150512_173540Corpus Christi was never going to be my favourite part of the holiday because I’m not into beach resorts.  Our room was on the 9th Floor and we did have a nice view out over the marina.  Corpus Christi itself wasn’t so much hot as very, very humid because of the rain we’d had earlier.  It was actually quite uncomfortable.

We decided to eat dinner at a restaurant across the road from the hotel, Water Street Seafood Company.  It was within walking distance which meant that we could all have a drink if we wanted to, got good reviews on Trip Advisor and we all adore seafood.  A win/win situation really.

Wrong.

If you are ever in Corpus Christie avoid this restaurant like the plague.

All started off well.  It was a pleasant environment, good menu and the restaurant itself seemed to be relatively quiet.  There was lots on the menu that I wanted but finally I managed to settle on sharing oysters for starter with hubby and tuna for main course.  Our waiter was in training but still it was like something from Faulty Towers!  If there was something to drop then he dropped it!  It started off with the iced waters and continued on to be cutlery, menus etc.

Starters arrived in good time and were nice enough.  It’s hard to mess up oysters though.  Being picky, I would say that the shells n20150512_195931eeded to be cleaned before serving because if you picked them up you realised they were actually quite dirty.  They were nice though.

We had to wait an exceptionally long time for the main course, probably about 50 mins.  After about 45 mins the waiter did come over and apologise.  The delay had occurred because there was a big party of 40 people in the back of the restaurant and the kitchen was struggling.  When the food arrived mine was cold, not just cool, cold.  Mum-in-law had ordered scallops and they were these little blackened husks on the plate, although interestingly only one side had been cooked!  Her dinner was also completely cold.  Completely unacceptable so I 20150512_212339sent them both back. It was another 10 – 15 mins before dinner arrived.  My tuna was over-cooked.  I’d asked for it to be seared and it was medium rare.  I couldn’t be bothered to re-order for a 3rd time.  Hubby did mention it to the waiter though who didn’t really know what to do.

The Manager apologised and didn’t charge for my dinner or mother-in-law’s dinner.  I also managed to negotiate some free desserts for us all.  Hubby always says I’m a cheap date!!  Dessert was nice but it didn’t make up for the disappointment of the bad service and cold food.  I think it was made worse by the fact that it promised everything and delivered nothing.

I wouldn’t eat here again.One piece of exciting news is that Jason Aldean is playing in Corpus Christi!!  What are the chances of us being in the same town at the same time as one of my favourite country artists are playing.  Even more exciting is the fact that we have tickets!  I’m incredibly excited!  Hubby and in-laws are coming.  I can’t wait to see what they think!!