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The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. - Jane Austen

Jonathan Falwell – 1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ

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I’m in two minds on this book. On one hand, I feel like when I was reading it, I did find myself nodding in agreement with things that were said. But on the other hand, I started reading this book in July last year and have only just finished it. Usually if I really get into a book, I read it pretty quickly, especially one like this that wasn’t very long.

The book professes to take us on a journey through the roughly 1000 days of Christ’s ministry on earth, from his baptism in the River Jordan, through to his death and resurrection.

And I guess it did what it said , my only complaint would be that we spent less time actually ‘in the Bible’ and studying the readings than we did reading anecdotes that didn’t to me always seem related to the part of the Bible we were talking about.

The book assured us that we would ‘study’ and ‘look closer’, but I felt like we were barely scratching the surface. I expected a more in depth study on some of the subtleties that we may not notice on first (or second or third) read, but I just didn’t get that.

If you’re looking to learn about Christ’s ministry on earth, I’d say you would probably be better off reading it directly from the gospels than hoping you would get much more insight here.

Todd Hasak-Lowy – Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You

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I had such high hopes for this book as it looked like quite an interesting idea – a book written entirely in lists. But at some point, I put the book down and didn’t pick it up again for 8 months, so it definitely left me feeling cold. In fact, I only picked it up again because I was fed up of seeing it in my ‘Currently Reading’ list on Goodreads, and by the end it felt more like a hard slog than an enjoyable experience.

The premise definitely didn’t live up to the hype. There were so many pages that had less than 20 words on which made the book feel like much more effort than it was worth. And then some pages weren’t really lists at all. In some cases, it seemed like the author had really had to try hard to find a way to get an actual plot into a list format, so some of the list headings were very contrived.

As well as my misgivings about the structure of the book, the plot also felt disappointing too. We are reading from the perspective of Darren, a (frankly spoilt) fifteen year old boy whose parents have just split up after his dad has announced he is gay. I just couldn’t put myself into Darren’s shoes, he just felt whiny and a tad pathetic to me. He winds up on a road trip with a girl called Zoey, who then vanishes into thin air, and he spends the rest of the book pining for her, all the while dragging along a poor girl who thinks she is his girlfriend.

I can’t really write much more about this book, as I don’t want it to turn into a diatribe. I’ll just finish by saying that while I enjoyed the premise, I just feel like it was let down by the execution. 600 pages that could easily have been condensed down to 100.

Sue Perkins – Spectacles

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I didn’t really know much about Sue Perkins apart from the things I’ve seen her in on TV, but this book was being advertised on Kindle at 99p, and as I had really enjoyed the things I’d seen her in, I thought it would be an interesting read.

And I wasn’t disappointed. My reading of this book was a bit disjointed, reading it on the bus when it was busy and I couldn’t get my book out, or in the time waiting for the kettle to boil or the microwave to ping. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but I maybe didn’t get as much out of it as I would have if I’d sat down to read it properly.

The first thing you notice when you’re reading this book is that Sue is funny. Like really funny. It just comes across so naturally on screen so that the book feels completely relaxed and not forced.

What you also notice is that while she treats her ex-partners and friends very favourably, she shows no mercy when describing those closest to her; her family, and of course, Mel Giedroyc. In the nicest way of course!

She will not let it lie that Mel is two whole years older than her, and there’s a particularly funny chapter relating to Mel’s flatulence and toilet troubles, where (among others) we find this jem:

“I find myself standing next to her [Mel] in a cramped bog, palms up, holding the receiver like it’s the Holy Grail. She perches below making low moaning sounds. It begins like a distant rumble, like thunder. The hairs on my arm stand to attention. Then comes the noise. Like a thousand tins of beans being hurled against a wall. The the toxic gust.”

Equally juvenile, but hilariously funny was the tale of her dog Parker in her girlfriend’s car, when he was, shall we say, quite ill. I was laughing out loud at my desk to visions of a car covered in all sorts of bodily fluids, hoping my colleagues weren’t going to ask me to explain why I was laughing!

Obviously, the bit that most people know Sue from is Bake Off, and it was lovely reading Sue’s tales of this time and learning new things that you never realised before. But it was also slightly sad reading about Bake Off knowing that she won’t be presenting it next year!

As well as Bake Off, Sue takes us on a journey through her other TV experiences, from an apperance on a talent show called Maestro where she learned how to be a conductor, to being in a car with Charley Boorman on World’s Most Dangerous Roads. Both things that I wasn’t aware of before, and I might now have to seek out for a watch.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who has watched Perkins on TV and enjoyed her work, it was so lovely to get a glimpse into her life and realising some of the hardships that she has gone through made me respect her even more. I can safely say that she is near the top of the list of people I’d like to have dinner with, I’m sure the stories that didn’t make it to the book would be fascinating!

 

Jennifer Niven – Holding Up The Universe

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I LOVED this book so much! I was desperate to keep reading, but unfortunately I was back at work yesterday so I couldn’t devour it in one sitting as I had hoped – but I still read the whole thing in less than two days.

I don’t think I’ve identified with a character recently as much as I identified with Libby. Previously ‘America’s Fattest Teen’, she had to be cut out of her house and lifted out with a crane as she was too big to get out on her own (no – that’s not the bit I identified with, thank you very much).

But now that she’s lost half of her weight, she feels fabulous. It’s just that she’s still overweight, and all everyone else can see is ‘Fat Libby’, or ‘that girl who had to be cut out of her house’. She’s trying so hard to be optimistic and enjoy her life, but when people leave notes in her locker telling her ‘You’re not wanted’, it’s quite hard to keep her head up.

This quote really resonated with me (my emphasis):

“I know what you’re thinking – if you hate it so much and it’s such a burden, just lose the weight, and then that job will go away. But I’m comfortable where I am. I may lose more weight. I may not. But why should what I weight affect other people? I mean, unless I’m sitting on them, who cares?”

Why does it matter? Why are we so quick to judge people for their physical appearance? Especially when we don’t know the whole story. Libby is judged for being fat, but she’s been on a huge journey and she’s (literally) half the woman she used to be.

The other central character in this book is Jack. At first glimpse, he looks like the polar opposite of Libby – he’s good looking, outgoing, the life of the party. But when their lives collide in a rather unpleasant manner, she soon realises that he’s not as perfect as he might seem.

You see, Jack has Prosopagnosia, which means that he is unable to recognise people’s faces. If you’re standing in a crowd talking to him, and he turns around and then looks back, he won’t know who you are any more. He can’t recognise anyone, not his on/off girlfriend, not his best friend, not even his family.

He’s done a pretty good job concealing this so far, but it seems like his carefully erected web is slowly starting to pull away at the edges.

I love how Libby and Jack both grow throughout the book, and how their relationship grows naturally and it doesn’t seem like the obvious teen-romance. Due to their own problems, they’re both much wiser than their years, and Niven has crafted two beautifully deep, well-rounded and non-stereotyped characters that made me forget I was reading a book aimed at teenagers and just let me become lost in the story.

This it the second book by Jennifer Niven that I have absolutely adored – the first was All the Bright Places. I will definitely be following this author very closely!

Barney Norris – Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain

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First book of 2017! I’ve just set up my Goodreads reading challenge for this year at a lofty 52 books, the same target as 2016, which I managed to fail by a whole 20 books. But I will be better this year, I received so many books for Christmas that I’m desperate to read and I’m determined that I will read them all!

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the book I picked as my first. When I read the blurb in Waterstones, I had great ideas about the contents of the book, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The first chapter almost made me put the book down altogether, the language was so pretentious that I didn’t think I’d be able to stick with it. It felt like the author was using grandiose words and sentences for the sake of it, rather than to enhance the descriptions of the enchanting place he chose as the location for his novel, the quiet city where rivers intertwine, just like the lives of the people we are about to meet.

Then I turned into the second chapter and I couldn’t have been more shocked by the change in tone. From these grand words and lofty ideas to a woman as common as muck. It was such a change that I could have been convinced that a printing error had put two different books together.

And while I liked this new character more than the first chapter, there were parts that bugged me incredibly. I found the bad language used by the character unnecessary and over the top. Every time I read those words, it made me wince inside, and I found it hard to continue reading. I know that we are supposed to take from this that Rita had lived a hard life and she didn’t take any nonsense, but it completely stopped me from relating to her.

We are also introduced to other characters (as one might guess from the title of the book). I found the schoolboy completely relateable and his grief made me want to reach through the pages and cuddle him. Similarly the old farmer who has just lost his wife. His grief was so palpable and his situation so heartbreaking, it made me want to cry for him.

The army wife, I found her so annoyingly self-absorbed and whiny that I couldn’t feel any empathy for her situation. Yes, her husband is away and her son is at boarding school, but she’s so obsessed with how abandoned she is that she doesn’t stop to think about how she can improve that situation, or what her potential actions mean for those around her.

Then the fifth and final character, a security guard at the Old Sarum English Heritage site. He’s such a minor part in the book that it hardly feels like he should be mentioned here, but if only to complain about the return to pretentious language and flowery ideas that I found completely annoying.

The blurb of the book starts:

“One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide…”

This is what drew me in to want to read the book, but the crash isn’t mentioned until we’re well into the book, and even then, some characters have such a minor involvement in the crash that it feels like a very tenuous link. I just didn’t feel like the five lives really ‘collided’, so much as minorly bumped, and I felt let down by my own expectations for the book.

It’s not that I hated the book, there were many parts that I liked, I just didn’t feel connection to the story in the way that I had hoped. I’ll leave you with a quote from the first chapter which I liked when I read it:

“What I see when I watch Salisbury Cathedral cutting the air is a diagram of prayer, the hope at the centre of my life expressed as the burning arrow of the spire shot into the sky, asking us to look up beyond the everyday, see the size and possibility and quietness of the landscape, and imagine something greater than we are.”

If anything, the book has made me want to visit Salisbury and see for myself the ‘burning arrow of the spire’.

Anna Kendrick – Scrappy Little Nobody

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This book encompasses two things that I love. Autobiographies and Anna Kendrick. Since I first saw her in Twilight (don’t judge), I’ve loved her as an actress, and I’ve always thought she’s a very relateable person and very funny (especially on Twitter).

Thankfully, her book didn’t spoil the picture of her that I’d created in my mind, I laughed out loud constantly and hard. She’s brutally honest the whole way through the book, not putting on a front to say ‘oh look at how perfect my life is and how easy I found it to become a famous actress’. She details the low points with a humour and a frankness that I found surprising – unlike some other memoirs I’ve read which felt fake somehow – I’m looking at you, Lena Dunham.

From her upbringing in Maine, through to her move to LA and all the bits in between, Anna gives you an insight into the ‘real’ life of an actress, showing you behind the glamour of the film-sets and the red carpets to see what it’s really like – hint, it’s not as glamorous as you would think. But you also see a whole lot of ‘Anna the person’ as well as ‘Anna the actress’, giving you insights into how she grew up (hint – she’s just like you and me!)

The whole book felt like you were sat down having a conversation with a friend, not forced or staged, just a very natural flow of words, which I heard in Kendrick’s voice in my head. She’s kept her way of speaking in the book rather than polishing up the words and that made it so easy to read, I read the whole thing in two sittings, unable to put the book down, even when my fiance was dying to go out for lunch – I just had to read the last 50 pages!

As you can probably tell, I really loved this book and would whole-heartedly recommend it if you’ve seen Kendrick in films and liked her, or if you just want a behind the scenes look at Hollywood. Fantastic!

Paul Williams & Barry Cooper – If You Could Ask God One Question

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I’ve had this book on my Amazon wishlist for ages, and my lovely sister bought it for me for Christmas. It’s something that I’ve been asked a few times this year on the various courses I’ve done at Church – If you could ask God one question, what would it be? I always struggle with this to find a question that doesn’t sound stupid, but a lot of the questions I think of are included in this book.

The questions include things like ‘If you are there, why don’t you just prove it?’ and ‘What about people who believe in other religions?’.

The book is intended to be read as a book, not just to skip to your particular question and then leave it, as some answers refer to previous questions in order to be answered fully.

All the questions were answered with a strong grounding in the Bible, with references provided for all the points that the authors made, which I loved as it felt like they’d properly researched the book and weren’t just making it up as they went along, which is always a worry when buying a book like this from authors you’ve never heard of.

I did feel like some of the questions weren’t answered fully; if I was coming to this as a brand new Christian, or even someone with no faith at all, I might have felt a little disappointed by a couple of the answers. But most questions were answered very sufficiently, and I did find myself nodding my head and saying ‘ahhhhh yes’ at certain points.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who has questions about their faith that they haven’t been able to find the answer to, as this could definitely help. You can pick up a copy very cheaply on Amazon – just check out the links at the right!

Tom Fletcher – The Christmasaurus

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Following Tom Fletcher on Instagram and Twitter, I’ve heard a lot about this book in the run up to its release and the subsequent praise that it received, so when I saw it on offer at Costco, I just couldn’t resist. I love reading Christmassy books in the run up to Christmas, and this one was perfect.

Although it’s a kids book, I didn’t find that it was written in a childish tone, although there were quite a few silly jokes and made up words which made me giggle, and I can imagine that a child would find them hilarious. When I’d been hearing about it, I assumed it would be a short book, but it was a 384 page novel. Saying that, I did finish it in two sittings, I just couldn’t stop turning the pages, and obviously the writing was a bit larger than a normal novel.

I loved Fletcher’s imagination in creating the characters and plot of this book, I was transfixed the whole way through, it was completely magical. I’d definitely recommend this as an ideal Christmas book for children and adults alike.

P.s. I know that my book reviews have been a bit lacklustre lately, and it’s taking me ages after I finish reading the book to actually post the review, which means I lose a bit of my excitement when I write the review. It’s my new years resolution to be a better blogger next year, so keep reading!

Paula Hawkins – The Girl on the Train

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I can’t believe I’m so far behind the trend on this book. I heard everyone raving about it when it first came out, and I was in the middle of other books so I didn’t read it. Then the film came out, and I still didn’t read it. And by the time I finally got around to reading it, the only covers they had left for the book were the movie-tie-in covers, which I always hate to buy!

But cover snobbery aside, I LOVED this book. It took me quite a while to read as I was only reading it on my commute, and the whole time I was scared someone was going to give me a spoiler since it’s so old now!

I think this is the first book in absolutely ages where I have been completely unable to guess the ‘whodunnit’. I was wavering rapidly back and forth between two of the characters, but I couldn’t have been more wrong!

When the mystery started to come together, my heart was racing and I turned the pages greedily, desperate to reach the conclusion. And wow, I definitely didn’t expect the conclusion to be as bloody as it was!

But skipping back to the start of the book, I couldn’t help but feel an instant connection to Rachel. She’s an alcoholic, but she knows that she’s an alcoholic and she’s desperately trying (and repeatedly failing) to change. For this reason, you can’t help but feel sorry for her. And as the story starts to unfold, you begin to understand what brought her to her current sad situation. The other women are equally pitiable and it’s quite hard to start with to decide which side you should be on!

I won’t say much more as I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t yet read it either, but I would really recommend this book, and would love to know if you were as unable to guess the culprit as I was!

Veronica Henry – How to Find Love in a Bookshop

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It’s my ultimate dream, to run my own bookshop. So when Emilia’s father dies and she returns home to the Cotswolds to take over the running of his little bookshop, and she can’t decide whether she should keep it running or not, I was screaming at the book for her to make the right decision!

I adored Emilia, as soon as I started reading I felt like she could be one of my best friends, she’s going through such a tough time that I just wanted to give her a hug.

But I would have enjoyed the book much more if it had focused more closely on Emilia, but there were a few other storylines intermingled into Emilia’s – some of which were closely related, some not so much. For me personally, there was just a bit too much going on, which is why I couldn’t give the book five out of five.

I could tell that I hadn’t loved the book as I didn’t feel that urge to keep picking it up and reading it like I do when I truly love a book. I just wasn’t engrossed in it like I have been with my favourite books in the past.