Tag Archives: book

My 2019 Reading Challenge!

This year my challenge is… *drum roll* … to try not to buy any books.

I do feel a bit like this might upset some people, after all as a reader I want to support authors by buying their books. But trust me, I’ve done a lot of buying. I have bookshelves full of unread books, but the new ones keep distracting me. There are books I own that I’ll simply never get round to reading if I don’t do something drastic.

There are some rules I need to set to be able to complete my challenge:

  1. I can purchase the books for book club. I am in two book clubs and I’m not giving them up!
  2. I can try and make people buy books for me (I’ll only save this for desperate times, family!) and I don’t mean I can give someone money and they buy the book for me.
  3. I can get book vouchers as gifts and spend them.
  4. I can request books from places like netgalley – though I will minimise this because, surprise surprise, I am behind with reading previous requests anyway.

I’m going to need to work very hard to meet this challenge. Wish me luck!

Heartburn – Nora Ephron

Funny, but I couldn’t identify with the life of the main character easily. It’s all flying here and commuting by plane, and having important friends. Affairs seem to be no big deal. I really enjoyed it, it’s really funny. I put it in my top fiction reads of the year! But I can’t seem to articulate anything about it! It’s taken me months to write this review, and I almost forgot to review it at all.

Rachel, a cookery writer, finds out her husband is in love with someone else. Rachel is seven months pregnant at the time. Heartburn is semi-autobiographical, a roman-à-clef, because this happened to Ephron. She has turned a completely tragic time in her life into an hilariously funny book. Rachel and her friends discussing how they will now never get into bondage was just ridiculous and so funny.  As is the incident with the pie. I will reveal no more.

I can’t think of much to say about it, other than it is great, but I took some nice pictures of it though because it has the prettiest cover.

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The Iliad – Homer (part 2 of 4)

I set myself an extra challenge this summer, in addition to #20booksofsummer, I decided to read The Iliad. It’s a book I’ve wanted to read for e v e r. This is the second part of my review, the first one can be found here. The biggest reason I kept putting it off is because I thought it would be very difficult to read (like how I find Shakespeare!) but this translation is written in a very straightforward way and it’s actually really easy to read.

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I love the look of this book. 

As ever, if you are serious about your classic Greek literature, this is not the review for you. Haha. Stay away! Otherwise, let’s see what happens from chapter 7…

Book 7

The Gods intervene again to make Hektor offer one on one combat to a Greek warrior. Any Greek warrior. Winner takes all.

No one’s that keen at first, but Menelaos starts to volunteer, calls the rest of them women (pfffft) and that shames nine of them into volunteering, Lots are drawn and Aias is the… winner?

They have a bit of a fight, seem equal, and then they are stopped because it’s night time. Seems quite badly planned tbh.

They go home for the night. It’s suggested in Troy that maybe they should… errrr… just give Helen back? along with all the stuff Paris nicked from them. He says he’ll give back the stuff, and some extra, but not Helen.

They have a break the next day to gather the dead on both sides and burn the bodies. The Greeks make one massive pyre and then build a fortress on top with massive gates, a big ditch with spikes etc

Poseidon is pissed off with this because they didn’t make any offerings to gods first. He’s stays quite grumpy about this throughout the story.

Finally Jason makes a cameo by popping over on a ship with some wine for the Greeks. Yey, Argonauts!

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err… hello

 

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That’s more like it. 

Book 8

There’s a bit of fighting. Mostly we’re with the Gods.

Zeus forbids any of the gods from interfering. He decides to help the Trojans himself. And he goes off to a mountain to watch for the day.

Hera and Athene decide to sod his orders, and suit up to go and help the Greeks. Luckily Zeus gets wind of this and sends Iris to warn them about the consequences. Basically he says he’ll lightning strike Athene so bad she won’t be healed for 10 years. He says he won’t do the same to Hera because he expects this behaviour from her. lol. They decide to heed the warning and go home.

Zeus returns from his day out. Athene sulks. Hera gives him some shit about it. I like Hera.

During some Gods discussion, the prophecy about Hektor only dying by Achilleus’ hand, after the death of Patroklos, is mentioned. Well, I think that’s going to be important later. *taps nose and winks*.

And that’s the end of another day.

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A futile attempt at reading The Iliad while the chaos of slime making goes on around me.

Book 9

The Greeks realise they are basically fucked without Achilleus. Agamemnon sends a party of two messengers and Odysseus, plus Aias and Phoinix, to tell Achilleus he can have his war bride back, plus some other lovely ladies, plus a load of stuff, and he can marry one of his daughters and have a massive kingdom (desperate much?).

Achilleus tells him to piss off, and says he might even go home the next day.

On returning to give Agamemnon the news, Diomedes, a younger warrior who is gaining confidence, says: Oh well sod him then. Lets just ignore him and get on with the fight.

Then everyone goes to sleep again.

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beer

Book 10

Diomedes and Odysseus decide to go on a spying mission to the Trojans. Meanwhile, coincidentally, Hektor sends his own spy to the Greeks.

Diomedes and Odysseus catch the spy on his way into the Greeks camp. They get some info from him and kill him.

They then go and kill a bunch of Trojans and nick some awesome horses.

Book 11

There’s fighting and all the key Greek fighters get some sort of injury. It’s not looking good.

Achilleus and Patroklus get back in on the story. Achilleus sends Patroklus to look at who is being brought back injured. This allows Nestor to tell Patroklus that things aren’t looking great… and maybe he can borrow Achilleus’ armour and… maybe just pretend to be Achilleus a bit and scare the Trojans…

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wine

Book 12

Wow. It’s all properly kicking off in Book 12, leading up to the half way point of the whole thing.

All the leading Greek fighters got injured so are out of action. The Trojans are feeling invincible, and the push back to the ditch/wall arrangement that the Greeks built a few chapters ago, is on. Even when their horses won’t cross the ditch they just leave them behind and go on foot.

The chapter leads up to a big battle at the wall. Hektor and Sarpedon are key Trojan figures for this part. Hektor leads an assault on one of the places to get through it. And just at the end of the chapter he manages to get through and the Trojans start scaling the walls and going through the gap and the Greeks scatter. It’s all looking terrible for the Greeks!

 

Can’t wait to find out what happens next!

Book Review: Ad Astra: An Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet – Dallas Campbell

Who hasn’t dreamed of leaving the planet? In Ad Astra Dallas tells you everything you might need to know to make this happen. From who can currently get you up to space, to what you should pack etc. Every page of Ad Astra is jam packed with stories, facts, beautiful pictures and all the detail you ever wanted to know, and even more that you had no idea you needed to know, but my god, how did you live without this information!?!! I mean, space tortoises and moon rock detectives!

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I had pre-ordered my copy of Ad Astra a few months before it arrived. I was very happy when it arrived as you can see!

It’s the perfect book for dipping into or for a longer read. I’ve come out of Ad Astra with a renewed interest in all things current in space travel. I know more about these current and future space adventures, and I know so much more about the history of space travel from early dreamers, to the people responsible for the first rocket engines. Considering I have a physics background, it’s amazing that I didn’t already know 90% of the information in Ad Astra. 

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Rope memory. Fricken’ fabric memory. 

Ad Astra begins with the stories of early dreamers, like Francis Godwin, writer of The Man In The Moone. In 1648 he imagined his hero Francis Gonsales tethering some Lunar Geese to fly to the Moon. This geese story is referred back to all through the book in the loveliest ways and it really helps draw the different aspects of Ad Astra together.

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*sniggers*

Dallas Campbell is a genius space story detective, and he has written a marvellous, interesting, fascinating book about all things space travel. It is full of beautiful space-related pictures too. As well as all the brilliant facts, there’s poetry, music, and a recipe. I quizzed to see if I am an astronaut (non-spoiler: I am definitely not astronaut material) and now have a list of places I want to visit that hold a special place in the history of space travel, or  hold some of the preciously small amount of moon material we have here on Earth. I also have a list of books to read to get even more information, and a lot of films I need to watch.

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Under its cover it’s hiding a beautiful shiny silver spine. 

I loved Ad Astra, and will continue to dip into it to remind myself of some great story I read in it, or to tell someone about some obscure, fascinating space travel fact. I would highly recommend it for anyone who has the slightest interest in space, space travel, or even history!  I forgot to mention earlier that it’s not a huuuge book either, so you can carry it around with you and whip it out at any opportunity to impress your friends and family. 😀

Books Bought and Read November 2017

Books Bought

I was doing very well at not buying a single book this month, then the black friday deals broke me.

Earlier in the month I used a few of my audible credits to get:

SPQR – Mary Beard (though having read a review, I’m not sure it will work that well as an audiobook. Think there will be diagrams and references it would be better if I can see them). Too late now!

Mythos – Stephen Fry. All part of trying to address a big gap in my education to ultimately help me be better at Learned League quizzes.

Dracula – Bram Stoker. A classic I’ve really wanted to get round to, especially after reading Frankenstein this year.

Then as I mentions, Black Friday sales broke my resolve and I ordered 6 books. They are all good uns though! They are:

  • Nina Is Not Ok – Shappi Khorsandi
  • It Only Happens in the Movies – Holly Bourne
  • Moxie – Jennifer Mathieu
  • Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Days Without End – Sebastian Barry
  • Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick

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I only bought two kindle books on the daily deal:

Seabiscuit – Laura Hillenbrand

The Outsider – Albert Camus.

So really, I did quite well for three weeks. Then just did all by book purchasing in one go! 😀

Books Read

Click for link to the review

Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller

Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie

Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley

What Happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women and the Women That Love Them – ed. by Rhian E Jones.

Bedtime Stories

The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me – Roald Dahl. I’ve never read this one before!

Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl. Or this one. I read all the longer novels when I was a child (well, all the ones my local library had).

The Magic Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton. My son absolutely loves the adventures of Silky, Moon-face, and the children.

The german book – My daughter is just fascinated by the busy scene pictures in this book. We don’t usually even say the German words – I say the name of an item, and she finds it in the picture.

Stories for Girl – Various vacuous stories about fairies and mermaids mermaid. I didn’t buy this book, and obviously my daughter thinks it’s the best book ever!

Crystallising Chaos – My little pony story. I’ve read this so many times! *despair*

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot has written a triumphant book about Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cells that have revolutionised cell biology. Skloot has turned the scientific story of an exceptional cell line into a deeply human story about family, loss, and understanding.

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In case you don’t know the story of these amazing HeLa cells, from the back of the book:

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists knew her as HeLa. Born a poor, black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta’s family did not learn of her ‘immortality’ until more than 20 years after her death, with devastating consequences… Balancing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery with dark questions about who owns the stuff our bodies are made of, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an extraordinary detective story in search of the soul and story of a real woman, whose cells live on today in all four corners of the world.

Henrietta died in 1951, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that her family became aware of the HeLa cell line. They then spent over 20 years without any real understanding of what it meant for their mothers cells to be essential for medical testing. They heard stories about them being cloned, sent to space, blown up in atom bombs, mixed with animal DNA, all sorts of things. None of them understood the science, and they imagined all sorts of horrific scenarios. The family were also aware that some people had made an awful lot of money by selling these cells from their mother.

“… If our mother so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?”

Lawrence Lacks, Henrietta’s son.

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lunchtime reading!

Eventually, Skloot wins the trust of the Lacks family, particularly Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter. This is in the early 2000s. It’s not an easy trust to win, but eventually Deborah begins to join Skloot on research visits, and they begin to uncover the truth about what happened to Henrietta Lacks. The chapters where Deborah, and her brother Zakariyya, go to meet a researcher and see their mother’s cells under the microscope for the first time is incredibly moving.

Deborah then goes with Skloot to the institution her sister lived and died in and finds they have her autopsy records and a photograph of her. This is part of the human story of the Lacks family, and is connected to the HeLa cell story because Deborah may have known more about her sister if her mother hadn’t died so young. It’s so real the pain and suffering Deborah has been through. It’s completely heartbreaking. She has had to grow up without a mother, as well as trying to understand what happened to her mother after her death, and then discovering information about her sister, is incredible.

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prosecco and campari to help with evening reading. 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks manages to be a fantastic introduction to the very basics of cell biology and how research is carried out on cells. It’s a wonderful story of scientific discovery and advancement. It is equally a moving story of family and loss. Thirdly it deals with medical ethics – the ethics of cells being taken from patients without any consent, the fact that people have made millions from the cells while the family have stayed very, very poor, and the fact that this is a story of a white, male establishment taking advantage of a poor, black woman.

Lawrence fell back in his chair and stared into his lap, his smile collapsing. After a long quiet moment, he turned and looked into my eyes.

“Can you tell me what my mama’s cells really did?” he whispered. “I know they did something important, but nobody tells us nothing.”

When I asked if he knew what a cell was, he stared at his feet as if I’d called on him in class and he hadn’t done his homework.

“Kinda,” he said. “Not really.”

I have barely any knowledge of biology (physics is my specialist science knowledge topic!) and I found this book fascinating. Just learning about the impact Henrietta’s cells have had on the world would be a brilliant story – it’s just made even better by all the other aspects. I would really highly recommend it. I can’t wait to try and track down the TV movie made of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks earlier this year – staring Oprah and Rose Byrne!

Audiobook Review: Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens – Eddie Izzard

I’ve decided to highlight that this was the audiobook version I read because it has so many footnotes, it must be at least double the length of the actual book. Around fourteen and a half hours worth of Eddie Izzard’s life story, and I loved it.

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He’s certainly had an interesting, eventful, and quite tragic life. We start the book by finding out that his mum died when he was 6. He was then sent to boarding school with his older brother so his father could continue working. Before this happened he had a lovely time being at home with his family, hanging around with the neighbourhood kids, no idea that he would ever go to boarding school. It’s so sad reading about such a young boy being sent away.

We find out about boarding school life, and then how he spends his 20s trying to make it as a performer. He tried sketch comedy, and street performing, before finally making a success of stand up comedy when he was around 30. This highlights how determined he has been and how he grafted for a decade before getting successful, even though his early 90s rise in stand up comedy if often portrayed as swift.

There is an extraordinary amount of references to the Nuffield Physics syllabus of the 70s that he studied while doing A level physics. The syllabus was unusual in that it relied heavily on performing experiments to learn the theory. He refers back to this Nuffield syllabus at many key moments of his life, when he needed to make a decision. I found this very funny, because as an A level physics teacher, I know the course he’s referring to (as a historical A level physics course – not that I am old enough to have taken it or taught it!!!).

We don’t get many details about his personal relationships. It doesn’t detract from the book at all. Really it’s none of our business, and his life is interesting enough with out these details. We do get to hear a lot about his alternative sexuality, which is his own term for his transgender, or in the 80s transvestite, status. It terribly sad that essentially he’s had lots of issues in life because he likes wearing clothes that are traditionally female, and he likes to wear make up. I dress in traditionally mens clothes all the time and no one bats an eyelid. Society is so fucked up!

I really admire Eddie Izzard’s attitude to so many aspects of his life. I love him when he’s talking about atheism. And his footnotes are well worth getting the audiobook version for. His determination really shines through his entire life and follows him all the way to his Sport Relief mega marathon challenges.

Funnily enough, I don’t think I’ve ever watched any of his comedy. I will clearly need to seek some out very soon.