Those who don't learn from history...

I'm not the greatest fan of non-fiction. It's a personal failing. I'm totally unable to retain information so learning about something new is always followed by the frustration of not being able to remember any of the interesting trivia or fun anecdotes when I try to talk about it with someone else. I'll remember the feeling I had when reading the book, will retain a general impression of the topic and people involved, but don't even try to get anything specific from me. It's not how my brain works.
However, certain non-fiction books do manage to break through this barrier, and one of them was Sarah Bakewell's How To Live, about the French philosopher Montaigne and his teachings. Again, there's a lot (A LOT) that I can't properly remember, but the humour of the book, the uniqueness of Montaigne and his way of life, those sort of features stuck with me, so I was thrilled to see that Bakewell had turned her pen to a subject I know very little about: e…

5 star cooking

Jamie Oliver gets an awful lot of abuse for championing family cooking and quality school meals for children. I do get some of the criticisms - he does seem unaware that easy and affordable access to certain products isn't universal; his 30- and 15-minute meals require quite a high level of skill to be realistic; his children do have terrible names - but it seems unfair to criticise a guy so heavily for trying his best to improve food and health for the wider population.

For his detractors, the idea of a set of recipes involving only five ingredients is likely to encourage an eye roll. Only five? Surely that means he'll expect a stacked cupboard of "essentials", like crushed unicorn horn and dragon roe? But no, Oliver also stresses only five essentials that are needed to supplement these recipes: salt, pepper, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. That doesn't seem so unreasonable, does it?

Which brings us to the second potential stumbling bloc…

Books to snuggle up with

We've had the quintessential British summer (rain interspersed with shortlived heatwaves) and we've now moved into September and the slow, inevitable decline into winter. But it's not all doom and gloom! Autumn is perhaps the prettiest time of year, what with the falling leaves and the dwindling sun, but it also provides a wonderful excuse to cosy up in bed with a cuppa and a good book. Which begs the question, which new releases should we be saving our pennies for?

If you're like my dad, it's a good thriller that you want on a cold night. After the death of Stieg Larsson, David Lagercrantz stepped in to continue the Millennium series; a daunting task but one which he seems to have managed admirably. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye sees Lisbeth and Mikael back together for the fifth book in the series, and should be a gripping read throughout. The Girl... is published on 07/09 by Quercus.

Sometimes reading can be a great escape; sometimes it's needed to un…

Treading the same ground

Fans of M.R. Carey's wonderful The Girl With All the Gifts would have been forgiven for thinking that they were done with that particular story. The way it ends leaves room for a sequel, but it would require a very different focus, moving away from trying to save the world to finding ways to cope with the new one. The film adaptation is also such a fabulous rendering of the story that it makes Melanie's tale feel complete, like this world of hungries, junkers, and feral children can be left behind.

Yet here is The Boy on the Bridge.

It's not quite a sequel. Rather than following the events of TGWATG (catchy, no?), it's actually a prequel, although the hints at this might pass an inattentive reader (me, I mean. I found the chronology took a while to pin down). Anyhoo, a small group of soldiers and scientists leave the relative safety of Beacon in a large tank to test biosamples in the hope of finding something to at least retard the progress of the sickness that has wip…

In defence of The Dark Tower

Warning: this contains spoilers for both the film and the books.

Many Stephen King fans watched with despair as the terrible reviews for The Dark Towermovie started coming in. Generally considered a garbled attempt at adapting the popular fantasy series, the film has received lukewarm reviews at best. Personally, I kinda liked it. It's far from perfect but, and here's the controversial point, so are the books.

It took me a couple of goes to get through The Gunslinger. For a writer whose prose is usually silky smooth, King's foray into fantasy felt stilted and derivative. As the series goes on, the writing gets a lot more confident, but it is not the strongest start. And there are other issues too. There are long sections where the progress of the story is horribly slow. The Blaine the Monorail plotline would be a fun subplot but is far too insubstantial to justify an entire book. Ditto for the backstory about Roland's tragic love life. The forward momentum of the story s…

Volunteers: You're not actually helping...

I was reading in The Guardian the other day about the increase in volunteer-run local libraries. As someone who has worked in both community and academic libraries, it's a trend that really worries me.

The obvious argument in favour of volunteers is that the council may well close down libraries entirely if they have to pay staff. However, there is a (somewhat wishy-washy) law requiring a certain amount of library provision, so this is debatable. But there's no doubt that free labour is very much appreciated by councils who are feeling the squeeze. The Economist reported earlier this year that spending on public services is expected to be 22% lower in 2017 than it was in 2010 so, with the cost of social care increasing year-on-year, the money for "non-essentials" just isn't there. If that's the case, why aren't volunteers the heroes that we need?

Well, first of all, the idea of the library as a non-essential resource only makes sense if you are wealthy e…

Less than persuasive

It's hard not to enjoy Jane Austen, but Persuasion is definitely the weakest of her main novels. (FYI, I'm a Northanger Abbey girl.) I'm about halfway through a reread at the moment and it has been a struggle. Perhaps reading it on Kindle doesn't help, as I find myself an inattentive screen reader, but I keep getting the characters muddled up and I'm certainly finding Anne a bit of a wet blanket. With her broken heart and gentle ways, there is little of the feistiness of Austen's best characters. 

I wonder if there is a problem in rereading Austen once you're out of your twenties anyway. For most keen readers, of the female flavour anyway, Austen is a treasure you discover in your teen years. With her sparkling wit and her romantic dramas, books like Pride and Prejudice are perfect for hormonally-challenged youngsters. We might not be awaiting a proposal from a Mr Darcy, but we're certainly mooning over the cute guy in our English class or hoping to be a…