Book Review

Book Review: 21st Century Dodos by Steve Stack.

21stCenturyDodosWelcome to a nostalgic and sometimes irreverent trip down memory lane.

21st Century Dodos is a catalogue of well over 100 objects, traditions, cultural icons and, well, other stuff that is at risk of extinction. Some of which have vanished already.

Come inside and bid a fond farewell to cassette tapes, Concorde, handwritten letters, typewriters, white dog poo and many, many more.

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, something I always feel bad about, so when the publisher contacted me and asked me to consider 21st Century Dodos I jumped at the chance. I like funny non-fiction books that I can dip in and out of so this looked like it could be a good match for me. The only slight concern I had was my age – I’m in my early 30s so whilst I expected I would be able to identify with a good proportion of the Dodos in the book there were likely to be plenty that had reached or nearly reached extinction before I’d had the chance to become aware of them.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that actually I was familiar with the vast majority of the Dodos in the book, and those that I didn’t have first hand experience of were all things I’d heard about from family members. I was amused to find that a number of the more recent Dodos either still exist to some extent or have only recently disappeared from the sleepy corner of rural Worcestershire I currently call home.

The book itself is divided into 10 sections, each collecting together Dodos on a similar theme e.g. In the home, On the high street. The paperback edition I had to review is a “New and improved” edition with the addition of a section called Reader’s Dodos – all things that had been suggested by readers of the first edition. I liked the structure a lot, when I came to a new section I found myself wondering whether certain things would be included in it and was then pleased each time to discover that they were.

I had fully intended to dip in and out of this book, but after reading the first few entries in the first section I switched to reading it in an entirely linear manner – not wanting to risk missing out on any of the entries. I picked it up whenever I had a few minutes to fill, each time planning to read the next two or three entries before finding I’d read another ten or fifteen.

This book is a wonderful slice of nostalgia, I think any reader will find lots to enjoy. I particularly liked the entries on technological things which tend to offer a more detailed overview of how the various technologies evolved and died out. I’m going to be passing my copy on to a couple of family members I know will love this book, I think a couple of people may also get it as a present in the next few months.

21st Century Dodos is published by The Friday Project. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan.

BlameMyBrainA comprehensive guide to the biological mysteries that lie behind teenage behaviour.

Contrary to popular (parental) opinion, teenagers are not the lazy, unpleasant louts they occasionally appear to be. During the teenage years the brain is undergoing its most radical and fundamental change since the age of two. Nicola Morgan’s carefully researched, accessible and humorous examination of the ups and downs of the teenage brain has chapters dealing with powerful emotions, the need for more sleep, the urge to take risks, the difference between genders and the reasons behind addiction or depression. The revised edition of this classic book contains important new research, including information on mirror neurons and their effect on the teenage brain.

I was really keen to read this book as soon as I read the blurb. My long term plan post finishing my degree is to work in a library where I get to work with teenagers, I thought this would be a really useful addition to my personal library.

The first thing I must say about this book is how very accessible it is. It is aimed at teenagers and the adults around them, the book is written in a way that both groups will find interesting and helpful but never feel talked down to or overloaded with information. Relevant scientific research is included wherever it is relevant, this again is discussed in a great manner, there’s no need to have a scientific background to be able to understand it.

The book covers six key areas; Emotions, Sleep, Risk-taking, Gender differences, Mental health issues and Brain development in older teens. Each section includes a case study, a description of what’s going on in the teenage brain, some theories of why the teenage brain might work the way it does, some useful facts and hints to help teenagers and parents survive this stage, and a quiz or activity to do. I really liked this structure, I’m sure different readers will particularly like different sections but by presenting the information in a range of ways there will definitely be something for everybody.

I’m obviously no longer a teenager myself, nor a parent of a teenager, but I found it fascinating to be able to think back to my own teenage years and my experiences (and those of some classmates) and finally understand why some people acted the way that they did.

I think this is a really valuable book, since reading it I’ve recommended it to a number of friends who work with teenagers. I know I’ll be referring back to it for years to come.

I hosted Nicola Morgan earlier this week as part of her blog tour to celebrate the reissue of Blame My Brain. She kindly answered my questions about sleep, you can read that here

Blame my Brain is published by Walker Books. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book to review all opinions are my own.

Things Before 30

Things Before 30 – May.

These posts seem to be getting later rather than earlier, but better late than never at all I reckon.

14. Listen to at least one new (to me) band a month.
According to my trusty list this month I listened to both Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton who I’ve already mentioned in this post. I’m really enjoy the music that they both produce and I think they’ll be artists I’ll listen to for years to come.

Thanks to their appearance in a Christmas episode of The West Wing I also gave The Whiffenpoofs a try. The album I listened to was fun though I enjoyed the songs that appeared in The West Wing episode more. Finally I listened to a couple of albums by Elbow, every time I hear them sing One Day Like This on a compilation I love I think I ought to listen to more of them and so I finally did. I was a bit underwhelmed really, nothing grabbed me as much as One Day Like This always does.

19. Watch one as yet unwatched classic movie a month.
Last month’s classic movie featured an Avenger, and this month’s film featured another. Jeremy Renner has become my latest actor to obsess over so I started with The Hurt Locker. I was warned it was a highly stressful viewing experience, and this was definitely the case. Normally when I settle down to watch a film I really dislike stopping midway through for anything but I was very glad to stop and make a cuppa so I could catch my breath. I thought it was an excellent film and one I’ll definitely watch again, though only when my blood pressure’s good and low.

22. Try out a new recipe once a month.
This month I baked a gluten free version of this Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake after seeing Stella and Helen both make it. It was pretty easy to make, made the whole house smell lovely whilst it baked, and tasted really really good. The moist nature of the cake meant that it stood up to the gluten free flour really well. I think this is a recipe I’ll be making again and again.

27. Read one non-fiction book every month.
This month I read Nurse! Nurse! by Jimmy Frazier, it’s a memoir by a chap who decided to train to become a nurse a little later in life. It covers the three years of his training, from the application process to completing the course. I found it to be a really interesting read, I think the mixture of anecdotes and personal reflections was well balanced. There were lots of bits that made me laugh, a couple that made me cry, and some that have left me thinking about them long after I finished reading.

Things Before 30

Things Before 30 – April.

It was only as I started to write this post that I realised we’re a whole third of the way through the year. Looking at the non-monthly things on the list there’s a few I’m close to being able to cross off but there are some I definitely need to start thinking about.

14. Listen to at least one new (to me) band a month.
I listened to a few different artists for the first time this month. I came across Audra Mae via the tv show Sons of Anarchy, one of her songs has had such an effect on me that it gets its own post tomorrow. I have discovered that I like her music, but the song she did for Sons of Anarchy is by far my favourite of hers. I also gave The Civil Wars a try, I loved their collaboration with Taylor Swift for Safe & Sound and when I saw my brother raving about them I knew I needed to give the rest of their music a try. I really liked what I heard, I think for me it’s definitely music for a very specific frame of mind but that’s never a bad thing.

I can’t quite remember how I came to try Adam Crossley, I think it was probably a Spotify similar artists thing. His stuff was okay but I wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to any more of it. Darius Rucker on the other hand was a very welcome discovery, he features a couple of times on the Obama 2012 Campaign playlist on Spotify, I tried his album and loved it. I only found out after listening and loving his stuff that he’s the front man from Hootie & The Blowfish, I think May might be the time I finally give them a listen too.

19. Watch one as yet unwatched classic movie a month.
This month’s film was a bit of a last minute thing, the end of April crept up on me all of a sudden and whilst I’d been very efficient and done all of the other monthly activities on my list early on in the month I’d forgotten to ask for this month’s film to watch. My first thought was to count The Avengers, I’d like to think that in years to come it could be considered a classic, but that didn’t feel entirely in the spirit of this list. So the nominated film was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, I’ve owned it for ages but I haven’t managed to get round to seeing it. I loved the film, I thought it was funny and snarky, just what I want from a film.

22. Try out a new recipe once a month.
When my mom tore a recipe for gluten free lemon biscuits out of the newspaper I knew that would be the new recipe I tried during April. It was a very simple recipe, but the resulting biscuits were really good. So good in fact that when we’d only got a couple left I made another batch, though with a couple of modifications to the recipe to see if very good could become great. I didn’t quite reach great with them, but I think the next time I make them with one tweak undone they will more than likely get there.

27. Read one non-fiction book every month.
I bought Tune In Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries by Tim Anderson when it was one of Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deals, it sounded like it could be a funny read, the memoir of an American teaching English in Japan. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting from the book, but it wasn’t quite the read I wanted. It felt to me at times that the author couldn’t quite make up his mind what he was trying to achieve with the book and as a result it felt a bit patchy. There were definitely plenty of funny moments, but there were an equal number of moments that felt a little self indulgent and these fell rather flat. Definitely an okay book, but nothing more.

Things Before 30

Things Before 30 – March.

I can’t believe another month has been and gone, this one’s been pretty busy uni wise for me so I’m sure that’s why it feels like it’s flown by.

14. Listen to at least one new (to me) band a month.
This month’s new music came to me via Twitter. @fraserallan tweeted a link to his band Skyless’s EP, I gave it a listen and really liked what I was hearing. I’ve got it on my iPod now and am looking forward to listening to it lots more. You can give it a try here.

19. Watch one as yet unwatched classic movie a month.
After we both watched Paul McGann on The One Show, my film selector chose Withnail & I as this month’s film for me to catch up with. I’ve always been a little put off by the fact that everyone loves the film so much, what if I was the one who didn’t like it?! I’m pleased to say that my fears were unfounded, I thoroughly enjoyed it and am sure I’ll continue to do so for a long time.

22. Try out a new recipe once a month.
I had a real craving for coffee cake so I had a go at making some gluten free coffee cupcakes. I found a recipe and just switched the flour. They worked really well and were very tasty so I’m sure I’ll be baking them again. I also used them as an opportunity to try out my new icing bottles – I’ve tried using piping bags but for various reasons they don’t work for me, I was thrilled that the squeezy bottle worked and I managed my first ever piped finish to cakes.

27. Read one non-fiction book every month.
I saw Margaret Rhodes talking on the tv about her memoir The Final Curtsey and was intrigued by the fact she’d worked for MI5 during the war. A lot of the book covers her family life, she is cousin to Queen Elizabeth II and worked as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother. Her life has certainly been very full, and it makes for interesting reading. I’d like to have read a bit more about her time at MI5, but that’s just personal preference. I did find at times that the tone grated a little with me, I think this is probably to do with the different attitudes between the generations.

Things Before 30

Things Before 30 – February.

Better late than never here’s how I got on with my monthly contributions to my Things Before 30 list in February.

14. Listen to at least one new (to me) band a month.
I’m struggling to remember all of the new music I listened to in February, so it clearly can’t have made a great impression on me. I know that I gave Ute Lemper a try, but she didn’t really do it for me. I also heard The Maccabees for the first time right at the end of the month, I was interested enough by what I heard that I’ll definitely be giving them more of a tryout.

ETA: A few hours after posting this I’ve remembered the first new band I listened to in February was SafetySuit. I’m still making my mind up about them, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to get their own post sometime in the future.

19. Watch one as yet unwatched classic movie a month.
This month’s classic movie was a modern classic, Speed. When everyone else was watching it all those years ago I was still avoiding anything with explosions and fire. I’ve got over this aversion and so I was really keen to see why people held it in such high estimation, I wasn’t disappointed. It was hugely entertaining, and I know I’m going to end up rewatching it plenty of times.

22. Try out a new recipe once a month.
This month I tried out the gluten free version of the five minute mug cake. I thought it would be a good recipe to try, if it worked then providing I kept the ingredients in stock I would always have the option to make a quick pick me up. It was definitely more of a chocolate sponge pudding rather than a cake, but with custard it was absolutely delicious. I’m confidant I’ll be making more cakes in mugs.

27. Read one non-fiction book every month.
I read Rachel Johnson’s A Diary Of The Lady as my non-fiction this month. I already reviewed it here.

Book Review

Book Review : A Diary of The Lady by Rachel Johnson.

‘The whole place seemed completely bonkers: dusty, tatty, disorganized and impossibly old-fashioned, set in an age of doilies and flag-waving patriotism and jam still for tea, some sunny day.’

Appointed editor of The Lady – the oldest women’s weekly in the world – Rachel Johnson faced the challenge of a lifetime. For a start, how do you become an editor when you’ve never, well, edited? How do you turn around a venerable title, full of ads for walk-in baths, during the worst recession EVER? And forget doubling the circulation in a year – what on earth do you wear to work when you’ve spent the last fifteen years at home in sweatpants?

Will Rachel save The Lady – or sink it?

I watched the Channel 4 documentary about Rachel Johnson taking over the editorship of The Lady so I thought this book could be an interesting read. Before watching the documentary my sole knowledge of the magazine was that one of the porters who ran a Halls of Residence I lived in during my first degree swore by it as the place to find work.

The book’s written in diary form, it begins in June 2009 before Johnson is asked to interview for the post of editor, and goes through to June 2010 (my copy is the hardback version, the subsequent paperback and eBook releases have extra content and go through to early 2011). These diary entries include snippets of emails and letters that she receives and lists of the many and varied items that appear in her in tray.

The book does cover the same ground that the documentary covered, though with far more detail, and it’s with Johnson’s spin rather than the documentary maker’s. Before starting to read the book I knew I needed to put my own personal beliefs and politics to one side or I would more than likely end up wanting to throw the book across the room. Even after this I still found parts of the book difficult going.

Throughout the book my feelings were really mixed, and eventually I worked out why. When Johnson is talking about the job of taking over a magazine, and dealing with challenging staff and external influences my interest level was high. When she was talking about the endless parties and social events she attends, and drops names at a rate of knots my interest was low. I know that the two things do overlap, but I could really have done with less of the high society schmoozing.

One thing I did really love about the book was that each section that covered a month was preceded by a cover of the magazine. These dated back to 1899 and came right up to date, it was fascinating seeing how the covers had evolved over time – some of the older ones are absolutely beautiful.

Whilst this was a fairly interesting read I’m rather glad my version is the shorter one, by the time I got to the end I was definitely ready to finish reading. I’m sure lots of people will love this, but for me it was just okay.

A Diary of The Lady is published in hardback, paperback and eBook by Penguin in the UK.

Book Review

Book Review : An Officer and a Gentlewoman by Heloise Goodley.

When Heloise Goodley quit her City job and decided to attend the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, she had no prior military experience. On her arrival she was a complete army novice: she couldn’t fire a rifle; she couldn’t march; she couldn’t shine her boots; she couldn’t even iron her uniform.

An Officer and a Gentlewoman charts Goodley’s absorbing journey through Sandhurst and and on to Afghanistan, and gives an insight into the life and customs at this remarkable institution.

With wit and sensitivity, Goodley details her experiences as a cadet and the painful transition from civilian to soldier. Moreover, she rejects lazy preconceptions and sheds new light on what it is like to be a woman in the British Army.

An Officer and a Gentlewoman is the first female perspective on Sandhurst and the making of a female British Army Officer.

One of the things on my Things Before 30 list is to read a non-fiction book every month. I’m forever seeing non-fiction books that I think sound interesting but really rubbish at getting round to reading them instead of my usual diet of as much fiction as I can get my hands on. I thought this book sounded really interesting, I come from a family with a lot of ties to the army and an old uni friend went through Sandhurst and is currently serving as an officer in the British Army so I thought I could really enjoy reading it. If nothing else it would give me a bit of an insight into the experience my friend would have had at Sandhurst as he attended at a similar time.

The book does begin with two caveats, one from the Ministry of Defence explaining that since Goodley attended Sandhurst in 2007 a lot of alterations to the process have been made so the experience she had is no longer the same as that of current recruits, and one from the author explaining that it has been necessary to apply some fictional licence in the telling of the story. Whilst I completely understand the need for both of these, I did find that as I was reading I did end up wondering for example which of the characters were entirely fictional.

The book is definitely a very interesting read. The first chapter follows Goodley as she flies out to Afghanistan for the first time, the book then jumps back to when she was working in the City in the banking industry and then follows her making the decision to join the army and then from the third chapter on her year at Sandhurst. I found the descriptions of the Sandhurst experience really interesting. Whilst there were things in there that I’d heard a little about before such as the rigorous room inspections, there was so much I didn’t know – so many times throughout the book I was surprised by the details and extreme nature of some of the rules, regulations and procedures.

The book is also an entertaining read. There were a number of times where I found myself chuckling away at something that Goodley described, as I’m writing this there’s one scene that springs to mind that has had me laughing all over again. At times it is also quite a touching account, there are moments of personal achievement and also of reflection that help to ground the book in its reality.

I’m really glad that I read this book, I don’t know if the author plans to write a follow up at some point about her experiences post Sandhurst but if she does then I’ll definitely be reading it.

An Officer and a Gentlewoman is published in hardback by Constable in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Things Before 30

Things Before 30 – January.

I can’t believe one month of this year has already gone! It’s been a slightly odd month for me, the first couple of weeks were very busy with uni assignments and exam revision and then the last couple were almost completely empty and a very welcome chance to take things a bit easy.

On my Things Before 30 list there are four things to do every month, so here’s how I got on with each of them.

14. Listen to at least one new (to me) band a month.
This month I listened to two new singers (I probably shouldn’t have used the word band). The first was Josh Kelley, I heard his cover of To Make You Feel My Love in the background of a film I was watching and paused it to find out who was singing. I listened to his Georgia Clay and BackWoods albums on Spotify, they were okay but I don’t think I’ll be rushing to buy them.

The second singer I listened to was Michael Kiwanuka following a recommendation from a twitter friend. I have listened to the five songs he has available on his MySpace page countless times since, I really love his style. His album isn’t available until March but I shall definitely be buying it.

19. Watch one as yet unwatched classic movie a month.
My lovely friend Emma has volunteered to steer in me in the direction of the 12 films I should watch this year to fulfil this part of my list, January’s film was The Philadelphia Story. I really enjoyed it, if all of the films this year are as good then I think this will have been a really good item to have on my list.

22. Try out a new recipe once a month.
This was the one that I nearly didn’t achieve, there was a sudden panic when I realised there were just two days left in January and my knee was playing up so I couldn’t stand for long. I flicked through my copy of Phil Vickery’s Seriously Good! Gluten-free Baking and found that the recipe I had most wanted to cook was incredibly simple and quick, so a perfect match. The recipe was for Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge cookies, and they were absolutely delicious.

27. Read one non-fiction book every month.
This month I read Heloise Goodley’s An Officer and a Gentlewoman which tells the story of her experience going through the Sandhurst training process. I shall be reviewing it in a couple of weeks, it was certainly an interesting read.

I have made some initial progress on a few of the other things on my list, but there’s nothing I can cross off completely yet.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

Book Review : Teacher, Teacher by Jack Sheffield.

It’s 1977 and Jack Sheffield is appointed headmaster of a small village primary school in North Yorkshire. So begins Jack’s eventful journey through the school year and his attempts to overcome the many problems that face him as a young and inexperienced headmaster.

The many colourful chapters include Ruby the 20 stone caretaker with an acute spelling problem, a secretary who worships Margaret Thatcher, a villager who grows giant carrots, a barmaid/parent who requests sex lessons, and a five-year-old boy whose language is colourful in the extreme. And then there’s also beautiful, bright Beth Henderson, who is irresistibly attractive to the young headmaster…

Warm, funny and nostalgic, Teacher, Teacher is a delightful read that is guaranteed to make you feel better, whatever kind of day you’ve had.

This was my third book for the Transworld Book Group challenge, I was really intrigued by the synopsis and as I want to read a little more non-fiction this semi-autobiographical book seemed like a good step to take.

The book covers a school year, each chapter starts with an entry from the school log book and then proceeds to tell the story behind the entry. Whilst many of these stories are funny and thoroughly entertaining, dotted throughout the book are a few more touching and emotional stories. I found that I enjoyed the amusing stories but it was a couple of the touching stories that I carried on thinking about long after I put the book down.

Jack is a great narrator, and way into this small village, but it is the other characters who really steal the book away. There are both adults and children that delight, it would seem mean to pick out any favourites.

My only slight niggle was that Jack occasionally made comments that felt very modern in both their thinking and the language used. I think though that it is because I previously worked with schools that this grabbed my attention, most readers wouldn’t notice this.

I really enjoyed this book, I know that there are a further four books in the series and I’m sure that with time I’ll be reading them all.

Teacher, Teacher is published in paperback by Corgi in the UK priced £7.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.