Library Books

Over the last few months I’ve reserved books at the library, but of course they all arrived at once instead of at regular intervals. This leaves me hoping I can renew them as there is no way I could read them all in the next three weeks!

Reserved bks June2018

From top to bottom they are:

  • Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf. Annabel  reviewed it recently on her blog Annabookbel, saying she absolutely adored it and that it was the best thing she’s read so far this year. I liked the look of it – it’s a novel about the pursuit of happiness and a story about growing old with grace. With such a recommendation I think I’ll start with this one.
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I reserved this ages ago. It’s set two decades after Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I loved. I’ve read reviews that it’s disappointing, so I thought I’d see for myself what it’s like. Jean Finch, ‘Scout’, returns home to visit her father Atticus, in Maycomb, Alabama.
  • Elizabeth’s Rivals: the Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester by Nicola Tallis. I saw this on Amazon and fancied having a look at it, then saw it was available from the library. This is the first biography of Lettice Knollys, one of the most prominent women of the Elizabethan era. A cousin to Elizabeth I – and very likely also Henry VIII’s illegitimate granddaughter – Lettice Knollys had a life of dizzying highs and pitiful lows.
  • Paris by Edward Rutherfurd, a huge doorstop of a novel of over 700 pages, telling a tale of four families across the centuries set in Paris, the City of Lights. Helen at She Reads Novels wrote about Edward Rutherfurd’s books in one of her Historical Musings posts and I thought I’d like to try them. Paris was listed in the library catalogue and so I reserved it.

The beauty of borrowing library books is that you can then take your time deciding whether you really do want to read them – and if no one else reserves them you can renew the ones you haven’t finished in the loan period – my library lets you renew them 5 times!

Catching Up

It’s that time of year – the grass is growing at a rate of knots, the weeds are shooting up all over the place, the garden is crying out for attention and my time for writing is disappearing.

So here are two quick reviews of books I’ve read this month:

Blacklands

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer – her debut novel. I loved this book, so different from other crime fiction books I’ve read. It’s told mainly from Stephen Lamb’s perspective. Stephen is twelve years old. Nineteen years earlier Billy, Stephen’s uncle then aged eleven had disappeared. It was assumed that he had fallen victim to the notorious serial killer Arnold Avery, but his body had never been found. Stephen is determined to find where Arnold had buried his body and writes to him in prison.

What follows is an absolutely gripping battle of wits between Stephen and Arnold as they exchange letters. This is a dark and chilling story that took me inside the minds of both Stephen and Arnold, making this a disturbing experience and also a very moving and heartbreaking story. Since reading this book I’ve also read Snap, which although I enjoyed it I don’t think it is as good as Blacklands. I shall certainly be reading more of her books!

A Life in Questions

A Life in Questions by Jeremy Paxman (one of my TBRS). This is an interesting and entertaining autobiography, which is mainly about his career with little about his personal life, written in a very readable style. His sardonic wit and sense of humour come across, often aimed at himself. He tells of his childhood and his career first with the BBC in Northern Ireland and then in various war zones and trouble spots before becoming a presenter on Newsnight, where his interviews with politicians both infuriated and delighted me, and quizmaster on University Challenge. He has also done documentary programmes including an enlightening one on the EU, on art, and on history and has written several books on a variety of subjects. The only one I’ve read is The English: A Portrait of a People.

As I would expect from such a forthright person Paxman’s book is full of his opinions, but I couldn’t help wondering how much of  his grumpiness is a facade and what the real man behind it is really like. Maybe his reflections on his love for fly fishing and for nature, give us a glimpse of the real person. I liked these passages very much. Extending to 6 pages he describes how fishing is

essentially about trying to inserting yourself into an environment where you don’t belong, without being noticed. If you blunder about you won’t catch anything – on a sunny day you will be able to see the trout darting off in all directions when they sense your footfall on the bank, their flicking tails a snub to your clumsiness. Be quiet. And then, when you’re stalking a fish, things happen around you. A grass snake swims sinuously across the river. A water vole plops into a stream. Wagtails and oystercatchers dance at the water’s edge. Swallows and martins swoop low over the water, snatching flies. A kingfisher flashes that spectacular iridescent blue above the river; it is gone in an instant.

… To become absorbed in the natural world frees your mind: fish cannot survive in our element, and only imagination will allow us to live in theirs. …

In essence it is a solitary occupation. But the best fishing days are those spent with friends, meeting for a picnic lunch on the riverbank, united in the awareness that we are doing something which defies rational explanation. (extracts from pages 254-255)

 

Although I don’t fish I think I’d like to read his book on fishing: Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life.

Library Loot

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about my library books. I’m lucky as the mobile library van visits here once a fortnight, stopping nearly outside our house. So, I regularly borrow books both from the van and from the branch library. These are my recent library loans.

First three non fiction books:

Non Fic Lib Bks May 2018

  • Do No Harm by Henry Marsh one of the UK’s foremost neurosurgeons. I first read about this book on BookerTalk’s blog. She wrote: In Do No Harm he offers insight into the joy and despair of a career dedicated to one of the most complex systems in the body. This is a candid account of how it feels to drill into someone’s skull, navigate through a myriad of nerves that control memory, reason, speech and imagination and suck out abnormal growths. I thought it looks interesting, so I reserved the book to read it for myself.
  • And then I saw Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole by Allan H Ropper and B D Burrell sitting on the shelves. I admit that I was drawn to this book by its title on the spine, not realising until I took it off the shelf that this is also a book by a neurosurgeon, Dr Ropper, an American professor at Harvard Medical School. This is a glimpse into the ways our brains can go wrong, how a damaged brain can radically alter our lives.
  • Learn to Sleep Well by Chris Idzikowski. After reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker I thought it would be a good idea to read a book about getting better sleep as I don’t get the average of eight hours of sleep Professor Walker recommends. It’s sub-titled ‘get to sleep and stay asleep overcome sleep problems revitalize body and mind.’

And now the fiction:

Fic Lib Bks May 2018

  • A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale. It is set in Cornwall, about a parish priest Barnaby Johnson. Earlier this year I read Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition and found although this book is not a sequel it has some of the same characters and I want to know more about them.
  • Deadline by Barbara Nadel. I haven’t read any of her other books – this is an Inspector Ikmen Mystery set in Istanbul. I liked the blurb on the back cover – Ikmen is invited to a murder mystery evening at Istanbul’s famous Pera Palas Hotel where he finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of life imitating art. Halfway through the evening, one of the actors is found dead in the room where Agatha Christie used to stay when she was in Istanbul.
  • Sisters by Patricia MacDonald, another new-to-me author, (one of the reasons I like to borrow books is to check out new-to-me authors). This is described on the back cover as a ‘fast-paced novel of psychological suspense‘. Alex Woods is shocked to find out after her parents’ death that she has a sister that her mother had kept a secret from her. She decides to search for her.
  • How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn. I’d reserved this one, a book I’ve been thinking of reading for a while. It’s a story of life in a mining community in rural South Wales as Huw Morgan is preparing to leave the valley where he had grown up. He tells of life before the First World War.
  • Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer – see my Friday post for details of the novel and the opening sentences.  I’ve already started reading it. It’s about  Patrick Fort, a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome, studying anatomy and trying to identify the cause of death of a body he is dissecting. I borrowed this book as I loved her first book, Blacklands.

 

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Penguin Books|4 January 2018|368 p|e-book |Review copy|4*

I have read several books and watched TV programmes on sleeping, but Why We Sleep: the New Science of Sleep and Dreams is one of the most in depth and thorough books on the subject that I’ve come across. It is fascinating and disturbing in equal measures.

It emphasises how important sleep is to our health. Eight hours sleep each night will improve your immune system, help prevent infection, regulate your appetite, lower blood pressure, maintain your heart in fine condition, improve your ability to learn, memorise and make logical decisions.

But be warned if you don’t get eight hours sleep you run the risk of doubling your risk of cancer, of increasing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, strokes, and heart attacks, and insufficient sleep contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. It is a terrifying scenario as every major disease in the developed world has very strong causal links to deficient sleep.

Matthew Walker is professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. He goes into great detail examining every aspect of the subject looking at what sleep is, how we sleep, as well as why we should sleep and the external factors that cause poor sleep. There are sections on sleep deprivation, sleeping pills, insomnia and other sleep disorders and on dreams – creativity and dream control. He also considers the sleep requirements of babies, children, teenagers and the elderly.

There are a number of things I highlighted as I read the book, including:

  • sleep is the foundation of good health
  • every major system, tissue and organ of your body suffers if your sleep is short
  • the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life
  • the less you sleep you’re more likely to put on weight
  • sleeping six hours or less increases your risk of developing cancer by 40%
  • routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer

He cites the World Health Organization’s and the National Sleep Foundation’s stipulation of an average of eight hours of sleep for adults. So, what can you do to improve your sleep if you don’t get eight hours? I really want to know. Walker refers to behavioural methods for improving sleep, such as cognitive behavioural therapy intended to break bad sleep habits, obvious methods such as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, removing LED devices from the bedroom and having a cool bedroom. Other things to establish – having a regular bedtime, only going to bed when sleepy, avoid sleeping in the early/mid evenings and daytime napping etc, etc – nothing I haven’t come across before.

Why We Sleep is full of fascinating facts, but at times it is repetitive with lots of detail about sleep experiments that made me worried about the effects on those people who undertook them. Matthew Walker is most certainly on a mission to educate people about the importance of sleep, even if there is nothing new he has to offer about how to improve sleep times.

My Week in Books: 2 May 2018

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: Blacklands by Belinda Bauer, one of the books I got last week from Barter Books.

Steven Lamb is 12 when he writes his first letter . . .
to a serial killer

Every day after school, whilst his classmates swap football stickers, twelve-year-old Steven digs holes on Exmoor, hoping to find a body. His uncle disappeared aged eleven and is assumed to have fallen victim to the notorious serial killer Arnold Avery – but his body has never been found.

Steven’s Nan does not believe her son is dead. She still waits for him to come home, standing bitter guard at the front window while her family fragments around her. Steven is determined to heal the widening cracks between them before it’s too late – even if that means presenting his grandmother with the bones of her murdered son.

So Steven takes the next logical step, carefully crafting a letter to Arnold Avery in prison. And there begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game between a desperate child and a bored psychopath . . .

I didn’t finish Little Dorrit, my Classics Club spin book by 30th April, the Club’s deadline, but I’m carrying on reading it. I shan’t include it in later My Week posts until I’ve read a lot more of it.

Little Dorrit
Yesterday I finished Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, one of my NetGalley books that have been stopping me from reading my TBRs.

This book extols the benefits of getting a full eight hours sleep each night and warns of the dire consequences if you don’t. I shall write more about it in a later post.

What do you think you’ll read next: I do enjoy deciding what to read next but the thing is that I often change my mind. At the moment I’m leaning towards reading The Summer before the War by Helen Simonson. But it could be something else when the time come to decide.

The Summer Before the War
My copy has this cover

It is late summer in East Sussex, 1914. Amidst the season’s splendour, fiercely independent Beatrice Nash arrives in the coastal town of Rye to fill a teaching position at the local grammar school. There she is taken under the wing of formidable matriarch Agatha Kent, who, along with her charming nephews, tries her best to welcome Beatrice to a place that remains stubbornly resistant to the idea of female teachers. But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape, and the colourful characters that populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For the unimaginable is coming – and soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small town goes to war.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

My Week in Books: 25 April 2018

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I haven’t made any more progress with Little Dorrit, my Classics Club spin book and there is no way that I’ll finish it by 30th April, the Club’s deadline. But I shall carry on reading it and will finish it later on.

Little Dorrit

I am reading the book I said I might read next in last week’s Wednesday post – Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi, which was published on 5 April 2018 and am enjoying it so far.

Description:

‘One of France’s most ingenious crime writers’ SUNDAY TIMES

‘Bussi breaks every rule in the book’ JOAN SMITH

It is summer 1989 and fifteen-year-old Clotilde is on holiday with her parents in Corsica. On a twisty mountain road, their car comes off at a curve and plunges into a ravine. Only Clotilde survives.

Twenty-seven years later, she returns to Corsica with her husband and their sulky teenage daughter. Clotilde wants the trip to do two things – to help exorcise her past, and to build a bridge between her and her daughter. But in the very place where she spent that summer all those years ago, she receives a letter. From her mother. As if she were still alive.

As fragments of memory come back, Clotilde begins to question the past. And yet it all seems impossible – she saw the corpses of her mother, her father, her brother. She has lived with their ghosts. But then who sent this letter – and why?


Yesterday I finished  Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, the book I wrote about in last Friday’s post. For now I’ll just say that on the whole I enjoyed it and I’ll try to sort out my thoughts and maybe post a review later in the week.

What do you think you’ll read next:

It’ll probably be Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, one of my NetGalley books that I’ve been meaning to get round to before now.


Description:

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in twenty-first-century society, with devastating consequences: every major disease in the developed world – Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, diabetes – has very strong causal links to deficient sleep. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why its absence is so damaging to our health. Compared to the other basic drives in life – eating, drinking, and reproducing – the purpose of sleep remained elusive.

Now, in this book, the first of its kind written by a scientific expert, Professor Matthew Walker explores twenty years of cutting-edge research to solve the mystery of why sleep matters. Looking at creatures from across the animal kingdom as well as major human studies, Why We Sleep delves in to everything from what really happens during REM sleep to how caffeine and alcohol affect sleep and why our sleep patterns change across a lifetime, transforming our appreciation of the extraordinary phenomenon that safeguards our existence.

Or will it be something else? I’m not sure.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Painting as a Pastime by Winston S. Churchill

Painting is complete as a distraction. I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind.’

IMG_20180314_071428165.jpg

Unicorn|1 July 2013|Hardcover|96 pages|a gift|5*

I was delighted on Sunday when my son gave me Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill as a Mother’s Day present. I read it straight away and loved it. The cover shows Churchill’s painting of his home, Chartwell. Churchill was forty when he first started to paint at ‘a most trying time‘ in his life and art became his passion and an ‘astonishing and enriching experience‘.

It was in 1915, when he had left the Admiralty and although he was still a member of the Cabinet and of the War Council he knew everything but could do nothing. He had great anxiety and no means of relieving it, left with many hours ‘of utterly unwanted leisure in which to contemplate the frightful unfolding of the War‘. So, he began painting.

I was amused to find out that he took the same hesitant steps that I took – using a very small brush, mixed a little paint and then ‘made a mark about as big as a bean’ on his canvas.’ A friend arrived and told him to stop hesitating and showed him how to use a big brush and splash on the paint, which he did with ‘Berserk fury‘.

But Churchill begins, not by  writing about painting, but about the need for a change to rest and strengthen the mind:

… the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. … It is no use saying to the tired ‘mental muscles’ – if one may coin such an expression – ‘I will give you a good rest,’ ‘I will go for a long walk’, or ‘I will lie down and think of nothing.’ The mind keeps busy just the same.

What is needed are hobbies. And then he goes on to write about reading, and about handling books:

Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are.

But he considers that reading doesn’t provide enough change to rest the mind and that what is needed is something that needs both the eye and the hand – a handicraft. In his case painting fulfils that role. He talks about the fun of painting, the colours and the pleasure he found in not only in painting a picture, but also the pleasure he discovered in a heightened sense of observation, finding objects in  the landscape, he had never noticed before:

So many colours on the hillside, each different in shadow and in sunlight; such brilliant reflections in the pool, each a key lower than what they repeat; such lovely lights gilding or silvering surface or outline, all tinted exquisitely with pale colour, rose, orange, green or violet.

I agree that painting does relax the mind, but I love reading and can be thoroughly absorbed in a book so that I am unaware of the passing of time, just as I also know how quickly time passes  when painting (or in my case in trying to paint). As Churchill wrote:

Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen. They pass out into shadow and darkness. All one’s mental light, such as it is, becomes concentrated on the task. Time stands respectfully aside, and it is only after many hesitations that luncheon knocks gruffly at the door.

Reading this book was pure pleasure and has encouraged me to pick up my paints again.

One final extract:

Just to paint is great fun. The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fascinating and absolutely absorbing. Try it if you have not done so — before you die.

Painting as a Pastime was originally published in 1932, one of the twenty three essays in Thoughts and Adventures (whose American title is Amid These Storms).