Books brilliant books!!

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Now that we live in Brussels in my parents place I have access to my dads library which is amazing.  He has a great range of books and I am trying a few things I might otherwise never have read which is great.

I have started with ‘Londoners’ from my dads shelf.  As a born and raised Londoner who left home a few years back and still can’t face the idea of going back I was intrigued by this book.  The cover says it all really

‘The Days and Nights of London as Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Long for It, Have Left It and Everything Inbetween.

As someone who left but falls bang slap in the middle of love and hate with my home city this book was a great read.   I think if I had never left I would have been annoyed by some of the views people hold on my fellow Londoners.  There are a great deal of stereotypes that I previously resented but now have had to accept are true.  Why don’t we speak to each other?  What’s the fear of smiling at a stranger?  Also must we speak so fast?  My poor colleagues for whom English is a second language said ‘luckily you annunciate which helps’.  Five years away and still I speak like I just drank a litre of coffee, ironic as I don’t touch the stuff!  It’s also true that we think we come from the best place in the UK and are a tad dismissive of the rest of the country.  The parts I loved most of these books were the hidden parts of London that showed the good of the city, especailly the tale of the lost and found at the train station – it will restore your faith in humanity.

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For me I love London for the people, nothing will ever take the place of those old friendships that I slip back into like a favourite pair of shoes.  The city itself may be the footwear equivalent of having to run a marathon in stilettos but the friends make it feel like there will always be a sofa and slippers ready to recover with.  For those friends who have always dropped everything to see me – you’re my London and I love you far more than I could ever love a place.

My move to Brussels pushed me to read ‘Merde in Europe’ by Stephen Clarke.  Hilariously written and easy to read I finished it in two days (the commute on the metro has massively increased my ability to finish books!)  It was great realising how many of the places I know and recognise – my local metro station even gets a mention.  Having only been here a few weeks it’s great to realise how at home I feel here.  I even felt defensive when one of the characters was rude about the food…Belgian cuisine is in fact brilliant and the produce in their supermarkets is unbelievable.  Our little local carrefour is full of great stuff that doesn’t cost the earth!  Straciatella yoghurt is a game changer btw!  I now want to read the rest of his books as I find his style amusing and engaging.

Having finished that I just started ‘Back Story’ by David Mitchell (the comedian, not the author of Cloud Atlas as he is quick to point out!)  It’s very funny so far and enjoyable to read (the chapters are the perfect length for my commute which shouldn’t be a criteria but does mean I can really enjoy it without having to stop mid paragraph.  There is something charmingly endearing about David Mitchell, and as Bond will tell you – being endearing is a huge character plus in my book.  That endearing and charming self deprecating way he has comes across brilliantly in this memoir.  I am only a couple of chapters in and already I can’t wait to eat some more…and on that note, back to my book  I go.




My Grandmother sends her regards and apologises – Fredrik Backman

It is safe to say that Fredrik Backman is my new favourite author, between this and A Man called Ove he has completely won me over.  The only downside to reading his books is that I may have a bit of an odd reputation at the driving school because I was AGAIN in tears there thanks to reading this book.

There is something about the way he writes that just draws you in, I loved those characters.  I felt their pain and their joy.  I wanted to be there with them all!  There is no character that lets this book down in any way, they all have depth and reasons to explain their odd quirks.

This is a fairy tale to a degree in the way that it is written and you do have to suspend reality a bit (what is a wurse after all!) Mostly though it’s the story of a girl with a unique grandmother.  They have a special bond and her granny is a tad nuts but in an extraordinary and eccentric way.  Elsa is an almost eight year old (that’s how she is referred to and I find it endearing) who doesn’t fit in at school and is bullied.  Her grandmother creates a whole kingdom and amazing stories to make Elsa feel like a brave and valiant Knight.  The detail of these stories is incredible – you want to visit the kingdom by the end!  Being made to feel that being different is a gift saves Elsa from being miserable.

Elsa lives with her mother and step father in a block of flats, her grandmother lives in the flat next door.  All the neighbours play a part in the story, they are all totally different and interesting.

Sadly tragedy strikes, this sets off a huge adventure for Elsa where she learns all about her grandmother, warts and all as it were.  She also learns about her mother and father and step-father as well as the neighbours.

This is a plot I lost myself in completely, I sobbed my heart out at parts and I laughed out loud at other parts.  I could go on and on about it all, but that would steal the magic from you and that would be wrong.

PLEASE go and get this and A Man Called Ove, I can’t imagine anyone regretting reading this.  It’s uplifting in the end and shows the power of love and imagination. Now I just have to wait till Mr.Backman writes another one…fingers crossed he becomes a prolific writer!  I have even become a fan of his so I will get word the second the next book is published!

A Man of Some repute – Elizabeth Edmondson

This book was on offer to Prime members of Kindle, so I got to read it before it’s official release date.  I am not sure I would have chosen it otherwise as it’s not quite my thing. In the end I am glad that Prime had me try something new.

I really enjoyed this book, it’s a quick easy read with engaging characters and a good dollop of mystery and a murder.  If you like whodunnit’s then this is for you.  There are spies and missing people and aristocrats too!  For all that it’s quite a gentle read – perfect for before bed or the metro which is where I do most of my reading.

Georgia is probably the funniest character, she’s the only child in the book and is a bit of a firecracker and super bright.  She and her brother who is significantly older were both left orphans by the war and he has a permanent limp due to an injury he sustained during the war.  They have moved to Selchester so Hugo can take a job, and they end up living in the castle and getting embroiled in finding out what happened to the missing Earl of Selchester.  Freya (the Earl’s niece) also lives in the castle and is implicated in the crime.  There are a host of good additional characters, and even some celebrities of the time put in an appearance.  I figured out the end quite early on which sort of spoiled the suspense though.  It is a tiny bit predictable which is a shame!

Overall I enjoyed this but I don’t know if I would read more in the series.  I am tempted to try other books by the author though.

A Man Called Ove

A man called oveBefore I start I have to say that this will struggle to be an unbiased review because I LOVED this book.  From start to finish I was totally gripped and on finishing I bought the next book by the author.  Fredrik Backman has a way of creating characters that you either love or hate (depending on if they are good or bad of course!)

Ove is a man who is somewhat taciturn and isolated.  His wife has died, a wife he adored and can’t quite seem to function without.  He’s basically decided that he would rather die than continue without her.

The problem with reviewing this book is that if I tell you too much (and believe me I could wax lyrical) then it will ruin it.  What I will say is that I defy you not to be rooting for Ove not to succeed at suicide even though you’ll adore his wife and understand why he wants to be with her.  I am certain that you’ll enjoy all the other characters as well who are so well developed and interesting.  I think  ultimately it’s just a beautiful story about how people can bring out the best and worst in others. The book is set in Sweden, but it could be anywhere.  It’s about people and life and loss and love and family.

To give you an idea of how moving it is, if you were in Al Ahli Driving centre yesterday at around 3 I was the girl sobbing into her kindle!

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

rosie project

On leaving London my lovely friend C insisted we have brunch so she could give me a farewell gift.  Most of the items were comedy; fake tan for example,  others were useful; an electric fan that works WOOHOO, some were thoughtful; a framed photo of us on the night she asked me to be her maid of honour, and lastly a book to read on the plane.

C has great tastes in books and I have always enjoyed whatever she has given me or recommended.  I recently started reading ‘The Rosie Effect’ which is the follow up book and it reminded me I didn’t review this, so here you go.

Honestly I can’t recommend it enough, I was gripped from start to finish (I even read it in the bath and one morning I was almost late for work because of it!)  The book is based in Australia, a place I recently visited and loved.  It charts a scientist determined to find a wife, he develops a project with a thesis and a questionnaire to achieve his aim.  In the process a woman is put in his path who he eliminates as a potential wife, she doesn’t fit any of his stringent criteria. I don’t want to tell you too much as I will give the plot away but I really recommend it if you like novels with suspense and plot twists. The characters are really well developed, even the secondary characters.  You really feel that you know them and how they tick.  This is especially impressive as the main character has a social disorder and struggles to read social cues etc.

I have read that a film version will be made soon.  I am quite sceptical about books being made into films.  They don’t usually live up to my expectations, but I think I will go to see this.  I am curious to see how they will portray the characters and some of the scenes are very comedic, the slapstic comedy elements should work very well on film.  Also Simon Baker would be terrific as the ‘best friend’ – read the book and see if you agree with me!!

Or maybe I just think all films would be better with him in them?

Or maybe I just think all films would be better with him in them?

Unbearable lightness – Portia De Rossi


It’s very hard to review this book because I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, I was gripped by Portia’s journey and she writes so well that you can’t put the book down.  Still it’s not an easy read and it does make you deal with a very tough topic. Eating disorders are not a glamorous or light subject matter and this doesn’t shy away from any of the darker uglier sides of these conditions.

The message that Portia espouses is so important and it was extremely brave of her to write it.  She’s obviously famous so coming out with a big secret like this takes a lot of guts.  It’s hard enough to admit you’ve struggled with an eating disorder without knowing that the press are likely to judge you and that everyone will want to talk about it. Even though she knew she would be judged you get the feeling that she bares all.

As well as tackling her battle with eating disorders we learn all about her battle with her sexuality.  Seeing her with Ellen Degeneres now it’s hard to imagine that Portia was ashamed of who she was and yet you can really see how she wanted to hide this side of herself.  It even fuelled her eating disorder to a degree.

This book is extremely moving as you watch someone you think has it all nearly destroy themselves all for the desperate bid to be ‘perfect’.  It makes you realise how futile it is to be something that you’re not just to make other people happy.

It’s worth reading if you have ever struggled yourself with an eating disorder, if you know anyone who has an eating disorder or if you suspect someone you know has an eating disorder.

The Gulf Wife – Jocelyn Henderson


Last valentine’s day Bond bought me ‘The Gulf Wife’ by Jocelyn Henderson.  I was thrilled because I love books, and had really wanted this one but hadn’t been able to find a copy.  It took him a couple of trips to strike lucky which made it mean even more to me.  It’s taken me a while to read because it is a beautiful hardback.  As I mostly read at the beach, by the pool or in the bath there hasn’t been a lot of time to read a book that I don’t want to be ruined.  However after a few nights going to bed early and spending time reading it i have now finished it!

This really is a lovely book and extremely well written, Jocelyn wrote the book with Leila Warren who writes a terrific introduction.  Reading her story you get an insight into life in Britain during WW2 and you see the growth of the GCC and UAE.  Jocelyn Henderson and her husband lived quite a life.  They were posted to Jerusalem, Bahrain and Qatar before the move to Abu Dhabi.  I knew shamefully little about these nations before reading this and found it really interesting to learn more, not just about the history but what life was like there.  Reading this gives you a vivid picture of life in all these different countries and also shows how times have changed in each.

The main part of the book focusses on their life in Abu Dhabi.  Jocelyn still lives in Abu Dhabi and is something of an institution.  When her husband passed away she was granted permission to stay in Abu Dhabi, this is most unusual for the region. On the release of her book  an afternoon tea was held at the British embassy, such is her sway in the region.

It is incredible to read about old Abu Dhabi, having recently visited the new Yas Mall which is gorgeous and very modern (there is even an IKEA next door) it is hard to imagine the city without paved roads!

I also found it fascinating to learn about how times have changed in the diplomatic corps.  Having spent a lot of time in that world it’s interesting to see that some things have changed, while others stay resolutely the same. For instance Jocelyn said in an interview about being ‘representative’, “What they were really asking was, ‘is it OK to let her loose in public?’ Does she use her knife and fork properly? Does she know how to behave?’ And if the answer was negative, this spelt the death knell for her husband’s career.” This is still the case for diplomatic couples in my opinion!

As well as her life post marrying Edward, Jocelyn had a fascinating early life in the UK. She worked as the secretary to Sarah Churchill, the third child of Winston Churchill and also worked in the film industry!  So this isn’t just a book about a ‘wife’ as such, more the story of a formidable woman.

To be honest from start to finish this in an enchanting book about a fascinating woman who lived life to the fullest.  She has experienced a country growing and makes the story of that growth engaging.

If you can find a copy I urge you to buy it and read this!