Richard Tyler was once a performer in musical theatre and that shows in the writing style, which tends to the theatrical quite a lot of the time (he uRichard Tyler was once a performer in musical theatre and that shows in the writing style, which tends to the theatrical quite a lot of the time (he uses lots of exclamation marks!). Occasionally it veers off the stylistic deep end and reads as though Alan Carr dictated it - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, certainly not a problem as such, it made for a refreshing change from the usual earnest, self-helpy guru-style – it’s just something to be aware of. The content is, overall, very good, very anecdotal (hence memorable). Not all of it applied to me and my life, but much of it did and while I wouldn’t say I got too much of a jolt out of it – there’s nothing much here I haven’t already heard/read before – it did make me THINK, which is, after all, the point. The main advantage ‘Jolt’ has over other self-help books (I’m a fan of Paul McKenna myself) is that it is much more easily readable and digestible. There’s a freshness and clarity to the way the author delivers his message. Advice and philosophy are broken down into small pieces, each with a catchy codeword to help you remember. I liked the clean layout and the way points come one on another, repeating without repetition, building to each ‘jolt’ point, with a list of questions designed to make you think about what you’re reading and apply it to your own situation and circumstances. As a non-workplace worker, I found the performance-oriented chapters most interesting: chapters where you’ll find concepts like, ‘veer from the routine and get wonky’, and ‘become the chief of possibility’ - -entertaining and genuinely instructive; there are great ideas here. I found the chapter, ‘make your audience matter’, very inspirational. In short, this is not a truly groundbreaking work but it’s a very good addition to the canon and certainly very well worth a read; especially useful if you’re in an office environment or running a small business and in need of some real fresh thinking. ...more
Surprisingly inspirational - it certainly got ideas flowing for me (17 notebook pages so far on a business idea I'm working on). The 'flip it' conceptSurprisingly inspirational - it certainly got ideas flowing for me (17 notebook pages so far on a business idea I'm working on). The 'flip it' concept isn't especially new and it builds on many well-worn positive thinking models, but it's nicely done here and it certainly got me thinking. The core idea gets a bit lost sometimes too, becoming a more generalised positive thinking tome. I found the chapter on relationships a little patronising - that's probably just me. For the most part, though there's nothing especially new here, the presentation is fresh. It's certainly helped me distil what had been some nebulous thinking into usable thoughts. It's been very useful to me and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone whose thinking is stuck in a rut and anyone whose day to day need a bit of a fillip. ...more
This is a truly terrific vegan recipe book that truly embraces the new veganism – too many older-style recipe books listing endless minor variants ofThis is a truly terrific vegan recipe book that truly embraces the new veganism – too many older-style recipe books listing endless minor variants of what is basically the same thing, over and over and over. The only downside of the recipes is that it seems to have missed – presumably by a whisker – the aquafaba explosion (using the water beans were cooked in/ the ‘juice’ from a can of beans to replace eggs) which is currently revolutionising vegan cookery. No doubt aquafaba recipes will appear in a new edition, or probably a book of their own at some future date (really looking forward to that if you're reading this Kerstin!)
All the food is wonderful. Whether you're vegan or not, there’s masses of delectable goodies, terrific creativity and lots of new ideas and like every great cookbook of any stamp, it's all beautifully photographed. Of course, your own efforts are never going to look like the dishes in the book but they’ll taste every bit as good. Excitingly, it uses a ton of new ingredients too - lots of stuff that was new to me (macademia dukkah? Togarashi?). Once upon a time you had to trek many miles to source exotic ingredients. In my macrobiotic day tha’ knoes, you had to go all the way up to that there London to find seaweeds, tahini, buckwheat and the illusive, near mythical umemboshi plum. The exotica you’ll need to find for these recipes (so nicely illustrated almost on page one) can all be got online now, and at bargain prices too. Such things as smoke powder and coriander, garlic lemon powder have revolutionised cookery whether you’re vegan or not.
Favourite recipes? I’ve only had time to try a couple – the deliciously smooth and complexly-flavoured edamame soup and the yellow pepper walnut dip, both of which were amazing. I love the idea of the ramen hacks, definitely going to try a few of those when I’ve been shopping for instant noodles and I’m dying to try the black and green cheesecake. What a showstopper; that’s definitely next on my list.
If only the design was as good as the contents. I’m afraid I really hated the ghastly, 'Sniffin’ Glue', cut n’ paste, fanzine style. I understand and appreciate why it was done this way – getting away from the usual hessian sackcloth earthchild look anything vegan tends to favour. I appreciate it wanted to look a little more hipster/street, but this particular design really disagreed with me (and made it harder to read than it needed to be) – so much so I’ve knocked off a star because of it. A pity because the book itself is very, very, very good....more
Was the horror of the concentration camps in the very air they breathed?... It's as if the memory of war has wounded them. Hurt their hearts, their miWas the horror of the concentration camps in the very air they breathed?... It's as if the memory of war has wounded them. Hurt their hearts, their minds. Their spirits.' Short and far from sweet, 'The Seeing' is a sparse, terse tail of how the war has damaged the minds of three children, though two were only babies when it ended and one born years later. Set in a small seaside town in 1956: World War 2 has been over for eleven years but its legacy lingers in returning soldiers -fathers and brothers and boyfriends, and the bomb sites and bombed out buildings found in every town even decades after the war ended. Air raid shelters are still around, ideal dens for kids to play in and the legacy, the memory of the war is everywhere: in comics, at the cinema, in the stories told by parents and older siblings, in the tales told of fathers who did not return. The war has painted a peculiarly intense mural in Natalie’s head. Her father died at Colditz – she says (but did he? It seems rather romantic; it feels like something made up. I suspect Natalie’s father had used the war to do a runner from his harridan wife). Natalie’s mother is a prostitute (another legacy of the war, perhaps). Natalie’s home-life is squalid, there is never any food or comfort there. Natalie hates the ‘uncles’ who hammer on her door and tell her ‘she’s next’. She wraps herself in a secret fantasy life, draping the room she shares with her brother with blankets and rags like something from an Ali-Baba tale. She hides in the excitement of her mind-damaged brother Philip’s visions and trances. Philip screams when he ‘sees’ left-over Nazis, 'the swastikas on their hearts'. It gives Natalie’s life purpose - to root the secret Nazi’s out, because 'how can evil just stop?'. The tragedy plays out in the voices of the children and Hugo, an artist, friend of Philip and Lizzie, but the main voice is Lizzie’s. Lizzie still feels the war too, but in a very different way from Natalie. Lizzie’s home is comfortably suburban; money and food are abundant, the carpets are deep, the curtains thick velvet, and all cloaked in a stifling bourgeois respectability that Lizzie craves escape from. Lizzie’s mother is Jewish; Lizzie is well aware that if the Germans had won the war, they would have been packed off to the concentration camp but she still hates the peace and yearns for the excitement of wartime. Both girls are looking or escape, for excitement, and when Natalie arrives at Lizzie’s school, ‘like the wild west wind of Shelley’s poem’, Lizzie is thrilled when she is chosen by the glamorous outsider as her special friend, 'kindred spirits forever'. Together, the girls and Philip embark on a summer of driving out the left-over Nazis – until it all goes inevitably wrong… And this is where the book begins to show that it is meant as a children’s book (something I didn’t know when I picked it up, fortunately – I would never have read it if I had realised that) because the trajectory of the tale becomes suddenly very predictable; everything is telegraphed in Philip’s visions and Natalie’s musings. I knew exactly where it was going to go and how it was going to end, but the interest is all in the telling. The journey into the heads of these bored child-adolescents is perfectly done. What they do, how they think, how they build excitement from the mesh of reality and fantasy, making their stories real – it was very much like what I and my tight band of friends used to do when we went hunting for ghosts in old buildings and the graves of missing children on half-wooded demolition sites. Though less extreme and far less cruel than what Natalie and Lizzie get up to, the essence of those long, hot childhood summers in the days before daytime TV, when children were meant to spend their days outdoors, felt incredibly real, perfectly pitched and told in refreshingly few words. ...more
‘The very scale of AgroBOT’s impending collapse means that it cannot be allowed to happen. Thanks to his expansions, we are so big now that if we go d‘The very scale of AgroBOT’s impending collapse means that it cannot be allowed to happen. Thanks to his expansions, we are so big now that if we go down, an untold number of trading partners and counterparts will be pulled down with us, bringing the entire global banking system grinding to a halt. In a matter of hours, money will stop coming out of ATMs. In two or three days there will be no food left on the supermarket shelves. By the end of the week, petrol will have run out, followed shortly by electricity. Within a month, the very fabric of civilization will have totally collapsed…’ Who’d have expected a tale about a French banker working at an Irish investment bank to be so brilliantly funny – and so surprising? Clever too: the plot twists and turns like a twisty turny thing; at no point does the story end up where you think it’s going to. Everything surprised – and delighted – in equal measure with interesting, exciting things to say - about banking of course, but also art and literature, the nature of time, the fragility of culture. ‘look down,’ Ariadne says, after showing Paul a beautiful piece of art; emaciated figures, a memorial to the victims of the potato famine. …although the figures themselves are anonymous, names have been printed on the stylized bronze cobblestones beneath their bare feet – names of companies, names of banks, names of individuals: the corporate and private sponsors who paid for the work. Multinationals, meat processors, politicians, businessmen, a society hostess, a disgraced prime minister… 'So,' Ariadne asks, ‘who does this artwork want you to remember?’ Mark and the Void is very long, unexpectedly long – 544 pages - but that’s never a problem because it’s constantly changing, consistently witty and always unpredictable. And amidst all the humour, a series of dismal lessons exactly why certain bankers seem to have got away with murdering the economy and why some banks are too big to be allowed to fail. Outrageous, horrifying and very, very funny. ...more
The story of a marriage told in two halves. Lotto, the husband’s tale comes first; his perspective covers the first half of the story. Then Mathilde,The story of a marriage told in two halves. Lotto, the husband’s tale comes first; his perspective covers the first half of the story. Then Mathilde, the wife, takes over in the second part – which is when it gets really interesting. Lotto’s story is a smooth, enjoyable read; you think you know exactly what’s happening then Lauren Groff twists it all about and turns it on its head with Mathilde’s story, her side of the tale. From the moment the narrative switches voices, everything changes; everything becomes suddenly warped, complex, ambivalent. For all his early tragedy and artistic bent, Lotto is a straightforward, uncomplicated character – certainly when set beside Mathilde, who keeps herself so contained; there’s no hint of the person she truly is in the telling of his life. From the moment she began to speak, like turning on the light, everything suddenly looks different. Every page turned reveals some new piece of information, a shift in perception that changes everything that came before.
This is masterly story telling. It’s not the most immediately engaging story – it’s not the sort of thing I would regularly pick up to read – and is rather too long, but I’m glad I stepped out of my regular reading box and gave it a go; it completely repaid the time it demands. ...more
This is Scarlett Thomas’ best novel yet. The Seed Collectors is compulsively readable, tremendously enjoyable, a more natural read than her previous wThis is Scarlett Thomas’ best novel yet. The Seed Collectors is compulsively readable, tremendously enjoyable, a more natural read than her previous works. The mystical-physics meshes more naturally with life as we know it than in her previous novels. The quantum, the mystical, the magical is still there, in the forms of a rare, deadly poisonous seed pod that brings instant enlightenment and/or death, even to birds, a strange book that changes to fit the circumstances of whoever is reading it, a little bit of time physics and even a dash of the Law of Attraction – but this time she has woven it all into a tale of dysfunctional families linked by blood and botany, their obsessions and passions and everyday madness. There’s alcoholism, anorexia, all manner of mania with food and plants, sex, shopping, tennis. These are real lives in a believable landscape, populated with pretty horrible people - people for whom an hour’s wait for a ferry with no mobile signal is an insurmountable disaster – but real people, people we all know. The tears of the enlightened made me think a little bit of Vince Noir and the tears of Robert Smith; it made me giggle a bit, but there is a lot of humour here. I especially enjoyed poor overweight Bryony, on being told she needs to eat more carbs, brown rice and wholewheat pasta, to lose weight, rushing out to buy a large bar of milk chocolate, a six-pack of jam doughnuts, a family bag of crisps – and some wholewheat pasta. Scarlett Thomas still has a wonderful descriptive power – if nothing else, read The Seed Collectors for the gorgeous writing. 'The doorway to Fleur’s cottage smells of lapsang souchong, black cardamom and roses, which is a bit how Fleur herself smells, although with Fleur there are layers and layers of scents, each one more rare and strange than the last...' 'He frightens her, with his slightly cold eyes and the new flashes of silver electrifying his hair and his stubble… they both still go to their hairdresser in Shoreditch who gives them jagged, asymmetrical cuts that somehow emphasise their wisdom , rather than age.' '…he finally knows what real love is. He has left his body behind but calls on his lips, or the great lips of the universe, for just this one final kiss. Who with? Time moves so oddly in this barely-there place with its clocks faintly ticking…' ...more
The plot – the tale of a young boy swept up in the events of the English Civil War, who joins the roundhead army, all told from the memory of a very oThe plot – the tale of a young boy swept up in the events of the English Civil War, who joins the roundhead army, all told from the memory of a very old man – is fair enough though it failed to engage me. The plot is all and description is kept very much to a minimum as the lad fights and eats and wenches his way through war-torn England – unless we are speaking of battles and weapons, when the description becomes interminable; 4 whole kindle pages at one point, on the workings of a new pistol, the advantages of rifling and how to fire said pistol. This happens a lot. If you’re fascinated by battle formations and weapons technology, there is tons to interest you. If you prefer a good plot driven by fine characterisation, this is not the book for you. All the characters – even the protagonist - are sketchy at best; no one felt like a fully-rounded human being, many are borderline caricature. In short, this book really didn’t do it for me. I was bored throughout and only forced myself to struggle to the end because I’d committed myself to review it. It's nt one I feel I can recommend I'm afraid. Basically, this is a boy's book - I'm not normally one to characterise a book as gender,-specific but that really is how I felt as I slowly ploughed my way through. Too much emphasis on battles and weapons and endless tedious detail (and footnotes, endless footnotes) and nothing like enough on building engaging characters and an interesting plot...more
I’m just a little over halfway through this book and I’m afraid I just can’t finish it. The book is in four parts; each concerns a different character.I’m just a little over halfway through this book and I’m afraid I just can’t finish it. The book is in four parts; each concerns a different character. The first is Portia Kane. Portia is such a ridiculous, badly-drawn and tedious character. I struggled through her story (the high school flashback is particularly slow, drawn-out and tiresome) and began skimming when Portia’s old school friend, her nauseatingly cutesy and precocious child and gauche brother Chuck entered the tale and the cloying sweetness and sticky sentimentality made me gag. The story then moves on to Nate Vernon, Portia’s old high school English teacher. This was a pleasing change of pace at first, but quickly became boring and then the dog… Well. It all hit a tree for me at that point. I battled on through Sister Maeve Smith which was almost as dreary as Nate’s bit. I skimmed through the start of Chuck Bass but couldn’t see anything that inspired me to carry on wading through to the end so I gave it up. I rarely review a book I haven’t finished, I always do try to finish, but I honestly haven’t the fortitude for a whole 400 pages of stuff like this. It’s such a disappointment. I absolutely adored Matthew Quick’s first novel The Silver Lining’s Playbook (hated the film, but that’s another story). I was excited when I was offered a review copy of The Good Luck of Right Now, but that was dreadfully dull. Now I’m disappointed again. I think I’m going to have to give up reading Matthew Quick. I normally give any book I found impossible to finish one star. I’ll give this two – it’s not entirely without merit, it’s not totally egregious, it’s just too sentimental, too slow, too contrived and too boring for me. ...more
A compelling and absorbing tale of a woman's slow absorption into an isolated religious cult and her daughter's lonely, internal, un-realised rebellioA compelling and absorbing tale of a woman's slow absorption into an isolated religious cult and her daughter's lonely, internal, un-realised rebellion against her mother, the cult, and its charismatic, egoistic leader, the sinister Nathaniel. The story begins with twenty-two year old Judith's prison visits to her all-too normal mother. They discuss the films they have seen, birthdays, domestic details. They never talk about why Judith's mum is in prison, about The Ark and the rapid descent into madness, bloodshed and violence. When her mum says 'see you next month', Judith replies 'of course'. She has been coming for eight years. She might fantasise about never coming again, leaving the past behind - and the alcohol, and the numbing drugs - and making a new life for herself, but somehow never seems able to take that step. The narrative then takes us back in time. Judith is about thirteen, her single-mother Stephanie is working in a cafe when she first meets Nathaniel. Nathaniel seems to be the object of every woman's fancy, though Judith can never quite see his allure, how he maintains his hold on others. She never feels the dark charisma that has persuaded a group of intelligent adults to throw up their lives and give everything - including their bodies and wombs in the case of the females - to Nathaniel. There are children too, all born in the cult, none have ever left The Ark's three wind-battered buildings on the moors. Some of these children are Nathaniel's and now Nathaniel wants more. Judith hates The Ark. All she wants to do is leave. Her only friend there is Moses, a boy spurned by the other children because his face is stained with a birthmark: the mark of the devil. The cult itself is something of a mystery and probably the weakest part of the tale. How does one man exert such glamour he is able to rule a band of intelligent adults so effectively and completely? Nathaniel is a little like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Charles Manson - men who exert absolute control through force of personality. It's a difficult concept, hard to understand for anyone who has not experienced it (and so few who have ever live to tell their tale). It's very hard to convey in a novel - I don't think I've ever seen it done entirely convincingly, but this almost works. I almost believed in Nathaniel. Written in a sparse, dry, gripping style, Rebecca Wait's story burns slowly but is never less than utterly compelling as it reaches its appalling conclusion and fallout - which surprised me; I thought I had it figured out and I was wrong. Start to finish, I was riveted. ...more
This is a tale of two very different women living in two very different societies. In East London, successful businesswoman Shyama has fallen for a yoThis is a tale of two very different women living in two very different societies. In East London, successful businesswoman Shyama has fallen for a younger man. They want a child but she is now too old. In India, surrogacy is a booming business with life-changing payments for village women with few, if any other prospect of bettering themselves. It's a very engaging fiction about the lives of women and the essential vileness of men - at least that's the central message I came away with. Very few males (it's mainly the fathers) possess much honesty, decency or kindness. Almost all the younger specimens, even the best of them, are cheats and liars. The worst are rapists, even murderers. Few seem to have much genuine respect for women. It's not entirely one-sided, plenty of the women are hard to like too. I grew to loathe the surrogate Mala with her calculated, self-conscious 'simple village ways' and ingratiating grace. She is a remarkably cleverly-constructed character. All of her motives and actions are so well hidden. I was sorry for her at first, as I was meant to be. Such an intelligent, ambitious girl marooned by birth in a prison of arranged marriage and traditional values and expectations, trapped in a rural village with no hope of escape from a future of hard work, exploitation and childbearing. But almost from the start - from the moment Shyama takes her to the Mall - she proves herself an adept little schemer. I am certain she had everything planned from the moment she set her husband up as a wife-beater. Calculating, manipulative and utterly Machiavellian, I disliked her intensely. By contrast, she made the protagonist Shyama (the obvious cipher for the author) even more likeable than she was clearly intended to be. The House of Hidden Mothers is too long; terribly over written in parts, with long, unnecessary digressions into Indian politics and the immigrant experience. It is also predictable - it was very apparent to me what would transpire in almost every storyline, especially the last and the biggest. But - despite all that - it was always very readable, always entertaining; I always wanted to know what was about to occur, even though I had already guessed. All the characters - even the least of them - are memorable and very well drawn. I particularly enjoyed Shyama's beauty-salon colleagues and patrons, and scheming, devious Uncle Yogi and snobbish Auntie Neelum. Tara's a bit of a pill, but teenagers usually are and she was perfectly portrayed. So much of the story is told by conjecture; little is laid out in black and white. Syal tends to skirt over points of plot and leave much to the imagination. It's an original way to tell a tale and one I enjoyed, having to read between the lines and think about it it. And - perhaps surprisingly, considering the author is best known for her comedy - this is not a light or easy read. Dark themes abound, there are some very nasty characters and the end is no comfort. It left me more than a little bit angry and with an aching sadness that there are no truly happy endings or tidy conclusions. ...more
Did Alice fall or was she pushed? Is this an investigation into a murder, a suicide, or just the sad tale of a lost girl losing her life in a tragic aDid Alice fall or was she pushed? Is this an investigation into a murder, a suicide, or just the sad tale of a lost girl losing her life in a tragic accident? This is a mystery novel and a character study. It's a very clever book. The clues are all there but unless you are exceptionally brilliant at this stuff, you have to be very much on the alert - or go back and re-read much of it - to see them because the telling of this tale is entirely non-sequential, apparently random, as if each piece of the story is a sheet in a pile of papers that's been blown into the air then gathered up and dumped back on the desk with no concern for order. It makes it a confusing tale to say the least, and very disjointed. I'm still not entirely certain what the reasoning was behind this total randomness, other than to obfuscate and fog the outcome. It works, in that it is extremely hard to sift the clues and weigh-up the characters when all the chapters of Alice's short life come entirely out of order. I gave up trying quite early on. I was too absorbed in the character-study part of the story of Alice and the people around her, especially Dr Jeremy Cook, Alice's former tutor, who is - ostensibly - writing a book of her life using every scrap of information Alice left behind - on twitter, Facebook, emails, texts, photos, diaries, remembrance, her work, as an investigative journalist (was an angry former target following her, watching Alice, with malice?). I was never less than completely absorbed in Alice's life - and that of the sleazy Dr Cook and his rather unhealthy personal interest in his subject. But none of the characters are particularly appealing. Cook is far from the worst of them. I found Alice herself very hard to like. She is flawed - real, I suppose some would say - but I found her annoyingly self-righteous and whiny. A girl gifted with many advantages that she blows. A drunk. A self-promoting mess. All in all, an absorbing and engaging tale; a quick read, but not an easy one - there's far too much darkness at its heart to call it that. The end was satisfyingly surprising. I thought I had it all worked out and was pleased to see how very wrong I was. ...more
"In Japan we have a saying. If you want to see your life, you have to see it through the eyes of another. But what if what you see is not what you wan"In Japan we have a saying. If you want to see your life, you have to see it through the eyes of another. But what if what you see is not what you want to know" This is a beautifully written, intricate puzzle of a book. The clue, I think, is in the jigsaw puzzle - “Some pieces are small, others large, but all are calculated to deceive, to lead one astray, in order to make the puzzle as difficult, as challenging, as possible. In our tradition, how a puzzle is made, and how it is solved, reveals some greater truth about the world” - I'm sure it all fits together beautifully and suspect I missed at least as much as I followed. For me, the story was deeply intriguing at first but seemed to lose its way as it went on, becoming tangled in its own its own cleverness. I'm still not entirely sure what I was meant to take from the experience. I'm still not one hundred per cent on what precisely happened at certain points of the plot and ultimately - as the story grew ever more implausible and coincidental, drawing to a close that wasn't quite an end, and a far from satisfying non-conclusion - I was left thinking, well, so what? I really didn't think the story worked and I really wanted a stronger ending. But plot is not always everything and the writing is exceptional. Plucking memorable quotes from the pages - “The events of the day jostle in her head. They settle for a moment. Then, like a flock of birds at dusk, they take to the air, whirling round and round in the sky above her” “The streetlamps were lit. Rain still fell in a thin mist. The roads shone. To anybody else it would have been obvious – accidents hovered like hawks in the air” - The Japanese chapters were confusing but exquisite, languid and lacking impetus, but utterly sublime. I was less convinced by the Paris and North African pieces of the puzzle, and the jerky jump from the lyrical, slow and snowy Japanese chapters to the gasoline heat of Algiers or the - frankly tedious - Parisian passages, left me in a bit of a head-spin at times. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves beautiful writing for its own sake, especially Japanese literature: there is a definite and - I think conscious - effort to write like a Murakami or Yoshimoto. But don't bother if you're looking for a contemporary literary crime novel of the Scandinavian type - this is definitely not that. ...more
This is one of the hardest books I've ever had to review. Almost entirely devoid of plot, this is essentially the episodic navel gazing of a highly acThis is one of the hardest books I've ever had to review. Almost entirely devoid of plot, this is essentially the episodic navel gazing of a highly academic anthropologist now working for a company. Pretentious, theorising, self-obsessed and absolutely compelling. If you love literary fiction, you must read this and I can't begin to tell you why. It is a work of genius - and I don't know why, it just is. I was riveted from page one. Utterly absorbed. It would make a magnificent film: lots of internal voice, layered storytelling, surreal imagery - are you listening Richard Ayoade...? ...more