Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet: My low-carb, stay-happy way to lose weight – Tom Kerridge

As a TV chef I like Tom Kerridge.  He comes across as a normal, cheerful soul who enjoys life.  I also enjoy watching his cookery programme and think his food always looks like something you’d actually want to eat.

I’ve also been really impressed with how much weight he has lost, which is partly why we bought his diet book.

It’s probably important at this stage to point out that I see cookery books as reading matter rather than a book of recipes to try out.  I occasionally have a go but not very often; I once made a New Year resolution to cook from a recipe book at least once a month.  It lasted exactly 1 month!

I did have the best of intentions to actually try some of the recipes.  The problem is that some of the best sounding dishes were the omelettes…and my partner is allergic to eggs, which makes them a no-go area.  Even the smell of them makes him ill.

The other problem is that the recipes are quite chef-y – time consuming and requiring ingredients that aren’t commonly available to non-chefs living in a rural village unless you plan well In advance.

As a book I enjoyed reading about how Kerridge created his diet to work for him and his lifestyle.  I liked the creativity he used to make sure his taste buds were satisfied by what he was eating.

As a diet I liked the fact the author was visible proof that it worked. But as a diet it really doesn’t work for two people who travel quite a distance to work and can’t be bothered to do too much to prepare and cook an evening meal when they eventually arrive home.  Neither does it really work for two people who don’t have great culinary skills.

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Flesh and Blood – Patricia Cornwell

I’m sorry but this is going to be more a rant than a book review!  I used to really love the Kay Scarpetta books of Patricia Cornwell but really!  Just how many dead people can you bring back to life in one series!  And how unlucky can one person be to have all of these not quite dead people either in her life or after her life!

Each new book seems to have a storyline more preposterous than the last.  This series is getting silly and I just can’t be bothered to read any more to see if it gets back on track.

At the start of the series I thought Kay Scarpetta was a great central character.  She was portrayed as an intelligent, savvy woman with sharp instincts and skills.  She now appears to be a hopeless judge of character – my HR-focussed brain screams out that given the number of employees she’s had who turn out to be psychopaths this woman should never be allowed within 5 miles of a selection panel – and such a terrible person that half the population of the eastern seaboard are out to get her.

And, worst of all, it’s put me off re-reading the early books, which I enjoyed and were regular “comfort” reads.

Sorry, Ms Cornwell, but it’s time to retire Scarpetta before you become a laughing-stock as an author.

The Penguin Lessons – Tom Michell

A book bought on a whim simply because of the cute picture on the front.  And worth every penny!  I loved this book.

I should probably say that it is aimed at young adults so don’t expect anything too deep and meaty but it is a heart-warming, true story about a teacher who rescues a penguin from an oil-slicked beach.  Once he’s rescued the bird and cleaned it up he tries to return it the ocean but it just turns around and follows him back.

Eventually, Tom decides to try to smuggle the penguin across the border from Uruguay to the school in Buenos Aires where he is teaching.  When he gets back to the school everyone, pupils and staff alike, welcome the bird into the community.  Juan Salvador, as the penguin is named, becomes confidante, companion and confidence builder for the boys.  It is a story of how humans interact with other animals and how they respond to us.

This was the perfect book to read at the start of a new job; engaging, interesting, enough new things to learn but not too challenging.  I enjoyed it hugely, although I might have found it a bit lightweight had I read it with my brain not bent out of shape through learning my new job.

The bits of the book I didn’t enjoy relate to the beginning – I’m scared of dead birds so a description of Michell finding a beach full of them was, frankly, terrifying! – and another bit that I can’t reveal without spoiling the book for people who haven’t read it.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who is interested in animals, Gerald Durrell-type books and similar or anyone who wants a cosy book to curl up with.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

This isn’t the kind of book I would normally choose but something about it called to me from a charity shop bookshelf; probably the fact that it is about a bookshop!

Essentially, the plot revolves around a young man – Clay Jannon – stumbling into a night-shift job at the eponymous bookshop.  The bookshop is an old mysterious play with not many customers although those there are, are odd.

To amuse himself Clay designs a 3D computer model of the bookshop and unwittingly cracks a code.

The book then becomes more of a thriller than a book about a bookshop.

I enjoyed about 2/3 of this book.  Mr Penumbra, Clay and Clay’s random assortment of friends are quite engaging and I liked the way Clay pulled his network together to help solve the problems they faced.

I liked the descriptions of the bookshop as well.  It’s the kind of place I like to visit and I could almost smell that lovely, musty old book scent from the descriptions.

I didn’t like the last 1/3 of the book.  I felt it all got a bit silly and ridiculous.  It almost felt as though one person had written the first part, put it away for a decade or so and then either come back to finish it having evolved into a different person or got someone else to finish writing it.  I feel slightly cheated by it; I found the first parts absorbing and looked forward to picking my book up again only to hit loony tunes-ville in the last part.

Would I recommend this book?  Yes, but, a bit like A Suitable Boy, with reservations about the ending.

Salome – Oscar Wilde – Directed by Owen Horsley for RSC

I’m really not sure where to start writing this week’s blog.  My partner came out of the theatre saying he didn’t understand the point of Salome being played by a man.  My question was more fundamental; I didn’t get the point of the play!

I don’t think this is particularly a problem with the play.  I think it’s mostly about me and the fact that I’m emotionally knackered with other stuff going on in my life just now.  I just don’t think I had the capacity to engage with what was happening on the stage.

I think this was a useful reminder to me that whatever we watch, read or listen to there needs to be a level of emotional engagement with it for us to either “get it” or reject it.  Salome simply washed over me.

Thinking back over the production I recognise that the acting was good.  Matthew Pidgeon was good as Herod; drunk as a skunk and fascinated by his step-daughter in the early parts of the play and rapidly sobered by the horrific demands of the step-daughter for Iokanaan’s head.

Matthew Tennyson was interesting as Salome; an air of innocence on the cusp of adulthood ripening to thwarted, manipulative lust during the dance.

The words of the play are beautifully poetic and evocative.  At some point, when I can uncover the Complete Oscar Wilde book and a Bible from my piles of books, I’d like to go back to the sources and reflect on how Wilde draws from the Bible and how Owen Horsley draws on both for his production.

In the meantime, note to self; spend some time catching up with myself so next time I’m at the theatre I’m in the right frame of mind!

Click here to find out more about RSC production of Salome

Double for Murder – John Creasey

This review isn’t really about the novel but about John Creasey, a prolific author of 562 books!

I was first introduced to John Creasey (and his various pseudonyms) by my Dad when I was a young teenager.  I’d grown out of children’s books but wasn’t really ready for adult books and there was no such thing as young adult fiction in the mid-1970s.  I’d read every Agatha Christie I could lay my hands on, polished off all the Leslie Charteris the local library had in stock and was at a bit of a loose end.  The Baron and the Toff series came along at the exactly the right time and I have collected most of both series since that time.

The books were written between the late 1930s and late 1970s and are dated and sexist in a similar way to the Saint novels of Charteris.  Unlike Charteris, however, the women are not always damsels in distress in need of rescuing.  In fact John Mannering’s wife is a partner in a lot of the later stories.  Both The Toff and The Baron are similar in many ways to The Saint.  They use the skills of criminals to bring justice and retribution to people the Police can’t touch.  And they often work with a tame detective who had previously been trying to bring them down.

The books are short and perfect for those times when you want something to read that isn’t too taxing – they are a definite improvement on daytime TV when you’re slumped on the sofa feeling poorly!  But you don’t want to read too many of them in one sitting or you realise just how formulaic they are.

What interests me is just why The Saint books remain so popular when the John Creasey ones have fallen out of fashion?  They are no better written, no less formulaic and clichéd yet they seem to have endured.  My guess is it’s down to the lovely, late Roger Moore.

May be I should start a campaign to get some of the John Creasey’s reissued?

Click here to find out more about John Creasey

Look Who’s Back – Timur Vermes

This book starts in Berlin, 2011, with Adolf Hitler waking up on a patch of wasteland smelling vaguely of petrol but alive and well!

The rest of the book is about Hitler discovering modern Germany and the modern world; the “Internetwork”, getting onto a television and becoming a media celebrity.  The book is absurd and laugh out loud funny in places.

But it also has a serious point to make.  We fail to see the ridiculousness of parts of our western culture and this book hold a mirror up to show us some of these things.  For example, collagen implants in lips, merchandising blitz when something new and expected to be popular comes out and having a media friendly email address.

The book ends as Hitler is recovering in hospital having been beaten up by 2 neo-Nazi things who think he is poking fun at “the real Hitler” and all he stood for.

The book is written by a German journalist and was first published, in Germany in 2012.  It became an international best seller and was made into a Netflix film in 2016.

I think the problem with the book is – as you might have guessed from the straws I’m clutching at writing this review – although the book is a fun read there isn’t enough of real substance.  It’s difficult to find enough to write about without regurgitating the whole story.

I’d recommend it as a fun days reading.  It will make you giggle and you can then move on to something you can get your teeth into.

King John; treachery, tyranny and the road to Magna Carta – Marc Morris

Another not-quite-satisfying royal biography.  At least this one was more balanced, looking at all aspects of King John, in so far as they are known.

And this is the key problem with this particular book, at least for me.  King John is another medieval character about whom not that much is known.  This makes the book very definitely a political/public life biography.

I finished the book knowing a lot more about John’s political machinations and the instability throughout Europe during the lives of his parents (Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine), the reign of his brother (Richard II/Richard the Lionheart) and during his own reign.  This has helped to reinforce what I’ve learned from other reading and to see different viewpoints.

It was also good to see King John in a different way from the two-dimensional villain he is usually portrayed as in Robin Hood-type films and stories.

However, it is frustrating to not know more about John as a person and to learn hardly anything about Isabelle of Angouleme, his children with her and his numerous illegitimate children.  Who were they?  What happened to them? Who did they become?

Despite its shortcomings and frustrations though the book was definitely worth reading…if only for the fabulous quote of the chronicler Matthew Paris, almost a contemporary of john, who said:

“Foul as it is, hell itself is made fouler by the presence of King John”

A popular King then!!!!

Click here to find out about Magna Carta in Lincoln Castle

George and Marina, Duke and Duchess of Kent – Christopher Warwick

Another 99p Amazon Kindle bargain book.  It looked vaguely interesting and I was in need of something to read whilst away from home and having no access to my stash of real books waiting to be read!

This is a biography of Prince George, fourth son of King George V of Britain, and Princess Marina, Third daughter of Prince & Princess Nicholas of Greece.

The book looks separately at their childhoods and teenage years, looks at them as a couple during their married years and then follows Marina through her long widowhood up to her death in 1968.

The book was interesting in terms of finding out more about the spiderweb of royal relationships across Europe.  I also enjoyed finding out more about the British royal family and the fallout from the abdication crisis.

The biggest downside of the book is that it is very one-sided, very pro the Kents.  A classic example of this is that he paints a picture of Marina as an out-and-out snob and then describes her as the pinnacle of British/European royalty.  In my worldview snobs aren’t the pinnacle of anything!  He also skirts over George’s less socially acceptable behaviour and tries to portray the Duke and Duchess as the perfect couple.

In summary, I found this biography a hagiography.  I don’t recommend it, unless you like uncritical and unbalanced biographies of titled people.  And I certainly won’t be reading any more of Christopher Warwick’s books.

Drive; the surprising truth about what motivates us – Daniel Pink

You’ve probably noticed that despite my profession I don’t read very many self-help or personal development books.  This is generally because I don’t like the tone of them; I don’t appreciate being lectured whilst in the comfort of my own armchair nor do I want authors pushing their brand of religion at me.  However, several people I respect recommended this book to me so I thought I’d give it a go.

The first thing to say is that I have only read this book once and I think it is a book that requires reading more than once to pick up on the nuances and to join up the dots between sections and ideas.

The basic premise is that the carrot and stick “motivators” used in the workplace are irrelevant and unhelpful in the direction work is moving towards so we need to rethink.  Apparently we are moving from Motivation 2.0 operating system to Motivation 3.0!

The book looks at what M2.0 is, what the elements of M3.0 are and how to move from one to the other.  The key elements of M3.0 are autonomy, mastery and purpose, which link quite closely to what Harold Jarche talks about in his blog (which I highly recommend by the way).

Having read this book I now understand why my last workplace suited me better than the one that preceded it.  It also helped me to understand why I prefer to work in the way I do.

I think I now need to go back and re-read the book to understand it more deeply…and work out how I can use the ideas to make a difference

Click here to find out more about Harold Jarche

Click here to find out more about Daniel Pink