Healthy As F*ck – Oonagh Duncan

healthy as f cover

“Have you ever heard of gluten? … I bet you can name three people off the top of your head who would rather eat nuclear waste than gluten.”

Let’s cut to the chase: in a world with no shortage of advice on healthy living and every faddy diet under the sun, this is *the* best book on the topic I think I’ll ever read! It’s no-bull common sense, written clearly and with a great deal of humour – and, as the title may give away, a lot of swearing. As long as you don’t have an issue with the latter, then this book is genuinely the only one you really need to read on the topic.

I absolutely love the dismissal of any and all faddy diets. The industry does not work, people, or we wouldn’t be growing grossly fatter as a population! And yes, the slant is a little more towards weight loss, but I actually picked this up looking for all-round healthy living ideas – and that’s exactly what the book is aiming at.

Why do you want to lose weight, the author asks? To be skinny? Why? To be fitter, healthier? Why? What do you imagine you’ll feel like when you hit that ‘magical’ number on the scales? Oh, happy. Well, why don’t we just start there – why not look at how to be happy first, because odds on it will make the weight loss stuff easier. Nothing good comes from a place of self-loathing. And before you think otherwise, the difference is made clear between long-term ‘happy’ and short-term pleasure e.g. eating more doughnuts.

There’s a great deal of joy in the no-nonsense approach. Part one is titled “Get your head out of your ass.” It is so true that we get to choose the balance of effort we’re willing to make, for the result we want to get. In other words, six-pack toting supermodel is a nice dream, but be realistic: do you *really* want to put in that much effort – because you’d have to rejig your entire lifestyle. And on the flip side, if you’re unwilling to stop buying and scoffing family-sized packs of biscuits, there’s no point in bemoaning the layer of blubber.

Duncan pushes for the approach of setting up healthy habits that become second-nature, thus removing all the aggro and wasted mental space of ‘dieting’. It’s a good follow on from previous reads I’ve enjoyed, such as Tiny Habits. She also tells us to avoid the ‘perfectionism’ trap, and just work on slow and steady improvements.

I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who’s remotely interesting in improving their lifestyle, including but not just losing weight. It’s such a tonic from all of the ridiculous fads – keto, or gluten free, or whatever is this month’s marketing trick – and I love the simplicity of it. The focus is psychological, and yes, eating more vegetables. But this is the first time I’ve read a book like this and gone ‘yes!’ rather than ‘hmm (I wish that kind of nonsense worked/wasn’t more harm than good in the long term)’.

NetGalley eARC: 272 pages / 10 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 20th March – 5th April 2020

My rating: 9.5/10

Graze – Paul Dowling

graze cover

The concept of ‘grazing’ – eating the same calories, but spread throughout the day as more, smaller meals – seems a little less faddy than some other diet plans. I can see the point the author is making about blood sugar levels and metabolism, although am slightly dubious about the science of whether this is the best thing or not, given our ancestors probably ate one huge meal when the hunt was good, and a lot less at other times.

The bulk of the book is recipes, grouped by suggested time of day for eating. There’s a nice mix, and several looked very appealing as light meals whether you’re following the plan or not. I did have to take a moment to remember that this isn’t your classic diet plan, as there is plenty of butter and other less ‘diety’ foods! Tonally, it hits the sweet spot: not at all condescending, but with a few extra hints for those who aren’t already chefs. It’s a shame there were no photos, though.

While the idea is presented well enough, I’d rather have seen a lot more information about the practicalities of all this. It’s probably all going to work fine while we’re all working from home and have time to prep and cook extra meals (there’s a throwaway line about preparing ahead, but I think this could have been explored more), but I suspect the sheer amount of work would put most people off – this could have been overtly addressed and made for a more compelling book.

Overall: interesting, and some appealing recipes, but just scratches the surface of an idea I think needs more exploration to tempt me.

NetGalley eARC: 165 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read: April 2020

My rating: 5/10

Locke and Key (season 1)

locke and key poster

When their father is murdered, the three Locke siblings and their mother move back to his childhood home. For some mysterious reason, he’d never taken them to see their ancestral seat, but lost and grieving, the family grab at the chance to learn anything about him. And Keyhouse – the family obviously enjoying a pun or two – is a huge and intriguing place.

Oh yes, and it’s also hiding literal keys – magical keys that unlock various amazing powers. But the Lockes can’t just enjoy their new lives: someone – or something – wants those keys.

With everyone looking for more at-home entertainment in these lockdown days, if you’ve not tried this already I recommend giving it a go. I was curious; it sounded just my thing, but I worried about the ‘fantasy horror’ tag being heavy on the latter, and more about the main cast being teenagers and younger. Fears soon dispelled, though: it’s spooky rather than horrific, and the cast are all nice and un-annoying.

I’m very glad, as the story is well worth a look-see. Mysteries abound, about the house, about Mr Locke’s death, about the last time a group of Locke children experimented with the keys’ powers. Then there’s the sinister baddy, after the keys for their own nefarious purposes. It’s all drawn together to provide a massive ‘keep-watching’ reason.

Based on a comic book, there’s something quite computer game-y in the way the keys are hidden within other objects. Their various powers give rise to some pretty amazing visuals, too.

Recommended binge watching, and I’m delighted that there’s another series coming – even though we get a great ending, there’s so much more to explore.

First broadcast: January 2020 (Netflix UK)
Series: 1, with another announced
Episodes: 10 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 8/10

The Last Emperox – John Scalzi

last emperox cover

“The funny thing was, Ghreni Nohamapetan, the acting Duke of End, actually saw the surface-to-air missile that slammed into his aircar a second before it hit.”

Well, that was a rollercoaster ride – I *loved* it! 🙂

The first book of the Interdependency, The Collapsing Empire, was one of my best NetGalley ‘finds’. It surprised and delighted me, and I’ve been looking forward to continuing to the end of the trilogy while at the same time a bit sad that it’s over.

Usual warning – if you haven’t read the first two books, put this review down and go start at the beginning before talking about the third book gives earlier plot spoilers!

The full scale of the catastrophe of the collapsing flows is now a reality for Emperox Grayland II, but her attempts to save billions of lives is distracted by repeated assassination attempts. Can she best the scheming Nadashe Nohamapetan? Can science beat the end of this amazing civilisation spread across galaxies of space habitats?

Really, it was just a joy to be back in this universe and catching up with all the characters, but with the added bonus of bringing all those threads of story together. I loved the character arcs for Cardenia, and was delighted that Kiva – my favourite foulmouthed hedonist – got a bigger part again after being very slightly sidelined in book 2. And it’s fabulous to see morally corrupt characters that aren’t just pantomime baddies – but I’ll leave it to the reader to find out if any of them get their just comeuppance! 😉

Alongside the fun, though, I did think there was something quite timely about this book. Collapse of civilisation, you say? Characters willing to see billions die as long as they can still turn a profit? I mean… ouch o.O

This was just the perfect end to a brilliant series. There is SO much fun, but also a lot of heart – I dare you not to be ‘hit in the feels’ by at least one part. Very recommended – as long as you can cope with the swearing 😉

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 24 chapters
First published: 16th April 2020
Series: Interdependency book 3
Read from 26th March – 5th April 2020

My rating: 9/10 – being miserly with that last point, as feel like I could have spent another trilogy in this world, exploring!

Learn to Sleep Well – Chris Idzikowski

learn to sleep well cover

“Insomnia is one of the most common sleep complaints, chronically affecting between five and ten percent of Americans.”

If there’s one thing that would help my – and most of our! – health more than anything, it’d be improving the quality of my sleep. I struggle to nod off, wake early, and am generally just too ‘busy-minded’ to relax. So, any advice from a book like this would surely be of help.

Alas, this is not that book. It is filled with advice, but to be honest it came across as irritating pseudoscience – picking and choosing random bits of ‘research’ to support what they want to say, no real referencing. It’s fine as conversation, not as ‘information’. And oy, the waffle! For instance – why do we sleep less as we age? There are a dozen ‘maybes’ presented as if by some kind of expert. I hate this kind of thing!

It’s not all bad. For a start, the art work is rather lovely – this is a coffee table book, with sleep as the theme. And later chapters are much more readable, losing the cod-science and simply reporting on folk remedies and cultural approaches: things like feng shui, meditation, hot baths. All good folksy things to try, they might or might not help but shouldn’t hurt, and I have no problem with any of this – just the tone at the beginning.

The section on sleep disorders, however, brings me back to: you are not the kind of authority I think I should be taking advice from on more serious issues. And that’s kind of my problem with the book.

So. Looks good. Has gathered a pile of topics around sleep. Shouldn’t be taken as any kind of authoritative text, despite the early tone.

NetGalley eARC: 160 pages / 6 sections
First published: March 2020
Series: none
Read from 2nd-30th March 2020

My rating: 4/10

The Witcher (season 1)

witcher poster

Welcome to a dark fantasy world of monsters and magic. Witchers, genetically modified  hunters of said monsters, are a dying breed. Here we follow some of the adventures of the legendary Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), also known as the White Wolf and the Butcher of Blaviken – we’ll find out why in an early episode.

I knew very little about this going in, never having played the hugely successful games or read the books. I did buy the written series on offer last year, but struggled to get into it – I thought it might help to read before viewing, but actually the visuals helped me get into the first novel (The Last Wish) more easily.

The visuals really are great. Production quality is high, the action is very well done, and the actors are good. Cavill in particular (a big fan of the games, apparently) gives a gruff menace that is still oddly accessible – there’s something relatable in his general responses of either “Hmm” or “F-” and very little in between! His almost unwilling friendship with Jaskier (Joey Batey) – which is translated to ‘Dandelion’ in the books, but left as is in the TV show – is fun, if underplayed compared to the first book.

A parallel thread tells us about Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), a hunchback sold into service with a group of sorceresses. I think her story could have done with a bit more time and background, but then probably so could the rest of the series.

If there’s any complain from me it’s that the story telling is a bit muddled. I don’t just mean the two or more timelines – not made particularly clear, especially as several characters don’t age – but which actually get enough little hints as to be quite ‘cool’. Having now read the first book I can see that they’re trying to half-mimic the short story, incidents in a life retold kind of approach, but it doesn’t quite work as well as I think they’d’ve liked. Motivations seem muddy at times, and several changes from the books (why Geralt was fishing, for an obscure non-spoilery example) don’t really seem to add much. I’m not sure things come together enough in the end to make the format wholly work, instead leaving me with a sense of “Well, what story were you actually trying to tell?”

Still. It was very watchable and enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the second season – although given production has had to be halted due to the Covid-19 woes, it might be a while before we can next ‘Toss a coin to (our) Witcher…’ 🙂

First broadcast: December 2019
Series: 1 (with a second in production)
Episodes: 8 @ ~60 mins each

My rating: 8/10

Teen Writer’s Guide – Jennifer Jenkins

teen writers guide cover

Your road map to writing.

I know, I know – I haven’t been a teenager for rather a long time. But when it comes to writing advice, there’s a lot to be said about this kind of straightforward, no-nonsense approach. I might have double the years, but I got a lot from this.

Interspersed with lots of samples of her own writing, used to illustrate the topics, Jennifer Jenkins takes us on a trip from the idea stage to publishing, via characterisation, tension, world building, and more.

None of the advice is exactly ‘new’ or startling, but it’s very well presented. I particularly liked the chapter on dialogue – not just the nuts and bolts (e.g. where punctuation goes) but so many useful examples on mixing speech and action. I’ve been reading writing advice for a long time now, but this might be the best ‘show don’t tell’ guide I’ve stumbled across!

Kudos to the author for presenting the writing journey with as much humour and encouragement as well as useful tips. The target audience doesn’t mean it’s dumbed down, just missing a lot of superfluous waffle – I think a lot of adult wannabe writers will get just as much from this as kids!

NetGalley eARC: 143 pages / 10 chapters
First published: 24th March 2020
Series: none
Read from 2nd-22nd March 2020

My rating: 8/10