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

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

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

Simplify – Bob Hillary

simplify cover

“How to stay sane in a world going mad.”

This was such an utterly frustrating book. The premise sounded so appealing – get off the treadmill of modern life, find ways to make life, well, more simple. And there is a small amount of that here. Alas, there is also a huge amount of hippy, trippy talk (despite repeated assertions that “I know that sounds hippyish, but it’s not” – urm, are you sure?) that totally put me off. And I’d suggest that 90% of the book isn’t about making life simpler, but rather about becoming an ‘Earth Warrior’ and doing better by Gaia (insert eye rolling). There’s nothing wrong with that idea, but that is not what I picked this book up for.

Right from the word go I was having my doubts. The author seems to have had the kind of idyllic childhood not usually seen outside of Enid Blyton novels. So when he starts to extol the virtues of growing your own veg and going completely off grid, I think it has to come with a huge pinch of salt: it’s one thing reclaiming something you remember fondly from your youth, but I rather suspect your average townie would struggle a lot, lot more at the attempt. In fact, the idea that this is automatically ‘simple’ and happy-making is simply not true.

This ‘new way’ sounds much more like a very old way, and while there’s merit in that, it’s not what I’d hoped for from this book. This isn’t what I’d call advice on simplifying life so much as abandoning large swathes of it for something entirely different – and that is *not* a simple thing.

The advice given could be beneficial – things like reconnecting with nature, downscaling (decluttering), more mindful use of the internet etc – but also could have been presented far better, imo. Going too extreme was just a turn off. Also, the ’21 practices’ to help simplify life were highly repetitive, so I’d say there’s more like a dozen. None of it is particularly novel.

Overall, I had high hopes for this, and was utterly disappointed.

NetGalley eARC: 113 pages / 5 parts, ~15 chapters
First published: 10th March 2020
Series: none
Read from 13th-20th February 2020

My rating: 4/10

Just Draw Fineliner Art – Liam Carver

just draw fineliner art cover

Incredible illustrations crafted with fineliner pens.

I’d love to be more artistic and am always drawn to art books. However, they can often be more daunting than inspirational, either through fantastic skill or ‘complicated’ and/or expensive materials. Fineliner pens, however, are something I already own. I might still feel a little daunted about the skills on display, but that’s aspirational 😉

That said, the art here does cover the ‘wow, never in a million years’ through to ‘hmm, maybe with a bit of practice’ – which is perfect 🙂 Huge plus: it all starts with a ‘visual index’ – thumbnails of all the images from the book, making it really easy to find specific drawings, as well as just being quite the ‘wow’ page seeing all the talent on display from 34 different artists.

Each picture in the main section gets a double spread, and is accompanied by a brief description, highlighting a particular technique used in that drawing, and a ‘tip’ to encourage you to try it yourself. To be honest, I found the descriptions a little odd sometimes, as if the author had written them after looking at the piece, rather than getting information from the artist. Certainly, the discussion on his own work sounds a lot deeper and more confident – perhaps only to be expected.

The book ends with the almost obligatory section on materials, plus a list of further resources. It’s not surprising to see a link to Jake Parker’s Inktober website: the whole book feels strongly linked to the whole Inktober challenge. So if you are feeling inspired to pick up a fineliner, perhaps you’d also like to join this year’s online challenges 🙂

Overall: visually lovely, with a range of useful tips. One to dip in and out of for inspiration.

NetGalley eARC: 210 pages
First published: 3rd March 2020
Series: none
Read from: 2nd February – 1st March 2020

My rating: 7/10

Tiny Habits – BJ Fogg

tiny habits cover

“Change can be easy (and fun).”

Have your New Year’s Resolutions fallen by the wayside already? Or, are you gritting your teeth and battling on, quietly unsure that the goal is bringing any benefits? I’ve been in both places; I’ve learned what doesn’t really work for me: grand goals, constant need for willpower, all the advice about joining a group, and many many other things. I’m guessing a few of you might well be in the same boat.

Step forward Tiny Habits. I cannot begin to tell you the ‘yes!’ I had when I started reading about this approach: if I could have condensed my own thoughts about life improving habits I could only have hoped to have written this book!

The author, a researcher at Stanford University, has developed the Fogg Behavior Model, where Behavior (or, the habit you want to develop) = motivation + ability + prompt. BMAP. Fogg Behaviour Model graph of ability against motivation

Simply put, the harder you find something to do, the more motivation you’re going to need, and conversely you won’t need to find as much motivation to do a task you find easy. To get a habit to form, you need the behaviour to be above that ‘action line’.

I can’t do the idea justice, but the book walks you through it wonderfully. Motivation isn’t going to work long-term, so finding ways to make the behaviour easier is key – and making the habit ‘tiny’ is an excellent approach. For instance, do just 2 push ups. That will most likely grow, but as long as you do 2 the habit will form – far more likely than if you set the bar as, say, 50, and watch as you make excuses to get out of it.

The book opens with some great insight into why we find it hard to do things, what drives our behaviour in general. It then breaks down the elements of the BMAP – motivation and matching, ability, using different kinds of prompts to remind yourself to carry out the habit.

As well as loads of useful, chatty case studies, there are several exercises such as the ‘Swarm of B(ehaviour)s’ designed to help you set up your own experiment in behaviour design. And that mindset of ‘experimentation’ is pushed strongly: no beating yourself up when something doesn’t work, you just have to modify the experiment design. It’s refreshingly helpful and kind.

Later chapters cover growing or multiplying your habits, changing with others – family, colleagues, groups (whether overtly or in a more ninja-style ;)), and for me an important chapter on reversing some of the approaches to tackle bad habits.

Overall, I loved this book. I tried not to rush through it, and already want to read it again taking notes (tough to do on the bus!) and rather than just trying bits and pieces (working so far!) absolutely give the entire process a go to see how far it can take me in improving my habits! I have very high hopes – it’s my kind of book!

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 8 sections
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 5th January – 7th February 2020

My rating: 9/10

The Extremely Busy Woman’s Guide to Self-Care – Suzanne Falter

extremely busy womans guide to self care cover

“Do less, achieve more, and live the life you want.”

Happy 2020! Have you made some New Year resolutions? What if, instead of punishing yourself to spend more time in the gym, or giving up the foods you love, you instead approached life with a mindset of first of all taking care of yourself? What if doing so wasn’t selfish, or self-indulgent? What if you could prioritise being nice to yourself and not only still achieve what you needed to, but actually get far, far more out of life?

As I started reading this book, I felt like a great big ‘yes’ was settling in. It makes so much sense. Life shouldn’t be a constant struggle – and yup, I can see that if I’d just breath and go with the flow, things would be easier, and I could be happier. That’s not to say I’d spend my life meditating while the dishes piled up – but I’ve already had the ‘revelation’ that housework isn’t so bad, as it gets me something I want: a lovely clean living space. I’m still working on the idea that exercise is also a form of self care 😉

I’d love to say that the book continued to inspire me, but to be honest it fell into fairly well-worn paths. Like so many self-help authors, the changes that led to the writing of the book came after a crisis: the death of her daughter. It’s harsh to say, but tbh I’m fed up of the twinge of discomfort I get every time self-help is accompanied by the author’s grief or self-therapy.

Still, there’s a lot to get out of the book. Each chapter comes with exercises to journal about, and obviously you’ll get the most from the process by spending the time to do these properly.

My favourite chapter was near the beginning, “The big illusion about getting stuff done”. This spoke to me: pointing out the crazy treadmill we get ourselves on, pushing to do more more more. Whereas, contrary as it seems when you’re in that headspace, stopping and resting, and breathing, you can get far more done and with far less internal push-back. Like I said, doing the dishes = clean house = happier me. Odd, but true!

The book goes on to cover many good, if not unexpected topics, from setting boundaries, eschewing perfectionism, asking for help, etc. The second section gives all of the self-care areas, including sleep, vacations, love, nutrition and exercise, fun. I did have a little red flag when she started on about adrenal fatigue – as far as I’m aware that’s still not a recognised ‘thing’, and I wasn’t too impressed with the level of authority with which the topic was presented. It’s a reminder that self-help books are 99.9% personal opinion, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

My the last section, about getting more self-care habits into your life, I was slogging a bit as everything became fairly familiar. And again harsh but to be honest: the constant quotes from her dead daughter’s diary felt a bit creepy rather than motivational. Ymmv.

There’s plenty to like in this book, and it’s well enough written, but with just those few bits I wasn’t comfortable with. Still, I absolutely love the message: look after yourself – why wouldn’t you?!

NetGalley eARC: 240 pages / 37 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 13th November – 28th December 2019

My rating: 7/10