Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa

The Housekeeper + The ProfessorThe Housekeeper + The Professor by Yōko Ogawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was such a comfortable read for me and touched me at many different levels.

Firstly, it is a very engaging story, involving just a small number of equally engaging characters. The two main characters are in the title, but they are brought together by their strong feelings for the third character in the book, the housekeeper’s son, Root.

Of course, as explained in the blurb, that is just the Professor’s nickname for the ten-year-old boy, and the name refers to the shape of his profile and its resemblance to the [square] root sign.

Then there is the mathematical thread of the whole story. The professor relates everything in the world to numbers and mathematics. His enthusiasm for these connections is soon shared by the housekeeper and her son.

This approach to life so reminds me of my own childhood that I became excited and emotional as I read. You see, my own father, also a professor, took exactly the same approach with me. Consequently, I LOVE number theory, mathematics, geometry, trigonometry, algebra, fractals, calculus, trees, rivers, planets, gravity, colours, music, and on and on and on!

If you read this book, you may be stirred up in the same way, even if you have never been so stirred up in your past.

And you will want to share your discoveries with others.

Then there is the human relationships aspect of the book. I won’t go any further on this one for fear of the risk of spoiling it for you.

Two other threads which captivated me in this little story were those of Japanese culture and the sport of baseball. A sub theme of the latter, which links nicely back to the human relationships in this book, is the collecting of player cards which many of us must have done, for whichever sport appealed to us, when we were children.

Finally, I would like to mention the theme surrounding memory loss, and the way in which we deal with that in our own lives and those closest to us. The author depicts this so well that I will not even attempt to describe those thoughts here.

This is a relatively short book, and I would classify it as a “must read.” Highly recommended!

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On Top of the World

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Originally posted on The Planet According to Dom:
Dom’s Everest adventure has begun. The dream is about to become a reality and it’s both exciting and terrifying in equal measures. A lot of people think climbing Everest is like taking…

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Book Review – Business Reimagined: Why Work Isn’t Working and What You Can Do about It by Dave Coplin

Business Reimagined: Why Work Isn't Working and What You Can Do about ItBusiness Reimagined: Why Work Isn’t Working and What You Can Do about It by Dave Coplin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The business world is evolving rapidly. The way that people work is changing just as quickly. We need to understand what is required to ensure that we continue that rapid evolution, delivering real business value with the same velocity as the business itself. This requires social collaboration and the empowerment of all contributors. So, it is less about the WAY that we provide value to the business, the processes and the technology tools, and more about the ACTUAL VALUE that we deliver to the business and its continuous alignment to the strategic business objectives.

In this book, David Coplin helps us to understand what his means to us and to the way that we work. He provides some real examples and quotes from business leaders who have pioneered such change. I particularly liked the Netflix examples.

It is very clear that we do need to change. I have always advocated the line of thought that we should adjust the way that we use technology to suit the business objectives rather than allow ourselves to be constrained by the available tools. This is in line with Coplin’s thinking.

And that the main point of this book. It is not a set of prescriptive solutions. Rather, it is a collection of thought-provoking concepts which might move us to change the way that we work so that we become both more effective and happier in our work.

Although it is a short volume, I feel that the content could have been compressed even more. It was sometimes a bit long-winded.

It is well worth a read and I cannot wait to read the sequel, “The Rise of Humans: How to Outsmart the Digital Deluge.”

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Book Review: Witch Hunt by Syd Moore

Witch HuntWitch Hunt by Syd Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a promising start, this book seemed to cruise along at a leisurely pace until the final three or four chapters. I didn’t find it scary at all, although the chilling shower scene made me a bit shivery.

As a believer in the interconnectedness of everything, through time as well as space, the concept of links between the main character, Sadie, and others in the present and those of the seventeenth century was easily consumed. However, the ending, which I shall not spoil for you, bordered on the ridiculous and unbelievable.

It was a captivating and interesting story in that I always wanted to read on to find out what happened next. I got a little bored with the railing against the Essex girl stereotype and Sadie’s attempts to prove that wrong. It was almost as if she was carrying a banner saying, “Essex gals ain’t fick!”

I enjoyed the true history of those witch hunt days and the suggestion, probably true, that there was a battle of the classes behind much of the horror. One thing is for sure, the witch, once accused, could not survive. Most of us know about the trial by ducking stool. If the accused drowned, it proved that she was not a witch, but she would be dead. If she survived, she was definitely a witch and would be hanged or burned at the stake. Heads you lose, tails you lose!

I felt that there was too much about the challenges that face almost every freelance journalist and novelist and the fact that it is very difficult to earn a living that way. This seemed like the every-day gripes of the author creeping into her story.

Having said all of this, I would still recommend the book to those who like a good historical yarn and are interested in those puritanical times and the local history of Essex.

I would probably read another book by this author, but I have many higher priorities on my TBR mountain.

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Granny’s Advice

Unlike the first three items in my “Granny” series, this is pure fiction and was inspired by a picture prompt exercise at Andover Writer’s Circle in March 2018. I have included the photo that was used as a prompt. Others wrote about cigarettes and the use of face cream. Why not have a stab at writing your own shortie based on this photo?

Uncle Albert

Uncle Albert always had sticky out ears. He told me that the boys at school called him Eff-Eh, after the FA Cup. He knew the reason why his ears had continued to develop in the mode of an African elephant rather than in proportion to the rest of his body. It was because he had ignored my granny’s advice. My granny, of course, was Uncle Albert’s Mum. She was very wise, but all of her wisdom had been inherited by my mother. My uncle had benefited from none of it.

“What did Granny tell you, Uncle Albert?” I asked.

“She told me that, if I continued to smoke, my body would shrink and my ears would grow. Luckily, I realised that she was right before it had gone too far.

I gave up smoking when I was fifteen. That’s why you’ll never see me with a lit cigarette between my lips. Take heed, young man. Always listen to Granny’s advice!”


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Book Review: King’s Gold by Michael Jecks

King's Gold (Knights Templar, #30)King’s Gold by Michael Jecks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well researched: a story well told.

Historical fiction has always been my favourite genre since I first read Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff when I was eight years old. I have my favourite authors in this genre and Michael Jecks has just added his name to my list.

He is a true master of historical fiction. And, having met the man, I can report that he is a modest master. He took the time to speak to me, as an equal, although I know that I am not, while we were both attending the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in 2016. That encounter has not influenced this review.

There are many murders in this gory story, yet it all seems very authentic and realistic. It is certainly very well researched. The author has put a lot of effort into getting it right.
Initially, it is difficult to get to grips with all the characters and their inter-relationships. There is political wrangling and, as per the modern day, the banks are very powerful. Even within the family-run bank, there is internal conflict.

True to history, King Edward II has recently been forced to abdicate in favour of his young son whose regent is his mother, advised by her lover, Sir Roger Mortimer.

Throughout the whole novel, we are set to wonder about the motives of those who seek to rescue Edward of Caernarfon, as the King has become, imprison him, assassinate him, re-install him as King. In the main, it is also difficult to work out who are allies and who are foes. This is deliberate and effective. Almost to the very end, you, the reader, are solving the puzzles.

This is a great read. I highly recommend it to all fans of historical fiction, especially of the medieval era.

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Book Review: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark MatterDark Matter by Michelle Paver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure that I would like this book as I read the first ten pages, but it gradually drew me in until I knew that I could not escape!

The opening is a letter to a journalist from Algernon Carlisle, a survivor of the ill-fated 1937 expedition to the deep Arctic Circle, which denies the existence of Jack Miller’s journal. He admits that Jack wrote a journal during those continuously dark days in the far north, but, although it would probably explain a lot, he knows not what happened to it and requests that the journalist backs off.

Almost the whole of the rest of the book is a transcription of Jack’s mysterious journal.

All the way through, I was wondering if Jack also survived, or if his journal was found next to his lonely, dead body, or of numerous other possibilities. Did Algernon have the journal, and have good reason to hide it? After all, he was now an aspiring post-war politician.

When I was a child at boarding school, we used to try to terrify our friends with our imaginative ghost stories. I therefore regard myself as a bit of an expert in the potency of such stories. Let me tell you that this rates as a powerful ghost story.

It also brings out the beauty and dangers of the cold and hostile frozen north.

I really loved this book, and it was nicely capped off with the author’s notes at the end.

Highly recommended.

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