Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason

Earlier in September I mentioned in another book review about how I found myself accidentally reading a book from the end of a series rather than following them in order as a result of getting it cheaply in a charity shop. I found myself doing the same when it came to picking up and reading Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason as it’s actually the ninth(!), if you exclude one that was written as a prequel as number zero, book in the series because clearly I don’t pay enough attention to that section of a book where it says “also by this author”.

Luckily I managed to get away with it being later in the series, though I am sure there are some references that I completely missed as a result of not reading the earlier books. When doing additional book sorting at the political building, where I found this book, I spotted the eighth book in this series so I grabbed that one as well and will hopefully get around to reading it soon. Perhaps the rest were in the stacks and I just didn’t pay enough attention but the other books, including the one that is coming out soon, are currently sitting on my Amazon wishlist.

paperback copy of Strange Shores

When you start reading Strange Shores it becomes obvious that the lead character is struggling with some internal demons; he finds himself going to the place where he grew up and stays in a now derelict house on an uncomfortable floor before running to his car and turning the heating on in the morning to get some feeling back to his extremities. It turns out to be a bit of a representation of his guilt over something that happened in the past, something he couldn’t have really done anything to change despite all those what ifs in his head, and those demons come out to play in his desperation to find the answers to a different, but at a glance similar, story that unravels in front of him.

His search to find the truth about what happened to a woman one day when there was a terrible snowstorm overwhelms him and it becomes his fascination. It makes no sense to him how her body was never found when there was an active search for soldiers happening at the same time in the exact same area and eventually he finds out why. He uses his career of being a police officer in the city to connect together each piece of the story but it also causes some tensions amongst those he speaks with, to the point of getting threatened to be shot, as they feel under investigation and that anything they say could cause them to be incriminated in the tale of tragedy.

The way that the story combines emotions, routine, the past and so many different uncomfortable truths makes for a really captivating and powerful story. When there was a moment of heartbreaking realisation, a feeling of sadness or despair coming from the characters it really leapt off the page and as a reader I felt touched by every single conversation that was going on; the internal chats and flashbacks about the lead characters brothers fate, the old man struggling to accept what happened to his sweetheart and people around the town taking these stories as nothing more than legend.

I really enjoyed reading this book with the way the story was brought together by the author through such a carefully constructed writing style and clearly developing on the content provided in previous books to bring in a sense of intimacy with the lead character. This book is a superb example of why Indridason is regarded as such an excellent writer in the genre. This is a series I would strongly recommend but of course try to start at the beginning so you don’t find yourself having to backtrack and learn about everything in a different way at a later date.

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The Vineyard, Wrotham

Tuesday 11th September 2018 was such an incredible day that filled me with an overwhelming amount of pride and joy; I got to see my partner’s sister, who I first met just before her 13th birthday, graduate with a 1st Class Honours in FRTV & Drama from CCCU. It’s not my place to tell her story but I think she’d agree it was a hell of a rollercoaster and making it into that cathedral was a long road so seeing her not only graduate but with such extraordinary grades absolutely blew me away.

After wandering around Canterbury for the day, from one location to the other, we spent some time unwinding before heading to The Vineyard in Wrotham. In fact, I valued the day so much and knew the restaurant was slightly on the fancier side that I wanted to feel comfortable and fresh by switching up my outfit (apart from on a cruise, I’ve never worn two outfits during a day event). To allow for a more relaxed evening we got a taxi to and from The Vineyard with Express Cabs and, as somebody that used to work in the taxi/chauffeur industry, was delighted when both journeys had relatively new Mercedes-Benz Viano’s (though the second one had the less sophisticated layout of all the seats facing forward instead of towards each other).

The bar at The Vineyard

The appearance of the restaurant, with its traditional cottage feeling from the outside, was very traditional and classy on the inside. Walking through the main entrance, a couple of standard sized doors with a small porch in between, we were greeted by a very friendly staff member that asked if we would like to sit at the bar with drinks and look at the menu or head straight to our table. On choosing to sit in the bar area the provided a bowl of large green pitted olives and also one of peanuts for us to nibble on whilst selecting our food and sipping away at our first drinks of the evening. It’s refreshing to encounter a restaurant that is chilled out enough to let you sit at the bar in a more relaxed style, even place your order from the menu, before heading off to the formal dining room. Not only does it improve your experience as a dinner arriving but also helps to stop the eating area being a place of hustle and bustle for other diners already seated at a table.

As well as getting greeted by a friendly face and positive attitude we also encountered a warming and traditional style bar with wooden panels, glasses hanging from the ceiling and alcohol bottles neatly placed on display in the background instead of getting covered up. To add a touch of personality to the bar, and connecting it to The Vineyard name, they had a large metal plate on the slanted wall, covering up the stairs behind it, with a grape design that fitted in well with the existing colour scheme but gave it an added layer of design and helped to break up the wooden panels a little bit.

Hot starter in oval dish

Where the day was so hectic and on the go sensible food eating sort of went out of the window so by the evening I was certainly ready to sit down and enjoy a meal. Despite the desire to eat food I wasn’t at the point of being so hungry that anything would do or beyond the point of eating; I was ready and excited for food but could have waited a little while longer if needs be. The menu was lengthy and full of a number of delightful items that left us all contemplating between having this or that for a little while.

Eventually I managed to reach a decision and went with the avocado and mushroom for starter. It’s a lot more complex than you might imagine it would be as it was sliced avocado with a large mushroom underneath served with béchamel sauce, topped with stilton cheese and baked in the the oven. There is something about the dish that sounds a little unusual and I think it’s linked to the way that we normally have avocado cold and perhaps just on top or on the side of a hot dish but it isn’t usually within the heat itself but it really worked. The combination of all the flavours and ingredients made it wonderfully creamy in both taste and texture whilst also having a lovely depth of blue cheese and herby flavours to compliment the natural avocado and mushroom flavours and to offset the richness of the béchamel sauce. This is a dish that I would go for again in the future if I spotted it on the menu and nothing new was shouting out to me and if I was feeling fancy and happened to be hosting a dinner party even something I would attempt to recreate myself.

Veal medallions

Veal medallion with sides

After a short pause the main meals were brought to the table, after various glasses and cutlery that was no longer needed was removed from the table, this included all the main dishes and the various sides of vegetables and sauteed potatoes that we had opted for on the side. As always when you have vegetables to share we all went for a smaller amount on our plates to begin with and then at the end of the meal I ate a huge amount of additional veg just to feel more nutritionally satisfied (it worked).

There were so many main dishes that I hadn’t tried in the past but they at least contained a main ingredient, a type of meat or fish, that I had experienced before. Feeling on the brave side though, and wanting to try something new given how the day was about creating wonderful memories and sharing a fantastic moment, I decided to try out the veal medallion dish. Veal is something that I have never eaten before but have heard great things about it, especially in medallion form where it is so thin, and it was absolutely divine as the meat just melted in the mouth. The sauce was a creamy marsala sauce which provided an added depth and velvet feel to the meat but complimented it well without overpowering the gentle softness of the veal. The potatoes were so crispy and well cooked as well that it made me wish I could successfully cook all my potatoes like that at home and the vegetables were cooked to a good level of not being crunchy but not reaching that point of mushy either. This is a dish that I wish I could each everyday of the week and it is something that has encouraged me to consider veal and veal based dishes in the future.

Meg and Dan at St Augustine's

The meal, atmosphere and restaurant was really wonderful. Perhaps it felt even more wonderful than other restaurants because of the celebratory feel and special day that was connected to it. I can’t quite describe, however many times I try, just how proud I am of her, how much of an honour it was to be able to enjoy the day with her and to be there as her life changes from student to mama-to-be.

Would highly recommend the restaurant as the food is great, the decor is wonderful and the staff are super friendly and thoughtful as well.

Food For Beginners by Susan George and Nigel Paige

Some books, when written and published in the early 80’s, fade into the distant past without a trace whilst others have a habit of sticking around as something to wave at youngsters that dare to question things. Then there are the books like the Beginners series that, whilst containing some outdated references of predictions of what will happen in 2000, stand something of the test of time and prove useful to aged and new faces alike.

Given the interest I have in food production and consumerism I expected few surprises to surface in this book or solutions that I had heard a million times before or had been implemented one way or another but catastrophically failed. Of course some of the things mentioned rather hark back to a time forgotten in agriculture but a lot of it still rings true. In reality some of it rings more true than ever.

The book discusses how much a country like the U.S.A imports, how a large amount of those products are raw materials, and what it exports and to where. It highlights how they import sugar but then turn it into a drink like Coca Cola and export it to every far reaching outpost known to mankind. It brings attention to the amount of food within a country like the U.S.A and how much is consumed there compared to other countries across the globe and how that greediness both in belly and manufactured product product profits results in land and workloads in “third world” countries getting pushed beyond limits.

It breaks down, in a mixture of words and cartoons, how land ownership is broken down in a number of countries, how those different sized farms are able to store produce differently and how weather impacts on more than just the crop of that year. There are depleted food stores for the family on the land to eat, they have to make the decision whether to eat that food or whether to sell it at the higher price to make up for the shortfall of a bad year and seek out the cheapest food or loans available from bigger farmers to keep them going. The issues of cash crops and the damage it has on land, families and workforces on a daily basis is explored but only to the level of putting a toothbrush across the dry ground; as you might expect from the book series you get a beginners perspective into everything but reading it over 30 years later in a world of instant global media it all feels really bloody obvious.

The problems though, whilst worsening each year and especially with the increased onset of global warming impacting on crop production and land sustainability as well as scientists pumping out new expensive seeds all the time, certainly still exist and there is very little attempt to do anything about it. The book rightly alludes to, though avoids spelling it out to the reader, that poverty, cash crops and over-consuming of food is just one small issue in the capitalist system and that a new model of economics needs to be seized upon for change.

Interestingly, the book doesn’t offer people any clear cut solutions about what they should do about food apart from to at least acknowledge where the basics of a product have come from and the amount of it that is going to the producer of those raw materials. I wonder what they would have felt about Fairtrade these days, whether the concept of the green revolution they mention on numerous occasions is how they imagined it would pan out and whether, despite not depleting the worlds energy storage by 2000, they would have felt that the world was at a turning point today.

An updated version of this book certainly wouldn’t go a miss and some of the topics mentioned throughout this book could certainly be used to encourage young people to think ethically about the food that they buy and to remember where it actually comes from and the impact that prices have on producers. Having said that, given so many people can barely afford the cheapest packet of dried spaghetti anymore perhaps a few other things need solving along the way to make consumer consciousness a real possibility.

Random Food I Have Eaten Recently #4

My food habits have changed a lot over the last few months, not that you can probably tell from this post, and I’m finding myself eating a bit more variety in terms of ingredients but also taking it back to basics. That sounds like a contradiction but it’s actually a natural combination as the more simple the ingredients the easier it is to pair with other things; if you go for something complex then it’s a little bit more difficult to know what to pair with it and fall into the same meals time and time again.

But taking food a little bit back towards basics or less processed food means that generally I’m consuming less calories. I’m talking three meals a day brings me to about 1000 calories a day and that’s not enough for me to function healthily or for my body to process food at a normal rate as it essentially starts to think I’m starving it so nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit and veg have really become an essential part of my grazing habits.

At the beginning of changing my approaches to food and how to get nutrients inside me I was needing to make sure that the transition was smooth and enjoyable. I didn’t want to even attempt to make the change without accepting that my body would crave a variety of processed foods and flavours so when I found myself gravitating towards certain snacks I just accepted it. Slowly it reached a point in time where, when gifted for my birthday a box chocolates, it took me 14 days to consume 24 chocolates and I realised that I was no longer ‘hooked’ on processed foods in quite the same way.

To be clear, as I mention in my thoughts on Eat Up! I’m perfectly okay with eating any number of calories in a day and whether your nutrition comes from 100% processed foods or 100% organic meat-free whole grain foods and I still do that too. On the day I am writing this post I had a Cadbury’s mini roll for my breakfast(!) because it is all about your body having what you want and need. For me though, I found myself addicted to certain foods and needed to pull away from them a little bit to be able to truly enjoy them whenever I consume them in the future.

Different flavoured biscuits

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Tuc biscuits, or do we call them crackers, but over time I’ll admit that the cheese ones have left me a little disappointed as it’s just short on the flavour punch that I tend to lean towards. Seeing a few different flavour varieties popping up though caught my interest and I knew that these could be used as part of a meal, to boost up my intake a little, or to have a few as a mid-morning savoury snack. But they were so incredibly salty that they overpowered my entire tastebuds and I simply had to eat them as a snack, rather than as part of a meal, which wasn’t bad but I was underwhelmed.

A couple of months ago I’m not so sure I would have found them overly salty or too strongly flavoured but these are one of the things I purchased nearer to the changes in my eating habits so it feels like this is just me trying to find excuses for the products. After trying the salt and pepper and the bacon flavours I did purchase some sour cream and onion ones which were still salty but more delicious and reminded me of the classic green Pringles but I still would be reluctant to reach for them again.

Strawberry sundae biscuits

On safer ground I picked up some limited edition Jammie Dodgers, from the beloved biscuit aisle. It turns out I’m a bit of a sucker for packaging and was quickly drawn to the pink and white stripes presented on this strawberry sundae flavour.

The packaging is where my love for these treats ended though. Don’t get me wrong they weren’t bad I just couldn’t tell any difference between the original version and these apart from these lacking in the flavour department. Instead of fully loaded jam these are a combination of jam and something representing a vanilla like creme but the vanilla element is so mild that it just takes away from the jam flavours and leaves you with a bit of a sad mouthful.

On reflection there was a very clear reason why these would be reduced to 39p a packet, they are just utterly awful and lacklustre compared to the original creation. Perhaps they would have had potential to work well if the jam and creme were mixed swirled together, not only to look a bit more like a sundae but also to infuse the flavours together.

Colourful variety ritter sport

If somebody tells you peppermint filled chocolate, what is the first thing you think of? Chances are it’s something very similar to an After Eight and you’re either filled with joy of memories of trying to eat a few politely after a Christmas time meal or you are filled with horror as they mind you of trying to brush your teeth after too many sweet liquors.

Luckily for me I have more positive memories of mint chocolate and when I spotted the Ritter Sport bar, a chocolate brand I have wanted to try for a while, I was pretty keen to give it a go and erm minty chocolate is healthy somehow right??? this one particularly attracted me based on the image of how loaded with filling each square would be, ow Danielle what an absolute fool.

It had nowhere near as much filling inside as suggested and the minty flavour was certainly on the minimal side. It could have certainly taken a much bigger punch of mint to cut through the sweetness and bitterness or the chocolate that coated it. The chocolate itself was delightfully smooth and pleasant and I would have been happy with just a plain bar of that alone but combined with the mint filling it felt cheapened somehow.

Dinner one day

Dinner time one evening

I guess I’ve learnt my lesson for wanting to get processed snacks and that is that I really need to make far better and considered choices about what I grab off the shelf; sticking to proven successes or considering what something new is likely to bring in terms of the flavour profile to the palette and how to incorporate it into my snacking routine. This recent change to my eating approach combined with the unluckiness of picking up three things that left me feeling a little deflated was certainly a factor in me being able to break away from such foods and focus more on the basic but tasty ingredients readily available to me.

The Baskerville Legacy by John O’Connell

If you’re a first time reader here you might not know that I’ve been plodding my way through the Sherlock Holmes books, including Hound of the Baskervilles, and love a bit of crime/mystery fiction in my reading stack. If you’ve visited in the past you might know that I’m not that keen on characters that are exploited by other authors once the original author ceases to breath on this earth.

And yet here I am about to discuss a book that not only includes Conan Doyle but tries to hash together an encounter between Conan Doyle and another man, without there being much evidence to back up the story or really flesh it out, with a claim of deception and harshness. If John O’Connell attempts to use The Baskerville Legacy to make the famous writer look like a villain then the lack of background, in-depth proof to back it up and the relatively short retelling of the story has failed him here.

Somehow my low expectations for this book still proved to be rather too high. It felt somewhat like setting up a limbo pole that only goes down to two foot high and giving a newly crawling child the challenge of getting underneath it. Only the brevity of the book, less than 200 pages, kept me going after the first chunk of the book. I can see how there was great potential for the story to unfold into a captivating, shocking and outrageous story but it fell short of the mark on several levels; was it the author’s desire to only use things based on his research or was it just a style of story that would have matched a better story teller’s pen?

Hardback copy of John O'Connell's book

You would be wrong in thinking it could possibly be the former of these two possibilities. Despite O’Connell’s statement that of course he has had to flesh the story out a little, as not all information about the main character or his encounter with Conan Doyle could be accounted for, he then makes a begrudged apology about making the journalist into a drug taking, prostitute seeking rather cynical lousy chap. Think how dull the book would have been if he kept this novella even remotely fair on the main character! There is a different between enhancing the truth and simply taking it apart and making an entirely different garment from it and for that I cannot forgive O’Connell.

Even if you want to have an additional book sitting alongside your Holmes collection or it is on offer to you for next to nothing on a book stall or in a charity should I would strongly recommend yourself yourself the money and the time that it would involve. It is disappointing and frustrating from start to end when it simply needn’t be so at all.

Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh

Sometimes it is a quote deemed #Inspirational and other times it is just something you overhear on the train that can really refocus your thoughts on something. There can be times when those quotes or statements are the last thing you want to encounter, in many ways you want to carry on trudging through the mediocre syrup consuming you, but at other moments it can be exactly what you need without even realising it.

Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh is one of those things that I needed to encounter without even realising it. But within the first couple of pages it felt like the big hug of a bowl of soup when the sniffles are taking hold. There was something about it that caused me just to let out a massive sigh of relief, much like the one you make when opening the door to check the Yorkshire Puddings are cooked and holding the risen structure.

To fully be able to share my thoughts on this book I should probably share a little personal story with you first. This book has given me the courage to talk more freely about my relationship with food, thoughts to share with myself on how to overcome darker days and friendly reminders that food is precious and to be treasured (through slow bites or gobbling down a slice of toast in the morning).

I’ve had a disordered relationship with food for a long time and, until I recently sat down to think about it, for longer than I could have even thought possible. Whilst this story spans a number of years, I’ll try to keep it brief and bring in key things that stood out to me from the book as I tell my tale.

Front cover of hardbook copy of Eat Up!

I can see the day as clearly now as the day it happened. The sun was out but it wasn’t overly warm and there was a soft breeze as we stood near enough to the building to hear the end of break bell and to be able to avoid the football games and construction work happening all around us. I was standing around in the high school playground during the morning break with people that I barely knew. Each day enough money appeared on my swipe card to get a snack at break time and a sandwich for lunch. In 2005 Jamie Oliver hadn’t quite got around to transforming schools and canteens so flapjacks, crisps and doughnuts still lingered on the shelves. And everyday those doughnuts, with strawberry jam centre and sugar laden outsides, became my thing. I know what you might be thinking; an 11 year old growing girl can totally get away with eating a doughnut a day, especially with schools doing P.E three or four times a week, but that only applies for people without health conditions that are allowed to do P.E and run off all that energy.

One day some of that jam splobed down onto my white blouse and looking down in a desperate attempt to clear it up and rescue the jam from my top to my mouth before anybody noticed I was disgusted at what I saw. My previously lean figure had developed a bit of a belly, I realised my clothes were that little bit tight, and I was no longer the same person in the mirror as I once knew. I certainly wasn’t ‘fat’ or ‘overweight’ at this point but for the first time in my life I felt shame. I imagined the horror if somebody seen this slightly chubby bellied girl devouring a doughnut and splobing jam all over herself and the fear of words being whispered about “of course she’s chubby, she eats those doughnuts and never does P.E” rang around in my head daily (though they were never said in earshot). But the shame led me to do it all the more as some sort of comfort eating kicked in. Slowly it went from a doughnut and a sandwich to a doughnut and a flapjack with a drink and then to a doughnut, flapjack and cookie. If people were going to call me names for my appearance I might as well self-destruct in sweet flavoured glory. But obviously it made it worse. My parents would ask what was for lunch and I’d have to glance at the foods as I was scooting along the canteen shelves with my tray to get a realistic answer. Perhaps if the system that allowed parents to logon and see what their child/ren had been spending their money on had come sooner I would have been further shamed but at least my disordered habits at least getting nipped in the bud.

Shame over a doughnut? You should never feel shame over a doughnut. As Ruby would declare, simply breath in the sickly sweet aroma and feel the granules of sugar against your lips before that sticky sharp jam cuts through it all, simply appreciate it for what it is and be pleased that such a delightful treat is in front of you. But it wasn’t just shame, it was guilt too. Guilt that I was hiding secrets about something as basic and essential in everyday life as food. The sadness that came with it all and the added sadness that I felt so under pressure to look, feel and think a certain way. I couldn’t speak out about food without some sort of judgement being cast upon me. I feared judgement, mainly from myself, and the last thing I wanted was to bring attention to having such disgusting habits.

I wish that was as far as my hidden, or at least sneaky, devouring of food got. A cheeky doughnut or flapjack was one thing but the secret trips of sneaking out of the school at lunchtime to go to the shop where you could buy a pot noodle and use the kettle on the counter or the days of university when I bought a whole six pack of hula hoops and ate them in my partners room, disposing of the evidence before he even knew they existed, showed how over the years my shamed and disgusted feelings around eating turned to secrecy and increased excess as I hate myself more and more for what I was doing.

Then there are the times where I would consume so much I would throw up, the times I forced myself to be ill after even just a tangerine, the times I became obsessed with pedalling 1000 calories away on a little under the desk machine, the times I refused to eat more than 800 calories a day, the time when I was working just before I dropped out of university and my boss had to tell me to eat food and wouldn’t let me out of their site afterwards because they were one of the few people to ever openly speak about noticing my disordered eating habits, before returning to the binge eating ways and repeating the whole cycle again. All the times when nobody knew, or perhaps chose not to acknowledge, the struggles I was battling not just on a daily basis but every moment I breathed. And as Ruby implies in Eat Up! a lot of other people in the world feel equally damned if they do and damned if they don’t when it comes to buying, cooking and consuming food.

In the end it took me over half of my life to break the habits, to step out of the shadowy shame and escape the feelings of fear and disgust from others. Habits don’t die hard though and occasionally they linger like when you get your period before a big occasion where you want to wear sexy underwear and light coloured clothing. The ability to eat in public or around others still makes me nervous, people observing about how I separate even a burger as I consume it and the inner voice that I battle with that reminds me I’m not some skinny girl but somebody that has rolls when they sit down and eating that slice of cake probably shouldn’t happen. And reading Ruby’s book gave me the words, the thoughts and the desire to be able to fight back those thoughts further than ever before.

I’m attempting to eat dinner without any TV on, running the risk of somebody hearing me chomping on a barely cooked carrot, whenever I cook I’m taking the time to smell and sample ingredients like they are the finest thing on earth, I’m abolishing the shame in my life of having the desire to want to eat a whole bar of chocolate or reach for nothing more than a banana and I’m accepting that food is fluid and personal for everyone. It reminds me that the worst thing I can do for myself, for my mind and body, is to judge myself and shame myself. Nobody else in the queue at Greggs for a flaky pastry and burn the roof of your mouth sausage roll has any right to judge what I consume and if they do that isn’t my problem and I shouldn’t burden myself with that.

At a time in my life when everything else is coming into focus, I’m figuring out what I want and what I need and this book gave me the words to be able to figure out what my relationship with food will look like going forward and how I can start to tackle the walls I have in my head and those placed on me by society. Even if you have what you think to be a ‘perfectly normal’ (whatever that might be) you should give this book a read as it brings in science, politics, culture and more to show how there isn’t really a ‘normal’ with food and that as long as your eating fulfils your needs, desires and emotions in a relatively stable balanced way then you’re doing okay.

If you want to see my food journeys you can follow this instagram, more interested in my book journeys then there’s an instagram for that too! And don’t forget to connect with me on Goodreads too.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

Penguins are by far my favourite animal. Whether we are talking real, cuddly, book publisher, biscuit, in books, on TV or some other form there is something about them that I adore. It’s the sort of interest that can very quickly pull you towards something; in this case a book about penguins published by Penguin.

The thing that attracted me to the plot of The Penguin Lessons, apart from the obvious, is that it is a book based somewhat on a real life experience and the retelling of past events always tends to grab my attention. So often we can look back at a time and cast it to be either the most fantastic time in our life or one of the most catastrophic. Our memories are usually extremely polarising but this book serves up a mixture of the good, the largely mundane, the frustratingly bad and the odd bit of overwhelming panic as well and that serves as a welcome surprise.

The Penguin Lessons book

Even as the self-declared penguin lover that I am, there is a little uncertainly in my mind as to what I would do in the situation that leads on to the rest of the book. If I encountered a beach of dying penguins from an oil spillage would I have the stomach to go up, walk through, and then on identifying a survivor find a way to take it home for a massive clean up operation? It is something that many of us would not be able to manage but instead we would stand there desperately googling who to contact about the travesty, sharing pictures on social media with hashtags about the despair in humanity and just not having a clue about what products might be of use to immediately remove the oil slick from a poor penguin’s coating.

But after a frantic rescue mission, a dousing of household grease busters and some time there becomes an unlikely bond between human and penguin and before the reader knows it we’re getting transported with a penguin in a rucksack across South America to reside in a school. It’s certainly not the natural environment of a penguin and the strict routine of the school suggests that a penguin will not be welcomed on the premise but slowly routine is adapted and everybody comes to love having a penguin waddling around the ground and being perplexed by steps.

In many ways this book could easily be a love story. The treasured penguin brings out the confidence in a shy boy to thrive at swimming and makes him loved by his peers. The confident penguin becomes a struggling sports team mascot. The quiet penguin provides a good ear for a cleaner at the school that is desperate to share her thoughts and dilemmas with another in confidence. The relatively young and middle-class man from the UK that suddenly experiences many life lessons and needing to grow up with having a penguin to look after.

On the whole it is, without doubt, this book being about penguins that wins it for me. There were moments when the writing was a little dry, when the movement of it all seemed a little slow and how certain sequences were forced into the book to make it seem for a more rounded piece. Of course, there were emotional moments ranging from sorrow to delight and the desire to woop with joy and I would not say that it was a bad book but it simply didn’t reach the range of the greatest reads of the year.

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