Book Review: Concentr8 by William Sutcliffe

Concentr8

This young adult novel is set in London in the near future.  Teenagers across the capital have been given a new drug called Concentr8 officially to treat ADHD, but many believe it is actually to control the behaviour of healthy but boisterous young people.  The drug becomes controversial and is withdrawn suddenly.  This leads to young people rioting across the city, is this because the drug was controlling their behaviour and the control is now gone, or is it withdrawal side effects, or is the rioting not directly related to the drug?  We don’t know.

The story focuses on a small group of five teenagers who break away from the main riots and kidnap a GLA clerical worker (this isn’t a spoiler I hope as it occurs very early in the book).  They go on to hold this man hostage in a warehouse.

There is some fantastic tension in the book as the point of view shifts each chapter between the different teenagers who all have a different take on the situation, the hostage, the officials and police working to free the hostage and the journalist reporting on the situation.  There is edge of the seat stuff as you wonder if the hostage will be harmed or killed and if the teenagers will turn on each other.  But as the novel reaches its final chapters and conclusion all this tension fizzles out rather.  It almost feels like Sutcliffe didn’t really know how to finish things and so rushed the end a bit because he was starting to get bored with his own story!  This is a shame as the set up was so very promising.

3/5

Zoe

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Guest blog – Healthy Chocolate

Ahead of her event for Brent Libraries next month Aneta Grabiec tells us more about her mission to inform the world about the benefits of raw chocolate.

I Love chocolate and chocolate loves me back!  It all started with the Mayans in Mexico where they would use cacao as medicine, and modern science agrees – chocolate can be good for you!

green chocolate

Let’s get things straight linguistically here: chocolate is the product of cacao (raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans). ‘Cocoa product’ is a sugary powdered milk substitute of chocolate.

Cacao has nearly twice the antioxidants found in red wine and almost triple the antioxidants of green tea. Most people know that dark chocolate contains magnesium, and most of us don’t get enough of it. But there are many other nutrients in cacao, including vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, C, D, E; and minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and phosphorus.

To extract the health benefits from every bite, I recommend dark chocolate. Dark chocolate falls into the category of healthy monounsaturated fats—along with avocados, nuts, and seeds. Milk chocolate contains milk, which counters the benefit of the flavanols, a type of flavonoid (phytonutrient) in cacao. For example, one flavanol in chocolate is epicatechin, which acts as an antioxidant and supports insulin sensitivity. (Insulin imbalance causes diabetes type 2 and overweight).

What’s more: Dark chocolate made with at least 70 percent cacao has been proven to lower cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Another molecule in chocolate called phenylethylamine acts like a gentle antidepressant. Dark chocolate raises serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical in charge of mood, sleep, and appetite. Do I need to say more?

Research shows that subjects who had 40 grams (1.5 ounces) of dark chocolate per day, for two weeks, showed lowered cortisol levels.

Dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure. It reduces cholesterol and lowers your risk of heart disease.

It increases blood flow to the brain, which helps the brain remain neuroplastic and young. It improves executive functioning—including attention, working memory, cognitive flexibility, problem-solving, and planning.

Many people speak about the medicinal properties of chocolate, particularly because it provides an antioxidant boost that counters the stress of aging and modern life. From a nutrigenomic perspective, cacao interrupts the motor pathway, which helps to slow down aging. It reduces the inflammation associated with acute stress.

Read the labels!

Extra dark chocolate—at least 80 percent cacao or higher, is ideal. When chocolate has higher cacao content, it has more health benefits, in part because there are more flavanols and in part because there is less sugar. I recommend organic, soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free chocolate. If you want to cut out sugar altogether, there are some options sweetened with stevia and coconut sugar. Avoid chocolate with 5 grams of sugar or more (per recommended portion of 25g)

I feel that the best and healthiest way to enjoy the chocolate is to make it! I praise and promote raw chocolate due its exceptional medicinal content (the ingredients don’t get heated up to high temperature, therefore, most beneficial nutrients of the ingredients remain in the chocolate). Come along to my fun and informative raw chocolate making workshop on 6 December where I will be sharing the knowledge and creating dark delicious superfood out of best quality ingredients.

Come and join me for the Healthy chocolate workshop, at The Library at Willesden Green, 6 December 6.15-7.30pm.  £2 – book here.

Aneta

Aneta Grabiec,

The Wellness Designer, http://www.thewellnessdesigner.com

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Book Review: In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

in a dark dark wood

A very creepy story with lots of great tension!

This is the story of Nora, a twenty something novelist living a rather isolated but fairly contented existence in a studio flat in London.  She has her routines: going for a run, checking her emails, researching and writing her crime novels.  Her life is regular, rather dull, a bit lonely, but OK, until she is shaken from this by a blast from the past!

She receives an unexpected email from Flo, a stranger claiming to be the maid of honour for Nora’s childhood best friend Clare.  She is invited to Clare’s hen do, a weekend in a cottage deep in the Northumberland countryside (in mid-November!).  Her reluctance to accept tells the reader that there is something dark in her past she doesn’t want to confront, she hasn’t been in touch with Clare since she was 16.  Flo manages to guilt trip Nora into making the journey North by claiming Clare really wants her there.

She arrives at the dark lonely cottage along with three strangers and one other girl she knew from school – and no Clare.  The atmosphere isn’t right from the off.  The organiser, Flo, seems weirdly desperate for it to go well and be the perfect hen weekend, everyone else seems reluctant to be there almost as if they all have something to hide…

I won’t tell you more as I don’t want to give away any spoilers.  The best bit of the novel is the building tension, you know something dramatic is going to happen and when it does it doesn’t disappoint!  The only real downside of the novel is that after the big action bit there is a bit of a lull, most readers who have been paying any attention will have worked out the twist by ¾ of the way through (which is good, as a good crime/thriller writer should drop enough clues for the observant reader to work it out) but then it takes soooo long for the characters to catch up that it gets a bit dull towards the end.  Overall though a great thriller.

4/5

Zoe

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Laurel and Hardy: Another Nice Mess

via Laurel and Hardy: Another Nice Mess

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October 22, 2018 · 4:38 pm

Book Review: The Break Down by B. A. Paris

This is a great exciting read, hard to put down once you get into it.

The main character is Cass, she is a teacher living with her new husband in rural England.  One night she is driving home from work in a heavy storm after an end of term celebration with colleagues.  Against her husband’s strict advice she takes a short cut down a quiet lonely stretch of road close to her home.  She sees a car parked with a woman in it, she hesitates but doesn’t stop as the woman doesn’t indicate she is in trouble.  Has the woman broken down?  Is she unwell?  Or is she up to no good?!  Cass doesn’t know but is too nervous to stop in case it’s a trick, also it’s late and throwing it down with rain.  She just wants to get home and also feels a little guilty about fibbing to her husband about her route – if she stops and gets involved there’s more chance he might find out she lied to him.  So she goes home to bed.

The next day she is horrified to hear on the news that a young woman has been brutally murdered in the spot where she saw the woman parked.  Now is the moment to come forward and go to the police as a witness and own up to her husband.  But she doesn’t, she is overcome with guilt and shame, wondering if she could have save the woman, so she continues with the lie that she did not take that route home and quickly it feels too late to confess the truth.

After this incident Cass’ life begins to unravel.  The guilt and lies seem to drag her down, she becomes stressed and forgetful and starts to wonder if she is developing the Early Onset Dementia that killed her mother.  Around this time strange things begin to happen – she starts getting silent phone calls and sensing someone is watching her and believes someone has been in her house and moved things around while she has been out.  Is it the killer taunting her because he knows she is a potential witness or is it all part of her mental problems and possibly a serious illness?  We don’t know and nor does Cass!

I can’t say much more without getting into spoiler territory – so I will stop there with describing the plot.  I hope I have said enough to get you interested as this is certainly worth reading if you want something exciting and mysterious without being too challenging or gory.  This is my kind of thriller.

As to down sides, I did find Cass and her lifestyle a bit dull at times.  She is only in her early 30s but for ‘fun’ all she does is potter in the garden wearing her special gardening shoes, for a treat she might nip into the nearest market town for a coffee or to wander round the shops.  She and her husband are young and well off with a large inheritance from her mother as well as two professional salaries but their lifestyle reminds me of my late grandparents!  (Probably me just being judgemental because I am such a trendy urbanite myself).  With reflection though I think her slightly dull character and lifestyle work for the plot, and they make sense as she was a carer for her sick mother from her teens to around 30 so probably never had chance to develop her own interests or find an circle of exciting, varied friends.  A wild, flamboyant character would probably have felt a bit much with the dramatic plot and Cass is actually a nice source of calm at the centre of things.

Another slight issue I had was that the climax seems to arrive in a bit of a rushed manner…but that is possibly just because I was turning the pages so fast when I was so eager to find out what was going to happen!  Occasionally I also felt the characters behaviour didn’t quite ring true, though this may have been deliberate from the author as we were seeing the plot from Cass’ point of view and a lot of the time she wasn’t thinking clearly and perhaps not reporting things accurately to us the reader.

Highly recommended.  I’m looking forward to reading more from B. A. Paris.

4/5

Zoe

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Book Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

This novel has a really fantastic concept.  It is set none specifically sometime around the present and then takes us forward a few years into the future so we can see the effect of the changes the world has faced.  It begins as teenage girls all over the world begin developing a power, they can generate electricity from their hands which they can use as a weapon to give people electric shocks.  First it is just teenage girls and then they find they are able to awaken the power in older women and baby girls begin to be born with the power.  The novel follows a handful of characters from different parts of the world, mostly women but also one man, as they adjust to the new reality.

The PowerThe novel is obviously all about gender relations.  How would the world look if women not men were the physically stronger sex?  The idea suggested is that the root of male dominance is superior physical strength and that if this were taken away in all cases, not just in some cases as it is now (we all know some physically strong and tough women and some physically weak men but these tend to break the overall pattern), gender relations would be transformed and women would be the dominant gender in all parts of the planet.  It also suggests that it would alter gender behaviour and roles in ways not even directly related to physical strength or power.  The whole idea really makes you think!

In terms of weaknesses I felt once the concept had been introduced the novel really went off the boil.  I didn’t find any of the characters tremendously interesting and the middle section of the book became rather dull.  It picked up a bit at the end when there were quite a few exciting and harrowing action sequences as men in parts of the world decided to try and fight back against the new reality.

3.5/5

Zoe

 

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Book Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent

This is the second novel in the trilogy and picks up right where Divergent left off.  So Tris, Four and their uneasy alliance are sort of on the run after the vicious attack by mind controlled Dauntless on Abnegation.

Their society is more divided and ill at ease with itself than ever as our heroes have to seek allies and shelter with other factions as well as turning to the factionless for help.

This is a great book.  It’s action packed and exciting as well as taking time to explore more of the themes of Tris’ strange world and to follow her struggles to recover from the guilt at having killed a friend to defend her family in the last book.

I would say a downside is that Tris’ behaviour is a little infuriating at times.  She is needlessly (in my opinion) secretive with Four, who has made his love for her clear.  But I can see why the author has her act this way and she is trying to show just how messed up Tris is by the trauma and losses of the last book – she’s very human, acting illogically and making mistakes.

It’s good to get to know other factions a little better too.  Both the readers and Tris get to see that there are many members of factions who don’t neatly fit into the personalities they have been assigned.

The novel ends with a wonderful big reveal and a tantalising cliff hanger that has me impatient to read the next book!

4/5

Zoe

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Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

This is an excellent book!  A novel aimed at young adults which is the first of an exciting trilogy.

divergent

The story is about Beatrice.  She lives in a very strange society which I believe is Chicago in the future (although I don’t think this is spelled out for certain).  In their society people live in ‘factions’, each faction has different attributes.  Candor are honest, Abnegation are selfless, Dauntless are brave, Amity are peaceful and Erudite are clever.  These factions perform different functions in society and mixing between the factions is minimal.  There is also a sixth group ‘the factionless’ these are people who live outside of society in extreme poverty because, for whatever reason, they were cast out of their factions – being factionless is seen as a terrible fate in Beatrice’s world.

At the age of 16 people have to choose which faction they wish to belong to.  Most people remain in the faction they were born into but this is not compulsory if you feel you do not fit it – leaving a faction requires a big sacrifice though as it will mean leaving your family behind for good.  To aid people in their decision they go through a complicated aptitude test which is supposed to reveal beyond doubt where they belong.

Beatrice is born in Abnegation and is torn in the run up to her decision because, although she loves her family, she doesn’t feel it is where she truly belongs.  But she is not sure she truly belongs in any of the other factions either!  She feels her personality is a mixture of different attributes (like a normal person to us!) in her world this is virtually unheard of as in is seen as vital that everyone fits in neatly to a fixed role.

Anyway, Beatrice makes her choice (I won’t spoil it for you) and begins the tough initiation process all teenagers have to go through before being accepted as full members of a faction.  The process is all the more tough for Beatrice as the whole time she has to hide the truth – that she does not fully fit in to any one faction.  Her uniqueness comes in handy however, as being slightly apart from the pack makes her more questioning which helps her spot something very dark brewing in the rigid and regimented culture she lives in.

This is a great story.  I found it very exciting and action packed.  I also loved it because of the parallels drawn with real teenage life.  OK we don’t have to choose a faction for life exactly but we are expected to know who we are and what we want to do with our lives at a very young age.  There is a lot of pressure to fit in and being a person who does not fit easily into an established mould can feel rather isolating – just like life is for Beatrice.

I am looking forward to seeing where the next two books take the characters and the rather sinister world they live in.

4.5/5

 

Zoe

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Book Review: East West Street by Philippe Sands

I stopped reading this about 20% in as it wasn’t really what I was looking for.   I read a review elsewhere that seemed to suggest it was a history book.  It isn’t quite that, it is more about the author’s efforts to find out about his family history during the holocaust (or at least the bit I read was).

I always feel weirdly guilty not admiring a book on such a serious subject but I found it dull.  I don’t find the suffering of the holocaust dull!  But the style of the book about how he traced the details of his relative’s movements and what the details of their living arrangements before and during World War II were just weren’t the style of history I respond to.  I prefer more conventional history writing that focuses on the people and events rather than on the process of uncovering that history.

Might suit someone as interested in the process of uncovering history as in the history itself.

Not for me.

2/5

East West Street

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Book Review: Conspiracy by S.J. Parris

conspiracy

This is the fourth book in S.J. Parris’ Giordano Bruno series.

Giordano Bruno was a real person who lived in late 16th century Europe.  He was a disgraced monk who abandoned holy orders because of his ‘heretical’ ideas on philosophy and science.  He is probably most famous for his theories on an infinite universe.  Excommunicated by Rome he travelled Europe making his living (with varying levels of success) as a teacher and academic, finding favour at times with rich and powerful figures because of his great intelligence.

S.J. Parris takes these facts and then uses her imagination to turn Bruno into a sort of travelling sleuth who solves crimes on his travels and become embroiled in plots and conspiracies wherever he goes!  It is a great idea.

So far we have seen him in Oxford, London and Coventry dealing with the spies, religious radicals, murderers and plotters who were indeed abound in Elizabethan England.  This novel is in my opinion the most exciting yet and sees him over the channel in the Paris that oversaw the end of the Valois Dynasty.

Henry III

Henry III of France, one of many interesting characters in the novel based on real historical figures. 

It’s a great setting.  Set about 15 years after the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s day, when tens of thousands of Protestants were slaughters across France, we find a city taut with religious and political tension.  The last Valois King Henry III, although still relatively young, is childless and not in the best of health and his cousin and likely heir is a Protestant.  Will the King, whom most believe to be a homosexual, produce an heir with his long suffering wife?  Will a Protestant on the throne reopen the barely healed religious wounds?  Or will the Catholics find a way to force a Catholic succession with or without a legitimate Valois heir?

Bruno is drawn into  this conflict when an old friend of his is mysteriously murdered and the clues indicate that the man had been part of a conspiracy at the heart of the French court possibly involving a plot to assassinate the King!

The best thing about this novel is that it is really exciting, full of danger and peril.  It is also fun to learn more about the rather debauched French court which is run by the formidable Queen Mother Catherine De Medici.   As for criticisms I found moments a little too gory, some of the poor characters really suffer under torture, but this is probably just because I am a wuss and the scenes did reflect the bloody times and helped raise the peril levels for Bruno.  I also, in common with the other Bruno novels, felt the mystery itself to be a little weak.  Parris is excellent at creating compelling characters and settings but she is no Agatha Christie when it comes to creating an intriguing mystery.  At the ‘big reveal’ moment in each of the Bruno stories I have read so far I have felt a sense of disappointment at the solution of the mystery, a sort of “Oh, was that all”.  But overall a great read and they do say the journey can be more exciting than the destination!

4/5

Zoe

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