Review: ‘This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ by Adam Kay

Spreading a strong message through comedy is most likely one of the more difficult feats to pull off within the medium – make it too serious and the humour is lost, but add too many jokes and the call to action is diminished. Fortunately, when comedian Adam Kay wrote a book giving an honest look at the intense life of a junior doctor, such a balance was brilliantly executed.

Photo: Liam O’Dell.

Only a select few books have had the ability to make me laugh out loud, and that does in no way suggest that I don’t have a sense of humour (more that I find it harder to laugh at written comedy), and Kay’s book is one of them. Then again, it isn’t hard to make jokes about the profession and the bizarre medical scenarios in which a doctor can find themselves – look no further than the several ‘doctor, doctor’ jokes that have appeared to have survived the test of time for proof of this.

Throughout, the book flits between diary entries about Kay’s job, and those about how his personal life is affected, just as much as it jumps between the comedic and the tragic. Then, to make it very clear that this is about a genuine insight into the life of a junior doctor (at a time when they are continued pressure), This is Going to Hurt ends on a particularly sad and emotional note regarding one medical incident. It’s a tone which precedes an open letter to the Health Secretary, which tightly sums up the points raised in the book in a TL;DR-like fashion.

With an NHS under increasing pressure, it’s easy for us to imagine the stresses that staff face after having binge-watched a series of Casualty, but in This is Going to Hurt, we hear the pure truth without the over-dramatisation – the only ‘sugarcoating’ being the added benefit of comic relief when the truth hurts too much.

Comedic, insightful and educational, this book is a must-read to understand the true pressure our junior doctors face.

Rating: 4/5

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Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew d’Ancona (REVIEW)

How does one begin to explain the current social and political climate in the Western world? A chain of unprecedented events has created a plethora of new, futuristic vocabulary (such as alternative facts, fake news and the Oxford English Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016, post-truth) that are yet to be properly defined. Although, that hasn’t stopped some individuals from taking on the mammoth task of providing much-needed clarity. Matthew D’Ancona’s exploration of post-truth delves into existentialism, post-modernism and digital mediums with a final call-to-action which is to be expected from an established British journalist and columnist.

Photo: Penguin Books.
With such a relevant background, one would assume that fake news – as a by-product of post-truth – would be featured heavily in the 150-page book. Yet, save for a couple of small sections on the topic, fake news isn’t mentioned that often. Instead, D’Ancona’s analysis of post-truth acts as a centre-point – a springboard – for him to jump seamlessly from discussions about social media and clickbait to the role of satirists.

Given the short length of the book, Matthew is quick to jump to the heart of his commentary, which appears to be that of post-modernism. To explain such a complex subject (and one which lacks clarity) with a critical perspective that is just as vague and detailed is a bad move, but a move d’Ancona makes nonetheless. Whilst he should be commended for trying to define the indefinable, a couple of sentences is not enough to clarify the main basis for his argument. Long story short, I was thankful that my knowledge of post-modernism from A-Levels hadn’t left my mind completely, but that’s not to say that I didn’t struggle to understand the basis for d’Ancona’s argument. As someone who approached the book with a brief knowledge of what post-modernism entails, one has to wonder whether someone without said understanding would be able to comprehend the more intrinsic aspects of Matthew’s commentary.

Nevertheless, like most works of non-fiction, Post-Truth includes some interesting and thoughtful points about the decline of trust and accuracy following Trump and Brexit. It’s towards the end of the book – the fifth chapter titled ‘”The Stench of Lies”: The Strategies to Defeat Post-Truth’ – where d’Ancona really sells his perspective. Summarising the best bits from previous chapters, the columnist reminds us of the current situation, and attempts to provide some solutions to the post-truth problem the Western world is currently experiencing. Although this section contains the motivational bravado possessed by most successful newspaper columnists, it still feels somewhat disorientating despite D’Ancona stating many options for society going forward.

If anything, Matthew d’Ancona’s Post-Truth raises more questions than it does providing answers, although that is understandable given the complexities of the subject matter. Whilst it is far from the definitive conclusion to the problem of falsehood, the journalist has at least begun to shed some light on an important socio-political issue in this small publication.

Review: ‘Child Taken’ by Darren Young

An investigative journalist looking into a missing person’s case is nothing new in the world of crime fiction (one only has to look to Mikael Blomkvist and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for a classic example of this), but as with most books in this genre, it’s about the characters. A struggling young reporter trying to get her big break at the local paper had me interested as a student journalist, and I soon began reading Child Taken by Darren Young.

Cover for Child Taken, with a child in a yellow dress on the beach, with her back to the camera, looking out to sea
Whilst it was the blurb which primarily had me hooked, part of me was curious to find out just how many stereotypes about newspaper editors and journalism would end up in the novel. Aside from the character of David Weatherall sounding a little like J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man movies and one day off too many, the Gazette‘s newsroom wasn’t too unfamiliar…

Admittedly, having read this book over the space of two or three months, the first half of the book has been somewhat forgotten. However, it can be described as a ‘slow burner’ of a novel. As the mystery unwravels over the course of 438 pages, it’s around two-thirds of the way in where the pace really starts to pick up, with action in every chapter.

It was at this point that I was reminded how good a movie or TV Show Child Taken could be. Written in an intriguing and descriptive narrative style, it was one of the few books which made me imagine every scene in detail. It made each action scene more intense, and the big finale even more impactful (no spoilers).

Gripping and thrilling with a perfectly constructed plot, Child Taken is a brilliant debut from the writer, Darren Young.

A huge thank you to Red Door Publishing for sending me an advance copy of Child Taken and apologies for the review going up late! Whilst I was sent a free copy, this review contains my honest opinion.

Review: ‘All That She Can See’ by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Note: This review contains spoilers.

As a devout fan of Disney, music and the theatre, it’s no surprise that YouTuber and actress Carrie Hope Fletcher’s genre of choice is magic realism. After the phenomenal success of her previous novel, On the Other Side, Fletcher writes with increased confidence and enthusiasm in her second work of fiction, All That She Can See. Set in Plymouth, the plot focusses on the loveable Cherry Redgrave and a very special gift she possesses…

'All That She Can See' book

In their review of the book, the Mail on Sunday said: “Think Chocolat with a heaped tablespoon of Bake Off “, and it’s a fair comparison to make. Add elements of Nanny McPheeThe Golden Compass and Divergent to the mix (pun not intended) and you start to get a better idea of the imaginative story at the heart of this novel. There’s something for everyone.

As mentioned previously, All That She Can See centres on a tight-knit community in Plymouth and a positive tone is set (all of the character’s eagerness to agree with one another at first was something which I was a bit sceptical of to start with), that is, before the main source of conflict is introduced – Mr Chase Masters.

Naturally, any reader would be quick to assume that Cherry and Chase would go on to develop a romantic relationship, as with most books in this genre. Whilst that is the case, the important thing is that a valid reason is given, and it is not simply a cliché. What makes it works is that the bond taps into the bigger picture Fletcher was trying to paint with the novel. Underneath the metaphors for human feelings, there were a few comments about happiness and emotions which Carrie was trying to make. Consider it a fictional extension of sorts to All I Know Now, as it were.

However, it isn’t long before the bubbly Nanny McPhee style of the story fades away into darker territory akin to that of Divergent. Unlike On the Other Side, there were some shocking, haunting scenes in this book, which only shows development on Carrie’s part as a Sunday Times bestselling author.

It pays off, too, being one of those books which can invoke specific images in one’s head when reading (sadly a select few can do that for me these days). It was halfway through the book, when Cherry’s dilemma got worse, that I truly got engrossed in the story. Even now, I remember certain parts of the book having me shout out loud in shock. At some points in the novel, I was so sure of what was going to happen, but Fletcher continued to surprise and intrigue with exciting twists and turns. What’s even better is that it ends in a way which suggests there’s more to come, and a trilogy of books from Carrie Hope Fletcher would be a very exciting thing indeed.

Disclaimer: A huge thank you to the wonderful team at Little Brown for sending me an advance readers’ copy of All That She Can See! Whilst I did receive this for free, all opinions stated in the above review are honest and my own.

Review: ‘Burned and Broken’ by Mark Hardie

Works of fiction about police procedure are always interesting. The inner workings of a police force are investigated as closely as the crime the detectives are examining themselves. In Mark Hardie’s debut novel, Burned and Broken, readers get not one, but two cases to dig their teeth into: an officer subject to an internal investigation has been murdered and a girl has been killed too. In that regard, you would think that the book contains a very rich plot, with the occasional burst of action. Yet, the gripping intensity which can be found in some of the best crime novels was something Hardie’s Burned and Broken lacked.

Save for the opening scene, where we see the crime taking place, the remainder of the book was somewhat devoid of action, and seemed to focus more on the characters and their investigations. Whilst this certainly helped character development – Donna’s interactions with the deceased Alicia were certainly interesting – there was no sense of intensity or curiosity (the ‘whodunnit’, as it were) which drives lovers of a mystery to read on. Something which caught my eye was a scene with one character dealing with a motorcycle accident, but all of the action seemed to be in the past. We didn’t see the accident happen, and when a body is found hanging from a building, we didn’t see how he ended up there (and of course, there are ways of this being done without giving away the culprit).

The loss of interest was a feeling which emerged a third of the way through reading, and even when it came to a last-minute rush through the remainder of the novel, nothing jumped off the page. Granted, to review a novel when I haven’t read it in its entirety or in detail is not a wise move to make, yet I had read enough to know that this book was not the one for me.

That being said, Burned and Broken does a great job of developing the main characters through the avenue of police procedure – something a debut novel needs to do well. With more books on the way from Mark Hardie which see a return to the Essex Police Major Investigation Team, hopefully there will be more action and intensity for readers to explore the next time around.

Note: Whilst I was sent a free advance reader’s copy of this book for review by Little Brown, this blog post is not sponsored and contains my honest opinion.

 

Review: ‘Never Alone’ by Elizabeth Haynes

It was Into the Darkest Corner which introduced me to Elizabeth Haynes. Chosen as part of Channel 4’s TV Book Club, I was intrigued and bought a copy. Since then, I’ve kept an eye on Elizabeth’s releases, and Never Alone caught my eye.

Never Alone is a book with intrigue at its core. There’s lies, secrets and interesting relationships between all characters involved, but with no actual crime taking place at the beginning. It’s a novel filled with suspense, raising questions at the start and only at the end are these answered – with an intense finale complete with a plot twist that caught me completely off-guard. Whilst I prefer books which open with a crime scene, and the rest of the novel becomes a whodunit, there were parts of this intense, twisting thriller I really enjoyed.

All characters in Never Alone are different, brilliantly described by Elizabeth, believable and work well together. Sarah as the main protagonist is an awkward, grieving woman with two dogs – also complete with their own characteristics. It’s a personality which is easy for the reader to imagine.

An aspect of the novel which took me by surprise was the fact it is somewhat erotic in parts, complete with detailed sexual imagery. At these points, it detracts from being a crime novel and moves towards erotica – I genre I don’t read at all.

That being said, the way that Never Alone is written – with the story alternating between the viewpoints of Sarah and a character named Aiden per chapter – was a clever way to tell the story. At first, Aiden’s second person narrative did confuse me, but I soon got used to it. It’s a bold move for Elizabeth Haynes to adopt this narrative style and it worked well.

On the whole, Never Alone is not your ordinary crime novel. With questions and intrigue that grips you from the start and a climatic finish, it’s a more suspenseful novel as opposed to a fast-paced thriller. Although I may prefer the latter, Elizabeth Haynes latest release is another novel which is wonderfully eery – very much like Into The Darkest Corner. If you love slow, developing stories about secrets and mysterious pasts, then this book may be right up your street.

Liam

Review: ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’ by Oliver Sacks

Psychology has always been a big interest of mine, but not to the extent that I want to study it academically. Within the category of psychology, I have constantly found unique and complex neurological conditions fascinating – and that’s where The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks comes in.

With the book’s structure involving Sacks’ meetings with some of his patients, the conditions covered in the book are diverse and interesting. At first, his writing style when describing his patients was very descriptive and it felt like I was reading a work of fiction.

However, whilst the high levels of description helped me to understand the neurological conditions to begin with, it then started to become quite heavy with specific terminology halfway through the book. For example, the term agnosia is mentioned repeatedly, but is only properly towards the end. Therefore, it may be a difficult read for someone who learns psychology for fun (like me).

Whilst I found I difficult to understand at parts, some stories were enjoyable. ‘The Twins’, for instance, details two brothers with autistic, savant-like abilities. Personally, I’ve always found autism and savant syndrome intriguing, so it was an interesting read.

Despite finding it hard to enjoy the book at times, I do have other books by Oliver Sacks – on the psychology of music and hallucinations – which I am very much looking forward to reading.

On the whole, it’s an intriguing book, but may be of more interest to a psychology student than a hobbyist.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Liam