I was recently gifted Adventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest Expeditions by Sir David Attenborough because despite having spent many years watching, and loving, his documentaries, I’d never actually read any of his books. Despite initially being daunted by getting to grips with such a big hard back, I was just as delighted by reading about Attenborough’s adventures as I would have been watching them.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Sir David Attenborough is an English veteran broadcaster and naturalist.

Essentially, he’s something of a British broadcasting legend. Adventures of a Young Naturalist combines three books he wrote in the 1950s to accompany three series of the BBC program Zoo Quest, which were the first nature shows of their kind and were the beginning of Attenborough’s illustrious career. The three logbooks have been updated and abridged in places but retain their original spirit and include a number of photos from the time.

As Adventures of a Young Naturalist is a collection of other books, it follows that the three key sections are discrete and each cover a single trip. Within each section, every chapter also contains a discrete story, as if each one is a mini-episode, which means the books lend themselves well to comparison with Attenborough’s small screen programming.


It’s easy to get swept up in Attenborough’s storytelling. Each story has just the right mix of excitement and gentle humour that it keeps you engaged but always feeling safely along for the ride. I think the fact that you can genuinely hear his voice in your head as you read is both the greatest asset of the book and a real testament to his power in broadcasting. There are few voices I know so well in audible and stylistic tone.

It’s not just how the stories are told, that keeps you reading. It’s fascinating to learn more about the way nature was approached what is now half a century ago. I’ve grown up with nature documentaries and google image search at my fingertips, so I can clearly picture the majority of the animals the team set out to find in the books. But to imagine seeing many of these creatures for the first time, through the eyes of someone so passionate is thrilling. Plus, there are some real characters in the book both animal (the armadillos are some of my favourites) and human, who really make these stories feel like adventures rather than just a catalogue of exotic creatures.

I do think that if I were to read this again, or if I could go back in time and have a chat to my January self, I would recommend reading Adventures of a Young Naturalist in sections. I would even, perhaps, read something else between the different Zoo Quests. I say this, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I think each story loses its impact when read hurriedly – like if you try and walk around the entire Louvre in an afternoon, by the third hour all of the master pieces you’re seeing blur into one. So perhaps this would be a perfect commute companion.

If you already know and love programs like Blue Planet, or if you just have an interest in adventure, I would highly recommend picking this one up. It’s easy to pick up if a little tricky to put down.



  • Do you think that a similar expedition could be done now? Why? Would anything have changed?
  • Did you enjoy the episodic nature of the chapters and sections of the book?
  • Who did you think stood out more within the narrative the animals or the people encountered?
  • If you’ve seen any of David Attenborough’s documentaries, how did reading about his adventures compare to seeing them on the screen? What were the similarities/differences?




The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis was my Christmas read. It’s the perfect curl up in front of the fire while it’s cold outside novel with its mix of detective-esque plotline, Edinburgh scenery and what can only be described as Call the Midwife vibes. 

After Mrs Walker dies alone in a cold Edinburgh flat on a snowy Christmas night, a glass of whiskey dropped from her hand and the remanence of a clementine on her side board, Margaret Penny gets the job of finding out who she was through the Office for Lost People. Margaret has returned home a lost herself, middle-aged without a career, a relationship or a life she can call her own. But what Margaret Penny doesn’t realise, is just how entangled her own life will become in the death of this dead old lady.

However, The Other Mrs Walker not quite so simple as just being a mystery. The plot jumps back and forth between 2011 and the 1940s-60s, and between Margaret and a group of three sisters Clementine, Ruby and Barbara. That kind of split-plot is something I would have normally avoided in the past, but here it works well. The jumps are well defined, and you always have a clear sense of where you are and which character you’re with, and all of the strands of the plot feed into each other and inform the narrative. 

Female characters – mothers, daughters, and sisters – dominate the pages. Their relationships are fraught and complex, but never over-complicated. They’ve each got their strengths and flaws, but they’re all a little too mysterious to be fully “rounded”. It is a novel of real women though, to the extent that I would have been surprised had it not been written by a woman.

I’ve read a lot of crime thrillers and detective novels in my time and I’m not sure this will go down as one of the greatest I’ve read. The reader sometimes knows too much, and the resolutions don’t always feel quite satisfying enough. But, it is “a detective story with no detective” and in that category, it’s pretty strong.

If you’re looking for a cozy page-turner to ease you into the new year, then The Other Mrs Walker should definitely be on your considerations list.

For this month’s alternative cover I chose to highlight one of the recurring symbols in the book – the clementine. I had a lot of fun playing with textures and a slightly rougher illustration style than I normally use.



  • Symbols repeat themselves quite frequently throughout the novel, what do you think the effect of this is? How well do you think this is done?
  • There’s a lot of reference to family heirlooms (prized or not) do you have anything you would want to pass on to a loved one?
  • The action of The Other Mrs Walker is driven by a set of female characters, how do you think the story would play out differently if it were about fathers, sons and brothers?
  • What social commentary can you draw from how the mentally ill and the dead are treated in the story?



  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet
  • Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue


Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is undoubtedly one of the most well known Christmas stories of all time. It has been made and remade into countless movies and TV series, and its format used even more. It’s a classic and it’s my pick for this month’s book club because I was feeling festive and decided to reread it.

You probably already know the story of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is a cold-miser who doesn’t believe in the spirit of Christmas until he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, so why read it?

First off, the book is almost always better than the movie, fact. There’s so much more depth in the novella than any of the movies. There’s a reason it’s timeless.

Second, it’s the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit, the true Christmas spirit, within a couple of hours. A Christmas Carol is only about 100 pages long. Dickens really has a gift for painting a scene. He can go from darkness to light, outrage to compassion, gloom to humour without ever breaking the scene.


  • How do you think the structure of the ghost of past, present and future would have read the first time?
  • How does reading the book compare to any other versions of the story you know?
  • Does the story still hold up so many years later?
  • Did Scrooge’s tale make you think about Christmas any differently? Does Dickens’ didactic moral still apply?


  • Watch any or all of the versions of A Christmas Carol made for the screen including but not limited to: the 2009 version, Scrooge from 1951, a Muppet Christmas Carol, and the animated Christmas Carol: The Movie from 2001. There’s even a retelling this year called The Man Who Invented Christmas, which imagines how Dickens wrote the story
  • Or, watch the Grinch which is pretty much Dr Seuss’s version of a similar tale
  • Read this review from The Guardian – when do I not include a Guardian review?



This month I reread Emma for my office book club and I had such a good time that I wanted to share it here as well. Emma is one of my favourite Jane Austen novels and one of my favourite books full stop. It’s the only book that’s made me give up TV so I could race through it this year and it’s the ideal companion to cozy up to on an autumn’s eve.

For my book club posts, I normally offer you a bit of a review of the piece I’ve picked, but Emma has been so thoroughly reviewed since it’s publishing in 1815. And with 200 years of reviews from some of literature’s best (and perhaps worst) thinkers I’m not sure how much I can really add, so I’m going to keep this month’s review short, sweet, and glowing – yes I am biased and I don’t care.

My alternative cover design for Emma

If you haven’t heard of Emma before, it’s the story of Emma Woodhouse a precocious twenty-year-old lady of Highbury, who imagines herself to be a naturally gifted matchmaker. The reader follows Emma as she conjures up relationships for others but remains sure she will not marry. It’s filled with romance, humour, and plenty of drama.

If you haven’t read Jane Austen before, you’ve missed out. A lot of people including Bronte and Nabokov have written off Austen as nothing special, as “chick lit” for the 19th century and thus not worth any time at all. They are so wrong.

First off, “chick lit” is so valuable. If it brings you joy, if it can take you to another world, then it’s great literature and I don’t care if it features a romance or three talking chickens. Second, Austen is so special.

Second, Austen is a great writer. Her characters are interesting and complex. The way she builds societies and landscapes is simply wonderful. For a novel to read so smoothly there’s so much craft that has to go on behind the scenes. Plus, her use of free indirect discourse in Emma (essentially 3rd person narrator who speaks like, and knows as much as a character) was pretty revolutionary at the time, and yet it seems so natural!

Third, for me, even though her novels were written in the 19th century her stories are completely timeless. Not only do they offer you an insight into another world, they are the blueprint of so many modern romances.

So, in short, don’t write Austen off.


  • The world is very different to how it was 200 years ago, do you feel like Emma still remains relevant?
  • Reading Emma in 2017 means you have a lot of preconceived ideas of Emma, of romance in literature and film, and of what the plot might be, how do you think the reading experience would have been different if you read Emma in 1815?
  • How do you feel class is portrayed in Emma? What does Austen want us to think?
  • Emma is a matchmaker, do you think there are any similarities between how she draws people together and how Austen as a literary matchmaker brings her characters together?


  • Watch the 2009 BBC adaptation, which is currently on Netflix starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller – in my opinion it is the best adaptation, the colour and life of it really picks up the character of the book
  • Watch Clueless, it’s pretty much a modern (90s) reimagining of Emma and it’s just a classic
  • John Mullan’s account of why Emma changed the face of literature for the Guardian
  • Anything Paula Byrne has written on Jane Austen, A Life in Small Things is particularly accessible and offers a really interesting look at Austen’s world


  • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
  • Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey
  • Ian McEwan’s Atonement
  • George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss
  • Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters

Why not use Emma themed bookmark I designed to keep your place as you read? You can print and download it for free here.

As ever, let me know if you’ve read Emma, or if you have any recommendations for what I should be reading next.

It took me a long time to read this month’s book club pick, in fact I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t have a new review to share with you in time. Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter isn’t a long book, it’s your average 300 pages or so. But the mixture of a change in work schedule and a lot of things kicking off meant that I lost my regular reading time.

Despite those setbacks I knew that I wanted to read Sweetbitter. It, along with Emma Cline’s The Girls, was one of the most hyped books of 2016. It had a load of things I love in a book, a bit of a bildungsroman, an insight into a world I don’t know all that much about, and some romance. But it was Danler’s descriptions of food I was most interested in; good food writing is one of my favourite things to read.

I think the quote on the cover from Stylist – “think Girls meets Kitchen Confidential” – ended up being the most accurate description I read. Danler’s debut follows the classic coming of age format of a small-town girl moving to New York. However, Tess doesn’t dream of being a star or falling in love, she has no ambitions at all. Danler’s slight twist on the norm, still relies on the romanticism of moving to the big city even if the epigrams she often starts chapters with would claim be too jaded to be swept up by the delights of New York. It’s a tone that’s come to be used to describe the contemporary young woman in her own voice in the last couple of years, and it’s something that resonates me as someone who falls into that category.

Tess finds herself a back waiter at a Manhattan restaurant where meals probably cost more than I spend on groceries in a month. As someone who has never worked in a restaurant, but who has watched and read a fair bit about them, I really enjoyed Tess’s perspective. She’s finding her feet, and in a weird middle ground between front and back of house. Tess also finds herself in the middle of a bizarre love triangle, with a bartender called Jake, who she views only sexually, and the experienced waitress who takes Tess under her wing, Simone, who you could say is her real love interest.

As much as I quite enjoyed reading Sweetbitter, I don’t think it was quite deserving of the sparkling praise it received. It had neither the in-depth documentary style look at a restaurant I wanted nor a thrilling plot, so by the time I finally got to the end I had that slightly hollow feeling of “oh that’s it?”. The novel, like its main character, lacked drive or argument. On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense, and reflects a stasis within an industry where everyone is seemingly only waiting until their big break as an author, actor, singer etc. On the other hand, as a reader as much as I’m happy to read about a character’s lack of direction I still want the text I’m reading to get me turning the pages. That said, I did keep reading and I did enjoy a lot of the time I spent reading.

If you’re looking for a slightly more indie feeling beach read or a casual lunch time companion this one is for you. If you watch Girls, Fleabag, or Broadcity I think you’ll like it, especially if you live in or love New York. If you’re looking for something more, I’m not sure if this one is for you. Now, I’ve read Sweetbitter, I’m really looking forward to seeing what Danler writes next (and I’m sure there will be something) to see if she capitalises on and refines what worked in her first novel.


  • Danler’s descriptions of food, and how she interweaves them with the story are one of the most praised elements of the book, what do you make of them?
  • How well do you feel you know any of the characters in the book?
  • Can you imagine the book as a movie? Who would cast in which roles?
  • Endings, for me, can quite often make or break a book, what are your thoughts on how Danler closes Sweetbitter?



Why not use Sweetbitter themed bookmark I designed to keep your place as you read? You can print and download it for free here.

As ever, let me know if you’ve read Sweetbitter, or if you have any recommendations for what I should be reading next.