Genre: Memoir

The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec (3/5)

Posted August 18, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec (3/5)The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec
Published by Virago Press Ltd on September 4th 2014
Genres: Food, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Personal Memoirs, Travel
Pages: 211
Format: Paperback
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"A relationship was a mathematical formula: the correct variables of age, beauty, morality and finances were entered and the output was a successful, peaceful marriage. It couldn’t be, therefore, that their Iranian son could feel desire for someone six years his senior, someone who didn’t come to him pure and untouched. I was an amusing visitor from another world and soon enough I should return to it, fading quietly into an anecdote …"
In her thirties, Jennifer Klinec abandons a corporate job to launch a cooking school from her London flat. Raised in Canada to Hungarian-Croatian parents, she has already travelled to countries most people are fearful of, in search of ancient recipes. Her quest leads her to Iran where, hair discreetly covered and eyes modest, she is introduced to a local woman who will teach her the secrets of the Persian kitchen.
Vahid is suspicious of the strange foreigner who turns up in his mother’s kitchen; he is unused to seeing an independent woman. But a compelling attraction pulls them together and then pits them against harsh Iranian laws and customs.
Getting under the skin of one of the most complex and fascinating nations on earth, The Temporary Bride is a soaring story of being loved, being fed, and the struggle to belong.

I selected this as my read for the “food memoir” task for Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

Set in Iran, I have to say my mouth was watering with many of the descriptions of local delicacies. It’s clear that the author is passionate about food, recipes, provenance and learning authentic dishes from around the world. However Klinec also comes across as spoilt and selfish. The product of rich parents who seemed to care more about money than their children.

Alongside the food memoir, this is also a story of love. Klinec meets Vahid, an Iranian citizen, who invites her to visit his family and learn from his mother’s cooking. They start a relationship which seems to be doomed from the very beginning.

Reading about her relationship with Vahid, I started to feel angry towards Jennifer. She seemed to be selfish and single-minded, with no real thought to the position she was putting Vahid in with regards his family and his community. That said, by the end my feelings had mellowed slightly, but I still think she could have been more respectful of the circumstances she was in.

For a food memoir, this book is also sorely lacking in recipes! For all she clearly has a love of the food she discovered, there was no further information on the dishes, which was really disappointing.

This was a good read and I enjoyed it. But the inclusion of some recipes would have made it even better!

Spectacles by Sue Perkins

Posted August 11, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Spectacles by Sue PerkinsSpectacles by Sue Perkins
Published by Penguin on July 28th 2016
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 437
Format: Paperback
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Spectacles is the hilarious, creative and incredibly moving memoir from much loved comedian, writer and presenter Sue Perkins.
When I began writing this book, I went home to see if my mum had kept some of my stuff. What I found was that she hadn't kept some of it. She had kept all of it - every bus ticket, postcard, school report - from the moment I was born to the moment I finally had the confidence to turn round and say 'Why is our house full of this shit?'
Sadly, a recycling 'incident' destroyed the bulk of this archive. This has meant two things: firstly, Dear Reader, you will never get to see countless drawings of wizards, read a poem about corn on the cob, or marvel at the kilos of brown flowers I so lovingly pressed as a child. Secondly, it's left me with no choice but to actually write this thing myself.
This, my first ever book, will answer questions such as 'Is Mary Berry real?', 'Is it true you wear a surgical truss?' and 'Is a non-spherically symmetric gravitational pull from outside the observable universe responsible for some of the observed motion of large objects such as galactic clusters in the universe?'
Most of this book is true. I have, of course, amplified my more positive characteristics in an effort to make you like me.
Thank you for reading.

Praise for Spectacles

'Drama, tears and laughs - Spectacles has got it all. A brilliant, touching memoir suffused with love, it reminds you that life is best lived at wonky angles. I ADORED it' Jessie Burton, bestselling author of The Miniaturist
'Very funny . . . It seems there are two Sue Perkins: the TV one, who gabbles and pratfalls, and the sensitive one who aches. The first of course, exists to protect the second. They can both write. The first writes comedy, the second tragedy; in this sense, reading her memoir is very like meeting her'Sunday Times
'It's a proper book . . . so well written. Tight & bright & full of inspiration'Chris Evans, Radio 2

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book since it was published, and although I waited until it was out in paperback, I have to say, it hasn’t disappointed!

This is a very entertaining memoir and glimpse into Sue Perkins’ life. It’s very much written in her “voice” and on occasion feels very much like having a conversation with a good friend over a cup of tea.

Sue comes across on TV as being very energetic and hyper, and this translates into the book with a lot of jumping around between different time periods, and stories left hanging and unfinished. I don’t want to spoil the text for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I did find this annoying and was left with a good few questions at the end of the book.

That said, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read, best enjoyed with a slice of cake and a mug of tea.

Ready. Steady. READ!!!

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2/5)

Posted April 24, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2/5)Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Published by Abacus on March 24th 2005
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Travel
Pages: 933
Format: Paperback
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"It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured."
So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.
Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay's hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.
As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city's poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.
Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas---this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate lovefor India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.

This book has sat on my TBR pile for quite a while before I decided to dive into the 933 pages of Shantaram. The book seems to divide opinion between those who loved it and those who loathed it. Unfortunately after 8 days of reading (which is a long time for me to spend on a single book) I have to say I am more towards the “loathed” end of the scale than the “loved” end of the scale!

It starts off well, and is interesting to see how Lin (or Gregory) ingratiated himself into day-to-day Bombay (Mumbai) life. His tales of first arriving in Bombay, living in the village with his friend Prabaker and his experience living in the slums, were all really interesting accounts of the side of India I know nothing about. However, the writing is overly flowery and self-important; and full of deep, philosophical discussions allegedly had between a group of ex-pats – who make their living in the black markets of Bombay – over their drinks in a bar.

By the time the book moved on to Lin’s activities with the Bombay mafia, and then into his adventures in Afghanistan, I was beginning to lose the will to continue reading. The book seems to descend into a catalogue of his life as a hardened criminal, all the while trying to justify his actions on the basis that he hasn’t killed anyone! He seems to think he is some kind of good samaritan who is somehow removed from the activities in which he is involved, while at the same time trying to present himself as “the westerner who infiltrated the Bombay mafia”.

The author is clearly passionate about India, and about Bombay in particular. I have to admit that India isn’t a country I’ve been particularly drawn to in the past. But this is the first book I’ve read which is piqued my interest to find out more about the country, its history and its population. For that alone, it was worth the read.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (5/5)

Posted March 20, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (5/5)Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Published by Canongate Books on December 31st 2015
Genres: Health, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Psychology
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
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'I want life.
I want to read it and write it and feel it and live it.
I want, for as much of the time as possible in this blink-of-an-eye existence we have, to feel all that can be felt.
I hate depression. I am scared of it. Terrified, in fact. But at the same time, it has made me who I am. And if - for me - it is the price of feeling life, it's a price always worth paying'
Reasons to Stay Alive is about making the most of your time on earth. In the western world the suicide rate is highest amongst men under the age of 35. Matt Haig could have added to that statistic when, aged 24, he found himself staring at a cliff-edge about to jump off. This is the story of why he didn't, how he recovered and learned to live with anxiety and depression. It's also an upbeat, joyous and very funny exploration of how live better, love better, read better and feel more.

This is a phenomenal book. I’d give it 6 stars if I could!

Matt Haig was a normal 24 year old when he suffered a catastrophic depressive episode. This is his memoir about his journey from the brink of suicide, suffering from debilitating panic attacks, through self-healing to where he is now.

It’s not a self-help book. It’s not full of exercises to do to try and make you feel better written by someone who has never experienced mental ill-health. This is a very personal account of one man’s experience of anxiety and depression, that is so well written it feels like it speaks directly to you. Having suffered from anxiety and depression myself, I felt a companionship with this book that I have rarely felt before. It was as if someone could speak directly to me and know how I was feeling without me having to say a single word. For anyone who has suffered from anxiety and depression, or for anyone who knows someone who has (and the chances are you do) this book should be required reading.

I read this in a single 2-hour reading session. It was totally engaging. It’s definitely a book I will return to time and time again. I already have umpteen page corners turned down marking bits that are particularly good, and I could quote a hundred things from the book very easily. But I will finish with this one quote from Haruki Murakami‘s “Kafka on the Shore”.

… once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about …

 

Stories I Only Tell my Friends by Rob Lowe (3/5)

Posted January 22, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Stories I Only Tell my Friends by Rob Lowe (3/5)Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe
Published by Corgi on January 19th 2012
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Pages: 357
Format: Paperback
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A wryly funny and surprisingly moving account of an extraordinary life lived almost entirely in the public eye
A teen idol at fifteen, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at twenty, and one of Hollywood's top stars to this day, Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-seventies Malibu, where he embarked on his unrelenting pursuit of a career in Hollywood.
The Outsiders placed Lowe at the birth of the modern youth movement in the entertainment industry. During his time on The West Wing, he witnessed the surreal nexus of show business and politics both on the set and in the actual White House. And in between are deft and humorous stories of the wild excesses that marked the eighties, leading to his quest for family and sobriety.
Never mean-spirited or salacious, Lowe delivers unexpected glimpses into his successes, disappointments, relationships, and one-of-a-kind encounters with people who shaped our world over the last twenty-five years. These stories are as entertaining as they are unforgettable.

I was a teenager in the 80’s and the “Brat Pack” were all me and my friends could talk about. My bedroom was covered in posters of them all, including Rob Lowe. I must admit he’s always been a favourite of mine. When I was living in Brussels, English-language TV could be a bit hit and miss. One night I was flicking through the channels when I saw Rob Lowe. Intrigued, I started to watch the programme and my love affair with The West Wing began (it’s still one of the best shows every IMHO). So when I saw this book I knew I had to have it.

It charts his life right from the humble beginnings, to moving to California and following his dreams to become an actor. It probably didn’t do him any harm that he was hanging around with Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez and the like, right from the beginning. It certainly makes for interesting reading. As the book progresses I felt he skipped over some of the incidents – brushing them aside. There’s an inference of an encounter with an under-age fan, his descent into alcoholism, and many other instances that are glossed over. I can totally understand why, but when reading a memoir of a Hollywood star it’s natural to want to know some of the dirt! It also seemed that his time on The West Wing was soured somewhat and he did come across as a little bit of a petulant child.

That said, this is a great read. It’s full of loads of pictures from his early days right up until recent times, and overall it’s a very entertaining insight into the “Brat Pack” and the lives of the Hollywood elite.

The Bookshop that Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw

Posted November 23, 2015 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Bookshop that Floated Away by Sarah HenshawThe Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw
Published by Constable on April 3rd 2014
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Travel
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
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In early 2009 a strange sort of business plan landed on the desk of a pinstriped bank manager. It had pictures of rats and moles in rowing boats and archaic quotes about Cleopatra's barge. It asked for a GBP30,000 loan to buy a black-and-cream narrowboat and a small hoard of books. The manager said no. Nevertheless The Book Barge opened six months later and enjoyed the happy patronage of local readers, a growing number of eccentrics and the odd moorhen. Business wasn't always easy, so one May morning owner Sarah Henshaw set off for six months chugging the length and breadth of the country. Books were bartered for food, accommodation, bathroom facilities and cake. During the journey, the barge suffered a flooded engine, went out to sea, got banned from Bristol and, on several occasions, floated away altogether. This account follows the ebbs and flows of Sarah's journey as she sought to make her vision of a floating bookshop a reality.

This book has sat on Mt. TBR for a fair while now. It was bought as a gift for me and looked good from the blurb on the back, but unfortunately the execution of the book was a disappointment.

Henshaw herself says at the beginning that there are very few characters that are constant through the book. Pretty much just Sarah herself, Joseph the boat, and a few people who pop in and out such as her on-off boyfriend Stu and her parents. This gives the book a very disjointed feel as people appear for one chapter, only to disappear again. It’s almost like a series of short stories – yet hasn’t been written like a short story, so it’s ultimately unsatisfying.

Henshaw’s writing is also all over the place with some events hinted at, while other seem to appear from nowhere, leaving the reader wondering what they’ve missed. In parts it almost feels like a diatribe against the kindle, which is understandable (she also appears to be equally against Scottish banknotes, which is less so!) but it does get a bit much. She also comes across as someone with very little business nous, which makes the whole commercial aspect of the book barge very questionable to say the least. Ultimately it appears that without parents and her aforementioned on-again/off-again boyfriend to shore up the finances, the venture would have folded very quickly (or possibly not got off the ground at all).

I also skipped Part 2 completely as that was a fictional account of the book barge’s life, written in the first person. It was just odd!

Overall she comes across as impulsive and privileged to have people who can shore up the financial aspect of something which is nothing more than a flight of fancy. This one just wasn’t for me.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

Posted November 16, 2015 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

I’ve been under the weather for the last few days. Which has been rotten – but on the plus side I’ve managed to get through a good few books from Mt. TBR. First up was this amazing autobiography from Hyeonseo Lee. I am absolutely fascinated by North Korea. I find it an intriguing country, not […]