Genre: Non-Fiction

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!

Essays by George Orwell

Posted August 15, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Essays by George OrwellGeorge Orwell: Essays (Penguin Modern Classics) by George Orwell
Published by Penguin on January 2nd 2014
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary, Non-Fiction, Political, Short Stories (single author), Social History
Pages: 466
Format: Paperback
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This outstanding collection brings together Orwell’s longer, major essays and a fine selection of shorter pieces that includes My Country Right or Left, Decline of the English Murder, Shooting an Elephant and A Hanging.
With great originality and wit Orwell unfolds his views on subjects ranging from the moral enormity of Jonathan Swift’s strange genius and a revaluation of Charles Dickens to the nature of Socialism, a comic yet profound discussion of naughty sea-side picture postcards and a spirited defence of English cooking. Displaying an almost unrivalled mastery of English plain prose style, Orwell’s essays challenge, move and entertain.

I have always enjoyed Orwell’s writing. Like many people, Nineteen Eighty Four is one of my favourite books. But I had never read any of his essays before now. I chose this book specifically for Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge and I wasn’t disappointed.

This is a real mix bag of stories. From the short to the long; from diatribes on Charles Dickens to essays on “Bookshop Memories”; this book has it all. Although many of the essays are now 80 or more years old, they still hold a remarkable amount of relevance.

A lot of the writing is founded upon Orwell’s socialist leanings, and many essays cover uncomfortable topics such as war and death. The writing certainly isn’t what you would call “politically correct” in today’s terms, with numerous references to the N-word, C-word and F-word, among others. These are all in context – especially when viewed against the backdrop of the time – however if you’re likely to be offended by such language, then give this book a miss.

It would be a shame to miss out though, as this is a superb collection of essays, which are incredibly readable and still very relevant today.

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!!!

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape (3/5)

Posted July 17, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape (3/5)Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill
Published by HarperCollins Genres: Non-Fiction, Religious
Pages: 384
Format: Kindle
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Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, was raised as a Scientologist but left the controversial religion in 2005. In Beyond Belief, she shares her true story of life inside the upper ranks of the sect, details her experiences as a member Sea Org--the church's highest ministry, speaks of her "disconnection" from family outside of the organization, and tells the story of her ultimate escape.
In this tell-all memoir, complete with family photographs from her time in the Church, Jenna Miscavige Hill, a prominent critic of Scientology who now helps others leave the organization, offers an insider's profile of the beliefs, rituals, and secrets of the religion that has captured the fascination of millions, including some of Hollywood's brightest stars such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

As part of the Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge I had to read a fiction or non-fiction religious book. I chose this one.

The religion of Scientology has always fascinated me. I’m an atheist and natural cynic anyway, but the fact that someone can “create” a religion out of (seemingly) nothing, and make a fortune off its believers is a fascinating mix of entrepreneurism, charisma and psychological belief.

The fact that the creator – L. Ron Hubbard – is quoted as saying:

You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.

Makes it all the more fascinating as to how someone can buy into Scientology without at least questioning its beginnings.

That aside, this is a fascinating, and sometimes frightening, account of one young girl’s life within Scientology. Indoctrinated by her parents from the age of 2, she really hadn’t known anything other than life within Scientology. However her tales of neglect, lies and deliberate withholding of information can’t help but make you question why her parents subjected her to the regime. The only hope is that they were vastly unaware of the conditions she was being raised under, otherwise you have to question their ability to parent at all!

As the niece of the man who took over Scientology after L. Ron Hubbard’s death, she knew she was in a privileged position within the organisation. However even that wasn’t enough, and eventually she started to see through the smoke and mirrors of Scientology and left the organisation, having seen it for the fake that it is.

It also touches on the privileged position of the well-known celebrity Scientologists, who seem to live a very different life within the organisation as the ordinary men and women do. They are deliberately “managed” to put forward the best face of the organisation, while becoming Scientology’s biggest advocates in the process.

This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in this kind of sham set-up!

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell (4/5)

Posted July 4, 2016 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell (4/5)The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
Published by Icon Books Ltd on January 8th 2015
Genres: Travel, Europe, Denmark, Social Science, Sociology, General
Pages: 354
Format: Kindle
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'A hugely enjoyable romp through the pleasures and pitfalls of setting up home in a foreign land' PD Smith, Guardian
When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries. What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made?
Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness. From childcare, education, food and interior design to SAD, taxes, sexism and an unfortunate predilection for burning witches, The Year of Living Danishly is a funny, poignant record of a journey that shows us where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.

The blurb for this book includes a review stating that it’s a “hugely enjoyable romp” – which is probably the best possible description for this book. It is thoroughly enjoyable.

Russell and her partner (“Lego Man”) leave hectic lifestyles in London to head to the Danish wilderness when Lego Man is offered a job. It’s a leap into the unknown – especially as they don’t speak the language. What follows is an enjoyable, “Bridget-Jones-meets-The-Happiness-Project” book, which breaks the year down to 12 individual chapters, each focusing on a different part of Danish life. Interspersed with the chat are interviews with “experts” to add a little more substance to the book.

It’s a light-hearted entertaining look at the surface of Danish life as an expat. But it’s not an in-depth sociological study of Denmark and its inhabitants. It’s an enjoyable read, if a slightly fluffy one.

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 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (5/5)

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 […]

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (4/5)

Posted March 6, 2016 by Babs in Book Review / 0 Comments
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (4/5)

After a really rotten run of books, I decided to shake up the genres I was reading. I think I was getting mired in crime / psychological thrillers – and at the end of the day, there’s only so many ways someone can go missing / get murdered / be held captive, etc. I decided to turn […]