Friday, 4 March 2016

A long-overdue EIGHT mini-reviews

It's time for a mega mini-review catch-up!  I think that I'm now up to date with everything I've read up to the end of February, so... shall we get started?

The Pearl by John Steinbeck (4*) - It's been a while since I read this, and honestly I think it will be quite forgettable in the long run - but I obviously really enjoyed it at the time, hence the four-star rating!  A kind of fable about greed, materialism and envy built around the discovery of a great pearl by a poor Mexican freediver, it's short, folksy, lyrical and poignant, and I very much enjoyed the musicality and dreamlike feeling of the reading experience.  Not necessarily one I'd rush to read again, but quite beautiful!

Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser (3.5*) - This is essentially a novel for young teens about bullying and gun violence, in particular the school shooting phenomenon. Its moral is perhaps a little simplistic and obvious to an adult, especially so long after it was first written, but the evolution of the two boys at the centre of the story has played itself out so many times in the intervening years that it still rings all too true. It's clear that the novel has used genuine incidents to formulate the story, with Strasser including footnotes to show where specific details echo real-life cases. If this makes even one kid stop and think differently about how they treat others around them, then that's got to be worth something.

The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet by Dr Michael Mosley - I can't really rate this one yet, and it's very unusual for me to read anything like this - but diet book, yaaaaay! I've put on weight since my last mega-depression, and with my family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, heart problems and all kinds of other ticking time bombs, I thought this would be worth a try! Michael Mosley is known here in the UK for his well-researched, well-presented TV health documentaries, which time and time again have thrown things into new perspectives and flipped over decades-old received wisdom, so I have high hopes. The book itself is made up of a swathe of detail about Type 2 diabetes (which this diet has been proven to actually reverse), blood sugar, the Mediterranean diet and the science behind the resurgence of the VLCD (very low calorie diet).  All very interesting and persuasive.  The last section is all recipes, most of which I didn't like the look of - but I HAVE started the diet, using my own menu made up from the same foods and principles, and it's going well so far, cake cravings aside!

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (4*) - This was one of the longest-standing books on my TBR, and I'm SO GLAD I finally read it.  It's about four very different strangers who meet on top of a tall building on New Year's Eve, each planning to jump off - only they don't.  Instead, they grudgingly head back down the stairs together, and after a rocky night, end up making a pact to stay alive until Valentine's Day and see how things go.  I loved the four voices - disgraced TV presenter Martin, downtrodden Maureen, madcap young Jess and musician JJ (he was my favourite) - and the way this single shared experience unites them, separates them, brings them meaning but also trouble, creates opportunities but also slams doors.  It was real and blackly humorous and strangely uplifting and I can't wait to read my next Nick Hornby novel!
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon by Gideon Defoe (3*) - The fourth in the humorous Pirates! series, this one actually doesn't involved that much pirating.  After humiliation at the annual Pirate Awards, the Pirate Captain (with his luxuriant beard and pleasant, open face) has decided to retire - only his tropical island of choice actually turns out to be a bleak goat-riddled chunk of rock, and he'll be sharing the hearts of the local townspeople with none other than Napoleon Bonaparte.  Bring on the clash of the egos!  Funny, slightly surreal, and heralding the return of all my favourite pirates including Jennifer (former Victorian lady) and the long-suffering pirate with a scarf.  A fun way to while away an afternoon!
Plain and Simple: A Woman's Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender (4*) - Reading this slim little volume was like sitting down in your favourite armchair with a hot cup of tea at the end of a long day: soothing, comforting and deliciously peaceful.  Built around Bender's fascination with Amish quilts, this is the story of how her interest became a full-fledged quest for a better and calmer life.  Bender went to stay with two different Amish families over the course of a few years, and tried to use her experiences in their communities to pinpoint what was missing from her life and reframe it in a way that balanced Amish values with modern American living.  Unexpectedly relatable, interesting and quite lovely.

An Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley (4*) - This was my third Lucy Knisley book (after Relish and French Milk) and despite the lack of all-out foodie emphasis this time, it was definitely my favourite of the three.  This time Knisley documents her trip around Europe promoting her books, meeting up with old friends and enjoying her three loves - comics, food and culture.  There's a dash of romance and a cheerful appearance from Knisley's lovely mother, and the overall tone is light and welcoming; she's mercifully lost that whining self-pity that made French Milk so much less appealing than it should have beenDefinitely a keeper!

Breathing Room by Marsha Hayles (4.5*) - I picked this up on Amazon when it happened to pop up in my recommendations at the same time as one of those sudden 'last copy of the current stock' price drops.  I had never heard of it before and had no idea what to expect - but I'm glad I took a chance!  It's a YA novel set in a Minnesota TB sanatorium in 1940, and is told from the perspective of Evelyn, a 13 year-old new arrival on the girls' ward.  Although it's undoubtedly sanitised for younger readers, there are some genuinely shocking moments alongside the friendships, intrigues, medical interventions and the relentless strict monotony of the sanatorium routine.  Whenever I started to forget, something drew my attention back to the fact that these patients were literally fighting for their lives, every single day.  I cried several times, and learned a lot both from the novel itself and from the historical images, background information and research details that Hayles includes in the book.  A well-written little gem.
Aaaaand that's me all caught up, finally!