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review 2016-12-16 00:39
Lacks the charm of her other memoir.
Life Without a Recipe: A Memoir of Food and Family - Diana Abu-Jaber

Even though I wasn't in love with her other memoir, 'The Language of Baklava', this still sounded quite charming. In the previous book it seemed like she merely skimmed over other parts of her life and so I had hoped this would fill the other parts she didn't talk about.

 

Instead, the book is more like snapshots of her life and pieces that were just not all that interesting. She talks a bit about her grandmother, her marriages, the adoption of her daughter, etc. Her other family (including her parents and especially her father, who featured prominently in 'Baklava') do pop up but this is a different type of memoir that was less of a continuation and more of a different story.

 

It was terrible. It lacks the charm of her original book and has less of her dad (who appears to be quite the character).

 

Honestly I'm shocked at the all the positive reviews. I don't know if the reviewers knew what to expect or if I went in with the wrong expectations. It might stand on its own if you hadn't read the previous book but this just wasn't interesting. Borrow from the library if you're really curious.

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review 2016-12-05 14:34
Such an extraordinary and haunting tale
Idaho: A Novel - Emily Ruskovich

I truly didn’t want this book to end. At its heart is the story of a tragic act, but it’s so much more than just that act.  Each chapter is a literary work of art.  There’s the story of Wade and Jenny and their two daughters, June and May, and the terrible act that tore them apart.  There’s the story of Wade and Ann and her efforts to heal his broken heart and mind.  There’s the story of Wade and his father and the health issue they share.  There’s the story of June and May, two young sisters living their lives in the days before tragedy strikes.  There’s the story of the friendship between Jenny and Elizabeth.  There’s the story of a young boy who loses his leg in a freak accident.  Each of these stories are tied together but each is worthy of its own telling.

 

The story is not told in a linear fashion. The chapters travel between present, past and future but are not confusing in any way.  Time weaves back and forth to create a beautiful mosaic.  All is tied together – love, forgiveness, regrets, memory, imagination.  Ms. Ruskovich’s book deserves every award I’m sure it will get.   This is one of my favorite books of the year.  Most highly recommended.

 

This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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review 2016-09-28 00:10
The power of the past
The Life-Writer - David Constantine

This is a beautiful book about a literary biographer named Katrin, whose beloved husband, Eric, is dying from cancer. I had to marvel at the author’s ability to so movingly depict those last months they have together.  After Eric’s death, Katrin starts reading through his paperwork and old letters and decides to write his life history in the hope that it will help her through her grief.  As painful as it is, she begins to reconstruct the time frame when Eric falls passionately in love with Monique when he was a young man.  Katrin had been so happy with Eric but now she begins to doubt whether their life together could begin to compare with his love for Monique.

 

Katrin’s dwelling on Eric’s past became obsessive. There were times when Katrin would want to stop reading the letters and just get on with her life and I wanted to selfishly plead with her to please keep reading since I wanted to know more.  This was one of those books that I didn’t want to end and when it did end, I wanted to start from the beginning again and that doesn’t happen often.  This book wrapped its words around my heart and just wouldn’t let go.  Gorgeous writing that touched me in so many ways.

 

The only negative thing about the book was that there were times when the French was not translated and I had no idea what was being said. There was one vitally important sentence in a letter from Monique to Eric that wasn’t translated which I found very frustrating.  At the end of the book, there was a list of translations with the page numbers, which wasn’t very helpful when reading an e-book.  Plus I wasn’t aware those translations were there until the book had ended.  Since I was reading an ARC of the book, hopefully that will be rectified in the final edition.

 

Highly recommended.

 

This book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.

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review 2016-09-10 20:57
Shocking and heartbreaking
The Other Side of the World - Stephanie Bishop,Penelope Rawlins

This book had quite a profound effect on me. It’s the story of a married couple, Charlotte and Henry, who are living in England in the 1960’s.    Charlotte is an artist, but when she begins to have children, she goes through a depressed period and has difficulty painting or dealing with life as a mother and wife.  Henry, having been born in India and who has never liked English weather, decides that it would help their family to move to Australia and start a new life there.  Charlotte has no desire at all to leave her beloved England behind but is so worn out that she gives in. 

 

While there was a part of me that could certainly relate to Charlotte’s struggles, my main sympathy was for Henry, who tried so hard to make life better for his family, even throughout his own difficulties.   I can understand Charlotte being homesick as I know I would be, too, if I left all that was familiar.  But home is where the heart is and she had her “heart” with her – her husband and little girls – and I feel that she was almost trying not to adjust to the new country.  Regardless of how I felt about the decisions that Charlotte makes, I also cared for her and so very much wanted the best for them all.  The author developed her characters magnificently and had great insight into their lives.

 

This is such a beautifully written piece of literature. I truly loved it.  Ms. Bishop has written an honest, no bars held masterpiece.  She knows how to capture her readers’ attention and hearts.   The ending is shocking and heartbreaking and literally took my breath away.   Most highly recommended.

 

This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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review 2016-08-19 14:19
A unique adventure and a very personal and emotional one. I loved it
A Boy Made of Blocks: A Novel - Stuart Keith

Thanks to Net Galley and to Little, Brown Book Group UK and Sphere for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

This is a unique book. Yes, I know all books are unique in one way or another, but this book is unique because it deals with something that is always going to be unique to the person experiencing it. If being a father doesn’t come with an instruction manual, being the father of a child within the autism spectre not only comes with no instructions, but it also shakes and spins around the world of those involved. Keith Stuart, the author, draws from his personal experience of fatherhood (his son Zac was diagnosed with autism when he was seven years old) to write a fictionalised account of learning to know your child in his or her own terms.

Alex, the protagonist, is a man in crisis. His relationship with his wife is so problematic that at the beginning of the book she’s sent him out of the house on a trial separation. He spends most of the book at a friend’s, Dan, with whom he shares childhood experiences and a trauma that has marked him more than he is willing or able to acknowledge.  Alex is a good man trying to do the right thing, but unable to explore his own difficulties, or to acknowledge how his inability to let go makes it impossible for him to help himself and others.

He is confronted once and again with the need to be different, to try and listen and learn. And he discovers an ally in a computer game, Minecraft. The author, who reviews computer games for several publications, has talked about his  experience of sharing the game with his own son and how that allowed him to show his creativity and to share a safe space with others. Although I’ve never played Minecraft, the descriptions of how the game works and the effect it had on both, Sam (the boy in the story) and his father is well rendered and easy to follow. The game and its effect over Alex also allows for some truly beautiful and insightful moments. Witnessing Sam’s sheer joy at understanding the rules of the world around him and being able to use them to create a new order and to have meaningful relationships with others is a great moment that the reader shares with Alex. He makes mistakes, he can be jealous, possessive, and cowardly at times, but he eventually does what is best and dares to push himself. As he states towards the end, his son guides him and shows him the way. If at the beginning Alex sees Sam as a problem he doesn’t know how to deal with and can’t see a future for him, by the end everything has changed. He discovers that Sam understands more than he ever realised and also that he is his own person. And a pretty impressive one at that.

The novel, written in the first person, makes us see and share the world from Alex’s point of view, and although we might not always agree with what he does, he is a fully-fledged human being, with his weaknesses and his strengths. We get to care for him, as we care for all the rest of the characters, who are also complex, confused and glorious human beings.  There are the small family dramas, the highs and lows of everyday life taken to extremes, and they all rang true to me.

I have no children and my experience with children and adults within the autistic spectrum is mostly professional (I have worked as a psychiatrist and have some experience in an Asperger’s service) but I would happily recommend this book to anybody with an interest in the subject, whether they like or not to play computer games, or to anybody who enjoys novels based on characters and their experiences (rather than action and adventure), and who are happy to be exposed to extremes of emotions (yes, I did cry, sometimes happily, others not so much). It is a beautiful and heart-wrenching book at times that ends up in a hopeful note.  I loved it.

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