{Recent Reads} From Non Fic November

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Today I thought I’d share a summary of all the books I managed to read during Non Fic November… I didn’t manage to get through everything on my list, but I’m still pretty please with my efforts 🙂 I’ve already reviewed Granny is My Wingman and The Burglar Caught By A Skeleton for you, but here are the others I ticked off my list last month:

Mama Rose’s Turn by Carolyn Quinn

This was one pretty epic book, and kind of the example that proves the rules that non-fiction takes forever to read! Despite it taking a few weeks of investment, I really enjoyed it. I have a bit of a thing for the underdog, so I really loved that the author consistently defended a personality typically viewed as a bit of a monster. Her research was impeccable, and rather than filling in any blanks with guesswork, Quinn held her hands up and said “I’m not sure what really happened but I’d like to think it was this“. The life of Rose Thompson was a whirlpool of eccentricity, scandal and dedication, and I would fully recommend you immerse yourself a little. This is a woman who carved out stellar careers for two daughters, inspired three memoirs and a Tony award-winning musical as well as multiple films, a newspaper series and a character in a crime novel. You owe it to her to get to know her.

What Falls Away by Mia Farrow

In a nutshell, Mia Farrow has lived a ridiculously fabulous life. Every memoir I’ve read before this one has been about a person who started off with a normal life but went on to do something that would put them in the public eye. Farrow, on the other hand, was born into the glamorous Hollywood bubble of stardom. The book was a pleasure to read; her narrative tone is welcoming and compelling and I love that she makes no apologies for any of her life choices, despite overwhelming judgement and pressure from the media. The way she talks of her marriage to Frank Sinatra makes me nostalgic for a time I never even experienced… and her astounding grace in the face of a horrific and highly publicized event just makes me love her. I encourage you to pick up a copy and read it for yourself, because no review will do it justice.

Jump Start Your Creativity by Shawn Doyle and Steven Rowell

I read this in the hope that it would re-inspire me… as I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut recently. Unfortunately I found myself very disappointed. Rather than stimulating my artistic cells, it almost bored me to death. If you want to coordinate some cringeworthy team building or generate some ‘creative solutions’ to business problems, then this book is for you and I’m sure you’ll find there to be some valid tools… it just didn’t fit my purpose. I also found the writing style to be quite fake – it felt like reading a sales pitch rather than a helpful guide. All in all, not my fave.

American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life by Amelia Simmons, An American Orphan

Erm… first observation… it has a really long title… After really enjoying the ‘food history’ aspects of How to Avoid a Soggy Bottom I wanted to read an olde worlde cook book during Non Fic November. Originally published in 1796, this one definitely fits into that category, and is actually the first known recipe book to have been written by an American. The ‘God Bless America’ mentality is evident from the very first page (actually, it’s evident from the front cover…) but it’s more quaint than annoying. I’m probably not going to cook anything from the book, but I love some of the phrases she comes out with (my fave being the assertion that garlics are far better suited to the brewing of medications than to foods… because the French use garlic, and you know what they’re like…) What a gem!

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I would love to say that I’ve been a Tina Fey fan for years, that I watched her religiously on Saturday Night Live, that I have every episode of 30 Rock on DVD, and that I went to all of her early improv shows. However, then I would be telling you four lies. To me, she’s the teacher from Mean Girls. Despite not really knowing who she was (and being far too English to have noticed the infamous Sarah Palin thing) I really enjoyed the book. She’s just so funny! I’ll admit that there was the odd joke that I didn’t enjoy, or rather, that I didn’t think was completely necessary (I’m more of a wry/sarcastic/satirical person) but there were a few instances of embarassing ‘laughing on the bus’ while reading. Bossypants is really accessible, and offers a fascinating peek into the world of comedy, something I know next to nothing about… I would definitely recommend this book to anyone out there that finds non-fiction a bit dry… because this is anything but!

And here concludes all of the Non Fic November posts for 2013, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along… but let’s get back to those novels!

D x

Granny is my Wingman

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Based on the blog of the same name, Granny is my Wingman tells the online dating horror stories of author Kayli Stollak and her brash, short-tempered grandmother.

Following the catastrophic breakdown of her relationship with ‘soul mate’ Charlie, Kayli brings us along on her attempts to get over the ex love of her life and move on while encouraging her granny to do the same. I found this book really accessible – the narrative tone is very chatty… it really is much more like reading a blog than reading a memoir. In some aspects I found it quite easy to relate to Kayli – I too have dabbled in the world of online romance (and Facebook stalked an ex), but I also got the impression that she’s a little shallow at times. Although this is very realistic (because let’s face it, we’re all a bit superficial sometimes) it didn’t always make for the most endearing character.

Granny, on the other hand, is simply fabulous. My favourite parts of the whole book where the bits that involved her. She offered the BEST dating advice, even if she wasn’t the best at following her own rules…

I thought there were times when the book could have been a bit funnier… but that’s a matter of personal preference. When some people write their memoirs they think nothing of exaggerating or omitting details to create something a little more comedic, but Kayli stuck to the truth (I am not criticising her for this, but as a reader I enjoy embarrassing myself by laughing out loud on public transport).

One of the things I found most bizarre (and at the same time the most fascinating) was that she also helped her grandmother to sign up for online dating. Not just that, but she actually talked to her about S.E.X… I don’t think I’d even dare think that word in the same building as my grandma! We’re partners in crime in most other areas, but there’s a line!

Although I couldn’t describe it as particularly literary, I did enjoy reading it. It was a fun, light-hearted way to ease myself into reading non-fiction… it didn’t take me ages to get through (which you may remember is one of my pet peeves), and it was divided into nice short chapters, so I could fit it in and around my assignments. If you enjoyed this book, or feel like weighing up your options before investing in it, you should check out Kayli’s blog.

D x

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The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton

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The Burglar Caught by the Skeleton, by Jeremy Clay, is the first book I read as part of Non Fic November. When I first picked it out I expected a book filled with lively retellings of a few bizarre stories from Victorian newspapers, but that’s not really what I came away with.

Pretty much all the stories were quite sensational, but I still got quite bored. This was a very long book, filled with lots and lots of pretty similar articles, divided into sections (Animals, Love, Marriage and Family, Eating and Drinking, Health and Medicine, Coincidence and Luck, Sport, Hobbies and Pastimes, Inventions, Life and Death, Superstition, Belief and Supernatural, Crime and Punishment, Wagers, Accidents and Disasters, Fashion and Clothes, Arts and Entertainment). I would have preferred him to include less stories, and expand on them himself. Is it bad that my favourite parts of the book were Clay’s chapter introductions? He’s funny, and charming, and has the kind of voice that makes you want to keep reading… however, he had this habit of describing a story in quite a lot of detail and then putting that same story in the section… it seemed like slightly unnecessary repetition. I just wish he’d have included more of his own writing in the book!

I quite enjoyed the glaringly obvious creative liberties taken by the journalists of yore (which were so extensive I’m not sure this book should count as non-fiction), and the sheer volume of articles entitled ‘a remarkable incident’, but I found it quite a dry read. When I was younger (well, ever since first reading Jane Eyre really) I used to dream about living during Victorian times… but after reading about all the escaped lions, and poison, and death by coffin, and dodgy medicine, I’m just not so sure!

I wouldn’t recommend reading it as a you would a novel – it just doesn’t have the best ‘flow’ (and it took me FOREVER to get through!). However, I would say this is a great book to dip into if you’re looking for a bit of writing inspiration… it’s definitely a great source of interesting plot lines!

D x

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GUEST POST – Coal to Diamonds

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For today’s Non Fic November post I have a fabulous guest post from Janet at Words That Can Only Be Your Own, make sure you head over and give her some blog love!

Coal To Diamonds is billed as the memoir – rather than the autobiography – of Beth Ditto, the self-described, “queer, fat, femme” frontwoman of garage punk band Gossip.  I think this distinction is important, as although the book covers Ditto’s life from childhood onwards and largely follows chronological order, this slim and elegant volume is a far cry from the bloated celebrity autobiographies which clog the bookshop shelves in the run up to Christmas every year, and take a reader through the star’s every movement year-on-year, no matter how banal.  Rather, Ditto and her co-writer Michelle Tea have selected key events and anecdotes that do a great job of explaining where Ditto has come from, in both a metaphorical and a literal sense.

Place is central to her story; the opening lines of the book are an almost elegiac description of her hometown’s decline, from a “booming metropolis keeping pace with the rest of country” until a tornado tore through the town, “leaving a dusty depression in its wake.”  An escape from Judsonia, Arkansas at the age of 18 to Olympia is also vividly drawn.  The small college town in the Pacific Northwest that became famous for its vibrant music culture and Riot Grrrl scene is described in almost awe-struck terms; the reader gets a real sense of the wonder the teenage Ditto and friends felt on encountering ex-Bikini Kill drummer (and ex-girlfriend of Kurt Cobain) Tobi Vail at a party.  Equally, the later sense of being stifled by small-town life and subsequent move to Portland is well conveyed.

The sections of the book dealing with Ditto’s time growing up in Arkansas make for particularly difficult reading, but this is far from a misery memoir.  Harrowing tales of abuse are told, without detracting from their horror, in a seemingly casual way, leaving the reader in little doubt how common such experiences were locally.  She paints a picture of a family – a whole community, in fact – precariously struggling to survive in poverty and escape the scars of abuse.  Her own struggles with poor mental health and two breakdowns are dealt with unflinchingly and she doesn’t shy away from the gritty truth: this is no glamourous rock star decline.

Anyone who knows how it feels to be the only fat girl in class, or the only queer in the village, or the only indie music fan in a crowd of mainstream teenagers, or the only feminist in a group of friends, will find much to enjoy in Coals To Diamonds.  As someone for whom all of the above are or have been true, I loved it.

 Thank you for contributing your review to Non Fic November Janet, can’t wait for your next post!

D x

 

Little Joe

Following the tragic death of his parents a young boy goes to live with the grandparents he barely knows in Round Rock, Tennessee. 

This book appealed to me because of my literary obsession with the 1940’s, so I was thrilled to receive an advance review copy from NetGalley/Greenleaf Book Group! I’m thrilled that Little Joe is the first in a four-part series by  Michael E Glassock III; the second (The Trial of Dr Kate) is now sat at the top of my ‘to be read’ pile.

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The writing is just fabulous. From the offset I was sucked in. I loved the ‘small town’ shenanigans and Southern charm dripping from each and every page. I generally adore anything even slightly historical and this book combine two of my firm favourites – World War II and racial tensions in the American South, but both are dealt with in an extremely subtle way; they provide context to Little Joe’s story, rather than being the full focus of the novel.

Plot-wise there was a good balance between quaint, amusing moments, shared frustrations and pure heartbreak. Glassock seems to have the knack of making you feel what his characters feel. All in all it’s a very well-rounded read; you can empathise with both the troublesome child and the strict grandparents… which is a real novelty. With most books you definitely feel like you’re on someone’s side. Having said that, my favourite characters had to be Joe’s grandparents. They had quirks, they had layers, and they had an air of mystery lingering around them. Joe may be curious about their secrets, but so are we.

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I thought the ending left a lot to be desired. The novel as a whole was consistently steady-paced until the final chapter. The ‘big event’ was massively anti-climactic (and quite out-of-place considering the character development that had gone on). And then the final scene was just pointless, it seemed almost like an afterthought to be honest, as though the author just wanted to write something to close the book. I would have preferred it to end a little more decisively.

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You loved Boy by Roald Dahl. I’d also recommend it to anybody who loves something a bit retro, or tends to go for books with quirky characters. If, like me, you don’t really like reading novels told from a child’s perspective, this one might just change your mind…

How to Avoid a Soggy Bottom

With How to Avoid a Soggy Bottom, food historian and chef Gerard Baker (no pun intended) provides a place for the answers to all the baking questions you’d feel too embarrassed to ask.

The first thing I noticed about this book is that it’s really beautiful to look at. Both the covers and the title page of each chapter have a quirky vintage fabric style design which I just love. The simple palette of colours used in the design create a clean, classic looking volume. Yes, it may lack the edgy food photography of most recipe books, but the monochrome line drawings evoke more of a traditional ‘1950’s kitchen’ vibe.

Divided into five sections, How to Avoid a Soggy Bottom cover the main cornerstones of baking: Cakes and Biscuits, Bread, Pastry, Desserts and Flavours and Fillings. Each of these sections is then divided further; we have a slice of history, where we learn about the origins and development of different baked goods; we have definitions of the occasionally baffling baking lingo you see in most recipes; we have technical tips and then a troubleshooting section, all peppered with classic recipes that every wannabe baking queen (or king) should have in her repertoire.

I consider myself a fairly seasoned baker, I’ve been wielding a rolling-pin and a bag of desiccated coconut since I was about three years old, so a lot of the definition of terms were unnecessary for me, but I think this would definitely be a useful book to have in your stash if you’re just starting out. I did, however, find it quite useful to read the explanations of why each step of the baking process is so important. My naturally impatient little self often feels inclined to amp up baking temperatures and ‘forget’ to chill my pastry, so I’m glad that now I know all my recipe books aren’t just out to suck the fun out of baking… we’ll have to see if my breads and cakes receive better reviews now that I have superior knowledge…

I adore cook books; I buy them way faster than I can read them, let alone cook from them, so when it came to How to Avoid a Soggy Bottom I thought the recipe sections would be my favourite part. But do you know what, they weren’t. I mean, those Cocoa Macaroons are at the top of my ‘to bake’ list, and I could quite literally live of that Sourdough Bread, but from a reading point of view, I absolutely loved the history of baking. I think this book would make a really fun gift for anyone who, like me, enjoys the random side of history. I’d also recommend you give it to the man in your life for Christmas if he needs a few tips in the art of caking!

Did you know that the word ‘cake’ comes from the Old Norse word kaka? (A word that has entirely anti-cake connotations nowadays!) Or that it was the Romans we have to thank for the invention of pastry?

No? Well neither did I. I think I may have to find myself another book on baking through the ages to read during Non Fic November… it’s all so weird and interesting!

D x

Becoming Indigo

Becoming Indigo is the coming of age story of Indigo, a Canadian teenager with supernatural abilities, who seems to attract trouble from both the magical and the mundane.

This was an ARC provided by NetGalley and Hayhouse in exchange for my honest review. I requested it for one, entirely superficial reason… the title. I needed to tick of the ‘colour’ category of my whimsical reading challenge, so I did.

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The whole book had this quirky, bohemian vibe that just made me think of the freedoms of summer. It really appealed to the non-mainstream side of my personality, and Indigo is not dissimilar to the way I was as a teenager. I mean, I can’t see ghosts, but other than that I could really relate to her experiences.

I thought that the way the author dealt with the magical aspects of the plot was very original. A lot of the fantasy/supernatural novels I’ve come into contact with seem to recycle storylines, abilities and histories, so it was nice to see something a little bit different.

One thing that really stuck out was that Indigo had issues to deal with that had nothing to do with her powers. Something that irritates me about a lot of young adult fiction is that every twist and turn of the plot is somehow linked to the protagonist’s destiny or magical lifestyle – I personally think that ties things up too neatly, and generally makes for two-dimensional characters. I liked that Indigo had human problems, it made her seem much more grounded than the shiny, perfect amazingness of a lot of other heroines.

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I thought that some parts of the story could have used a little more exploration. Her whole relationship with her ex and her family was glossed over slightly, but this may be focussed on more in Through Indigo’s Eyes (the first in the series – that I am yet to read). To be honest, I’m just being picky now. I read the whole thing in one sitting after locking myself out of the house.

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You enjoyed the Sweep series by Cate Tiernan or Kate Cann’s horrible-holiday-turned-lifechanging-experience series.

D x