Thursday, 30 April 2009

19. Mimi Spencer - 101 Things to do Before You Diet

I came to this book looking for an emotional boost to my dieting efforts.  Unfortunately, Ms Spencer’s world is so different from mine that I didn’t get much out of large chunks of the book and, indeed, I nearly gave up half-way through.  Perhaps I’m not the target audience?


Ms Spencer is a fashion editor who also has well-formed views on the food and diet industries.  She advocates the idea that women (and, presumably, men) should ‘get real’ about their bodies, adopt healthy, natural eating practices and keep active.  All of this, I understood.  Being a fashion editor, she also wrote a lot about fashion and clothes and shoes.  And that’s where I got lost.  Basically, she has tried to point the reader towards fashion tricks that will flatter a natural figure and help the wearer to feel good about herself.  Unfortunately, my knowledge of and interest in fashion just isn’t up to the job.  I also found that many of the references to ‘A listers’ flew away over my head before I could try and decipher their meaning.


That said, this was still a motivating read which I’d recommend to women with a few pounds to lose – and an interest in fashion.

IB - Yann Martel - Life of Pi

Title:  Life of Pi
Author:  Yann Martel
Publisher:  Canongate
ISBN:  184195392X
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:  After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, one solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan ... and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger.

The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary works of fiction in recent years.

Why I Chose This Book:  Someone mentioned that I might relate to one of the characters.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

IB - Colette Harris & Theresa Cheung - You Can Beat PMS!

Title:  You Can Beat PMS!
Author:  Colette Harris and Theresa Cheung
Publisher:  Thorsons Element
ISBN:  0007154259
Price:  £12.99

The Back of the Book:  What do you associate with PMS?

Bloating? Fatigue? Clumsiness? Mood swings? Tender breasts? Disturbed sleep? Sugar cravings? Irrational crying? Forgetfulness? Acne? Weight gain?

If this sounds like you, it needn't for much longer. women's health experts Colette Harris and Theresa Cheung have got together to help you put an end to all your PMS symptoms, so you can feel fit, healthy and happy all month long. all you need to do is follow the 12-week PMS plan and make some simple but permanent lifestyle changes.

* Your PMS symptoms explained - the latest scientific research.

* Clear and easy-to-follow week-by-week plan.

* Nutritional action plan and tasty recipes.

* Enjoyable exercise and other vitality boosters.

* Stress-management techniques to solve mood swings.

* Case studies and real-life stories from fellow sufferers.

Why I Chose This Book:  There's really only one reason for reading a book on PMS:  you (or someone you know) suffers from PMS.  I'm not sure I'll actually do the 12-week plan but I'm hoping to find some knowledge to help me understand my problem  and lots of practical suggestions to help with That Time of the Month.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

IB - Imran Ahmad - Unimagined

Title:  Unimagined
Author:  Imran Ahmad
Publisher:  Aurum
ISBN:  9781845133252
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:  Part Bend it Like Beckham, part Adrian Mole, Unimagined is the hilarious memoir of a Muslim boy born in Pakistan, who moves to London aged one and grows up torn between his Islamic identity and his desire to embrace the West.  Imran recalls his childhood in a series of vivid snapshots:  outrage as deservd victory is snatched away from him in the Karachi Bonnie Baby contest; bitterness as he is tricked out of his collection of Tarzan bubble-gum cards by junior con artists; the heady taste of early success in the Metropilitan Police schools quiz; joy at passing the entrance exam to the local grammar school; uncertainty as he seeks to become a doctor (like all good Asian boys); bewilderment as he tries to learn about girls at university; and shock at experiencing racism in its many forms.

Unimagined is the endearing sotry of a Middle England everyman who just happens to be Muslim.

Why I Chose this Book:  I nearly deleted this book without purchasing a copy when it came to the top of my wishlist as I'm generally more interested in the experience of women than men.  However, I'm fairly sure I'd added it in the first place after a very enthusiastic review on a friend's blog so I did buy a copy.

Monday, 27 April 2009

IB - Dava Sobel - Longitude

Title:  Longitude
Author:  Dava Sobel
Publisher:  Fourth Estate
ISBN:  1857025717
Price:  £5.99

The Back of the Book:  Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest.  The 'longitude problem' was the thorniest dilemma of the eighteenth century.  Lacking the ability to measure longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea.

At the heart of Dava Sobel's fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation and horology stands the figure of John Harrison, self-tuaght Yorkshire clockmaker, and his forty-year obsession with building the perfect timekeeper.  attling against the establishment Harrison stood alone in pursuit of his solution and the £20,000 reward offered by Parliament.

Why I Chose this Book:  I grew up reading Alexander Kent's Richard Bolitho books and have a lingering interest in sailing ships so, when I encountered this book on Radio 4, I decided I'd enjoy it.  As I now have a copy I'll soon find out if I was right.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

IB - Tove Jansson - The Summer Book

Title:  The Summer Book
Author:  Tove Jansson
Publisher:  Sort of Books
ISBN:  0954221710
Price:  £6.99

The Back of the Book:  A literary gem from the creator of the Moomin books.

Why I Chose this Book:  I love summer and, really, that's enough of a reason.  And the cover is such a gorgeous shade of blue.  But I'm sure I saw it reviewed - last summer, maybe? - and that's how it found its way onto my wishlist.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

IB - Edna O'Brien - The Country Girls

Title:  The Country Girls
Author:  Edna O'Brien
Publisher:  Phoenix
ISBN:  9780752881164
Price:  £6.99

The Back of the Book:  It is the early 1960s in a country village in Ireland.  Caithleen Brady and her attractive friend Baba are on the verge of womanhood and dreaming of spreading their wings in a wider world; of discovering love and luxury and liquor and above all, fun.

With bawdy innocence, shrewd for all their inexperience, the girls romp their way through convent school to the bright lights of Dublin - where Caithleen finds that suave, idealised lovers rarely survive the real world ...

Why I Chose this Book:  I think I saw it reviewed somewhere.  Having read the back of it, I'm not sure it's my cup of tea but I shall give it a go.  Alternatively, it shall gather dust for a while before being sent off to find another reader!

Monday, 20 April 2009

IB: Roger Lea MacBride - Little House on Rocky Ridge

Title:  Little House on Rocky Ridge
Author:  Roger Lea MacBride
Publisher:  HarperTrophy
ISBN:  0064404781
Price:  US$3.95

The Back of the Book:  The journey continues ...

Once a long time ago a little girl named Laura Ingalls lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little house made of logs. She grew up and wrote nine books about her childhood - the famous Little House stories. Laura had a daughter of her own named Rose, who gre up in the Oark Mountains of Missouri, also in a little house made of logs. Little House on Rocky Ridge is the beginning of Rose's story, which starts where the book The First Four Years ends.

Laura, Almanzo, and Rose say good-bye to Ma and Pa Ingalls and Laura's sisters. In a covered wagon containing all their possessions, they make their way across the drought-stricken Midwest to the lush green valleys of southern Missouri. The journey is long and not always easy. But there is so much to do and see as the landscape changes along the way.

The end of this journey marks a new beginning for the Wilder family: a new home and the promise of hard work, but also of wondrous discoveries and adventures to fill a childhood.

Why I Chose this Book:  I couldn't just choose the fiction or non-fiction strands of the Little House tale and, on the fictional strand, this was the next logical place to go.  Mr MacBride knew Rose Wilder Lane, Laura's little girl.  In fact, she left him the rights to the books and all her papers when she died.  This book is marketed as fiction rather than blurring the boundary between fiction and autobiography as the previous Little House books do - I remember having discussions on their genre with a very persistant teacher in HIgh School! - but I am looking forward to it no less for that.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Run and hide

Providing the island has a well-stocked library and internet access I'm perfectly content, thanks. In fact, I'd probably run and hide if I saw a ship on the horizon and heading our way!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

IB: William Anderson - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Title:  Laura Ingalls Wilder
Author:  William Anderson
Publisher:  Collins
ISBN:  9780060885526
Price:  US$6.99

The Back of the Book:  The Real-Life Laura.  From her pioneer days o the prairie to her golden years with her husband, Almanzo, and teir daughter, Rose, Laura Ingalls Wilder has bcome a friend to all who have read about her adventures.  This behind-the-scenes account chronicles the real events in Laura's life that inspired her to write her stories and also describes her life after the last Little House book ends.

Why I Chose this Book:  I decided, after reading the last of Mrs Wilder's books, to start reading about her and this was the first biography that popped up on Amazon.

Monday, 13 April 2009

18 - Robert Louis Stevenson - The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

I’ve listened to this book via the ‘CraftLit’ Podcast over the past couple of months. I last read it at University so it’s been a while. I’m sure the ending was different so I’m wondering if Mr Stevenson wrote to conclusions? That said, with the very creepy ending I recall, I wouldn’t have chosen to reread it but I’m quite pleased with the ‘new’ closure.

This is the first CraftLit book I’ve heard all the way through and I was very impressed with Heather Ordover’s analysis of the text. She allowed me to feel part of an English study group without sounding like the English teachers I remember from my school days. She doesn’t dumb down at all, despite podcasting for the crafty rather than the literary community, but instead explains each point clearly. The whole is peppered with her observations about her life and crafting endeavours and sealed into a very enjoyable whole. Her voice is easy on the ear as was that of Dr Jekyll’s narrator.

Ms Ordover’s tagline is: ‘If your hands are too busy to pick up a book, at least you can turn one on.’ While she is thinking of crafting, I think I’ve found the perfect companion to a spot of housework on a sunny afternoon.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

IB - Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies

Title:  Sea of Poppies
Author:  Amitav Ghosh
Publisher:  John Murray
ISBN:  9780719568978
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:  On an old slaving ship named the Ibis, fate has thrown together a motley crew of sailors, coolies and convicts, including a bankrupt raja, a French runaway and a widowed opium framer.  As their old family ties are washed away, they come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais or ship-brothers.  Set against the backdrop of the Opium Wars, this unlikely dynasty is what makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive - a masterpiece from one of the world's finest novelists.

Why I Chose this Book:  I saw this reduced to half price in my local bookstore last week and resolved to buy it as soon as I could as I've enjoyed Mr Ghosh's previous books so much.  I think The Hungry Tide is one of the best books I've ever read - I can still recall the atmosphere it created in my mind and it's been years since I picked it up.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

IB - David Ebershoff - The 19th Wife

Title:  The 19th Wife
Author:  David Ebershoff
Publisher:  Black Swan
ISBN:  9780552774987
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:  For the first time in six years, Jordoan returns from California to Utah, to visit his mother - in jail.  As a young boy he was expelled from his family's secretive polygamous Mormon sect.  Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives - Jordan's mother - is accused of the crime.

Over a century earlier, Ann Elia Young, nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, second Prophet of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how she battled for her freedom from her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States.  Bold, shocking and gripping, The 19th Wife expertly weaves together these two narratives in an enthralling epic of love, family, murder and faith.

Why I Chose this Book:  This is another wish-list book.  I'm attracted to the religious and historical elements of the blurb, rather than the murder-mystery thread.  It's quite a tome and looks like it will be a very satisfying read.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

IB: Eliabeth H Winthrop - December

Title:  December
Author:  Eliabeth H Winthrop
Publisher:  Sceptre
ISBN:  9780340961438
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:  It's December in New England, season of snow, log fires andhappy family Christmases.  xcept not for the Carters.  Eleven-year-old Isabelle hasn't spoken for months, countless experts have given up on her, andher parents are at their wits' end.  Gnawing away at them is the thought that it must be their fault, and that their daughter's life might be ruined for good.  Something has to give ...

In this superbly wrought novel, taut with tension, Eliabeth Winthrop portrays a marriage beginning to crack under pressure and a girl whose attempt to control her universe locks her into self-imposed silence.  Wholly involving and ultimately uplifting, this is the work of an exceptionally talented young writer.

Why I Chose this Book:  It's been on my wish-list for a while.  As a troubled teen, I can remember resolving not to speak ever again so I'm intrigued to read this author's treatment of the subject.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

IB - Mimi Spencer - 101 Things to do Before You Diet

Title:  101 Things to do Before You Diet
Author:  Mimi Spencer
Publisher:  Doubleday
ISBN:  9780385616102
Price:  £12.99

The Back of the Book:  Ways to eat, Ways to cheat, What to wear, What to ditch.

Discover the secrets that really will mak a difference to the way you look and feel about yourself.

If you think it's time to free yourself from the tyranny of thin, this sassy, funny and practical book by style guru Mimi Spencer is for you.

Like your ideal best friend, she'll help you realise your thinner self without all the depressing self-denial, guilty weigh-ins and faddy food plans of conventional diets.

Mimi will help you mae the most of what you've got, and see that the woman you are now is just as fabulous as the woman you want to be.

Why I Chose this Book:  Basically, I'm trying to lose weight and I could use a boost.  I loved Neris and India's Idiot-Proof Diet.  Let me be clear - I loved the book.  The diet didn't do it for me.  I followed it slavishly for a month.  I lost 5lbs the first week and then 0lbs, 0lbs and 0lbs.  I'm now on SlimmingWorld which I know from experience does work for me (when I stick at it).  SW offers several different eating plans and I've been trying the newest one with little success.  So I feel the need for a Neris and India-style boost while returning to the eating plan that does work.

The Waterstone's Card

I've got a Waterstone's loyalty card. I've buy books from there most months (and, let's be honest, often several times a month). For the past wee while they've been asking, 'Do you have a loyalty card?' and it was only today that I had the wit to say, 'No. How do I get one?' So I've now been furnished with a nice, shiny, new piece of plastic. And I'm telling you about it because it really does seem rather good ...

With the card, one gets:

  • 3 points per £1 spent.
  • book reviews by email.
  • competitions.
  • special offers.
  • free 'Books Quarterly' magazine.
  • 'the chance to read and review books before they are published.'
  • double points and bonus points offers.
  • eco points if you don't take a carrier bag.
Hmmm ... now which of those options has me all excited?  Well, Books Quarterly because I've been looking for a bookish magazine.  But, really, it's the 'read and review' bit.  And, hey, 3 points per £1 can't be sniffed at.

Monday, 6 April 2009

IB: Kate Williams - Becoming Queen

And so here begins a new feature at Not Just Reading. 'IB' stands for 'Incoming Book' and these entries will let you know what I'm adding to Mt To Be Read and, most importantly, why! So, without further ado, please meet today's purchase:

Title: Becoming Queen
Author: Kate Williams
Publisher: Arrow Books
ISBN: 9780099451822
Price: £7.99

The Back of the Book: Becoming Queen tells the astonishing story of Queen Victoria's passionate youth, her bitter struggle with her mother - and how her life was shaped by the death of her forgotten cousin Princess Charlotte, the queen who never was.

In a dramatic tale of secrets, sexual repression, and endless conflict, Kate Williams reveals an energetic and vibrant woman, determined to battle for power. She also documents the Byzantine machinations behind Victoria's quest to occupy the throne, and shows how her struggles did not end when the crown was finally placed on her head.

Why I Chose this Book: First, I have to confess that I shouldn't really be buying books at all. I live in a house which is absolutely full of books and I really do want to read all of them so I can't just give them away. I'm surrounded by boxes of books as I type and there are more stacked on the floor and on my desk for which there just isn't room in the boxes! But don't you think that sometime you just have to buy a book? Or two?

It is family tradition that I always give gifts of books. Birthdays, Christmas, high-days and holy-days, if a gift is required then I give a book. This is a clear case of treating others as one would wish to be treated although I'm not sure the gifting of books is quite what Jesus had in mind. Anyway, how can I enter a bookshop and take out my purse without falling victim to temptation?

Anyway, today I needed a gift to send to my sister (in hospital with possible appendicitis) and, as any booklover would, I found what I wanted for her (Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street) and then began browsing. I actually found it rather difficult to find a book today - and that's not like me at all. I was about to pay for the McCall Smith and leave the shop disappointed when I spotted this title on the '3-for-2' table. I've recently become interested in reading more (auto)biography and historical non-fiction but I'm wary of choosing anything too challenging which I'll abandon within the first chapter. But this book seems about the right level and I'm interested in the Victorians so it seemed like a good idea. I'll let you know if I was right when I've read it!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

DNF - Joyce Meyer - The Confident Woman

My confidence is not my best feature and I've found some of Mrs Meyer's other books helpful so I was rather pleased when this one came to the top of Mt TBR. After 50 pages, however, I laid it aside. Mrs Meyer appears to see a woman's confidence through a lens of whether or not she has been abused and, having set the scene for that with some information about her own experience, she launched into a long discussion on whether or not women should preach. Let's just say we have different views. I could live with that. But I fail to see the relevance of the discussion to the purpose of the book. Instead, it seems that Mrs Meyer was on a personal soap-box and using this book to answer her critics. That'\s not something I'm very interested in reading so I stopped.

17. Zoe Heller - Notes on a Scandal

This was a re-read for a BookGroup I'm hoping to attend next month.

I'm worried by how strongly I identify with Barbara. She's a spinster who, at the beginning of the book, lives alone save for a cat to whom she is devoted. I am a spinster who is devoted to her cat. I do hope that there the resemblance ends.

Barbara is a teacher who, by her own admission, has few friends. She does, however, form a relationship with a new teacher at school. Ms Heller writes with Barbara's voice as she narrates this story of relationships.

Sheba, Barbara's new friend, is found to be having a sexual relationship with one of the school's pupils and this is played out against the backdrop of her relationship with Barbara. Additional information is supplied in the sub-text of Barbara's own relationships and the relationships within Sheba's family. Ms Heller handles the shifts in perspective seamlessly, drip feeding the reader just the right amount of information to build suspense, but leaving one tantalised by unanswered questions at the close of the novel.

This book has been made into a 'major motion picture', according to the cover. I'm not sure I want to see it though. Ms Heller's characters are still strongly alive in my imagination and I suspect they will remain so for some time. I think it might be best to leave them undisturbed a while - the capacity for a film to 'get it wrong' is huge!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

16. Laura Ingalls Wilder - West From Home

I’m sad to have come to the end of Laura’s writing but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this last selection. West From Home is a collection of letters, discovered and published after the deaths of both Laura and her daughter, Rose, which Laura wrote to Almanzo while visiting Rose in San Francisco. It was an exciting time. The completion of the Panama Canal was being celebrated by ‘The Panama-Pacific International Exposition’, there was war in Europe, electricity and motor cars were in evidence and Laura was just beginning, under Rose’s tutelage, to write and earn money by doing so. It was lovely to meet this happier, adult Laura after the travail of The First Four Years and On the Way Home.

I’m not torn between reading Rose’s story as written by her Executor, Roger Lea MacBride (who edited West From Home), investigating a series of books captioned ‘The Caroline Years’ which I assume contain something of Laura’s mother’s story, or moving into other biography of the Ingalls family and history of their times.

15. Barbara Hughes - Disciplines of a Godly Woman

I bought this book at the Catholic bookshop rather than the Christian bookshop in Glasgow and therefore assumed it would be a Catholic look at womanhood. It’s not. The author is an evangelical Christian and writes from this viewpoint.

Barbara Hughes is the wife of a Pastor in the US and, in this book, shares a wealth of experience. She looks at the various aspects of ‘submission’ in each of her chapters and includes a further study section for each area. I was particularly interested in her treatment of the single (as opposed to the married state) which, as a single woman, I found quite liberating. I’m used to books which hold marriage in such high regard that the single vocation is a very poor second and only useful for providing the world with missionaries! Thankfully, that is not Mrs Hughes’ view.

This isn’t a book for the new Christian. I would be more inclined to recommend it to someone who is a few years on in her faith and looking to go deeper. The ideals Mrs Hughes examines seem far out of my reach but, nonetheless, I shall hang onto this book and explore the further study sections at my leisure.

What Your Initials Say About You

I came across this fun little meme over at The 160 Acre Woods.

You Are Accepting and Open

When You Are Comfortable:

You are enthusiastic and flexible. You are open-minded. You prefer to learn from others... not judge them.

People see you as kind and cooperative. You are very supportive when friends are down on their luck.

When You Are At Your Best:

You are ambitious, and hard-working. Adversity allows you to shine. You resourceful and able to make due.

People see you as honest to the point of bluntness. But they always know that you'll be fair. You have the good intentions.

When You Are in a Social Setting:

You are a hyper, restless person. You need to keep busy, and you always are willing to take charge in life.

People see you as energetic and motivating. You inspire people to be the best they can be.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

DNF - Shulamit Lapid - Valley of Strength

I’m really disappointed by my failure to read this book as it’s the first I’ve snagged from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer programme. I think I made a poor choice and this book is intended for a different reader. I found it depressingly dull and political and entirely lacking in the homely, farming, family life that I expected. Clearly I have read too much Laura Ingalls Wilder, but when I saw that this book was about living on the frontier of Israel at the turn of the century I settled down for a version of the Little House books with a slightly different setting.

If a reader were really interested in the history of Israel then I would recommend this book. For me though I was glad when the cat knocked it off the table and lost my place thus giving me permission to stop and choose something else from my shelves.

14. Mohsin Hamid - The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I’m still working out how to take this book. On the one hand, it is clumsy and naive, and on the other it’s a very clever look at international relations with touches of romance and insanity.

The book is narrated by Changez, a young man from Pakistan. He attends Princeton in the USA and builds a life as a high-flying executive. He meets a young woman with whom he falls in love. And then things change.

The reader is cast in the role of an American visiting Pakistan. Changez joins you as you sit at a café in a marketplace. And, over the course of the afternoon and evening, he tells you his story. He is very polite and, I think, socially inept. His story is fascinating even though, at times, he offends you. Throughout the narrative there are hints and signals that something in this situation is very wrong. And then Changez wraps up his story while you walk back to the hotel. And we come to the end of this slim volume with many (perhaps most) of our questions left unanswered.

Clumsy and naïve? Clever and compelling? I’ll add that question to the list.