Review of ‘Meatless All Day’ by Dina Cheney

meatless all dayThanks to NetGalley and The Taunton Press for the ARC of this book.

This is a beautiful vegetarian cookbook, with tempting veggie recipes and beautiful full page photos for most recipes. The book has a warm autumnal colour palette which emphasises the cozy, filling nature of the food.

The emphasis of the book is making vegetarian food ‘meaty’ and substantial. The introduction includes lots of good tips and advice for cooking common veggie ingredients to get the best from them. I particularly like the tips for adding ‘meatiness’ such as using caramelised onions, miso or toasted coconut in recipes.

There are a wide range of recipe ideas from cuisines from around the world; however the book has a definite ‘American’ feel to it with lots of burgers and pancake recipes. There are some very interesting ideas for meals I haven’t tried before e.g. pumpkin pear pancakes and beet wellington. There are also variations on well-known veggie staples e.g. edamame hummus. Unlike many veggie recipe books there is not too heavy a reliance on pasta and carb-heavy food. There is no dessert section, which is unusual but not necessarily a bad thing.

Most of the recipes have LOTS of ingredients so I think you would have to do a special shop to make most things rather than relying on your store cupboard or fridge. Many of the dishes serve lots of people too, for example there is a breakfast pancake recipe which makes 27 pancakes, I can’t imagine ever needing that many!

I like the tips which come with each recipe on what other dishes to serve to make a good meal. Recipes do not have nutritional info such as calories or details of whether dishes can be frozen, which would be helpful.

This recipe book contains lots of tempting recipes which I shall enjoy trying.

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Review of ‘Look Who’s Back’ by Timur Vermes

Look who's backThanks to NetGalley and Quercus Books for the ARC of this book.

Wow, this book has an amazing cover! It jumps out off the shelf an demands to be read. The designer must be given huge credit for the success of the book. They have designed something which is simple, bold and brave and perfectly reflects the book’s contents.

The book itself is a fish out of water story of a person transplanted to another time, with the astonishing twist that this person is Adolf Hitler! It is always interesting to see the modern world through the eyes of someone from the past, but it is even more fascinating to see it from the point of view of one of the worst people ever to have lived.

This is a really clever satire. Vermes manages to balance the characterization of Hitler as at once both completely delusional and on occasions surprisingly insightful and perceptive about the things which ail modern society such as the proliferation of Starbucks, the woefulness of daytime TV and the ‘industralisation’ of  Christmas.

The plot follows Hitler who, after his suicide, wakes up in 2011 and becomes a huge comic TV star. He thinks he is still a political figure who is forwarding his own agenda, but in fact people are laughing at his values and he is seen by the public to stand for the opposite values.

Using Hitler in this way is an incredibly brave and original choice by the author, I’m not sure it’s entirely appropriate but I really did enjoy this book.

Right up until the end, this novel was surprising me. The most audacious decision comes at the end of the book when Vermes chooses to give Hitler a relatively happy ending. Throughout the novel I was waiting for his downfall or comeuppance and it simply never comes.

Translating this novel into English must have been incredibly challenging, quite a lot of the humour comes from wordplay or a knowledge of German politics. I think the translation is done well, although there are a few sections which I thought felt a bit muddled or cloudy. This may be due to the fact that large sections of the book are narrated in Hitler’s monologue and he has a rather strange old-fashioned voice.

Review of ‘True Believer’ by Nicholas Sparks

ImageBefore I go on holiday I like to read books set in the location that I am travelling to. In October we are going on holiday to North Carolina, so recently I have been reading some Nicholas Sparks books; ‘True Believer’ is not one of his better offerings.

Jeremy Marsh, a journalist who debunks supernatural phenomena, travels to Boone Creek, North Carolina to investigate strange lights in a graveyard purported to be the ghosts of slaves. It’s a mystery he solves incredibly easily and mostly “off-screen” (off-page?).

While he is there he falls in love with a librarian called Lexie Darnell and mercilessly pursues her, even though she really does not appear all that interested in him. Eventually, inevitably they get together even though they have no discernible chemistry and very little in common.

This is the flattest, least emotionally engaging of the Sparks books which I have read. Usually, at the very least, even if the book is sentimental or silly, he manages to engage you with the central romantic relationship. However, I neither liked Jeremy and Lexie nor cared whether they ended up together.

Sparks could have made the book more exciting by creating a fascinating supernatural mystery for Jeremy to solve, and he manages to set one up but then this plot point fizzles out at the end of the book with a simple and not in the slightest bit interesting solution.

Very disappointing. However, there is a nice section set in the Outer Banks which I am now very much looking forward to visiting on my holiday!

Any suggestions for better books set in North Carolina would be gratefully received!

List 3: Ten years of great reads

As I’m a book nerd, I keep lists of everything I read! So, for my next list I thought I’d look back over my history and pick the book I most enjoyed reading that year.

List Number Three – The best book I read each year for the last decade.

  • 2013 – Wonder by R J Palacio
  • 2012 – Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes
  • 2011 – The Breaking of Eggs – Jim Powell
  • 2010 – The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness
  • 2009 – The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
  • 2008 – Atonement – Ian McEwan
  • 2007 – The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  • 2006 – We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
  • 2005 – July – Karen Roberts
  • 2004 – Bel Canto – Ann Patchett

The best book I’ve read so far this year is The Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare (that’s a bit of a worry, I should probably try to start reading something a bit more highbrow!).

I’d love to hear if you’re as nerdy as me…

List 2: Favourite childhood books

I fell in love with books at a very early age and was one of those quiet children always sat in the corner of the room with her nose in a book. I think the books you love as a child really stay with you for the rest of your life, so I decided to share my favourites…

List Number Two – Twenty of my favourite books and series from my childhood

  1. Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
  2. The Great Piratical Rumbustification and The Librarian and the Robbers by Margaret Mahy
  3. The Milly-Molly-Mandy series by Joyce Lankester Brisley
  4. The Boy Who Sprouted Antlers by John Yeoman
  5. Cops and Robbers by Allan Ahlberg
  6. The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl
  7. The Father Christmas series by Raymond Briggs
  8. The Hermit and the Bear by John Yeoman
  9. Autumn Story by Jill Barklem
  10. The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter
  11. The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy
  12. The Little Grey Rabbit series by Alison Uttley
  13. The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl
  14. The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
  15. After the Goat Man by Betsy Byars
  16. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  17. Dolphin Island by Arthur C. Clarke
  18. The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton
  19. The Animals of Farthing Wood series by Colin Dann
  20. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

As an adult I continue to read children’s and young adult fiction. Sometimes I feels so jealous of children today who get to discover these books for the first time and who are able to experience the vast swathe of fantastic contemporary children’s fiction as children. For example, I would have loved to have read Philip Pullman, Patrick Ness, Malorie Blackman, Cornelia Funke and Philip Reeve as a child; they would have blown my mind!

I’d love to hear which books you loved growing up.

Review of ‘The Vegan Cookbook’ by Adele McConnell

The Vegan CookbookThanks to NetGalley and Watkins Publishing Ltd for the ARC of this book.

I’ve been vegetarian for 22 years, but recently I’ve been trying to eat a more vegan/raw food diet in order to lose weight, so I was excited to have the opportunity to review this book.

As this was an electronic advanced review copy, it was slightly difficult to view the book. Ingredients lists were split over pages and recipes seemed to run into each other. Also, there was no consistency in the placement of the photos of recipes, sometimes they were before the recipe and sometimes they were after, so when you reached a photo that looked interesting you did not know when to scroll backwards or forwards in the book to find the recipe. I assume that the hard copy will be a lot better formatted and much more user-friendly. Generally, I think recipe books work much better as hard copies.

This seems like a good vegan recipe book. It has recipes from a wide range of cuisines from around the world. The author has a very friendly voice and I like the personal notes she gave with most recipes. The pictures are bright and colourful and appetizing. There’s a good section on vegan ingredients at the beginning of the book, although this could have included a bit more information on where to buy the ingredients.

There were a few interesting recipe ideas for things I hadn’t thought of before, such as quinoa porridge. The information provided with recipes includes cooking and prep time and highlights where recipes a free of soy, sugar, nuts, seeds, gluten or where they are raw. However, there is no nutritional info such as calories, which I find useful, also there is no indication if recipes can be frozen. The recipe order is a bit odd; snacks and treats come before main courses, so there is a random sweet section in the middle of the book before we return to savoury main dishes.

The one concern I have with this recipe book is the information about soy in the introductory section. I think this is a controversial subject. The author says she avoids eating soy because it contains phytoestrogens which mimic oestrogen in the body. However, I have read elsewhere that this assertion is inaccurate and the words sound alike but soy does not affect hormone levels in the body. I think where food and nutrition are concerned it is important to offer a balanced opinion based on scientific facts.

So far I’ve tried cook two recipes from this book – Warm Tempeh Salad and Spicy Lentil and Quinoa Risotto. Both recipes were easy to follow, but neither turned out particularly well, both were quite spicy but didn’t have interesting layers of flavour, instead they were pretty one-note. I don’t think I’d bother making either again, but I will try some more recipes from this book, particularly I thought the breakfast recipes looked quite interesting.

Review of ‘Another Night, Another Day’ by Sarah Rayner

Another Night, Another Day coverThanks to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for the ARC of this book.

Wow is this book depressing! Admittedly, it ends with ‘a glimmer of hope’, as the final section is titled; but, as they say on the Kermode and Mayo film review, “there’s a whole lot of Shawshank to get through before the redemption”.

I knew nothing about Sarah Rayner’s books before starting this one; I had assumed from the covers that they would be somewhat fluffy chick-lit featuring mature women. I could not have been more off the mark. This book is in fact a sympathetic and insightful examination of depression and mental illness, the different ways in which ordinary people experience these and the ways in which they can be treated.

The book follows the stories of three people:

  • Abby, the mother of a severely autistic boy, who is going through a divorce while still living with her husband, is about to lose her house and receives very little support caring for her very demanding son.
  • Karen, a widow whose husband died a couple of years before the novel is set and whose father is in the late stages of dementia.
  • Michael, a florist whose business is going under.

The three main protagonists are dealing with long-term, seemingly insurmountable real-life problems which throughout the first section of the book get worse and worse until they finally all crack and end up in a private psychiatric clinic together.

I liked that in the early part of the book, before the characters meet, the sections following each character were kept short so that we did not need to spend too long dwelling in the misery of each character and also because I wasn’t as interested in the sections featuring Michael. I thought the women’s problems revolving around their personal lives were more interesting than Michael’s business and financial woes.

I didn’t really like Michael; he was aggressive whereas the women were more worn down by life. I felt like the bad things which happened to him were more of his own making due to his lack of financial responsibility, whereas Abby and Karen’s problems were out of their control. Maybe, this is a reflection of the fact that as a society we hold men to higher standards regarding mental health, or maybe he just was not as sympathetic and relatable a character.

I felt that it took a bit long to get to the point in the book where the three characters’ stories inter-linked and I found the story much more compelling once I got into the middle section set in the psychiatric clinic. It was interesting to read about the different techniques the therapists use to treat depression.

If I had not chosen to review this book via NetGalley, I probably would have stopped reading on the first page when I realised it was written in the present tense. I detest this recent fashion, more and more books are being written in the present tense. Sometimes it works, such as in The Hunger Games – where there is severe peril and a driving plot, but most of the time the present tense is just really jarring and unnecessary. I assume this book is written in the present tense because in the prologue there is a flash forward indicating that someone from the group therapy sessions dies and Rayner wanted to avoid any foreshadowing or hints through hindsight which might have occurred by writing in the past tense, but I don’t think it is necessary. I guessed very early on which character would die and I was correct; I was not at all fooled by the fake-out suggesting Michael has died, so I don’t think this added any tension to the story.

This book covers an interesting topic; depression is probably a bit overlooked in fiction. Rayner uses the books as a platform to make important observations about the effects of budget cuts on public healthcare facilities and patients, and how mental illness can affect all sorts of normal people at any time of their life. She does a very good job of making mental illness an approachable subject. However, I personally found the subject matter and the unrelentingly realism just too depressing and, although there was a light at the end of the tunnel, it just wasn’t the most enjoyable type of book to read in one’s spare time. Having said that, I think it might help someone suffering with depression to read this book as it contains very relatable characters going through a similar experience.

Review of ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher

ImageI wanted to read this book after hearing it reviewed on the Enthusiasticast podcast. They raved about it and I thought it sounded like an interesting concept.

The premise of the book is that a teenager, Hannah, commits suicide and leaves behind a box of cassette tapes for thirteen people to listen to. The thirteen people appear to be people who have wronged her in some way and it is the culmination of these wrongs which have led to her suicide. She instructs them to listen to the tapes and then pass them on to the next person on the list.

Initially I thought this was an interesting insight into how our actions, no matter how small, can affect other people. It is a lesson to teenagers to think more about what they say and do and how it might impact on people around them. However, towards the end of the book I began to really dislike the Hannah’s character. The more her story revealed itself, the more selfish and self-centred she appeared to be. Her tapes are explaining to people how their actions have affected her, but what about her actions? What about the poor people who have to listen to how they have contributed no matter how slightly to their classmate’s death? What about her parents and the other innocent people who have had to deal with her suicide? In the end her actions are much worse than anything that is done to her.

***Spoilers from this point***

To top it all, we find out that, Clay, the character from whose point of view we are experiencing the tapes, has done nothing bad to Hannah. In fact he loves her and, had she given him more of a chance, could probably have helped her out of the depression which led to her suicide. She was not alone and she is inflicting the horrible content of these tapes, which include her part in not stopping both a rape and a drunk-driving incident which results in a classmate’s death, on this sweet boy who wants nothing but good things for her. She just seems like a monumentally selfish person and once you realise that, it’s actually hard to feel any sympathy for her.

This book should have been an insightful morality tale to teach teenagers the importance of considering others in their actions but it falls flat because it tries to include too many shocking horrible events which overshadow and undermine this basic message.

Also the basic concept is fundamentally flawed. No one uses cassette tapes any more, Asher even needs to include a silly section where Clay has to steal a Walkman in order to listen to them. Why not just set it in the 80’s when tapes would have made sense, or make it an mp3 player the recipients have to pass on? I was willing to overlook this at the beginning of the book when the story was intriguing and there was a mystery over what Clay had done to Hannah to make him be included on the tapes, but once the plot started to flail I felt less forgiving.

An interesting idea which could have been better executed.

List 1: Books that made me cry

One thing that I enjoy almost as much as reading books is writing lists, so I’ve decided I’ll periodically share some book related lists with you.

List Number One – Thirteen books that made me cry

It’s amazing how good it can make you feel having a good old sob to a great book! (Except when you’re reading on public transport!)

If a book can make me cry, then that means I’m totally invested in it and it usually goes straight to the top of my ‘best books’ list! Weirdly, that doesn’t apply to films – I’ll cry at any old film no matter how rubbish it is!

  1. ‘July’ by Karen Roberts
  2. ‘Just Listen’ by Sarah Dessen
  3. ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  4. ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger
  5. ‘The Book Thief’ by Marcus Zuzak
  6. ‘The Amber Spyglass’ by Philip Pullman
  7. ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ by Jodi Picoult
  8. ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett
  9. ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold
  10. ‘Noughts and Crosses’ by Malorie Blackman
  11. ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan
  12. ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks
  13. ‘Wonder’ by R J Palacio

I’d love to hear what books made you cry!

Review of ‘The Family Fang’ by Kevin Wilson

ImageKevin Wilson has a fresh, quirky and original voice. This is an enjoyable and easy read with a bittersweet storyline and interesting, flawed characters. The novel explores the question of what is more important art or family? The conclusion drawn is both sad and uplifting and makes this a very original read.

Buster and Annie are a brother and sister in their 20’s both struggling to overcome their peculiar upbringing and escape the shadow of their eccentric parents. Their journey is funny, sad, moving and inspiring.

I would highly recommend this novel, it manages to balance a thought-provoking and clever idea with a light, satirical writing style. I’ll definitely look out for any novels Wilson writes in the future.

N.B. Despite the slightly deceptive title, this book doesn’t have anything to do with vampires!