Read in 2017: April

5.5.17

#21 - IDAHO // Emily Ruskovich
"One hot August day a family drives to a mountain clearing to collect birch wood. Jenny, the mother, is in charge of lopping any small limbs off the logs with a hatchet. Wade, the father, does the stacking. The two daughters, June and May, aged nine and six, drink lemonade, swat away horseflies, bicker, sing snatches of songs as they while away the time. But then something unimaginably shocking happens, an act so extreme it will scatter the family in every different direction. In a story told from multiple perspectives and in razor-sharp prose, we gradually learn more about this act, and the way its violence, love and memory reverberate through the life of every character in Idaho."
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I'd heard rave reviews about this on YouTube so was eager to give it a read.  It's one of those stories which unfold slowly, with each chapter narrated or focusing on a different character.  And speaking of those characters, they were complex, well-fleshed out and the author wasn't afraid to make them unlikeable.  There's interesting family dynamics in here set against a tragic incident.  This isn't the most accessible book in the sense that it isn't written in a mainstream way, so although I enjoyed it I don't think it'll be to everyone's taste.
Rating: ★★★

#22 - SO YOU'VE BEEN PUBLICLY SHAMED // Jon Ronson
"For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us - people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they're being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job. A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people's faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control. 
Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You've Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws - and the very scary part we all play in it."
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In today's social media age I found this book fascinating.  Jon Ronson shares the stories of people who have been shamed for varying reasons and their subsequent 'recovery' as it were.  I like my non-fiction to have a personal touch in the sense of featuring real-life stories and this did exactly that.  I'll admit to finding certain chapters a little irrelevant (in my eyes) but overall this was a great read.
Rating: ★★★

#23 - NINA IS NOT OK // Shappi Khorsandi
"Nina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn't? Nina's mum isn't so sure. But she's busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina's almost an adult after all. And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina's drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend. 
But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can't help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her..."
You know when you read a book and it just *feels* important?  That's exactly what happened here.  Nina is the victim of sexual assault and her life quickly begins to spiral out of control.  The issue of capacity for consent is used as a spring board to pull in alcoholism, abuse, relationships (both friendships and romantic), family dynamics and coming of age.  If I'm being critical, I'll say that towards the end I felt that it began to drag slightly and perhaps there were too many issues being covered.  All in all though this was a great book and unlike anything I've read before.
Rating: ★★★

#24 - A STREET CAT NAMED BOB: THE AMAZING TRUE STORY FO ONE MAN AND HIS CAT // James Bowen 3
"When James Bowen found an injured, ginger street cat curled up in the hallway of his sheltered accommodation, he had no idea just how much his life was about to change.

James was living hand to mouth on the streets of London and the last thing he needed was a pet. Yet James couldn't resist helping the strikingly intelligent tom cat, whom he quickly christened Bob. He slowly nursed Bob back to health and then sent the cat on his way, imagining he would never see him again. But Bob had other ideas.

Soon the two were inseparable and their diverse, comic and occasionally dangerous adventures would transform both their lives, slowly healing the scars of each other's troubled pasts."
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This was our book club pick and I'll admit to going into it with trepidation.  I hadn't heard great things about James Bowen's personality and attitude in general, but I'm glad to say that this wasn't as awful as I'd been expecting.  I know, I know...glowing review right there.  I don't understand how this became a number 1 bestseller (or a film for that matter), but it was a quick read which wasn't a struggle to get through.  My gripes weren't with Bowen's personality, more so that at times his apparent expertise regarding cats seemed unnatural and overly edited.  And don't get me started on how many times he uses the word "mate"!
Rating: ★★★

#25 - THE SECRETS OF HAPPINESS // Lucy Diamond The Secrets of Happiness 3
"The best things in life ...can be just around the corner Rachel and Becca aren't real sisters, or so they say. They are stepsisters, living far apart, with little in common. Rachel is the successful one: happily married with three children and a big house, plus an impressive career. Artistic Becca, meanwhile, lurches from one dead-end job to another, shares a titchy flat, and has given up on love. 
The two of them have lost touch, but when Rachel doesn't come home one night, Becca is called in to help. Once there, she quickly realizes that her stepsister's life is not so perfect after all: Rachel's handsome husband has moved out, her children are rebelling, and her glamorous career has taken a nosedive. Worst of all, nobody seems to have a clue where she might be.
As Becca begins to untangle Rachel's secrets, she is forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about her own life, and the future seems uncertain. But sometimes happiness can be found in the most unexpected places ..."
This was chick-lit at its finest and, in a word, forgettable.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy it....in fact I raced through this within a day, and it's a 450+ page chunker!  It was engaging, light-hearted and fun.  Exactly what I was hoping for.  I wasn't disappointed and would recommend this to anyone else looking for a quick, playful read.
Rating: ★★★ 

#26 - SCARCITY: WHY HAVING TOO LITTLE MEANS SO MUCH // Senhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir
"Sendhil Mullainathan, the 'most interesting young economist in the world', and Eldar Shafir, the 'most brilliant psychologist' of his generation, explain the hidden problem behind everything with Scarcity Why can we never seem to keep on top of our workload, social diary or chores? Why does poverty persist around the world? Why do successful people do things at the last minute in a sudden rush of energy? Here, economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir reveal that the hidden side behind all these problems is that they're all about scarcity. Using the new science of scarcity, they explain why obesity is rampant; why people find it difficult to sleep when most sleep deprived; and why the lonely find it so hard to make friends. Scarcity will change the way you think about both the little everyday tasks and the big issues of global urgency."
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I got this book in the hopes that it would serve as a bit of further reading into the topic of minimalism and, more relevant to me, money.  And for the most part it did and I found these sections thought-provoking and helpful.  It was however mixed in with discussion of work and time commitments which I found less useful and so ended up skipping.  I also felt like the authors had developed their own jargon in this topic with buzzwords they were really pushing which at times felt extremely repetitive.  It was worth reading and there are sections I'd like to revisit, it just wasn't exactly the book I was looking for.
Rating: ★★★ 
 
#27 - THE LONELY HEARTS HOTEL // Heather O'Neill
"The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with a difference. Set throughout the roaring twenties, it is a wicked fairytale of circus tricks and child prodigies, radical chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians and brooding clowns, set in an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. It is the tale of two dreamers, abandoned in an orphanage where they were fated to meet. Here, in the face of cold, hunger and unpredictable beatings, Rose and Pierrot create a world of their own, shielding the spark of their curiosity from those whose jealousy will eventually tear them apart. When they meet again, each will have changed, having struggled through the Depression, through what they have done to fill the absence of the other. But their childhood vision remains - a dream to storm the world, a spectacle, an extravaganza that will lift them out of the gutter and onto a glittering stage. 
Heather O'Neill's pyrotechnical imagination and language are like no other. In this she has crafted a dazzling circus of a novel that takes us from the underbellies of war-time Montreal and Prohibition New York, to a theatre of magic where anything is possible - where an orphan girl can rule the world, and a ruined innocence can be redeemed." 
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Rounding off the month on a high, this book is my favourite read of the year so far.  It's whimsical, magical and beautifully written.  So much so that for the first time ever I found myself re-reading sentences to savour the incredible poetic language used.  It featured all the things I enjoy.  Circuses, spanning a long time, interesting characters....I couldn't fault it.  There was a real sense of time and atmosphere, with gangsters and dark moments of abuse.  I went in fairly blind in terms of what to expect but came away utterly entranced.  I can't wait to read more of Heather O'Neill's work now!
Rating: ★★★★★

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