Book Review: Tiger’s Eye by Inga Clendinnen

Tiger's Eye by Inga ClendinnenI’ve mentioned in other posts that I like reading book blurbs. Rightly or wrongly, I often judge a book by its back cover.  The blurb for Tiger’s Eye, actually an extract from a review in the Australian newspaper The Age, absolutely sold the book to me, while strangely revealing little about the book’s content:

“This is a rare book, and rare in its own time.  It is memoir, history, fiction, a documenting of filial gratitude and ingratitude, and a record of the cauldron experience of a near-fatal illness, all bundled, coherently – that’s the miracle – between covers.  And written with a white intensity that assaults the way a Southern Ocean breaker does: first, shock, then – exhilaration…

The paradox of this intensely personal, powerfully intelligent memoir is that it lets the reader through while leaving Clendinnen and the people she anatomises with their skins on and mystery intact…I am reminded of Sylvia Plath’s last poems, not because Clendinnen is derivative – she is indelibly herself – but because she, too, can extrude clarity out of chaos.”

I knew nothing about the writer and had never heard of the title, but standing dithering in the bookshop I decided that at only £1 it was worth a gamble, so I took it home.  Then I spent months not reading it and looking at its glossy black spine, questioning the impulse which had made me buy it – would I be wasting my precious reading time by even starting it?

But when I finally read it, I loved it.  Absolutely loved it.

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Book Review: Shakespeare’s Restless World by Neil MacGregor

Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregorShakespeare’s Restless World provides an insight into Shakespeare and the world in which he lived through the exploration of his plays.  Neil MacGregor, the writer, is Director of the British Museum and has put together this book following the success of BBC Radio 4’s A History of the World in 100 Objects series and his best-selling book of the same name.

I found this to be an extremely accessible and very enjoyable discovery of the Elizabethan and early Stuart age of Shakespeare and his theatre-going audience.  MacGregor shows us objects dating back to this period – objects which would have been instantly recognisable to the people of the time – and uses each one to expand on a particular theme.

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Book Review: Castles In The Air by Judy Corbett

Castles in the Air by Judy CorbettI’d never heard of this book before I picked it up a few months ago.  Nobody I know has read it, and I hadn’t seen any online reviews about it.  I just saw it in a Bargain Bin in a second-hand bookshop and was taken in by the blurb on the back cover.

Blurbs are funny things, aren’t they?  I love them: a browser like me relies heavily on them to persuade me to buy the book (and I am also swayed by a beautiful cover… I’m only human).  A bad or misleading blurb can be fatal for me, as was almost the case with One Day.  On the flip-side, I know people who refuse to ever read blurbs, preferring to be surprised by the content of a recommended book.

The blurb for Castles in the Air, a non-fiction read about a couple who buy a derelict Welsh castle and lovingly renovate it, made me stop for a moment and long to be a part of their adventure.  When I started reading the book itself, I wasn’t expecting an action-packed adventure; I anticipated a slow-paced, romantic (in the traditional sense) tale of a historical building, its inhabitants and the surrounding countryside.

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Book Review: Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Wild Swans by Jung ChangReading this book, totally caught up with the unfolding terror, I kept thinking that Wild Swans ought to be a set text in schools.  I am shocked at how ignorant I was about China and its history.  The events of the country’s last century alone would have kept me enthralled with horror during my history lessons if they had been mentioned on the curriculum.

The novel recounts the lives of three generations of women: the writer Jung Chang, her mother, and her grandmother.  In her youth, her grandmother lived the traditionally repressed life expected of a Chinese woman of her time, with no voice and no freedom.  She was forced to become a concubine to increase her father’s power and standing in society, but was lucky to escape this “gilded cage” when her daughter was two years old and was eventually able to forge a new life somewhat more on her own terms.

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Book Review: Can You Eat, Shoot & Leave? by Clare Dignall

Can You Eat, Shoot and Leave? by Clare Dignall

“Abuse of the apostrophe is … a symptom of its very character.  It is obedient, enthusiastic, and capable of carrying out many important tasks.  A bit like a spaniel, you might say.  However, that’s where the analogy ends, because we are usually quite nice to spaniels.”

As my loved ones know only too well, I have a bit of a thing for punctuation and grammar.  I often have to suppress a shudder at the over-enthusiastic use of apostrophes.  I can’t send a text message without reading it over twice.  And I sometimes put semicolons in my emails.

But despite the tutting and rolling of eyes at badly-punctuated local newsletters and online reviews, secretly I know that it’s not the be-all and end-all if people get it wrong sometimes.  In fact (big confession time) I’m not sure of the rules myself a lot of the time.   I have a love-hate relationship with those semicolons: I want to use them to jazz up my writing, but I’m terrified of including one incorrectly (yes, I said terrified).  Not to mention that I’ve always been puzzled by where you’re supposed to put the punctuation marks when your sentence ends with speech or a quote: inside or outside the speech marks?

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Book Review: Finding My Voice: A Forty-Year Apprenticeship in Sound by Sherie Griffiths

Finding My Voice by Sherie Griffiths

“For some time after I came out of hospital, I absolutely hated anything involving crowds.  That obviously made shopping a nightmare for Mum.  When she had no choice but to take me, a chore became an ordeal.

Until she hit on an idea.  Along with the other toys in my pushchair, she gave me a radio.  It was a simple little ‘tranny’, with one waveband and two dials…but it took my mind off of what was going on around me and gave me a noise I could control.  When I think about that now, I have to say it was a stroke of genius and it started me off on the habit of a lifetime – at one stage a very expensive habit…

My other favourite toy was a red phone.  I can remember when I was around three, having the radio in one hand and the phone in the other.  Hold that image…”

Finding My Voice is the non-fiction memoir of Sherie Griffiths, founder of the company Savvy Business (recently rebranded as Speak For Yourself).  In it she guides the reader through her past and her present with warmth and a lot of humour.  It’s hard not to feel that you have known her for a long time; her words are as engaging as if you were sitting in her home having a cup of coffee and a casual chat.

Sherie is visually impaired and, naturally, this has somewhat influenced the twists and turns of her life.  But it is clear from her story that she has to an extent become a successful and inspirational businesswoman because of her disability rather than in spite of it.  She admits that her stubborn nature often refuses to allow her to give up or to be held back.  Her determination to succeed is stamped all over her fascinating story.

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The Woman Who Shot Mussolini by Frances Stonor Saunders

I don’t know about you but I don’t read a lot of non-fiction.  In fact, I hardly read any non-fiction books for pleasure until I joined my book group last year.  There’s so much wonderful fiction to read, transporting me to so many imaginary worlds, that I’ve never really wanted to give my time to reading anything else.

But I’ve recently discovered the joy of being introduced to extremely accessible historical non-fiction, which takes me on an equally fascinating journey into the unknown, yet concludes leaving me with a deeper insight into the focus of the book.  Plus I’m not left with fiction based on fact.  I’m left with the sometimes astonishing, sometimes shocking, realisation that these events really happened and are backed up with actual evidence. More