Belated book reviews

The last week has been so busy, one way and another, that I feel I’ve spent all day every day trying to catch up with myself, but failing.

However, today TOH went into hospital very early for his operation, so I have a couple of days to myself and have managed to make some progress with my outstanding tasks.

No matter how tired I am, I always find time to read before I go to sleep, even if my eyes are propped open with toothpicks. One of the many benefits of the Kindle is how light it is compared to a tree-book, and therefore easier to read in bed, plus it doesn’t rustle and annoy whoever else might be in the bed with you. 🙂

I try really hard to keep up with reviews of books I’ve read, particularly when I’ve downloaded them for free. Authors often make their books free for a limited time to promote their visibility, and I know that many people simply download them because they are free and never get around to reading them. However, there is an unspoken etiquette that if you accept a free copy of a book, it’s reasonable to leave some kind of feedback to, hopefully, encourage more readers to download or buy the book.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve read four books, all non-fiction. Two were free downloads, and two I paid for, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them although they were quite different from each other. My review policy is that I rate from 5-star down to 3-star. 5-stars means I thought it was good; 4-stars yes, it was good, with slight reservations, 3-stars I finished it. I do not rate any lower than 3-stars, because life is too short to waste time reading something you don’t enjoy, so once I stop enjoying it, boom, that’s it. I’ve never been able to understand readers who leave low-star reviews for books they “hated.”  Why not just stop reading them? I always suspect that anybody who leaves that kind of review is doing so for a reason unconnected with the content and quality of the book. Anyway, that’s just how I feel.

The first book I want to mention is “I’d Sooner Starve“, by Mark Sinclair. It’s about a council employee who decides he’d rather be a delicatessen/restaurant owner, his sole qualification being his ability to make a quiche without a recipe. Opening during the winter and serving only cold meals showed a certain misunderstanding of his market, and the student two-ring oven wasn’t really adequate for the shift to hot meals. The author readily accepts that many of his problems were of his own making, and I had a strong feeling that he was far from being a “people” person. He hated his customers. Not only did they force him into entirely changing his ideas of the type of food he wished to serve, they complained, blagged, carped and criticised endlessly. I hated them too. 😀

I found his vitriolic rages hysterically funny, couldn’t put this book down and had tears streaming down my face. Whether all the stories are true, I can’t say, but fact very often is stranger than fiction, so it’s quite possible that the customer who preferred her cheese warmed really did stick it up her skirt. The book is full of similar anecdotes about the idiosyncratic behaviour of Mr and Mrs Middle England. It is only at the very end that Sinclair adopts a serious note, comparing the waste of food in the developed world with the terrible poverty in which too many people still live.  I’ll definitely read this one again – but not in a public place. It’s just too funny.

The second book I enjoyed is one I stumbled across by pure chance. It’s called The Tree That Walked by Alan Grainger, who, being retired, decides to visit Peru because when he was 16 he had met a girl from there. He takes his wife with him, and they arrive during the Sendero Luminosa terrorist rebellion. They comfort themselves with the fact that coming from Ireland they are well used to the dangers of terrorism, but they also have to deal with other hazards such as permanently damp bed linen and altitude sickness. The book traces their journey around Peru – up to Machu Pichu, along the Amazon and around Lake Titicaca. Along the way they meet the most unlikely people in the most unlikely places, and as well as an extensive knowledge of Inca history Mr Grainger has a delightfully understated sense of humour. The vision of him and his wife, both rather large people by his own admission, scrambling onto a raft to go up the Amazon, dragging their wheeled suitcases behind them is one that will remain with me forever. A well-written and charming read.

My third choice is  Sell the Pig by the dizzily-named Tottie Limejuice. Tottie’s nearly-nonagenarian mother has begun to lose the plot and is prone to saying “bugger” rather often and becoming increasingly absorbed with bums. Tottie’s brother is a self-destructive drunk. Tottie’s elderly dog suffers from epilepsy and a cardiac problem.

So what does Tottie Limejuice decide to do? Why – move them all to France, of course! Sell the Pig follows Tottie’s search for a suitable house in the wild Auvergne region to take her vulnerable and dependent flock, against obstacles that sometimes seem insurmountable. This is not a frothy tale of romance and baguettes, but a “moving to France” book with a difference about a woman’s determination to live her dream and take her responsibilities with her. It leaves the reader wondering what happens next – but I’m sure Tottie has the answers up her sleeve and they will be revealed in a sequel. As they say in France – formidable!

Fourth on my list is Goodnight, Dear – the unsentimental diary of a bereaved husband” by Darren Humphries.  I found this a very interesting read, written by a man whose wife dies unexpectedly at a very young age, leaving him with an 8-year-old boy and 16-month-old daughter. As the title suggests, it is unsentimental, even at times quite funny in a rather dark way. There is nothing maudlin about this book, despite its tragic subject, nor any trace of self-pity from the author. He charts the year following his wife’s death, the mountains of paperwork he faces with insurance company, bank, building society and the Inland Revenue, the lengthy medical investigations, coroners and inquests, and the practical difficulties of holding down a job and being a single parent to two small children. He discusses his feelings openly, the times when he’s reduced to tears, and his questions about the future – for example, how soon is it acceptable for a bereaved partner begin to think about dating again? Very thought-provoking. One thinks of the pain and loneliness of losing a loved one, but here the author gets down to the nitty-gritty practicalities.

I’m posting all the above reviews to Amazon and Goodreads.

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