Tag: Book

Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing-Book Review

Gretchen Hirsch began her blog, Gertie’s New Blog For Better Sewing, began when she tried to follow the 1950’s book, Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing.  As well as sewing and fashion, she has written about gender and body image.  Her popularity grew and she ended up publishing several books herself.  Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing, there are 14 projects inspired by the original Vogue book with patterns including.  They are all pretty vintage in style, but modeled by Gertie with her fuller figure and tattoos there’s definitely a modern touch.

I was given this book as a gift which was sweet.  But it didn’t take long for me to realise that none of the outfits suited my body type, style, or lifestyle.  And, while full patterns are included you have to trace them first before cutting out as they all overlap.  When I got this book I hadn’t used patterns in a book before, and just used single patterns that you can just cut straight out.  I understand why books do this, it saves a lot of paper and expense but it’s a real pain to use.  I attempted to make a skirt a while back but it ended rather disastrously and looked atrocious.  Although I really appreciate Gertie’s work this was not the book for me!

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Sebastian Faulks- Where My Heart Used To Beat- Book Review

I loved the title.  It’s taken from a Tennyson poem, that Faulks quotes at the start of the book.  Anyway, it’s the reason I bought the book.  Faulks’ more famous work is Birdsong from 1993, in which a women in the 1970’s tries to understand her grandfather’s experiences of WW1.  I never read it, but picked this more contemporary effort instead.  This also deals with war, although more focused on WW2 this time.

Where My Heart Used To Beat

Set in the mid 1980’s our protagonist, Robert Hendricks is prompted to revisit old memories of his childhood, a lost love, and war time combat after receiving an odd letter from a man who served with his father in the First World War.  The death of Robert’s father in the war has left a hole in his life, like many children growing up in the interwar period.  There is a compelling moment when teenage Robert looks at his teacher, injured in WW1, and doesn’t realise he is looking at his own future. Continue reading “Sebastian Faulks- Where My Heart Used To Beat- Book Review”

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov- Book Review

Isaac Asimov is probably the daddy of sci-fi writing right?  He was extremely prolific, writing or editing about 500 books.  He was known for ‘hard’ science fiction, a sub-genre of sci-fi known for its scientific accuracy.  He wrote some of his most famous works in the 1940’s and 50’s though, so now it’s less about detecting scientific accuracy and checking whether his view of the future has actually come true.

I read Foundation a while ago, part of his famous Foundation series, which I enjoyed.  It begins with the Galactic Empire falling and a subsequent 1000 year dark age.  The book moves through subsequent generations trying to rebuild the galactic empire.   There are actually 7 books in the Foundation series, including some prequels added later on, but I stopped at the second book which was a little too confusing my little brain. Continue reading “The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov- Book Review”

Book Review- Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ah, another author whose name I can’t pronounce, Chimanada Ngozi Adichie.  The Nigerian author is more famous for ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, but that was 448 pages and ‘Purple Hibiscus’ was 336 pages so…It’s my thing to look up great books, and then see what else that author has written that is shorter!

Purple Hibiscus

This is the story of Kambili, a 15 year-old girl living in Nigeria who fears and reveres her father (I think the two can weirdly co-exist quite well).  He’s a leader of the community, extremely wealthy and well respected for his acts of generosity, his piety, and his determination to speak out against corruption in the country.  He is also a violent patriarch at home, regimenting his children’s lives and enacting extreme punishments for any indiscretion. Continue reading “Book Review- Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

Craft Books

My craft ‘room’ is actually about 1/4 of a room as it also functions as our guest room so most of the space is taken up by a bed.  We also don’t really have enough storage space so my craft stuff ends up getting quite messy quite quickly.  So I was spending my second weekend tidying it up when I came to my stack of crafty books.  There’s a mixture of sewing, paper craft, knitting, and photography books. Continue reading “Craft Books”

Book Review- The Stolen White Elephant by Mark Twain

This is one of those £1 Penguin classics, that offer a cheap chance to read classic authors without having to commit to read an entire book.  I’m not sure it entirely works however.  This was my first Mark Twain, and I didn’t find it particularly mind blowing, but maybe you need to sit down with a novel of his to ‘get’ him?

The Stolen White Elephant is the main and best story in this little collection, with a couple of others just there to fill up the extra space I think.  The Stolen White Elephant is the story told by a man who was to deliver a gift of the eponymous white elephant from the King of Siam to the Queen of England- because that’s how things worked back then I guess….

Twain is renowned as a ‘humorist’ which is an interesting tag, not funny but humorous…There was only one exchange really that seemed amusing to me:

‘He would not care if they were fresh of not; at a single meal he would eat five ordinary men.’

‘Very good; five men; we will put that down.   What nationalities would he prefer?’

‘He is indifferent about nationalities.  He prefers acquaintances, but is not prejudiced against strangers.’

So if that broke you out in raucous laughter than maybe this is for you.  But it’s hard to recommend as it’s just a short story.

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Noise of Time by Julian Barnes- Book Review

I read (and reviewed) The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes a few months back, and really enjoyed it. I admit Barnes was one of those authors I had sort of heard of, and I wasn’t sure how old he was or whether he was still writing.  The Sense of an Ending was published in 2012 but, as I said in my review at the time, I assumed it was much older than that.  So I was pleased to discover he was still publishing, and I picked up The Noise of Time (2016) without really looking into what it was about too much.  I mean, it’s about 180 pages long which is the most important thing!

I have had a really reading slump. So it took me a long time to get around to reading it.   That’s not the books fault, I just kept getting distracted by my phone, and tired by work.  My copy was hanging around in my bag for several months so it’s quite bashed up.  But I’m back on it now, and got through this book in a day.

The Noise of Time

Like The Sense of an Ending, this book is a rambling journey through a man’s memories.  Although in this case it is not a middle aged English man looking back at youthful misadventures and their painful consequences.  But a Russain, Dmitri Dmitriyevich living in Soviet Russia, and the harshly enforced political whims.  In fact, Dmitriyevich is a composer who music is loved, reviled, reformed, and loved once more.  His full name isn’t given until later in the book, when I thought ‘oooh I’ve heard of him’.  Given that I am almost completely ignorant of life in the Soviet Union (apart from what I’ve read in Under The Frog), and composers I still didn’t know what was happening. I recommend not looking it up, and wandering into the book as clueless as me, then googling it all afterwards.

Barnes gives up the story from Dmitriyevich’s point if view, and although he does question his own actions from time to time, as we all do, he also usually dejectedly justifies them, as we all do.  The story is, in many ways, him battling his own conscious.  The jury seems to still be out on the real life individual, was he actually championing the glory of Mother Russia in his music?  But Barnes has clearly decided to paint our protagonist as begrudgingly reacting to political pressure exerted on him by Power.  It starts with him waiting by the lift in his apartment block, with his pregnant wife sleeping in their apartment, waiting to be taken away to ‘The Big House’.  All this because because his latest opera has been derided as ‘more muddle than music’ meaning unpatriotic.

I don’t know enough about Russia, now or then, to know if all the details are correct. For example, the annoying habit of everyone’s names changing or abbreviating and confusing me.  But these are the books where I learn about the Soviet Union (why didn’t I get properly taught about this in school?), and what life was like, backed up by the stuff I saw in the Solidarity museum in Gdansk, Poland.  Although, they would also have you believe that the Solidarity movement single handedly brought down the Soviet Union…

I enjoyed this book.  The style may not be to everyone’s taste.  The jumbled narrative that moves backwards and forwards through time and nothing really happens.  Kind of like Ishiguro books.  Although actually, stuff does happen, or has happened, it’s just not happening now so there’s a lack of immediacy to everything.  It all just washes over you and is quite sad.

 

6 Top Books of 2017 So Far

My incredible reading has slowed a little this year.  I was doing quite well but I’m currently having a lull. Perhaps reviewing the best books I’ve read this year so far will help

1.The Science One

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

2. The Sad One

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

3. The Feminist Ones

Men Explain Things To Me/Nasty Women

4. The Classic American One

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

5. The David Mitchell One

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

6. The Teen Lit One

My Heart And Other Black Holes

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot- Book Review

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks is one of the most important people that you’ve never heard of.  She died of cervical cancer in 1951.  At the time scientists were struggling to keep cells alive outside of a human body for a more than a few days.  But a sample of Lacks’ cancer cells (known as HeLa) survived, and multiplied.  And scientists continue to use HeLa to this day.  Experiments done on these cells led to some of the most important developments in medicine; the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilisation to name but a few.

This isn’t really a sciencey book though.  This is about the woman behind the cells, and her surviving family.  The Lacks’ were an extremely poor black family, they farmed tobacco to begin with, then Day Lacks (Henrietta’s husband) started working in a steel plant.  Day and Henrietta were cousins, and she was 14 when she gave birth to their first child.  He left school in the fourth grade (10yrs), she in the sixth (12yrs). When Day found out about Henrietta’s cells he probably didn’t know what a cell was.

She went to Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the few major hospitals that would treat black patients, and was diagnosed with cervical cancer.  During one of her treatments the doctor took a sample of her cells and sent them to Dr George Guy who was trying to keep cells alive in petri dishes with little success.  Hela cells were so successful he began sending them to colleagues to use for there experiments.  Guy never patented them, and soon a company set up selling the cells.  In 1951, a doctor did not have to ask your permission to take a sample.  And the Lacks family did not find out about the cells until 1973.

Henrietta was a black woman born of slavery an share-cropping who fled north for prosperity, only to have her cells used as a tool by white scientists without her consent.

After Henrietta died, her cousin and husband moved in to help raise the kids while Day worked two jobs.  Ethel beat the children, and Galen sexually assaulted Deborah (Henrietta’s younger daughter).  Life after she died sounds pretty bleak, and in many ways that’s probably why they became so incensed at the thought of their mother’s cells being stolen and sold.  All the children had health problems from childhood and into adulthood ranging from hearing loss, diabetes, stress, heart problems etc  Deborah, in particular, suffered from stress.  Convincing herself she would also die from the cancer that killed her mother, and dealing with a con artist trying to get money from the family over the cells.

Sonny had a quintuple bypass in 2003, when he was fifty-six years old- the last thing he remembered before falling unconscious under the anesthesia was a doctor standing over him saying his mother’s cells were one of the most important things that had ever happened to medicine.  Sonny woke up more than $125,000 in debt because he didn’t have health insurance to cover the surgery.

Rebecca Skloot, developed a close friendship with Deborah and founded the Henrietta Lacks Foundation.  She does a great job of telling a confusing story which spanned over 5 decades and weaves together science and emotion.  It’s a story of great scientific development, and societal neglect of poor black people in America. A very interesting read.

ethan frome

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton- Book Review

Ethan Frome is one of those things that I heard about on The Simpsons, ‘Ethan Frome, finally a copy to call my own’ says Lisa.  Like so many other references on that, once great, show it went over my head until years later when I finally got it.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

It’s a book by the way, if you were still unclear, by Edith Wharton.  Set in the early 20th century, in a small, lonely village in New England with it’s cold harsh winters.  Wharton was trying to depict what life was really like.  The isolation of the small farms in snowbound Starkfield is seen through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, who learns the story of Ethan Frome.

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.

Our narrator has been sent to the area by his employer, something to do with the ‘power-house’.  He is stuck in Starkfield over the winter, and experiences first-hand how tough it can be.  He regularly sees Ethan Frome. Tall but with a jerking walk, with a gash on his forehead and struggling to take each step.  He’s been that way ever since the ‘smash-up’.

Though Harmon Gow developed the tale as far as his mental and moral reach permitted, there were perceptible gaps between his facts, and I had the sense that the deeper meaning of the story was in the gaps.  But one phrase stuck in my memory and served as the nucleus about which I grouped my subsequent inferences: ‘Guess he’s been in Starkfield too many winters.’

 

We do learn the story of Ethan Frome who, as a young man, had studied science at college.  But had to return to the family farm following his father’s death.  His mother dies not long after and Ethan is left to struggle alone to keep the farm running.  Not quite alone though. He has married Zenobia, his cousin who nursed his mother at the end of her life.

His wife, though has ‘troubles’.  She is ‘nervous’, a catch-all term for anything from agitated to mentally-ill.  It’s a term with definite sexist undertones as only women get described as ‘nervous’.  But regardless she provides little help on the farm, instead spending the little money they have on doctors visits.

Ethan’s only moments of joy come from Mattie Silver, his wife’s sweet poor relation sent to do household chores. Frome begins to fantasise about a different kind of life, but his desires remain frustrated.

Yay or Nay?

Yay!

This book is 80pages long, and Wharton has a beautiful but efficient prose. This may be a story of longing, but Wharton made me feel how trapped Ethan Frome was, and not just because of all the snow everywhere. Another book to add to the list of ‘great books under 200 pages’.

Sister told me to check out The Age of Innocence also by Wharton.  That’s actually what she won her Pulitzer Prize for. She was a prolific writer and nominated for the Nobel Prize three times.  So, after all the other books on my pile, I think I will.

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