What to Read and What NOT to Read #2: Reviews of Black Valley by Charlotte Williams, Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman, When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris, more!

Last month I did a review post for all the books I read over the first half of the year... fun but a little overwhelming!  ;P  I'm aiming for a monthly collection of reviews going forward.  If you haven't already, be sure to check out the first edition of What to Read.. and What Not to Read! and then the most recent Read / Don't Read posts as well!  :)

New month, new books!  I read six books over the course of September... Black Valley, Whole Body Barefoot, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Bradstreet Gate, The House of Silk, and Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home.  Here are my reviews in miniature, plus the Read / Don't Read verdicts!  :)





Black Valley, by Charlotte Williams
Psychological Thriller, Art Mystery, British Literature
Read!
Riveting!  A stone statue "witnesses" a murder three pages in, and going forward from that point the reader knows more than the main character, but still isn't quite sure "whodunnit," which provides a fun twist in perspective.  It is a wonderful ride, and fleshing out the mystery is also a vivid Welsh backdrop, the smart incorporation of psychology and art, a caring mother with a compelling family life, and a nice edge of danger throughout to keep you on your toes.  The quiet edginess of this book, and the potentially eerie connection between twins, reminded me a bit of The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. 



Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear, by Katy Bowman
Self-Help, Human Anatomy, Exercise, Physical Therapy, Pain Management
Read!  Especially if you are currently residing within a human body!  
  
I won a copy of this book and honestly just expected to skim it before getting rid of it... but it was SO GOOD!  I read it cover to cover, and will be keeping it for future reference.  It feels strange to say that about a book focused on the musculature and bone structure of the human foot, but it's true.  For one thing, Katy Bowman has a great sense of humor, and that makes the topic way more lively and entertaining that I ever would have thought possible.  For another, while this book's tagline claims to be about transitioning to minimal footwear, I feel like it was poorly named.  It focuses MUCH more on how the condition of your feet and the movement of walking translates into health and wellbeing OR misalignment and pain for your whole body.  The second half of the book is a collection of exercises and stretches you can do to correct your alignment and ease chronic pain, and even though I've practiced yoga for ten years now, most of it was new to me.  This book is the most revolutionary "foot book" since Dr. Seuss!  ;P  If you read it and don't get anything out of it, I will be VERY surprised.  PS I definitely recommend reading this one in print rather than electronically, because it will be easier to refer back to the exercises/stretches you want to try.  In fact I'm thinking about pulling those pages out so I can stick them on my fridge and remember to do them... 

Edit:  People.  PEOPLE!  Katy Bowman liked my review!!  Or at least one of Katy's employees did... but I choose to believe it was Katy herself.  ;P  



When You Are Engulfed In Flames, by David Sedaris  
Essays, Dark Humor
Read, if you like dark humor, and aren't particularly depressed at the moment. 

This is a darker David Sedaris than I remember encountering in Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked, or Dress Your Children in Corduroy and Denim -- this David has been dwelling a lot on mortality, and it spills over into his writing in a big way.  Still funny!  But definitely darker.  Perhaps I should have guessed from the title and cover?  Because, although the title is actually a very innocent chuckle derived from a hotel safety sign David saw in Japan, it is still quite apropos for the mood that dominates the book.   Thank God for Japan!  Without the essays based on Sedaris' travels there, I would have been horribly depressed by the end of this read.  PS  If you are new to Sedaris, I think Me Talk Pretty One Day is where I would recommend starting... my personal favorite!



The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz  
Mystery, Victorian
Read, if you're a big fan of Sherlock 

This is one of the few books authorized by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate so I had high hopes for it... it was okay, but in all honesty, it was tedious in parts.  The whole, "Watson is oblivious to what going on and Sherlock won't be bothered to explain" thing got old.  I mean, sure, it's a fact of life in the Sherlock stories, but the plot shouldn't ride on it.  However the tone of the prose was spot-on for the period, which made me happy, and there is indeed a "shocking" ending, as promised by Watson at the beginning of the book.  I didn't see it coming, but maybe you will?  




Bradstreet Gate, by Robin Kirman 
Mystery, Suspense, Coming of Age
Don't read, unless you really like postmodern, episodic contemporary fiction. And maybe you'd enjoy it if you went to Harvard, for the nostalgia factor or something.

This book opens straight-forwardly enough... a woman remembering an affair with a professor ten years ago, when she was a senior at Harvard.  The affair ended abruptly when the professor was suspected of, but never charged with, the murder of one of her classmates.  Then the narrative jumps into the past, and you think you're about to read a mystery... only no, you're not really.  The murder turns out to not be the point of the story at all, in fact the novel is more people-centric than plot-centric.  After the first narrator, you then jump to the point of view of her two college friends-not-friends, Charlie and Alice.  In addition to jumping narrators, you also jump around in the timeline constantly.. or at least what feels like constantly.  There are a few "reveals" awaiting the reader, mainly around the character of Alice, but I had been suspecting something even worse than what the first one turned out to be, and the second one totally fell flat.  I reread the paragraph a couple of times trying to figure out if I missed something, but no, I didn't.  

There are some compelling elements of suspense, built around the man suspected of the murder, but there is no clear narrative arch or resolution... the book is divided Part I, II, III, but the divisions didn't seem to serve any purpose.  The title also seems random -- there are two memorials held for the murdered student at Harvard's Bradstreet Gate, but there is no importance attached to the location to warrant the title.  I googled it to see if there was some kind of significance I was missing, but there isn't, haha!  The author's reasons for the title are pretty abstract.  One of the reviewers claimed the book called "to mind Donna Tartt," and it sort of did remind me of The Goldfinch, in the fact that nearly everyone was ruthless and nearly everyone was either abused or abusive, but the book completely lacked Tartt's power.  It's a first novel though, and had a lot of potential that just sort of petered out, so I'll be curious to see what this author writes in the future.  




Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home: Life on the Page, by Lynn Freed
Essays, Autobiography
Don't read, unless you know you like the author already.

For author Lynn Freed, reading, writing, and her childhood in South Africa were all intertwined... and so are the three topics within this book of essays.  There were some parts I found meaningful, but others were almost repellent... where she seems to revel in the dysfunction in her family life as some kind of mark of distinction.  I think I also was half expecting this book to be like Anne Lamott's amazing Bird by Bird, a book I remember as being full of the joy of words and writing, full of encouragement and hope.  Clearly that was silly of me, not the same author, not the same message;  Freed has a much more tumultuous relationship with writing and seems to alternate between feeling patronizing and feeling resentful towards the writing students she teaches.  I would be so curious to know what she thinks of the whole blogging phenomenon!  I tend to think her opinions on the topic would be plentiful and scathing.  :P  I wouldn't bother with this book unless you are already familiar with this writer though her fiction -- perhaps if you are already bonded to her, you would experience this collection of essays differently than I did.  


Definitely read Black Valley and Whole Body Barefoot!... check out House of Silk and When You Are Engulfed in Flames if they sound like your style.  Otherwise don't bother with the others!  Next month I'm going to try to stick more to books that have been recommended to me by friends and by folks who commented on my post last month, so here's hoping for a better (/happier) month of reading in October.  ;P  Let me know if you've got something good I should check out!  



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33 comments

  1. Awesome reviews, thanks for sharing! I totally expected to skim the paragraph on "whole body barefoot", but your review (like the book, I imagine) had me in desperate need to read each word, ha! I'm also glad to know I can easily stay away from Bradstreet Gate. I feel annoyed just hearing about the inconsistencies. ;)

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    1. Haha that's totally how I felt about the book, you're right! :) And Bradstreet Gate WAS annoying... glad I can spare you it. ;P

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  2. Very in-depth reviews. You do these very well.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. Thanks Sandee! I really appreciate that. :)

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  3. I am always looking for new books to read so this is great!

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    1. Yay! If you give any of them a try, be sure to come back and tell me what you think! :)

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  4. Hahaha! This is a great review post! My favorite line of yours, "...if you like dark humor, and aren't particularly depressed at the moment." Thanks for linking on Amanda's Books and More!

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    1. Tehehehe just trying to be honest... I like David Sedaris a lot, but that one was almost too depressing for me. Glad you enjoyed Christina!

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  5. Black Valley sounds like something I need to read!! I just requested that my library system purchase it, so hopefully soon.

    Thanks for saving us the pain of abstract fiction, but still pointing out the potential in the book. I love the thought that one day someone might write a review about you or I, on the occasion of our first book, and give us the kind benefit of the doubt since it's our first. :D

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    1. Black Valley was really good, fingers crossed your library adds it!

      I hope somebody will be nice to us too, when we are Published Authors... ;P And Bradstreet Gate really did keep me hooked and reading, it just let me down by running out of steam. Oh well!

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  6. Wow that's heaps of reading!
    I'm still trying to get through a book at the moment. I need a few more hours in the day to get back to it.

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  7. Katy Bowman is downright dreamy. Ever read her blog? I need to get this book.

    *Glad I found you through the Literary Musings Mondays linkup.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, I've hopped over to her blog several times (actually the first time was way before I read this book) but it's almost overwhelming.... I felt like I would never stop reading... so much good information!

      I'm dying to transition to minimal footwear now too. ;P She converted me!!

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  8. I LOVE your reviews, Sarah! I never thought I'd be interested in a book about feet, but now I definitely want to check it out!

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    1. Hehehe that's how I felt tooooo... gave me hope for my poor achy feet. So glad you like my reviews, Liz! :D

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  9. Thank you for the reviews! It's always nice to know what's good and what's not. That foot book sounds enlightening! Pinning.

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    1. Thank you for pinning! You're awesome! :) Hoppin' over to say hi, I haven't been by your blog in a minute...

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  10. Love the mini reviews. Bummer about Bradstreet Cafe, that does sound like it would have been a good murder mystery. Thanks for the recommendations. I have problems with my feet from Rheumatoid Arthritis but interested to see how Whole Body barefoot can help me. Thanks for sharing with Small Victories Sunday Linkup. Pinned to our linkup board and hope you join us again this weekend.

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    1. So glad you enjoyed them! I hope Whole Body Barefoot is helpful, I'd love to know what you think!

      And thanks for the party! It's always a fun one!

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  11. What excellent reviews! I can't believe you have me wanting to read a book about foot alignment and footwear! haha! And congrats of the Twitter comment by the author! :) And now I am off to add "Black Valley" to my reading list!

    Thanks for entering this in #ThePinterestGame! Good luck and we will hopefully see you again next week!

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    1. Ahahaha love it. ;P Thanks for coming by Wendy!

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  12. These are some great book reviews. I always enjoy learning about other books to read. I also do book reviews.
    I'm glad that you shared yours on our #SmallVictoriesSundayLinkup. I hope to see you again next week.

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    1. Oooh fun, headed over to check yours out! :)

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  13. I experienced incredible foot pain after joining Jazzercise last summer. I finally asked a co-worker trained in fitness who recommended I ditch my shoe inserts - apparently the ridges were not aligned properly. Still think I should read Whole Body Barefoot.

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    1. Oh no, that sounds awful! Definitely check it out, I felt like the book was a total lightbulb moment for me!

      PS Do you still Jazzercise now that you figured out the shoe problem?? I did with my mom in my teen years and it was always a lot of fun! I should check it out again...

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  14. Great reviews! Thanks for linking up to #justanotherlinky xx

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  15. I love your Read/Don't Read recommendations! Thanks for being a part of Booknificent Thursday this week!
    Tina

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    1. Yay, thanks Tina! Thanks for the fun book party!!

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  16. Thank you for this post. It has given me some gift ideas for my husband. I see two books I think he would love.

    Thank you for playing the Pinterest game.

    Jen

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  17. I am a book lover, constantly looking for my next target. I am pinning these suggestions for later. I always enjoy your posts. Thanks for linking up with #ThePinterestGame. ~Jennifer

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  18. Thanks for your good and honest reviews. I like the sound of the first book 'Black Valley'. I love seeing the way the author weaves his story, fascinating.

    Kathleen
    Bloggers Pit Stop

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