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
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
@REALsaraheliza What a fun review, thank you so much! Always love it when non-alignment lovers take a read and find it valuable!— Katy Bowman (@NutritiousMvmnt) October 13, 2015
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
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
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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