Review: The Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw


Title: The Bookshop That Floated Away

Author: Sarah Henshaw

Published: Constable: Allen & Unwin July 2014

Status: Read from July 01 to 02, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In 2009, Sarah Henshaw had a brilliant idea – to transform a narrow boat, named Joseph, into a bookshop, called The Book Barge, but by 2011, battered by the recession, the growth in digital book sales and Henshaw’s self-confessed terrible book-selling skills the store, moored in the Midlands, was on the verge of closing. Desperate to keep the business afloat, Sarah came up with the idea to traverse the canals of England for six months to raise awareness of the plight of independent booksellers and, of course, sell books.

The Bookshop That Floated Away is the story of Henshaw’s adventures through the waterways of Britain, negotiating its hundreds of locks, mooring where able, and selling the odd book, supplementing the costs of her journey, largely financed by her parents and an extraordinarily generous ex boyfriend, by bartering stock for essentials like meals, alcohol, haircuts and bathroom privileges along the way. Passionate about books and literature but lacking business savvy, and at times common sense, the journey was not an easy one, hampered by break-downs, break-ins and break-outs.

I expected to love this book, but unfortunately I finished it feeling rather disappointed. I’m not sure if it was the author or her writing style, that I had trouble connecting with, but I think it was probably a mixture of both. I found Henshaw’s attitude irritating at times, and there is a weird section written from the perspective of Joseph, the boat. Still, I love the whole idea of The Book Barge and I did find Sarah’s adventures interesting, so I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it.

The Book Barge is now moored permanently in the Barton Marina, open weekends and holidays (at Henshaw’s whim). Check The Book Barge Facebook page for details about opening hours and special events.


The Bookshop That Floated Away is available to purchase from

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Review: Reservoir Dad by Clint Greagen


Title: Reservoir Dad

Author: Clint Greagen

Published: Bantam: Random House July 2014

Status: Read from July 07 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In 2008, Clint Greagen resigned from his job as a youth worker to care for his first born child. Nine years later Clint is a stay at home dad of four young boys, Archie, Lewis, Tyson and Maki, and the author of Reservoir Dad, about his adventures in full-time parenting, first chronicled on his popular blog of the same name.

Written with humour, honesty and love, Reservoir Dad shares the exhausting challenges and unadulterated joys of raising four sons, from the seemingly endless sleepless nights, and a bathroom floor covered in wee, to the smell of a newborn head and wrestling matches in the lounge room. What I admire most is Greagen’s obvious dedication to his sons, and his relationship with his wife, the ever-patient Reservoir Mum (aka Tania), with whom he still shares a weekly date night, on a mattress in front of the TV.

As a stay at home mother, also to four children (three of whom were born in three years), I could certainly relate to Greagen’s experiences of parenting. I found myself giggling in recognition of the moments of crazy and wincing in well remembered sympathy at toddler tantrums and the lego induced injuries, which happens less often now that my youngest son is 8.

Divided into six parts with short chapters variously named with titles like ‘Hang Like A Man’; ‘Syncing Hormonally’; ‘The Grand Old Duke of…Puke?’ and ‘A Jim Carrey-Inspired Sex Education’ Reservoir Dad is a quick, easy read.

Funny, moving and insightful, Reservoir Dad would be the perfect gift for new parents, both as a warning of what is to come, and an assurance they are not alone.

Available to purchase from

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Want more? Visit This Charming Mum for her review


Review: 21st Century Dodos by Steve Stack


Title: 21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (and other stuff)

Author: Steve Stack

Published: The Friday Project: Harper Collins UK June 2014

Status: Read on June 20, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

If you remember sliding your home made mix cassette tape, recorded in silence from the Radio Top 40, into your Walkman and strapping your calculator watch to your wrist before disappearing to play unsupervised in the local park until dinner time, then the nostalgic appeal 21st Century Dodos will be a source of nostalgic appeal.

Subtitled “A collection of endangered objects (and other stuff)” this is a light and humourous tribute to the end of an era. At just forty it seems almost obscene that so much of my childhood is now obsolete – rotary phones, Polaroid cameras, 10c mixed lolly bags (Cobbers were my favourite), school blackboards and roller skates but I enjoyed the reminder of these simple pleasures, and treasures.

It might hearten Steve Stack to know Australia still has Woolworths stores and my boys are currently participating in Bob-a-Job week (though I go door to door with them). Not having grown up in England however there are a lot of things mentioned in the book that I’m unfamiliar with, retailers, television shows and product brands among them.

21st Century Dodos is a fun read, for anyone over about 35 I would think, but as it is heavily skewed towards British culture it is to those readers that grew up in England during the 1970/1980′s that I would recommend this book.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: The Skeleton Cupboard by Tanya Byron


Title: The Skeleton Cupboard: The making of a clinical psychologist

Author: Tanya Byron

Published: Pan Macmillan June 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read on June 11, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Tanya Byron was just twenty two when, after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of York, she moved to London to begin training as a clinical psychologist. For three years, Byron divided her time between studying at the University College London while completing a series of six month clinical placements in various settings within the National Health Service. The Skeleton Cupboard, subtitled ‘The making of a clinical psychologist’, is a fascinating account of the challenges and triumphs Byron faced during that period.

The narrative of The Skeleton Cupboard combines Tanya Byron’s experience of clinical training with her personal and professional development.

Byron notes that the case narratives have been created to show ‘real people, real lives’, and explore the complex, challenging and ‘bloody sad’ reality of mental illness and its treatment, but it is important to note that the cases she shares in The Skeleton Cupboard are composites, based not on individual patients but instead constructed from a range of clinical experiences. It is easy to forget that as each patient is utterly believable from the sociopathic Ray who threatens Byron with a knife in her office during her first placement, to twelve year old Imogen, suicidal after the drowning death of her younger sister, to Auschwitz survivor Harold suffering from the beginning stages of dementia.

The Skeleton Cupboard is much more than just a collection of case studies though. As Byron recounts her interactions with patients she also reveals her personal struggles as a somewhat naive and inexperienced young woman expected to treat patients presenting with a wide range of mental health issues. Byron admits that she often felt out of her depth, anxious about her treatment plans and her ability to help those in her care. Her own ‘stuff’, including the murder of her grandmother, occasionally interfered with her judgement and Byron sometimes found it difficult to let go of a patient when it was time to move on. I really liked Byron’s honest revelations of her own failings and the difficulties she had in developing the skills needed to become a practitioner.

I found The Skeleton Cupboard to be a fascinating read, sharing valuable insight into the difficult role of a clinical psychologist, and the lives of those people in need of their help. Though I would particularly recommend The Skeleton Cupboard to someone considering studying psychology, I think anyone with a layman’s interest in the field would enjoy this well written account.

Available to purchase from

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Review: A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home by Sue Halpern


Title: A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home

Author: Sue Halpern

Published: Allen & Unwin May 2014

Status: Read from May 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When Sue Halpern found herself and her Labradoodle, Pransky, at a loose end, she searched for ways in which to keep them both busy. Of the options available, Sue felt Pransky would make a wonderful pet therapy dog and began the process of training for certification. Reigning in Pransky’s natural exuberance was no small task but within a few months, having passed the assessment process, Sue and Pransky walked into the County Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center to meet its residents.

Halpern introduces us to the men and women she and Pransky visit each week, who suffer a variety of ailments from simple old age to genetic diseases such as Huntington’s and Alzheimers. The stories are sweet, touching and poignant and it is evident that Pransky’s presence benefits those that spend time with her, providing companionship, comfort, and joy. It is equally clear that Halpern and Pransky also benefit from the time they spend at the facility.

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home is “…about one singular, faithful, charitable, loving, and sometimes prudent dog….showing great hope, restraint and fortitude….”. but also a thoughtful treatise on life, illness, aging and death. Each chapter is framed by one of the seven Virtues and includes anecdotes of Sue and Pransky’s visits with the residents of the nursing home, interspersed with commentary on philosophy, religion, social policy, scientific research and healthcare.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink


Title: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

Author: Sheri Fink

Published: Atlantic Books April 2014

Status: Read from May 02 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, an investigative piece written by Sheri Fink, is a vivid portrait of tragedy that occurred in New Orleans when it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The first half of the narrative details the five days in which Memorial was battered by Hurricane Katrina and then isolated by the flood waters that destroyed much of the city. It is a gripping, day by day, often hour by hour, account Fink has created from official reports and interviews with the staff, patients and others trapped in the city hospital. Fink relates the harrowing circumstances that developed in Memorial as resources dwindled and services failed, and the thoughts, experiences and emotions of those fearing they may not survive. However this moving and powerful narrative leads to the real focus of Five Days at Memorial – the alleged actions of some of the medical staff trapped at the hospital, most notably Dr Anna Pou, accused of euthanising as many as a dozen patients, and possibly more, during the emergency.

The second half of the book recounts the legal aftermath of those allegations which resulted in Pou and two nurses being arrested for multiple accounts of second degree murder. It describes the investigation into the deaths by the the attorney general, the coroner and other medical and legal experts and raises issues related to the ethics of disaster management in a medical setting. This section is less emotive and therefore less gripping, but still thought provoking and very readable.

Sheri Fink was uniquely placed to write this book as a doctor with experience working in disaster and war zones, and extensive journalistic experience, including authoring “War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival” in 2003. Clearly Fink engaged in exhaustive research into the the events, and their aftermath, at Memorial, drawing on multiple resources, resulting in a detailed perspective of the tragedy. I don’t think it is quite true that the account is written without bias though. It seems to me, by both her choice of language and some of the details she chose to focus on, that Fink formed a opinion about the events that took place inside Memorial, and her assessment seeped into the narrative.

I found Five Days at Memorial to be an engrossing, intriguing and poignant read. It is a story that needed to be told and I desperately hope that governments and bureaucrats worldwide have learned from the woeful lack of preparedness, planning, communication and resources exhibited during this disaster as a whole, and from the specific events that occurred at Memorial.

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Review: 60 Postcards by Rachel Chadwick


Title: 60 Postcards

Author: Rachael Chadwick

Published: Simon & Schuster Au April 2014

Status: Read from April 27 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

“Before you start this book, please buy a blank postcard to use as a bookmark.”

It seemed a simple request, and it so happened I had a blank postcard in my desk drawer, so I decided to humour the author and do as she asked. Exactly why is revealed in the last pages of this touching and inspirational memoir.

Rachael Chadwick was devastated to lose her mother, Vivian, to cancer just sixteen short days after her diagnosis in 2012, and struggled through the subsequent months without her, which included the wedding of her younger sister where her mother’s absence was keenly felt. With what would have been her mother’s 60th birthday approaching, Rachael, still mired in grief, made a decision – to celebrate and honour her mother’s life in the most imaginative and creative way she could think of, and so the ’60 Postcards’ tribute was conceived. Sixty handwritten postcards bearing a simple message about her mother and Rachael’s intent, also inviting the finder to get in touch, were scattered around the city of Paris.

To share both the details of the memorial project, as well as her memories of her mother, Rachael launched a blog,, in March of 2013 and it is from those posts that the much of the narrative is drawn. Rachael begins with the anniversary journey she took with a dozen friends to scatter the first 60 postcards in Paris, shares the pain of her mother’s diagnosis and her last days with her, through to the excitement of the first reply to a postcard found in Paris and the expansion of the project.

60 Postcards is a heartbreaking journey of loss and grief and an uplifting tale of love, family and friendship. Most of all, it is a daughter’s loving tribute to her mother, and you are invited to be part of it.

*Please note: I choose not to give memoirs a star rating*

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is available to purchase from

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Review: The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam


Title: The Man Who Couldn’t Stop

Author: David Adam

Published: Pan Macmillan April 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from April 11 to 13, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Dr David Adam was a specialist correspondent on the Guardian for seven years, writing on science, medicine and the environment and is now a writer and editor at Nature, the world’s top scientific journal. David also has OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

While most people associate OCD with excessive hand washing or counting behaviours, Adam’s OCD manifests itself with obsessive thoughts about the possibility of incidental blood transfer which could lead to him contracting, or passing on AIDS (despite not being infected). It began when he was eighteen after a throwaway comment by a friend and quickly developed into a crippling obsession which resulted in him studying doorknobs and AstroTurf for traces of blood, despite his understanding the minuscule risk of AIDS being transferred in this manner. Though temporarily eased by checking behaviours including daily calls to the AIDS hotline, wiping cups and bottles and applying multiple plasters to any scrape or cut, the thoughts and behaviours threaten to overwhelm him almost every minute of every day.

Adam’s primary motivation for writing The Man Who Couldn’t Stop stems from his desire to confront the condition that has been his constant companion for 20 years. In a manner accessible to a layperson, David shares what little is understood about the disorder, which has no definitive cause, and no cure.

From Freud’s theories (predictably the psychiatrist blamed the illness on masturbatory guilt) to the latest information gleaned from MRI’s of the basal ganglia, Adam explores the evolution of the disorder that has been treated variously, but rarely conclusively, by immersive therapy, lobotomy, electric shock and psychotropic drugs.

OCD, Adam insists, is not just a ‘quirk’ but a serious illness with the potential to cause mental and physical harm. A young Ethiopian schoolgirl, Bira, developed an obsession with mud that saw her eat eight square metres of a mud brick wall that supported her house, a Brazillian man named Marcus was obsessed with the shape of his eye sockets and his prodding resulted in blindness. Sufferers can spend upwards of six hours a day catering to their obsessive compulsions, alienating family and friends, destroying careers and ruining lives.

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is a fascinating study of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with a narrative that combines David Adam’s personal story with science and history. It took ten years for David to seek treatment and cognitive behavioural therapy, and a daily dose of antidepressants, now allows him some control over his intrusive thoughts, but there is, at present, no cure.

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is available to purchase from

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Review: From the Feet Up by Tanya Saad



Title: From the Feet Up

Author: Tanya Saad

Published: Harlequin MIRA April 2014

Status: Read from April 12 to 13, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

At the age of 30, Tanya Saad tested positive for BRCA1, a hereditary gene that greatly increases the risk of its carrier developing aggressive breast and/or ovarian cancer, forcing her to make difficult choices in order to preserve her health. From the Feet Up is the story of Tanya’s journey from childhood to a woman facing up to an uncertain future.

The eldest of three girls, Tanya was born and raised in the small New South Wales country town of Taree by her immigrant Lebanese parents, next door to her fraternal grandparents. Athletic and talented, Tanya, and her sisters, were involved in competitive swimming with Olympian dreams and Eisteddfods (playing piano) in between working at the family’s shoe store chain and helping out on their grandparent’s small cattle and fruit & vegetable farm. The most significant childhood event for Tanya was a three month holiday to Lebanon taken just months after the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990 to visit relatives. Bullied in part because of her heritage during primary school, high school provided some relief but Tanya gratefully escaped the region after graduation, returning only for family occasions and holidays.

Tanya’s memories of her childhood experiences weave in and out of her adult narrative. In the period before her diagnosis, Tanya was living in Canberra enjoying a high pressure career in politics while developing a competitive edge in road cycling. She maintained close ties to her parents and her two sisters, Vivian and Paula, now living in Sydney, and undertook the genetic testing as part of Hereditary Cancer project after it was discovered her father was a carrier of the faulty gene, their family history having revealed several generations of women who died of breast or ovarian cancer, some only in their early twenties. Both Tanya and Paula were found to have inherited the BRCA1 gene.

With strength, grace and courage Tanya shares her thoughts and emotions as she wrestles with the hand fate has dealt her. Still single and childless, the preventative options for sufferers of the BRCA1 gene including a bilateral mastectomy and a complete, or partial salpingo-oophorectomy (the removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes), could permanently affect Tanya’s chances of pregnancy, but decrease her risk of developing cancer by as much as 90%. Tanya must weigh the risks and benefits and make a decision about her future.

From The Feet Up is a poignant, articulate and ultimately uplifting memoir sure to give hope to women facing a similarly confronting diagnosis and raise awareness of the risks associated with the BRCA1 gene.

* I should disclose that Tanya’s family home, as described in her memoir, is just around the corner from where I live. We have never met though, I’m not a ‘local’, only having lived in the town for a decade, but I have shopped at the family’s shoe store in town.

*Please note: I choose not to give memoirs a star rating*


From the Feet Up is available to purchase from

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Weekend Cooking: The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook by Liz Harfull


I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.


The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook  is much more than just a compilation of prize winning recipes and cooking tips, it is also a wonderful collection of heart-warming personal stories laced with Australian agricultural show nostalgia.

Agricultural shows have been a staple of Australian society for 200 years and around 580 are held across the country each year in cities, regional towns and small rural communities. While the noisy battle for first place in events like sheep shearing and wood chopping draws the crowds to the main show ring, an equally fierce but quieter competition is being fought in the grounds pavilions where cakes, biscuits, slices, pastries, jams and relishes are laid out on trestle tables being judged on strict criteria in relation to appearance, consistency in shape, size and colour, taste and smell.

Within the pages of The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook you can find award winning recipes for entries such as Eileen’s Apple Jelly, Charlie’s Rosella Cake and Rod’s Bloody Hot Tomato Sauce as well as classics like scones, pikelets and sausage rolls, teamed with the personal stories of their maker and the histories of the shows they compete in.

This recipe book is as much a pleasure to read as to cook from. The only disappointing element is the lack of photographs showing the winning recipes, though the pages are illustrated with reproductions of show ephemera, winners portraits and scenes from past and present shows.

I’m too slapdash a cook to ever enter in a show competition where the standards are close to perfection but I’m looking forward to trying several of the recipes in The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook.

One of the categories in show competition is ‘Slices’ so I thought I would share my favourite recipe.


Vanilla Slice

Photo Credit


  • 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
  • 300ml milk
  • 600ml thickened cream
  • 2 packets vanilla instant pudding
  • 1/4 cup pure icing sugar, to sift over the pastry


Preheat oven to 210°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Bake pastry sheets for 10-15 minutes or until puffed and just golden. When you remove them from the oven, place a tray on top of the sheets to make them flat and leave to cool.

Line a slice tin with baking paper and set aside.

In a bowl, using a mixer, add the milk, cream and pudding mix together and combine until thick.

Cut one pastry sheet to fit the base of the slice tin and place in the tin.

Pour the custard mixture into the slice tin and smooth out evenly.

Cut the second sheet of pastry and place on top.

Refrigerate until chilled through (about 3 hours) and sprinkle with sifted icing sugar before serving. Remove from tin and slice into squares or rectangles using a serated knife.


The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook by Liz Harfull is available to purchase from:



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