Review: No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg

 

Title: No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions

Author: Ryan Berg

Published: Nation Books August 2015

Status: Read on August 20, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I recently binge watched America’s ABC Family series The Fosters, a one-hour drama about a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological teenaged kids being raised by two moms. In one of the later seasons, a main character is remanded to a residential foster home and one of the teenage residents in the home is transgender. Though his story is told quite broadly over one or two episodes, it stuck with me, and so my interest was piqued when No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg came up for review.

No House to Call My Home is a book that illustrates the struggles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth of colour in America’s foster system. While the challenges for youth in foster care are numerous, the problems LGBTQ youth face are often compounded by their struggle with gender, sexual, racial and cultural identity. Berg states that 70% of LGBTQ youth in group homes reported experiencing violence based on their LGBTQ status, 100% reported verbal harassment, and 78% of youth were removed or ran away from placement because of hostility towards their LGBTQ status.

The stories in this book offer readers a glimpse into the lives of the LGBTQ youth of colour Berg worked with in two residential units serving the LGBTQ foster youth in New York City. Focusing on a handful of characters, Berg shares their uniformly harrowing stories, often involving histories of childhood physical and sexual abuse, neglect, poverty and victimisation. Now aged between 14 and 21 (21 being the age at which foster children are released from the system) Berg and his colleagues battle to help these youths manage a myriad of issues, including addictions to drugs and high risk behaviours, to improve their chances at living healthy and fulfilling lives.

The stories are affecting, the children’s mixture of bravado, naivete, hurt and hope are difficult to read, but I think as a result I am better informed and more understanding of their circumstances. Sadly, most of the young people that we are introduced to in No House To Call Home will age out without the means, skills or opportunity to find stable housing or get a job with a livable wage.

No House to Call My Home is an accessible read for an audience curious about the issue of LGBTQ youth in foster care. I imagine it also would have value for social workers, school counselors, foster carers and LGBTQ youth advocates.

 

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Review: Good Mourning by Elizabeth Meyer & Caitlin Moscatello

 

Title: Good Mourning

Author: Elizabeth Meyer and Caitlin Moscatello

Published: Gallery Books August 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 19 to 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“When I was twenty-one and most of my friends were Daddy-do-you-know-someone?-ing their way into fancy banks and PR firms, I was grieving the loss of my father, who had just died of cancer. That’s how I found myself in the lobby of Crawford Funeral Home, one of several premier funeral homes in Manhattan, begging for a job one day.”

After finding satisfaction in taking charge of her beloved father’s funeral arrangements, young New York socialite Elizabeth Meyer joins the staff at Crawford Funeral Home despite the objections of family and friends. Though hired as a receptionist, Elizabeth’s curiosity about all aspects of the business, including the mortuary room, and her ability to relate to Crawford’s upscale clientele, soon sees her appointed as the Family Services Coordinator.

Unlike Caitlin Doughty’s memoir Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, published earlier this year, Meyer’s memoir has no real agenda, though she is sincere in her belief that mourners should have the opportunity to create a meaningful funeral experience that honours their loved one.

Good Mourning has a largely lighthearted tone as Meyer shares her experiences at Crawford. From body fluids leaking all over her Gucci shoes, to missing brains, to making arrangements for dozens of Lamborghini’s to line Madison Avenue. She is discrete as she describes the excesses of unnamed celebrity and society funerals, respectful as she tells of families grief, and is matter of fact about the more confronting aspects of the funeral industry.

Eventually tiring of the infighting and corporate ethos plaguing Crawford, Meyer left after a few years, and after further study started her own private consulting firm, helping people to navigate the funeral industry.

Authored with the assistance of freelance writer Caitlin Moscatello, Good Mourning is written in a conversational style. Elizabeth comes across charmingly enthusiastic, and genuinely passionate about her chosen career. Meyer’s instinct for dealing with grieving families is remarkably mature, but her youth is apparent in what she shares of personal life. She has a difficult relationship with her mother, doesn’t understand the hostility directed at her by her colleagues, and takes her wealth and privilege for granted.

Good Mourning is a quick, interesting and entertaining read, and Elizabeth Meyer shares her story with honesty, humour, and compassion.

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Review & Giveaway: Long Bay by Eleanor Limprecht

 

Title: Long Bay

Author: Eleanor Limprecht

Published: Sleepers Publishing August 2015

Status: Read from August 15 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Drawing on official documents and extensive general research into the period, author Eleanor Limprecht blends fact and imagination to create a convincing narrative that tells the story of a woman forgotten by history in her novel, ‘Long Bay’.

Born in Paddington, New South Wales in 1885, Rebecca Sinclair was the fourth of six children, raised by her mother who was widowed when Rebecca was two. She married at nineteen, birthed a daughter, and four years later, alongside her husband, was convicted of manslaughter for the death of a mother of three who died after an abortion procedure performed by Rebecca went wrong. Rebecca was sentenced to three years hard labour in Long Bay and while imprisoned, Rebecca birthed her second daughter.

Limprecht builds on these known details of Rebecca’s life with her imagination, informed by research, creating a story that depicts a childhood of poverty, a marriage marred by bigamy and violence and the events that led up to the tragic event that resulted in her being jailed. Long Bay illustrates an era where women had limited control over their lives and often struggled under the weight of deprivation and hardship.

There is no doubt that Rebecca’s story is fascinating and I was intrigued by the details of her life, but the writing is often quite dry and unsentimental, lacking the emotion that could have breathed more vitality into the narrative. Yet the story is rich in period detail, evoking the city landscape and era well.

A thoughtful and readable novel, I did enjoy Long Bay. I feel it is a story that will interest readers of both historical fiction and non fiction, especially those curious about women’s lives and issues at the turn of the century.

GIVEAWAY

Courtesy of the author, I have 1 print edition of Long Bay to giveaway to an Australian resident

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Weekend Cooking: The Messy Baker by Charmain Christie

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads a semi-regular post at Book’d Out.

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Title: The Messy Baker: More than 75 delicious recipes from a real kitchen

Author: Charmain Christie

Published: Rodale Books August 2015

Status: Read on August 09, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

After a sweet introduction, more properly a dedication to her mother, Charmain Christie opens The Messy Baker with ‘The Messy Manifesto’ and proclaims, “Never trust a person with a clean kitchen.”

The Messy Baker is cookbook for the enthusiastic home baker with a mix of over 75 sweet and savoury recipes. Full page photograph’s complement the appealing design, though not every recipe is featured.messy2

The first chapter, ‘Basics’, suggests ‘Can’t-do-without items’, Nice-to-have items, and ‘I’m-a-baker-and-I’ve-earned-it items’, before listing Essential ingredients that every baker should have on hand, their uses, tips for prep where applicable, and proper storage of said ingredients. And if you are still feeling a little lost, the Appendix includes a glossary, a measurement conversion chart, and a list of emergency ingredient substitutions.

Christie then begins with recipes for puff, shortcrust, and Pate Sucree pastry, as well as tips for working with phyllo pasty. The recipes are sorted into seven chapters categorised by texture.

messy1Flaky recipes include Morrocan Lamb Parcels, Chocolate Dipped Vanilla Scented Palmiers and Cherry and Lemon Macaroon Meringues. Crumbly treats include Stuffed Tomato, Arugula, and Cilantro Focaccia, Savoury Pecan and Cheddar Bites and Deep, Dark Cherry and Chipotle Brownies. The Dippable recipes are for dunking in coffee, tea, milk, soups, or sauces and include Rosemary and Black Olive Grissini, and Espresso and Hazelnut Biscotti. If you prefer foods that drip or ooze their filling then the Smoky Mushroom Crepes or Boozy Chocolate Torte (shown on the book’s cover), found under Sloppy, might appeal. The Peppery Pear and Smoked Gouda Dutch Baby and Burnt Caramel and Sea Salt Sticky Buns are two recipes found under Smudgy. Gritty sweet and savoury recipes include Many-Seed Lavash Bread and Citrus-topped Poppy Seed Bars. Drippy recipes include temptations such as Lime-Cilantro Dipping Sauce, Boozy Brown Sugar Whipped Cream and Chocolate Anything Sauce.

I liked the tone of this cookbook, Christie’s notes are encouraging, her tips are useful and of course there is no expectation of perfection, though there is an art to pulling off the ‘messy’ look. What it does lack is an index, and Christie’s timing ‘Commitment’ approach is a little eccentric.

You can get a feel for Charmain Christie’s approach to baking on her blog, themessybaker.com

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Review: What My Daughters Taught Me by Joseph Wakim

Title: What My Daughters Taught Me

Author: Joseph Wakim

Published: Allen & Unwin August 2015

Status: Read on August 09, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

What My Daughters Taught Me is a heart warming memoir by Joseph Wakim who found himself the sole parent of his three young daughters when his beloved wife, Nadia, passed away after a short battle with cancer.

‘Amazing’ Grace, ‘Ma Belle’ Michelle and Joy ‘to the World’, each named after song’s favoured by Joseph and his wife were just eleven, nine and four when they lost their mother. Despite his overwhelming grief at losing his soul mate, Joseph vowed to be both father and mother to their girls.

With humour, honesty and faith derived from his Maronite church (he is a Maronite Catholic), Joseph learnt to cook, use conditioner on tangles, braid hair, referee bathroom wars, peg out laundry at the speed of light, and gracefully submit to his daughters fashion stylings. He nurtured his daughters’ love of dance and music (starting a band called Heartbeats), helped them study, and taught them to drive.

Sharing the details of his courtship with his wife, and her painful demise, as well as providing a glimpse into his past as part of a large Lebanese immigrant family, Joseph writes of grief, love, family and life’s roller-coaster.

To ensure financial stability for his family, Joseph moved from social work, having been responsible for the Streetwork project in Adelaide and having been awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2001, into business. He founded the Australian Arabic Council, was once the former Victorian Multicultural Affairs Commissioner, but now writes regular opinion pieces about human rights issues. He authored Sorry We Have No Space, a finalist for the Australian Christian Book of the Year, in 2013 about racism experienced by Arabs in Australian.

However this book is not about his professional achievements but about his greatest personal accomplishment – raising his daughters with love, wisdom and faith. It has been twelve years since Joseph lost his wife, and their family is thriving. His daughters are beginning to establish their independence, and Joseph is proud of the role he played in shaping the women they have become.

*please note I choose not to rate memoirs*

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Review: Forensics by Val McDermid

 

Title: Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime

Author: Val McDermid

Published: Grove Press July 2015

Status: Read from June 18 to 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“The story of forensic science, of that road from crime scene to courtroom, is the stuff of thousands of crime novels.”

Val McDermid is the bestselling crime fiction author of more than thirty novels, including her popular series featuring criminal profiler Tony Hill and Detective Inspector Carol Jordan. In Forensics, Val McDermid pays homage to the science that informs her work.

Drawing on interviews with leading forensic scientists about the history, practice and future of their varied disciplines, the latest research, and her own experiences, McDermid delves into the grimly fascinating anatomy of crime.

In exploring a wide range of forensic disciplines; fire scene investigation, entomology, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, blood spatter, DNA, anthropology, facial reconstruction, digital forensics, and forensic psychology, McDermid illustrates the science with both historical and modern day landmark cases, from the fire that razed London in 1666, to the dozens of serial murders committed by Doctor Harold Shipman.

The factual and scientific detail presented is easily accessible, clear, concise and not overly complex. I was fascinated to learn about the advances in DNA profiling for example, and the development of the science of entomology, first documented more than 750 years ago in a Chinese handbook for coroners called The Washing Away of Wrongs.

McDermid also takes the time to dispel some popular myths given life by television shows such as CSI and Law and Order. Despite her admiration for the usefulness of forensic sciences, she is careful to explain that no forensic discipline is infallible, DNA can be contaminated, fingerprints can be misinterpreted, crime scenes can be manipulated. Solving crimes, and perhaps more importantly ensuring convictions, relies on thorough investigation along with a combination of forensic disciplines.

Informative and entertaining, Forensics is an utterly engrossing read that should interest crime fiction readers, writers and anyone with interest in the field of forensics or law.

UK/AUS Cover

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Weekend Cooking: The Best Homemade Kid’s Snacks on the Planet

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads a semi-regular post at Book’d Out.

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Title: The Best Homemade Kids’ Snacks on the Planet: More than 200 Healthy Homemade Snacks You and Your Kids Will Love

Author: Laura Fuentes

Published: Fair Winds Press: Murdoch Books June 2015

Status: Read on June 13, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Best Homemade Snacks on the Planet contains more than 200 recipes designed to tempt toddlers, children and perhaps even teenagers to snack on wholesome homemade treats.

baked-items-best-snacksMy copy of The Best Homemade Snacks on the Planet is a large format softcover. The recipes are generally presented two to a page. Though there are full page colour photographs every few pages, not all recipe results are pictured. Both metric and imperial measurements are provided, as are yield amounts.

In the first chapter you will find time-saving tips, storage solutions, information about allergies, ingredient substitutions, and Laura Fuentes ‘Snacking Rules’.

The Recipes are sorted into seven chapters titled Fruit and Veggie Snacks, No-Bake Bites and Dips, Baked Bites, Reimagined Classics, Mini Meals, Super Smoothies and Drinks and lastly, Frozen Delights and Special Treats.

Simple to prepare and serve, using largely fresh and easy to source ingredients, recipes include Crunchy Berry Salad; Chocolate Avocado Pudding; Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Dough Bites; Cheese Crackers; Ninja Turtle Nuggets and Elvis Shakes.

I’ve bookmarked several snacks to try, and plan to my involve my children in making them, starting with this simple

Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Pudding

1 banana, sliced
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup plain yoghurt

Combine the peanut butter and yoghurt in a blender til smooth. Add the banana slices and blend just until smooth. Refrigerate or serve immediately. Serves 4

The final pages of the cookbook includes a Feedback Chart, allowing you or your child/ren to rate and make notes for each recipe.mini-meals-best-snacks

The Best Homemade Snacks on the Planet offers a practical collection of snack recipes with plenty of appeal for a child’s fussy palette. While this would be the perfect gift for any busy mother, the recipes could also appeal to adults who enjoy healthy snacks and treats.

Visit the author’s website for additional recipes, instructional videos and more.

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Weekend Cooking: Eat the Week by Anna Barnett

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads a semi-regular post at Book’d Out.

****

 

Title: Eat the Week: every meal, every day

Author: Anna Barnett

Published: Murdoch Books May 2015

Status: Read on May 31, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In her introduction to Eat the Week: Every Meal Every Day, Anna Barnett, blogger (www.annabarnett.com), columnist (‘The Reluctant Vegetarian’ in the UK newspaper Independent) and pop up restauranteur writes,

“This book is drawn from all my enthusiasms and experiences; it’s food from and for the lives many of us lead. It’s aim is to serve as inspiration for fun, delicious dishes that you can dip in and out of, and that reflect real lives and lifestyles.”

Offering a good mix of dishes suitable for singles, couples and families with a liking for fresh, (and mostly) healthy ingredients, Eat the Week is a good resource for a home cook looking for a simple way to add a gourmet touch to everyday meals.

The large hardcover cookbook is illustrated both with full page photographs of the dishes as well as some ‘lifestyle’ shots of the author. Neatly formatted, with a sentence or two of introduction, the recipes include both metric and imperial measurements, as well as a guide to prep and cooking time as well as serving size.

What I really like about Eat the Week is the way in which it is organised. For each day of the week, ‘Budget Mondays’, ‘Lazy Tuesdays’, ‘Make it Fancy Wednesdays’, ‘Cooking for Company Thursdays’, Barely in the Kitchen Fridays’, ;Something Special Saturdays’ and ‘Slow Sundays’, Barnett offers two menus which both include a Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner, Dessert and Leftovers.

A mixed sampling of the dishes includes Muffin Tinned Huevos Rancheros; Beet and Blueberry Smoothie; Asparagus, Parmesan & Pesto Crostini; Chilli Kale Chips; Pub Peanut Noodle Salad; Haloumi & Chorizo Salad Wrap; Fishcakes with Spicy Roasted Tomato Salsa; Cheat’s Aubergine Parmigiana; Peanut Butter & Cherry Chocolate Cups; and Pineapple & Gooey Coconut Macaroon Stack. There are around 100 individual recipes, many of which are suitable for vegetarians. Few are labour intensive, most requiring a minimal amount of prep or cooking time, and appeal to varied grocery budgets.

If you’re curious, sample pages, including recipes can be viewed via Amazon’s Look Inside feature.

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Eat-the-week-cover

Review: How To Write Your Blockbuster by Fiona McIntosh

 

Title: How to Write Your Blockbuster: All I’ve learned about writing commercial fiction

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: Penguin May 2015

Read an Extract

Status: Read on May 30, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Even though I am one of the very few book bloggers with no real ambition to write, I can appreciate the wisdom Fiona McIntosh imparts in ‘How To Write Your Blockbuster’, offering practical, no nonsense advice for aspiring writers.

McIntosh insists discipline is an essential skill for a writer. She encourages dabblers to set themselves up to succeed by developing good working habits and understanding what it is they want to write.

Whether you are a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ she has practical advice for getting started. I really like her ‘word count equation’, it seems to me that the idea would make the process of writing a first draft much less intimidating.

McIntosh then goes on to discuss technique in developing character, plot, dialogue, pacing and exposition with reference to what she has learned in her own work. Each chapter is also accompanied by exercises to complete.

For those with a completed manuscript, McIntosh advises writers on the next step, including presentation and submission to Australian commercial fiction publishers, and shares knowledge about what might come next for those lucky enough to see their book in print.

‘How To Write Your Blockbuster’ is a solid resource for a fledgling writer from a talented and accomplished commercial fiction author who writes across several genres. Make sure your browse Fiona McIntosh’s extensive oeuvre – my favourites include The Scrivener’s Tale and The Lavender Keeper.

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Review: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Title: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematorium

Author: Caitlin Doughty

Published: Canongate: Allen & Unwin May 2015

Status: Read from May 27 to 28, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I’ve already informed my family that when I die I want what is left of my body (I’m a registered organ donor) to be delivered directly to the crematorium – there is to be no coffin, no viewing, no funeral service, and afterwards they are welcome to do whatever they like with my ashes, whether that be keep them, scatter them or inter them in a wall. To me this seem practical, and is as much thought as I have given to the inevitably of my death.

Few people like to dwell on the fate of their ‘mortal coil’, but Caitlin Doughty has always had a morbid fascination with death, reinforced when, as a child, she witnessed a toddler plunge three stories to her death in a shopping mall. At twenty three, with a degree in Medieval Studies, she secured a job as a crematory operator at Westwind Cremation and Burial, confronting her curiousity and concerns head on.

In Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Doughty blends the tales of her experiences at Westwind, and later as a licensed mortician, with a brief historical and cultural overview of death rituals, and her philosophical musings. She feels strongly that modern day western society is too removed from the processes of death and is an advocate for ‘death awareness’ – working to redefine culture’s relationship to mortality, grief, and death customs. To this end she co founded The Order of the Good Death and hosts a YouTube series called Ask a Mortician, and the thrust of this book asks the reader to consider their end of life choices, before it is too late.

I applaud Doughty for attempting to engage the interest of a squeamish mainstream. Written with humour, respect and real passion for her subject, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is an informative and thought provoking read.

“Death drives every creative and destructive impulse we have as human beings. The closer we come to understanding it, the closer we come to understanding ourselves.”

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