2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #6

 

Welcome to the Monthly Spotlight for the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge!

Each month I’m highlighting some of the reviews shared for the challenge in the linky

Don’t forget to link each book you read as you read during the year!

I encourage you to support all participants who have shared what they are reading for the challenge. Give them a like, leave them a comment, share their posts on Facebook, twitter, or instagram #2021ReadNonFic

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In June…

[BIOGRAPHY]

“Michael Haag’s The Durrells of Corfu is an absorbing read, celebrating lives lived large and with passion and their lasting legacies.” writes Jo of Booklover Book Reviews

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[TRAVEL]

In EPIC: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History  by Tim Challies Barbara at Stray Thoughts explains, “Each chapter gives a brief background of the person or situation the object represents, then shares what that object tells us about God’s movement through the ages. None of the chapters are very long, and they include a few pictures each. It’s easy to pick up the book here and there and read a chapter or two at a time.”

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[WARTIME EXPERIENCES]

“[Agata] Tuszyńska’s Family History of Fear is an elegy for both a family and a nation.”, writes Maphead. This memoir focuses on the experience of the author’s Polish Jewish grandparents during World War II.

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[PUBLISHED IN 2021]

Veronica of The Burgeoning Bookshelf had mixed feelings about The Women’s Doc by Caroline De Costa which she describes as, “…a no holds barred look at women’s health; the highs, the lows, the triumphs and the tragedies.”

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[PUBLISHED IN 2021]

Of actor Andrew McCarthy’s memoir Brat: An 80s Story Laurel-Rain at Curl Up and Read writes, “I read the book in a day and couldn’t set it down. For me, it earned 5 stars”

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What will you be reading in July?


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In case you missed it…

Join the challenge!

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #3

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #4

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #3

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #4

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #5

Review: Who Gets To Be Smart by Bri Lee

 

Title: Who Gets To Be Smart: Privilege, Power and Knowledge

Author: Bri Lee

Published: 5th June 2021, Allen & Unwin

Read: June 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

 

In Who Gets To Be Smart, Bri Lee explores the relationship between education, privilege, power and knowledge.

 

“Knowledge is power, and when powerful people are allowed to shape knowledge and restrict access to knowledge, they are able to consolidate and strengthen their hold on that power.”

 

Lee’s focus is primarily on the gatekeepers of educational access and success in Australia, and their role in determining who gets to be ‘smart’, rather than the contribution of raw intelligence to the equation. The majority of Lee’s observations about the ways in which knowledge is controlled by those with privilege and power seem obvious to me so I don’t feel the book offered me much personally in the way of unique insight, though I’m sure there are some who have never considered the correlation.

It seemed to me that Lee occasionally followed paths that didn’t really connect to the central premise. There were relevant topics I felt Lee didn’t acknowledge such as Australia’s secondary and tertiary scholarship options, and I think the HECS-HELP and VET schemes merited more discussion.

Lee’s own anecdotes and asides keeps Who Gets To Be Smart from being dry. Her research seems sound, and the information is presented in an accessible manner.

I found Who Gets To Be Smart to be an interesting read, I hope it sparks discussion about inequality in educational access and success that will lead to change.

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Written in Bone by Sue Black

 

Title: Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind

Author: Sue Black

Published: 1st June 2021, Arcade

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Arcade/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

 

Internationally renowned forensic anthropologist Dame Sue Black offers a rather poetic definition of her profession in the introduction to Written in Bone.

 

“The forensic anthropologist’s job is to try to read the bones of our skeleton as if they were a record, moving a professional stylus across them in search of the short, recognizable segments of body-based memory that form part of the song of a life, coaxing out fragments of the tune laid down there long ago.”

 

Less fancifully, a forensic anthropologist’s job is the examination of human skeletal remains for law enforcement agencies to help with the recovery of human remains, determine the identity of unidentified human remains, interpret trauma, and estimate time since death. It’s a professional discipline that requires scientific rigour and the ability to interpret the science for others.

Black proves she has mastered the skills of her trade in Written in Bone, sharing her detailed knowledge and understanding of her field, and presenting the science in a clear and accessible manner for someone with a basic understanding of anatomy. Crucially though, Black never lets us forget that the bones were once the essential framework of a human being.

Written in Bone is organised in sections that move down the skeleton from the head through to the foot. In each chapter Black explains the development and function of specific bones, how those bones may, or may not, be affected by natural or unnatural means, the process a forensic anthropologist uses to examine and then provide a scientific assessment of the bones, and case examples that demonstrate the role of forensic anthropology in the investigation of legal and criminal cases.

It is astonishing how much information even a fragment of bone may be capable of providing in the hands of a skilled forensic anthropologist. Not only sex, age, ethnicity and height, but also diet, history of disease, cause of death, and even a history of emotional trauma. Black describes the need, “…to squeeze every single piece of information out of whatever parts we do have in our pursuit of the answers to questions about identity, life and death.” and the fascinating, sometimes disturbing, case examples that show just how important those details can be in an investigation.

I felt like I learnt quite a bit from Black. I hadn’t known that the bones in the hand can be a reliable indicator of age in living people, or that disease and emotional trauma can leave a mark called a Harris line on long bones while they are growing. I’m left curious as to what my bones may tell a forensic anthropologist, and if they hold enough of a record to help identify me if they are all that remains.

Written in Bone will interest a range of curious readers from students of related fields to true crime buffs and fans of TV’s ‘Bones’. Educational, intriguing, and surprising, I found this to be an absorbing read.

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Available from Simon & Schuster

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Booko 

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #5

 

Welcome to the Monthly Spotlight for the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge!

Each month I’m highlighting some of the reviews shared for the challenge in the linky

Don’t forget to link each book you read as you read during the year!

I encourage you to support all participants who have shared what they are reading for the challenge. Give them a like, leave them a comment, share their posts on Facebook, twitter, or instagram #2021ReadNonFic

===================

In May…

[PUBLISHED IN 2021]

Kathryn’s interest in reading Sex, Lies and Question Time by Kate Ellis was “piqued in part by the recent, disgraceful scandals that have rocked [Australian] Parliament…”. She opines it is, “…written in an intelligent, conversational style, this one isn’t always the easiest of reads due to the heavy subject matter. Still, it’s an important subject and one well worth educating yourself about….”.

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[SELF-HELP]

Rennie from What’s Nonfiction? admits she generally avoids the self-help genre but she highlights three titles in this post she has found helpful. The Obesity Code by Jason Fung MD, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

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[PUBLISHED IN 2021]

 

The Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe is an expose of the Sackler family, whose fortune was made by the making and marketing of OxyContin. Laura of Reading Books Again wasn’t entirely convinced by the author’s assertion that the Sackler family were wholly responsible for the opioid crisis, but she recommends it, giving it five stars.

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[WARTIME EXPERIENCES]

Mapheads Book Blog found Andrew Nagorski’s Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power, “…a detailed and reveling look at Hitler and his fellow Nazi’s rise to power as seen through the eyes of those Americans who witnessed it firsthand.”

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[HOBBIES]

Journey & Destination read 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff. She writes, “Both books are delightful reads for book lovers, letter writers and those who appreciate old classics.”

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What will you be reading in June ?


In case you missed it…

Join the challenge!

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #3

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #4

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #3

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #4

Review: The Menopause Manifesto by Dr. Jen Gunter

 

Title: The Menopause Manifesto: Own Your Health with Facts and Feminism

Author: Dr. Jen Gunter

Published: 25th May 2021, Citadel Press

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Kensington Books/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

“I demand that the era of silence and shame about menopause yield to facts and feminism. I proclaim that we must stop viewing menopause as a disease, because that means being a woman is a disease and I reject that shoddily constructed hypothesis. I also declare that what the patriarchy thinks of menopause is irrelevant. Men do not get to define the value of women at any age.”

After 38 years of regular but long, heavy and painful periods (minus 4 successful pregnancies and three miscarriages), I’ve actually been looking forward to menopause in some ways. At 48, I have now been experiencing the symptoms of peri menopause for about 18 months, and while I expected some of the more well known effects such as hot flushes, insomnia and irregular bleeding, I now realise, thanks to Jen Gunter and The Menopause Manifesto, that the inexplicable joint pain I have been suffering may also be related.

For the uninformed, menopause occurs when there are no more follicles in the ovaries capable of ovulating, meaning there are no more eggs, and menstruation ceases. The average age when this happens is 50-52 years. However the transition to menopause (often referred to as peri menopause) can start several years earlier, and the length, and the severity of symptoms, may vary significantly from woman to woman. There are dozens of common symptoms and conditions associated with menopause from an increased risk of heart disease to a decrease in libido, but they don’t just occur in a vacuum – they may be influenced by general health, age and lifestyle factors. Gunter provides detailed but mostly accessible medical facts about the biological process of menopause, its medical ramifications, and a comprehensive guide to treatment options. Useful chapter summaries in point form are provided if you are inclined to skim the denser scientific material. Personal anecdotes and blunt observations from the author ensures the material is rarely dry.

The Menopause Manifesto not only delivers the science but also explores how menopause is perceived (primarily in America and similar cultures). Gunter includes discussion about patriarchal medicine’s tendency to dismiss or minimise the experience of menopause, the culture of shame attached to the transition, and the lack of education surrounding the process. The feminist slant of the book is unapologetic as Gunter encourages women to empower themselves with knowledge so as to better advocate for their own health.

The Menopause Manifesto is a comprehensive, practical resource for all in possession of female reproductive organs. I wish I had read something like this five years ago and strongly recommend that women aged from in their early forties consider educating themselves about menopause well in advance.

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Available from Kensington Books

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Booko I Amazon

Review: Flash Jim by Kel Richards

 

Title: Flash Jim: The Astonishing Story of the Convict Fraudster Who Wrote Australia’s First Dictionary

Author: Kel Richards

Published: 5th May 2021, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy HarperCollins Australia

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My Thoughts:

Though English has been considered the language of our country since it was invaded/colonised by the British in 1788, did you know that legally Australia has no official language? Neither did I! While our language today continues to adhere to the conventions of British English with regards to spelling and grammar, from very early on, Australian English began to develop its own unique quirks.

Slang, also known as flash and cant, was a term originally used to refer to the language used mostly by criminals in 16th and 17th century England and so it’s no surprise that it thrived in Australia, and took on a life of its own as British, Irish, and Scottish convicts mixed in the British penal colony.

In 1812 an opportunistic convict, James Hardy Vaux, heard the grumblings of the colony’s police and magistrates who were at a loss to understand much of the slang used among criminals, and always eager to press any advantage, presented his supervisor with ‘A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language’ – Australia’s very first dictionary. Included as an Appendix in Flash Jim, browsing through the dictionary proves fascinating, revealing words and phrases both strange and familiar.

The bulk of Kel Richards Flash Jim however is a biography of James Vaux, drawing on several sources, mainly the man’s own published memoirs, ‘Memoirs of The First Thirty-Two Years of the Life Of James Hardy Vaux, A Swindler and Pickpocket; Now Transported, For The Second Time, And For Life, To New South Wales. Written By Himself.’

Flash Jim reveals a man who was an extraordinary character. Though born into a family able to provide him a good education and entry into a comfortable profession, James took his first step into a life of crime by embezzling from his employer at aged fourteen. Over the next few years, never satisfied with wages earned as a clerk, James indulged in a number of illegal activities from confidence scams to pick pocketing, with reasonable success, that is until inevitably, his luck ran out. Not that even being sentenced to transportation to New Holland on three separate occasions, seemed to deter his criminal impulses. Vaux, who used a number of aliases over his lifetime, seemed to have possessed an uncanny charm which often saw him turn even the most dire of circumstances to his advantage. I was absolutely fascinated by him, and his antics, marvelling at his ego and nerve, though as Richards regularly reminds us, Vaux’s own words can hardly be trusted.

It’s unclear just how much of Richards own creativity informs the retelling he has crafted, though I imagine he has taken some liberties. I thought it read well, though personally I would have preferred for the author to have found a way to integrate the story of the dictionary more fully into the narrative of Vaux’s biography.

James Hardy Vaux is the sort of incorrigible, dissolute character that Australians delight in claiming as part of our convict past so I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard of him before now, particularly given his twin achievements as the writer of Australia’s first dictionary, and the first true-crime memoir. I expect Flash Jim will be enjoyed by readers interested in Australian colonial history, the etymology of Australian English, or just a bang up yarn.

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Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: China Blonde by Nicole Webb


Title: China Blonde

Author: Nicole Webb

Published: 1st October 2020, Broadcast Books

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy the author

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My Thoughts:

When Nicole Webb contacted me with a request to read her memoir about her experience of living in the city of Xī’ān situated in Central China I agreed because of a general interest in the country. When I graduated university, my first position was as a director/teacher in a long day care centre run by the Australian Chinese and Descendants Mutual Association, where the entire staff and the 40 children in attendance, except for me, were new immigrants or first generation Australian Chinese. It was quite a challenge to negotiate the demands of the job, cultural differences, and several languages (mainly Mandarin and Cantonese) of which I knew not a word when I started. I really enjoyed being immersed in such a unique environment, but I don’t think I’d be brave enough to leave behind all that is familiar to relocate to the Middle Kingdom.

However, former Sky News Australia journalist Nicole, her British husband James, a hotelier, and their young daughter Ava, did just that, moving to one of the oldest cities in China with a population of around nine million people.

Despite spending the previous four years in Hong Kong, the move to Xī’ān proves more disorientating than Nicole expects. Though she has many advantages, including being supplied with high quality accommodation, a chauffeur, and room service, it proves difficult to feel at home in a country where you don’t understand the language, and know no one.

Written in a confiding, personable tone, Nicole shares her expat experiences during the nearly three years they spent in Xī’ān. It’s the little things that tend to throw Nicole in the early months, like not being able to find her favourite coffee, Mint Mocha, and the scarcity of white wine. She’s overwhelmed by the attention she and her ‘small person’, both blonde, attract when out in public, and intimidated by the busy traffic and crowds. With her husband working long hours, Nicole struggles with feelings of isolation, though when Ava begins to attend a nearby international school she is finally able to connect with the city’s surprisingly small ex-pat community, and soon finds ‘her people’.

The book is peppered with fascinating insights into Chinese culture, explaining why for example, toddlers wear pants split at the crotch, and why the Chinese consider thanks rude. As a journalist, Nicole also feels compelled to investigate the Chinese perspective on topics such as feminism, marriage, politics and government.

Nicole’s descriptions of the city are sensory and immersive, from the cacophony of streets crowded with cars, motorbikes, rickshaws and bicycles, to the majesty of city’s ancient pagoda’s, from lavishly decorated hotels and restaurants, to shabby street stalls, all often overlaid with a thick pall of pollution. I highly recommend you follow the link provided at the end of the book to view the author’s photo album.

With its humour and honesty, China Blonde is an enjoyable and interesting read, allowing the reader to vicariously experience expat life in China.

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Signed copies available from the author at NicoleWebbOnline

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #4


Welcome to the fourth Monthly Spotlight for the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge!

Each month I’ll be highlighting some of the reviews shared for the challenge in the linky

Don’t forget to link each book you read as you read during the year!

I encourage you to support all participants who have shared what they are reading for the challenge. Give them a like, leave them a comment, share their posts on Facebook, twitter, or instagram #2021ReadNonFic

===================

In April…

[BIOGRAPHY]

Rennie at What’s NonFiction?  enjoyed Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz by Gail Crowther about poet’s Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, “Crowther impressively shows how these women defied (or sometimes struggled with) the standards and expectations of their time while making art from pain, art that has been so meaningful to so many people. But it’s more of a compare and contrast exercise than about their personal relationship.”

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[FOOD]

Of The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield, Tina at Turn The Page wrote “There were so many, “Oh I didn’t know that, how interesting” moments that I would stop and call out to [my husband], “Listen to this” and proceed to share parts of this book.”

Xxxxxxx

[BIOGRAPHY]

Outback Legends by Evan McHugh, “gives a quick overall view of some outback heroes; people who have been stalwarts in their community and made such a big contribution that they deserve any honours they’ve received….This book makes me want to travel around Australia and visit some of the places mentioned.” says Suz of Suz’s Space

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[HOBBIES]

“I highly recommend this for armchair explorers who want a glimpse of a world that few humans will ever see.” writes Jen of the Introverted Reader of Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth

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[SELF HELP]

Lifeofabookwormdoc thought Complete Guide To Self Care by Kiki Ely was excellent. “This is a beautifully photographed and laid out book which has good suggestions in each category of self care.”

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What will you be reading in May?

In case you missed it…

Join the challenge!

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #3

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #4

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #3

Review: Autopsy by Ryan Blumenthal


Title: Autopsy:  Life In The Trenches With A Forensic Pathologist In Africa

Author: Dr. Ryan Blumenthal

Published: 13th April 2021, Jonathan Ball Publishers

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Jonathan Ball Publishers/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“These stories were gleaned from the trenches, amidst the blood and the guts of it all. I offer stories from my life and my ‘case book’.

I’ve read a number of memoirs written by forensic pathologists/coroners/medical examiners and the like who practice in the UK, USA and Australia, and I was curious as to how the experience might differ in a country like Africa. Ryan Blumenthal has been a forensic pathologist, working primarily in South Africa, for over twenty years. There are approximately 70,000 unnatural deaths per year in South Africa, and as one of only 56 certified forensic pathologists in the country, Blumenthal performs up to 500 autopsies a year, but the role of the profession extends beyond the physical act of completing an autopsy, forensic pathologists are also crime scene investigators, and legal witnesses who are required to give testimony in court. It is a job that requires physical and mental stamina to withstand the long hours of work, the constant exposure to death, and the need to adapt to scientific, technological and sociocultural changes.

“[Forensic medicine is] The application of medical knowledge and methodology for the resolution of legal questions and problems for individuals and societies.”

The general philosophy and practice of a forensic pathologist in South Africa is not too far removed from that of his (or her) colleagues in other countries, however they do face challenges unique to the country’s status as a developing nation, which means basic resources such as labour, electricity, running water and insect spray (vital due to the prevalence of flies) can be limited, or even absent, particularly in rural areas of the country, and in other third world areas of the African continent. Blumenthal describes what a typical autopsy and investigation entails for him, and while he is pragmatic about the lack of television’s CSI ‘fancyshmancy’ equipment, certain that the knowledge and ability of the forensic pathologist matters more, he does emphasise the importance of proper resourcing as a benefit society.

“As the Latin expression goes, ex Africa semper aliquid novi – always something new out of Africa.”

Forensic pathologists in Africa also face trauma that is unique to the culture and environment. This not only includes deaths caused by native wildlife like hippopotami, lions, elephants and kudu, as well as poisonings related to the misuse of traditional medicines, but also methods of murder such as ‘necklacing’, where a person’s torso and arms are trapped in a rubber tyre filled with gasoline and set alight. Deaths related to lightning strikes are more common in Africa than almost anywhere else. Blumenthal relates his experiences with these type of cases, as well as those from more common causes of unnatural death, such as car accidents, drug overdoses, gunshots and stabbing. I found both Blumenthal’s general observations and the details of the individual cases he shared to be fascinating.

“My wish is that this book will help to make you more aware and more mindful.”

Blumenthal’s writing is accessible with a minimal use of jargon but I do think the material could have been better organised as there is some repetition in both the information and prose. I wasn’t particularly keen on the moralising either, even though his observations and advice were generally reasonable, there were a few statements that belied Blumenthal’s claim of impartiality to the deceased.

“We close the eyes of the dead, but the dead open the eyes of the living.”

Elucidating the unique experiences and challenges faced by forensic pathologists, particularly in South Africa, overall I found Autopsy to be an interesting, informative and satisfying read.

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Available from Jonathan Ball Publishers

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko I Amazon 

 

Review: How To Fake Being Tidy by Fenella Souter


Title: How To Fake Being Tidy: and other things my mother never taught me.

Author: Fenella Souter

Published: 30th March 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

How To Fake Being Tidy: and other things my mother never taught me from feature writer, Fenella Souter (who also uses the non de plume Dusty Miller), is an essay collection primarily comprised of columns first published in the Australian newspapers, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Housework definitely not being my thing (I admit I prefer Erma Bombeck’s advice to Marie Kondo’s), I was lured by the title of this book, but was disappointed to discover that Souter doesn’t actually offer tips to fake being tidy.

This is not a how-to guide, it’s a collection of genteel, undemanding stories that centres around the domestic. Souter does offer some simple household management tips, like how to remove labels from jars, wine stains from fabric, and how to organise your linen cupboard, but the essays are generally less prescriptive and more ruminative, reflecting on the pleasure of crisp bedsheets, the trials of holding your own against a tradie, or relocating a beehive, for example.

A number of the essays also focus on food. Souter appears to be an accomplished cook, with sophisticated tastes and a generous budget. She includes a variety of recipes offered within the context of the essay’s, including those for Orange Marmalade, Broccomole, Hummus with Spiced Lamb, and Passionfruit Creams, to name a few.

There were a handful of essays that resonated with me, but as a whole, I feel the collection is rather bland, reflecting a rather white, upper middle class perspective, and would likely have more appeal for the ‘boomer’ generation than mine. 

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

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