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Friday 21 April 2023

Is This Mutton Books Edition, April


Dear friends. Welcome to another Books Edition of Is This Mutton. There's a nice variety of books in today's post: two works of fiction, three memoirs and a nutritional guide. Where I'm reviewing a book that has been supplied free of charge as an advanced reader copy, I give the publisher's description and then my own thoughts. 

2023 Reading Challenge Update

2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Gail has read 31 books toward their goal of 100 books.

This Month's Reviews: Memoirs 

Did I Ever Tell You This? Sam Neill (3.5 out of 5 stars)

As a follower of Sam Neill's on IG, I was expecting charm and quirkiness, and that’s what you get in his memoir. 

He delivers a sucker punch early on with news that he has a blood cancer - ironic, he says, because he has always been terrified of blood. He touches several times on his treatment - he is currently in remission.

Born in Omagh, Northern Ireland, Neill has been back to the house where he was born a few times, and was thinking he wouldn't come again because there was no real connection for him. He stopped at a roadhouse and the woman who brought his tea leant over and said "We're all very proud of you here." He says he could have cried.

His family moved to New Zealand when he was quite young. Neill had been keen on acting at schooi and in college but there didn't seem to be an established training process or film industry in New Zealand. Eventually he joined a theatrical group and over time began to get opportunities to appear in films in different countries. 

There are lots of amusing stories, including one about John Gielgud, and another about Princess Diana. Quite a few concern bodily functions, including the Princess Diana anecdote! 

The list of women actors he has worked with reads like a who's who. He says that only one of them would say he wasn't in her class, but you would have to ask her.

I felt he was a little reticent to talk about his family, which was a shame, but he was protecting their privacy. There may have been good learnings in the end of a 30 year marriage.  The book is quite random in its flow, deliberately I felt, as the title suggests it's a flow of consciousness, written quite hurriedly, by a man with a cancer diagnosis. 

I'd nearly reached the end of the book and he still hadn't mentioned two of my favorite films, Dead Calm and The Dish. Fortunately they get quite a lot of coverage in the end. Dead Calm nearly had its own mechanical shark. The footage is out there somewhere.

The Archaeology of Loss, Sarah Tarlow  (4 stars)

Publisher's Description

"When you find your husband lying dead, you think you will not forget a single detail of that moment. As an archaeologist, I like to get my facts right, and I will try my best to do so, but five years have passed since that day in 2016 and I am excavating my own unreliable memory. I cannot go back and check."

Sarah Tarlow's husband Mark began to suffer from an undiagnosed illness, leaving him incapable of caring for himself. One day, about six years after he first started showing symptoms, Mark waited for Sarah and their children to leave their home before ending his own life.

Although Sarah had devoted her professional life to the study of death and how we grieve, she found that nothing could have prepared her for the reality of illness and the devastation of loss.

What I Thought

A realistic, no-holds-barred account of being a carer. It isn't all about being selfless and devoted. Sometimes we are withdrawn or bad-tempered.  In turn, the person being cared for is not always at their best and gushing with gratitude. "Mark became reclusive, irritable, caustic with the children. My love was too weak to sustain us."

Although it's a heavyweight topic, and there is no happy ending, Tarlow infuses the telling with wit and humour, and there is plenty of her archaeological insight. 

Thanks to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for the advance reader copy. The Kindle edition is  published today, 20 April. 

The Forgotten Girls by Monica Potts (4 out of 5 stars)

Publisher's description: Growing up gifted and working-class in the foothills of the Ozarks, Monica and Darci became fast friends. Bonding over a shared love of learning, they pored over the giant map in their classroom, tracing their fingers over the world that awaited them, vowing to escape their broken town. In the end, Monica left Clinton for university and fulfilled her dreams. Darci, along with many in their circle of friends, did not.

Years later, working as a journalist covering poverty, Monica discovers what she already intuitively knew about the women in Arkansas. Their life expectancy had steeply declined -- the sharpest such fall in a century. As she returns to Clinton to report the story, she reconnects with Darci, and finds that her once talented and ambitious best friend is now a statistic: a single mother of two, addicted to meth, jobless and nearly homeless. Deeply aware that Darci's fate could have been hers, she retraces the moments in each of their lives that led such similar women toward such different destinies. Why did Monica make it out while Darci became ensnared in a cycle of poverty and opioid abuse?

What I thought

This is described as an American story, but it could equally apply to the UK. I often wonder why the destiny of people with similar backgrounds and education can vary so greatly.  I've always assumed it was down to character or personality. Darci's story was apparently quite common among their peers. It was Monica who deviated from the norm. 

The whole issue of the American white underclass is echoed here, particularly among young white working class males, who are the worst performing ethnic group. 75% fail to achieve five good GCSE grades (source: Sunday Times). 

In Darci and Monica's community, religion also played a large part in destiny. Potts is contemptuous of the local Baptist church that rains judgment down on young women for having sex outside marriage while viewing the conception of any child as part of God’s plan. For women, the message is clear: they must live under God’s authority and that of the men in their lives. 

I admired Potts for not taking a patronizing view of Darci and their cohorts, as she was entitled to do having graduated from university and forged a successful career.  She is always scrupulously balanced and nuanced in her reporting. The entitled western world needs to stop turning a blind eye to communities where addiction, violence, sexual abuse and neglect are rife. 

This book is published on April 27. Thanks to Penguin UK and NetGalley for the advance reader copy.

Macro Cooking Made Simple by Rachel Werner (5 stars)

Publisher's description: Stop counting calories and start eating smart! Master the macro diet with this accessible guide that includes more than 50 delicious recipes.

Instead of setting a limit on the number of calories you can eat, a macro diet defines the amount of macronutrients you can aim to eat, divided by proportion into the primary categories of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Besides helping burn fat and gain muscle, macros provide the body with energy and can help maintain good health for the long haul. Popular with athletes, this flexible diet can can also be a challenge to plan and track. But it doesn’t have to be! Macro Cooking Made Simple explains what macros are and how you can optimize them for better eating and better health, without suffering or deprivation.

What I Thought

  • This was great timing because the nutritional talk at my bootcamp refresh was all about macros! I'm now measuring my macros and optimizing my intake against my wish to build more muscle in the gym. 
  • The ratio guide, giving suggestions for different lifestyles, is very helpful
  • Varied selection of recipes
  • Lovely illustrations


Happily Married, Victoria Jenkins (4 stars)

Publisher's Description: Jake and I were childhood sweethearts. Strong, dependable and with a smile that melts my heart, he is the perfect husband and father to our beautiful little daughter. We have our money troubles – but getting a lodger, Kara, calms the panic I feel about our bills. Jake is reluctant but what choice do we have?

I’m relieved that Kara is so sweet, playing endless games of hide and seek with Elsie and settling into our home. But when I catch Jake and Kara sitting close together on the sofa one evening, they jump apart when I walk into the room. Jake promises it’s nothing…

When I search Kara’s room, I know for sure. My husband is keeping a terrible secret. And it’s much, much worse than I imagined.

For fans of The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl and The Housemaid, this is a psychological thriller with a mind-blowing twist you’ll never see coming.

What I Thought

The big twist. What we've been led to believe about the characters is turned upside down!
Dramatic finale
Unexpected feel good Girl Power

Thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for this advance reader copy. The Kindle edition is published on 11 May.

First Born by Will Dean (4 stars)

Identical twins Katie and Molly may look the same but their personalities are very different. Katie is outgoing and a risk taker. Molly is risk averse and cautious. They were inseparable until Katie moved to New York a year ago, and now Molly is having to swallow her fear to catch a plane because her sister has been found dead in her apartment.

I was keen to check out Dean's other books after enjoying The Last Passenger (read my review). It doesn't disappoint: lots of the requisite twists for a thriller but also some deeper content:  an examination of familial roles and expectations. New York dazzles, as does the sleuth-like Molly as she probes the death of her sister. 

I hope you enjoyed this month's selection. Which do you fancy? What are your latest recommendations?

Joining Sue from Women Living Well After 50, Donna from Retirement Reflections, Joanne from And Anyways and Debbie from Deb's World for the  What's On Your Bookshelf  (#WOYBS) link-up. 

Sharing this post with #FridayCoffeeShare at Natalie the Explorer,  #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Rena at Fine WhateverTalent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer  #Neverendingstyle at The Grey Brunette, Final Friday at Marsha in the Middle Senior Salon Pitstop at Esme Salon 

Reminder of my 4 and 5 star reviews for newly published books

Dystopian tale of a couple banished to a remote island for the crime of rearing a child whose birth hadn't been approved: Metronome, Tom Watson 

Elegant crime thriller set in 1950s Dublin: The Lock-Up, John Banville

Visceral account of a childhood in rural Cornwall: Undercurrent, Natasha Carthew

Complex and engrossing Nordic noir: The sins of our fathers, ├ůsa Larsson

Quirky and hilarious: The dog of the north, Elizabeth McKenzie


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