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Friday 19 May 2023

Is This Mutton May Book Reviews


Book, fashion and beauty blogger Gail Hanlon from Is This Mutton reads a book on her tablet

Dear friends. Welcome to another month of book reviews. A very varied selection for you: two novels that will be among the most talked about of the year; a delightful celebration of a garden over the decades; the latest thriller from Kim Slater; the Tudors (again), plant-powered protein, and two memoirs.

 I've signed up for something quite new to me, two book blog tours. More on those soon. I'm also going to an event featuring writer Julie Owen Moylan. Her second book, 73 Dove Street, set in the 1950s,  is out in July and I enjoyed it immensely.  My review will appear next month. 

In the Good Reads 2023 Reading Challenge I am 3 books ahead of schedule, having read 40 out of my goal of 100. 

Let's start with my book of the month. 

Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang  (5 out of 5 stars)

Publisher's description: Athena Liu is a literary darling. June Hayward is literally nobody. Who wants stories by basic white girls anyway? But now Athena is dead. And June has her unfinished manuscript…

My thoughts

On the surface it might sound like a light, chick lit type of novel.  Far from it. The manuscript in question is a treatise on the Chinese diaspora of Chinese labourers who were sent first to Canada and then to Europe to fight in the First World War.

The author, Rebecca F Kuang is a Chinese-American writer aged 26 who learnt Chinese on a year-long trip to Beijing. From this viewpoint she is able to discuss Twitter pile-ons around racism and cultural appropriation in a way that a white female writer would not be able to do. 

I loved the focus on the whole publishing process. The crux of the story is a writer's burning desire  to reach great heights again and again, at whatever cost. 

June writes: "Writing is the closest thing we have to real magic. Writing is creating something out of nothing, is opening doors to other lands. Writing gives you power to shape your own world when the real one hurts too much. To stop writing would kill me."

The ending left me breathless!

A very important novel and I predict another big success for Kuang, whose previous books were from the fantasy genre. 

Ghost Girl, Banana by Wiz Wharton (5 out of 5 stars)

I also loved this remarkable debut novel. It tells the stories of Sook-Yin and her daughter Lily across the decades. 

Sook-Yin is  sent to Britain in 1966 by her brother to become a nurse. The career is not for her, and life takes a different direction. She marries and has daughters Lily and Maya. 

Fast forward and we find that the two girls,  whose parents died a while ago, have received news that they've been left a mysterious bequest in the will of someone they've never heard of, in Hong Kong.

Lily starts to find out more, travelling to Hong Kong. We discover there was a lot she didn't know about her mother's life. The narrative develops with parallel tellings from Sook-Yin, a woman who struggled to have a voice, and Lily. 

The book gives a rare insight into women who are hidden, and those who question where they belong. It also highlights the difficulty of family dynamics, particularly in the 60s when men dominated their families, as in the case of Sook-Yin's brother. Relations become even more strained when it seems that Sook-Yin has made more of a success of her life than he expected.

The Twilight Garden by Sara Nisha Adams (4 ot  of 5 stars)

Two neighbours bond in the 1980s over their shared garden, opening it up to the community. Fast forward a few decades and the garden is now a wilderness overrun by foxes.  The neighbours are different now. Winston (renting) and Bernice (divorcee and new owner of the house next door) are at loggerheads. 

Both have personal problems and the shared garden is the focus of their anger. But then mystery flyers start to arrive, showing the garden in its heyday. And gradually Winston and Bernice start to reclaim the garden and their own lives in the process.

It sounds as if it might be a syrupy concoction but the characters are both flawed and real. In Adams's skilful hands we flit between the present - Winston and Bernice - and the garden's custodians of the past. Linking the two periods is one common character, but that person's identity is a mystery for quite a long time. 

I liked the way gardening is used as an allegory for bringing people together and for giving people hope and purpose.  Gardening is often dismissed as an older person's activity, but here we have Bernice's young son getting passionate about planting; Winston experimenting with gardening to try to alleviate his guilt and heartache over not seeing his mother's wonderful garden for many years, and an old lady finally finding peace again. 

A lovely uplifting read, published on 8 June.  Thanks to NetGalley an HarperCollins for the eARC.

The Bedroom Window by K L Slater (5 stars) 

KL (Kim) Slater has knocked the ball out of the park with this gripping psychological thriller.

Unlike many writers of the genre she builds a strong and believable narrative around the victims so that we invest in them emotionally. The twists keep coming, and it's hard to predict them, such is the inventiveness of Slater';s plot. 

Characters are hiding secrets but Slater manages to hold on to some of them until the end, while keeping us engaged and enthralled. 

Another 5 star review for KL Slater from me. 

Is This OK? One Woman's Search For Connection Online by Harriet Gibsone (3.5 out of 5 stars)

I wasn't sure if this was a novel or a memoir at first. Music journalist Harriet Gibsone spent her youth compulsively searching the Internet, obsessing about celebrities and and imaging herself in '
parasocial relationships’with some of them. She then had a devastating diagnosis of early onset menopause in her late twenties and underwent IVF, HRT and other medical treatments.

What starts off as an entertaining and comic account becomes a more reflective view of balancing life online with the realities of illness and motherhood. A very honest and courageous account with a lot of dark humour. 

The Tudors (History Snapshots) by Michelle Rosenberg (4 out of 5 stars)

The Tudor period of history was fairly brief but seems to fascinate most of us.  I devour eagerly any books about the Tudors. Initially I thought this was "Tudor for beginners" but I still learned a lot of new facts.  Henry VIII probably ingested 5,000 calories a day. for example, which was apparent in his later years. During his reign 72,000 people were executed, many for minor crimes such as stealing. 

My favourite of Henry's queens has always been Anne of Cleeves, who was his wife for just six months but managed to get a good divorce settlement and outlive him. The book gives a more realistic view of the doomed marriage than the one we've been fed over the years.  Henry may well have thought her unattractive and not sophisticated enough for his court, but she in turn was probably repulsed by this man, so much older, with a "suppurating, oozing, smelly and ulcerated wound on his leg, inflicted while participating in a jousting event."  Anne was buried in Westminster Abbey, the only one of Henry's wives to be afforded the honour. 

Unstuffy and easy to read, this is a great little book for people interested in history and the Tudors. Published on May 30.  Thanks to NetGalley and Pen and Sword for the advanced reader copy. 

Plant-Powered Protein

Nutrition Essentials and Dietary Guidelines for All Ages by Brenda Davis, RD | Vesanto Melina, MS, RD | Cory Davis, MBA, P.Ag

Like many, I'm trying to reduce my intake of red meat and eat a more plant based diet. The protein aspect of veganism has long been its Achilles heel, thanks to inaccurate reporting in the press. I've frankly been wary about a plant based diet because of misconceptions about protein and worries that I wouldn't easily get all the necessary vitamins and minerals.

This book counters all the arguments.  It is extremely comprehensive with data presented in a readable way - "jaw droppers."  The book confronts the arguments around the environmental impact of plant based diets versus meat based.

It covers how to calculate how much protein you need for a day. Two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is considered a safe upper limit. 

Dietary advice is given for infants and toddlers, children and teens, plant-based athletes and energetic elders.  It's pleasing to see ingredients quoted both for the US (cups) and Europe (ML/grammes). 

“Sit Down, Stop Waving Your Arms About!” by Anthony Inglis (3.5 out of 5 stars)

We have seen the flamboyant conductor Anthony Inglis a few times so I was intrigued to read his memoir.  For 25 years, he was Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra and for 33 years from 1987 until 2020, Music Director/Supervisor/Consultant of Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre in London. 

Since 2017 he has been Music Director of the London Concert Orchestra and since 2004 Music Director for the Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins, who provides the foreword. 

Inglis has a distinguished RAF family background. Nine of his relatives were senior and distinguished pilots in the service. His family history however, did not stop him from deciding at the age of six that he was going to conduct.

His interest in music started at Marlborough College, where he had won a scholarship of £150. He then went to the Royal College of Music. His first time conducting was with an orchestra he put together himself and named the Student Association Orchestra.  

During his varied career, mostly in musical theatre, he has met many famous people: the Queen Mother,  Yehudi Menuhin, Ronnie Barker (who, he tells us, wrote the famous Four Candles sketch himself). He argued with Andrew Lloyd Webber,  who inevitably won with his assertion "I wrote the music; I own the theatre; this is what I want!"

Inglis comes across as irrepressible and in the best sense of the word, ordinary: he recounts his memories and anecdotes in the way you and I would. I just wish he hadn't been quite so liberal with the exclamation marks. 

Hope you enjoyed my varied selection this month. Follow me on Good Reads for "real time" reviews. 

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  #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Rena at Fine WhateverTalent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer,   #Neverendingstyle at The Grey Brunette, Final Friday/Traffic Jam Weekend at Marsha in the Middle Senior Salon Pitstop at Esme Salon 

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