Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (and GIVEAWAY!)

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy KalingGiveaway is now closed.

Title: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Author: Mindy Kaling

Publisher: Ebury Press

Published: November 2011

Genre: Non-Fiction Autobiography

Source: Penpal swap

My Rating: 3/5

Mindy Kaling is most well known for her work on The Office (US) as a writer, actor and producer. She is also the creator of The Mindy Project. In her autobiography she shares anecdote, advice for teen girls, and how she went from starving artist to success.

I haven’t seen any of Kaling’s work, but someone in a swap sent me her autobiography Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Problems) and who can resist such a pretty cover.

The main thing that stood out for me was the inclusion of lists. There are lists of questions and answers, lists of alternate names for things, lists that show Kaling’s break-down of possible tropes, etc. To be honest, this is was the main thing I loved about this book. It made it into a quick read, while showing more of Kaling’s personality than a straight-up autobiography would have, not to mention Kaling’s comedy which is clearly strongest in this format.

There were many moments during this book that made me smile to myself, however it wasn’t nearly as funny as I was expecting from a comedy writer and actor. Perhaps it’s just my lack of that kind of humour, but in my opinion a lot of felt like it was trying too hard, and the rest was bordering on laugh out loud but somehow missed the punch line each time.

However, as a writer, I am always interested in other writers’ work habits and how they get ideas to paper so to speak. While the majority of the book is about being a performer and getting through the day to day parts of life (friendship, work, fashion, being ‘chubby’ [her word, not mine, and quite frankly offending that she thinks she’s fat], there is a section on writing which I really enjoyed, though I wouldn’t say that in itself would be enough of a reason to pick this book up.

There are a few photos throughout the book, which she then describes or explains. The only problem being that they are in black and white and very small, when Kaling is writing as though we can see both the colours and the details of what she’s wearing, etc.  For me this simply made the book seem cheap (unlike the gorgeous cover), and it was irritating that I could barely make anything out as that seemed to defeat the point of including the photos in the first place.

Unless you are a huge fan of Mindy Kaling, I have to admit this wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of my recommendations list. That said, if you’re looking for something easy and girly to ease you into non-fiction this would make a great book for you.

I realise this review isn’t glowing, however I am giving away my copy of the book, as I feel it’s only right to pass it on. Entering is as simple as pressing a button on rafflecopter, though I’d love it if you followed me on Twitter or Goodreads or commented on this post as well. This giveaway is international (I’m willing to send it anywhere my post office will let me), and ends midnight Sunday 11th September (GMT).

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Review: Harry’s War by Harry Drinkwater

Harry's WarTitle: Harry’s War – The Great War Diary of Harry Drinkwater

Author: Harry Drinkwater

Editor: Jon Cooksey

Publisher: Ebury Press

Published: July 2014

Genre: Non-Fiction HIstorical Diary

Source: Library

My Rating: 5/5

Harry’s War is nothing more than a diary kept by a soldier during the First World War; yet it so much more than that as it’s one of the few (if not only) vivid and descriptive firsthand accounts written by a soldier who not only survived the War but went back and edited his diary accounts.  Recently rediscovered and edited, Harry’s War was published for the centenary anniversary of the start of The Great War.

I have an interest in history, particularly accounts and memories of those who lived, rather than just names and dates. Because of this I’ve always felt a little annoyed there wasn’t more than metaphoric poetry to describe what life was like at the front during the First World War (I now know diaries were forbidden on the front which no doubt is why there are so few accounts). Perhaps it’s because so much is written about WWII that the utter lack of description from the First World War bothered me; though it is also the need to learn and understand.  Shortly into Harry’s War I understood why so many chose not to actively remember and discuss their experiences.

Harry Drinkwater honestly recorded as much of his experiences as he could, which in itself. However, I felt a lot of it lacked emotion, with gruesome details being plainly described (the one that will always stay with me is when his arm literally sunk into a dead German as Harry tried to use him to lever himself out of a hole). I expect this is because to survive living through something as horrific as the frontline during the First World War, the men must have dissociated themselves from what was happening on a day-to-day basis; but it makes reading this diary not only very uncomfortable and disturbing, but sometimes causes the reader to dissociate from the experience as well, making it an effort to truly accept the terribleness of what actually happened.

One thing I particularly liked about Harry’s War is that the diary doesn’t stop when Harry was on reprieve, so that it covers all of his experiences as a soldier rather than simply what happened to him on the front. In fact, Harry himself often comments on how the time spent away from the front is like heaven compared to the hell of being in the trenches, showing he had clarity and could understand how bizarre his situation was.

To bring together the diary, the editor Jon Cooksey includes notes which put the situations and places into context in regards to the war, and important events that were happening at the time.  I found this really useful as it gives the reader information to understand how Harry’s experiences related to what else was happening at the time. This, along with Harry Drinkwater’s voice, is gratefully the closest any of us can get to imagining what The Great War was like.

I would recommend Harry’s War to anyone with an interest in social history or the First World War, though I think almost everyone could benefit from reading this detailed account of man’s fight to create the world we live in today.

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Review: Cinch! by Cynthia Sass

Cinch by Cynthia Sass

Title: Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches

Author: Cynthia Sass

Publisher: HarperOne

Published: 2010

Genre: Non-Fiction Food

Source: Library

In Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches Cynthia Sass puts across a whole new way to enjoy food while losing weight and as part of a healthy lifestyle. While some may call this a ‘diet’ Sass states that it’s a change of habit, rather than a fad diet, and I have to agree with her. The basic idea is eating four small meals a day, each consisting of five food groups to give your body the nutrition it needs without expanding your waistline, though it is more a way of being healthier, than simply a weight loss regime.  I am not interested in diets, but I do love learning how to live healthier, and I feel that reading Cinch!  expanded my understanding of food, cravings and how my choice of food will affect my body.

While many will likely love the fact that chocolate is an everyday part of this diet, personally I’m not sure if the Cinch! diet is for me; but I still found it fascinating to read about how Sass came to create this lifestyle. I particularly enjoyed that she includes the science behind her choices in an accessible way, making it easy to understand and learn what our bodies need.

The book is also filled with examples of how it has changed people’s lives (which I skipped over), as well as lots of side notes full of interesting facts and thoughts relating to whatever Sass is talking about. I found these side notes great but they disrupted the flow of the narrative, often appearing within a sentence, making it harder to read and follow the book.

One thing I loved about Cinch! is that Sass includes a breakdown of how to create your own meals, as well as over a hundred recipes, and how to adapt restaurant meals to follow the plan. I feel this is really useful as most people aren’t able to always make/carry their planned meal to eat at the set time. Having a breakdown of the meals also allows the readers to discover and adapt meals to their own tastes and dietary needs

One way in which Cinch! differs from diet books, is the chapter exploring why we feel the need to overeat. This includes worksheets to fill out to help us understand and conquer our cravings. While it is only a chapter and therefore not extensive, I feel it is a good introduction to food psychology and, as well as being accessible, is easily personalized, making it a great tool for the reader, whether or not they choose to follow the 5 meal plan.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in what we eat and how it affects them and their health. Cinch! is highly flexible so the reader can take from it what they need, and while reading there is never the feeling of having to stick rigidly to a set meal plan, making it an enjoyable, as well as an informative read.

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Review – The Body Book by Cameron Diaz

the body book by cameron diazAuthor: Cameron Diaz and Sandra Bark

Title: The Body Book

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 2014 (first pub. 2013)

Genre: Non-Fiction Health

Source: Library

My Rating: 4/5

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Lately I have been working a lot harder on trying to improve my health (and lose weight); for me that means reading a lot of ‘health’ books to find out what works best for me.

The Body Book is aimed at women and covers all areas of health including exercise, food and motivation.  Instead of focusing on one specific diet, Cameron Diaz gives the information needed to understand why eating certain foods and doing certain exercise makes such a difference to our health.

Reading parts of this book was like going back to school. Diaz basically gives a biology lesson on how the body works – most of it I already knew but it was nice to have a reminder as it’s been a while since I learnt it.  Through diagrams and charts we are not only taught the parts of the body, but why it is important to keep it healthy and how to do so.  Throughout the book there are also plenty of easy to access charts which make all the information extremely clear.

One thing I loved about The Body Book was the enthusiasm with which Diaz talks about getting healthy.  Despite the awful attempts at sassiness (sorry, but occasionally throwing out a ‘sister’ or ‘ladies’ only makes me cringe), I found the book extremely motivating as it got me excited about becoming healthier, especially through exercise, which is something I really appreciated. Even after finishing the book I am still feeling motivated at living a healthier lifestyle which is exactly what you want from a book like this.

The Body Book is primarily aimed at women and includes a chapter about menstruation and taking care of our lady-bits. However, for the most part I feel this book would be just as effective for men, though they will likely need to adjust some of the numbers to fit their physique.

I wasn’t expecting this to be particularly well written (though at least Diaz makes it clear she had help rather than disguising the fact that it is ghost written), but was pleasantly surprised. While it’s not incredible literature, it serves its purpose in providing a lot of information in an easy to understand format.  I’m not particularly good at remember what I have read in non-fiction books, but as this book focuses more on the intent to become healthier, as well as giving specific advice, I feel much more confident in how to make choices on what I eat, etc.

I would recommend The Body Book to anyone starting to explore living a healthier life as it provides all the basic information you need to make healthier choices.  It is not a dieting book, nor is it a step-by-step how-to, but rather shows how, and more importantly why, to make healthier decisions in day-to-day life.

Review: How To Be Sick by Toni Bernhard

Thow to be sick toni bernharditle: How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers.

Author: Toni Bernhard

Publisher: Wisdom Publications

Published: Sept. 2012

Genre: Non-Fiction, M.E./C.F.S. Related

Source: Bought on Amazon using a gift voucher (Christmas present)

My Rating: 2.5/5

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In How to be Sick Toni Bernhard tells of how she used her Buddhist faith and understanding to accept living with a chronic disability.

I had been looking forward to reading this book for a very long time (despite having it on my shelf for months before I got to it) as I really enjoy Bernhard’s column at Psychology Today in which she gives advice to those with chronic disabilities, and their carers, revolving around Buddhism.  I was expecting more of the same with How to be Sick, only more in-depth. Unfortunately I instead found that most of the book was, in my opinion, fluff (ie. extra words that weren’t necessary just to make the chapters longer).

The book starts with Bernhard’s personal journey with becoming ill on a holiday in Paris, and never recovering.  She then goes on to explain a few fundamentals of Buddhism and examples of how she uses them.  However, I felt that it was simply repetition of saying ‘so I started to think like that and it helped’, which isn’t actually very useful to the reader.  I was really looking for actionable steps, due to it being described as ‘a Buddhist-inspired guide for the chronically ill and their caregivers’, and for me the book just didn’t deliver.

I did find some of the explanations of Buddhist ideas helpful, but I feel that I would just as easily be able to learn these online or using books dedicated to Buddhism.  As so many of Bernhard’s examples simply explain what her mental and emotional state would be like without using Buddhism, I didn’t find many of them useful or explanatory.

Despite not finding the majority of the book up to my expectations, the final chapters did explain the difficulties people with chronic disabilities face, that most people may not be aware of, as well as giving suggestions on how to deal with specific  problems (although, most of those suggestions involve nothing more than some positive statements to say to yourself).

Overall I was very disappointed with How to be Sick, and I personally didn’t find it worth my time, money or energy.  However, for those with chronic disabilities and their carers, I still recommend reading Toni Bernhard’s column online if you are looking for a burst of inspiration, acceptance, and understanding.

Review – Islam Today by Akbar Ahmed

ImageTitle: Islam Today – A Short Introduction to the Muslim World

Author: Akbar S. Ahmed

Publisher: I. B. Tauris

Published: March 1999

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Library

My Rating: 2/5

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As I now live in an Islamic dominant area, and I don’t really know much about the religion or the culture, I wanted to learn a bit about it.  Islam Today wasn’t what I expected. I was hoping to learn the religion’s rules and values, and while this book does touch on them, it was more like a (very long) history lesson.  In one way this is good as it shows how different areas of the world have affected the religion, as well as explaining the differences among Muslims. However I finished this book still not sure about much of the religion.

My main issue with the book was how defensive Akbar Ahmed is about Islam.  He is constantly reminding us that we shouldn’t judge a community based on the actions of a few etc.  To me this seemed a little redundant to keep repeating as presumably the reader who chooses to pick up this book is aiming to learn and understand, rather than to judge.  Unfortunately, Ahmed then undermines everything he says about judging by assuming that ‘the West’ have x opinion of Islam.  This irritated me as, as I’ve said, the chances are the reader wants to understand, and by being hypocritical in this way the author makes it a lot more difficult to believe and trust him.

Another reason I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone who knows nothing of Islam (such as myself) is that the writing is very dense. It is difficult to follow and the fact that many new terms are thrown at us at once makes it much harder to understand what the author actually means.

Personally I feel this book is aimed at someone with a clear understanding of Islam as a religion, but who wishes to learn more about it as a culture. Ahmed not only explains how Islam grew across the world, but also brings up the many issues Muslims face today (though it has to be taken into consideration that Islam Today was republished over 10 years ago), going as far as giving suggestions on the perfect way to integrate all societies (though I doubt any of his suggestions are actually feasible in reality, as they seem more like a child’s simple answer of assuming everyone can accept each other – but that’s just my opinion).  Therefore I would recommend this book to those who are looking for a more in-depth look at the history of Islam; however I doubt this is the best book out there on the subject, though it is one of the more available ones.

 

Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

ImageTitle: A Short History of Nearly Everything

Author: Bill Bryson

Publisher: Broadway Books

Published: January 2003

Genre: Non-Fiction

My Rating: 3/5

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Sorry I haven’t posted in the past couple of weeks, but reading A Short History of Nearly Everything took me quite a lot longer than planned.  I have read a couple of Bill Bryson books in the past and am a big fan of his style; this book, however, was a lot denser and heavier reading than I was expecting.

I was hoping that A Short History of Nearly Everything would include more history of modern day items, but evidently I had misunderstood what the focus of the book is.

The book sort-of follows the story from the beginning of the universe, to us now.  I say sort-of as Bryson tends to focus more on how the science was discovered, than the actual science.  I really liked this as Bryson included a lot of anecdotal stories, which in my opinion, is one of the best things about his writing.  This did mean, though, that at times I was confused about where I was up to in the story of creation.  It also meant a lot of names and dates which is not something I am a big fan of.

While I found this book easier to read than a textbook, I don’t think I have retained any of the information I was reading.  And, as I said at the beginning of this review, I found it quite heavy reading which is unusual of Bryson’s books (from the ones I’ve read so far); perhaps that is due to the very scientific nature of the information being shared.  It took me a couple of weeks to read and I felt I was forcing myself through parts of it. 

It is really the anecdotal stories, told in Bryson’s relaxed manner, that kept me reading til the end; as well as an interest in the subject (even if I won’t remember it all).  I would recommend A Short History of Nearly Everything to anyone interested in how we know what we know about the creation of our world and species, but only if you’re willing to spend a fair amount of time reading about it as this is not a book that is easily skimmed through.  Even though this book wasn’t what I was expecting, and wasn’t entirely what I wanted to read, it didn’t put me off my plan to read more Bryson books in the future.

Review: Train and Buttered Toast by John Betjeman (ed. Stephen Games)

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What’s It About?

John Betjeman was a popular BBC radio presenter.  Between 1932 and 1952 he was a predominant radio personality giving over 300 talks.  In ‘Trains and Buttered Toast’ Stephen Games has used transcripts and archives to bring together a large and varied selection of these talks.  These talks bring to life Betjeman’s wit and nostalgia, and often his love of architecture.

My Thoughts:

I am too young to have ever heard John Betjeman (or to have heard of him), but that didn’t stop me from picking up this book at the library.  To me it read like a book of fairly short essays (possibly even blog posts?), though at times I did feel that I was missing out on not being able to imagine how these talks were given.

Betjeman covers many subjects yet continuously comes back to architecture and often his talks are tinged with anger over the ‘new’ architecture that “littered the roadside with shacks and hoardings” (pp 38).  While I did find a lot of interesting, after a while I found that I was beginning to get bored of this constant whining and aggravation, even if I did agree with it.  I can easily see how there could be split feelings towards his style and content.

This book begins with a preface by Stephen Games, but one of my favourite parts of the book was the introduction.  As expected this gave an overview of Betjeman’s life which I found very helpful as a complete newbie, though admittedly this tinged how I read and accepted Betjeman’s talks as I had already been told opinions about it; no matter how hard you try and make your own opinions, once you’ve been told something it is impossible to not let that affect how you accept something.

Generally speaking I think this is an okay read.  It doesn’t include anything incredible, though there were moments that I smiled in appreciation or nodded my head in agreement.  Likewise, its only real downfall is the overbearing information about architecture appreciation and the ending poetry which felt misplaced after the rest of the talks.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, unless you are either a huge fan of Betjeman or architecture, but nor would I say that it wasn’t worth reading.  I have a feeling it’s one of those books that everyone will have their own reaction towards.

Overall rating: 3/5

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