Category: Non fiction reviews

A review of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

This is an important subject treated with seriousness by the author, who is a journalist of some standing and the author of three other books. The title is somewhat misleading, however, as the librarians are not so much ‘bad-ass’ as courageous and dedicated to their quest to save centuries-old Islamic and secular manuscripts on a range of topics from destruction by militants of Al Qaeda.

A review of Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole

Known and Strange Things, the title coming from Seamus Heaney, is structured by division into four sections: Reading Things; Seeing Things; Being There; and Epilogue. Cole notes that the book contains ‘some of my most vital enthusiasms’ as well as pieces on the new, and that he was testing his knowledge and its limits. He left as much out as he included, and could have produced a second book with the excluded.

A review of Beginning French by Les Américains

The writing is so descriptive and uncomplicated that is easy to imagine accompanying the family as they go from one lesson to the next. We go with them to buy furniture, buy food at the hypermarket, get the boiler fixed and tag along on their trips to the Dordogne and some wonderful French towns and villages. We experience the history, the culture and the environment through Marty and Eileen’s exquisite travelogues and memories. And if you think I have forgotten to mention the French food then you are in for a huge surprise.

A review of The Vimy Trap by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift

The Battle of Vimy Ridge took place almost one hundred years ago, on April 9, 1917, as part of the Battle of Arras launched by British and French forces against those of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, to divert them from other fronts. The British and French had attempted to take the ridge and had failed. The Canadian Corps, part of the British Expeditionary Force, succeeded, with heavy casualties.

A review of Ain’t U Got No Manners by Kristin Johnson

Despite the relaxed, humorous and conversational tone, the subject is serious. With Facebook, Instagram, Google (including its search engine), Twitter, Snapchat, Skype and email all linking up, nearly everything that goes online is more or less in the public domain. An ill-thought through or offensive post can get you fired, can wreck your home life, can lose you friends, and even get you arrested.

A review of The Wrong Dog by David Elliot Cohen

Part Marley and Me, part Bucket List, part travel memoir, Cohen’s book tells the story of Simba, a larger-than-life Labrador retriever whose physical size is matched only by his love of people. Cohen’s wife, Laureen, was technically Simba’s owner (he was bought by her first husband), but as is the case with blended families, when Cohen and Laureen married, their five children and the dog quickly became a cohesive unit.

A review of Get Lean, Stay Lean by Dr Joanna McMillan

The advice provided by Dr Joanna McMillan in Get Lean, Stay Lean is neither faddish nor confusing. It’s commonsense and you probably already know it. Eat more vegetables. Exercise. Keep stress to a minimum. That’s the crux of it (and probably the crux of most reputable books on health and nutrition), but McMillan has presented this information that everybody knows and few people do in a way that makes it very easy to incorporate into day-to-day living. Despite the title, Get Lean, Stay Lean really isn’t about weight loss. It’s about developing healthy, sustainable habits.

A review of Release the Bats: Writing Your Way Out of It by DBC Pierre

DBC Pierre’s writing book is like his fiction – a bit bizarre, purplish, chaotic, and often brilliant. Release the Bats is inspirational, making it clear that anyone can be a writer regardless of circumstance, and that literature is all about the interplay of worlds (internal/external; the gap between chaos and the ideal). The book provides a welter of ideas and tools and does so in a surprisingly coherent manner. It’s surprising because the book has a tendency to ramble, philosophise in extended and often convoluted metaphors, explode into digression, and slide into memoir, with Pierre using his own experiences as an example of how and in what ways his tools work.

A review of The Writers Room by Charlotte Wood

Most of the writers interviewed came across as incredibly generous, surprisingly humble, and warm and accessible. Wood allowed the writers to approve their interviews before they went to print, and the resulting transcripts are beautifully readable, smooth and lucid, without losing any of the candid nature of the conversations, or the intimacy. I felt, above all, that the information provided in these interviews was a tremendous act of generosity – not just in terms of authors sharing their best tricks, their struggles and their visions, but also because of the way these discussions draw the reader almost directly into the writing process.

A review of How to get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Frugality is Howard-Johnson’s stock-in-trade, and since none of her suggestions involve a large outlay, I’d say that picking up a copy of this book is about the most frugal and valuable thing a new author can do in order to generate inexpensive and highly credible publicity. The book is easy to read, and rich with Howard-Johnson’s own considerable experience. Above all, I think the point that she makes about treating the acquiring of reviews, not as an ancillary activity, but an integral part of the promotional campaign and one that cannot be skimped on, is key.