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Book Review: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The…

Title: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
Source: Library copy
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 9781607747307

This book has been flying off the shelves at my library system. It’s hard to find a copy in stock and when you place you hold, you’re in the triple digits on a wait list. My first introduction to this book was through a YouTube video highlighting the magical powers of neatly folded clothes in the dresser drawer to maximize space. I should note that the clothes are folded and stacked vertically, so that you can see each and every shirt. They aren’t stacked on top of each other, hiding the ones at the bottom.

After a long, long, long wait, I finally got my hands on a copy of this book and it’s really one of the best books on home organization and decluttering methodologies. Like the author, I too spent a great deal of my life, from early childhood, decluttering, donating and constantly reshuffling objects around my home in an effort to create a tidy space. To be honest, I never really realized why it wasn’t working until I came across this book. What I like best about the KonMari method, as the author calls it, is that unlike magazine and other books, she doesn’t structure her advice around specific layouts. Most tips you find show visuals of people’s homes, but those spaces and sizes are not always appropriate for my approach. I like that she left the home size vague. She talked more about the objects than space. Much of the book was spent on decluttering. Her method is time intensive but sound. You do it all at once. You break it down into categories, but then you declutter everything through that category. Start with clothes. Grab every single piece of clothing item in the house from every room possible. Then sort. If it brings you joy, keep it. If it doesn’t, toss it. It’s a very simple approach. But the bottom line is to keep only objects that bring you joy. My difficulty is with getting rid of paper and certain clothes. Some clothes I paid too much for and only wore a few times, or clothes that are now too big or too small. It feels like a waste of money to get rid of them, but all they do is gather dust and take up space in my closet. My other big obstacle is paperwork. This is where I just shuffle them around from box to box from room to room. I wish I had better knowledge of how to properly dispose of documents since I don’t have ready access to a shredder. But I did proceed with a big purge while reading this book. Its hard not to!

But I cheated. I didn’t really follow her method of working through individual categories. I just went from room to room based on my time availability in the evenings. Doing a major purge like this is so much more different from what I had been doing before. I always have a box in the bedroom for Goodwill donations. I’m always tossing stuff in there. But the box sits in my room for a month or two at a time. While the box fills up, the space I had cleared is filled with something new. Therefore, I was never really decreasing my cluttering. Just moving it around. Going through a major purse as book recommended created some major white spaces in my closets and in my rooms. In fact, it had me nervous that I had lost something important even though I couldn’t really remember what was there in the first place.

She also had a small section on storage. I like that she doesn’t recommend or push for any particular storage device besides that of a basic shoe box. Personally, I’ve gotten very obsessed with these photo boxes from Michael’s over the last five years. I have in almost every cabinet or every shelf in my kitchen and pantry. They are wonderful for storing like items; sauces, pastas, etc. But storage is the absolute last step. The first is to get rid of everything unwanted or unneeded, then find a way to make-do with what is left behind.

In the end, I’ve decreased my extraneous paperwork by more than half, trimmed my wardrobe and updated certain elements to give myself a happier space. There’s less clutter in general around the house, although still more than what I want. I just haven’t had the time to sit down for an intensive purge and organization as the book recommends. You’d really need to devote an entire weekend to get through all the different categories. Although if you work from least sentimental to the really sentimental objects, you’ll have honed in on your criteria for what to keep and what to toss.

There really is a lot of great advice in this tiny little book. The author’s approach is friendly and encouraging but also firm. I could feel her in the room with me when I deciding what to get rid of and what to keep. This book is really more about the psychology of the process of tidying than anything else. It’s a wonderful resource for anyone looking for a way to make their lives a little more streamlined.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2)

Title: Bring Up the Bodies
Author: Hilary Mantel
Series: Thomas Cromwell Trilogy (book 2)
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co

Book two of the Thomas Cromwell series picks up not to long where book 1 left us. Click the link to read my review of book one, Wolf Hall. Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have been the recipients of the Booker Prize the year of their publications.

By the time Bring Up the Bodies begins, Henry VIII has been rather unhappily married to Anne Boleyn. Unhappy with her, unhappy with her inability to give him a son, thus finding his eyes wandering towards the young and unassuming Jane Seymour. Book two begins and ends with the quick suspicion, trial and death of Anne Boleyn. Although it took me a good three months to finally finish this book, I enjoyed it and am still incredibly enamored with Mantel’s descriptive prose. I think the biggest draw to this book is that it’s not a romance and it’s not told through the eyes of either Boleyn or Henry VIII. I knew that Anne was sentenced to death due to treason and her suspected affairs on the side. Mantel’s second book put Anne in a more vulnerable place than Wolf Hall. In Wolf Hall, Anne was vicious, cunning and used (or rather didn’t use) her womanly wiles to find her way to king’s side as his Queen. In this book, she’s discussed and gossiped about more than directly perceived by the reader. I believe the author did that intentionally to ruffle the feathers against Anne’s case. Who was she to defend herself against horrible rumors of incest, affairs and treason against a king well-known for having an eye on a younger maiden. Many of her stalwarts and defenders went by the wayside as Cromwell interrogated everyone to find evidence against her. One can’t help but feel like these charged all trumped-up out of spite for her and just to clear a pathway for Henry’s next marriage.

Despite my lag in reading this book, I enjoyed it more than Wolf Hall. The pacing was much faster than Wolf Hall. Whereas Wolf Hall spanned almost seven years, Bring Up The Bodies quickly went through the three years of their marriage. I do wish there was more mention of the children Mary and Elizabeth, but maybe that’s for another book altogether. I didn’t realize how young Elizabeth was when her mother was executed. For some reason, I thought she was much older. I do wonder what will happen to her and how she does eventually become Queen as Henry had his marriage to Anne Boleyn annulled shortly before her death.

I’m not sure how quickly I’ll jump into book three, although as far as I know, that does not even have a publication date. I presume that it will end with Cromwell’s execution. I do wonder how he got on the wrong side of the king when he had been a running favorite for so long.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: In A French Kitchen

 

In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in FranceTitle: In a French Kitchen
Author: Susan Herrmann Loomis
Source: ARC – LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Publisher: Gotham Books (Imprint of Penguin Random House)
ISBN: 9781592408863
Publication Date: June 16th, 2015

To sum it up: In a French Kitchen is like peeking through the window of a French home and seeing how they prepare their meals and manage their kitchens (of various, albeit usually small sizes). This isn’t a memoir. It isn’t a comparison to American cooking habits. It’s strictly a look at how the French manage their kitchens and includes a number of wonderful and easy to follow recipes for the reader to try at home. Loomis covers everything from how to organize the pantry (keep only the essentials) how to shop for produce on an as-needed basis rather than bulk-buying as well as discussions on cooking techniques, and the roles and importance of the primary foods such as cheese, wine and bread in a French home. Loomis weaves in lists, tips and side notes quite seamlessly throughout the book. Although I did find her Pantry Essentials List to be a bit much for a non-professional chef. Then again, she has 4 sinks in her kitchen so her frame of reference it a bit skewed for normal people. The French essentials list she has is more realistic and applicable without her personal additions.

The only parts of that book that irked me where her constant mentions at being able to access farm fresh fruits & vegetables. Literally from a farm or from a neighbor’s extravagant garden. I’m nowhere near this lucky in an urban city. But alas, it’s not about me, it’s about how the French have so much quality food within reach.

Much of the cultural aspects on food I already knew. The French don’t snack between meals, except for the 4p goûter. They buy produce almost daily due to the abundance of fresh markets, boulangeries, fromageries and chartuceries in every arrondissmont. The French can buy their meat fresh and their bread baked fresh daily. In the US, its hard to find a bakery that actually sells bread rather than cakes and pastries. Most butcher shops are in grocery stores with meat that’s been pre-sliced for who knows how long. Despite much of the information not being new to me, Loomis’ writing style was inviting and informative. It basically sums up everything I learned from a number of books and memoirs. Its a good reference source for creating a food philosophy for an aspiring foodie and chef. I’m eager to try out some of the recipes in this book. I just wish she had included a brioche recipe. I’d love to get an authentic recipe for those yummies. One new thing I learned was how much the French love sugar. Vanilla sugar makes an appearance in nearly all the dessert/pastry recipes and I have no idea how to get my hands on some in the US.

Loomis has written a number of books about her foodie experiences in France. One memoir and a few cookbooks. I read and highly enjoyed her memoir On Rue Tatin (although I neglected to review it.) She refers back to that book quite a bit in this new title, so it wouldn’t hurt to give Rue Tatin a read. 

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.com

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

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 © 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

 

 

Book review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Gabrielle Zevin)

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryTitle: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2014

Although this was published over a year ago, this is a title I’ve been seeing making the rounds on book blogs and on library carts over the past few months. It was actually this month’s book club selection for a library book club that I incidentally ended up skipping.

I fall into an odd spot with this book. My memory of the book is fonder than my thoughts were while I was reading it. This book is an ode to readers and their books. From the first page to the last, the book is filled with notions and quotes that readers will cherish, relate to and appreciate. Although those sentiments and the general story were memorable, there was still much left untouched within the story. The story begins with an awkward sell to a bookseller, A.J., from a publishing sales representative, Amelia. A.J. suffers two major losses at the start of the book. The first is his wife Nic in a tragic car accident. The second is a rare manuscript of Tamerlane, an extremely rare collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe, said to be worth 400 thousand dollars. After returning home from an early morning job, A.J. finds something unexpected and life-changing tucked away into his store. This then starts a change in his life, taking his down different paths than what he could have ever imagined.

The characters are interesting, diverse and quite dysfunctional on many levels. Those parts of the story I liked. At times the story and the quotes were too sentimental, maudlin even.  It was very purple-prose. Much of the story was predictable and many of twists were cliché. The pacing was too choppy for me. Things just happen from leaping over years, with no transition and no depth. Everything just falls into place, no trouble or effort involved. It was a cop-out gimmick. For all the drama purported through the character’s and their descriptions, there is virtually no conflict in the book. Everything resolves neatly, everyone communicates, is empathic and sympathetic all the time. Its an ideal world of fiction. Maybe that was the author’s intent?

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelTitle: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Picador, 2009
Awards: 2009 Man Booker Award

Wolf Hall is soon to be aired on PBS as a highly anticipated miniseries highlight the scandals of sagas of the Tudor court as Henry VIII tries to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to wed Anne Boleyn.

That is the entire premise of the first book of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy Hilary Mantel has produced over the last six years. From reading various reviews online, this book has been met with equally vicious and loving reviews. It’s a love-it or hate-it type of book, and I fall into the love-it category. One note, any use of the pronoun “he” more often than not refers to Thomas Cromwell. This writing quirk has a bit tricky to keep up with earlier in the book when there were many men present and active in the chapters. Although once I accustomed myself to this usage, the book had a wonderfully enticing flow that seemingly transported me back to 16th Century. Although I love historical novels and Henry VIII is my favorite monarch, I have not read any historical novels set in this era. I’m glad I started with Wolf Hall. Mantel’s minute descriptions could have been boring, and dragged on. But they did not. They created wonderful visuals in my head of an impatient, intelligent and multi-layered King who wanted a male heir to the throne. While Katherine had been first married to his older brother Arthur, Henry married her upon the death of his brother. Inheriting the queen and the crown at the same time was fine and dandy, but after 20 years with only a single daughter to boast, Henry was ready to move on.

His prime confidant, Cardinal Wolsey, has already fallen out of favor with the king at the start of the book. Wolsey is Cromwell’s entryway into the royal courts and into the royal lives of King Henry, Queen Katherine and Queen-to-be Anne Boleyn. The fall of Wolsey is the rise of Cromwell. I appreciated this unique perspective on such a scandalous time of England’s history. So many of these books are written through the eyes of the royals themselves. It is nice to get an outsider’s view of the royals, although it is still such as intimate as from the Kings, queens and princesses themselves.

Mantel’s research into this era is inspiring. Her understanding of the cultural norms, fashions, religious controversies and policies is educational, and very vividly described. As I said, I felt transported back in time reading this book. It was so engrossing for me. I’ve quickly jumped into book two, Bring Up the Bodies so that I won’t be caught unawares when the mini-series starts on April 5th.

I definitely recommend this book for historical fiction readers. I’m curious to see how the adaptation of book to mini-series will pan out and if Anne Boleyn will have a meatier role in the TV production versus the book. She’s been a pretty silent character in the first book, but then again, the first book isn’t centered on her as queen.

PS

a photo of an open book with writing in it

The book showing inventory number 282 and Gamon’s signature at the bottom© Stephen Haywood. National Trust

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Source: My Copy
2015 Reading Challenge categories

  • Written by a woman
  • A book that can be read in a day
  • A book a friend recommended

Through Homer’s epic The Odyssey, what we know of Penelope is that she is the faithful and clever wife of Odysseus. She is the wife who remains loyal and devoted to her husband after a twenty-year separation. Ten years for the Trojan War, and the following ten years it takes of Odysseus to find his way back home. Throughout her time, many suitors barge into her home in the hopes of marrying her and laying claim to all of her wealth and possessions.

The Penelopiad follows the same story, but told through the eyes and voice of Penelope. The story is told by Penelope in the afterlife (Hades) centuries after her death. I”m still unsure how I feel about this. It allowed for a modern tone & colloquialisms, but it still felt out of place with when the Odyssey took place. I think I went into this book expecting is told concurrently with the Odyssey rather than a retelling many eons later. I learned that Odysseus is a charming ass, but we already knew that. But he is only one of the few people who listens to Penelope and treats her with respect. The chapters told through Penelope’s voice are separated by chapters told through the 12 maids who were murdered by Odysseus upon his return to his palace. Although they were murder under the premise of their disloyalty to Penelope, early on we find out that it was Penelope who encouraged them to mix and mingle with the suitors, to bad-mouth their mistress in order to find out their plans. Penelope didn’t reveal her plan to Odysseus before the murder, so thus, the injustice was carried out. I liked the chapters of the maid’s point of view the best I think. They varied from prose, to song, to a trial before a judge. The injustice of their deaths was very creatively done.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean

Source: library copy

Genre: non-fiction

How Paris Became Paris is a wonderful book for anyone interested in a brief history to the City of Light. DeJean’s book covers a lot of ground, focusing on the 17th century developments happening in the city. However, she doesn’t go in as much depth as say a history book. Her writing style is much more casual, although you’ll be inundated with interesting facts about the structuring of the city of Paris.

She starts with the Pont Neuf bridge, and from there, the chapters discuss the ripple effects of this bridge on French social society. The invention of this bridge quite literally paved the way for modern French interactions, fashion as well as development throughout the city. The widened bridge became the first in Europe to be of such a width as to allow the public to parade through the streets. It is as a result of this bridge, that the French started leaving their homes to go for walks. These walks led to the necessity of being fashionably dressed. The need for fashion led to the invention of clothing stores and the hobby known as shopping. The availability of shopping allowed for people of all class caste systems to be able to dress and intermingle with people above and below their rank. This intermingling led to many more social developments, particularly in relation to women’s freedoms.

The chapters have a very easy flow to them, picking up where the previous one concluded. I found them to be the perfect length. Neither too long, nor too short. There are a number of illustrations, photographs and maps dotted throughout the chapters to break up the text and help highlight the author’s opinions. The author has a clear love for the city, and it strongly reflected in her writing. Paris can do no wrong and had apparently been an inspiration to other European capitals over the centuries. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone planning a trip to Paris. Having some historical insight will make the tourist stops that much more meaningful.

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #1)

121 pages – Penguin Edition

Find this book at your local library

My experiences with Sherlock Holmes have been scattered and never direct. I’ve heard people talk about him, misquote the book (Its Elementary, my dear Watson), and I’ve seen many a TV show that parody or references him (Monk, and a number of Star Trek the Next Generation Episodes).  Most recently, I’ve been obsessing over the BBC’s Sherlock. Meaning, I’ve seen each episode twice and have watched all the special features that Netflix has to offer. However, there’s now going to be a nearly year-long gap until the next (and single) episode of 2015. I figured I might as well try my hand at reading the Sherlock Holmes mysteries to become better acquainted with the story, the characters and some of the mysteries. The BBC series stays ridiculously close to the books, but does an excellent job of modernizing elements of the book, and amending plot twists and character reveals to make the show its own being. It’s a very fine line to balance, especially with a work of literature as popular as the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Mark Gatiss and Stephan Moffat have done an amazing job though. The first episode is A Study in Pink, linking back to the first book, A Study in Scarlet.

The book starts with the introduction of John Watson to Sherlock Holmes. Both men looking for a flat to share. They wind up at 221B Baker street. Unlike the show, it takes a while before Watson is drawn into Sherlock’s career as a consulting detective. However, the two were a match made for each other right from the start. The book also starts with a mysterious death, the mysterious message Rache, and a set of poisonous pills. Holmes, in the book is just as arrogant as depicted on screen, but I couldn’t hold that against him. I found it kind of endearing. Well, I really found the way Watson wiggled into Holmes’ heart endearing. The two are polar opposites, but make for a great team. The book was definitely not what I was expecting though. Its broken down into two parts. Part one was the mysterious death and Holmes’ reveal of the murderer. Part two provided the back story to the murder. That part was very confusing, long-winded and bizarre. Particularly its depiction of Mormonism at its worst with power-hungry elders. Told through Watson’s point of view, we never really pick up or know what clues lead Sherlock to his great deductions. That part kind of irks me. He just announces information as facts and we, as the readers have to accept it as the gospel truth. The mystery was resolved rather neatly, but this departure from England at the beginning of part two was just plain odd. I wasn’t overly impressed with the book, but then again, I did jump from the show to the book with lots of mix-up Sherlock representations in my head, so I’m sure my expectations were higher than they should have been. I do plan on reading more of his work though. It’s so well-regarded, that it seems silly not to give them another chance. Mostly, I just want to get to Moriarty.

Book Review: The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

The Red Necklace (French Revolution, #1)
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
Audio book: Narrator Tom Hiddleston
YA – Historical Fiction

Set during the tumultuous times of the French Revolution in the 18th century, this novel tells the tale of two unlikely teens caught up in the whirlwind of confusion, and tensions between the aristocrats and the peasants in the streets.

The publisher’s synopsis:

The story of a remarkable boy called Yann Margoza; Tetu the dwarf, his friend and mentor; Sido, unloved daughter of a foolish Marquis; and Count Kalliovski, Grand Master of a secret society, who has half the aristocracy in thrall to him, and wants Yann dead. Yann is spirited away to London but three years later, when Paris is gripped by the bloody horrors of the Revolution, he returns, charged with two missions: to find out Kalliovski’s darkest deeds and to save Sido from the guillotine.

Although this is a YA novel, I wouldn’t label it as a romance novel. Although there is a strong connection between Yann and Sido, it is definitely not at the center of the novel. The novel is more about the tensions in Paris, the fervor spreading across the city as hatred for the rich is mounting and mounting. Sido is swept up in the middle of it all due to her Marquis father, who doesn’t even want her around. Cound Kalliovski is vile, cruel, and wants Sido as a wife. But then there is the wonderous Yann. He needs to figure out a way to save Sido from two very distinct types of death. Marriage to the count and the guillotine. The book itself is a bit iffy on the facts of the revolution, but the revolution is really just a backdrop to the interwoven story between Sido, Yann and the count. There were a number of plot twists that I anticipated, but just as many that I didn’t see coming. There is a magical realism element with Yann’s ability to see threads of light hovering around objects and people around him, allowing him to telepathically move things at a whim.  The novel is well-paced and I like the variety of characters that are introduced. Gardner doesn’t dwell too long on any one element of the novel, but I didn’t feel rushed through the novel either. For reader’s advisory, I think this could be an easy sell for boys, despite the girly cover art. A book about death, revolutions, and a man who can control the entire city of Paris with blackmail and murder threats isn’t an easy book to turn down. This is also book one in a series. Book two is The Silver Blade.

Narration:

I was lucky enough to listen to the audio book narrated by Tom Hiddleston. His narration is flawless. His accents, the voices are all so unique, he really does bring the book to life. His menacing Count Kalliovski that he portrays is spine-tingling. I think he’s narrated one other audio book to date, a James Bond novel. I’m eager to listen to that one next.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: High-Rise by JG Ballard

High-Rise

High Rise by J.G. Ballard
Published 1978
Setting: London, England

In a city block sized high-rise, residents of 40 floors have access to everything they would need in this mini-city within walls. A bank, a grocery store, a junior school and a restaurant. Although the residents tolerate each other, tensions build as mechanical breakdowns start the eventual downfall of the hierarchical society and mass chaos ensues as tenants form packs and their primal instincts kick in for self-preservation.

This book is an eerie look at society falling apart & turning on each other, like packs of wild animals. Apart from being isolated in a high-rise building, it was never very clear why the society in the building decayed beyond technical malfunctions of the elevators. Of course, there was clear jealousy between the haves & have-nots with literal ties to the poor on the bottom & the rich on top. However, the actual cause was murky which bugged me for the entire duration of the book.

The women are passive and victimized in horrifying amounts and are portrayed as neglectful of their husbands and children. The men are aggressive, full of sexual frustration with urges to pee on everything to mark their territory

Did I like this book? No. Did I like how Ballard was able to dehumanize society? Yes, actually. The changes that take place over one character in particular, Wilder, were a fascinating character study to me. This transition from mild social climber to ferocious beast was gradual, frightening and seemed to mirror the entire mood of the high-rise. Most of the other lead characters (all men) where dull in compassion. Laing & Royal in particular offered very little to the book.

The book was recently adapted for the big screen. I’m curious to see what the movie will be like. There is quite a bit of violence (both physical & sexual) throughout the book as people attempt to assert their dominance & status.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld