Playing Catch-Up: 5 Mini Reviews

So I haven’t been neglecting my reading but I’ve definitely been neglecting my writing. Here are a few books that I’ve read recently.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey

Steeped in gambling debt and on the run from her creditors, Brazilian author Beatriz Yagoda climbs a tree and, shortly afterwards, disappears. Her english translator, Emma, quickly flies to Brazil to solve the mystery of “her author’s” disappearance, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend and Yagoda’s daughter. Another brilliant recommendation from a co-worker – hilarious, fun, inventive, quick novel that revels in a love of language (reminded me in that regard of my favourite childhood book, The Phantom Tollbooth).  Highly recommended.

East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands

After being invited by Lviv (in Poland btw) University to give a lecture, writer and international law academic Philippe Sands explores the history of this extraordinary city in the 20th century: the birthplace of his grandfather and home of the originators of the legal concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity. I’m really not doing this book any justice by giving it such a short review. It is absolutely incredible. It explores both the personal and the political as Sands investigates the origins of international human rights alongside the personal stories of his family and the Nazis involved in oppressing the citizens of Poland. Highly intellectual and vigorously researched, this book is still immensely readable as Sands never loses sight of the human element. Highly highly highly recommended.

The Last Painting of Sarah de Vos by Dominic Smith

Alternating between 17th century Holland, 1950s New York and Sydney in the 90s, this novel explores the fate of the “last painting” of Sarah de Vos, the first woman to be recognised as a master painter by the Guild of St. Luke’s. I seem to be on somewhat of a roll recently and I was pleasantly surprised by this offering from Australian novelist Smith. I expected this to be a fairly fun and shallow read (and don’t get me wrong, it isn’t exactly groundbreaking or profound) but I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. I’ve admitted to being a bit of an art history nerd before so that probably had a role in my enjoyment but even if that isn’t your cup of tea I still suggest you check this one out. Recommended.

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

Following the death of both parents, orphans Julie, Jack, Sue and Tom create their own set of rules for living. But how long can they keep the outside world from looking in? Examining the not-so-innocent aspects of childhood, they don’t call him Ian Macabre for nothing. Not for the faint of heart. Another recommendation from a co-worker. I’m fairly familiar with McEwan’s work so I knew what to expect with this one. Short, unsettling, brilliantly written – I saw this as a modern fairy or folk tale. Orphans, death, sex, and cruelty – what more could you ask for? My major complaint would be that the more I read of McEwan the more I can see him coming. Is it just me or do most of his books seem to have the same sort of unsettling atmosphere to them?

The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch by Thomas Thwaites

I’m just going to leave you here with this short description from Goodreads and a picture of Thwaites as the “goat-man.”

In The Toaster Project…Thwaites set out to construct, from scratch, one of the most commonplace appliances in our kitchens today: a toaster. The Toaster Project takes the reader on Thwaites s journey from dismantling the cheapest toaster he can find in London to researching how to smelt metal in a fifteenth-century treatise. His incisive restrictions all parts of the toaster must be made from scratch and Thwaites had to make the toaster himself made his task difficult, but not impossible. It took nine months and cost 250 times more than the toaster he bought at the store.

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