Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford

When I first began reading this book, I thought that it was going to be yet another account of the life and workings of a restaurant kitchen. While I thoroughly enjoy those types of books, Kitchen Confidential is a favorite, this book was so much more. Buford deconstructs Mario Batali's success, taking the reader from Batali's kitchen to England and, finally, to Italy where the journey switches course and becomes Buford's own. Especially interesting was the time the author spends in Italy learning the art of butchery. As one who gets more than a little queasy taking the neck and giblets out of the Thanksgiving turkey, I was suprised that I enjoyed those sections so much.

One of my friends found this book easier to listen to than to read, as Buford does a fine job of telling his own tale. I have to admit, he is a fan of minutia, so if you are prone to becoming bogged down in such stuff, think about listening to the audio book version.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Help The Help by Kathryn Stockett

It isn't very often that I enjoy a work of fiction as much as I enjoyed Stockett's The Help. From the moment I met each of the three protagonists, Aibeleen, Minnie and Ms. Skeeter, I felt inexplicably drawn into their lives and I don't think I could read quickly enough, I wanted so much to know what happened next.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Writing Class The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

There are a great many things I want to say about this book, but can't seem to put the words in any coherent order. First, thanks to Lita for suggesting it! Second, even though I have never been drawn to mysteries, The Writing Class was so engaging that I read the whole thing in two days. Granted, part of those two days were spent on a long drive home on a less than scenic highway, giving me uninterrupted read time. I would unabashedly recommend this book to pretty much anyone.

The cast of characters are a novelist who hasn't written, much less published in a very long time and currently teaches writing in a university extension program, and her students, each stereotypical and surprising at the same time. One of the students starts stalking the teacher, in increasingly creepy, but not horrific, ways: anonymous phone calls, harassing notes and reading responses to other students, unkind e-mails, unnerving use of Halloween masks. The teacher ignores the behaviors until one of her students dies in the search for the stalker's identity. It is then, that this self-avowed loner, has to rely on a community that she unintentionally built and of which she has no desire to be a part.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar by Jay McInerney

I might have enjoyed this book more had I known even a little, tiny, eensy-weensy bit about French wine. Reading it, I felt like the foreign exchange student who wants to get the jokes, and laughs along when everyone else laughs, just so she won't appear like she's not understanding a darn thing that's happening and why in hell everyone else is laughing. In reality, though, nothing makes sense and she just feels awkward, a little bored and ready for the evening to be over so she can just go home and watch dvd's in her native language.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Water Witches Water Witches by Chris Bohjalian
Surprise, surprise, another Bohjalian novel set in Vermont with a trial and a lawyer with a conflict between his job and his conscience, a strong group of women with unusual occupations and an adorable, highly gifted daughter. Hmmm. Why do I keep reading his books? I suppose because he's a really good story teller and in these days of facts and figures and "reality", we all need a good story just for it's own sake.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

B Is for Beer B Is for Beer by Tom Robbins

B is for Beer is a fairy tale about beer; two things I have great fondness for. I love the idea of fairies and magic and happily ever afters. I also love beer. That said, this book was a win-win for this reader. Yes, the humor is a forced clever in a Lake Wobegon, NPR sort of way, but that shouldn't be an issue if you are choosing to read a book called B is for Beer, whose main characters are a 6 year old girl, her philosopher uncle and the Beer Fairy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Too Much Tuscan Sun: Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide (Insiders' Guides) Too Much Tuscan Sun: Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide by Dario Castagno

What a fun book! I would love to go to Tuscany, simply to eat the meals Castagno describes, but might hesitate booking him as a tour guide for fear of ending up in his next book. I think I just want to be his friend.

For better or worse, this book reminds me of a joke my kids used to tell:

What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Trilingual
What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual
What do you call a person who speaks one language? American

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Plum Wine Plum Wine by Angela Davis-Gardner

Even though this book was written in 2006, it had such an old-fashioned feel to it that I had to keep checking the publishing info to make sure I had read it correctly.

The story of an American professor at a Women's College in Tokyo during the Vietnam War who inherits chest from her recently deceased close friend and colleague. From the contents of the chest and the man who helps her unlock the secrets, she learns of a Japan she had no idea existed.

The only think keeping me from really liking this book was the characterization of the main characters. They seemed so flat, as if the author sacrificed depth in hopes of maintaining the ultra-polite tenor of the time and place.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Back from vacation with three new books!

Fool: A Novel Fool: A Novel by Christopher Moore

A little more convoluted than I needed this summer. But man, oh, man can Moore turn a phrase!!! Some funny stuff. Knowing the story of King Lear is more than a little helpful though. I should have paid more attention in college.

Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond

One word: SWEET! I especially liked the chapter on one of my favorite candies of all time, Twin Bings. I may never look at the candy aisle of my local 7-11 the same way again.

Water for Elephants Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I don't normally like circuses. I've never even taken my kids to one, I wonder if I should just add money to the therapy fund right now? But this book? This book I liked. I still don't like circuses. Clowns freak me out. It turns out that the early shows treated the people just as badly as they treated the animals. A great story though. Oh, and elephants are way smarter than they let on.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs
That's what history seems like to me now. There are hundreds of threads connecting everybody in all sorts of ways, both expected and unexpected. It's like a spiderweb (which, by the way, spiders sometimes eat when they're done with them).

 A.J. Jacobs, The Know-It-All; One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

A wonderful, funny, interesting book about a man who decided to read the entire Encyclopeadia Britannica from a-ak to zyweic. Tucked into all the random and trivial knowledge is a study on the interconnectedness of humanity and the universe we share. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!!!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living by Doug Fine

After reading this book, I have a strange urge to buy a few goats.

While I loved Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and found it to be an inspiring book, Kingsolver's world was a little more orderly than my world will EVER be. Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living seemed to be a little more my speed. Experiments, well-intentioned and well planned, don't always work out the way they are intended. Coyotes and hawks feast on flocks of chickens, vegetable oil powered engines don't always start on the first 10 tries and rattlesnakes find shelter in solar powered water pumps. Fine's memoir is funny. You'll learn some stuff. You might be inspired to make a difference in your own carbon footprint. You'll definitely laugh. You even might want to buy a goat.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Two books this time. I'm on one of those reading binges where I feel like Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka's factory. Fat kid on a cupcake as my boys would say, but they're not very nice sometimes. Lots of books in the hopper. Keep an eye out. I'll try to have the boys come up with nicer illustrations. Not promising anything. That said, here goes:

Saved Saved by Jack Falla

It's a novel about professional hockey. Is there such a genre for men like "chick-lit" is for women? Testosterature? Guy-lit? Nevertheless, if there is such a genre, this book fits the bill.

Escape Escape by Carolyn Jessop

Devastatingly sad. If even one third of this is an accurate portrayal of this group (FLDS -- Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints), then I'm horrified that more hasn't been done to stop the cycles of abuse.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The 19th Wife: A Novel The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff

Fascinating venn diagram of the history of the Mormon faith, a gay love story and a crime thriller. I must admit that I skimmed through some of the slower parts, written in the voices of Ann Eliza Webb and of Brigham Young.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the People Who Raised Them The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the People Who Raised Them by Amy Dickinson

All I can say at this point, having just finished this lovely, lovely book, is that I do not want to return it to the library. I may steal it. I really won't steal it. I may just keep renewing it over and over again just so I can visit Freeville for a little while longer.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Eve: A Novel of the First Woman Eve: A Novel of the First Woman by Elissa Elliott

Biblical bodice ripper? Hmmmm . . .

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible by A.J. Jacobs

so far . . . . funny!!! all that and a biblical mandate to drink more alcohol!! who could ask for anything more?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

So much comes down to choosing this path or that, and the selection we make disturbs or gratifies people whose decisions are already made because they would have us tamp down the dirt behind them, because they don't want to be swallowed up.
~~Prescription for a Superior Existence by Josh Emmons

Prescription for a Superior Existence is a sci-fi type novel about a gluttonous, addictive, power hungry man named Jack Smith who gets abducted by and sucked into a cult like group named PASE, or Prescription for A Superior Existence. I don't have much to say about the book, but the above quote, found on the last page of the novel, gave me much to think about. Why is it that the choices the people in our lives make, even the ones that do not effect us in the slightest, have such weight on our psyches? Really, why should it matter what school my neighbor chooses for her child or if my friend from the gym chooses Mac or PC? Do we care because we want our own decisions to be validated or are we that self-involved to think that we should have influence over the decisions made by those around us?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

From bookmobiles on camels to bookmobiles at Buckingham Palace, it's amazing the places books can take you. My latest suggestion is a lovely little book called An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. This novella is the story of what happens when a British queen (never identified) stumbles upon a bookmobile on the grounds of her palace whilst walking her corgi dogs. She happens inside, meets a kitchen page who is an avid reader of novels by gay authors and has her entire world turned upside down. Really, this is a delightful book about the transformative power of the written word, both as it is read and as it is written. Funny, in a BBC drama sort of way, I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Funny how everything is connected, isn't it? I posted yesterday about Anne Rice and her vampire novels and, more recently, her historical fiction works about the life of Jesus the Christ. In the USA TODAY magazine that comes with my sunday paper, there was a little blurb about Rice in the "Who's News" section. It was posed as a sort of "Where are they now?" piece. Rice's vampire novels were discussed briefly, then her conversion to Christianity was mentioned and here is what Rice had to say about her conversion from atheist to Christ follower and it's impact on her literary work: "My present focus has to be on my novels about the life of Jesus Christ, and I do not want to revisit the realm of my earlier books". I just thought it was funny to blog about something a bit out of the current trend and then to have the same subject show up in mainstream media the next day. Fun!

Friday, February 13, 2009

When I was in high school, I loved Anne Rice's novels. All the gothic vampires and thinly veiled erotica was so much out of my everyday existence that I felt so dangerous, so exotic reading her words. I read as many of the books as I could find in the Cambrian branch of the San Jose Public Library and then forgot about them. Fast forward twenty-ish years and I find new Anne Rice novels on the shelves of the library, this time the Willow Glen branch (I moved). Imagine my surprise when I started reading the first one, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, and found that Rice had chosen to follow Jesus and was now dedicating this stage of her writing career to researching and writing historical fiction about Jesus the Christ. Huh. I read "Out of Egypt" which followed Jesus as a young child, leaving his Egyptian refuge and moving back to Nazareth. Not a bad piece of fiction, engaging and made me think for a bit about the humanness of Jesus of Nazareth. I'm pretty comfortable with the whole fully God thing, but the fully man part is something we don't cover so much in the Bible. I've always wondered what Jesus was like as a person. Who the funniest disciple was and if Mary every lost her temper with him when he reached that sassy 5 year old stage. The second book, Christ the Lord: Road to Cana, finds Jesus as an adult man who is under immense pressure from his family and village to get married. It's unseemly for a man his age to remain single. The narrative follows Jesus to the Jordan River, where he is baptized by his cousin John, into the wilderness for an amazing take on what the times of temptation could have looked like and finally, onto Cana where he performs his first miracle and thus begins his public ministry. Again, I say this is an interesting piece of fiction and is worth the read, no matter your stand on Jesus as Son of God, because Rice makes Jesus the main character, pretty darn interesting.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I've done it. I've found the missing link, the holy grail, area 51. I have found a book by Chris Bohjolian that has a male protagonist! Over and over in book club and in conversations with reading friends, we marvel over how Bohjolian writes so seamlessly in the female voice and how, very rarely, uses characters masculine as his protagonists. Enter The Law of Similars and it's main voice, Leland. Granted, Leland is a single dad, a prosecutor for the state attorney's office in Vermont (suprise! another novel set in Vermont!) who wears suspenders that button onto his slacks, but still it's a male voice!

This book is another alternative medicine vs. western medicine story that Bohjolian seems to be drawn to, this time focusing on homeopathy. There are accidents and questionable behaviors. There are secrets and sex. There are copious descriptions of small town Vermont. It's not a bad read. I would certainly recommend it.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Girl With No Shadow by Joanne Harris is the sequel to her novel, Chocolat, which was a lovely tale of fear, love, identity and chocolate. The movie version also starred the delicious Johnny Depp. Chocolate and Johnny Depp, a lovely combination. The sequel was a good story too. Harris continues on with the theme of identity, delving into the world of identity theft, while weaving in still more love and more chocolate. Unlike the first novel, in which the magic is largely divined through chocolate, in this story it is much more out in the open with spells cast and secret symbols drawn. Harris introduces Aztec and Mayan mythology, both of which have strong ties to chocolate, to her domestic magic. Clever. Worth a read if you enjoyed the first novel.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

My favorite dialogue from The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton is this speech by Mr. Abasi, a Kenyan librarian who is charged with helping an American librarian, Fi Sweeny, administrate the camel bookmobile project. This is Abasi's response to the project:

"The facts you have in front of you --- the number of patrons reached, the titles of the most popular books, the cost per patron--- do very little to reflect the human costs of bringing a library on the backs of camels to people like this. These people live hard lives by ancient values, and they're proud of htat. They've developed a philosophy to deal with drought and death. When we arrive from the outside and insist that they learn to read --- books that, as it turns out, are mostly about very different places and concerns --- we confuse them. Possibly even undermine them. I think Miss Sweeny will tell you that their young are as sharp as any. And their elders may be wiser. Compared with them, after all, we of the settled, literate society have a kind of inflexibility. So your project raises question. Do they want to be part of what you call the 'larger world'? And whom should be teaching whom?" (Hamilton, 294-95)

I've been thinking a lot about arrogance these days. I wonder if we've become so arrrogant that we've lost the ability to honor and learn from other cultures, even those we perceive as backward or behind, for fear of falling behind ourselves. Whom should be teaching whom? I suppose the answer is everyone.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

This week's speed read selection is Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein. In this effort, Klein chronicles her experience as an overweight child and teenager. Klein is brutally frank about the way her family, friends and peers treat her. It was a heartbreaking book to read and made me think twice about how quick I am to judge those whose appearance is counter to what I consider healthy or beautiful or appropriate. This book is a quick read that will not be quick to leave your memory.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I have always enjoyed lace. The Gunne Sax dresses that were popular when I was in jr. high always had more lace trim than was probably tasteful around the cuffs and necklines and bodices and that made me love them all the more. My dream wedding gowns, whose pictures I cut out of bridal magazines and pasted into "When I Get Married" scrapbooks inevitably had full skirts made entirely of lace. I loved ballet costumes and christening gowns, purely on lace value alone. The only major problem I have with lace is that I am a complete klutz and no matter how careful I am, I will step on a hem or put my finger through some trim and put a hole right through the most fragile part of the fabric. Drats. Then what usually happens is that the lace slowly starts to fray. First, the threads are slow in loosening and coming out of their carefully constructed patterns, but they pick up speed and soon I am left with a partial design surrounded by jagged edges and loose threads. What started out as something beautiful or interesting becomes a big old mess.

That is sort of how I felt about the book The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. It's the story of Towner Whitney and her family of Salem women who can read the future in the patterns in lace. This story is filled with twists and turns as complicated as the lace that serves as its motif. It has family secrets, romance, violence, witchcraft, religious zealots, mental illness and a garden. The whole time reading it I kept thinking "Oh, I'm sure this event will lead to something. I should remember it." By the end of the novel, I had all these threads I was hanging onto, trying to weave them all into a picture or pattern. The problem I found was that many of the threads had no place in the finished product and left me with a tangley mess. It was a nice effort and I could see where Barry wanted to go with it, but I think that maybe, like the Gunne Sax dresses of my youth, she put on a little too much trim.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It seems as if I have hit a dry spell, folks. I wander up and down the aisles of the library and nothing jumps off the shelf at me, begging to be read. I found out this week that one of my favorite independent bookstores is closing in June. The idea of spending money at a big box bookstore makes me feel more than a little sad. What's going on? How can I not have anything to read?