Monday, June 28, 2010

Book 47- The Recipe Club

Earlier this month I said I wanted to read a bunch of memoirs about women and cooking. Well, tucked into the recommendations for this genre was this fictional novel, which I decided to include in my personal theme, and I'm glad I did. This is the first in my grouping of women and food books, with the focus usually to be on memoirs, but since this is the exception, it's first. More about women, food and memoirs will follow over the next month.

The bulk of The Recipe Club by authors Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel is an exchange of letters between two life long friends who always love and hate each other. The chronicling of the friendship between Val and Lilly is also punctuated by recipes; their story spans from childhood into their middle-aged adulthood.

This was an interesting story and I didn't always like the characters, but I like the letter exchange way of telling a story. And while often found the story predictable, I have to say I liked the book because of the format. I also LOVE the layout of the book. It's is laid out as emails and letters, which changing fonts and the pages are in color with pictures and such, so it actually LOOKS like letters oft times. I like the "stationary" and post cards, and little drawings. I'm a letter writer and I do things like that when I send a paper letter through the USPS.

I also thought the recipes were great. I liked they were all easy and very practical, nothing to complicated, and made with ingredients that are going to be accessible to most people, and they sound delicious and basic, but yummy.

So, I'm glad that I read a review from Food for Thought blogger Once in a Blue Moon. I enjoyed the concept of this novel, the basic story was fine, but the food and fun lay out were the kick for me!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book 46 The Lace Reader

I can't decide if I like this book, or not. The Lace Reader (by Brunonia Barry) is set in Salem Massachusetts in 1996.

Towner (aka Sophya) Whitney, a young woman from a long line of fortune tellers and mind readers, comes back to her childhood home because of the death of her beloved aunt. Towner is a self proclaimed liar and claims she's had hallucinations, which caused her to become an inpatient in a mental institution who requested shock therapy. Now "better", or at least medicated, she returns home after having just had a surgery (which readers never find out specifically what happened, though we can guess through some veiled references) to her Aunt Eva's house.

She knows her aunt didn't accidentally drown. While trying to convince a local authorities of this, based on her feelings and visions, she comes in contact with Rafferty, a police detective takes a romantic interest in Towner. He was also friends with Eva and he doesn't want to believe she drown either.

During the course of the story, Towner also meets with her mother, May, who gave Towner's twin sister away when they were babies. May gave her to her sister Emma. Emma was married to Cal, who beat her do badly she's mentally handicapped and blind now. May takes care of her. But Towner's sister suffered in a childhood tragedy. Call is now out of prison and has started his own cult like religion and causes problems for the whole Whitney family. May also takes in abused women and gives them a job as lace makers, and a safe place to stay.

Because the mystic abilities that run in the Whitney family, all the women are fortune tellers or readers of some kind, and they can all "read lace" as a way of telling a fortune. Apropos since they family fortune comes from making lace, too.

Take all these pieces together, Rafferty is trying to solve the death of Eva and to see if it ties in to the disappearance of Angela, a girl who ran away from Cal's cult, and you have The Lace Reader. I like the setting in Salem; obviously the witch history plays a part in this novel. The peripheral storyline of witches, and the tourists who visit the historical town, as well as the modern day witch who inhabit Salem are an interesting and fun part of the story.

There is a wicked, wicked (no pun intended) twist to this story. Interesting read. I also found at the beginning of each chapter interesting because of the lace reading information.

I just can't decide if I like this or not. It was sad, tragic really, and though I like a good twist, I thought this one was "twisted." Psychological thrillers often leave me feeling out of sorts. I also hate it when author's leave important details left unanswered.

Just not sure how I feel about this one...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Books I've loved and hated over the years

I love, love, love Water for Elephants. I'm tell everyone I know to read it or buy it. Could be a gift for friends and family for Christmas, I love it so much! I was hesitant about this novel at first. I read reviews of it about a million times. I was carrying it around in a book store to buy and some guy asked me if I read it yet and when I said no (uh... logic here... I'm in the store ready to BUY it...hello?) he raved about its greatness. And it WAS good. I love the female author telling a first person POV of an old guy and in flashback no less. I like the circus, the touch of romance, the mystery, the passion, the sensuality, the friendship building, the story line and the tone. This was a good read. Once I got going, I couldn't put it down. I read it several years ago and it was so good, I might to pull it out and reread it. I highly recommend it. Get this book!

Then there is the opposite of loving to hating with The Mermaid Chair. Do not waste your money on The Mermaid Chair. This is tripe. This is a bad wanna be The Thorn Birds and doesn't even come close. This sucks. I was so disappointed. I have no idea how a mom cutting off her thumb, a childhood trauma, a mermaid legend, religion, and a failing marriage all come together to make a story. Oh wait... they don't! I hate this book. Actually, the more I write about it, the more I dislike it. Yuck!

Maybe I should stick to writing about books I love? I've been lucky to be able to teach one of my all time favorite books: To Kill a Mockingbird. I love reading this book. Scout's voice gives me the good chills. And it doesn't hurt that Hollywood helped with a positive visual in that of Mr. Gregory Peck. I love this novel and teaching it is a true pleasure in life.

I've also taught another favorite: A Separate Peace. Again, another coming of age story that's an intelligent read to boot. I like the language and the simple ideas but complex emotions that tie this story together. (Oh listen to me being all up in Oprah's book club shit- take that Ms. Winfrey!) I read this the first time when I was a sophomore in high school and for me, it never gets old.

And if I haven't said to go read anything by Greg Isles- then by all means go! Now! Well, not now, after you read ME, then go get one of his books. Better yet, click over to Amazon, order a book and come back here. I would suggest Turning Angel. I would suggest anything. I've also read Devil's Punchbowl and True Evil- both are good, chilling, terrifying. His mysteries are a far cry from the cookie cutter sleuth stories that are being tossed at us by publishers at an alarming rate. His mind is sharp and he entwines many plot twists and turns. The deep south setting adds to the story; there is something already "haunting" about the deep south with it's historical ghost lore, so I think stories set there are creepy to start with. And this is not to say he writes ghost stories- I'm just using that as a comparison that lends to the unsettling setting. I always feel my heart pound and I feel sweaty when there is some excitement building because it's not just hot in the south in his books, but it's damn sweltering HOT, and he builds on this, creating a place for the reader just inside the door of the story. Gawd, his books are marvel-ous!

Furthermore, while you're clicking around finding stuff to read over at Amazon instead of reading me, read 1000 Splendid Suns. This was a great follow up novel to The Kite Runner, which you better read, in case you so haven't. Both are wonderful. Don't let the setting- Iraq- stop you. This is a masterful story and it made me cry and made me self aware and made me think and gave me joy and sometimes made me a little bit uncomfortable with the world around me. Good, good, good. I love a book that I can read for pleasure and also that makes me think. The Kite Runner is one of the best books ever written.

Now, we all know that I practically worship Christopher Moore. And I love ALMOST anything he writes. But I have a problem with the vampire series. I don't have a problem with vampires at all, but sometimes I just think the story lines in this series sort of... suck. (haha- puns!) I don't exactly hate You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore but I sure as hell don't love it and nor would I recommend it. The pop culture references of the vampire sub culture were made with such fluency that if you aren't a vampyre lover and master to the culture then you were totally outta da loop. (I've never watched an episode of Buffy nor watched that sister witch show all the way through... I had a rough time with all the vampire references.) I like Christopher Moore's books, usually, but this would be the exception. Turning your lover into a vampire because you are lonely and don't want to spend eternity alone is a hard place to start a story and for me... it just didn't work. A blue hooker? A gang of vampire hunters who work at the Safeway? A homeless guy who is god-like? An 800+ year old vampire out for revenge and a 16 year old goth girl with a gay side kick who has to save the world? Uh...nope. And that carries into Bite Me, which I read earlier this year and have about the same opinion of it as well!

Finally, I think reading Jodi Picoult is a great way to spend some reading time. Alert: if you want happy chick lit, beach reads, James Patterson snappy-ness, then DO NOT read her. She is deep. She is smart. She is complex. She is a WRITER. Her books can have grit and meat. These are books written in a conversational way but sucks the reader in. The material is hard hitting. Touching. Painful sometimes. But this is some of the best fiction I've read in a long, long time. I've read many of her books but since she is heavy and sometimes emotional, I try and spread her out through my leisure reading. (And when I say heavy and emotional I don't mean depressing all the time!) Check out 19 Minutes, Plain Truth The 10th Circle, House Rules, and My Sister's Keeper. Oh wow- and the endings blow me away each and every time. Totally unpredictable.

Okay, now go buy or find your library card and read, read, read!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book 45- Home Repair

Home Repair is a nice little novel about a woman whose first husband died and her second one left her while she was having a rummage sale. And that's probably the best part of the book.

Eve must persevere while she deals with her aging crabby mother, her son Marcus who is about ready to graduate from high school but can't seem to pass his driving test, her daughter Noni who misses her dad but is years older than her 9 years, and her life that's falling apart.

She works in the Art department of a college. Eve is also loosing lots of weight, walks her dogs, meets a Koren family that she starts tutoring English, and she meets Jonah, a man who works at the park and hits on her. She wants to redecorate her house and her car is falling apart. How much can go wrong with this woman?

There's more.

I like author Liz Rosenberg's writing style but i didn't care for the characters in this book. I appreciate the humor but it was just so depressing and so many bad things- and then throw in a few TRAGIC events- and it just was too mired in the sad for the humor to win out.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Book 44- Every Last One

Every Last One is a profoundly sad and powerfully written novel by author and columnist Anna Quindlen.

This is an unforgettable and beautifully written portrait of a mother and wife, of a woman who survives an unspeakable horror brought upon her life.

Mary Beth had built a wonderful life for herself and for her family. She and her husband Glen and their three children have a great life together. They are survivors. When one of her son's becomes depressed she gets him help. But in the midst of helping him she misses other things happening and her perfect world is shattered.

This is an amazing novel. I don't want to say any more so not to give any detail away. I've always been a fan of Quindlen's columns and this is the first novel of her's I've read. I enjoy her writing style most certainly, and they way she weaves a character is breathtaking. Excellent novel. Tragically sad, but excellent.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book 43- Jane Austen Ruined My Life

This started out very strong- the first paragraph made me laugh but by the end of Jane Austen Ruined My Life (by Beth Pattillo) it was merely chick lit. Dang!

Emma Grant gets divorced and loses her job, so she's homeless, penniless and loveless. And it's all Jane Austen's fault, or so Emma thinks. So in an effort to try and resurrect her career, if nothing else, she goes to England in search of the lost letters of Jane Austen.

Once Emma arrives in London she stays at her cousin's house only to find her best friend from college, Adam. Adam and Emma reconnect with each other and even though their friendship is blooming again, she can't tell Adam what she doing because he's a college professor like her and she doesn't want him to infringe on her project.

While she's looking for the missing letters she meets some quirky women who claim to be the guardians of the letters. This group, called the Formidables, make her complete tasks before she can 'see' the letters. And she develops a crush on her friend Adam.

It just screams Chick Lit; I was hoping by invoking the Austen name it would be more substantial but to no avail.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Book 42- A Thousand Days in Venice

A Thousand Days in Venice [An Unexpected Romance] is a love story memoir by Marlena de Blasi. She chronicles her first trip to Venice, Italy and the relationship she has with the city, and the relationship she doesn't want to have, because it's the city of love and magic. After she succumbs to the city, she returns often and then one day, the magic of the city takes her over with an encounter with a strange man.

And in an instant, they have fallen in love. And after a few days and a visit, they plan to marry. Marlena plans to give up her career, her cafe, her home, most of her belongings, her life as she knows it, to move to Venice for this love affair, this romance, this first time with love, and she's well into her 50s when this happens.

This isn't something she does as a young woman, but as a grown adult.

And she does it in a rush. They don't take time to get to know each other, they rush, head long into this romance, and from their meeting in December, she moves in June to Venice and they marry in October. Ah sweet Venice, so she can marry her Venetian, a man she calls the Stranger. To a man who speaks very little English and she, a woman who speaks very little Italian, except for food.

I do like the whirl wind of it all. I like that she argues that she didn't want to wait, didn't need to wait, didn't need to go slowly, because why wait when you found the person you're in love with, why wait to be with him any longer? And the magic of it all, is that he felt the same way about her. It was an instant.

Now, what I didn't like, or maybe I should say, who I don't like is her Venetian, her Fernando. He's sort of an ass. And after she gets to Venice, it became rather mired in the "I'm living here so I have to learn everything" drudgery. She just seemed to go on and on about the slowness of the Italian culture, from cooking to planning the wedding to re-doing their apartment; it was such a long process of telling of the long process- blech.

I was hoping it would be rather like the other books I've read but there was very little love of food, though there are recipes at the back of the book. There is quite a bit of just... well, love. Love of the Stranger, love of Venice, learning to love herself, love her apartment, love of wanderlust, but very love WITH food, Fernando mostly didn't even love food. And I felt like this book had an author who lost her self, lost her own identity, who she was, with this huge transformation. I wholeheartedly agree that moving around the world for love is wonderful, but as I read I just felt like de Blasi gave up who she was for this adventure.

Or maybe it burst my bubble a bit. I've always wanted to visit Italy, especially Venice, but after much of her description, other than of the city itself, I think my frustration would come full tilt in dealing with the mindset of the people, rather than letting me fall slowly in love with the city of love.

Food, memoirs, women

So, I'm thinking about a "reading theme" for myself for the summer. I'll read other stuff, but I was thinking of trying to read several books of a particular type.

I really enjoyed the book Julie and Julia: 356 Days, 524 recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment (and I also loved the movie!) last year. Another one of my favorite books I read last year was I Loved I Lost I Made Spaghetti. And earlier this week I finished The Sharper the Knife, The Less You Cry and enjoyed it immensely. What do all these have in common? They're memoirs of women who have made some life changes that usually revolve around food, cooking, eating, or all three. For some reason, this particular genre has hugely interested me. I don't know if it's the journeys these women take, if it's all the food, if it's their writing styles, their voices.... I don't know, but I do know that I really like this particular style. I usually enjoy a memoir by a woman (Eat Pray Love seems to be the exception to that rule since I hated that book- yeah, I'm the only woman in the world who hates that book, it seems. So, shoot me!) and I've read several. But the one's about food/ cooking and the woman searching for something in life really speak to me.

I have no desire to go to a cooking school but I do love food. I love to cook and I LOVE to eat. I like to be creative in the kitchen when time and resources allow for such. The food part is always interesting. And life and food always generate some wonderful metaphors and analogies from "Life is like a box of chocolates" to "people are like onions. Keep peeling back the layers.." sort of thinking.

The women who've written the three books I've read so far are pretty smart women, too. I like how they've written their stories, and they don't seem to take themselves too seriously. I also like that all these start at the adult point in their lives. Food may been important to them since they were children or someone in their childhood might have influenced their food love, but these are memoirs not biographies so I like forgoing the long drawn out family stories about food- blah blah blah. I like the here and now, "I am woman, hear me cook" sort of stories.

The one thought that gives me pause is that if I read several more of these books, will I burn myself out? Will I feel as if I've over indulged in this decadent dessert type of reading to the point where I'll be sick? (I said I like food metaphors and analogies.)

I've made a list of titles:

  • Garlic and Sapphires: The secret life of a food critic in disguise
  • Cakewalk: A Memoir
  • Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life
  • Spiced: A Pastry Chef's true stories of Trials by Fire, After Hours Exploits, and What really Goes on on the Kitchen
  • Under the Table: Saucy tales from Culinary School
  • Lunch in Paris: A love story, with recipes
I've always enjoyed books about food. I read several fiction writers who incorporate food in their story lines and characters. It just seems to be something I'm drawn to.

Now I just have to see what the local library has, what Half Price Books has and what I can get ILL and from Amazon. And if anyone here has any of these and wants to share, please let me know!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book 41- The Likeness

STOP!!! SPOILER ALERT! And this review is only a spoiler alert to the first book in this series, In The Woods. If you plan to read the novels by Tana French, and haven't read the first one yet, go no further! These two novels are completely tied together! Now, if you don't care and have no desire to read an intricate, complex, and engaging thriller, with well developed characters, an intriguing storyline, and an author who uses words wonderfully, well, then.... by all means, read on!


Tana French's second novel The Likeness follows right on the heels of her first one, In The Woods, and picks up a few scant months after it ends, with Cassie Maddox having transferred out of the Murder squad to Domestic Violence and she's in a serious relationship with Sam, and Rob Ryan is gone.

First and foremost, I want to say that The Likeness was about a million times better for me since I read In The Woods. I'm trying to objectively think about if this could be read as a stand alone, and I certainly don't think so. Cassie's mindset and her nerves are still shaken from the case in Woods, and influences all the choices and decisions she makes in this novel.

In The Likeness, the Murder Squad finds a dead body of a young woman who is the doppelganger of Cassie. And not only is this girl identical to Cassie in look, but she has also identity theft Cassie- no, she's not Cassie Maddox Dublin Cop, but she stole her undercover persona, Lexi Madison.

So Cassie goes undercover and pretends to be Lexi, moving in to the house with the 4 other Trinity University grads students with whom she lived. And Cassie manages to pull it off, trying to find her killer, letting people think she was only wounded and critical but recovered. She can work the case from the inside and she's bait, seeing if the killer will come after her again.

This is an excellent novel. I loved it. I think I liked it better than the first one. I love an author who treats readers like they are smart- so French's vocabulary made me happy. I love her words. I also thought she wove an intricate storyline and mystery together that was utterly fascinating.

Her characters are engaging and well throughout. They're interesting and developed. Cassie struggled because of what happened to her in Woods, and it was interesting to see that she carried this guilt, fear, and pain over into this novel. And how it affected how she continued to do her job. Not only was Cassie amazingly developed, but so were the four prime suspects, "Lexi's" housemates.

I liked everything about this novel. I can't wait to see if French writes a third!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book 40- The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry

This is a memoir of Kathleen Flinn, an American rat race exec who, at age 40-ish, loses her cushy London job and decides to spend her entire life savings, move to Paris with her boyfriend, and attend the Cordon Bleu cooking school, even though her French language skills were extremely limited. In The Sharper Your Knife, the Less you Cry: Love, Laughter and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School she chronicles her experiences in Paris during her time as a student, on a personal level, and as a "professional" student of the renowned school.

I loved her voice and her storytelling style. This is the type of memoir that I love to read, one that tells her story so it reads like fiction, her wit and food! She seems to have told "it like it is" and while she didn't pull any punches, she was still positive about her experience at the famous cut throat academy that graduated the likes of, none other than, Julia Child.

Wonderfully told story and the food sounds to die for. I couldn't cook a dang thing she gave a recipe for, but I like knowing the food it there and that I could try if I want. Excellent memoir of s smart woman going after what she wants, with a good outlook, not afraid to laugh at her self, or cry a little, and without all the whining! LOVE IT! Just what a memoir should be!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hoping movie is better than the book

Everyone seems to always say "Oh, the book is so much better than the movie!" And for me, 99 times out of 100 that is correct. I can think of very few excepts... I think The Time Traveler's Wife was a better film than movie (read my movie review and my book review if you want). And other than that, I can't really come up with the flip-flop.

BUT! I saw a preview for the film version of Eat Pray Love. It stars Julia Roberts, one of my all time favorite actress's ever and I am hoping beyond hope that the film is better than the book. I hated the book, as you can see if you go here to read my review. I think I might be the only woman on the face of the Earth who hates that book, so I have very high hopes that Roberts makes this a visual feast for the eyes, because the written word didn't leave me wanting more.

The only reason I'm going to see the film version of this dreadful story is because of Roberts. Only she could save it.

Guess we'll see, come August!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book 39- One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd, a novel

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus is an incredible fictional account of something that could've really happened.

Chief Little Wolf of the Cheyenne Nation proposed an idea of President Grant: the Cheyenne would trade 1000 horses for 1000 white women in an effort to continue to perpetuate the Native bloodline while teaching the Indians how to assimilate to the ways of the white man. Grant, while feigning outrage in public, he privately made the deal.

This is the story of the first wave women who agreed to go west to help "Christianize the savages." The story told through the journals of May Dodd, a plucky woman who was sent to a mental institution by her family because she fell in love and lived in sin with a mean below her station. She only way to escape her imprisonment at the asylum was to agree to this government proposition. The women who agreed would go west, marry a Cheyenne brave, birth him 2 children and then they were free to leave. If they couldn't bare children within two years, they were also then free to leave.

This is an amazing story of the courage of women. May Dodd endured with strength and a positive attitude. She also found love and she found a way of life that suited her, and she found true friends. May's journals, although fictional, depict the harsh realities of the nomadic life of the Native Americans post- Civil War, but also the beauty. This novel is a story of survival and of the inhumanity of men against other men. It was haunting and touching.

My heart nearly broke for May and the other women. I know it's fiction but I couldn't help get wrapped up in the lives of these women, their energies, their joys and so very real fears, and to giggle along with them as they learned the way of life like nothing before.

Excellent novel. One of the best I've picked up this year.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book 38- What French Women Know

What French Women Know about Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind by Debra Ollivier was a wonderful look and the cultural differences between French and American women regarding sex and love.

I can say I thoroughly enjoyed Ollivier's take on the hang ups American woman have about everything and the few hang ups French woman have. She crafts this anthropological insight with humor, personal anecdotes, fun, and research.

What's more, not only do I appreciate Ollivier's writing style and her topic, but it was a great way to look at the attitude of woman here in the States. And I realize that, using Ollivier's declarations about French women's perspectives, I'm more French that I realized.

This is certainly worth the read.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Book 37: The House at the End of the Road...

The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three generations of an interracial Family in the American South by W. Ralph Eubanks is not what I was expecting. I thought I was going to get a memoir style work of non fiction that would explore Eubanks's family, with anecdotes and told in storytelling, prose fashion.

What I got instead was a detailed account written in mostly text book style about the Jim Crowe law South, and an academic look at racial identity and attitudes that were prevalent in the 18th century and still alive today. It was also sparsely sprinkled with a biography of his family, and a bit of personal journey.

I feel it a difficult task to critique the life of a person, but I can critique a writing style. I really think it would've been interesting to learn more about Eubanks's folks, and his black grandmother and white grandfather who were living in the South at a time when interracial marriages were against the law and any child of that union was considered Black and a bastard. I would've liked more stories about the family's struggle with the black and white relatives perspective on that union.

Instead I feel Eubanks became mired in the anthropological study, in the cultural biased, and in the study of racism... it's not what I was expecting, nor what I was wanting to read. I don't mind "thinking" but I wasn't in a good mindset for something that required quite a bit of thought and concentration. And it wasn't what I was expecting, which made this a displeasure for me.