Monthly Archives: May 2012

Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid (Lemony Snicket) – Review

Horseradish : bitter truths you can't avoidHorseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid by Lemony Snicket
Age: Teen
Genre: Humor
Source: Library
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2007
ISBN: 9780061240065 / 168 pages

Find this book at your local library

In the same vein as Ant Farm & Free-Range Chickens, Lemony Snicket provides his own slanted view of the world in a series of short observations and truths. Some of the truths are serious, some are sad, and most are funny. I think its perfect that this book is aimed at teenagers, because much of what Snicket covers are bitter truths that should be learned early on in life.  Although lately I feel as if adults should be reminded of these bitter truths as well.

The book is divided into 13 chapters covering:

  1. Home,
  2. Family
  3. School,
  4. Work,
  5. Entertainment,
  6. Literature,
  7. Travel,
  8. Emotional Health,
  9. Affairs of the Heart,
  10. A Life of Mystery,
  11. The Mystery of Life,
  12. The Overall Feeling of Doom That One Cannot Ever Escape No Matter What One Does, and
  13. Misc.

Some of my favorite lines:

Everyone should be able to do one card trick, tell two jokes and recite three poems, in case they are ever trapped in an elevator

Oftentimes, when people are miserable, they will want to make other people miserable too. But it never helps.

In an emergency, one often learns that one’s companions can be even less help in extraordinary circumstances than they are during an average evening.

If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[ pasdlgkhasdfasdf

Ant Farm + Free Range Chickens (Simon Rich) -Review

Ant farm : and other desperate situations Ant Farm by Simon Rich
Age: Adult
Genre: Humor
Source: Library
Publisher: Random House, 2007
ISBN: 9781400065882 / 139 pages
Find this book at your local library

Hilarity. That’s all I can really say about this book. It is literally a laugh-out-loud book of humorous quips and observations on the simple and basic elements of daily life. From the observations of the adult dinner table by kids, to the point of view of ant stuck in glass enclosures, Simon Rich infuses this book with an intelligent sense of humor that jabs at life.

Even the chapter titles are hilarious summaries of the content. Each chapter is about 1-4 pages. Some chapters discuss whether or not love coupons are still valid after a break-up, how idly chit-chat can go terribly wrong, and how to earn Karma points. This is a book club pick, but I can think of a number of reluctant readers that I know who would devour this book. The jokes are actually quite similar to the jokes of stand-up comedian Dimitri Martin. Please make sure to YouTube Dimitri Martin when you get a chance. Everyone should be aware of him.

Free-range chickensFree-Range Chickens by Simon Rich
Age: Adult
Genre: Humor
Source: Library
Publisher: Random House, 2008
ISBN: 9781400065899 / 129 pages
 
Find this book at your local library

Free-Range Chickens is a hilarious follow-up book to Ant Farm. Although I didn’t find Free-Range Chickens to be as funny as Ant Farm, it is filled with quite a few chuckles. Free-Range Chickens follows the same humorous observations of daily life and routines. Simon uses many of the same joke formats introduced in Ant Farm, and he expands on the style of joke in this book.

Reading the author bio, it looks like Simon Rich is now a writer for SNL. I’m glad to see his comedic style and timing go to good use. Both books are really funny and quick reads.They provide something that can be enjoyed by a large group. I wonder if these are available in audio format, because that would make for an awesome road-trip soundtrack.

If You Could See Me Now (Cecilia Ahern) – Review

If You Could See Me NowIf You Could See Me Now by Cecilia Ahern
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction / Magical Realism
Source: Kindle e-book / library loan
Publisher: Hyperion, 2006
ISBN: 9781401301873 / 306 pages
 
Find this book at your local library

Thirty-four year-old Elizabeth does not have it easy. Her younger sister is a reckless, alcoholic who is constantly losing jobs, disappearing, and leaving Elizabeth to do all the clean-up work. Part of this, includes raising Saoirse’s 6-year-old son, Luke. Add to the mix a reclusive and distant father,  and a mother who abandoned the family when Elizabeth was 13, and its no wonder that Elizabeth is constantly hiding away from people. One day, Ivan, an invisible friend from the land of Ekam Eveileb strolls into Luke’s life, but it’s not Luke Ivan was sent to befriend, it was Elizabeth. Can Ivan help Elizabeth learn to cope with the struggles in her life?

This is a very heart-warming and endearing book by Cecilia Ahern. She is definitely one of those consistent authors whose books I can always rely on for a good laugh or tear and for general amusement. I liked this book because it was more psychological than the others. It focuses a lot on dysfunctional families, alcoholism, and on coping mechanisms for the lemons life throws at you. With the help of Ivan, Elizabeth rediscovers her childhood, something that was lost to her when her mother ran off and left Elizabeth to raise her 6-month-old sister Saoirse.

I really liked the character of Ivan. He was funny, innocent, and could get straight to the point in the way that kids too. Ivan, is basically a kid, even though he’s 6 feet tall. He befriends kids who are going to troubles and helps them learn to appreciate and value themselves. Although parts of the book were predictable, I don’t think they took away from the overall message and feel of the book. I really felt for Elizabeth, and as much as I wanted to dislike her sister and father, I could sympathize with them, as they are also the broken-hearted victims of Elizabeth’s mother’s abandonment. I wouldn’t say that this one of Ahern’s best work, but it is entertaining and thoughtful. A few of the storylines could have been expanded (ie, Benjamin), and some of the characters should have had more depth (Poppy), but overall, it was well-balanced and well-paced. This book is a good reminder to all adults to not take life so seriously, and to just stop and let our hair down every once-in-awhile.

A Cupcake Revelation…this is how you eat it.

Via Reddit.

Taft 2012 (Jason Heller) – Review

Taft 2012.Taft 2012 by Jason Heller
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction / Alternative History
Source: Kindle e-book / library loan
Publisher: Quirk Books, 2012
ISBN: 9781594745508 / 320 pages
 
Find this book at your local library

Howard Taft has lost the 1912 presidential election to Woodrow Wilson. On Inauguration Day, Taft mysteriously disappears and is not seen or heard of again until he reappears in the fall of 2011, nearly 100 years later. As his rebirth sparks controversy and dialogue throughout the nation, he is sudden pulled back into politics as he runs for 2012 presidential election.

For a book with such an interesting premise and a concept with so much potential, this book really flopped. The execution of ideas was not well done at all. The writing is very amateur hour, riddled with cliché scenes and cliché speeches. There is no character development, in either Taft or any of the supporting characters in the book. I did like that the format is in mixed media, ie – news blurbs, interview transcripts, e-mails, Craigslist, Twitter, Secret Service reports, etc. I thought that format gave it more of a real-life take on the modern-day attention span and our modes of information.

I found Taft’s reentry to the world to be seamless and perfect, which just didn’t seem right. Although Heller brushed upon a number of contemporary topics comparing modern society to Taft’s society in regards to:  manners, food, politics and technology, this book felt like nothing more than a thinly veiled jab about the GOP and former President George Bush in particular. There was a nod to the Tea Party in form of the Taft Party (a grass-roots organization of disgruntled Americans) but the story somehow evolved into a rant against processed food and the Fulsom corporation (Monstanto maybe?)

I don’t know if it was because this is first book I’ve read on Kindle, or if its just the style of the book, but it was written more in the vein of fan fiction, than actual fiction. I liked the history elements, it did make me research a few historical points. The concept was intriguing, but the lack of direction and the lack of character development really negated all the potential of this book.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (Helen Simonson) – Review

Major Pettigrew's last stand : a novelMajor Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: My Copy
Publisher: Random House, 2010
ISBN: 9780812981223 / 368 pages
 
Find this book at your local library

Major Ernest Pettigrew lives a quiet life, in a quiet town in England called Edgecombe St. Mary. One morning, he hears the tragic news that his brother dies. His brother’s death sparks a budding relationship with Jasmina Ali, the neighborhood market owner. Although they are brought together by their shared love of literature, and wry sense of humor, the town and their families seem determined to pull them apart as appearances, stereotypes and myopic opinions hover over their friendship.

This book is a wonderful little character study of modern society, although it seems like a story like this could take place in any era. Major Pettigrew and Jasmina Ali face obstacles in this twist of Romeo and Juliet. Their families are deeply opposed to their union, their friends don’t understand and only ruffle the feathers and distress each other. There is much in this book that makes it a fantastic book club pick. Simonson’s writing is witty, its direct, and its funny. The humor is so subtle, but that’s what makes it great. The humor is in the irony of Daisy not realizing how much of an ass she’s being, or in Major Pettigrew’s son, not realizing how patronizing and demanding he is being as he tries to climb the social ladder in Edgecombe St. Mary. It is really characters that make this story, as there isn’t much in the way of plot other than the romance. Jasmina’s family has a whole set of issues, regarding religious and deeply traditional views on marriage, and the role of women. I liked that storyline the best. This book is all about how appearances are deceiving and to not idly cast judgement and assumptions.

There is also a storyline regarding the symbolic reunion of the two Churchill handguns, which were passed down from Major Pettigrew’s father. I was sort of wondering if Major Pettigrew’s sister-in-law, Marjorie, would have a bigger role in the book particularly about the guns. There was such a fuss made about them in the beginning, but that story seemed to dissipate as the romance started to develop.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and definitely recommend it.

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

Julie and Julia : 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen ... Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir / Cooking
Source: My Copy
Publisher: Little Brown & Co, 2005
ISBN: 9780316044271 / 307 pages

Find this book at your local library

When Julie Powell is at a crossroads in her life, she turns to Julia Child for comfort and guidance. Pushing thirty, married with no kids, Julie hates her job and finds herself listless in New York. Chancing upon Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julie gives herself a challenge to get through all 524 recipes in the book in 1 year. With a mix of spunk, histrionics, and yummy feasts, she manages to get through the year, sanity in tact.

My first introduction to Julia Child, believe it or not, was seeing the movie Julie & Julia in theaters. I’ve been a huge fan of Julia Child since. Although I’ve been wanting to read this memoir for the past few years, reviews on LibraryThing and GoodReads did a good job of scaring me away from the book based solely on the negative reactions to Julie Powell as a person.

That being said, I finally picked up the book, because it is memoirs-month on the Cupcake Challenge Calendar. In fairness, I didn’t see all that much profanity in the book. Not enough to really bother me. Personally I don’s swear, but I didn’t think she did it that much throughout the book. Her personality is a bit kooky, to put it nicely. She beats up on herself, and seems to suffer break-downs on a daily basis. Part of me wonders if she’s really that unstable, or if she’s just embellishing for the sake of the book? Only Eric would know, I suppose. I didn’t really find the content of her rants as annoying as the length of the rants themselves. They were long, rambling run-on sentences and I really wish her editor had down his/her job and put an end to it. I skimmed a few sections because I could the sentence taking up half the page!

There were significant differences between the book and the movie, and at times it felt like a completely different experience. I’m not sure which I prefer, I think they both have enough merit and humor to stand on their own. In the book, we learn more about her life, her childhood in Texas, her troubles with child-bearing, her quirky collection of friends, and how much she hates her government job. I found most of her writing to be really funny. Maybe its just my sense of humor? Maybe it’s because as a 28-year-old, I am now where she was in 2002, so I can readily relate to her. I could definitely relate to her exhilaration at starting a blog, getting excited about comments and coming up with regular content.

The movie is automatically better, if only because of Meryl Streep as Julia Child. Julie Powell in the movie, played by Amy Adams, is more toned down, her breakdowns are more adorable than annoying, and her personality is more sweet than sharp.

Either way, I enjoyed the memoir almost because of her flaws. It gets  annoying reading memoirs of the perfectly perfect anyways.

Semi-Sweet by Roisin Meaney (Review)

Semi-sweet : a novel of love and cupcakesSemi-Sweet: A Novel of Love & Cupcakes by Roisin Meaney
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction, Chick-lit
Source: My Copy
Publisher: 5 Spot, 2010
ISBN: 9780446570114 / 386 pages

Find this book at your local library

This is a story with an ensemble cast set in the small rural town of Clongarvin, Ireland. The story starts with Hannah Robinson finding out that her boyfriend of a year and a half is leaving her for another women only weeks before she’s set to open up her own business, Cupcakes on the Corner. Over the course of eight months, January to August, Hannah, her parents, best friend Adam and other residents of the small town go through the ups and downs of everyday life. With a mix of tragic, romantic, and bittersweet moments, the novel is a reminder that life is not always what we except or want it to be.

Although Hannah is the connection between all the other characters, she is not the main focus on the story, neither are her cupcakes. I love that the story is focused on the town residents rather than the cupcake shop and the cupcakes itself.

There are multiple storylines (a couple too many honestly), and they overlap with each other in a very easy-way.  The story is well-paced, the characters are believable. Some I liked more than others, even the characters I didn’t like, I had a soft spot for, except for Patrick and Nora…

Although it might get classified as chick-lit, this book has more depth and isn’t as formulaic. The title is apt, as like is filled with semi-sweet moments. The author starts off the first page with a cupcake recipe, so that was highly appreciated. Although I think there was too much going on with too many characters. The supplementary characters took away from the plot-lines of the main characters. I did like seeing the evolution of Hannah as she nursed her broken heart with the help of family, friends and her shop. I liked Adam’s character, he made for a great best friend, and I appreciate at the author didn’t take the expected and predictable route between him and Hannah.

This is a great summer read, a good beach or on a plane. Its quick, funny, and it’ll have you craving a couple of cupcakes towards the end. I may go pick one up on my lunch break today.

The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry (Kathleen Flinn) – Review

The sharper your knife, the less you cry : love, learning and tears at the world's most famous cooking schoolThe Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry: Love, Laughing, and Tears at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir/Cooking
Publisher: Viking, 2007
ISBN: 9780670018222 / 285 pages
Find this book at your local library

In this three-part memoir, Kathleen Flinn takes us through a lesson by lesson tour of her time at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France. Shortly after being fired from her work in London, her boyfriend convinces her to follow her dream of attending the famed cooking school. The book is filled with Paris, recipes, experiences and memories of a very unique time in the country of haute cuisine.

As much as I liked Kitchen Counter Cooking School, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry fell a little short.  Although the book had all the right ingredients, the souffle collapsed, one would say. For one thing, she has a penchant for overly long titles with even longer and unnecessary subtitles. I had no immediate attachment to her or her story, despite having read and enjoyed her second book, Kitchen Counter Cooking School. I didn’t get into her experiences outside of the school, and even her time in class were teetering between boring and self-congratulatory.

Flinn has had a passion for cooking since childhood. She somehow got sidetracked from this passion by entering the journalism field. Despite the fact that being fired allowed her the opportunity to pursue her culinary passion, she holds a major grudge against the corporate world, and brings up being fired a few times too many. Her escapades around Paris with her boyfriend were amusing, particularly the incredibly rude house-guests. I felt really had for her at that point. I thought her time and experiences at Le Cordon Bleu to be really interesting, and had me wanting to go to some sort of cooking school in the Bay Area, or at the very least just cook more than 2x a week and make something other than stir-fry or various forms of baked chicken. A small element that I found comical is that there are two endorsements by Elizabeth Gilbert on this book, one on the front cover and one on the back.

I’d love to have her opportunities and good fortune to be able to devote that much time, effort and money into a passion of mine. I do admire her gusto, and the courage it took to set up a new life in Paris to attend cooking school. I think its awesome that she took her knowledge and used it to teach normal people how to enhance their meals back in Seattle, where she currently resides.

Its Mine! All Mine

One of my closest friends in high school is also one of the best artists that I know. I recently acquired the above print of her work to frame next to my bookshelves. I’m sure bibliophiles around the globe are drooling with jealousy. Well, not to fear! There’s more awesomeness on her Tumblr & Etsy. Some of my other favorite prints include the following:

(Imagine these in a nursery, or poster size in a children’s library!)

 So, in honesty I favorite all of her work. =) The following two are found on her Tumblr. I am particularly fond of the sentence in the 2nd print.
Pamplemousse pour le petit déjeuner

The world is a beautiful place