Tag Archives: Book review

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, reality is ugly & the only place of refugee is the online world of Oasis, a virtual utopia (like the Sims games). When the creator dies and leaves behind a maze of puzzles and riddles based on 1980s trivia, Wade’s new mission is to crack the code and win before the evil corporate clones do.

Although the concept of this book is incredibly entertaining, I found the characters to be annoying and the love story to feel awkward and forced. I think what bothered me the most about this book is how easily things fell into place for Wade. He was always at the right place at the right time. He knew all the right moves, had all the answers, all the motivation, all the luck. As ironic as it is to say about a sci-fi book, the convenience of all the obstacles made the story unrealistic. It took away from the drama. It never really felt like there much of a challenge up against Wade throughout the book. It’s not the best written book, but the story is entertaining and most adults will appreciate the 80s references. There are so many 80s references in this book. That seems to be a new trend, especially with YA books. I’d recommend this for folks who like Ender’s Game and other titles of that nature. The audio book is narrated by Will Wheaton, which is worth the purchase price purely for that reason alone.

*Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was originally posted at thenovelworld.com on 7/14/2014*

Weekend Cooking: Suffering Succotash by Stephanie Luvianovic

Suffering succotash : a picky eater's quest to understand why we hate the foods we hateSuffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate by Stephanie Lucianovic
Age: Adult
Format: Book
Source: Library
Publisher: Perigee Trade, 2012
ISBN: 9780399537509
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Former picky eater, and now foodie/chef Stephanie Lucianovic takes a humorous and in-depth look at why and how picky eaters are picky eaters. Part memoir, part science and part humor is how she makes her point that picky eaters aren’t just fussy, but have valid medical, psychological and physical reasons for their tastes and reactions to specific foods.

She examines taste buds, she goes to a genetics lab to examine her DNA, she speaks to food behavioral therapists, parents, friends, chefs, and children in the Bay Area and around the nation. Her work is lively, chatty and informative. I bet the audio cd would be a hoot to listen to if she narrates it. I’m also a little bit partial to this book because most of her research is done around the Bay Area. She lives in Menlo Park, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she ever brought her young son to the baby storytime I did there. Not that it has anything to do with the book, but that its a small world after all if she did. =p

This is a book that picky eaters and foodies can associate with. Although it is chock-full of research, and anecdotes, there isn’t much in the way of advice other than “try new food” and “don’t push foods onto kids, they’ll just hate them all the more.” She makes a good point that kids today are exposed to a wider variety of foods via farmer’s market not to mention the super yummy creations of Ella’s Kitchen for tiny tots.

We are all picky eaters in our way. As much as I love cinnamon buns, and crave them on a regular basis, I avoid eating them because I can’t stand the sticky sauce that is poured over it, same goes for most drenched finger foods (ie ribs). Too messy = not for me. My husband can’t stand anything pickled (cucumbers, pickles, etc). We love food, love to cook and consider ourselves foodie-wannabes, but we still have our hang-ups. Everyone does! As long as it doesn’t get in the way of your health, then its really no big deal is mine and the author’s stance.

So, what food have you avoided recently?

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Someday, someday, maybe : a novelSomeday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2013
ISBN: 9780345532749
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Franny Banks is an aspiring actress in New York. By day, she’s a waitress, and at night, she’s taking acting classes and preparing for auditions. This novel is what most can assume to be a semi-autobiographical account of Lauren Graham’s experiences as a struggling actress before becoming a household name with her role on Gilmore Girls.

Overall, I liked Someday, Someday, Maybe. Although I can’t really call it a great piece of literature. Everything about this book is cliche and predictable. But I connected to Franny (the only likeable character in this book) and I was cheering for her. Her character is flawed, insecure and very impressionable. At times it was annoying and I wished for some character development, with any of the characters really. Everyone is so two-dimensional and fit exactly into the stereotypes that we non-actors cast onto people in the media industry.

But I swear, I liked the book! Its a good quick summer read. Its a beach read. Light and fluffy with a decent sense of humor for some good chuckles. I particularly liked the doodles and small bits of comedy in Franny’s planner, used to signify the start of each chapter. Its definitely something fans of Gilmore Girls will appreciate. Its no coincidence that Franny shares a very, very similar sense of humor as Lorelei Gilmore. Amy Sherman-Palladino would be proud to see the character re-emerge as a struggling actress in New York.

A Town Like Paris by Bryce Corbett

A town like Paris : falling in love in the City of lightA Town Like Paris: Falling in Love in the City of Light by Bryce Corbett
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir/Paris
Source: Overdrive
Format: Ebook
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Stuck in a rut in London, Australian native Bryce Corbett applies on a whim to a position he is highly unqualified for in Paris. For reasons he can’t figure out, he is given the position and is soon on his way to the City of Light, the city where he has dreamt of living for years. Once in Paris, his adventures are nothing short of hilarious. The type that makes you shake your head in wonder.

I wonder if Bryce Corbett and Stephen Clarke ever met for a cafe while in Paris? Fans of Clarke will enjoy Corbett’s wry wit, his male perspective on the most romantic city in Europe, as well as his lack of aspirations towards work, and his overdrive commitment to drinking, partying and falling in love with the Lido showgirl, Shay.

Sometimes, I think a male perspective on Paris is just the right book. Girls tend to sugarcoat, or go into purple prose when it comes to Paris’ charms, but guys are more direct and like to focus on the negatives of the city. I do have to say, that I am insanely jealous of his situation. Being paid to live in a city, albeit he didn’t care for his work at all, but the means to an end, provided him with up to 6 years of Parisian life.

His stories are funny, and well chronicled. From the escapades of dating, to the foibles of dealing with the French bureaucracy, to starting a mildly popular band that plays in the bars of the city, Corbett’s prose seems genuine. Although at times I wondered if he fluffed up the story just to heighten the hilarity. His descriptions of the people, the places and events that took place in Paris had me laughing out loud or shaking my head in wonder. The chapters are short, but there are quite a few of them. A few felt repetitive, and some just dragged on, but for the most part, this is a highly entertaining read.

The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Age: Adult
Source: Publisher
Publisher: William Morrow, 2013
ISBN: 9780062255655
181 pages
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When a middle-aged-man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, he takes an unexpected stroll down memory lane, remembering parts of his childhood from when he was 7-years-old and met Lettie Hempstock. Soon, history comes flooding back to him as he recollects sitting by the duck pond, or what she called her ocean.

Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.

Neil Gaiman doesn’t write sequels, but the Ocean At the End of the Lane is like a distant cousin of The Graveyard Book and Coraline. Its a short novel, and I’m not quite sure if its meant for adults, kids or teens. It is written from the perspective of a 7-year-old, with innocent thoughts and fears, but much of the content is adult; frightening and surreal. This book, like the Graveyard Book, starts with a death. Like Coraline, the other mother, Ursula Monkton, is much more creepy and cruel.

This incredibly short book is more like a dream than a novel. Everything happens so quickly, so smoothly, but all the events and people seem incongruous somehow. As much as I loved and devoured this book, it is so easy to get lost in Neil Gaiman’s prose, hearing his voice narrate the book… I digress, fangirl that I am. As much as I enjoyed this book, I felt that one of the biggest faults was Lettie Hempstock’s nonchalance confidence with ridding the world of Ursula Monkton. It halted the suspense of the novel at times. Although Gaiman’s descriptions and eerie setting more than made up for that. Its not my favorite of his books, I think it could have been and should have been expanded, but it is a good read for a solitary, quiet evening.

All My Friends by Marie N’Diaye

All my friendsAll My Friends by Marie N’Diaye translated by Jordan Stump

Age: Adult

Format: Book

Source: Publisher via LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Publisher: Two Lines Press

ISBN: 9781931883238

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In this brief yet poignant collection of short stories, author Marie N’Diaye takes us into the minds of the unstable and their fractured lives and relationships. From an aged professor haunted by a past student, to a former actress falling apart, or a mother abandoning her son. N’Diaye deftly examines the minds and thoughts of people who we’d rather brush under the carpet. This book will leave you unsettled, but it in incredibly well written (well translated) and gives the reader much to think about after each story.

In the first story, an aged professor falls in love with a former student, now his housekeeper. This is followed by a tale of a back and forth between a doctor and a patient over her dead husband. The third story, is remarkably sad, as it is about a young boy who wants to leave his impoverished life by becoming a sex slave, like his next door neighbor. Then Brulard’s Tale about a minor actress and her stream of consciousness thought patterns becoming more and more claustrophobic and paranoid. The last story is about a mentally challenged women who goes on a bus ride with her son, but knows that she will be returning without him.

The author has created five stories in which people lose their grip on reality, the most compelling of which was fourth story, Brulard’s Day. This story reminded me of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. The inner workings of the mind of someone’s sanity slowly unraveling as bystanders watch, unaware or indifferent. At only 140 pages, this book is a quick read, but not a light read. It’s not exactly a beach read, with the gentle tide of waves in the background. It is more of a moody cafe book, with a few cups of coffee with some ambient music in the background.

French Twist – Catherine Crawford

French twist : an American mom's experiment in Parisian parentingFrench Twist: An American Mom’s Experiment In Parisian Parenting
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir, French parenting, Non-Fiction
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviews (via Random House)
Publisher: Random House, 2013
ISBN: 9780345533265, 240 pages

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Catherine Crawford had an epiphany one night when her French friends came over for dinner along with their two, very well-behaved children. Catherine then realized that French children are overall more obedient, patient and mature than American children with hovering parents. She set out to find out the secrets of French parenting and apply them to her own family’s life in New York.

As an new mom and a person obsessed with all things French, I figured this book would be right up my alley. Unlike Bringing Up Bebe byPamela Druckerman and French Kids Eat Everything by Karen le Billon, French Twist is a take on French parenting in the US, with US rules and customs. Unfortunately, this book didn’t really provide me with any insights on how to incorporate French parenting techniques.

For all the potential this book had, it really, really fell short. I think the biggest obstacle for me was Crawford’s pose. It felt like the book was written by a very energetic 5-year-old who wants to tell you everything they learned in school that day in less than 5 minutes. I think the book could have benefited from more editing. Her style was filled with a number of asides, very few details and massive amounts of generalizations. After having completed the book, all I took away from it is that she “got French” and her life is more serene when dealing with her children.

Some may like Crawford’s chatty style and will connect with her very New York personality, but for me, the gap was too wide. Of the three books, French Kids Eat Everything provides the most balanced analysis between US and French parenting, but Bringing Up Bebe, particularly Bebe Day by Day, provide the most succinct and repeatable advice on French parenting.

French Kids Eat Everything – Karen Le Billon

French kids eat everything : how our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banished snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising healthy, happy eatersFrench Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir, Food, French Parenting, Non-Fiction
Source: My Copy
Publisher: William Morrow, 2012
ISBN: 9780062103291. 305 pages

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After having moved from Canada to France with her husband and two young daughters, Karen encounters a sort of food revelation/revolution that forces her to change the family’s eating habits, adapting 10 rules she devised based on her observations of the French.

In this intimate memoir, Karen takes us through the ups and downs of slowly changing her family’s eating habits, and the particular toll it took on her daughters. Apparently, Canadians eat just as poorly as US Americans, and were faced with a myriad of difficulties adapting to French life, where food is an honored national passion.

What I most enjoyed about this memoir is Le Billon’s frankness with her own shortcomings, although she is a victim of her North American consumerist culture. The stark differences between France and the US are quite obvious when it comes to food. They have multiple bakeries with freshly baked bread on every street. Here, in San Jose, I struggle to find one bakery that actually sells bread and not just pastries. In France, the schools have food appreciation as part of their daily curriculum. Children as young as five are served five course meals, seated with real plates and cutlery at school each day. Some schools even go so far as to send dinner suggestions home so that parents don’t accidentally replicate a lunch meal for the month.

Part of Le Billon’s struggle with getting her kids to eat healthy and eat a variety of foods was overcoming her own aversion to cooking more intricate meals. It’s easy to just through some noodles in the pot after a long day of work, but is it the best decision? No, not really. Loaded with an array of cookbooks from her French husband’s side of the family, Le Billon was able to craft some recipes that were simple, yet met her criteria for introducing new foods to her daughters. One idea I particularly liked was cooking the taboo food in a number of different ways, (as a soup, steams, in another dish), etc.

Her 10 rules don’t seem very groundbreaking to me, but its their simplicity that does the trick. Don’t make two different meals, don’t be a short-order cook. If the child doesn’t like something, they don’t have to eat it, but they don’t get a replacement item. Dinner should be a social family affair, not something scarfed down in front of the TV, while one parent hastily washes the dishes. There is the no snacking rule, but that one I have a tough time following. Although my general rule of thumb is to snack, but snack on fruits and veggies.

Le Billon also includes a bevy of recipes at the very end of the book, which I am thankful for. Thankful that it’s all at the end of the book. I hate foodie books with recipes at the end of each chapter. It makes it that much more difficult to go back and look for a recipe I want to make. I made the cauliflower casserole in Le Billon’s book, but I tossed in carrots to add some color, and next time I’ll add some spinach too. The recipe was delicious, really, really easy to make and one of my husband’s favorite dishes that I’ve whipped up.

My only complaint about this book is that even though Le Billon is talking about Canada, she constantly refers to them as “Americans” which I think short-changes US Americans. Not that people in this country can really argue against the nation’s dismal eating habits, but still. It felt like the blame was being passed onto us.

For new parents who want to start their kids off on the right foodie path, this is a good introduction on what to do to ensure that your child appreciate quality food, not just quantity. For parents of picky-eaters, it’ll be an uphill battle, but one that you can win following Le Billon’s advice.

When Everything Changed by Gail Collins

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey…When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins
Age: Adult
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Women’s History
Source: My Copy
Publisher: Back Bay Books, 2009
ISBN: 9780316014045, 413 pages
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From the 1960′s up to present day, women’s rights and opportunities in the United States have been undergoing a massive evolution. Author Gail Collins tracks these changes in her book, When Everything Changed. The book begins in 1960, before the women’s lib movement had even started. Back then, women couldn’t get credit cards under their own names, or buy a car or house without their husband’s permission. Flight attendants were weighed on a weekly basis and catered to the first class men’s only flights while women were relegated to coach.

Collin’s book is in-depth, but not verbose. She mixes history, politics and oral testimonies to shed light on the development of women’s opportunities in the US during the past 4 decades. Collin’s writing is lively, and sometimes chatty. The book is well paced, I never felt any section drag on for longer than necessary. She gets to the point, provides ample examples and then moves on. I learned a lot about the struggle women endured reading this book. I also learned that in 1971, Congress was all set to pass a Child Care Act that would make it easier for mother’s to go to work and find decent, affordable child care for their children. That failed. I also learned that initially, Republicans were more likely to support the women’s movement than Democrats. How those tables have changed.

As an almost 30-year-old, I grew up in the US without any stigma’s of being a women. Being a girl didn’t mean I couldn’t play sports, or aspire to go to an Ivy League School. Getting married and having kids was not pushed as my end-goal in life. I take for granted what women of older generations had to push against in order to feel like I can be and do anything I set my mind to.

I think women who lived through this era will appreciate this book for its frankness about the series of events from 1960. Women my age will appreciate what previous generations did to ensure that we have the freedoms we have now. My only regret is that mass media hasn’t really caught on to the smart, accomplished women in the workforce element of society. TV is filled with spam like the Real Housewives series, and all those reality TV shows that make women out to be petty, vindictive and superficial. It’s a shame that for all the opportunities that have been attained, the US is still somehow backsliding into relegating women as a second-class citizen, a spectacle rather than an honorable role-model.

Bebe Day by Day – Pamela Druckerman

Bébé day by day : 100 keys to French parenting

Bebe Day by Day: 100 Keys of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman
Source: Mine
Format: Book, Non-fiction, Parenting
Publisher: Penguin, 2013
ISBN: 9781594205538, 144 pages
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Fans of Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe might feel inclined to pick up this follow-up book. To that inclination, I say, DON’T! The 100 tips in this book are basically the same exact topics and points she brought up in Bringing Up Bebe. The only difference is that this smaller and shorter book doesn’t have any of the biting criticism of American parenting, nor does it really discuss Druckerman’s life and experiences in Paris as an ex-pat parent. If those two elements appeal to you, then be sure to pick up Bringing Up Bebe. Otherwise, this short little guide through Parisienne parenting is all you need to feel like a Francophil parental unit. This book also includes a menu in the back of meals served at the French daycare centers, the creches.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the tips are helpful, and now that I have my little one, I plan on implementing whatever French tips I can. They just seem logical to me. I don’t know if its my French bias, or just because it’s very similar to how I was raised. On the whole, they are very minimalist in nature. A lot of it is about raising a self-sufficient child, and many of the concepts remind me of the Montessori education method of child-rearing, with which I heartily agree.

Some of the tips that stood out to me are the following (my commentary is in purple font):

#14 – Don’t stimulate her all the time
#17 – Make vegetables a child’s first food
#19  - Baby’s are noisy sleepers (ie – don’t run to the crib/bassinet every time you hear a noise, gurgle, or squawk).
#28 – Don’t solve a crisis with a cookie
#32 – Everyone eats the same food 
#53 – Give kids lots of chances to practice waiting
#96 – You’re not disciplining, you’re educating