Tag Archives: Books

Weekend Cooking: Book Review – Delicious by Ruth Reichl



Title: Delicious by Ruth Reichl
Source: Library copy
Format: audiobook
Publisher: Random House, 2014
ISBN: 9781400069620

Billie Breslin is a girl with a magical palate and a flair for cooking. This skill, however, goes unused as Billie moves from Santa Barbara to New York to work for the famed food magazine, Delicious. After a year at the magazine, the owner decides to fold the magazine and fire all of its employees except for one. Billie remains as the sole employee to ensure the Delicious Guarantee that all the printed recipes satisfy their customers. This requires a lot of phone calls and research. In the now abandoned mansion, Billie finally gains access to the library. A secret room that has been locked and sealed for decades. After researching a particular recipe, Billie stumbled upon a series of letters from the famed James Beard and a young girl named Lulu living in Indiana. Soon, Billie realizes that each letter holds a clue as to where the next letter would be filed in the library’s archives. Putting together the clues, Billie learns not only about Lulu’s life during World War II, but she gains some valuable insight into her own life as well.

The narration by Julia Whelan was purely mesmerizing. The story, despite some flaws, eye-rolling moments and predictability, was well-written and well executed. The characters had a respectable depth and differentiation. I’m so used to supporting characters blending into each other, that is was refreshing to read a book where each side character stood apart. I’m not quite sure if I can credit that to the author or to the narrator though. Whelan’s impression and different voices were superb.

The story did have some flaws. The whole ugly duckling into a beautiful swan scene with Billie was some over-the-top and unnecessary. A girl who never put any effort or thought into how she looked, ate bad take-out Chinese food each night and never exercised ends up a body of a model and a hidden flair for putting outfits together. I also didn’t understand why someone with a deep-rooted avoidance of cooking, to the point of it inducing panic attacks, would want to work at a food magazine where cooking takes places around the clock. The storyline with her sister was predictable from the first email as was the eventual love story.

All that aside, I really did enjoy the story. I LOVED the library scavenger hunt. It was so clever the librarian, Birdie, hid the letters and the clues that Billie had to look for to find the next letter. I loved reading about Lulu’s childhood with her insecurities and uncertainties, all during World War II. Reichl definitely did her research and presented a very unique and personal take on the war from a small-town outlook. Reichl is known as a food writer, and it’s clearly evident how skilled she is when she wrote about the kitchens, the cooking and the food. I was craving Italian food non-stop when listening to this book. It’s definitely a good choice for a foodie.

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.


The post: Weekend Cooking – Book Review: Delicious by Ruth Reichl appeared first on The Novel World.

Book Review: Thirty Million Words by Dana Suskind, MD

Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's BrainTitle: Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain. Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns by Dana Suskind MD
Source: Library copy
Publisher: Dutton, 2015
ISBN: 9780525954873
Genre: Early Literacy

Find this book at your local library

Dr. Suskind’s involvement with early childhood education and literacy comes from a rather unique perspective. Dr. Suskind is a pediatric cochlear implant surgeon, giving children the gift of sound and hearing. It was during the post-op and follow-ups with her young patients that she began noticing peculiarities and shocking differences in language acquisition, intelligence and emotional development. Her observations led her down the vast rabbit-hole of research, study and data regarding early childhood brain development. The most notable study on this field is the Hart & Risley 30 Million Word Gap study conducted in the 1980’s. Through meticulous data collection, Hart and Risley stumbled upon a wide gap between children from low-income families and children from high-income families. Financial disparities aside, it was found that by the time a child is ready to enter Kindergarten, a child from a low-income family will have heard 30 million few words than a child from a high-income family. 30,000,000. That is a whopping gap when it comes to setting the educational foundations of our nation’s children. Studies have shown that by the time a child is 3 years old, 80% of their brain has developed. By the time a child is 6, 95% of their will have been developed. The very early years, the zero to 3, are monumentally important for a child’s future academic and personal success. But since preschool doesn’t normally start for children under they turn 3, and the Kindergarten starting age is around 5, there is large number of children that fall under the educational radar.

Enter Dr. Suskind. With a bevy of data, science and facts at her side, she develops the Thirty Million Words Initiative to help bridge the gap and provide every child a fair chance at success in their lives. It’s very compelling for new parents who are not aware of the power of talking to their children. Suskind breaks down her Initiative into three basic activities for adults:

3TsTune In by paying attention to what your child is communicating to you.
Talk More with your child using descriptive words to build his vocabulary.
Take Turns by encouraging your child to respond to your words and actions.  (courtesy of http://thirtymillionwords.org/)

I really did enjoy Suskind’s book, but all while reading it, I felt like something was lacking. She spent a great portion of the beginning talk about the research that she conducted, which was great. But then, when she got to the actual 3 T’s (or 3 C’s in Spanish) the chapters were short and didn’t really provide very many tips. The main points of the book can be summed up as: Talk to your kids. Read, Sing, Play. Engage with your children. I think her ideas and research would have been better suited as a long article rather than an entire book. I do love her bibliography and it has given me a huge list of articles and books to read as early childhood literacy has been my primary focus as a librarian during the last few years. Suskind’s program works as a workshop for parents. It is promoted as a curriculum that will help parents harness their strengths when interacting with their child. It teachers parents how to expand on ideas, how to talk to their children, how to observe what their child is doing and to build on those experiences. For the most part, this is a Chicago based initiative, and I’m curious as to their results of the program.

This is a topic that hits close to home as I see and work with a number of children across the socio-economic range. I try to instill a sense of confidence and pride in parents that come to the library. My library system has taken part of the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative and we have sign-ups in massive numbers at the library and at outreach events. Parents care about their children and they want them to succeed. It’s just that so few parents know that the first 3 years are really the most important when it comes to creating a scaffolding for the future. This is a good book for anyone wanting to get their feet wet in the data of early literacy. There are so many excellent resources out there. I really feel as if there is a new emerging focus on the Zero to 3 age-range right now, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Hesperus Nova, 2014
ISBN: 9781843915362, 108 pages

Bilodo is, as the title suggests, a lonely postman living in Montreal. He’s an introverted, quiet man who delivers mail by day, returning to his lonely and empty apartment at night. Despite the monotony of his life, he’s found a way to break the cycle. He pockets personal letters and steams open the envelope in his kitchen at night, reading the contents. The letters do eventually find their way to their intended recipients, albeit a few days late. It is during one of these intercepted letters where Bilodo first comes across Ségolène’s letters to Gaston. Their letters, an exchange of haikus, excites Bilodo as he wedges himself into their world as an invisible interloper. During one of his delivery rounds, he witnesses a horrific accident, where Gaston is struck by a car on his way to deliver a letter to Ségolène. From here, Bilodo’s world takes an unexpected twist as he finds himself that much closer to Ségolène.

This short novella is quite peculiar, as the title states. The postman, Bilodo is a creeper who steals personal letters to steam open and read at night after his shift. The book is a tragic love story with elements of fantasy. It’s more psychological than anything although we don’t really get into Bilodo’s head. I wish the story was told from his point of view rather than a 3rd person narrator. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel sympathy for him or see his downfall as a warning. It’s a bit shallow on that end. It could have been a better novella with a bit more depth and introspection into Bilodo’s fragmented sense of sense and his deteriorating sense of life. Maybe this was lost in the translation? There were also a lot of little details that were left unanswered. How does he afford to keep two apartments with one postman’s salary? How does he suddenly learn to write haikus just by putting on a kimono? How does he go two years without anyone noticing their mail being tampered with? I have more questions. The fantasy elements were too subtle, I couldn’t suspend reality to accept its overlay throughout the novella.

The Postman: Il PostinoAt times, it felt like the book was more about poetry than about people. In those instances, I was reminded of another novella about a postman. Il Postino, The Postman. Set in Italy, this is the story of a humble and sweet postman who learns how to write love poetry from the famed Pablo Neruda to win the admiration of a beautiful girl in his village. This is one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite books. The love story, the poetry and the tragic ending are heart-breaking and so genuine. If you want a book about a postman and poetry with a love angle, I’d opt for the latter book. If you want a book about a creepy 27-year-old who spies on his neighborhood, go for the first book.

What I’m Reading

This has been an epic year of reading for me. Nearly every book I’ve picked up to read, I have enjoyed. Its bizarre, its wonderful. I’m on a roll and I can’t stop. I forgot how much fun books can be. How engrossing they can be. Its so easy to get bogged down in the poorly written stories and characters and be put-off, but no. This has been a wonderful year of reading and there’s still so much left to do!

In the past week, I’ve checked out these books from my library. I’m not sure what order I’ll be reading them in, but I’m excited to get started.

The Little Paris Bookshop How to Eat a Small Country: A Family's Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a Time The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1)

Book Revew: The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
Source: My Copy
Find this book at your local library

This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year now. I don’t remember exactly why I grabbed it other than knowing that the author is someone well-known and a person that well-read readers read. I was not disappointed.

From the introduction to the very first page of the book, I was mesmerized by Maugham’s use of language to paint such a stoic, dramatic and engaging perspective of life. I didn’t really know what to expect when I started reading this book, I had absolutely no idea what it was about when I began reading.

The book begins with a short biography about Kitty, who is born and bred for a fine marriage. When that fails, her mother marries her off to the next available suitor, Mr. Walter Fane. Shortly after marriage, Kitty accompanies her husband to China. His work as a bacteriologist leads him away from their home in England. Once in China, Kitty is bored and unhappy with her marriage and engages in an affair with colonial officer Charles Townsend. Up until this point, I had Anna Karenina similarities running through my head and I found Kitty to be incredibly vapid and annoying. That is until Walter found out about the affair and gave Kitty two options. 1) Divorce (on the condition that she marry Charles in 2 weeks time) or 2) accompany him to cholera-ridden town of Mei-tan-fu. This marks the turning point for Kitty, when Charles undoubtedly lets her down. Whisked away to the dangerous city, Kitty befriends the French nuns at the local church and begins to work with them, helping the young children in the village.

In its simplest description, it’s a tale of redemption for Kitty. She commits a sin, denies the sin, accepts the sin and tries to atone for it. Watching the slow evolution of Kitty took me by surprise. I didn’t fully realize how much she had changed until the end. Even then, she still hadn’t changed that much, at least not when reintroduced to Charles Townsend towards the end of the book. The novel had its racist moments particularly in the descriptions of the Chinese citizens. The book was written in the 1924, not that it’s an excuse, but apparently it was accepted commentary back then. Maugham didn’t really shed anyone in a favorable light except maybe the Mother Superior. Kitty, Charles, Walter, everyone had their faults and insecurities. Even in her search for redemption, I still found Kitty slightly unlikable.

The book is very short, but covers so much ground. Racism, colonialism, adultery, isolation, filial strains, friendship, unhappiness, etc. The list goes on. Quite a few times I forgot that the book was written nearly 90 years ago, so many of the issues brought up in the book are contemporary issues of today. I think that’s what makes this book a classic and timeless in its message.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld This was originally posted on The Novel World on 8/10/2015

Currently Reading + Upcoming Reviews

You’ll probably see a flurry of French cooking books on here. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself before the 6th annual Paris in July Reading Challenge takes place. At least, I hope it does. I haven’t heard any news or seen any icons for it yet. Either way, I’ll still be celebrating. Most notably by going down to the Santa Barbara French Festival this year. It should be lots of fun and I expect to come home with lots of little trinkets and treats.

Just Finished Reading
Two very wonderful and insightful books looking at life across the pond. What’s best is that these two books don’t bash US customs and traditions in order to elevate the European counterparts. We can do that on our own just by reading about how life is lived over there. These two books provide readers little windows through which we can peek into another country’s traditions and home life.

That's Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France

  • That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us by Erin Moore
  • In A French Kitchen: Tales & Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France by Susan Hermann Loomis

Just Started Reading
One is an ebook and the other is eaudio, yet both were chosen strictly for their pretty covers. Also, the print copies are all checked out and inundated with numerous holds at my library. So e-copies are all I have for now.

The Miniaturist  The Uninvited Guests

  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  • The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

Put Down & Forgot to Pick Back Up
Note to self: audiobooks by Neil Gaiman  only. Listening to his wonderfully dreamy voice read his dark stories is really the best way to experience Neil Gaiman books.

For the life of me, I can’t get myself to finish Bring Up the Bodies even through I am enjoying it. I have about 60 pages left, and I’m reading it at a pace of 5 pages a week. I’ve already reached the maximum number of renewals for my library copy too. I do plan on finishing it though. I’m too close to the end not to. I’m just not sure how eager I’ll be for book #3 in the trilogy.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2)

  • Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
  • Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Book review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Gabrielle Zevin)

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryTitle: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2014

Although this was published over a year ago, this is a title I’ve been seeing making the rounds on book blogs and on library carts over the past few months. It was actually this month’s book club selection for a library book club that I incidentally ended up skipping.

I fall into an odd spot with this book. My memory of the book is fonder than my thoughts were while I was reading it. This book is an ode to readers and their books. From the first page to the last, the book is filled with notions and quotes that readers will cherish, relate to and appreciate. Although those sentiments and the general story were memorable, there was still much left untouched within the story. The story begins with an awkward sell to a bookseller, A.J., from a publishing sales representative, Amelia. A.J. suffers two major losses at the start of the book. The first is his wife Nic in a tragic car accident. The second is a rare manuscript of Tamerlane, an extremely rare collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe, said to be worth 400 thousand dollars. After returning home from an early morning job, A.J. finds something unexpected and life-changing tucked away into his store. This then starts a change in his life, taking his down different paths than what he could have ever imagined.

The characters are interesting, diverse and quite dysfunctional on many levels. Those parts of the story I liked. At times the story and the quotes were too sentimental, maudlin even.  It was very purple-prose. Much of the story was predictable and many of twists were cliché. The pacing was too choppy for me. Things just happen from leaping over years, with no transition and no depth. Everything just falls into place, no trouble or effort involved. It was a cop-out gimmick. For all the drama purported through the character’s and their descriptions, there is virtually no conflict in the book. Everything resolves neatly, everyone communicates, is empathic and sympathetic all the time. Its an ideal world of fiction. Maybe that was the author’s intent?

Book Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Source: My Copy
2015 Reading Challenge categories

  • Written by a woman
  • A book that can be read in a day
  • A book a friend recommended

Through Homer’s epic The Odyssey, what we know of Penelope is that she is the faithful and clever wife of Odysseus. She is the wife who remains loyal and devoted to her husband after a twenty-year separation. Ten years for the Trojan War, and the following ten years it takes of Odysseus to find his way back home. Throughout her time, many suitors barge into her home in the hopes of marrying her and laying claim to all of her wealth and possessions.

The Penelopiad follows the same story, but told through the eyes and voice of Penelope. The story is told by Penelope in the afterlife (Hades) centuries after her death. I”m still unsure how I feel about this. It allowed for a modern tone & colloquialisms, but it still felt out of place with when the Odyssey took place. I think I went into this book expecting is told concurrently with the Odyssey rather than a retelling many eons later. I learned that Odysseus is a charming ass, but we already knew that. But he is only one of the few people who listens to Penelope and treats her with respect. The chapters told through Penelope’s voice are separated by chapters told through the 12 maids who were murdered by Odysseus upon his return to his palace. Although they were murder under the premise of their disloyalty to Penelope, early on we find out that it was Penelope who encouraged them to mix and mingle with the suitors, to bad-mouth their mistress in order to find out their plans. Penelope didn’t reveal her plan to Odysseus before the murder, so thus, the injustice was carried out. I liked the chapters of the maid’s point of view the best I think. They varied from prose, to song, to a trial before a judge. The injustice of their deaths was very creatively done.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean

Source: library copy

Genre: non-fiction

How Paris Became Paris is a wonderful book for anyone interested in a brief history to the City of Light. DeJean’s book covers a lot of ground, focusing on the 17th century developments happening in the city. However, she doesn’t go in as much depth as say a history book. Her writing style is much more casual, although you’ll be inundated with interesting facts about the structuring of the city of Paris.

She starts with the Pont Neuf bridge, and from there, the chapters discuss the ripple effects of this bridge on French social society. The invention of this bridge quite literally paved the way for modern French interactions, fashion as well as development throughout the city. The widened bridge became the first in Europe to be of such a width as to allow the public to parade through the streets. It is as a result of this bridge, that the French started leaving their homes to go for walks. These walks led to the necessity of being fashionably dressed. The need for fashion led to the invention of clothing stores and the hobby known as shopping. The availability of shopping allowed for people of all class caste systems to be able to dress and intermingle with people above and below their rank. This intermingling led to many more social developments, particularly in relation to women’s freedoms.

The chapters have a very easy flow to them, picking up where the previous one concluded. I found them to be the perfect length. Neither too long, nor too short. There are a number of illustrations, photographs and maps dotted throughout the chapters to break up the text and help highlight the author’s opinions. The author has a clear love for the city, and it strongly reflected in her writing. Paris can do no wrong and had apparently been an inspiration to other European capitals over the centuries. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone planning a trip to Paris. Having some historical insight will make the tourist stops that much more meaningful.

2015 Reading Challenge

This 2015 Reading Challenge complied by PopSugar seems very feasible, for me at least. I’ve never been good with reading challenges, but I think I could accidently read a number of the books on this checklist. That’s another plus, is that its a checklist form. There’s nothing I love better than checking something off a list. I think I might print out a number of these to pass out at the library this month. What reading challenges are you signing up for next year?