Monthly Archives: October 2011

Heist Society (Ally Carter) – Review

Heist societyHeist Society by Ally Carter
Age: Teen
Genre: Fiction, Heist
Format: Audio Book
Publisher: Brilliance Audio, 2009
5 discs

Find this book at your local library

Having escaped a life of crime and conning, fifteen year old Katerina Bishop’s final goodbye to the “family business” was to scam her way into one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country. At the school only a short while, Kat learns that leaving her former life is harder than she’d thought, especially when she’s framed for a school prank that has her expelled from the Colgan School. Reunited with her friend and co-conspirator, Hale, Kat learns that her con-man father has fallen into big trouble, accused of stealing a set of portraits only a master thief could pull off. Now Kat has two weeks to retrieve the paintings and save her father, putting together a crew of her own and creating her own little heist society.

First, I want to say that Angela Dawe is an amazing reader for this audio book. Her youthful voice gave life to the characters, and she was able to alter her tone and accent enough to really infuse each character with their own separate personality and voice. Sometimes, all the characters seem to blur together with certain narrators, but Dawe managed to keep them all unique and apart in this Ocean’s Eleven for Teenagers.

I listened to this book on audio, which was a really fun way to get into the story. I think this is an audio book that the whole family can really enjoy during long road-trips. There is a lot of globe-trotting: Paris to London, to Austria to Paris. There is a lot of wealth, and bling and talk of wealth and bling and pretty people to round it out. Despite all the wealth in this book, Kat remained a character that is strong yet vulnerable, insecure, but clever. I found her to be a fantastic lead character, able to put together one of the youngest heist crews to attempt to pull off one of the greatest heist of their generation.

As a teen novel, there is the pre-requisite love triangle, and unrequited love plot-line, as well as the make-up of Kat’s crew. The pretty one (cousin Gabrielle), the dashing billionaire (Hale), the nerdy techie (cousin Simon) the loose cannons (the Bradshaw brothers), and the new addition (Nick).

The story was easy to follow, very quick-paced. The dialogue is sharp, witty, although sometimes the kids sounded much older than their fifteen years. But then again, when you’ve been casing the Louvre at age three, and stealing the crown jewels of Austria at age seven, there isn’t much room to idly chew gum and flip through fashion magazines.

Overall, I found this to be a really enjoyable book, Carter’s writing is witty, youthful and brilliantly composed.

Book 51 of 2011

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Under the Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes) – Review

Under the Tuscan sun : [at home in Italy]Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Age: Adult
Genre: Travel Memoir
Publisher: Broadway Books. 1996
ISBN 0767900383
280 pages

3/4ths of the year, Frances Mayes works as a professor for San Francisco State University teaching writing. The rest of the time, she spends in Tuscany with her husband Ed. The two purchased an old dilapidated Bramasole building that they carefully and lovingly renovated over the course of a couple of years.

A few things:

  1. The movie of the same name is loosely based on the book. Actually, the premise that Frances Mayes bought a house and restored it to its medieval vigor is the only part of the book that transferred to the movie.
  2. Lots of foodie talk and food discussions including a lengthy chapter full of Italian and Mediterranean inspired recipes.

This is a travel journal, not really a novel or a formal memoir. Reading reviews of this book on Librarything and Goodreads, I found that most people had a love it or hate it gut reaction to the novel. I actually liked it. I was aware of the differences from the movie going into the book, so that helped me not hate it right off the bat. I love food, so I adored the food chapters and portions of the novel. My only complaint is that Mayes writes in a stream-of-consciousness style. Her thoughts meander, and her endless descriptions of the quiet, ancient towns of Italy were just really repetitive. I couldn’t keep the cities straight in my head, they all became one big blur of olive branches, and sun-soaked buildings with lots of hidden Etruscan tombs. 

I did enjoy the first half of the book more than the second half. The first half deals primarily with the renovation of the Bramasole. Then there is a chapter devoted entirely to recipes. After that, the narrative drifts into its own little world leaving the reader behind scratching their head trying to assess which fork in the road. Go right: finish the book. Go left: abandon at all costs. I decided to go right.

If you loved the movie, be wary of the book, it’s not the movie. If you love books about Italy, dream about one day buying a home in a foreign country and love poetic and overly floral descriptions of simple country living, then this is the book you.

Find this book at your local library 

Book 50 of 2011

Wildwood (Colin Meloy) – Review

WildwoodWildwood by Colin Meloy
Age: 12 & up
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2011
ISBN: 9780062024688
541 pages

Find this book at your local library 

While enjoying a typical and relaxing day with her younger brother, Mac, 12-year-old Prue sees a murder of crows swoop down from the sky and sweep up her brother with one catch. Much to her dismay and horror, she sees that the crows have taken her brother into the frightful Impassable Woods that borders her hometown of Portland, Or. Now Prue has to muster up the courage to delve deep into the woods to look for her brother, but what she finds is more than she ever expected.

I know I said I wouldn’t review books for younger kids here, but I think this book is so fantastically and eloquently written, that adults will get a lot of enjoyment from reading this book. Colin Meloy is the lead singer/songwriter for the Decemberists, and this is his first book. Wildwood is book 1 of the Wildwood Chronicles. For me, this book has a lot of elements of many beloved children’s books. I found influences and traces of the following: The Chronicles of Narnia, Robin Hood, Neil Gaiman, Lemony Snicket, etc. From the talking animals, to the unhappy and restless residents of Wildwood, Prue and her friend Curtis get sucked into the slow upheaval that is about to upset the world of Wildwood and the epic struggle between good and evil.

The world Meloy has created is well-developed. I didn’t feel as if he spent too much or too little time on any of the numerous factions that make up the hidden world of Wildwood. From the bandits, to the city rulers, I found all the characters to be intricate, and complex. I would definitely recommend this book to advanced readers who enjoy fantasy, action, and humor. Meloy does not dumb down this book, even though it is aimed for a much younger audience. I had to look up a word in the dictionary on almost every page of this book.

There is a lot going on in this book, and I can’t even begin to sum it up in this review. I know I’ve left out giant chunks of the story, but if I were to review this book in as much detail as I wanted this review would be about a million words long.

A snippet of the book – Prue’s first impressions of Wildwood forest.

The sunlight dappled the ground in hazy patterns, and the air felt pure and untouched to Prue’s cheeks. As she walked, she wondered at the majesty of the place, her fears subsiding with every step in this incredible wilderness. Birds sang in the looming trees above the ravine, and the underbrush was periodically disturbed by the sudden skitter of a squirrel or a chipmunk. Prue couldn’t believe that no one had ever ventured this far into the Impassable Wilderness; she found it a welcoming and serene place, full of life and beauty.

Not to sound repetitive, but I LOVED this book and I think any adult who enjoys The Narnia series, or Harry Potter will definitely enjoy this book. I read all 500+ pages of it in one day. I think Harry Potter 7 was the last long book I did that for. I am eagerly awaiting book 2 of the series.

Book 49 of 2011

Gennifer Choldenko Bay Area Visit

Gennifer CholdenkoFor anyone and everyone living in the Bay Area, Gennifer Choldenko will be making the rounds in the Peninsula. If you’re as much of a fan of her work as I am, definitely try to make it to one of these events.

The author of Al Capone Does My Laundry, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, & If A Tree Falls as Lunch Period will be making the following appearances starting Monday Oct 3rd:

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period   Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko: Book Cover

  • Monday Oct 3rd – Menlo Park Public Library 7pm
  • Tuesday Oct 4th – Daly City Public Library 3:30pm
  • Tuesday Oct 4th – Redwood City Public Library 7pm
  • Thursday Oct 6th – South San Francisco Public Library 4:00pm

September Recap

September has been an oddly busy reading month for me. It didn’t feel like I read a lot, but I’ve had reviews up almost 3 days a week and reviews scheduled well into October. Yay! My goal of reading the books on my bookshelf has pretty much waned. Now I’m just reading the new books I buy and bring into the house. I guess that’s better than just letting disappear into the Bermuda Triangle that is my To Be Read Bookshelf.

Books Reviewed in September

1. French milk   2.  French women for all seasons : a year of secrets, recipes & pleasure  3.   First kill

4. The borrower : a novel 5.  Sin in the Second City : madams, ministers, playboys, and the battle for America's soul 6.  My summer of southern discomfort

7. Earth (the audiobook) : a visitor's guide to the human race 8.  Food rules : an eater's manual 9.  La Grande Therese : The Greatest Scandal of…

10. When she woke : a novel  11. 

1. French Milk by Lucy Knisley
2. French Women for All Seasons by Mirelle Guiliano
 3. The Slayer Chronicles: First Kill by Heather Brewer
 4. The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

Books Read in September but not reviewed

1. Wildwood Wildwood by Colin Meloy

2.Under the Tuscan sun : [at home in Italy] Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

3. Evil plans : having fun on the road to world domination Evil Plans by Hugh McLeod

4. Heist society Heist Society by Ally Carter

5.  L’amante Anglaise by Marguerite Duras

6. Blankets Blankets by Craig Thompson

Maman’s Homesick Pie (Donia Bijan) – Review

Maman's homesick pie : a Persian heart in an American kitchenMaman’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan
Age: YA/Adult
Genre: Memoir/Cookbook
Publication Date: October 11th, 2011
Publisher: Algonquin Books

At only 16 years of age when the Islamic Revolution took over her homeland of Iran, Donia Bijan came west to the United States, soon followed by her dutiful parents. With her former world in upheaval, Donia comes to embrace her place caught between two worlds, two cultures through cooking lessons with her mom, and time spent in the kitchen. Fostering a growing love for food, Bijan enrolls at a cooking school in Paris, bridging her love for food, with her quest for finding just where she belongs in the world.

When I first received this book. I thought it would be something similar to Funny in Farsi and Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas, another Bay Area Persian-American writer. Maman’s Homesick Pie is a 1 part cookbook and 1 part touching portrayal of Bijan’s mother. Although her mother died in a terrible and brutal manner by a hit & run car accident, her memory, loyalty and influence are ever-present in Donia’s everyday actions, particularly in the kitchen. With her mother’s never-failing love and support through all endeavors, Donia is able to fulfill her dream of perfecting her cooking abilities and even opening her own Persian-French inspired restaurant in Palo Alto, Ca. I am sad to say that this restaurant closes its doors a few years ago, but tops the list at “Restaurants that should re-open” on Yelp.

This book belongs in the kitchen along with all the other cookbooks because of the variety of recipes that conclude each chapter. I greatly appreciate the recipes, because many of these Persian dishes are the same ones, if not variations of the meals I ate at home living with my parents. It is not easy finding excellent Armenian or Persian cookbook in English, let me tell you. If you know where I can find them, please let me know!!

This is a fantastic book for foodies, and especially for mothers & daughters who share a tight bond.

Find this book at your local library 

Book 48 of 2011
 Book 4