Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Apothecary (Maile Meloy) – Review

The apothecaryThe Apothecary by Maile Meloy
Age: 12 & Up
Genre: Historical Fantasy-Fiction
Publisher: GP Putnam & Sons, 2011
ISBN 9780399256271
353 pages

Find this book at your local library

A mysterious apothecary. A magic book. A missing scientist. An impossible plan.

So begins the hook that first put this book on my radar. The Apothecary is about a Janie Scott, a typical 14-year-old girl living in Los Angeles with parents that work for Hollywood in 1952. After being followed home by federal agents one day, Janie’s parents decide that its time for the family to pick up their bags and move to London to further evade government suspicions. Once there, Janie befriends Benjamin Burrows, the son of the local apothecary, and soon the pair go on a wild adventure to look for Benjamin’s missing father, putting together the pieces of a puzzle that spans the globe.

There are a number of elements in this book that will be attractive to the young readers. I’d say the age span of this book would be for kids 12 and up. There are a number of historical references in this book, the vocabulary and plot are complex, but not overly so. Its well-balanced between action, historical accuracy, and teen romance. Janie is the perfect heroine. She’s not perfect, she’s flawed, she’s gutsy, she’s shy, but she’s willing to leave anything open to possibilities.

I love the name Benjamin Burrows. If that’s not a secret agent type of name, I don’t know what is. Benjamin and Janie befriend Pip during a stint in juvenile prison. Pip is the pick-pocketing kid from your typical Dicken’s novel. He’s clever, he’s quirky and he makes for a fun and humorous counterpart to Ben and Janie’s seriousness.

I love that this book is set during the Cold War of the 1950s. That’s an era that isn’t much written about in children’s historical novels. Meloy did a fantastic job creating a setting that is dark and eerie, in a world that is full of suspicions and paranoia.

There were a few elements that I found lacking, but I’m wondering if it’s because  I read this book as an adult. I found the ending to be a little disappointing, particularly how things were left with Janie and her parents. I found that entire element to be unnecessary. I also felt that the bad guys were not evil enough. They just seemed so tame and reserved. The ultimate villain in any children’s book is Count Olaf, and author Lemony Snicket did set a rather high bar for adult cruelty in The Series of Unfortunate Events.

The Apothecary is Maile Meloy’s first novel for young readers, so I can only see her work for this age group improving. Her brother is Colin Meloy, author of Wildwood, which is also his first novel for young readers. I wonder how much the two collaborated and shared notes working on these two novels? I really enjoyed Wildwood, and had high hopes for The Apothecary.

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Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman) – Review

Fragile things : short fictions and wondersFragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman
Age: Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: Audio Book
Sound Library, 2006
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2006
9 discs: 10 hours, 47 minutes

Find this book at your local library

There’s really only 2 things of note about this book.

  1. Its written by Neil Gaiman
  2. Its read by Neil Gaiman

That’s really all you need to know to go out and pick up this book, in audio or text format. It’s no secret that I have a giant crush on Neil Gaiman and everything he’s written, produced or even glanced at. For the sake of propriety and consistency, I’ve also included what is probably a fairly biased review of the book below.

As noted in the title, Fragile Things is a collection of short stories and poems, most of which border on the edge of morbid, haunting, introspective and unsettling. The stories cover topics like life and death, perceptions and reality, heroes and villans, etc. The introduction of the book starts with Gaiman’s brief synopsis of each piece, explaining why and when it was written. He revisits Shadow from American Gods, wrote a short story for his daughter, and a few of the stories even overlap with certain characters. All of the stories have Gaiman’s trademark snarky sense of humor and his eloquent writing style, easily guiding the reader from horror to horror with a grace I have to yet to find in another author of similar genres.

This is another book that I actually own, the hardcopy is on my bookshelf. I picked up the audio because it’s narrated by Neil Gaiman. I could listen to him talk for hours. He has a very soothing, relaxed voice. His accents were on key for Fragile Things, and it was quite funny at times listening to him read certain sections. 

Feeders and Eaters was perhaps the most dreadful story of the bunch. I think I shuddered for about a minute in my car thinking about poor Mr. Thompson the cat. Hidden in the introduction is the short story The Mapmaker, which was also an amazing tale and I hope people don’t skip the introduction, otherwise they’ll miss this story altogether. There was also another story, October in the Chair, that works as a precursor to the Graveyard Book. In that story, each character is one of the 12 months, and each month has to produce a story to share with the other 11. October’s story being that of a young boy and a graveyard. Another favorite story was Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dead Desire, about a author who finds writing realistic fiction so dreadful, especially when his reality is so bizarre and surreal. I love his take on science fiction in that story.

The only complaint that I have about the audio book is that with most of Gaiman’s books, I have to often go back and reread paragraphs or sentences to really digest the meaning and the references. It’s not easy to do that with an audio book.  Some of the stories I did find a bit boring; The Problem of Susan being one  and I really couldn’t get into Harlequinn Romance. I found Bitter Grounds to be somewhat confusing and convoluted about zombies and Haitian girls and coffee concoctions.

Fans of Neil Gaiman will love this book, and I hope these short snippets of his work will help convert the rest of the population. If you ever get a chance to see Neil Gaiman at a library, or bookstore event, I highly recommend that you go.

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Gobble Gobble Thanks

Gobble Till Ya Wobble comment

photo via Dazzle Junction

Today is the day we are supposed to think of all the things in life we are grateful for. Giving thanks for our blessings and forgetting about the sorrows. This is the holiday otherwise known as FOOD DAY. But it is a day to spend with family and friends, to get a couple of days off from work to relax and catch up on life outside of the office. 2011 has been a fantastic year for me and I am grateful for a number of things.

  • My family, primarily my mother and sister for everything they have done for me and have been for me.
  • My husband, who has been my husband for 7 months. It finally feels normal to call him husband.
  • My friends, who love and support me. I’ll cook for you guys anytime!
  • I am thankful to work for the library system. I am thankful for my weekly baby storytimes, bringing literacy and entertainment to infants.
  • The readers of this blog. Thank you for making me feel relevant and reminding me that my messages aren’t being sent into dead space.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Town (Charles Bukowski) – Review

The most beautiful woman in town & other storiesThe Most Beautiful Woman in Town & other Stories by Charles Bukowski
Age: Adult
Genre: Short Stories, Dirty Realism
Publisher: City Lights, 1967 -1983
ISBN 0872861562
240 pages

Find this book at your local library 

I read Bukowski’s The Post Office three years ago, and I really enjoyed the honest and gritty writing style. 3 years later…and this collection of short stories really didn’t go over well with me. The stories were pretty formulaic: a man drinks, has sex, gambles, drinks some more, is constantly being put down by “the man”, and has more sex.

Some of the stories were gems and had the potential for some depth. Some of his lines were like poetry; the most beautiful woman in town was like “fluid moving fire.”  That was the first story in the collection, and incidentally my favorite one of the bunch.

For the most part, I felt that the shock factor of the stories wore off halfway through, and the rest of the stories just seemed to ramble and become repetitive.      All of these stories were written over a span of time in various newspapers, serials and magazines. You could really tell, because there was no common thread and some of the stories just felt like Bukowski didn’t have any heart in it. Most of the stories are set in Los Angeles, although even those set in other cities followed the same format.  At best this book should be read in small sections over a large span of time, rather than all at once.

Kitchen Counter Cooking School (Kathleen Flinn) – Review

The kitchen counter cooking school : how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooksKitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir / Cooking
Publisher: Viking, 2011
ISBN: 9780670023004
285 pages

 

Find this book at your local library 

After a chance encounter at a Seattle grocery store with a mother and a shopping cart full of processed food in a box, professional chef and author Kathleen Flinn decides to teach a series of cooking classes to a group of nine volunteers. Although she teaches them the basic skills necessary in the kitchen, the side benefit to the class is that the nine students earn a confidence, curiosity and knowledge of food that they did not possess before the classes began.

I enjoyed many aspects of this book, and I could definitely relate to the journey of most of the students, or volunteers as they’re called, in the book. I had just finished watching Julie and Julia for the 100th time when I picked up this book. I was pleased to find so many references and quotes of Julia Child’s sprinkled throughout the book.  Reading this book made me reflect on my own journey and growth with food and cooking. Going from frozen tater tot and corn dog dinners to roasting chicken with leeks and apples with a side dish of apricot cous cous with roasted almonds…it seems like I’m talking about two different people.

Flinn, along with various guest chefs and nutritionists lead the nine volunteers through a series of classes covering everything from eggs, roasting chicken, deboning chicken, tasting, pastas and vinaigrettes. I really wish there had a been a class or program like this available when I was first struggling in the kitchen. Although I learned most of the steps on my own, (The Food Network’s How to Boil Water is by far my favorite and most informative cookbook), it would have been nice to have a professional guide the way as I learned with others on the same level as myself.

Before the classes start, Flinn visits each of the volunteers to see what they have in the refrigerator and pantry, and has each volunteer cook a typical meal. At the end of the book, she revisits each of the volunteers at their homes and we see the marked differences in the pantry and refrigerator inventory and cooking skills.

Another element that I liked in the book is the full bibliography and recommended reading lists that Flinn included at the end of the book. She references many articles and authors when providing the background information for certain foods and lesson plans, so it was nice to have the informational readily available for additional reading.

 Book 8

Weekend Cooking – Foodie 5 Favorites

FOODIE FIVE FAVORITES

Here are a few of my favorite foodie factors (alliteration is fun!). Below is a list of some my top favorite things related to food (cookbooks, websites, etc).

What about you? What are you favorite cookbooks, ingredients, websites, etc? Share in the comments.

5 Favorite Cookbooks
  • How to Boil Water by the Food Network
How to boil water : life beyond takeout.
  • Eating Well Serves 2 – Eating Well Magazine
EatingWell serves two : 150 healthy in a hurry suppers
  • Real Simple: Best Recipes – Easy, Delicious Meals
Real Simple best recipes : easy, delicious meals
  • The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever by Beatrice A Ojakangas; Susie Cushner
The Best Casserole cookbook ever
  • Substituting Ingredients A to Z by Becky Sue Epstein
Substituting ingredients : the A to Z kitchen reference
 
5 Favorite Foodie Blogs (I cheated and put 6…there are too many good ones out there!)
5 Favorite Ingredients
  • Paprika
  • Butter
  • Chicken
  • Cous Cous
  • Cheese
5 Favorite Kitchen Must-Haves
  • Coffee maker/Coffee bean grinder
  • Steamer pot
  • Bottle Opener/Wine Stopper
  • Large frying pan/skillet
  • Rachel Ray Knives
5 Favorite Foodie Books/Memoirs

Aftertaste (Meredith Mileti) – Review

Aftertaste : a novel in five coursesAftertaste: A Novel in 5 Courses by Meredith Mileti 
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction / Chick-lit
Publisher: Kensington
ISBN: 9780758259912
373 pages
Source: Publisher / LibraryThing Early Readers

Find this book at your local library 

Mira Rinaldi had it all as co-owner of the popular New York restaurant Grappa,  a spacious apartment, and brand new baby. In one night, she lost everything when she caught her husband having an affair with one of their employees. Between the anger management classes and divorce proceedings, Mira’s emotional outbursts set in motion her loss of her restaurant and her New York lifestyle. Somehow, Mira is left to pick up the pieces and find a new outlet for her passion for cooking and create a new life for herself outside of New York.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved the passages on food, and I thought Mira’s character was full of intricacies and emotional issues that didn’t make her just the victim or just the victor. The supporting staff of characters, although somewhat cliché and predictable, did a good job of balancing the crazy that engulfed Mira’s life after she found her husband cheating on her.

The book is divided into 5 sections, each named after an Italian course. One thing I noticed, and I actually sort of want to go back and do an actual count, is that it seemed like there was wine being drunk like it was water. I found it particularly odd that Mira consumed so much wine as she was still nursing baby Chloe. It felt the characters were drinking wine in nearly every chapter, whether with lunch, dinner, or a mid-night snack.

While I don’t think Mira made the best choices in the beginning of the novel, she does take accountability for her decisions and realizes the consequences of her actions. After moving back home to live with her dad, she is aware of how her behavior is hurting those around her, but is unable to stop it because she is so frustrated with her life.

The story is paced very well, its conversational, not rushed but didn’t drag either. This really gave the reader a chance to get to know the characters and see the character development in Mira. An added perk is that Mileti included a number of the recipes mentioned throughout the book.

This book would be a great read for book clubs because of the content, the recipes and the included discussion questions in the back of the book.

  Book 7

World Book Capital 2012

Thanks to Jen Robinson’s Book Page, I recently became aware that Yerevan, Armenia has been named the World Book Capital for 2012 by UNESCO.

As an Armenian, I am incredibly proud of this news. Armenia has a rich and troubled history, but it also has a beautiful culture deeply rooted in the arts and sciences.

UNESCO Press Release:

Yerevan is the twelfth city to be designated World Book Capital after Madrid (2001), Alexandria (2002), New Delhi (2003), Antwerp (2004), Montreal (2005), Turin (2006), Bogota (2007), Amsterdam (2008), Beirut (2009), Ljubljana (2010) and Buenos Aires (2011).

The city of Yerevan was chosen for the quality and variety of its programme, which is “very detailed, realistic and rooted in the social fabric of the city, focused on the universal and involving all the stakeholders involved in the book industry”, according to the members of the selection committee.

“I congratulate the city of Yerevan, which has presented a particularly interesting programme with many different themes, including the freedom of expression, as well as several activities for children, who will be the readers and authors of tomorrow”, said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. “Mobilizing the entire world of books and reading, from authors to printers and publishers, will undoubtedly help to make the Yerevan programme a major success, with a sustainable impact,” she added.

Every year, UNESCO and the three major international professional organizations from the world of books – the International Publishers Association (IPA), the International Booksellers Federation (IBF) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) – designate a city as World Book Capital for one year, between two consecutive celebrations of World Book and Copyright Day (23 April). This initiative is a collaborative effort between representatives of the main stakeholders in the book industry, as well as a commitment by cities to promote books and reading.

The Final Solution (Michael Chabon) – Review

The final solution : a story of detectionThe Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN 9780060777104
131 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Having retired  to the English countryside, an eighty-nine-year-old man, rumored to have once been a great detective, spends more time tending to his bees than interacting with the people in his small town. It isn’t until the day that nine-year old Linus Steinman, escaped from Nazi Germany, wanders into his life that the old man is finally pulled out of his shell. Linus is a mute with a sole companion of an African gray parrot who constantly recites a series of numbers in German. Soon after the arrival of Linus and Bruno, the bird, a viscous murder takes places in the small town, and the old man is pulled into the foray of the investigation, lending a hand towards finding the killer.

Although I’ve never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that the eighty-nine-year-old man, who remains nameless throughout the entire book, is most likely Sherlock Holmes. The setting, the time frame and the mannerisms, of which I’ve only heard about, all seem about right.

Although only a meager 131 pages, some of which are illustrations of certain scenes and characters, this mini-novel has the typically expected twists in a whodunnit book. Although I was fully engrossed by Chabon’s effortlessly descriptive prose, I felt that many elements were lacking in this book in regards to the plot. At times the story felt jumpy, there would be a series of progressions without any explanation. There wasn’t much character development with any of the characters other than the old man. I didn’t attach or care about any of the characters, except the old man. Even the young boy, with his tragic history, was left dull and dim in the shade of the old man’s glow. Granted, the old man was given the most attention, so maybe this was Chabon’s intention? There is a chapter at the end, told through the perspective of the parrot that I really enjoyed and felt was the best written segment of this book.

I’d say that for anyone curious about Chabon, this would be a good introduction book. Its short enough to not be a big commitment, and its a good way to get a feel for his writing style. Although I felt that this book could and should have been expanded in many ways, I still enjoyed it, particularly the sense humor and wit infused in the dialogue.

Nine Stories (JD Salinger) – Review

Nine StoriesNine Stories by JD Salinger
Age: YA/Adult
Genre: Fiction / Short stories
Publisher: Little Brown Books, 1948
ISBN 0316769509
198 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Nine stories is a collection of short stories written by JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey. It is in this collection where the Glass family, the main constituents of Franny and Zooey, is first introduced. In the next eight stories, we meet and get to know characters with an assortment of mental and physical ailments, and self-discoveries.

I really, really enjoyed this collection of stories. My favorites being To Esme – With Love and Squalor, The Laughing Man and De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period. A common thread through all nine stories is the mood of desperation, of frustration and of muddled identities. The characters felt very real, not idealized. They felt like real people with real issues starting to overflow into their everyday lives.

I found To Esme – With Love and Squalor to be a particularly haunting story about the effects of war on an individual. The ending of that story particularly stayed with me. It is so simply written, but packs so much punch and commentary on the state of war and the mental and physical drain it can take on an individual. From the one line note about a twitch on the face, to a shaky hand, the subtle differences from the first half of the story to the second half create an overall dreadful vision.

This collection of stories, like most of Salinger’s books, can and should be read over and over again. I know that the next time I read one of the stories, I’ll discover something new about one of the characters or catch a new allusion or reference. Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of Franny and Zooey, I did find myself more interested in the Glass family in the story A Perfect Day for Bananafish, which starts off the book.

The stories are fairly short, 20-30 pages tops. The shorter stories were my favorites. So much packed into so few pages always amazes me. Salinger also had a gift of eloquently ending the stories. I felt satisfied at the end, but still wondering what would happen next. The stories weren’t abrupt or jumpy. There was an easy flow from one story to the next, nothing felt out-of-place.

Read the book in one go, or read one story at a time, either way, this book should be read.