Monthly Archives: October 2015

Weekend Cooking: Book Review – Delicious by Ruth Reichl

Delicious!

 

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.

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

Upcoming reviews & what I’m currently reading

Reviews are coming! I’ve been reading books faster than I can type up my thoughts. I’ve also been crazy busy between work and life, so I’ve been neglecting my blog for a bit trying to get my life back in a balance. I should have some reviews coming in the next couple of weeks. I’ve finished 3 books in the last two weeks, so those will be up first. My new goal is to break 40 books by the end of the year. I know I’ve started more than 40 books since January, but I abandon books fairly easily when I don’t like the writing or the audiobook narrator. So 40 is my goal for the year. Lets see how far I get.

What I Read

Delicious!  Quick review: I loved this book!

Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity StyleQuick review: A great resource for work management, not time management. It’s a variant on all those time management/organization books.

Goodnight June Quick review: Wonderful premise, lackluster execution.

What I’m Reading/Listening to

Antidote to Venom Quick summary: Early 20th century British crime novel set in a zoo. It’s so engrossing.

A Taste for Intrigue: The Multiple Lives of François Mitterrand Quick summary: A look inside the life and times of Francois Mitterand, one of France’s most memorable presidents.

The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves Quick summary: “Stephen Grosz draws short, vivid stories from his 25-five-year practice in order to track the collaborative journey of therapist and patient as they uncover the hidden feelings behind ordinary behavior.” (goodreads.com)

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.

Book Review: How to Eat a Small Country by Amy Finley

How to Eat a Small Country: A Family's Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a TimeHow to Eat a Small Country by Amy Finley
Memoir, France
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Broadway Books,
ISBN: 9780307984968

To be quite honest, I’m not sure how to summarize this book at all. It’s about Amy Finley’s troubled marriage, it’s about how she makes her family go overseas to spend 6 months eating their way through France in an attempt to save her marriage. However, she doesn’t really talk about her marriage, or how this trip overseas resolves any of their problems. As a food memoir, the book is pretty decent. Finley provides some wonderful historical looks into the lesser known areas of Southern France. Provence usually gets all the accolades, a few specific cities in particular. I liked that I had no knowledge of the cities she visited and it was interesting to learn about the food history in those regions.

Beyond that though, the book was disjointed, vague and the author’s tone was that of a petulant child writing in a diary than of a women trying to convene some sense of balance back into her life. Her descriptions and depictions of her family were horribly cruel. Her husband came off as controlling and somewhat mentally abusive. Although what he did and why he did what he did was never explained. She makes a casual reference to having won a Food Network Cooking show and having to choose between her marriage and career because he threatened divorce. She signed up for the show because she was bored and depressed at home. However, I don’t think either of them expected her succeed and he was particularly not ready for her to win and have a career in New York when they lived in Santa Barbara, California. I still have no idea what he did that shook up the entire family so badly that they had to go to France to save their marriage.

Although her descriptions of food and the food history were enlightening, it seems like Finley had a penchant for picking mediocre restaurants for their trip. I’m still struggling to take seriously her 2 page complaint about a waiter having changed into his street clothes before leaving them with the bill at the end of his shift. Her children were poorly behaved in virtually every mention of their names and they by far seemed to have suffered the worst from the marital strife their parents were going through. I could go on and on about what this memoir is not. What it is though, are disjointed and vague thoughts about a struggling marriage. It is about Finley running away from her problems and not wanting to address them, only complain about them. What was she looking to find in France? She didn’t find it by the time the book ended. There was no resolution, there was no sign towards resolution. According to the book blurb, they are still married. So I guess they figured it out somehow.

Book Review: Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth / Audio Book narrated by Nicola Barber
Source: Library Copy

I’ve been a big fan of the TV for the past couple of years. I think season 4 aired its last episode in May. I’ve been wanting to read Jenny’s memoirs about her time at the East End of London since I began watching the show. I was happy to find the audiobook at my library yesterday so that I could hear these stories while I did my travelling around town for work and personal errands. I’ve been a big fan of the TV show for years and have just finally picked up the audio book. I’m sad to say that the TV show gave many of Worth’s stories happy endings that sadly didn’t happen in real life. But I guess that’s the fact of life, there are no happy endings for everyone. So many of the tragic and heartbreaking stories that Jenny discusses in full detail in her book were given a somewhat happy ending in the show. Although I know its unrealistic of me, but I’m in a state of shock of just how horrid life was in London less than 100 years ago. So many of her stories had me crying in my car, rushing home to hug my toddler in appreciation.

The ones that particularly clung to me where about poor Mrs. Jenkins and Mary. My heart broke for Mrs. Jenkins and the loss of her five children one by one. Particularly since her youngest child was just about the same age as mine is now. To imagine going through what she went through, which just horrible disdain from the government that was supposed to care for her was so wretched.  Also with Mary. Her story was equally deplorable. An abusive childhood in Ireland that led to forced prostitution in London. I’m glad the value of human life has evolved since then, but that such atrocities were happening less than a hundred years ago in the reputed-to-be noble England was mind-boggling.

What I appreciated about Jenny’s memoir is that despite the inescapable realities of poverty, she and the nuns manage to find a sense of peace and humanity in Poplar. The relationships they build with the community is so trusting and caring. The few bright lights of happiness in the city can show that not all humanity is lost in the world. It’s just hidden, and you really have to look to find it. Jenny as a narrator and observer of the East End really grew on me. Although she came to the region biased and naïve, she left slightly more aware of the world. Her compassion and understanding of poverty developing throughout her time there and her experiences with the families. It really is a touching memoir and I’m glad the TV show did the stories and all the Poplar characters justice in their depictions. Especially Sister Monica Joan. She’s far more likeable in the show than in the book.