Friday, April 24, 2015

"A Reunion of Ghosts" by Judith Claire Mitchell; a Book I Really Enjoyed but Having Trouble Putting into Words That Make Sense and Dewey's 24 Readathon Preview!

I thought this was such a great book, but I don't really know how to describe it. If you haven't heard of it, here's the description from goodreads:

How do three sisters write a single suicide note? 

In the waning days of 1999, the Alter sisters—Lady, Vee, and Delph—finalize their plans to end their lives. Their reasons are not theirs alone; they are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the first poison gas used in World War I and the lethal agent used in Third Reich gas chambers. The chemist himself, their son Richard, and Richard’s children all followed suit.

The childless sisters also define themselves by their own bad luck. Lady, the oldest, never really resumed living after her divorce. Vee is facing cancer’s return. And Delph, the youngest, is resigned to a spinster’s life of stifled dreams. But despite their pain they love each other fiercely, and share a darkly brilliant sense of humor.

As they gather in the ancestral Upper West Side apartment to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic story about four generations of one family—inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of chlorine gas—unfolds. A Reunion of Ghosts is a magnificent tale of fate and blood, sin and absolution; partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century

I know how depressing this sounds. There are certainly some sad parts, and some very sad parts. They each have this kind of terrible legacy that hangs over them, at it kind of dictates their lives. We find out so much about these sisters and then farther and farther back in their family which is full of extraordinary characters.

Distant cousin Rudi is my favorite. I'd love a whole spin off book about him.

But these women have this wonderful dry humor, and sometimes a gallows humor. One of them even works at a bookstore!

There's also at least one graphic account of what poisoned gas did too the unsuspecting soldiers that it was unleashed upon. It's horrible.

What makes these people come to life is the really lovely writing and the great sentences that the author crafts.

Like when two people are talking about tragedies in their lives and one is thinking: "I'll see your butchery and raise you my carnage".

Or when they talk about making brightly colored cocktails: "We are,after all, the descendants not only of a mass murderer, but also a dye maker. We, too, like batches of liquid color".

I'm totally rambling, but I'll try to wrap it up with some coherency. This book is love and loss and full of interesting back stories and great writing. If any of that sounds appealing, pick it up. Or at least find a review from someone who can verbalize what makes it so good better than I can. 4 stars out of 5!

The wonderful Katie over at Doing Dewey had a much more put together review than I did. She said that she found the plot a little lacking, and I do agree with her on that. I think the great writing and interesting people make up for it!

Also, this cover! Love!
If you're a book blogger you've probably heard that the 24 hour Readathon is on Saturday! I'm cheer captain for Team Jane Eyre, so I hope that I'm a help and not make things more complicated for anyone! I have books to read, but last year I just cheered the whole time and I think that might be the case again. I don't know if any of it will show up here but I will be super active on the twitter. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Books I want to read that the library doesn't have, the struggle is real.

I'm sure you've all caught on by now that I don't buy many books (the last one I bought was at Ben Winter's book signing!) because I have a great library system in my community that keeps me in the books I need. Mostly. Occasionally there will be a book that I'm really pumped about and it's not in the library, or in one case, it was lost and not replaced.  I know that I can request that they purchase these books, but I feel kind of bad about doing it for some reason. Library budgets are not unlimited after all. Maybe I'll do one every couple months and hope that my list doesn't get longer.

Have you read any of these? Any recommendations on what to request first?









Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett

Mr Hosokawa was having a weird birthday. The head of an important company in Japan, he was invited to a (basically) state dinner thrown in honor of his birthday in a South American country that was struggling to lose its "Wild West/drug running" image and reinvent itself. They invited him hoping that he would become enchanted with their country and decide to build a factory there. (PS In my head this country is Columbia). He declines this invitation several times. But then they sweeten the party pot with an offer he can't refuse, Roxanne Cross will be brought in to sing just for him...

The government officials did their homework, because Hosokawa's great love is opera, and Roxanne, a talented soprano, is one of his most favorites. Suddenly this birthday party got MUCH more tempting...So Mr Hosokawa and his faithful translator Gen find themselves in (fictional) Columbia at the house of the Vice-President.  Hosokawa knows no one at this party except for Gen. The other guests are other foreign businessmen (Russian, French, etc,), their wives, Roxanne and her accompanist, and a priest who loved opera (who was listening from the kitchen, not as an invited guest to the dinner), among others.

All is going pretty well, if not a little bit awkward occasionally, when the lights go out at the end of Roxanne's performance. Suddenly the room is filled with guerilla soldiers and everyone is made to lay down on the floor. A birthday party that was supposed to create opportunities for a struggling country just turned into a hostage situation.

You know what bonds a bunch of former strangers together pretty fast? Teenage guerrillas with twitchy fingers. Throughout the whole hostage situation we learn about the guests, the guerillas (and who they were actually looking for when they stormed the party), courage, faith, love and the unifying language that is music!

The thing that surprised me most about this book was that I wasn't stressed out reading about it. Like sometimes when you're reading a book and scary things are happening and you're all tense? This wasn't like that. It's not to say that there aren't tense parts, or scary parts (or guns) but it wasn't a stressful read. My coworker who read the book said she thought it was kind of elegant for a hostage situation, and it really is! I didn't really have any preconceived notions about how this book would go and it turned out that I thought it was swell. 4 out of 5 stars!

Also, another simple cover I just love!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Hidden China" by Huan Hsu

Huan Hsu is an ABC (an American born Chinese) in Salt Lake City. He implies that being an ABC, not Mormon in "lily white" SLC made him feel like quite the outsider.  He had (and still has) family in China but never felt the need to go and get in touch with his roots or anything like that. He knew some Chinese from  his parents when he was a child but it fell almost completely from his mind as he aged.

Then he hears a story, about his great-great grandfather that changes that. His ancestor lived in Xingang, a town on the Yangtze river that was invaded by the Japanese in 1938. When he knew the Japanese were coming, this man buried the collection of porcelain and money under their house. There was never the opportunity to come back to retrieve it. Huan begins to wonder what happened to the valuables, and being a journalist, decides that this is something he needs to investigate. Luckily, his uncle owns an incredibly successful business and gets him a job at his company, which is how he gets the visa to stay in country. Huan doesn't actually spend much time working, because he doesn't really know what is job is...which is a problem. He spends his time trying to improve his Chinese and figure out how he will execute his plan of finding this porcelain, and contacting distant relatives who might be able to help him find the land that he needs to dig on.

What I like about this book is that Huan doesn't romanticize his time in China.(Which is not to say that he doesn't really like parts of his experience, because I think he does). He gets pissed about things. Like kids popping in the street, or the little girl peeing in his apartment hallway right by his door. Or the pollution. Or the fact that it seems like all traffic laws are optional. Or the bureaucracy. Or the cultural peculiarities: like if you give a man a green hat it means he's a cuckold.You don't ever gift anyone a pair of shoes.Or you don't wear white or black to a wedding.

Also, the Chinese language is a beast to learn, and Huan even had some background.He talks about homonyms a lot (which I had to look up because I couldn't remember what a homonym was. Wikipedia says its  one of a group of words that share the same spelling and pronunciation but have different meanings). Like, the Chinese word for cockroach is a homonym for "filth wolf". Eek.

One of my favorite parts of the book was hearing the English names that the Chinese workers had picked for themselves. A man in the legal department is named "Superiority" (as someone who works in the legal field I'm just going to let that joke make itself.) There's also people named: Hebrew, Leafy, Vanilla, Quake, Cream, Bison, Ares, Feeling , Bear, Ivy, Kobe, Charming and Hyper. There's so many more. All of them equally great.

You also learn a lot about porcelain. I thought the porcelain hunting part was one of the less interesting parts of the book, even though it was the impetus for the whole thing.

This book also made me realize that I should read a couple books about the Cultural Revolution, Mao, and the Red Guard. I seem to be pretty deficient in knowledge in that area. And what's a couple more books on an endless "to-be-read" list? (Shrugs shoulders.)

I liked this book. I thought that the parts on general Chinese history, and the day to day living in modern China were the most interesting. I give it a high 3 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review

Friday, April 17, 2015

Graphic Novel review: "French Milk" by Lucy Knisley

You may have noticed that this is Lucy's second showing on the blog, specifically in my efforts to read more graphic novels. The first one, Relish, can be found here.If you want to find out more about Lucy Knisley and how much Andi From Estella's Revenge loves her, go here.

So Lucy, who is about to graduate college, and her mom, who is about to turn 50, head to Paris for a month. Lucy is having some massive anxiety about her upcoming life milestones: becoming an adult, finding a job and really having to make her own way in the world. Sometimes that gets the better of her in Paris, and she gets really down and emotional (which who can blame her? That jump from college student to adult is a panicky not nice feeling for anyone...unless you have a trust fund or something). The only silver lining about her feeling upset was that sometimes she would draw manatees to feel better, and I do love my manatees.

Lucy and her mom spend their days in Paris dodging rain drops (super rainy in Paris in winter) and exploring. They find several art museums, galleries, churches, comic books stores, cemeteries and restaurants to explore. There's much talk about delicious sounding breads products that made me really hungry as I was reading! Then there was talk about foie gras and veal which made me less hungry. She even had a foie gras flavored cookie which she admitted didn't taste so good. (That got me thinking, like would I ever try a cheeseburger flavored cookie? No. So good for Lucy for being an adventurous eater!)

It's a graphic novel, so obviously all the stories are accompanied by these nice, uncomplicated drawings. Her work is just really approachable and open and I love that. It also has photographs from their time there too. So a universal theme about anxiety at life changes, a beautiful French setting, good drawings. An all around good read for me! 3.5 out of 5 stars! It also reminded me that I need to make good journal entries on my next travels, maybe I can get Lucy to draw them for me!


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: "The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook" edited by Kate White

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the delightful publisher, Quirk Books.

One of the things that I love about Quirk is the great variety of books that they put out. Mysteries, kids books, cookbooks, and all great things in between. When this book came up for review I knew it was going to be great, so when Eric Smith (Quirk tweeter, author and corgi puppy have-r) asked if I wanted to review it I knew me and my mediocre cooking skills were in!

If I was to tell you all the recipes that I put a post it note in, this would be a very long review. I will just give you a taste of my favorites:

-Rum Soaked Nutella French Toast. Every word in that name is good. Boozy breakfast food with the world's favorite hazelnut spread? Yes and yes.

-Corn Chowder. Corn chowder is my favorite soup! The problem is that a lot of time people want to put too much other stuff in it (like shrimp corn chowder? No! Get your seafood out of my soup. Be gone!) This recipe has only 3 steps and a not-scary ingredient list. By the time this review goes up I'll probably have already made it a few times. (Update - I've made this twice now and it is delicious! Goes great with really crusty bread. Yum!!)

And then two recipes that's names made me laugh:

-Grandma Maria's Pasta Puttanesca (Pasta a la Whore)

-Male Chauvinist Pigs in a Blanket

There's some recipes that are short and approachable sounding (like Male Chauvinist Pigs in a Blanket, and 3 Egg Omelette) and some that are more fancy and complicated sounding, so it covers a great range of cooking abilities. Each recipe is by a different author: sometimes the recipe is referenced in their books, sometimes they eat it while they are writing, sometimes it's just their favorite recipe! Each recipe has a little story about it (sometimes even a book excerpt) and a short biography of the author. I feel like a lot of them were Edgar winners! There's even some very famous writers like Harlan Cohen, James Patterson and Gillian Flynn. And blog favorite, Ben Winters.

The book is also beautiful and weighty and I love the side of the cover where it's skull and crossbones and a dagger and a fork. Love it! I'm off to put this on my (meager) cookbook shelf, it's certainly going to be the star!


Monday, April 13, 2015

Fun Link Round-Up from Flavorwire and Happy Library Week!

You know what website is really fun? Flavorwire. Here's some fun links from them:

I saw this article  about author's tombstones. I think DH Lawrence's is badass.

I've never given Pride and Prejudice or Jane Austen much of an effort. But I do appreciate a good burn, talked about here.

Literary Moments on TV, I have a feeling there could be a whole list just for The Simpsons! Check it out here.

Sexy villains, who can resist this list!? (Uh Patrick Bateman is scarrrrry. I hate him and that book).

Did you know that some authors like to drink alcohol? I know, it's shocking but here's proof!

Some of the best books are ones that can't quite fit into a genre. Get some reading suggestions here.

If you are celebrating National Library Week at work, or at your favorite place to check out books, have a great one! I put on a littler version at the library at my work, hoping that people attend and enjoy!