Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Published by Viking (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 2015. Hardcover, 312 pgs
I was happy to read this when I did! Since I live in the United States, the entire month of November feels like one big lead up to Thanksgiving- cooking heartier meals for the coming winter, prepping meals for church potlucks, and gearing up for Turkey day itself. When my friend Elena from ElenaReadsBooks asked if I'd be interested in a buddy read, that made it all the better! This month was a bit unusual for me reading wise. I was very distracted with other obligations, and was also bitten by another hobby, the crafting bug. I needed a less-heavy read for this mindset.
In this debut, we follow Eva Thorwald, a young girl who has experienced tragedy early in life, is a misfit at school, and has a hard time relating to her parents. She finds solace in the kitchen and excels at all culinary endeavors. The reader hears her life in different stories from people who surround her. Whether it be a jealous co-worker, boyfriend, a cousin, or friend, the reader gets various perspectives on Eva's life. Different ingredients or foods are mentioned within these narratives, which also make up important parts of her meals and life story.
The recipes were enticing, there was a cute, realistically-portrayed romance, and we had a deeply devoted father figure. All these things were refreshing. I also enjoyed that Eva worked in a Mexican restaurant at one point- that's my favorite kind of food so that set my mouth a-watering:-) However, while I enjoyed this, it didn't blow me away. I was impressed with Eva's culinary abilities and wished her well, but the book jumped around so much in trying to tell her complete life story that I ended up not feeling connected to any one person. Thus, I didn't feel invested in the outcome. Some characters I just hated. However, in the cut-throat world of haute cuisine and foodie culture, this is a reality.
I realized half-way through the story that I was subconsciously comparing this to A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This is totally unfair since both of those are memoirs while this is fiction, even though they talk about food as well. Those had the emotional punch that I just didn't get with this one. While there were many little things I liked, it just didn't add up to a memorable whole. It's an easy, fun read.
Monday, November 23, 2015
I'm always on the lookout for engaging children's books, especially since I'm encouraging a seven year old to read. In trying to participate in #ReadKidsLit for November, featured on YouTube by Leslie from Words of a Reader channel, I was browsing titles at my library. The wonderful Hannah Lamb (whose channel is also her name) loves Kate DiCamillo, and that has further encouraged me to pick up her work.
After reading the first page, I stopped until my daughter, Natalie, could get home from school. The beautiful illustrations and the connection between this little girl's "pet rabbit" is similar to my daughter's love for her ratty old stuffed cat. We follow Edward Tulane, an arrogant china rabbit who belongs to a sweet, attentive 10 year old named Abilene. Every morning, she sits him in a chair facing the window with a watch on his leg- so that he will be able to know the exact time and see her return from school at 3:00pm. Edward is not grateful to be owned by the doting Abilene, and often finds her conversations boring and insubstantial. He wishes for greater adventures and more self-satisfaction. Through various circumstances, he unintentionally gets his wish to travel and have life experiences. With these positive and negative experiences, his attitudes towards love and friendship evolve.
This is a wonderful story about appreciation for life and love, and teaches children not to take things for granted. There were some deeply sad moments, and I cringed a lot at some truly callous adult behavior. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in, and Di Camillo gives a realistic representation. I think Natalie was a little young for a couple scenes, but they were easily glossed over. I also edited out a brief part about a drunk man for when she's older and has more context. I was very impressed with Kate Di Camillo's writing and storytelling. It's so engaging, and you get the added benefit of teaching valuable lessons to kids.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
I don't read a lot of mysteries these days. I don't have anything against them, but other books usually attract my attention first. I heard great things about this from Michael Kindness of the Books on the Nightstand podcast, as well as my friend Rachel from the YouTube channel Shades of Orange. Eskens was present at Book Expo America this past May to promote his follow up novel, The Guise of Another, which was released last month. Since I picked that one up based off this one's high praise, I figured it was time to read the debut.
In this story, we follow a broke young college student named Joe Talbert. Besides going to school full-time and working in a bar, his mother has some serious issues and his brother Jeremy has autism. As he is dealing with these life stresses, he is tasked with writing an elderly person's life story for a Biography class. Choosing a nursing home to carry out the project, Joe meets Carl Iverson, a Vietnam vet and convicted murderer/rapist who is dying of cancer. The two begin warily interacting and eventually Iverson starts revealing details of his life as a type of dying declaration. Joe quickly becomes entangled in Carl's account (and in particular his passivity) and they become confessors to each other. In this process, alarm bells go off for Joe that this case has serious discrepancies. He then starts digging into prior case evidence for clues.
Eskens is an attorney by trade and this is his first novel. I'm not surprised that Eskens works in the legal system. For me, there is a noticeable difference between even the most well-researched books and the authors who have personal/professional experience with their writing subject...there is this element of truth and authenticity. I felt that here quite strongly. I think the pacing of this book is perfect. There isn't anything that felt unnecessary or artificially inserted for shock value to keep the reader engaged. It feels like a naturally progressing story arc. Highly recommend for all mystery lovers who are looking for an original, well-written story.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
I was lucky enough to buddy read this with a fellow Booktuber, Otavio from the Galilean Library. I have heard nothing but great things about this science fiction award winner for ages. This is also my first Ursula K. Le Guin novel. The reader primarily follows Mr. Ai, who is an envoy sent to planet Winter (specifically the nation Karhide, city of Erhenrang) in hopes of forming an alliance between the Ekumen (his people) and Gethenian people. The book opens on a parade held in the capital city of Erhenrang to celebrate the completion of an arch, where we meet King Argaven briefly. We also meet Estraven, the Prime Minister of Erhenrang, whose narrative quickly becomes entangled with Ai's in a jumbled mess of power plays and general strife. Sorry for all the names, but it's that type of book so you need to know what you're getting into!
From the beginning, you can feel the political tension and tip-toeing that Ai experiences in his mission. Le Guin has created a rich and thorough world with detailed history, geography, and beliefs. I liked the cold weather setting. It is so bitter and varied that the inhabitants have over sixty terms to describe the type of snowfall. That's my kind of place (no, I'm not being sarcastic!) Give me all the snow! Her commentary on society, particularly how urban structure affects us (advanced vs. developing regions) is accurate to what many people in various nations feel today. There is some great dialogue on patriotism being more about fear than love in the beginning of the story. She addresses the role of religions in these places, and how being gender neutral hinders yet also expands their capacity as human beings. She packs quite a bit in the 304 pages!
My favorite part was the evolving relationship of Estraven and Ai. I don't want to say more because their development is a key part of the story. My least favorite parts were some of the interludes. While they provide additional anecdotes on culture, I found certain ones (like "An Orgota Creation Myth") that just felt tedious and a little confusing. However, I suppose a lot of traditions are shrouded in myth and don't make a ton of sense.
This is a book that would benefit from a reread due to all the nuances in political strife and culture. I can certainly understand why this book was an achievement, and am happy to soundly recommend it to all science fiction lovers. My rating of three versus four stars was strictly a personal preference, and I can't even pinpoint what I'd have the author change to make it better. It just didn't resonate as strongly with me as I'd hoped. For whatever reason (mood, plot, pacing), I found myself zoning out and being a little anxious to finish. I've also been reading slower this month due to distractions so that could be part of it. I appreciate Le Guin's mastery of the genre and can see why she is held in such high esteem.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
I heard about this on a YouTube channel and reserved a copy at my library. It was quite popular so I waited awhile. If you are familiar with my blog or channel, you will know that books about books are my genre kryptonite. This is slated to be the first in a series, and it sets up well for the next one. We follow Jess Brightwell, a street urchin under the thumb of his corrupt book-smuggling father. When his father deems him of no further use at procuring outlawed tomes, he sets up a new scheme to get Jess employed in The Great Library. In this world, the library disseminates information and literature through blank slates, and the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden unless one has scholar-type privileges. What follows is an adventurous journey of Jess and his classmates as they are slated with protecting volumes in a war-torn area. Secrets abound and the road is fraught with peril type of thing. It seems Caine drew influences from the classic book Fahrenheit 451, as well as Harry Potter. Harry Potter in the sense that the students had personality traits similar to Harry's crew.
Caine explores troubled relationships between parents and children- particularly how our failures and insecurities can transfer and burden our kids. I was happy that these characters had each other, because most of their parents were the pits. There were predictable elements and some overdone scenes near the end, but I was relieved this book didn't suffer from poor writing. I loved the automatons guarding the library and the ideas presented in general.
Oddly, I don't have a lot to say about this story even though I really enjoyed myself while reading it. I'm bummed that the second installment won't be released until July 2016! I liked the evolution of the small romance, it developed tastefully and realistically (well, as realistically as possible considering the setting.) I thought it was cool that the author included a playlist of music that inspired her when she wrote. I think this is an absorbing tale for anyone who enjoys secret societies and bookish ephemera, and is a truly fun story about the danger of imagination and the difficulty of enacting change (in general, but particularly in institutions). Great for literature-loving folks! Nice, easy read.