Review: The Quick ~ Lauren Owen

the quickLondon, 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society, and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Unnerved, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine city that greets her, she uncovers a secret world at the margins populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of one of the country’s preeminent and mysterious institutions: The Aegolius Club, whose members include the most ambitious, and most dangerous, men in England.

5 Thumbs-UpSo, what can I say about this book?  Three things really, a) it is a debut novel for this Author b) I really didn’t see that coming and c) Noooooo!!!

I found this book by chance on a rummage through my local lending library the other day, and was intrigued both by the cover and the synopsis, so home with me it came and I’m glad I took a chance on something so unknown to me.  If other readers have already heard of this novel they may think I live under some rock and rarely venture out; that is not the case, I never read reviews on books and choose them purely on their own merit when out and about and this was the case with this one.

From a character point of view they are plentiful in this novel, and they are morose, they are arrogant; you may love them or you may hate them, but each of them will bring about a reaction in the reader of some description.  In my opinion it was hard to pinpoint one main character in the whole of this novel, as so many come and take centre stage in a way that will impact all those around them; and once they step away from the limelight they do not fade out of the plotline entirely as many Authors have their lesser characters doing.  Despite the time period in which this novel was set, there was one particular character I really connected with and I was rooting for her every time she appeared in the story; there were also others that no matter how hard I tried I could not find anything redeeming in their character and found myself chuckling when rough things happened to them.

Because of the way in which this book is written it is hard to write an in-depth review without giving away the plot.  It is written from a multi-perspective point of view , as each character comes to the front and also includes journal entries; all the good stuff that combine together to make an exceptional Victorian gothic novel.  It is very apparent from the way in which the Author addresses class issues and gender expectations that they have done an extensive amount of research into this period of history; the shock one woman expresses at seeing another wearing trousers is a good example.  The location descriptions are the best I have read in a long time, and in this area put me in mind of Dickens and Conan-Doyle in the way the Author uses the surroundings to propel the storyline along.  The grandeur of some buildings is, in the next paragraph startling contrasted against the poorer areas of London; along with smells and attire I could almost feel I was back in this time with the characters.

This is a moody, dark and gritty novel which really doesn’t show London at its best, but this is what adds to the novel.  There is no sugar coating of the privations some suffered and the excesses others enjoyed.  Because of its abrupt ending however, I am hoping that this may be the start of a series, one that I will definitely be following.  If not, and the Author decided to leave the reader with a cliff-hanger, I don’t really mind as I will definitely be reading this Author again.

I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, and those who enjoy a good gothic novel.  Also those who enjoy Victorian crime fiction may find this to their liking.

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Review: The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History ~ Robert M. Edsel, Bret Witter (Contributor)

The Monuments MenAt the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: “degenerate” works he despised.
In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.  Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis.

3 Thumbs-UpUnusually for me and this genre of book, we had a love hate relationship.  I have previously read other works on this topic and found them to be engrossing and insisting I keep reading them until the end to discover the next piece in the puzzle; this particular one did not have that hook that pulled me all the way in, and is one of the reasons for the three thumbs review.

The story told within the pages of this book is that of a little known group who can be credited with our being able to view works by some of the greatest Artists in the world that, without their existence may have been lost for all time.  Their story is an interesting and important one as it follows them from the inception of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives to the end of the war.  It documents in great detail the hardships they encountered, and the stonewalling or disinterest shown in their mission by others they met whilst often working on the edge of the battle lines; they actually lost two of their unit through combat related deaths.  Despite this, they regrouped and continued on with the mission at hand, hunting out information and pouring over myriads of records, which in the case of the Paris cultural treasures had been scrupulously kept by a Frenchwoman Rose Valland.  But again, despite this being a fascinating story it was also a frustrating story.

Despite being forewarned in the Author’s Note that some liberties were taken in the creation of the dialogue to help with the continuity of the book, it came across at times that he had taken too many liberties which tended to give this historical account the feel that it was being pulled, kicking and screaming, into the realms of historical fiction; not a place I wanted to be taken when reading this, as there a several great fiction works on this topic out there I have already read.  This created dialogue also took up far too much of the book, and I feel a greater impact would have been achieved if they had been pared down somewhat by a skilled editor, putting the focus firmly back on the purpose and discoveries of the MFAA.  The saving grace in this book, for me, were all the hidden nuggets of information that were buried deeply underneath the unnecessary ‘chatter’.  When taken from a purely historical point of view, this book is well researched and very educational and, combined with pictures taken from the actual time and events mentioned, it could have been something truly exceptional.

Anyone interested in this era in history may enjoy this book; if they can get past the obvious attempts in include a fictional aspect to events.

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Review: The Sign of the Weeping Virgin (Five Star Mystery #1) ~ Alana J. White

weeping virginRomance and intrigue abound in The Sign of the Weeping Virgin‚ an evocative historical mystery that brings the Italian Renaissance gloriously to life.

In 1480 Florentine investigator Guid’Antonio Vespucci and his nephew‚ Amerigo‚ are tangled in events that threaten to destroy them and their beloved city.

Marauding Turks abduct a beautiful young Florentine girl and sell her into slavery. And then a holy painting begins weeping in Guid’Antonio’s church. Are the tears manmade or a sign of God’s displeasure with Guid’Antonio himself?

In a finely wrought story for lovers of medieval and renaissance mysteries everywhere‚ Guid’Antonio follows a spellbinding trail of clues to uncover the thought-provoking truth about the missing girl and the weeping painting’s mystifying—and miraculous?—tears‚ all pursued as he comes face to face with his own personal demons

3 Thumbs-UpThis is this Authors debut novel in the realm of historical fiction and, as much as I enjoy good historical fiction, I just couldn’t get into this one at all.  I think it was a case of the classic line ‘it’s me, honestly, not you’.

To say the cast of characters in this book is immense would be an under-statement, and I felt at times it would have helped me along in my reading if there had been a character list printed in the front of the book; I have a sneaky feeling that many other readers who pick up this book may feel the same way too.  Although none of the characters stand out in the book, they are interesting to say the least, and the main protagonist is very interesting; he is cranky, complicated, lonely and extremely loyal; all traits which seemed at odds to the world in which he was living, a world where loyalty seemed to be as fleeting as the wind.

Despite the indication in the synopsis that this may have edged into the realms of a genre I never read, I found there to be little to no romance in this book; there is no love in the traditional sense of the word and no homoerotic longings as can often take place in a novel of this kind.  What there is however is political intrigue by the boatload, and this made the book a compelling read and was, for me, the saving grace that earned the rating of 3 thumbs as opposed to it being lower.

It is obvious that the Author has done a lot of research into this era in Florence’s history, and I found this interesting and educating as I did not know about some of the historical details touched upon in the novel.  I felt this was helped by the fact that the main protagonist was actually a real-life figure in these times, and this added more realism to the descriptions used and the events encountered in the book.

I would recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction but particularly those who like a good solid mystery that is full of political intrigue.

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Review: Elizabeth Street: A novel based on true events ~ Laurie Fabiano

Elizabeth StreetBased on true events, Elizabeth Street is a multigenerational saga that opens in an Italian village in the 1900’s, and crosses the ocean to New York’s Lower East Side. At the heart of the novel is Giovanna, whose family is targeted by the notorious Black Hand–the precursor to the Mafia.

Elizabeth Street brings to light a period in history when Italian immigrant neighborhoods lived in fear of Black Hand extortion and violence–a reality that defies the romanticized depiction of the Mafia.

Here, the author reveals the merciless terror of the Black Hand-and the impact their crimes had on her family. Giovanna is based on Fabiano’s great-grandmother, and the book’s heroes and villains – such as Lieutenant Petrosino, the crusading cop and “Lupo the Wolf,” a cold-blooded criminal – are drawn from real life in this thrilling tale. While set in a dynamic historical context, Elizabeth Street is, above all, the dramatic story of the heroine, Giovanna, and how she triumphed over tragedy.

Part of the ‘A Book from every State of the Union’ Reading Challenge – New York.

4 Thumbs-UpThis was a very interesting book, and I think what added to its interest is that it is based on the Author’s own family history.

Because of this the character are very real, and with that comes all the traits the human species carries with it.  There are people the reader will love, and those they will hate; decisions made will either have the reader applauding or booing and getting ready to throw fruit where needed.  Due to the fact that these characters are based on real people it is impossible to comment on whether the Author did a good job on their development, as to do this the reader would have to personally know those mentioned in this books pages, to be able to base their decision on.  It is for this reason that I have chosen to not comment on development; I don’t know these people personally, and feel that to make any judgement on their development as the novel progresses would be doing them, and the Author, a disservice.

Having a family background through marriage of the Italian immigrant, I found this book very informative and learnt what is was like to be subject to meeting bureaucracy as the immigrants came through Ellis Island; having to make themselves understood in a country they hoped would provide them with a better life and, in some cases finding out that it really didn’t care. Not only does the reader find out about life in New York’s Italian community and how they survived through extortion and other tragedies that came their way, the reader also learns something of Italian history and the motivation that drove so many to weather the seas to come to the US.  It is apparent from reading this book that the Author took great pains in making sure the historical details were right on the mark, as well as making sure they told the story of these immigrants with compassion and understanding; something that is so often lacking in other books on this topic.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who, like our family, is here because of immigration particularly from Italy; those who are interested in the history of New York at the turn of the 20th century, and also anyone who is looking for an engrossing and different read.

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Changes in the Wind

george-bernard-shawI hope you are all as flexible as I am, and I don’t mean physically I mean mentally.  With autumn upon us, I felt it was time to do some redecorating around Cate’s Book Nut Hut, and this will mean change.

In some things, particularly when it comes to my books, I like them to be in a certain order and ‘catalogued’ in a way where others may get lost looking for something but I can go straight to it.  I think the Book Nut Hut is beginning to head down this alley, as after looking at it on a different computer, and heck even a different operating system to my own, I realised there needs to be changes.  I don’t want my ‘readers’ to get lost in its digital annals only for me to discover their skeletons propped up against a meta-tag somewhere down the road.  Don’t worry though, the changes won’t take place over night, like everything else that is worth doing well, it will come into being in a slow and deliberate manner.

The first of these changes has already taken place, some of you may (or may not) have noticed that it is no longer catesbooknuthut.wordpress.com but just catesbooknuthut.com.  If you have the WordPress link in your bookmarks, there is no need to change this, as you will be automatically redirected to the dot-com site.  Other changes that will be taking place are the redesigning and wording of some of the pages (review and ratings guideline being one of them,) and page titles in the hopes of making ‘The Hut’ easier to find your way around.

‘The Hut’ also now has its own Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CatesBookNutHut.  Here you can find links to some of the Authors already reviewed on the site, such as Heidi Peltier and Lee Foust, and there will be ‘bookish’ items and trivia posted here on a regular basis.

Another big change coming up shortly; one I’m really excited about and hope you will be too,  will be the inclusion of a podcast.  This is currently being worked on by myself and © Altered Reality Productions, and will be called ‘The Acorn’ as Cate’s Book Nut Hut is a mouthful to say at any time of the day.  The podcast will have its own page on the site where you will be able to listen to ‘chapters’ (after all this is a book podcast), and links to iTunes where free subscription will be available for those who want to make sure they don’t miss out.  ‘The Acorn’ will also feature Author interviews, and I already have some lined up, along with other goodies to keep the bibliophile in all of us happy.

There will most likely be other little changes as I progress through my housecleaning, but for now these are the major big ones that I wanted to let you know about.  So, as the saying goes…….

“Watch this space”

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Review: Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) ~ S.J. Parris

HeresyGiordano Bruno was a monk, poet, scientist, and magician on the run from the RomanInquisition on charges of heresy for his belief that the Earth orbits the sun and that the universe is infinite. This alone could have got him burned at the stake, but he was also a student of occult philosophies and magic.

In S. J. Parris’s gripping novel, Bruno’s pursuit of this rare knowledge brings him to London, where he is unexpectedly recruited by Queen Elizabeth I and is sent undercover to Oxford University on the pretext of a royal visitation. Officially Bruno is to take part in a debate on the Copernican theory of the universe; unofficially, he is to find out whatever he can about a Catholic plot to overthrow the queen.

His mission is dramatically thrown off course by a series of grisly murders and a spirited and beautiful young woman. As Bruno begins to discover a pattern in these killings, he realizes that no one at Oxford is who he seems to be. Bruno must attempt to outwit a killer who appears obsessed with the boundary between truth and heresy.

Like The Dante Club and The Alienist, this clever, sophisticated, exceptionally enjoyable novel is written with the unstoppable narrative propulsion and stylistic flair of the very best historical thrillers

2 Thumbs-UpThis is the first in the Giordano Bruno series, and my second reading of this novel.

This novel promised so much more than it delivered.  Using Giordano Bruno (an Italian Dominican Friar 1548 – 1600) as the main protagonist was a stroke of inspiration that the Author did not pursue to its full potential, and the title led me to believe that I would be reading a fictional take on the road that led to this man being burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600.  Given all the information that is to be found on this extraordinary man, who was living before his time, the Authors character development of him was not only weak but insulting to the Friar himself; a complete opposite to the treatment given to Bruno in “Aegypt” by John Crowley.  Instead of utilising the traits of Bruno’s character and weaving them into her novel, the Author tends to dismiss them offhand which placed him in the “too much of the good guy” mould and made him appear a nice man who, given the ideas he had and the times he lived in, he probably wasn’t; but in this I am just speculating.  The one thing that the reader may get from the painting of the protagonist in this way is an urge to find out more about the real life happenings of Bruno.  Other characters in the novel are treated with the same offhand approach, and none of them were developed to the point where the reader could truly feel compassion for their situation or connect with them in any way.  With this said, I will acknowledge that the Author chose her protagonist well, as there is a wealth of information out there for them to be able to develop Bruno in a more believable way, and possibly turn this series into something remarkable.

The book is actually a murder mystery and, in this area the Author did an outstanding job of using this vehicle to get to the religious subtext, and bring it to the forefront.  In their descriptions of the horrific murders and torture that are committed in the name of religion throughout this book, the Author reminds us that atrocities have been, and continue to be perpetrated in the name of religion; that modern-day conflicts centred around faith, are no less ruthless or determined about cementing the survival of their beliefs than those involved in The Inquisition.  The location descriptions actually pull the reader in to the novel more than the characters, and they are made to feel as if they are walking through unsanitary streets and palace grounds and, in some parts of the novel actually fearing for their lives because of their beliefs.

I read this novel twice in the belief, as is sometimes the case when I re-read something, I would pick up on the hidden key that would open it up and reveal all its hidden gems, but this was not to be the case unfortunately.  The lack of fleshing out the characters and giving me a protagonist that evoked emotion in me was still there and I had not missed anything in my first read through; this decided my review rating.  Personally, I did not think this favourably compared with the two novels mentioned in the synopsis, “The Dante Club” by Matthew Pearl or “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr; both novels I found to be infinitely more superior.

However, despite all this, I would recommend this novel to those lovers of the historical fiction genre and especially those who like their history with a slight religious bent.

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‘And now for something completely different’

“Let’s face it, writing is hell.”
~William Styron

writers almanacI thought it was about time to take a break from the book reviews, and my attempts at writing articles I think may interest people, and hand today over to those who actually know what they are about.  Today, Wednesday August 28, 2013, I am turning my blog over to “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor”.  For those of you reading who may not be familiar with this web site, it contains daily poems, prose, and literary history from Garrison Keillor, and other Authors.  Not only do these great folks keep this website full of wonderful tidbits, they also produce a podcast for us to listen to as we go about our day.  So, without further ado, take it away “The Writer’s Almanac”:

“Song of Smoke
by Kevin Young

To watch you walk
cross the room in your black

corduroys is to see
civilization start—
the wish-
whish-whisk

of your strut is flint
striking rock—the spark

of a length of cord
rubbed till

smoke starts—you stir
me like coal

and for days smolder.
I am no more

a Boy Scout and besides,
could never

put you out—you
keep me on

all day like an iron, out
of habit—

you threaten, brick—
house, to burn

all this down. You leave me
only a chimney.

“Song of Smoke” by Kevin Young, From Jelly Roll © Knopf, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

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It’s the birthday of the father of German literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , born in Frankfurt, Germany (1749), the author of the epic drama Faust.

He moved to Italy in 1786, and when he returned to Germany two years later, he fell in love with a woman from Weimer, Christiane Vulpius, a 23-year-old who was 16 years his junior. That year, he wrote her an epithalamium, a wedding poem, but he didn’t actually marry her; instead, the couple lived together for 18 years unwed. That is, until one night, Christiane saved Goethe’s life by driving off a band of Napoleon’s soldiers who had broken in their home. Goethe went down to a church the very next day and married her, his live-in girlfriend of 18 years.

In 1806, the same year of the home invasion and marriage, Goethe published a preliminary version of Part I of his great work, Faust, the story of a brilliant scholar named Heinrich Faust, who makes a deal with the devil. The great epic has it all: seduction, murder, sleeping potions, an illegitimate love child, a stray poodle that transforms into the devil, contracts signed with blood, imprisonment in dungeons, heavenly voices, and even redemption. Faust is often called a “closet drama” because it’s intended to be read, not performed. Goethe spent 50 years working on this two-volume masterpiece, finishing it in 1832, the year of his death.

Christiane survived for only a decade after her and Goethe’s wedding. In later life, after recovering from a heart disease that nearly killed him, the 73-year-old Goethe fell passionately in love with an 18-year-old woman, Ulrike von Levetzow, and was devastated when she turned down his proposals of marriage.

Goethe, who said, “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

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It’s the birthday of poet Rita Dove , born in Akron, Ohio (1952). Her father had a master’s degree in chemistry but had to work as an elevator operator because he was black. He eventually became the first African-American chemist to work for Goodyear Tires.

He encouraged his daughter to take advantage of education, and she was at the top of her class. She was chosen as one of 100 of the best high school students in the country to visit the president of the United States. Her parents assumed that she would go on to become a doctor or lawyer, so when she announced that she wanted to be a poet, they weren’t sure what to make of it. She said, “[My father] swallowed once and said, ‘Well, I’ve never understood poetry, so don’t be upset if I don’t read it.'” Her teachers at college told her that she was throwing her education away if she didn’t study something more practical.

But with her poetry collection Thomas and Beulah (1986), based loosely on the lives of her grandparents, she became only the second African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and she went on to become the first African-American national poet laureate.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Guest Host: Billy Collins
Host: Garrison Keillor
Writers: Betsy Allister, Holly Vanderhaar
Technical Director: Thomas Scheuzger
Engineer: Noah Smith
Producer: Joy Biles
Permissions: Kathy Roach
Web Producer: Ben Miller”

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‘You are NOT allowed to read that!’

bebelplatz-berlin-memorial-to-burned-books

Bebelplatz Book Burning Memorial

 ‘The fact that anybody wants to burn a book shows you how powerful the physical object is, both as itself and as a symbol’ ~ Chuck Wendig.

Until I married my American Husband I was not fully aware of the fact that there are people out there who want to restrict my access to the types of book I read, not just fiction but non-fiction as well.  I was also naive in thinking that book burning was a thing of history; for example the May 10 1933 book burning in Berlin, the monument to which I have visited.  Book burning is also a thing of the 21st century and takes places in America for various reasons; Non-approved Bibles, books and music in Canton, North Carolina in 2009; Tolkien’s works publicly burned in Alamogordo, NM, in 2001 as satanic.  Really?  In the 21st Century, here in America, intelligent people would fail to celebrate Tolkien’s masterful achievement and, instead, find it threatening enough to burn it?

I feel it would be amiss of me as a lover of the printed word not to write about this form of censorship and, how we are slowly creeping towards a more complete ‘Nanny State’ where we are told what is good for us, and how much of it we can consume.  I understand that there needs to be checks and balances in place for some things, but when it comes to art, and to me writing is an art form, personal choice needs to be allowed to run free.  If, after reading the synopsis of a book on a fly-leaf, we feel uncomfortable or it may be against our beliefs, we have the choice to put the book down and find something more to our tastes.

jailed-book1If you are completely confused by this topic, I’m referring to the upcoming Banned Books Week.  Whether you may be blissfully unaware, or choose to pretend it doesn’t exist, it does with challenged and banned books spanning all genres and reading age groups.  But what is Banned Books Week?  It is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read that is typically held during the last week of September and highlighting the value of free and open access to information; it brings together the book community, from reader to publisher, like nothing else can as they share their support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some may consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship, and all of the books featured during this week have been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools, by individuals or groups. While books have been and continue to be banned, the fact is that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available, unless you happened to be in Alamogordo NM, where not only Tolkien but the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling were committed to the flames.

banned-book-week-pic-1

Although we are still a month out from Banned Book Week, I strongly feel it is an issue that needs to get publicity not just for one week of every year but all the time.  However, I know how difficult this would be so, in my attempt to stand up for an art form that gives me great pleasure, as well as broadening my mind and horizons, I am going to focus all of my posts for the week of 22-28 September 2013 with books that have been challenged since the beginning of the 21st century.  I will be choosing four books and proudly showcasing them on the blog.

I am giving you all advance warning of this, in case there are some people out there who would rather not see these books blazoned across their computer screen, and they will know to give my reviews a miss for that week.  I will not just be showcasing the books that week, but also listing why these books were challenged and also giving a little background on the Authors.  List of nominees for this week of challenged books are:

2001 – Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
2002 – Harry Potter (series)*, by J.K. Rowling (because I have never read any Harry Potter books)
2003 – The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1), by Jonathan Stroud
2004 – The Alice Series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
2005 – Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
2006 – The Handmaids Tale, by Margaret Atwood
2007 – The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
2008 – His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
2009 – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, by John Berendt
2010 – Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
2011 – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, by Alan Moore
2012 – The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeanette Walls
*Please note, where books are part of a series, I will only be featuring the first.

One last thing to bear in mind, and an indication of just how out of hand some of these book challenges are becoming; in 2010 in the Menifee, Calif. Union School District pulled the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary because a parent complained when a child came across the term ‘oral sex’.  Officials for the District said, at the time it was pulled, that they are forming a committee to consider a permanent ban of the dictionary; whether they went ahead with this is not known.

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Paper and Pies

I know that National Book Lovers Day took place yesterday August 9, but I had a review that I just had to post on that day so I was unable to write about this.  Plus it was also an unofficial holiday for all us book-worms and this would’ve meant taking time out from my latest read to sit down and put a piece together.  How could I possibly do that?

Apart from reading I also love to cook, in fact it’s another passion of mine that very few people know about.  So I tend to get a little excited when I come across something that hits both of these loves in one shot.  I’m talking about food centred fiction, and if that fiction contains recipes, be still my beating heart!

In celebration of National Book Lovers Day, although belatedly, I’d like to share with you my top ten reads, not in any order of preference, for lovers of the printed word AND food:

Book cupcakes

Friendship Bread ~ Darien Gee;  About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family, this book tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café ~Fannie Flagg; As an elderly woman relays her dynamic life story to a friend in the throes of a midlife crisis, readers get to know the townsfolk of Whistle Stop, Alabama, and their many mysteries.

Like Water for Chocolate ~ Laura Esquivel; In Mexico, a repressed daughter forbidden to be with the man she loves learns how to affect her world via the food she serves to others. Recipes set the tone for every chapter.

Blackberry Crumble: A Culinary Mystery ~ Josi Kilpack;  Sadie accepts her first investigation-for-hire and travels to Portland, Oregon, at the request of a woman who has suspicions about her wealthy father’s untimely death; includes eight recipes.

The Epicure’s Lament ~ Kate Christensen;  Hugo smokes and cooks and sexually schemes and pokes his perverse nose into other people’s marriages and business; and he records these events as well as his mordant, funny, gorgeously articulated personal history and his thoughts on life and mortality in a series of notebooks complete with recipes.

Monsieur Pamplemousse ~ Michael Bond; An esteemed food critic and his trusty bloodhound, Pommes Frites, find themselves embroiled in mystery when they are served a man’s head on a platter. It’s the start of a light-hearted series set in France.

Chocolat (Chocolat #1) ~ Joanne Harris; Mayhem ensues when a newcomer opens a chocolate shop in a small French village. Soon the townspeople crave not only the delicious confections available to purchase but also the company of the eerily insightful shop owner.

World of Pies ~ Karen Stolz;  Roxanne is our guide through a life that has moments of tenderness, poignancy, sorrow, and great humour, as well as some pretty great baking moments (recipes included).

Pomegranate Soup ~ Marsha Mehran; Each chapter is loosely based around a new recipe that is made in the cafe where the story is based. Mostly Middle Eastern

Househusband ~ Ad Hudler; Lincoln Menner is finding out just how hard it is to be a woman. “When his wife Jo was offered her dream job, Linc supported her wholeheartedly, leaving his thriving landscape business in Los Angeles and moving to Rochester, New York.

So there it is.  The recipes that are contained in some of the above books are amazing and play a part in the novels as a whole.  Even without the recipes, all these books are well worth taking some time out of your busy lives to read.

Buon appetito!

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Review: Sojourner ~ Lee Foust

Sojourner

Sojourner gathers short stories, poems, experiments, and prose poems from the author’s 25 years spent traveling, sojourning, and then residing in various US and European cities. Each of the multiform texts of Sojourner seek to engage the mystery of our experience of place, our sense of belonging, and our desire to escape into unknown territories. Of the many voices included in the collection, we hear from teenagers in obscure California suburbs, San Francisco apartment hunters and soon-to-be-unfaithful boyfriends, European backpackers, junkies, prostitutes, South American refugees, mourners in Texas, revolutionaries in Brooklyn, dreaming Manhattan barflies, Arctic lovers, victims of Vesuvian politics and Partenopean trash bags, a refiguration of Poe’s amontillado-tippling Fortunato, Florentine ghosts, Tuscan expatriates lost in summertime reveries, and the Mad Hatnik in Poznan, Poland, along with his evil doppleganger and imaginary accomplice.

 5 Thumbs-UpI feel like I have just returned from travelling, full of all the wonders I saw, and the flip side of life that can bring us down.

Such is the way this book of poems, short stories and other gems affects the reader.  As it is an anthology of different writing styles by the same Author, there are no characters to dissect or explain; no plot that needs to be waded through, just the unadulterated pleasure of reading words artfully and expertly strung together in a manner that will touch all readers in some fashion. The covers both front and back, are endowed with beautiful glossy photographs, that make you immediately know that this book is going to be something quite extraordinary, and worth your time to investigate.

‘House Hunting’, the first short in this anthology, sets the scene delightfully for what is to come as we travel the world with, and experience it through, the writers’ eyes. And, a story most of us can relate to as we try to find our own ‘castle’ in the world. ‘Sparagmos’ takes us a whole new direction, as do most of the pages as the reader turns them, and was my favourite prose poem in the book.  Another favourite of mine, was ‘American Cemetery’.  Having visited several of these while we were living in Europe it was easy to feel the underlying conflict between beliefs and decency, an indication of just how well this outstanding collection is written.  As always when visiting one of these sites, I take the time to reflect over what has gone, and what we have now; this is also captured well in the lines of the piece and made me take a few moments in its reading for some gentle meditation on the aspects of war.

There is not much I can say about this collection, without going through it here page by page, and then nullifying any need you have to read it for yourself, and you do need to read it for yourself.  There are pieces that will offend the overly sensitive, but there always is in good writing; this is good writing. It is full of hope, despair, horror, humour and seduction.  Most of the contents are easily understandable upon the first read but, like an onion, they contain several levels and it is worth the time to revisit them and gradually peel those levels away.

I am highly recommending this to anyone who likes short stories, poems or just exploring something new.  I have carried this in my messenger bag from the day I first opened its covers to dip in and out of when I had a break in my schedule, and will probably continue to do so until it falls to pieces, maybe I need to buy another copy for when this day comes, as every time I read something it contains, I find a new viewpoint that I hadn’t considered before.

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