Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tender at the Bone - Ruth Reichl

Title: Tender at the Bone
Author: Ruth Reichl
Date Finished: January 30, 2008
Yearly Count: 6
Pages: 282
Rating: 4.25/5

I can say with some certainty that two of my most beloved aspects of life are reading and food (well, other than the obvious hubby, family, friends, etc). Obviously I love to read. :) But I also love food. I love to eat. I love going to restaurants and trying new things; I love being in my kitchen and baking or cooking. As soon as I turned in my last grad paper, I marched into the kitchen (after having very little sleep) and baked enough goodies to pass around to my friends as Christmas gifts with enough left over to feed our large family during graduation. I LOVE food. (Hubby could care less for either reading or food...go figure!).

So this book combines two of my favorite things. Tender at the Bone is about Ruth Reichl's coming of age as it relates to food. She begins her story as a young child anxious to save guests at her mother’s dinner parties from inevitable food poisoning, a task which enabled her to move into a more dominant role in the kitchen. Reichl remembers her school days in Quebec where she befriends an unlikely companion whose parents introduce her to fine dining. She is convinced the love of her life fell in love with her cooking first, and her cooking education continues in a Berkeley “commune,” a doomed French restaurant in Detroit, and from the various people she meets throughout her early adulthood.

Each section of Reichl’s development was a pleasure to read, and I loved seeing all of the influences play a part in her eventual role as a food critic. Her writing style is easy, and while I didn’t think her book was laugh-out-loud funny, it was entertaining and amusing. I felt, though, that the ending of the book got away from her main “thesis” when she began talking about her mother’s illness and the effect it had on her. While this was an important part of her life, it seemed to be a little bit of a digression from main theme of the importance of food in shaping who she became.

I would recommend this book to food enthusiasts; I could certainly see how someone could pick up this book and think “Who Cares!” (hubby would say that…very quickly). But I enjoyed the read—and Ruth Reichl, who was a very likeable character. Has anyone read this book and tried any of the recipes? There is a fruit tart recipe that I would love to try. :)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Plain Truth - Jodi Picoult

Title: Plain Truth
Author: Jodi Picoult
Date Finished: Jan 25, 2008
Yearly Count: 5
Pages: 405
Rating: 3.75/5

Yes, I am procrastinating on my Book Thief thoughts. Grrr. But this book is much simpler to write about--sort of. :)

Plain Truth is my sixth Jodi Picoult book (and since I've recently purchased two more, not my last). At the beginning of the novel, a young girl gives birth to a baby, falls asleep, and when she wakes up the baby is gone. The young girl, Katie, is unmarried and Amish. When the baby is found dead and the police arrive to question the residents of the home, Katie exhibits no knowledge of just having a baby--although physically it is obvious. Even though Katie does not remember having the baby, she is implicated for the murder.

On the other side of the spectrum is Ellie, a high-powered, big-city attorney, who escapes to Lancaster County, PA, at the beginning of the novel for a break from the courtroom. However, her rest is cut short when she inadvertently becomes involved in Katie's defense as she is persuaded to be Katie's attorney and "guardian". Because Ellie must be with Katie at all times, she also must live with Katie's family within the Amish community. As Ellie adapts and adjusts to the Amish lifestyle, she enters into a tangled web of truth and lies, Plain morals versus English morals, and just how far the Amish will go to protect their own--and how quickly they will turn their backs on those who have done wrong.

I felt engaged by this story, but not until halfway through the novel. After six novels, I'm starting to feel as though the characters and stories from all of her books are beginning to blend together. Ellie could have been any number of women from the other novels--and her love problems could have been the love problems in any of the novels. Woman goes through a period of uncertainty. Woman meets man. Woman becomes more assured by the end of the book. Even when it switched from omniscient to first person (Ellie) perspective I had a difficult time discerning between the two (except for the use of "I"). HOPEFULLY I'm wrong and I won't continue to have these feelings with her other books. :(

But, I did like the book, and Picoult continually allows the reader to dive into the story for total immersion with her details and knowledge. I loved reading about the Amish culture and its complexities. I think I'm in the minority because many people have said they rank this among Picoult's best, but it still doesn't beat out The Pact, My Sister's Keeper, and Keeping Faith as my top three picks.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Date Finished: Jan 19,2008
Yearly Count: 4
Pages: 550
Rating: 5/5

I've been putting off this post for a while because I'm not quite sure how to approach this book. So many have read it and reviewed it, but for whatever reason I haven't been able to get ahold of my thoughts. But...times a tickin' so its time to get on with it.

The Book Thief is the story of a young girl, Liesel, in Nazi Germany told through Death’s narration. Yes, Death personified. Death becomes interested in Liesel’s story when he comes to pick up her brother after he dies; Death, against his better judgment, goes to the funeral and sees little Liesel picking up a book from the snow—her first act of book thievery. Shortly after Liesel’s brother dies, her mother moves her to a foster home on Himmel Street where her world is quickly turned upside down. Her world and everyone else’s. (While I don’t think I can possibly cut this short, I will not give spoilers).

Liesel’s new living situation is not easy. Her new Mama is slightly abusive and walks all over her and her new Papa. Papa, though, takes Liesel under his wing as he comforts her during her nightmares and teaches her to read her stolen book. Liesel also finds sanctuary when chumming around with her new friend Rudy as well as in the mayor’s wife’s library where she retreats after she delivers and picks up the laundry for Mama.

But everything changes when one day a strange man shows up at the house looking for Liesel’s Papa. Max is a Jew. He has left his family, gone into hiding, and is barely surviving. Papa has made a promise to help Max, so it is agreed that Max can live in the basement. At first Liesel is a little frightened of Max, but soon they grow to be good friends—especially when Liesel realizes that Max also has nightmares. But, keeping a Jew in the basement is dangerous. Just as giving bread to Jews as they march to the concentration camp, as Papa does, is dangerous. Everything in Nazi Germany has its consequences.

After reading stellar reviews about this book in the blogosphere for the past six months, I was finally able to get my hands on a copy. I devoured the 550 pages in a few short days (don’t let the label of YA fool you—this is a rich novel). While sometimes I flew through the chapters, there were others where I was so overcome by emotion that every word took effort to absorb. But what I found so fitting in this novel, so perfect, was that it is about words. The power of words and what we are with them—and without them. How words can bring an unlikely person into power and consequently change the world as we know it.

This is a beautiful book and it will stick with me for a long time. I loved Death’s narration; his style is effortlessly engaging—sometimes witty, sometimes unbearably true. And while I’m not quite sure what I will do with what I took away from this book, I will continue to pass this book on to others. I hope you’ll read it, too.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Giver - Lois Lowry

Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Date Finished: January 13, 2008
Pages: 179
Rating: 4/5

The past couple of books I've read, including The Book Thief which I'm currently reading, have all come as recommendations from other bloggers (see my new tag below "BloggerRec"). When I was in fourth grade I read Number the Stars and loved it, so I was particularly interested in reading this book. I finally picked it up last weekend (despite my book ban) and read it on our trip to Oregon--mostly in one day on the plane.

I liked this book a lot, but something is keeping me from loving it--perhaps the ending (no--I won't give anything away). The book was a very quick read, but unlike some recent YA lit that I've read, the ideas were pretty complex and the writing more developed.

The Giver is the story of a young 12-year-old boy, Jonas, who is about to receive his community calling (in other words his occupation). At first the community Jonas lives in seems like a perfect one--one with little pain and great happiness, but at a closer glance it becomes apparent that the society is greatly manipulated so that everything is the same (Sameness). There are strict rules and regulations, and if these are broken, the offender will be "released" from the society.

When Jonas is given his calling, he is selected to become the "Receiver of Memory" - a role that means he will hold not only the community's memories, but the memories of all time. Because Jonas will hold these memories, the community does not need to. For example, instead of the community having memories--whether actual or learned--of things like war, only Jonas will carry these memories--and the pain that goes along with such memories. In addition to bad memories, though, some of the good things have also gone away such as colors, music, sunshine.

During Jonas's training to become the next Receiver of Memories, and as he learns more about how is community is compared to how it once was, he starts asking questions about whether or not Sameness is the best way to live life. Will Jonas be able to make a change in the community? The Giver is a touching story and I would recommend it. Now if I can just get my little brother to pick it up (I haven't had any luck interesting him in any of the YA lit I've read recently...).

Atonement - Ian McEwan

Title: Atonement
Author: Ian McEwan
Date Finished: January 12, 2008
Pages: 351
Rating: 4.5/5

I had heard so many great things about this book in the blogosphere and then in looking forward to the movie, I was really wanting to read this book. I had a vague idea of what the premise was, but only little pieces. As I read through the first section of the book, I was pulled through each page with anticipation of what was going to happen. I was hooked to McEwan's beautiful and smooth prose and his subtle use of suspense.

Atonement is the story of a young girl, Briony, who is on the brink of young-adulthood, but still has so much to learn about life. She witnesses a number of events that revolve around her sister and Robbie during a summer afternoon and makes several assumptions that lead to Robbie's implication of a crime. That's all I knew going into the book, so I'll leave it at that.

The book is divided into three very different sections (at least in terms of style). The first section--the one that describes Briony's transgression, moves from perspective to perspective giving a glimpse into each of the characters feelings and motivations. Because of the way that McEwan gives just a little bit of information at a time, the buildup was very great for me. I was drawn into the narrative--needing to receive answers. Once I found out what Briony had done, the second section--Robbie's narrative of World War II seemed slow. By the time the narrative moved back to Briony in section three, I grew a little restless with the story. The ending came together beautifully--and McEwan masterfully shows the reader how powerful atonement can be. It is an ending that stuck with me for a few hours after closing the book (I was on a plane), and it will be an ending that I will continue to remember, which is what I hope for in a book.

I would recommend this book and I will certainly be seeking out McEwan's other works.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Thirteen Moons - Charles Frazier

Title: Thirteen Moons
Author: Charles Frazier
Date Finished: January 6, 2008
Pages: 420
Rating: 4/5

I chose this book because I loved Cold Mountain, so I thought it would be perfect for the Seconds Challenge. Thirteen Moons begins in the early-mid 1800s and is set mostly around and in the Cherokee Nation. The story follows Will Cooper, a young orphan boy who is bound into servitude at a trading post at the edge of Cherokee Nation. Will quickly adapts to the rough surroundings around him using his quick wits, business savvy, and befriending a chief, Bear. The rest of the novel follows Will's story through middle age into old age--tracing the history of the native people he is adopted by--mainly the exodus of natives to the west.

Frazier's writing is exquisite--many complain about his writing style, but I don't agree that it is exaggerated or overdone. Frankly it is what will drive me to buys his next novel. The plot, however, did not grab me like Cold Mountain did. I really liked Will as a character, but I never warmed up to Claire--his sometimes love interest throughout the novel. I found the premise believable, but I wanted it to take hold of me and consume me like Inman and Ada did.

I would recommend this to those who love language--and a little patience is required. I appreciated the insight into the removal of a huge population as well as the customs of the Native Americans during this time, both of which Frazier detailed at great length and with great feeling.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

2007 Challenges

2007 Challenge Review

Blogging brought a whole new element to my reading--challenges. What I really like about challenges is the themes, which in a way reminds me of grad classes--like little mini classes that I don't have to write papers for. Also, challenges helped me with getting some of those OLD TBR books off the shelf as well as helping me determine what books to read next. On the other hand, though, I didn't leave myself enough room for whimsical choices, so I often felt burned out with books I had picked months in advance.

Non-Fiction Five Challenge (5 books)

Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich (Economics)

His Excellency: George Washington - Joseph J. Ellis (Biography)

The City of Falling Angels - John Berendt (Travelogue)

What I really liked about the Non-Fiction Five Challenge was that it nudged me into reading a genre I normally wouldn't touch unless assigned for school (and even then...?). The toughest book to slog through was definitely His Excellency; I honestly can't choose one that I liked the most--and not because I loved them all. Oh well!

By the Decades Challenge (13 books)

What I really liked about this challenge is that I was able to read pieces of fiction from a timespan of about 115 years. The differences between the earlier pieces to the later pieces is remarkable, really highlighting how the novel has developed. My favorites would have to be Fall On Your Knees and The Blind Assassin; my least favorites were Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and Howards End.

RIP Challenge (12 short stories)

I've been wanting to read this collection for a while, but I ended up really struggling with getting it read! My favorite stories were "Pit and Pendulum" and "Tell-Tale Heart"; there were several other stories (e.g. The Gold-Bug) that didn't strike my particular fancy.

Something About Me Challenge (5 books)

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquirel

High Fidelity - Nick Hornby

Sea Glass - Anita Shreve

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

This was a fun challenge because it was so different and the books I chose were from a pool of selections from other bloggers. The only book on this list I didn't really like was Like Water for Chocolate. All the rest were books that I enjoyed a lot--The Thirteenth Tale and High Fidelity being two of my favorite reads for the year.

Classics Challenge (3 books)

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

The Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

Once I started paying more attention to my reading habits, I was surprised at how many classics I read throughout the year. This challenge was easy to fulfill and I liked Frankenstein and The Scarlet Pimpernel a lot; Little Women did not live up to my re-reading expectations.

Armchair Traveler Challenge (6 books)

Travels with Charley - John Steinbeck (America)

The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien (Vietnam)

Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert (Italy, India, Indonesia)

The City of Falling Angels - John Berendt (Venice)

One of the goals I have is to really reach outside of my boundary comfort zone. Most of the authors that I read are North American or British and while the locales differ from story to story, I haven't exposed myself a lot to writers from different countries. While I didn't do this except for maybe Snow, this challenge certainly raised my awareness. A Thousand Splendid Suns was my favorite of the bunch; Snow was my least favorite.

2nds Read Challenge (3 books)

Thirteen Moons - Charles Frazier

Flesh and Blood - Michael Cunningham

Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen

Overall I enjoyed my second helping of these three authors, but none of them were as good as the first I read by the authors (Cold Mountain, The Hours, and Pride and Prejudice). But all three authors I would devour for a third helping!

Total Challenges: 7 (one challenge not listed: 07-08 Book Awards Reading Challenge)

Total Challenge Books: 35 (one cross-posted in two 2007 challenges)
New Authors: 22

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