Friday, August 29, 2014

Relish, Lucy Knisley

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Lucy Knisley

Category: Graphic Memoir

Synopsis: Knisley presents her favorite food memories in graphic memoir form.

Date finished: 12 July 2014

Rating: ***

Yes, this is my first foray into graphic books. Yes, this review will likely sound like it.

While I don’t anticipate developing much interest in graphic novels, it was interesting to read a graphic memoir. I tend to have a strong connection to visual memories, and if I could draw, I might be tempted to create one of my own.

The graphics in this book, though, were quite simple and one-dimensional. It often came off more as a filled-in coloring book than a book for adults. (Did my ignorance show just then? I thought so.) So, the pictures kind of bored me. Although, I did appreciate not having to “read” the pictures for anything not in the text. I might have hit a little brain overload if I had.

So, the pictures felt kind of meh to me, and the food memories, too, seemed bland. Well, bland in a progressive liberal yuppy way. I’m just not into the counterculture scene when it comes to food. I don’t need an array of cheeses from Dean and Deluca at a get-together; I don’t need my cupcakes slathered with bacon and maple syrup, I just don’t. So, much of the food just made me roll my eyes. (Did my prejudice show just then?) I guess I’m just not edgy and hip enough for this sort of thing.

So, there wasn’t much left for me but concept, and I enjoyed the concept very much. A life in pictures makes sense to me, but much of the rest of this book didn’t appeal.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
I know many folks adore this book, so it depends on who the friend is.

You might also enjoy:
Ilene Beckerman’s books, especially Love, Loss, and What I Wore. She explores her past in relation to the outfits she wore.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Killing Kennedy, Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard

Category: Nonfiction: Biography; Politics & Washington, D.C.; Death & grief

Synopsis: A recount of President John F. Kennedy’s last months of life, the events of his presidency, and his assassination.

Date finished: 12 July 2014

Rating: ****

I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to this book. I’m a long-time viewer of “The O’Reilly Factor” and respect O’Reilly as an investigative journalist. There were two things holding me back, though. First, he hawks his books mercilessly. And I have just enough stubborn German in me to not want to read what someone tells me to. Second, it always bothered me that O’Reilly had a co-author. Did Martin Dugard do the research while O’Reilly wrote the book? Did Dugard write the book using O’Reilly’s research? Was Dugard a ghostwriter making O’Reilly millions?

But alas, I took the plunge and read it. After all, I am somewhat of a Kennedyphile. Also, I got nerdily interested in the team’s forthcoming Killing Patton, and I wanted at least one other “Killing…” book under my belt before its release.

I have to say, I was rather impressed. The pace is quick, yet not surface. I learned a great deal about Kennedy (though not a whole lot I hadn’t read in other Kennedy books) and a lot about his presidency. It was a tumultuous time in American history, and I remember my American Government teacher in high school saying that had he not been assassinated, his presidency would have gone down as a dismal failure. I didn’t realize what an unmitigated disaster the Bay of Pigs was. And the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although he supported the Civil Rights Movement, his support may have been more tied to his (and Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s) concerns for their political future than we’d always been led to believe. If I’m making this sound like a right-wing hatchet piece on Kennedy’s name and character, I have to assure you that it was not. The book is fair. (No one can deny, for instance, that his dithering and fear in dealing with Cuba made us a laughing stock and cost lives. And no one can deny that the Kennedy glamour went a long way in bringing America together.)

The thing that keeps this book from being a 5-star for me is that it’s a bit sensational. Now, the Kennedys were a sensational bunch, but there was too much here that seemed shocking and grandly rehashed. I mean Kennedy did get involved in some scandalous behavior, no denying, but sometimes the book went far enough that I wished they’d just let the man rest. He was a president, after all. But it wasn’t just Kennedy treated this way, many others were too: Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. (I’ll never look at him the same way again), Bobby Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, etc.

But in general, I’d highly recommend this book to those interested in history. I learned a great deal about the presidency, J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, and many other people and events.

It isn’t until the nice little cast of characters wrap-up at the back of the book that I learned that much of the research was done by Bill O’Reilly when he was a young reporter. He’s been spending the better part of his journalism career putting the pieces of the Kennedy administration and assassination together. I wish he would have said that up front.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, highly.

You might also enjoy:
Rose Kennedy
Mrs. Kennedy and Me (written by Jackie Kennedy’s Secret Service agent, Clint Hill; it was obvious in Killing Kennedy where pieces of information came from this book)

Top Ten Tuesdays (want to read but don't own)
Click to join the fun.

This week's topic: Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don't Own Yet

Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard
Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General
(due out 9/23/14)

Gretchen Rubin
Better than Before: Making and Breaking Our Everyday Habits to Be Happier, Stronger, and More Productive (Really)
(due out 3/17/15)

Jenny Rosenstrach
Dinner: The Playbook: A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal
(due out today)

Hampton Sides
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette
Matthew Algeo
The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth
Eli Brown
Cinnamon and Gunpowder: A Novel

Hannah Hart
My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut

Sarah Richardson
Sarah Style
(due out 11/4/14)

Anna Quindlen
Still Life with Bread Crumbs: A Novel

Kimberly Rae Miller
Coming Clean

And three bonus can't-wait-fors:
Dan Jurafsky
The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu
(due out 9/15/14)
David Sax
The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue
John Taliaferro
All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt
What would you start reading right now if you had it in your hands?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Children's Books Galore
Are you looking for a book for a child? Or looking for a children's book to read? Or just curious in what an author, a book editor and their two avid young reader-daughters are interested in? Well, here is your resource. I encountered this beautifully done compilation of 121 books a couple years ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Jenny Rosenstrach and her family are making it available on their blog for a limited time. Download it before it's gone.

It's a magnificently diverse list with each family member's favorites. Titles range from picture books to middle-grade fiction to comics. And some of the reviews are written by their very sophisticated daughters (you won't believe they're 8 and 10). It also features interviews with children's book authors. You'll be charmed.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Finds (Aug. 22)
Join in the fun. Link up your list here.
I'm so excited about my finds this week. Lots of fun stuff from several genres. I want to read all the books right now!
My Drunk Kitchen came to my attention not long after putting up my Friday Finds post last week. Which led to me watching several of her You Tube videos. And this week I saw a blogger review the book. I have to be honest, I still have little idea what this book is going to be about. It's billed as a cooking parody, but I don't see parody in the videos so much as avant-garde tipsiness. I don't go near alcohol myself, so my interest in this book is strange. But I see it as a puzzle to solve. What is she trying to do, and how well does she do it? I've already ordered a copy.
My love for Sarah Richardson deserves its own post. But I'd do nothing but gush, so I'll summarize it here: I want to BE Sarah Richardson. No, you don't understand, I actually want to BE her. Her skill at decorating is kind of secondary. At any rate, I stumbled upon Sarah Style, to be released in November, and added it to my short list lickety-split.
Much of what we know about Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt comes to us from John Hay. Or so I'm told. I read an excerpt from All the Great Prizes, and I was sucked in, so onto the list it went.
At the end of September, there's a challenge to read and review one book by an author of color. (Read about it here.) If I participate, I'll be reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. It's the true story of a boy who builds a windmill for his African town.

First off, don't you just love the cover of Cinnamon and Gunpowder? I sure do. I read a review of this one on Estella's Revenge, and it intrigued me. In short, a female pirate captures a ship's chef and tells him she'll spare him as long as he creates a sumptuous meal each week.
Coming Clean is a memoir of growing up in a family of hoarders.
Bookmammal highly recommended Anna Quindlen's latest novel, Still Life with Bread Crumbs. I haven't read a Quindlen novel since One True Thing came out in the mid-1990s. Never much for fiction, I wasn't impressed. But her new novel sounds like a quiet character study, and that's more up my alley.

I don't know much about Kevin Young's poetry, but I loved his editing job in The Hungry Ear. If The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing is half as good as The Hungry Ear, I know I'll love it.  

And there you have it: nonfiction, fiction, memoir, poetry, cookbook (or not), decorating, history, and cultural. A diverse mix without even trying.

What's on your list?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bout of Books Updates

Thursday update: Thursday meant back to work. No more read-cation. I logged my usual 50 pages (55 actually, cause I'm all that). Destiny of the Republic is great. I may be able to finish it Friday, but it's not likely as our grandson is coming over. That means Shark Week episodes from the DVR, hot dogs, and scary movies. Not much time for Grandma to read.

Wednesday update: On Wednesday, I logged another 160 pages: 130 in Destiny of the Republic and 30 in Bright Wings. I'm over the moon for Destiny of the Republic. Who knew James Garfield had such a great story?! Bright Wings, however, is not as good as expected. Most of the poems are the dry, brittle kind. Wednesday was the last of my three days off, so from here on out, it'll be 50 pages a day. *sigh* It was so good while it lasted.

Tuesday update: Yesterday I finished Margarita Wednesdays. I wasn't sure what I felt like reading after that. Margarita Wednesdays was a good story, and I couldn't find what felt like a good book to follow that with, one that would also keep me interested for a whole day of reading. I finally decided on Destiny of the Republic. Something serious and historical hit the spot. I also began Bright Wings, a book of bird poems. All told, I read 180 pages yesterday.

Monday update: I finished the book I was reading last week (Behind the Curtain) on Saturday, so I got to start a fresh book Monday morning. I read 160 pages of Deborah Rodriguez's Margarita Wednesdays. I was saving it for the read-a-thon because I was really looking forward to reading it. It's the follow up to her Kabul Beauty School, in which she leaves Afghanistan for Mexico. It's a nice fluffy read by a very personable writer. I'm really enjoying it.

Top Ten Tuesdays (books I read because of hype)

This week's topic: Top Ten Books People Have Been Telling You That You MUST Read

Well, I didn't have ten recent books that folks were telling me to read, so I made a list of 10 books I read because of all the hype.


The Martian, Andy Weir
It was everywhere this spring, I liked the cover, and I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and read a sci fi book. I know others loved it, but I’d call it average.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
My brother hounded me for years to read Austen’s great novel. When I finally did, I loved it with an all-consuming love.

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
This one sat on my shelf for over two years. I read Seabiscuit and fell so hard for it that I knew I’d love Unbroken, too. And I did. Hillenbrand is one of the best writers writing today.

Quiet, Susan Cain
Everyone told me I had to read Quiet. I knew I’d like it, but I hoped I’d like it more than I did.

Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
I had no interest in it when it came out, but I finally decided it was so short, I could bite the bullet and see what all the fuss was about. I was pleasantly surprised at how approachable and non-preachy it was.

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink
I don’t generally read about health, medicine, doctors, etc., so I dismissed this one as something I wouldn’t read. But something made me take a second look, and it was one of my favorite reads this year.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
I couldn’t even finish this one. Patchett seems decidedly unhappy, and I don’t give authors that come off like that much time.

Wild, Cheryl Strayed
I loved the cover. And the cover was everywhere. I enjoyed the book, but I don’t think Strayed and I would be friends if we met.

Killing Kennedy, Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard
Given my love of history and respect for O’Reilly, it’s odd that I have very little interest in reading any of his history books. But I geeked out over his announcement that his fourth “Killing…” book would be about Patton, so I decided to read at least one previous book before its release. I enjoyed it immensely.

The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel
The cover both compelled me and repelled me. And I heard it was hard to keep all the wives straight. While I enjoyed the book, it could have been so much better had an editor made some tough decisions.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Finds (Aug. 15)
Join the fun!
Just a few finds this week, and most are big and dry-looking. In fact, who knows what the odds are of me actually completing them all? But they pique my interest, and that's enough to get them on the TBR list.
It's no mystery that I adore Gretchen Rubin. And I've meant to read her Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill for years. I'll get to it someday, I know I will.
I'll get to Forty Ways... long before I'll get to The Last Lion, which clocks in at nearly 1,200 pages. AND, it's the last of a trilogy of tomes about Churchill. Goodness. Someday, though, when I hit the time lottery, I'll tackle it.

The Burglary tells the true story of the ragtag bunch of everyday citizens who break into FBI offices to garner information that J. Edgar Hoover was operating a shadow FBI. I ran into Hoover in Killing Kennedy this summer, and he's quite the overzealous character, which makes this plot an intriguing one.
I'm not sure why I'd need to add a big ole book about the Curies to my stack when I've read the biography of Marie Curie by her daughter Eve. What more can be said and how accurate can it be, right? Still, I'm game.

It's possible that I'll get to this one years before the others. Ever wonder how food fads start and why they don't last? This book has the answers. I make it a point to not get into food fads or fad diets, but I'm interested to know the psychology behind such things.
And there you have it. What did you add to your pile this week?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bout of Books Read-a-thon 11...Count Me In!

I'll be participating in the Bout of Books Read-a-thon 11 next week. It's the third (I think) BoB I've participated in, and I love it. I usually take three days off from work and read from 9am til bedtime.

And I still don't finish as many books as folks who don't take days off.

But no matter. I have a blast doing my favorite thing, and that's why I do it.

My goals are always modest and changeable. This time I hope to finish two books (three or more would be great), and I hope to keep my updates, you know, up-to-date. That's were I always fail. I'm too busy reading to get online.

The books I plan to read are:

I think I'll have a few pages left of Behind the Curtain, so I'll finish that Monday morning. Then I'll be onto Margarita Wednesdays, which I've been saving for this occasion.

If I finish Margarita Wednesdays, I'll move onto Bright Wings, which is a collection of poems about birds edited by the wonderful Billy Collins. I love poetry! I love birds! I love Billy Collins! Can life be any more perfect? (The illustrations are gorgeous, too.)
And I hope to get a ways into Hungry Planet. I read this book a few years ago, and I've wanted to read it again ever since. It shows families from around the world with the food they consume in a week. It's an eye-opening journey.
Are you participating in Bout of Books?

Here's the official blurb and a link to the site if you need more information.

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink

Category: Nonfiction: Medicine, Doctors, Hospitals, & Nursing; Investigative Reporting

Synopsis: A recounting of the five days following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans and its dire effects on Memorial Hospital.

Date finished: 7 July 2014

Rating: *****

There are some books that make me wish I was in a book club. Five Days at Memorial is such a book. When it came out, I had no interest in reading it. I don’t participate in traditional healthcare, and I tend to stay away from it as a book topic. But this book had garnered so much press, it wore down my defenses. Now I wish I’d have read it when it was the hot new book, so I could be a part of the discussion.

The book is divided into two parts. In part one, we meet the characters, the doctors and patients central to the story. We follow the hospital staff through the five harrowing days following Hurricane Katrina. Days without electricity, without air conditioning, without running water, and with the stench of flood waters, broken plumbing, and death. And we witness the haphazard rescues, at times staff sending rescuers away without a single patient aboard, at other times staff wondering where the rescues were. We learn of the decision to send out the least critical patients first, instead of the most critical. And we learn that someone made the decision to euthanize the last 19 (?) patients in order to exit the hospital on day five. The bodies were not discovered until weeks (?) after they were drugged and abandoned. In short, chaos, life, death, and fatal decisions. 

Part two of the book involves the investigation into the staff, specifically Dr. Anna Pou, who were involved in the euthanizing of the last Memorial patients. We learn of the lawsuits bought and the outcomes of the cases.

Fink flips between impartial reporter in part one and (I’d say) decidedly anti-staff in part two. It seems obvious that she wanted the doctors and nurses involved to pay a price for the decisions they made and be accountable to the families they devastated.

The book had me shaking my head a lot. How could a hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana, a hospital that had suffered a catastrophic flood decades before, not have a clear and detailed set of emergency procedures in place? How could they not have decided years in advance who would be saved first and how they would deal with their most critical patients? How could rescues not be planned out in detail with backup plans if an entire city was underwater or otherwise crippled? How could any rescue flight be turned away empty?

But the most troubling question, the question that’s hardest to answer, is did the doctors and nurses do the right thing in the last hours before abandoning the hospital? This question, of course, is at the heart of the matter, bringing into the discussion so many different threads: morality and ethics, the good of humanity, the role of healthcare, faith.

I am so glad I read this book, and I’m still at the mercy of the questions it raises. I highly recommend you read this book.

Would you recommend this to a friend?


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Quiet, Susan Cain

Category: Nonfiction: Science: Psychology/Personality

Synopsis: An in-depth study of introversion, its benefits, and how to succeed in life, not in spite of it, but because of it.

Date finished: 26 June 2014

Rating: ****

If I’d taken any longer to write this review, I would have forgotten every last thing I learned while reading this book. As it is, I don’t remember much. Which would seem to not bode well. And although some of that has to be the book’s fault, I’ll take partial responsibility. This book didn’t bore me, and it didn’t make me roll my eyes. It made me think, but it didn’t entirely stick with me. It was one part comfort in a now-I-know-I’m-not-alone sort if way, one part scientific analysis of human personality and character, and one part self-help.

So let’s break it down.

First, I’d been told by approximately eleventy million people that I needed to read this book. I guess they’d already (correctly) decided I was an introvert. Like most other folks who read it and reported back, I found myself again and again in Cain’s descriptions of introverts. Prefer one-on-one to group activities? Check. Enjoy solitude? Check. Prefer to write than speak? Check. Prefer staying in and reading a book to going to a party? Oh, so Check. So, this book was like going home—only in this home everyone understood me and didn’t judge my quietness or ask me to change. That is enormously valuable.


But, it wasn’t new to me. I knew I was this way. I knew other people didn’t get it. I knew others thought it was an unusual way to live. I knew that other people wanted me to change to make life easier for them or because they thought I’d be happier. None of it is new. What’s new is “blaming” it on introversion and other’s responses to it on extroversion. Because here’s the thing: just as you can find a scientific study to back up any hypothesis, you can find or invent or give undo credence to any “-ism,” too. I don’t like pigeon-holing whole personalities into one “-ism.” And while Cain wasn’t using introversion as a scapegoat, per se, she was using it as her dividing line between “you” and “they.” And it kind of felt false to me. I think my personality has as much to credit to my faith, my growing up on a farm in a tiny Midwest town, my parents’ attitudes about how children (and adults) should behave, and a host of other factors. Perhaps Cain would argue that’s all environment and introvert/extrovert traits are innate, but I don’t really, deep down, buy “innate.”

Second, the scientific analysis. Books that spend too much time presenting studies and data kind of irritate me. There was a little too much of that here for my taste. While it was all relevant and much of it was interesting, and while I knew Cain needed it to prove her point, I guess I just don’t put as much stock in it as most people.

Third, the self-help portion of the book. This was, by far, my favorite part of the book. In part four (the last part) of the book, Cain discusses what introverts can do with what we know about ourselves. The part of this section I found most helpful, oddly, was the chapter for parents raising introverted children. The practical advice therein was worth the whole price of admission.

While I wasn’t blown over or even surprised by this book, I was not disappointed either. It gave me a lot to chew on. The text was well-written, never dry, approachable and applicable. Above all, while supporting introverts, she never made value judgments regarding introverts or extroverts. The book was a “safe place.” The book really was exactly what I expected it to be. But in some odd way, that just didn’t seem like enough.

But, I’m sure it’s not the last we’ll hear from Susan Cain.

Would you recommend this to a friend?