Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson

Guest HouseThe Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson
2010, 216 pages

After witnessing a car accident in which a biker is killed, Melba quits her job as a real estate agent and stops driving, relying on public transportation to get her where she needs to go. Melba befriends JoLee, who is trying to get a divorce from her husband Gene, who has absconded to Idaho with their son, Matt. Melba rents a room in her house to JoLee, and when Matt comes to visit for Thanksgiving, Melba quickly becomes the most stable adult in his life.

I liked the pace of this book - the plot moved along quickly and kept me interested. I also thought most of the characters were well developed - Melba, Matt, even JoLee and especially Gene. Some of the secondary characters weren't as well developed - I never managed to distinguish Melba's neighbors from each other - but the author really took me into the minds of the main characters, which was the highlight of the book for me.

It took me a little while to get into this book - I feel like I was bombarded with too many characters at first, and I never quite connected with Melba. Once I got into the book it was a quick read, but I still feel like I didn't connect with it on the level that I should have. I appreciated reading the voices of the different characters, but in the end this is a light read that didn't quite hit home.
Melba took the last batch of oatmeal cookies from the oven. She grated cheese, looked out the window and lost herself in the open, unrealized yard. She wondered why she'd ever traveled. When you held still and stopped traipsing around the world, the world came to you. She had tired of splendid sights, rich foods and customs that had nothing to do with her. Even movies, good movies, failed the test. Life was so good she couldn't make time for substitutions. Blind in the way we all are blind, Melba wondered how anyone else ever did. (p130)
I received a copy of this book for review from the author's publicist.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (4.27.10)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Glorious (Johnny Temple)This week's teaser comes from Glorious by Bernice L. McFadden. I'm only a few chapters in and already it is a very intense read, and I'm looking forward to getting more into it. Here's the teaser:

Was she still writing?  She was writing to keep a grip on life, the evidence of which was right there on the skin of her index and middle fingers--dark indentations she from the pencils she used. (p101)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Ranch WifePioneer Woman Cooks:  Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond
2009, 247 pages

This is a cookbook put together by the author of the popular Pioneer Woman blog, Ree Drummond. I was really eager to pick this up after I discovered Ree's blog. I've (successfully!) made a couple of recipes that I found on her blog, so I was excited to see what I'd find in a full cookbook of recipes.

I enjoyed reading through the cookbook - the recipes are interspersed with stories of Ree's life in on a ranch in Oklahoma with her husband and kids. The thing I love about Ree's recipes (both on her blog and in her cookbook), is that she takes pictures of every step in the process, so it's easy to tell whether or not you're on the right track (useful to a beginning cook like me).

In Ree's words, here are the types of recipes you can find in this cookbook:
All of the dishes in this book are very easy to prepare, and use widely available, simple ingredients. The dishes are not fancy, and they're certainly not low-cal. But they're always flavorful, hearty, and crowd pleasing. (p5)
I tried a couple of recipes from the cookbook -- the braised beef brisket was probably the most ambitious one that I chose, but I also tried to make the burgundy mushrooms (and failed when I halved the recipe but failed to lower the cooking time... doh!), and I successfully made the basic breakfast potatoes. The brisket and potatoes were good, but overall the recipes in this book were a little too time-intensive and meat centered than I usually cook. What I'm looking for in recipes these days is easy and quick to prepare, and healthy/light, and this cookbook isn't really geared towards that. Regardless, I'm glad I gave it a chance, since I am a fan of Ree's blog, but I can't really comment on the quality of the recipes since it's not really my style of cooking.

Sidenote -- apparently there's also talk of making a Pioneer Woman movie based on Ree's story. Woah!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In My Mailbox (4.25.10)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. Head over there to see what everyone else received this week!

These books actually came to me over the last couple of weeks, but since I haven't done an In My Mailbox post in a while, I thought I'd post about them now. I received two books in the mail, and I'm really excited about both of them!

Fireworks over ToccoaI received a copy of Fireworks over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff from the publisher. I've been wanting to read this one, since I've seem some great reviews of it. Here's a summary, from Goodreads:
Lily was married for just days before her husband was sent abroad to fight in WWII. Now, he and the other soldiers are returning, and the small town of Toccoa, Georgia plans a big celebration. But a handsome and kind Italian immigrant, responsible for the elaborate fireworks display the town commissioned captures Lily's heart and soul. Torn between duty to society and her husband, and a poor, passionate man who might be her only true love--Lily must choose between a love she never knew and a commitment she'd already made.
The PostmistressThe second book I received is The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, which I won from a giveaway hosted by Stacy at A Novel Source. I've been wanting to read this one ever since I first heard what it's about, so I'm so glad to have won a copy. Thanks Stacy! Here's the summary from Goodreads:
Filled with stunning parallels to today's world, The Postmistress is a sweeping novel about the loss of innocence of two extraordinary women-and of two countries torn apart by war.

On the eve of the United States's entrance into World War II in 1940, Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod, does the unthinkable: She doesn't deliver a letter. In London, American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting on the Blitz. One night in a bomb shelter, she meets a doctor from Cape Cod with a letter in his pocket, a letter Frankie vows to deliver when she returns from Germany and France, where she is to record the stories of war refugees desperately trying to escape.

The residents of Franklin think the war can't touch them- but as Frankie's radio broadcasts air, some know that the war is indeed coming. And when Frankie arrives at their doorstep, the two stories collide in a way no one could have foreseen. The Postmistress is an unforgettable tale of the secrets we must bear, or bury. It is about what happens to love during wartime, when those we cherish leave. And how every story-of love or war-is about looking left when we should have been looking right.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Up in the Air (Movie Review)

Up in the Air

Ryan Bingham travels around the country, hired by cowardly managers to handle the firing of employees. A seasoned traveler, Ryan spent 322 days traveling last year, which means that he had to spend 43 "miserable" days at home in Omaha. Ryan derives pleasure from his elite status when he travels, so when he's called back to Omaha and learns that young upstart Natalie Keener has introduced the idea of virtual firing, his way of life is challenged. Ryan asserts that Natalie doesn't truly understand the nature of his business, and that you can't perform this job virtually. Ryan's boss lets Ryan have a few more weeks of travel to show Natalie the ropes of how he does his job. In the meantime, Ryan is involved in a relationship with Alex, who is also "turned on" by elite status and connects with Ryan when their layovers overlap.

One of the most poignant moments of this movie for me was a conversation between Ryan and Natalie, wherein he tells her that he doesn't spend any money unless it contributes to his frequent flyer miles, with the goal of reaching 10 million miles, which only six people have every accomplished before. Natalie wonders if he's planning a trip to Hawaii or somewhere to use all those miles, but Ryan says that the miles themselves are the goal, to which Natalie replies that if she had that many miles, she'd go to the airport and just pick a place and go.

That's just one example, that I probably butchered in trying to retell, but it's only one of many brilliant moments in this movie. The acting was fantastic all around - Anna Kendrick as Natalie and Vera Farmiga as Alex -- and, it goes without saying, George Clooney as Ryan Bingham ;) But more than that, the movie as a whole was well done and powerful, and my attention was captured from the beginning credits all the way through to the end. I really related to the character of Natalie, as I'm of a similar age and place in life right now, but I also enjoyed the scenes between Ryan and Alex - in fact, I think Alex might have been my favorite character, because Vera Farmiga's acting was excellent.

Coming in, I expected this movie to be good, but it definitely exceeded my expectations. If you haven't seen it yet, go rent this movie - I'd recommend it to anyone, period.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen

Searching for PemberleySearching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen
2009, 473 pages

World War II is over, and Maggie Joyce, reluctant to settle down in her small hometown of Minooka, Pennsylvania, sets her sights abroad and ends up working in London. One weekend, Maggie and a friend leave the city and visit Montclair, which is rumored to have been the home of the real-life Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. As Maggie unravels the similarities between Jane Austen's characters and their real-life counterparts, she forms a deep friendship with Jack and Beth Crowell, who know more about the basis for Austen's story than they initially let on, and ends up entangled in a love story of her own - torn between her American former-pilot boyfriend, Rob, and the Crowell's too-good-to-be-true son, Michael.

I added this one to my wishlist after reading a review by Anna at Diary of an Eccentric. Another Austen spinoff, I really liked that this one used Austen's characters as part of a (more) modern story, rather than trying to retell it or give a prequel/sequel. The premise of this story is that the characters of Pride and Prejudice were based on real people, and the real story behind Austen's novel is revealed through letters and diaries as Maggie makes her way through post-World War II England.

I enjoyed reading about life in England during this time period; the details Simonsen provides about Maggie's life in London, and even what it was like during the war through the histories of other characters, was very interesting and one of my favorite aspects of the book. I also thought that the characters were all really well developed and easily sympathized with their stories. Simonsen is a good writer and does a good job of developing relatable characters.

The action of this book is derived from learning about the true history of the story of Pride and Prejudice and from learning the backstories of the characters moreso than on actual plot action, especially for the first two thirds of the book, and although it sometimes got tiresome having so little action in the present, overall I enjoyed reading about these characters and their observations of life in England during and after both World Wars.

On the other hand, it was a little jarring that both the "true" story of Pride and Prejudice and the histories of the main characters were never told in chronological order. In some cases this made sense - the history behind the marriage of Jack and Beth Crowell isn't something they'd tell a stranger - but other times it was confusing and felt contrived, especially the order in which letters from the characters in Pride and Prejudice were revealed. It was also sometimes hard to keep all of the characters straight. Simonsen includes a list of the characters from Pride and Prejudice matched to their "real" counterparts in Searching for Pemberley, but it was still hard to keep all the names straight, including the characters in the present.

Overall, I think this is one of the better Austen spinoffs and I enjoyed reading Maggie's story and observing life in post-World War II England. The strengths of this book were the writing, the setting, and the character development, and in some ways I think the Pride and Prejudice aspect almost took away from this. I could have read a book just about Maggie, Rob, Michael, and the Crowells in post-World War II England, although the diary excerpts and letters did appeal to the Austen fanatic in me. Bottom line - I'd recommend this one for its characters and setting, but with the warning that it's not particularly plot-heavy and can feel like it's rambling at times.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (4.20.10)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Guest HouseMy teaser this week comes from Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson:
"If you were smart--" Ellie said, but Melba wasn't. Melba was tired of smarts, tired of playing to win. Anyone could win. She wanted to sink into the bones of things. She wanted her life to matter. (p89)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (updated edition)Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
2000, 312 pages

In Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain takes the reader through his career in the restaurant industry, from his days as a dishwasher to running his own kitchen in New York City. I finished this one a couple of weeks ago and never quite got around to reviewing it, so this is going to be a short review since it's not as fresh in my memory anymore...
Writing and making television, no matter what some whining dipshits may tell you, is easy. Cooking is hard. Any author who gripes about the "pressures" of celebrity, the "difficulty" of being "on" all the time, or the travails of "the road" has clearly never worked a busy grill station. (p307)
Bourdain's writing is really entertaining, and his adventures in the food industry are very interesting to read about. The foodie in me loved reading about the inner workings of a restaurant, and I loved reading about different aspects of working as the kitchen as Bourdain moves of the ladder from lowly dishwasher to, eventually, having his own kitchen. Sometimes I was a little disoriented because the book isn't always told in chronological order, and towards the end it felt like the book was rambling a little rather than coming to closure, but overall it was a very enjoyable read. I'd recommend this book for Bourdain's entertaining writing and for the behind the scenes look at what it's like to work in a restaurant. Here's an excerpt from one of my favorite sections of the book, when Bourdain works for "Bigfoot" at a restaurant in New York:
Bigfoot understood--as I came to understand--that character is far more important than skills or employment history. And he recognized character--good and bad--brilliantly. He understood, and taught me, that a guy who shows up every day on time, never calls in sick an does what he said he was going to do is less likely to fuck you in the end than a guy who has an incredible resume but is less than reliable about arrival time. Skills can be taught. Character you either have or don't have. (p96)
As a side note, not long after finishing this, some friends and I went out to a nice dinner in Boston's North End, and I definitely had this book in the back of my mind... as I read the menu I remembered Bourdain's statements, such as chicken is on the menu for people who don't know what they want, vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent, etc., and I was definitely thinking about what might be going on in the kitchen during our meal.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Returning from my mini-hiatus

You may have noticed that things have been pretty quiet around here for the last couple of weeks... I lost a little bit of my blogging momentum lately, partly from things getting busy in real life and partly from needing to strike up a better balance between reading/blogging and everything else. When I first started blogging, I was reading a book a week, but over the last few months I've picked up the pace, reading 2 or 3 books a week, and while I've really enjoyed becoming exposed to some great books through blogging, I also became a little fatigued by reading so much (I didn't even think that was possible!), and as a result I've been reading the same book for the last two weeks (Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen), which isn't a reflection on the book itself so much as my own need to slow down a little.

Anyway, I think I've finally gotten through my hump and am planning to resume pick up my blogging schedule this week :) This is just a quick note to explain the mini-disappearance, and to let you all know that I'm looking forward to catching up on reading blogs this week!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mrs. Somebody Somebody by Tracy Winn

Mrs. Somebody Somebody: FictionMrs. Somebody Somebody by Tracy Winn
2009, 199 pages

Set in the industrial New England town of Lowell, Massachusetts, Mrs. Somebody Somebody tells 10 intertwined stories of its residents, from post-World War II to the present.

When I picked up this book, something about the writing immediately drew me in, and I really enjoyed the first story, Mrs. Somebody Somebody, from which the novel takes its title. Although it was by far the longest story in the book, I was really interested in the story of Stella, a mill worker who dreams of someday becoming Mrs. Somebody Somebody and owning her own salon. Stella is drawn into the middle of the mill's struggles over unionization and provides a revealing window through which to view the struggle. Winn's writing is interesting and enjoyable, and was the highlight of this book for me.
Mrs. Somebody Somebody was exactly who I wanted to be. The way some kids grow up knowing they want to be mayor, want to have their name in the book of history, I wanted to wear a white dress and a ring that said I was taken care of. It was all mixed up with my hankering to live better, to have pretty things, to be glamorous. I wanted that Mrs. title like it was what I was born for--a want that settles into you when you are very young and grows as you grow. (p17)
Unfortunately, none of the subsequent stories drew me in as much as the first one. I liked some more than others, but overall the concept of short stories connected by the same location ultimately failed to really come together for me in this book. Part of me feels like maybe I didn't pay enough attention after the first story to really grasp the stories' overall connection, but overall I just have lukewarm feelings toward this book.
How a quarry cutter's daughter gets screwball ideas could be a whole other story.  The happy accident--how my nose and eyes landed in a nice arrangement, how my lips came to be a fashionable shape--had a lot to do with it.  People have always been pleased to look at my face and figure. Anywhere I'd gotten, I'd gotten because of my looks. But being a looker can make you think you might be something special.  Let me tell you, you're not. You may have the finest eyes in the world, long dark lashes, lovely shape and color, but it's what those eyes see that counts. Mine were blind, blind.

Glamour and LOOK magazine showed me better ways to live. I loved those glossy pages of beautiful women, all those brides who looked like they knew the secrets I would learn. I never doubted that I could be one of them. Not for a second. Those days the world was my mirror. Nothing but shiny surfaces to give me back myself. Wherever I looked, there I was. (p9)
 I received this book for review from LibraryThing. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (4.6.10)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Searching for PemberleyThis week's teaser comes from Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen. I've had this one on my shelf for a while and I'm happy to finally get a chance to read it!

Walking down the long drive, I could hear the sound of carriage wheels and horses' hooves as they made their way up the hill, carrying couples to a night's entertainment. Welcoming them was Elizabeth Darcy, dressed in an elegant but simply ivory-colored Empire dress, while Fitzwilliam Darcy was outfitted in clothing made popular by Beau Brummel:  jacket, waistcoat, neckcloth, breeches, and high leather boots. (p11)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

March Wrap Up

A bit belated, but here's a wrap up of my reading this month:
  1. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  2. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  3. Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
  4. Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
  5. what the world will look like when all the water leaves us by Laura  van den Berg
  6. Enlightened Sexism by Susan J. Douglas
  7. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  8. Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie
  9. Balancing Acts by Zoe Fishman
  10. Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond (Review Coming Soon)
  11. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (Review Coming Soon)
Wow, looking at that list, I definitely read a lot more this month that I thought I had when I sat down to write this post. Things have sort of slowed down over the last week, as work & other things have gotten busy, but overall I'm happy about my reading in March - I branched out to read a mystery and a book of short stories, two genres which I generally don't read much of, and enjoyed the experience. Fair warning - posting here may continue to be slow over the next week as I continue to try to dig myself out of this hole I seem to be in.