Monday, March 11, 2019
It's been a crazy week around here, which ended with an scheduled trip to the vet with a sick kitty. She's fine, she just likes scaring the crap out of me (literally; I don't handle pet stress well and my stomach has been an utter wreck right along with my brain).
That said, I've decided to move the blog over to Wordpress. I've been playing around with things and I'm digging their layout a bit more, so I'd love it if you followed me over to:
Same bookish content, just better looking. Come on by, because I'm putting up a review today of a book that you NEED to read and that deserves to be known.
See you there! :)
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
When I was asked to review Syntell Smith's novel Call Numbers, a workplace drama set in a branch of the New York Public Library, I was intrigued. What kind of drama could librarians and their staff possibly have? A LOT, as it turns out!
Robin Walker has just been transferred to the 58th Street Branch of the New York Public Library. What he doesn't know is that he's been placed in the open job that was supposed to go to a page, a pregnant teenager who desperately needs the money and benefits. This immediately sets Robin at odds with quite a few of the other employees, who set out to enact their revenge. Robin's fiery temperament ensures that he won't make things easy for them, and the drama will touch every part of the library and every member of the staff.
If you only ever pictured librarians and library staff as cardigan-wearing noise-hushers, this will definitely expand your perception. Call Numbers features multiple fistfights (that result in collarbone fractures and shattered kneecaps, cracked ribs, concussions, and head and spinal trauma, among other injuries), a scheming head librarian who's not afraid to game the system and elbow his way into monetary success for his branch, and the enemy of a library page being dangled off a roof. There's an employee committing insurance fraud, multiple verbal altercations between staff, backstabbing, scheming, strategizing, and at least three minor characters who are at or close to seven feet tall. You've never met library workers like this before!
Mr. Smith has created an elaborate world in the rowdy 58th Street Branch. There's little character description in the beginning, and at times I had some difficulty keeping the characters straight, especially since quite a bit of the novel is heavy on dialogue. It took until I was over halfway through the book before I could keep everyone straight, which was the point where I could relax while reading and appreciate the over-the-top behavior of Robin and his fellow coworkers. I welcomed the truce and eventual reluctant yet sincere friendship between Robin and Tommy in the weeks after their fight, and the crush Lakeshia, a young page, had on the several-years-older Robin was especially well-handled, both in terms of sensitivity to Lakeshia's youth and her blossoming emotion. Her constant peeking across the room at Robin, peering around the corners of shelves, and nervousness every time she came near him was true-to-life and treated respectfully, which made her character enjoyable to read and probably my favorite.
Tucked in between the massive power struggle of the employees at 58th Street are literary quotes and bits of history (the story takes place in 1994), both from the past and current day to the story, which added a little extra to my reading. I had to take a quick Internet break when one character, in an attempt to intimidate another, dropped a name I didn't recognize. While I knew about the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, I don't know that I've ever seen specific names named, so I appreciated the detour this took me on so I could learn more. Call Numbers ends in a cliffhanger, so expect more from Syntell Smith and his boisterous band of library staff in the future!
Call Numbers will be available on June 21, 2019. Huge thanks to Mr. Smith for allowing me to read and review his work!
Follow Syntell Smith on Twitter here.
Check out his Facebook page here.
Visit his writing on Facebook here.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
Do you ever feel like you're the last person on earth to read a certain book? When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon has been on my radar for ages now, but when it first appeared, I was deep into reading down my massive Goodreads TBR list and didn't want to deviate from it too much in case I lost momentum (so glad I'm getting to the end of that project!). And although I was crazy backed up with books last week, this book still managed to find its way into my library pile, because I have zero self-control at the library these days (I mean, there are worse places to not be able to say no, right?).
Dimple Shah has never felt like she fit in. Not at school where she gravitates toward tech stuff, not with her family, where her mother is fixated solely on finding her the Ideal Indian Husband (and not at all on Dimple's potential for a fabulous career as a programmer). It's a surprise to her when her parents allow her to attend Insomnia Con, a computer coding camp held at a university during the summer between the end of her senior year of high school and the beginning of her college life at Stanford. Dimple's ready to take on the coding world, creating an app that will change lives and that will get her some attention from her coding inspiration, Jenny Lindt.
Rishi Patel is a traditional rule-following eldest son, bound and determined to live out his parents' dreams for him even if it costs him his own dreams. Family means something, right? Not that his younger brother Ashish gets that. But Rishi, whose talents are better suited to art, is off to Insomnia Con. He's on a mission...one that Dimple isn't at all aware of, and that will begin with her throwing iced coffee in his face. After a rough start, Dimple and Rishi set a few ground rules that allow them to develop at least the start of a friendship, one that slowly blossoms into something else. But Dimple has plans, plans that don't involve marriage (maybe not ever!), and she's not entirely sure if Rishi is the kind of guy who can let her be herself...or even fully be himself.
When Dimple Met Rishi is about identity, the one we're born with, the one our family assigns us, and all the different identities we wear and develop through life. I was surprised to see the negative reviews of this on Goodreads. While Dimple could be abrasive at times, I have yet to meet a person who can't (I, ahem, kind of have an enormous sarcastic streak that catches some people off-guard, because I appear so nice and sweet!). And other reviewers are constantly mentioning Dimple bemoaning how she's not like other girls. I didn't read that at all. What I saw in Dimple was a girl who struggles with what she feels her mother and her community expects from her, someone who feels pressured and trapped into a role that she knows doesn't fit who she is- and when we feel trapped, sometimes we lash out. I saw a girl who felt alienated because there weren't many other girls into tech where she was (I'm sure that varies wildly by where you live), and whose family background made her different from the majority of kids around her at school (there's a scene with Rishi where Dimple is so pleased that they can talk about their mothers and how he just gets it, without needing an explanation, and I found her relief at that charming). I understood Rishi's sense of duty to his parents, even at the cost of his own dreams, whereas some of the reviews called him weak. It may be that I'm older; as an adult, as a parent, our lives are so often about sacrifice (sacrificing sleep, sacrificing your own health, sacrificing your own sanity to watch ANOTHER episode of LoudScreamyCartoonShow) that Rishi didn't seem unrealistic to me. And the Aberzombies, well... I remember those kids well from high school. They existed. They were loud, obnoxious, acted as though the money their parents had earned made them better than everyone else... Yeah. I didn't find them off the mark whatsoever.
Maybe this is just a case of readers bringing different things to the story. Maybe I would've read this different when I was younger; maybe the readers who dislike it on Goodreads would understand Dimple differently as they grow older. Each story is really a million different stories, isn't it? A million different stories, and all of them valid.
While I would've liked to have seen was Dimple and Rishi working a little more on their app, although I just figured that took place off-screen. A few more scenes of them hard at work would've fit well with Dimple's drive to improve her coding skills. But overall, I enjoyed this. I always enjoy reading stories with Indian characters (whether living in India or Indian by heritage); it's a beautiful culture and learning more about it never fails to move me in some way. So this worked for me, and I'm honestly a little surprised at the vitriol I'm reading in so many Goodreads reviews.
Have you read this book? I'd love to hear your thoughts, because I'm feeling like I seriously missed something, in regards to those other reviews (although a friend of mine read and rated it four stars, so that makes me feel better!).
Check out Sandhya Menon's website here.
Follow her on Twitter here.
Monday, March 4, 2019
Everyone has a few subjects they love reading about and will devour every single book that comes out about that subject. One of those subjects for me is food waste, and so when I heard about Bread is Gold by Massimo Bottura, the Italian chef and restaurateur behind Osteria Francescana, I slapped it on my TBR list.
The book wasn't quite what I was expecting. Bottura (who was featured in the documentary Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, which I saw last year and highly recommend) tells the story of how his nonprofit organization Food for Soul, along with David Hertz's Gastromotiva, opened the Refettorio Gastromotiva, a community kitchen that combined feeding the local needy population (along with others who weren't needy) and combatting food waste. Another Refettorio was later opened in Milan, and then one in London.
How the Refettorio works is this: a well-known chef, often one that runs a Michelin-starred restaurant, is invited to come cook for a day or two, using only the ingredients on hand and anything specialized they bring with from their home country. And as the Refettorio receives shipments of about-to-expire food from different sources every day, the pantry contents can vary widely. If you've ever seen the show Chopped! on the Food Network, it's like that. Chefs have to work with shipments of fish and dairy that need to be used that day; ridiculous quantities of brown bananas and wilting produce; tropical fruit and other luxury items that supermarkets couldn't sell; varying amounts of meat, from an overabundance to none at all; and 4372899473284732984832 tons of stale bread. What comes out of the Refettorio is miraculous, meals that are fit for any upscale restaurant, made strictly out of ingredients that had been destined for the trashbin.
Each text-filled page is a story of a chef who came to cook at the Refettorio, their life story, what they cooked during their time there, and the challenges they faced (sometimes the daily shipment was less than abundant). If you enjoy food writing, you'll probably enjoy their stories. The photographs that follow each text section are lovely, showcasing the ingredients they received and the stunning culinary masterpieces they became, and each section contains recipes for everything the chefs prepared.
This book is part story, part cookbook, and part inspiration. Food waste is an enormous social, political, and ecological issue, and anything that can challenge people to think creatively about the food in their refrigerators and pantries is a good thing, I think. For me, this book serves mostly as inspiration, as I'm usually pretty careful with our food and we waste almost nothing. I do, however, need the occasional kick in the pants to get me thinking in creative ways about how to use what we have. I'm becoming a little more comfortable cooking without a recipe these days (although I'm nowhere near the level of the chefs featured in this book!), and I've got plans for a few different meals thanks to reading about the ingenuity that takes place on a daily basis at the Refettorio. (I did, however, write down the recipe for Stale Bread Gnocchi. The vast majority of my bread ends go in the freezer, where I wait until I have enough, and then I toss them in the oven until they're crunchy and pulverize them in the food processor to make bread crumbs. I'm pretty backed up on bread ends right now, though, and I have an excess of bread crumbs, so this recipe looks like just what I need!)
While there are better books out there for tackling the immediate issue of food waste (and I have plans for a future post about those books!), this is a good book to keep around as a reminder of the importance of using what you have before it goes bad, and an excellent example of the people who are working every day on a massive scale to do just that.
Do you have an interest in food waste? What are the subjects that make you immediately drop whatever it is you were reading before and pick up the new book that covers that topic?
Follow Massimo Bottura on Twitter here.
Follow him on Instagram here.
Saturday, March 2, 2019
When I first heard about Ghosted by Rosie Walsh from another blogger, I did something a little out of character for me: I ran off to the library website, found an e-copy, and put it on hold.
Years ago, I used to check out e-library books all the time when I had a nook. And then I got a kindle, and then I got away from reading e-books in general when I was reading down the mostly nonfiction on my Goodreads list (I prefer to read paper copies of nonfiction so I can easily turn back and forth and re-read certain bits), and I developed this anxiety over figuring out how to check out these e-library books. (I mean, you're here on the blog of someone who once won an iPod in a contest and was so freaked out about screwing it up that she left it in the box for six months, sooooooooo.) But this book intrigued me so much that I moved past that fear and put it on hold, and you know what? It was so easy! (Although my elderly Kindle Keyboard is having issues these days, so I'm probably going to have to replace it soon, sniff!)
Sarah Harrington has met the love of her life. She's only known Eddie David for a week, but those seven days were magical, filled with the kind of blissful love-at-first-sight that every romance reader dreams of. And when they part, it's full of exchanged promises, phone numbers, and Facebook friend requests. Sarah's sure that Eddie will return from his vacation and they'll pick up right where they left off...except that's not what happens.
No phone calls.
No Facebook activity.
Eddie's ghosted her. But how could that be possible? Sarah knows they had something special. What she felt for Eddie, she didn't even feel for the husband she recently divorced, and being with him helped her to feel something other than pain over the sister she lost so long ago. Despite her better judgment, Sarah begins trying to find out what happened to Eddie, leading her down a path that will further open wounds from the past when she discovers who Eddie truly is.
This story is twisty as a country back road. I understood Sarah's need to know that Eddie was at least alive (hello, anxiety!), which made her feel very real and immediate to me, and the twist that appears halfway through the book actually made my mouth drop open- I'm not the greatest at figuring out mysteries, but I didn't see that one coming at all, and it entirely changed my view of the whole story. I enjoyed the contrast of Sarah's life before and after the incident with her sister, the contrast between her life in England and her life in California. I did feel like there were a few things left up in the air at the end, though, including what Sarah's involvement in her own charity would be now that her situation had changed. That was never covered, possibly because it was beside the point, but I'm still curious! I do feel very satisfied knowing how this story turned out, as the review I read on another book blog seriously piqued my curiosity!
This was a fun read and I'm looking forward to reading many more e-library books on my kindle...as long as my poor kindle keeps trucking. *crosses fingers*
Friday, March 1, 2019
I swear, the last time I looked up, it was January. And now February's gone. Whaaaaaaaaat???
Actually, I know what happened. I spent the entire month with my face shoved in various books.
Which isn't a bad thing, lemme tell you.
It's been another great month of reading around these parts, and a good month for all things bookish in general. I finished listening to all the back episodes of the What Should I Read Next podcast, and in my search for what I should listen to next, I stumbled upon All the Books, a weekly podcast from BookRiot about new book releases, hosted by the always funny Liberty and Rebecca. I'm super in love with this podcast and have been listening when I try to fall asleep, and when I'm in the kitchen getting dinner together. Be warned, though, your TBR list will explode like a fire hydrant that's been knocked over by a Mack truck. (And for more TBR-ruining fun, BookRiot has a TON of podcasts with hours upon hours of back episodes. Enjoy!)
And with that, here's a recap of all the amazing books I plowed through during the bitter cold of February 2019.
1. Humming Whispers- Angela Johnson
2. Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary- D.L. Mayfield
3. My Favorite Half-Night Stand- Christina Lauren
4. Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating- Christina Lauren
5. Heretics Anonymous- Katie Henry
6. The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story- Hyeonseo Lee with David John
7. Bear Town- Fredrik Backman
8. Hamartia- Raquel Rich
9. Ration Book Cookery- Gill Corbishley
10. Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks- Annie Spence
11. Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order- Marlene C. Miller
12. Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction- Gabrielle Moss
13. All We Ever Wanted- Emily Giffin
14. Lucy and Linh- Alice Pung
15. Destiny's Embrace- Beverly Jenkins
16. Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space- Margot Lee Shetterly
17. Time Zero- Carolyn Cohagan
18. We'll Fly Away- Bryan Bliss
19. The Woman in Cabin 10- Ruth Ware
We also had a discussion on all the strange and interesting places we've read!
I may be a tad bit obsessive about reading lately, eh? But hey, it's been cold out. All the better to huddle under my heated throw and turn page after page after page.
My February reading felt amazing. Compared with last month, I have a more diverse group of authors, which is definitely something I'm aiming for. And I've got a good mix of fiction and nonfiction, which is awesome. Only three of these books came from my Goodreads TBR list, which is fine by me; one was a review copy; several were books I'd been meaning to read for a while; quite a few were new-to-me authors.
I also attended my first library book discussion group meeting! I was a nervous wreck (my anxiety knows no bounds and absolutely extends to social situations. Part of going to this group is my attempt to get more social interaction outside of the people I've married and/or have given birth to, which has seriously been like 99.99999999% of my social interaction for, oh, about the last twenty years or so. Not exactly healthy, even for an introvert), but it was AWESOME. I engaged in so much book banter and impressed them with the binder in which I take copious notes on everything I read (which prompted the librarian to jokingly offer me a job!). I'm so happy that I pushed my boundaries and joined the group; I already can't wait for next month and am lamenting the fact that I'll miss May's meeting, since my son has a choir concert that night.
So how'd I do for challenges?
As far as the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge, I'm two-thirds of the way through 'Three books by the same author;' one more Christina Lauren and I'll be able to cross that one off fully. And I managed to tackle 'A book in translation,' which I expected to be a lot more difficult (having had some weird experiences with books in translation in the past); Bear Town was amazing. So here's where I'm at with this list:
I've already managed to cross five items off the list of Book Riot's 2019 Read Harder Challenge, which is pretty huge for me! #12, a book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character, has been covered by reading The Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz last month, and #9, a book published prior to January 1, 2019 with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads, was covered by reading Hamartia by Raquel Rich. #6, a book by an author of color set in or about space, was fulfilled by finally reading Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, and #16, an historical romance by an author of color, was fulfilled by reading Destiny's Embrace by Beverly Jenkins. We'll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss, which absolutely gutted me, counts as #1, an epistolary novel or collection of letters. Not bad for a challenge I only decided to take up on February 21st. And here's my Book Riot list:
Onward to great reading in March!
How was your February???
Thursday, February 28, 2019
When I saw that March's selection for my library's book discussion group would be The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, I was a little nervous. Not my usual kind of book- I don't normally read thrillers as I experience enough anxiety in my everyday life (thank you SO much, brain)- but I was willing to give it a shot. And I'm glad I did.
Lo Blacklock has lucked into the work gig of a lifetime, a Nordic cruise on a small but stately ship so she can schmooze with the other high class passengers for her employer, a travel magazine. But before she leaves, her apartment is broken into and the burglar traps Lo in her bedroom, setting her emotions on the fritz and exhausting her, because who can sleep when you wake up to a stranger in your apartment? It doesn't help that Lo already suffers from massive anxiety, which at times can be all-consuming, nor does the way she leaves things with her boyfriend Judah aid in any kind of inner peace.
Despite her fatigue and with the help of copious amounts of alcohol, Lo makes it through the first dinner (displeased, of course, to find her former co-worker and ex-boyfriend Ben Howard on the trip), but it's that evening, just when she's managed to fall asleep, that she hears the scream from the next cabin. A scream...and then a splash, as though a body has been thrown overboard. And when Lo alerts security, the man in charge makes it clear that he doesn't believe her: not about the splash, not about the blood Lo saw smeared on the window next door, and not about the woman in Cabin 10, from whom Lo borrowed mascara earlier that evening. Cabin 10, you see, is unoccupied.
What follows is a harrowing nightmare, with Lo desperate to find someone to believe her, and to figure out exactly what she heard and saw that night. Or did she really hear and see anything at all? Who can she trust on board this ship? And will Lo be the next person thrown overboard?
This kept me guessing. I don't read a lot from this genre, so trying to pinpoint exactly who could have been thrown overboard, and by whom, was kind of fun. The reviews on Lo as a character seem mixed; I see a lot of people calling her whiny and finding her annoying, but...
The thing is, I understood her. I understood where she was coming from, and I thought Ms. Ware did an outstanding job accurately portraying Lo's anxiety. I've dealt with anxiety my entire life, exactly the kind that Lo has- not stemming from any particular incident, just something that my brain has cooked up all on its own. Lo's constant chest tightening, her mind racing, feeling like the walls are closing in, feeling stressed (often for no good reason at all), all of these are symptoms I feel on a daily basis. And when you add lack of sleep...
Bit of a detour here. Boy, do I understand what lack of sleep does to someone with anxiety. My daughter was born in April of 2014, and for the next 18 months, I survived on 3-4 broken-up hours of sleep per day. I'd fall into bed around 11, she'd be up at 12:30, 1:30, 3:30, 5:00, and we'd be up for the day at 6 am. And each time I was awake, I'd be awake nursing her for around twenty minutes, and then it would take me another ten or twenty minutes to be relaxed enough to fall asleep. It was a NIGHTMARE of the worst degree. I drove through stoplights. I forgot what I was going to go do the moment I stood up. I couldn't concentrate on anything. I had a hard time finding words when I spoke. I cried constantly. At one point, I had to ask my son where we were going as I was driving down the road. (I was driving him to school. I truly had no idea when I asked him.) My anxiety was ramped up at all times to eleven on a scale of ten. My daughter's about to turn five in April and I still don't feel like my brain has fully recovered (I'm still only able to get about 5-6 hours of sleep per night. It's not ideal). There's a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique; it's utter hell.
All of that was to say that between Lo's anxiety, her growing PTSD from the burglary, and her lack of sleep combine in a very plausible manner to keep both Lo and the reader off-kilter, never quite knowing what's real, what's not, and whom to trust. Perhaps for people who have more experience with thrillers, or for people whose realities don't match more closely with Lo's, this wasn't the book they wanted it to be, but for me, a lot of it hit home and I thought it was done quite well.
I caught a grin near the end when Lo spoke with a Norwegian man who showed her a photograph.
"Min kone,' he said, enunciating slowly. And then, pointing to the children, something that sounded like 'vorry bon-bon.'Every once in a while, I actually get to use the Norwegian I've learned and it always thrills me when I do. 'My wife,' he said, and then våre barnebarn, our grandchildren. Take THAT, people who said I'd never use Norwegian! (It actually pops up more often than you'd think.)
Check out Ruth Ware's website here.
Follow her on Twitter here.