Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Relish by Lucy Knisley.

Relish : my life in the kitchen  by Lucy Knisley.
:01 First Second, 2013
Graphic memoir, 192 pages 
Library book

What a delightful memoir! In telling her own story, Lucy Knisley also relates family memories going back to her mother's college years in New York's developing gourmet scene. History seems to repeat itself when Lucy goes to college in Chicago during that city's growth as a foodie center.

Lucy starts life in New York City, but moves to a rural setting with her mother when her parents divorce.She's a foodie from the start and shares her learning experiences. Each chapter is concluded with a recipe. These recipes are  also gentle tutorials on food preparation and cooking methods. Because Lucy managed to travel quite a bit, the dishes are diverse (huevos rancheros, sushi, pickles, sauteed mushrooms).

A fun book with great illustrations: nostalgic for the experienced cook, some great information for the novice, and a coming of age story line. For foodies of all ages.

Monday, January 26, 2015

January 2015 Reads (week four)

The snow is starting to fall. We will probably be snowed in until Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning. I depends on how long it take them to dig us out. I have plenty to read.

I continue with The Museum of Abandoned Secrets by Oksana Zabuzhko. (I really like this but I'm taking it in small doses.) I started Relish : my life in the kitchen by Lucy Knisley. (fun).  I opened The strange library by Haruki Murakam, shrugged my shoulders and set it aside.
I started this week with two puzzling reads:

Tinkers by Paul Harding which has won a number of literary awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2010), PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize (2010), Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize Nominee (2009).
I received this book from the publisher as an extra with a LibraryThing Early Reviewers win. I liked it, but I'm not sure why. I haven't reviewed it.

My review of the other puzzler: Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye
is on my French Lite page,

The sound of the mountain. by Yasunari Kawabata, Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker
Library book. This is the second group read for January in Japan.
A more straightforward narrative than the two above. I haven't yet done any notes or review. I'm pondering on whether I liked it.

Kind of a slow reading week for me. Spent a lot of time with household stuff--getting ready for the blizzard and putting away Christmas stuff, finally! Time to kick back and READ!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Library Trip

Went to the library this morning to pick up four holds. Here what they are and why I wanted them:

Poulet aux prunes (Motion picture)
  This is the movie based on Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi which I read a couple of weeks ago (see January 2015 Reads (week two) 

The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson ; translated from the Swedish by Rod Bradbury.
 Got this because I liked his The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden so much.
The sound of the mountain. by Yasunari Kawabata, Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker. This is the second group read for January in Japan.

The Normandy diary of Marie-Louise Osmont. 1940-1944 by Marie-Louise Osmont ; introduction by John Keegan ; translated by George L. Newman.
  This sounded interesting.  For French Bingo Challenge  (square D2)

Came home with those four plus three on the list I had:

Enon  by Paul Harding.
 Because I liked Tinkers and this is sort of a sequel.
Years of Red Dust : stories of Shanghai by Qiu Xiaolong.
  Been wanting to read this for a while.
Relish : my life in the kitchen by Lucy Knisley.
 Graphic memoir for Foodie Reads 2015 Challenge 

Then there were the two impulse ones:

The strange library by Haruki Murakami ; translated by Ted Goossen.
 Saw it on the shelf and said "Why Not?"
A pleasure and a calling by Phil Hogan.
 Was delighted to see this one already on the shelf--just heard about it yesterday.

Do I have enough to read?

Monday, January 19, 2015

January 2015 Reads (week three)

What a great week of reading! I finished five books and made progress with The Museum of Abandoned Secrets by Oksana Zabuzhko  (65 percent  through); but no progress with Tales from a Mountain Cave: Stories from Japan's Northeast by Hisashi Inoue (read one so far).

The finished Five:

Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano, Mark Polizzotti (Translation)
Library book. My Review
Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami
Library book. Read for January In Japan. My review is here 

Sweetland by Michael Crummey
Library book.
Moses Sweetland is the solo holdout when the government depopulates the  Newfoundland island that has always been his home. His lonely existence is a continuing struggle to survive. Memories and hallucinations become his companions as he faces bad weather, dwindling supplies, and illness. The novel is nostalgic; witty; and, considering that it is the tale of a loner, full of interesting characters. Five stars.
Count for Canada Bingo  Governor General's Literary Award Nominee for Fiction (2014)

Let Me Be Frank With You (Frank Bascombe #4) by Richard Ford
Library Book.

The only other Richard Ford book I have read is Canada, which I liked very much. Let Me Be Frank With You is very different. It covers a short period in the life of sixty something year old Frank Bascombe. It's divided into four parts, each one could stand alone as a short story or novella.

Frank muses about his life, marriages, children, and acquaintances. He claims that in his retirement he doesn't do anything he doesn't want to do--then he proceeds to tell about four things he's doing that he really doesn't want to do. He has an uncomfortable meeting with a former associate whose house (which he bought from Frank) on the shore has been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Next, he lets a woman who used to live in the house Frank now lives in enter the house for a "look around" and he listens to her story (which he really doesn't want to hear). Then he visits his ex-wife who is in a retirement home suffering from Parkinson's disease. In the final chapter/story he visits a dying man-a former acquaintance that Frank never really liked.

All this is related with humor and wisdom (or not) and there are some likeable characters, but not too many and I'm not sure Frank is one of them. It's a fun read, but I'm uncertain about reading more Frank Bascombe books. I do want to try one of Ford's short story collections. I waver between four and five stars on this one, perhaps because I liked Canada better.

The Business of Naming Things by Michael Coffey
Uncorrected proof from Bellevue Literary Press through LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

This story collection was a great followup read after reading Richard Ford's Let Me Be Frank With You. The stories are set in northeastern United States and most deal with middle class men looking back on their lives and their relationships.

The opening story "Moon over Quabbin" and "I Thought You Were Dale" (the fourth story in the collection) have female protagonists. I found them good stories but a little less satisfactory than most of the other stories.

"The Newman Boys" about a teenager who makes friends with a handicapped neighbor boy is my favorite in this collection. The relationships and the contrasts between the two families are central in this coming of age story. This story had a somewhat disconcerting shift from the third person narrator to the first person, then back to the third person. It was odd; it worked for me but I wasn't sure why.

The answer came in the next story "Sons" about a sometime author. There is an authorial musing about whether to use first, second, or third person in writing a story. A bit of a digression from the story, but it was helpful to me as a reader in understanding how and why shifts of voice work.

"Sunlight," which concerns an interview with Harold Brodkey, worked for me even though I'm not a fan of Brodkey's work.

The final story "Finishing Ulysses" will probably come across as a nice literary pastiche for those who are readers of Joyce. Unfortunately, I got little out of it which isn't surprising since I never even started Ulysses.  I'll have to leave to someone else to evaluate this story.  I does make me want to pick up Ulysses and perhaps read a little just to see what Michael Coffey is doing here.

Overall, this is a fine collection with interesting characters, realistic relationships, and quality writing.

(note: Bellevue included a book from their back list, Tinkers [2009] by Paul Harding, as an extra.)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami

Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami,
Michael Emmerich (Translator)
Counterpoint, 2010; Paperback, 224 pages
Public library copy

Rei is a woman whose husband disappeared without a trace several years ago. Rei has tried to make a life for herself and her daughter, Momo, who was a young child when the man disappeared. Rei and Momo, now a somewhat sullen teenager, live with Rei's mother. The novel is in the first person singular with Rei as the narrator. It is not clear if Rei is relating memories, dreams, or hallucinations.

Rei is continually drawn to the seaside town Manazuru where she thinks she will experience something that will jog a vague memory. She continually feels that she is being followed or accompanied by "something," perhaps a woman. She goes on walks and the woman goes along sometimes in silence, other times there is talking; or is it an interior dialog Rei is having with herself? 

Through this haze of confusion, there are moments of reality. Rei's exchanges with her lover, her mother, and her daughter seem real. Her description of her visit to her in-laws when they set up a shrine to her lost husband seems lucid. However, we wonder: is her lover, actually with her for part of that trip? The sequence concerning the paperwork Rei goes through to have her husband declared dead seems harshly real. In fact, it seems it may bring Rei's life back to reality.

I liked this novel with its rich, dreamy language. The contrast between what is going on in Rei's mind and the face she presents to the world is an intriguing look into the mental condition of  a very disturbed woman.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Serendipity Strikes Again

I'm right in the middle of a Canadian novel and the Reading Bingo Challenge 2015 is announced!



I gotta do this one!

Monday, January 12, 2015

January 2015 Reads (week two)

In addition to the four I finished this past week, I've started several others several others: Sweetland by Michael Crummey; Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano (finished two of the three so far); The Museum of Abandoned Secrets by Oksana Zabuzhko  (about half way through); and Tales from a Mountain Cave: Stories from Japan's Northeast by Hisashi Inoue (read one so far).

Here is what I finished:
Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi
Library book. Graphic novel.
No, despite the yummy sounding title, this is not a Foodie book. The title dish is served, but the story is about a dejected tar (Iranian lute) player who has lost his favorite instrument. It is based on the death of Nasser Ali Khan, who was the author's great-uncle. A tragic story told with warmth and humor. I'd like to see the film. The book was made into a 2011 French-German drama film (Poulet aux prunes) directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud.

Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami, Michael Emmerich (Translator)
Library book.
Reading for January In Japan. (discussion on January 15). Not sure what to say, it's rather confusing. Need to review some parts, I lost the thread a bit. It's like dreams within a dream. My review.

Black Diamonds: The Downfall of an Aristocratic Dynasty and the Fifty Years That Changed England by Catherine Bailey 
Library book.
I enjoyed this in spite of its rambling focus. It is part a family chronicle, part history, and part gossip. At times it reads like a soap opera, other times like a dry history book, and still other times like a pretty good novel.

 A Palace in the Old Village by Tahar Ben Jelloun, Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale
Library book. My brief review on my French Lit page.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Distractions (Early January 1015 reads)

There were a lot of distractions that led me to detour from my published reading plan for January. Two were from browsing around Project Gutenberg:

The Pier-Glass by Robert Graves  (originally published in London by M. Secker, 1921) This is a collection of twenty-five poems:

    The Stake
    The Troll's Nosegay
    The Pier-glass

(From a Painting by Benjamin Nicholson)
    The Finding of Love
    The Magical Picture
    Distant Smoke
    Morning PhÅ“nix
    Catherine Drury
    Raising the Stone
    The Treasure Box
    The Kiss
    Lost Love
    Fox's Dingle
    The Gnat
    The Patchwork Bonnet
    Kit Logan and Lady Helen
    Saul of Tarsus
    Storm: at the Farm Window
    Black Horse Lane
    The Hills of May
    The Coronation Murder

The Burgomaster of Stilemonde by Maurice Maeterlinck
Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos

This play portrays German atrocities during the First World War occupation of Belgium. An interesting find. Maeterlinck was from the Flemish part of Belgium, but he wrote in French. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911.

When I was looking for biographical information om Maeterlinck, I found a resource that I didn't know about:

Kellscraft Studio which focuses "...on public domain books (anything published prior to 1923 in the U.S.), and we concentrate on books known for their wonderful illustrations and philosophy of life.  Some books at our site will have no illustrations, but are available here for their writing and importance.  All books published here are in the public domain and out of copyright, so are available to everyone to read, print and use in classroom settings."

I'm having a good time browsing the site even though the biography of  Maeterlinck there was written in 1911 so doesn't answer my question which had to do with Maeterlinck during the 1940s.

Another distraction was from Tracy L. Higley's video of Ephesus. It's a promo for her book So Shines the Night, but it's also a good travelogue. I especially enjoyed the brief look at the terrace houses. This area was not open to visitors when I toured in 1996. Makes me want to go back and it makes me want to do some web exploration.

Also online Pithead Chapel Volume 4, Issue 1
Three short stories, two essays. I especially liked "The Star Sisters" by Corinne Sullivan. This was not in the reading plan. My monthly reading plans should include the online journals I regularly read.

This next one was not on the reading plan, it was a carry-over from December which was resolved before I published the plan. By noon, 1 January 2015 I already had my first DNF for the year: Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter. Quit at page 159 (of 468). An advance review copy from the publisher. I am not going to review. Book is badly in need of a good edit. ' nuf said.
Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries: The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment by Tom Shachtman.
I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
(This is also a carry-over from December. I finished this one.)

I really liked this descussion of the contributions to science and technology by the founders of the United States and the role that science played in the success of the Revolution and the success of the new nation. Brief review cross posted on Goodreads and LibraryThing.

The Glass Kitchen: A Novel of Sisters by Linda Francis Lee
Library Book
I read this for one of my challenges and it was a real bummer. I reviewed it on January 4 on this blog (cross posted to Goodreads and LibraryThing).

And finally, a really grand distraction:

Just watched the DVD of The Grand Hotel Budapest and enjoyed it very much. I don't watch very many films, but I'm glad I watched this one.
Borrowed from local public library.

And someone served me tea while I watched it!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Glass Kitchen-Foodies Read 2015

This is my first book for the Foodies Read 2015 Challenge. I am aiming for Pastry Chef 
 (4 to 8 books)

The Glass Kitchen: A Novel of Sisters by Linda Francis Lee
St. Martins Press, 2014, 375pages
The Glass Kitchen: A Novel of SistersCopy I read was from my local public library.

From the publisher's blurb:
"The Glass Kitchen is a delicious novel, a tempestuous story of a woman washed up on the shores of Manhattan who discovers that a kitchen—like an island—can be a refuge, if only she has the courage to give in to the pull of love, the power of forgiveness, and accept the complications of what it means to be family."
My first read for the Foodies Read 2915 is a huge disappointment.

Portia does not "give into the pull of love." She lets herself be manipulated by Gabriel, a control freak who doles out his kisses, caresses, and rare smiles as if he is rewarding an obedient child. It's like a bad 1950s movie where the man knows what the woman wants and he'll give it to her when he's darn good and ready and if she questions it, he'll pick her up, toss her over his shoulder, and carry her off.

All the glorious descriptions of food (and the food does sound good) can not cure the sick-to-my stomach feeling I got every time this jerk came near her. By the time I finished the book I had no desire to look at the recipes thoughtfully included at the end.

The forgiveness part of the blurb is accurate. This woman forgives alright, she forgives way too much: her lover's commandeering ways, his lies and deception, his total lack of understanding of his two daughters. She also forgives a major betrayal by one of her sisters. She is even pushed around by her own "gift," a sort of paranormal intuition to know ahead of time just which foods to prepare for potential diners.

There is a story here, other than the yucky "romance." It concerns the reasons for the animosity between Gabriel and his brother, which partly explains why Gabriel and his daughters have such a messed up relationship. I wish that story line had been better developed.

Twelve year old Ariel, the younger of Gabriel's daughters, is seeing a psychiatrist. Frankly, everyone in this book should be in therapy.

( Both sets of sisters have Shakespearean names. Portia's sisters are Cordelia and Olivia; Ariel's sister is Miranda. The Shakespeare play that came to my mind while I was reading this book was The Taming of the Shrew. We get the feeling at the end of that play that Katherine can hold her own with Petruchio. I not as optimistic about Portia in The Glass Kitchen.)

I hate to start out the year and the challenge with such a negative review, but I should not have started this book, let alone finished it.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Six Degrees of Separation

We did this in December as part of the Month of Favorites, I enjoyed doing it  it so much that I decided to do it again this month. In my December post  I started with my own choice, this time I'll start with the prompt on Annabel's Blog .

I don't know if I will ever read this book, but I read the description and a review and it did bring  to mind a book that I have read and that is:
In The Dinner, two set of Dutch parents meet to discuss a terrible act committed by their sons. Before I read The Dinner, I had read a book about another dysfunctional Dutch family: 
Tirza came to me as a bonus with my subscription to Open Letter Books. While I was preparing this blog entry the mail came with the current book in the subscription:
This was a triple serendipity (and I do love me some serendipity): 1. because it  came when I was working with another Open Letter book, 2. because it also came when just when I decided I would read more poetry this year. This decision was prompted by my reading:
I found this on Project Gutenberg yesterday and enjoyed it so much that I mentally added "more poetry" to my reading goals for the year. The third serendipity was that I had just checked this out from the library:
I was wondering if someone with as many years as a reader as I have would get anything out of this book. But I've discovered that it has a chapter on "Reading Poetry" and I could really use some guidance there--it's been a long time since I read serious poetry (or read poetry seriously).

Here are the Six Degree meme rules (which I may have inadvertently followed) :

Friday, January 02, 2015

2015 January Reading Plan

Setting goals one month at a time.
Overall goal for month: 16 books. (last year I averaged 18 books a month, with January being the month in which I read the most (33). This year I'm setting a Goodreads goal of 200, which is 16.6 per month). I'm doing some challenges this year - Foodies and French Bingo (should have some cross-over with those two) -  some lit months, and probably one or two more.

 Read for:
   January in Japan
     These are the ones for group discussion. I may read some              other things, short stories and/or something online.
      January 15: Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami
      January 29: The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata

 Read for:
   Foodies Read 2015
        The Glass Kitchen: A Novel of Sisters by Linda Francis Lee
 Read for:  
  French Bingo 2015 Reading Challenge
   See my French Lit page for Bingo card.       
      A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

  A Palace in the Old Village by Tahar Ben Jelloun,
 Ten  by Andrej Long
 Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi
 Slow Reading in a Hurried Age by David Mikics
 plus some from the TBR stack

 Finish reading (carryovers from December 2014):
 The Museum of Abandoned Secrets  by Oksana Zabuzhko
 Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries by  Tom Shachtman
 I Am Istanbul by Buket Uzuner

Continue reading (not meant to be finished this month):
  The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

Thursday, January 01, 2015

December 2014 Reads

Overall a really good reading month. Read thirteen plus books in spite of blogging more than I usually blog. I did have two books that I started and didn't (and won't) finish. They are listed at the bottom of this post. 

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
Library book. When A. Inherits a mansion and all its contents from a second cousin he didn't know existed, he is also heir to a mystery. It is just a "bourgeois game" his cousin and companions have been playing? Or is it something more?  I loved this one--it's full of puzzles, codes, a maze, and secrets rooms. It's as lush and as mysteriously complicated as the fantastic cover of the book.
5 stars

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
Library book. She's seventy-five, she's cantankerous, she's intellectual, she's a feminist. Maybe she's your grandmother, your ex, your mother, your friend. Maybe you are sorry you know her, maybe you are sad that you've never met her. But you are glad that Brian Morton has introduced you to Florence and her family. 5 stars 

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Library book. Witty satire on academic life. A tad bit longer than it needs to be (and it's only 180 pages), but an enjoyable read. 3 1/2 stars

The Murder of Harriet Krohn (Inspector Konrad Sejer #7) by Karin Fossum, James Anderson (
Library book. OK, but not as good as some of the other Sejer novels. 3 stars

Measuring the World; by Daniel Kehlmann, Carol Brown Janeway (Translator) Library book. novel based on the lives of explorer Alexander von Humboldt and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. 4 stars

Grand Hotel; by Vicki Baum,
Library book. Also watched DVD of the 1932 film Grand Hotel;  directed by Edmund Goulding.

The Good Life Elsewhere; by Vladimir Lorchenkov,
Personal copy. Apparently Moldavian peasants will do anything to get to Italy. Pigs may not fly in this romp, but tractors do.

Her;  by Harriet Lane
Electronic (Kindle) advance review copy from publisher. Why does the sophisticated Nina goes out of her way to make friends with the rather ordinary housewife Emma? It seems Nina knew Emma in the past, but Emma doesn't remember. Nina's actions become strange and creepy to the reader but Emma remains clueless as their friendship progresses. 

Christmas Stories from the French and Spanish by Antoinette Ogden From Project Gutenberg. Stories from the 19th Century by several French and Spanish writers. Many are religious, some are rather grim. 4 stars.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters I received a free advance review copy of this book from the publisher. Maddeningly slow paced novel (brief review cross-posted on Goodreads and LibraryThing). Five hundred and sixty pages, 200 of which were mind-numbingly boring. 3 stars. 

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
Library book. I think this is one of those books that will not be read by the the people that ought to read it.  I doubt that it will change anyone's mind on the question of whether or not to have their children inoculated.  3 stars.

Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker by  Susan Campbell
Library book. Isabella was active in both the abolitionist and the feminist movements. Less well known than her older half sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Isabella deserves to have her story told.  This is a good start, but I wish the author hadn't inserted herself into the story. 4 stars

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark; by Meryl Gordon
Library book. I first heard about the elusive Huguette Clark when I lived in Santa Barbara in the 1970s. There it sat, the Clark Estate, unoccupied, unused, but well maintained  and situated on a fabulous piece of property. So I enjoyed this account of the Clark family and Huguette. 4 stars

Adultery by Paulo Coelho. I just couldn't take the mushy theology. Library book DNF 
Lock In by John Scalzi. Lots of people liked this (came in 2nd in Goodreads Choice Awards SF category). I just couldn't get into it. Gave it a good go, quit about half-way through. Library book DNF