Wednesday, August 31, 2016

something to food about - Questlove

something to food about
Title: something to food about: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs
Author: Questlove
Publication Date: 4/12/16
Pages: 240
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Blogging for Books
Date Completed: 7/21/16

Summary: Questlove travels the country interviewing some of the greatest chefs within our borders. He offers us their shared thoughts on food, creativity, shifting culture, and more. Plus, there's some incredible food art photography to supplement the main course.

What I Thought: When I saw this book offered on Blogging for Books, I'd already seen several prominent chefs raving about it, including Anthony Bourdain. It had already been working its way into my consciousness. So, when the opportunity presented itself to get my hands on a copy, I jumped. 

I'm so glad I did.

I have this thing in my life where I have tons of books, but I don't feel like I have a lot of coffee table books. Now, hang with me for a moment. I don't want to reduce this work to a cliché coffee table book. In my mind, in my house, I want the books I lay out for guests to see or perhaps page through to be worthwhile. To me, a coffee table book shouldn't be something you lay out willy-nilly to look pretty or on the off chance someone has a few minutes to kill in your living room. No - I think the books you choose for the most public display in your home should be worth reading. They should be tempting to pick up. They should catch your attention with their visual statement, yes, but the words should be just as engaging. I have tons of shelf books, but so few that I would deem in this category. It's something I'm trying to grow in. Of course, there's not a lot of books out there which meet my expectations for such a job.

So, imagine my delight when Questlove's book showed up on my doorstep not as a normal size hardcover, but closer to a standard coffee table book size. I'm sure the editorial size decision was made to give readers a heightened experience with the stunning pictures inside, but I wasn't expecting it. The cover, as you can see, is interesting and immediately makes you wonder what is happening on the pages behind such an image. 

The inside is even better.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Take Tuesday: Shift

Some books are just so good, you have to read them again. And some books deserve a second chance. And some books I think about and change my opinion or have more to say. Take Tuesday is a chance to do just that. 

Title: Shift
Author: Hugh Howey
Publication Date: 1/28/13
Pages: 520
Previous Readings: 2013
Date Completed This Time: 8/19/16

Summary: Donald is a new congressman working in Washington with formidable Senator Thurman. The Senator has some strange projects to share. Troy wakes from his cryonic state to work a shift in an underground silo with few memories of the world before and little understanding of how he got into his position. In other silos, fear pushes people to extreme reactions. This all, of course, eventually ties together and in with the story of Juliette from the first novel, Wool

What I Thought Before: My first post about this book includes a wonderful summary, so if you're looking for that, make sure you head back to that 2013 post. The post itself is mostly summary, thought it's clear I was head over heels for the series. I mentioned several times how I could not put it down. I missed Juliette back then, but I was excited to see the puzzles pieces of fictional history coming together.

What I Think Now: This reading was a lot different. So much of what propelled me through Shift the first time was the urgent need to know what happens next. To Juliette. To Silo 18. To Solo. To Donald. To Troy. To everyone. I pushed through as fast as I possibly could with an insatiable desire for information, which Howey delivers well. I barely came up for air that last time, much less to ponder the literary technique or character development.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Traveling Mercies - Anne Lamott

Traveling Mercies
Title: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Author: Anne Lamott
Publication Date: 1/19/1999
Pages: 275
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
Date Completed: 7/20/16

Summary: More musings than memoir, Lamott discusses all sorts of things in this book. It's almost an anthology of essays more than a cohesive thesis on one particular aspect of life. Which, given the title, it seems appropriate for Lamott to let us follow the natural pathways of her thoughts.

What I Thought: I discovered this book via the blog of the awesome Sarah Bessey. You may remember her from my reviews of Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts. I recommend. 

So, when she collected a list of books for female graduates, I added several from the list to my never ending TBR

I had never heard of Anne Lamott. However, now having read this book, she seems to have been the next natural step in this genre for me. I just didn't know it. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

March - Geraldine Brooks

Title: March
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 280
Genre: Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: I became a Geraldine Brooks fan a few years back.
Date Completed: 7/15/16

Summary: While the Little Women lived and loved back at home, Captain Robert March exists far away on the battlefields of the Civil War. He doesn't arrive on the scene until late in the famous novel. Readers are given just pieces of his life away from his little women. Brooks' Pulitzer Prize winning novel has created and shaped his own history.

What I Thought: Since being introduced to Geraldine Brooks' work back when I was in grad school, I have been an ardent fan. I'm slowly working my way through more of her litany of work. This novel, her most recognized and lauded, was an easy next step for me.

I had been a bit hesitant to read it as I normally do not enjoy authors who build upon someone else's work, world, and characters. So many do it poorly. I'm not of the mind to respect canon and let the characters lie where the original author left them. Hence, you can understand my trepidation regarding a novel of which the entire premise is filling in the blanks for one of the most famous family's in American literature.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Girl in the Dark - Anna Lyndsey

Girl in the Dark
Title: Girl in the Dark
Author: Anna Lyndsey
Publication Date: 2/26/15
Pages: 254
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 7/12/16

Summary: Anna Lyndsey is a pseudonym. Whoever she is, the women behind this memoir will likely never read these words. She suffers - and I do think that's the appropriate verb - from photo-sensitive seborrhoeic dermatitus. In layman's terms, she has an intensive sensitivity to light. After exposure to her skin, she experiencing intense burning pain. Consequentially, she has lived much of the last decade in a completely blacked out room.

What I Thought: Ever feel badly about your life? Or wish for more? Or maybe think your days are unexciting? Reading Lyndsey's powerful memoir will quickly adjust your perspective. Suddenly, sunlight itself is a gift and a privilege. After all, Lyndsey lives without the freedom to view a sunset or go to the movie theatre or even flip on a light switch when she walks into a room.

In some ways, Lyndsey seems to be living in an alternate reality than the rest of us. Her daily routine is so far removed from most people's normal that it seems distant and exotic - not in a fun way, more like a sci-fi novel way. In the book, she explores the range of emotion that naturally arises in her scenario. She details complex Games to Play in the Dark that she has created to pass the time; she writes of despair and occasional suicidal thoughts; she shares her elation at the smallest success or hint of remission. Her emotions come across as raw, potent, and powerful. Their intensity makes the reading experience almost psychologically intoxicating. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Apartment - Greg Baxter

The Apartment
Title: The Apartment
Author: Greg Baxter
Publication Date: 12/3/13
Pages: 193
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 7/11/16

Summary: On one frigid winter day, an unnamed American man searches for an apartment in which to start his new life in an unnamed European city. He is accompanied by Saskia, a new friend. Though the main plot consists only of this one day and the search for the right apartment, it is punctuated by glimpses into the American's past, including his time as a soldier and contractor in Iraq.

What I Thought: This book is one of those charming gems that, while short, will offer back as much as the reader is willing to put in. The surface story is charming and sweet, but the layers pile up beneath the apparent.

The novel is very character focused, which is always nice. Really, not much happens over the course of the story. It all takes place on one day and, really, nothing particularly spectacular happens on that day. It's a story about relationships and friendships and what makes us who we are.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Women in Love - D. H. Lawrence

Women in Love
Title: Women in Love
Author: D. H. Lawrence
Publication Date: 1920
Pages: 400
Genre: Classic / Historical / Romance / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 7/5/16

Summary: Brangwen sisters Ursula and Gudrun become involved with two local men, Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich. The relationships between the foursome ebb and flow as each wrestles with philosophical ideals and what they want from life.

What I Thought: I have enjoyed Lawrence's writing. It's in a style I can follow and enjoy and I like his characters. I think this particular work was my favorite of his thus far.

I'm understanding more and more why his writing was so very controversial. When you look at these books and their content and then think about the early 20th's not surprising they made such a stir. At one point in this book, Gerald sneaks into the Brangwen house and takes Gudrun's virginity - all while her family sleeps below. It's not explicit by modern standards, but it is certainly steamy. Lawrence's writing reminds me that sometimes less is more.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Take Tuesday: The Royal We

The Royal We
Some books are just so good, you have to read them again. And some books deserve a second chance. And some books I think about and change my opinion or have more to say. Take Tuesday is a chance to do just that. 

Title: The Royal We
Author: Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
Publication Date: 4/7/15
Pages: 454
Genre: Chick Lit / Romance / Royals / Fiction
Previous Readings: May 2015
Date Completed This Time: 7/9/16

Quick sidebar before we start - I know Take Tuesday, by its very name, belongs on a Tuesday. However, today is my birthday and I wanted to celebrate by talking about this book. It's been one of my favorites since I first read it last year and I could not think of anything I'd rather talk about with you on my special day! 

Summary: American exchange student Rebecca "Bex" Porter ends up in the same dorm hall as HRH Prince Nicholas at Oxford. Fairy tale moments, paparazzi stalking, and royal drama ensue.

What I Thought Before: I have been ruminating over and raving about this book for over a year now. The fact that I even picked it up again only a year later should say a lot. When I first reviewed the book, I commented on how pleasantly surprised I was at the writing quality and how charming the story and characters are. Cocks and Morgan balanced just the right about of fiction and fact.

What I Think Now: I still think all those things. A year later, I am still calling this one the absolutely perfect beach read. I loved it just as much the second time around. When the Cambridge clan feels like an extension of your family that you simply have not met yet, it's no surprise to love a book so inspired by their real lives.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Old Wives' Tale - Arnold Bennett

The Old Wives' Tale
Title: The Old Wives' Tale
Author: Arnold Bennett
Publication Date: 1908
Pages: 565
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 6/28/16

Summary: Two sisters, closer in age and close in heart, become separated and estranged as they enter adulthood. Each marries. Time and distance separate them. In the end, both alone again, they return to each other - companions in the start and the end of life.

What I Thought: While in many ways this book falls right in line with all the other British period novels of the Modern Library list, there is one important difference. Rather than centering on a traditional romance, Bennett shapes his story around the relationship between sisters. Consider it the Frozen of 1908.

Though the book did not necessarily feel like anything spectacular, I did enjoy it. I'm not quite sure how it made its way to the 100 Best list, but, hey, I've felt that way about a good number of the books on there. Still, this one was enjoyable. I liked both the individual tales of the sisters' lives in the years they were separated and the times they were together. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Heir Apparent - Jane Ridley

The Heir Apparent
Title: The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince
Author: Jane Ridley
Publication Date: 10/14/10
Pages: 752
How I Found It: I can't remember precisely, but is it really surprising that I did?
Date Completed: 6/25/16

Summary: Son and heir to Queen Victoria, Bertie bucked the morals and expectations of the Victorian Era. He's been painted in history as "the Playboy Prince." Yet, there is much more to his story than his extramarital dalliances. 

What I Thought: While I probably know slightly more than the average person about Queen Victoria (strictly because of my royalty obsession), before reading this book I could not have told you the name of her heir. My knowledge was a near blank between Victoria and King George VI (subject of The King's Speech and father to Queen Elizabeth II). In a way, I'd like to think of myself as working backward in British royal history. I know so much about the current crew, but I want to continue learning about their ancestry. After all, Queen Alexandra (Alix to family) was the Duchess Catherine of her day.

Before making it far into the book at all, I was struck by the similarities between Bertie, future Edward VII, and our modern Prince Charles. Particularly in young life, there were many parallels between the two. Both have extremely popular, long-reigning mothers who kept the throne from them decades longer than expected. Both had sex scandals rock their public image. This quote about Bertie's rise to the throne after Victoria's death screamed 'Charles' to me: "The accession of an overweight fifty-nine-year-old philanderer hardly thrilled the imagination." If that doesn't fall in line with the tabloid dream of Elizabeth handing the throne straight to William, I don't know what does. When Charles does take the throne, it will be very interesting to see if and how the parallels between himself and Bertie continue. He can hardly be ignorant of them. After all, he's spent his entire life being groomed for the role of monarch; he undoubtedly knows his family's history. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Seraphina - Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina
Author: Rachel Hartman
Publication Date: 7/10/12
Pages: 499
Genre: Fantasy / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: A list of fantasy novels a while back.
Date Completed: 6/21/16

Summary: Seraphina, a young woman at court, has a secret. It's a secret that could tear apart human-dragon relations. Her job as a court musician thrusts her into the spotlight, where keeping said secret becomes harder than ever. 

What I Thought: Remember way back when I talked about Eragon and how some books are sheer entertainment? I feel so similarly about Seraphina. In fact, these two books remind me of each other in a lot of ways. Both have young protagonists and lots of dragons. Both are written in a simple, straight-forward style. Both serve as easily read adventure stories, transporting the reader to a fantasy world where even political problems seem so separate from our reality.

It's a fun book. I'll grant that Hartman deals with some bigger issues than Paolini ever did. By her very nature, Seraphina serves as a sticking point of "race" relations. Her big secret? She's part dragon. In a world where human-dragon relations are exceedingly contentious, it's a big secret. Hartman casts some nice parallels between her fictional politics and real-life xenophobia and racism. You have to want to see that, but the lessons are still there and I appreciated that.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Back of the House - Scott Haas

Back of the House
This is my 500th post! It's hard to believe, but it makes me really proud. Whether you've been around from the start or you are a new reader, I'm thankful for you and I do not take you for granted! Thanks for supporting me and the blog!

Title: Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant
Author: Scott Haas
Publication Date: 2/5/13
Pages: 320
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: It's been on my TBR for a long time
Date Completed: 6/20/16

Summary: Tony Maws' restaurant Craigie on Main is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts (think Harvard) and is one of the best restaurants in the country. Scott Haas spent months with unfettered access to the kitchen and the staff in an effort to get the story behind Maws and his work.

What I Thought: I'm so fascinated by the food world. I suppose a lot of it has to do with the success of Food Network and the proliferation of food blogs. Of course, I love cooking myself. The creation and consumption bring me equal pleasure. Reading about or watching chefs who obviously feel the same about the culinary creative process makes me feel tied into this world of art. That's what it is after all - it's art. Temporary, tantalizing art.

Scott Haas obviously shares my interest. He spent over a year observing and working with the crew at Craigie on Main. It's one of the top restaurants in Boston - in the country, really. At the helm is Chef Tony Maws. As is true of many chefs, he's a complicated character. Part of Haas' goal was to determine Maws' motivations and what exactly led him to such success. By the end of the book, you don't necessarily feel that Haas came any closer to answering his initial questions, but the journey was worthwhile of its own accord.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Darkness at Noon - Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon
Title: Darkness at Noon
Author: Arthur Koestler
Publication Date: 1940
Pages: 272
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 6/10/16

Summary: A Russian revolutionary is imprisoned and spends the time reflecting on his life and work. 

What I Thought: After the painful experience that was Nostromo, it was nice to read a book from the Modern Library list that felt enjoyable and not so torturous. This is what I imagined the list to be like before I started this challenge. 

I found Darkness at Noon enjoyable. I liked the perspective of a jailed revolutionary, particularly one who seems to be fading in his own fervor for change. I enjoyed both the plot of Rubashov in the prison facing off against guards and debating a confession as well as his reflections on life before his capture. Both were well crafted story lines and they worked together well.

For me, this one falls in the middle of the pack. I enjoyed it, but wasn't captivated or particularly moved by it either. It's a good book - no doubt. Well worth reading and I'm glad I did. However, it did not leave a strong impression on me. As I'm writing this (several weeks after finishing the book - shame on me), I'm struggling to even think of other things to say. That in and of itself seems to say more than any other thoughts I could summon. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Jack Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: Jack Thorne, J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany
Publication Date: 7/31/16
Pages: 330
Genre: Fantasy / Play / Fiction
How I Found It: Is this even a question?
Date Completed: 8/1/16

Summary: Nineteen years on from the ending of the iconic series, Harry Potter is now a Ministry employee and sending his middle son, Albus, off to Hogwarts. However, neither father nor son feel settled in their new roles. 

What I Thought: One of my dearest friends and fellow Potter fans once said to me, "The best thing that could happen to Harry Potter would be for J. K. Rowling to die." While I find this sentiment more than a little overblown, I get where he was coming from. Rowling gave us one of the best book series of this era. She's inspired thousands if not millions. She's become one of the richest people in the world. And, yet, she cannot leave Harry and his story alone.

I don't blame her for this. As she's said in interviews, she's spent far longer with these characters than any of us. Over twenty years, now. Her emotional connection to them is indisputable deeper than any of us will ever really understand, despite feeling like Harry and company are practically family. So, when she drops new, little ideas on Twitter or talks about the characters in interviews, I get it. I understand that this irks some fans who would rather she let the books alone be canon (my friend included). In general, though, it doesn't bother me. I can separate the books from everything else. In a lot of ways, I think it's neat to sort of pick and choose what of her new ideas I want to accept and which I want to reject. The idea that it should have been Harry and Hermione together in the end? Hard pass to that one. But knowing that Teddy Lupin grew up to become Head Boy. It warms my heart. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Nostromo - Joseph Conrad

Title: Nostromo
Author: Joseph Conrad
Publication Date: 1904
Pages: 336
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 6/10/16

Summary: In a fictional South American country, silver mining and revolution converge with personal conflict.

What I Thought: I just don't like Joseph Conrad's work. That's all I really have to say.

I've discussed it at length on the blog before. After all, this is the fourth Conrad novel to be on the Modern Library list. Seriously, those librarians are out to get me Parks and Recreation style

But, as of the completion of Nostromo, I am free!! I plan to never read another Conrad work for as long as I live. I'm that serious about this.

Here's the thing. Conrad was not a bad writer. Not by any means. As with so many books from this challenge, I truly do understand why his work was so popular and rose to such acclaim. From a modern perspective, the market is so saturated with adventure novels that it no longer seems especially special, but in its day, it was ground breaking in many ways.

Monday, August 1, 2016

July 2016 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

July News 

What a wonderful, crazy summer it has been. I realize that, for many of you, summer is still in full swing. Normal people consider August to be included in summer. At our house, though, the start of August is the start of fall. It's time to get back in gear and think about the school year. Lesson plans need finalized, errands need run, final summer projects need completed. It's time to get back to work. That's my reality today.

After such a fulfilling, busy summer, though, I am excited by this reality, not dreading it. It has been a wonderful few months and we have done so many awesome things. I read so much this summer and I feel a great sense of accomplishment not only in quantity of books read, but also quality. I am heading into this month feeling rested (last week at the beach went a long way in facilitating that sentiment) and ready to go.

So, as August begins, I'm looking forward to some normalcy and stability in our schedule. I love traveling and every trip I took this summer was good in its own way. Yet, there is something so comforting about consistency, at least to me. It feels particularly needed as the world around us feels so chaotic right now. The Olympics  (with which I am obsessed) certainly couldn't be coming at a better time. Our country desperately needs something to feel connected over right now.

I've contemplated using this space to express some of my thoughts on current events, but it doesn't feel right yet. I mostly avoid talking about that type of thing on social media because I don't think it's helping anything; people just get defensive and entrenched in their opinions. There are plenty of people out there babbling nonsense online. I fear stepping into that arena and lending my voice. However, on the days when my heart is heaviest with the weight of the world, I consider coming here and talking. I want a safe space to talk through things without fear of Internet trolls or uniformed attacks. I want a place where people can talk through important issues and ideas in a way driven by optimism, critical thinking, rationality, and respect. Maybe that place doesn't exist online, though. I don't know. It's something I'm thinking through and looking for.

In the mean time, I'm just going to keep talking about books. They are, as always, both an escape and an education.

One last quick note - I am completely in love with the new look here on the blog. It feels fresh and clean and makes me quite happy. Between that and a recent spike in readership, this is a space that brings some joy to my life each day. So, thank you for that. To both new readers and old, you are valued! Thanks for making my little slice of the Internet something you want to share in!