Thursday, October 21, 2010

Among the suffering

Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga
Assassinations by Adiga was an excellent book of short stories detailing life in the fictional town of Kittur, India.  Each chapter focuses on a different set of characters with a different set of religion, caste, values, status, and rules which they must live by - be it the suffering schoolteacher, the mosquito sprayer for the rich, or the childless couple.  While it took me awhile to finish this book, and it's not that long, I often found myself needing to put it down and think about the chapter I had just read. Adiga writes with an insiders view of the world around him and while at times that world is disheartening, it is also funny and awkward. Assassinations is really a story about people and the good and bad things they can do to each other. I will admit that most of the stories end on a sad note, it didn't stop me from finishing the book (and I'm not often a fan of a sad story). I felt as if the title referred to the moments of pause in our lives - the moments when we can take a breath and examine the world around us from an outsiders point of view. What are the interesting society constructs that hold the system together and is that system really what we want it to be? What really tied the book together is the town of Kittur itself. Adiga designed Kittur to feel like a living breathing town. Parts of the book reminded me of my previous home of Philadelphia with each neighborhood having it's own problems and flavor. Overall, I think this was an excellent book and worth reading if you want to learning something about a day in the life of someone in another culture and something about yourself.  I would also highly recommend Adiga's previous work 'The White Tiger', an excellent story that speaks for itself. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Carnivore Carnival

A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal
by Anthony Bourdain
The author of Kitchen Confidential has done it again! I know Bourdain has a new book out (Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook), but I'm a bit behind the times so I picked up a copy of A Cook's Tour on the cheap. It was fantastic. If you're new to Bourdain he's the no-hold's-barred chef at NYC's Les Halles turned bestselling author. It's an unlikely match for me to enjoy Bourdain as much as I do. I'm an ovo-lacto vegetarian and Bourdain is largely carnivorous - and abhors the thought of vegetarianism. However, I can't help but love the attitude he brings to his books. Bourdain is passionate about food and sticks to his convictions. This we have in common. A Cook's Tour follows Bourdain on a whirlwind tour of Mexico, France, the Basque country, Russia, Morocco, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc., etc. allowing you to be right there with him. A Cook's Tour is an adventure story from the beginning. Flying around the world and eating anything he's ever wanted to try, Bourdain describes all of his meals in detail that let's you almost taste the cilantro in his soup. The book does have it's tearjerker moments - his trip to France with his brother and his first experiences in Saigon had the tears almost rolling for me. Other times you're laughing out loud when he has to ride a horse in Mexico or act 'not drunk' walking into a restaurant for his TV show on the food network. For an excellent chef to write such an intriguing book is rare indeed (Julie Child pulled it off, but I can't think of many others) so dig in and enjoy, maybe after a nice meal.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

All-New and Improved Tales

Stories: All-New Tales
Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
Stories is an intriguing collection of new short storis by an all-star cast of writers. The authors that were well-known to me included: Jeffery Deaver, Peter Straub, Chuck Palahniuk, Jodi Picoult, Joe Hill, Michael Moorcock, and of course, Neil Gaiman. Not surprisingly, my favorite of the stories was Gaiman's 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains', but I'm a huge fan already (check out my review of Neverwhere). Some of the best stories were authors I wasn't familiar with before. Samantha's Diary by Diana Wynne Jones was an amazing and disturbing take on one of our favorite Christmas songs. Two stories explored the bonds of sisterhood - Unwell by Carolyn Parkhurst revealed sisterhood's greedy underbelly and Parallel Lines by Tim Powers takes a look at the undying bond between twins. Vampire fans will find solace in Bloody by Roddy Doyle and Juvenal Nyx by Walter Mosley. Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon by Elizabeth Hand was one of my favorite stories. It centered on a group of coworkers - Emery, Robbie, and Leonard - at an aviation museum and their attempts to become friends. I was flying through the pages and hoping it wouldn't end. Overall, this collection is well worth the money and you're guaranteed to find at least one story that leaves you asking, "...and then what happened?"

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Laurie R. King, Queen of the Bees

The Language of Bees and The God of the Hive by Laurie R. King
Laurie King has done it again. The latest two-part story starring the amazing duo Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes is a wonderful tale full of twists and turns. The Language of Bees opens with a surprise visit from Sherlock's son, Damian Alder (mother Irene Alder) with his daughter Estelle. We are thrown in to a quick turning plot with a great cast of characters including the mysterious disappearance of Damian's wife, the leader of a religious cult and his right-hand thug, Sherlock's brother Mycroft, Lestrade, and a 'green man' from the country (think hippie, not alien). The books hold many surprises and I don't want to give away too much, but the plot is a little close to home for Sherlock this time. Russell is lovable as ever and I found myself sympathizing with her lack of knowledge on how to care for Estelle.
If you haven't dove into King's world of Sherlock's later life now is the time. From the first book, A Beekeeper's Apprentice, to the latest novel, you won't be able to stop reading. If you enjoyed the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories you'll be sure to appreciate these novels. King has given Sherlock and his cast of friends more depth and has painted his life into the larger world of the late 1800-early 1900s.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Oh No! The list.

So...I have few excuses for not posting lately, but I have been reading like crazy as always. In an attempt to catch up I'm going to share a list of all (hopefully) of the books I've read since my last post. I'm going to try to go back and write reviews for them over the next few weeks, but just in case I want the list out there so I don't loose track - so here it goes: Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chef by Irvine Welsh; Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain; Language of Bees by Laurie R King; Sherlock Holmes Vol.1 by AC Doyle; Pygmy by C Palahniuk; The Help by Kathryn Stockett; The Death of Bunny Monroe by Nick Cave; A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs; Sinners and Saints by Eileen Dreyer; Rules of Deception by Christopher Reich; John Dies at the End by David Wong; Knit the Season by Kate Jacobs; All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland; and Horns by Joe Hill.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

'The most important part of a story is the piece you don't know'

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver is a fantastic author and her latest book, The Lacuna, is no exception. Written as a piecemeal recovered diary and a series of letters, the book centers around a shy author and his journeys between Mexico and the US in the 30s-50s. Kingsolver must have spent years researching this book and it was time well spent. The main character, Harrison Shepherd, engages us with his experience as a plaster boy turned cook in the homes of famous communists Diego Rivera, Frida, and Trotsky in the 30s and 40s. Shepherd is a bit in awe of his employers, but as their cook he runs their day-to-day lives and becomes fast friends with them as people, not simply icons. The famous Frida is allowed to shine and keep her scars. Shepherd is certainly a man without a country and while his own books begin to open the minds of readers, he is quickly accused by J. Edgar Hoover of communism. The tone of the story and the 'Red Scare' politics become a mirror into our own lives. The Lacuna wasn't a fast read, but it was very interesting reading about communism from such an interesting perspective as Mexico. Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Announcing our new hero, Barbie...

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Stephen King has gone back to a small town in Maine in his latest tome, Under the Dome. The lives of this small country town vastly change when a (glass?) dome shoots up from the ground. The physical technicalities of the dome are intriguing - air can be exchanged, but pretty much nothing else. The town is run by your basic corrupt politician, Big Jim Rennie, that sees it as his duty (we all support the team) to lead the town out of the crisis. Enter our hero, a young ex-military cook (not chef) from out-of-town, Barbie (Dale Barbara). Under the Dome has everything a good King follower will enjoy - a situational thriller, the cunning children, the offbeat hero, the strong leading females, and a slew of bad guys you just want to see crushed if you didn't feel so bad for them (okay, I still wanted to crush them). King's novels often have a literary edge and the message he has about society is clear - we're stuck on this bubble planet earth and maybe we just be a bit nicer to one another if we want to survive. There was even a bit of an environmental kicker involved, but I don't want to spoil the ending. This novel isn't filled with supernatural elements (I know some readers have problems with suspension of disbelief) so even if you're not a die-hard King fan like me, I'd still recommend Under the Dome. It's an exploration of what happens to society under pressure and that should be interesting to all of us in the modern world.