Friday, July 24, 2015

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

Lo’Melkhiin was once a good man in this story without names. His three-hundredth-and-first bride was acquired like all the rest: presented to him by a village in a line up of all marriageable women in their wadi. None of his brides had lasted more than a handful of nights, and, in an attempt to save her beautiful sister from a sure death, Lo’Melkhiin’s newest bride clothed herself in her sister’s finest, purple dishdashah, an intricately embroidered dress meant for a happy wedding, and made herself known to him without fear.

 She’s now been taken away to his qasr, the elaborate palace he calls home, and must stay strong and unaffected as her strange, cold husband visits her each night to hold her hands, to take her strength, to pull away her power, and accidentally leave some of his own to settle and grow.

 As his bride discovers a new magic within through traditional feminine activities, gathering strength from the women around her as she spins and weaves and longs for her home, there is a shift. This man who is now her husband matches every horrendous claim that’s been cast. Despite his cruelty, though, he feeds his horse by his own hand, he cares for his mother with her odd lion’s mane of hair, and there is spot of sleeping darkness in his mind that his new bride cannot seem to ignore.

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston is as unique in as many ways as it is familiar. It’s a story of female strength in the face of adversity and the importance of patience. Most people are aware of the bones that make up the skeleton of this story. A mad king, a legendarily long string of, let’s say, unsuccessful unions, a marriage to someone unplanned, a struggle for control. Although it differs from the principal One Thousand and One Nights tale, there are many things that will still ring true from the original telling.

A Thousand Nights
reminded me, in some ways, of one of my favorite childhood books, East by Edith Pattou, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. To me, the writing felt a bit formal at times, as if the author was trying to converse with the reader the way someone would around a campfire in a land where you might not know the language. I think there is a great advantage to this style of writing in that it can be very immersive even if it is not my personal preference.

Similarly, there were many things within the book that I felt were expanded on extensively while somewhat ignoring the mystical and political portions of the story, which, to me, were the book’s greatest strengths. There were creative and romantic elements tacked on at the end and throughout the book that I would have loved to learn about in the same detail we learned about the bride’s relationships and history.

 That said, the relationships in the book, especially the trust forged in the qasr between the bride and the women workers and Skeptics in Lo’Melkhiin’s employ were wonderful. Many times when reading a book, I feel there’s not enough history to hold up the integrity of the characters. A Thousand Nights is not one of those stories. If you enjoy background information, family stories and history, you will relish the level of attention that Johnston has paid to these subjects.

 I really enjoyed A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston. I thought it was an excellent retelling of one of my favorite stories, and I would encourage you to find it once it comes to its full audience on October 22nd of this year. It is currently available for pre-order in hardcover and Kindle.

 I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins

Dave is a mild-mannered man of data who enjoys nothing more than staring out his windows in the evenings, drawing what he sees and listening to The Bangles' "Eternal Flame" on repeat long into the night, falling asleep at his desk and waiting until morning. Of course, this is done more as a way of self-preservation than anything else. Without the drawings, without his job (where no one really knows what anyone does and graphs are fairly meaningless) Paul... er... Dave is left with nothing to do but think about There. See, There is not like Here. Here is safe, welcoming, tidy. Dave and all the other residents of Here prize organized living more than anything else. It would be a shame if something were to ruin that. 

I decided to purchase this subtly genius graphic novel in hardback for my husband, a bearded gent, himself. I thought it would make for a lovely Valentine's Day gift because we like to mix it up. As it is with most graphic novels, it's a quick read - straight and to the point, but it lends itself to an enjoyable theme: individuality... and facial hair. 

Stephen Collins (both the author and illustrator of this lovely little tome) is fairly new to the publishing scene but not to the world of comics, having received several awards for his observational humor and illustrations in the past. He keeps a very active Tumblr and Twitter full of fresh art and comics worth checking out. 

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil has been well-received by the press. It was the winner of the 9th Art Award for 2013, and it was the winner of the Gran Guinigi Award in 2014 for Best Graphic Novel. However, I had never heard of it until one late night browsing around on GoodReads. I'm happy to have it on our shelf. This and Stephen Collins' other work can be purchased directly from his website at Stephen Collins Illustration

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

I love book clubs. I run two with my very dear friend Carol (of which there are very few members… just like we like it), and I constantly seek out new ones to join just to look at their to-read list before whittling it down to four or five every few months. But here’s the truth: I’m really bad at reading things on a schedule. I don’t know what it is about reading assignments that does it. I used to be an administrator for a large system that involved extensive, mind-bending classroom scheduling as a living, very successfully, but when Carol tells me we have a book…. Oh, say, The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais due at the end of the month in August, my brain says that it’s due at the start of February. You can probably see why we don’t have a lot of members (sorry, Carol).

If I find a book that grabs me, really grabs me, like Perfume or It Was Me All Along, I get it done in a day or two, but sometimes I can really love a book and still take months to finish it (I’m looking at you, G. R. R. Martin). The Hundred Foot-Journey was like that for me. I really did like it! I thought it was an excellent, realistic story about food (my favorite subject) and the restaurant business set partially in and then largely themed after one of my very favorite places to read about (India). Hell, it was my idea to read it!

It was just a bit chewy for me, for whatever reason, though. I sat on the last 10% in my kindle for months, literally five months. There were portions of the book I blazed through, but then there were sections – I can't even properly define which ones – that made me lethargic in picking it back up.

Carol and I went to see the movie together, as we often intend to do for book-movies, and it was an interesting thing. We were more divided and somewhat confused by this movie more than any others we have seen in the past. Having finally finished those last ten percent of pages and read the acknowledgements, I see this book was intended to be a movie from the start (also that the author is close friends with Kazuo Ishiguro, which is pretty cool). That makes a lot of sense! What does not make sense to me is how very different the book was from the movie – the things they left out and the odd relationship plots they added. However, I will save that for another post or possibly a vlog.

I was often hungry reading the book (when I wasn’t looking up culinary terms), but I suppose in many ways I found the book difficult to think of tenderly. I readily admit that I can be a perfectionist at times, so not understanding certain terms didn't feel like an option for me considering how prominent they became over time. That meant that for all the clever little French words and terms they threw into the mix to sound authentic or smart? They just took me out of the story. Since cooking and France were such enormously key parts to the plot, it was difficult to be swept away when having to constantly learn one-time-use words. If I hadn't been reading on a kindle that syncs to Wikipedia I'm not sure I would have finished when I did.

All that to say, I definitely learned a lot from The Hundred-Foot Journey. There were quotes in the book that I loved. Such gems as…
“My dear man, a gourmand is a gentleman with the talent and fortitude to continue eating even when he is not hungry.”
“Never forget a snob is a person utterly lacking in good taste.”  

Overall, I recommend this book if you are interested in the restaurant business; although not necessarily in food writing since it is largely about the politics of having a successful (or failing) restaurant. I would, also, recommend it if you love France. The book is made for lovers of France – especially if you're familiar with the language itself. However, if you like food writing, pure and simple, or stories of India or family sagas? You may like other books more.

The Hundred-Foot Journey gets solid marks from me for what it was, but I may not reach for it again any time soon. Still, I'm left with wanting to try Ammi’s fish stew,  to visit all the places they saw in their adventure as a family. I want to pick mushrooms with Hassan. I want to meet his noisy Papa. I want to encourage Mehtab. It’s a good story about good people in a good family doing well, and there’s something to be said for that.

If you've read this book or seen this movie, let me know what you think. There's a lot of room for discussion! 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Alone Forever: The Singles Collection by Liz Prince

I honestly hadn't heard too much about Liz Prince by name before I read her autobiographical comic memoir Alone Forever: The Singles Collection, but I know it now! Her first book, Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?, won an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Debut in 2005. She's also received some amount of notoriety from her work on an Adventure Time mini-story titled Fruit Salad Days. This, along with her regularly updated websites, have given her a presence online. 

Liz is truly the definition of a hopeless romantic, and she expresses her feelings on the matter with a shameless and charming sense of purpose. She has an on-again-off-again relationship with OkCupid dating and a passionate enthusiasm for beards. Most of her friends are in relationships, but she has two very devoted cats - which is just about as good, honestly. 

As is the case with a lot of sequential art, it is a fast read - easy to power through in a single sitting - but I found it a bit faster than most. The themes and writing remind me a bit of a simpler, more straightforward Lucy Knisley crossed with the short-form and style of Kate Beaton sans the historical or literary commentary. 

I feel like it's something most people would be able to relate to on a certain level. While I've been married for several years, I remember dating, and most of my closest friends are single. I know the highs and lows, and I think Liz expresses herself well through both successes and failures. While there are other comic artists I might follow more closely for sake of my personal interests, I think Liz has something to say. If you've been looking for a silly, colorful coffee table book or an easy account of dating and learning to love yourself, check this one out. 

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell

I've followed Andie Mitchell’s well-beloved Can You Stay for Dinner? blog for quite some time. I always found her realistic posts about food and weight to be uplifting when so many other “success stories” had a ring of falsehood or exclusivity. Not everything Andie eats is healthy. She lives in a world of moderation. She walks instead of runs. She misses eating the entire cake. She know what it means to really want pizza (and by “pizza,” I mean the whole pie). As someone who can relate to her relationship with food, I was intrigued to learn more about her life and what brought her into being who she is now.

It turns out Andie’s book quickly fulfilled the requisite for “a book that makes you cry,” because this girl has lived a very hefty slice of life and come out the other side self-aware and ready for action. I know many reviewers have stated they disliked Andie’s memoir or felt it was not the book they thought it would be going into their purchase. They wanted a diet book or an exercise guideline, but that isn’t what a memoir is when laid out bare. It's meant to be a recount of a life in detail, and that is certainly what was received.

I pre-ordered this book via Kindle as soon as it was available for such a thing, and then, honestly, forgot it until it showed up in early January. I waited a moment before starting (having already begun my first book in a trilogy) and listed it promptly as either my "memoir" or “book published this year” on my 2015 challenge – not anticipating it would jump categories. It went down quickly, and I enjoyed every morsel. It may be the case that I post a book talk soon to further discuss the details. 

Andie’s writing style is true and honest. Her descriptions of food come from a place of reverence – as anyone who genuinely adores a meal can boast – and they were often my favorite parts of the book. However, her reflections on her relationships and on her abusive past with food and overeating were quite poignant to me, staying with me long after I finished the last chapter. I found myself feeling convicted for my decisions in regards to “wanting” to lose weight and considering that gym membership I dutifully pay for without use month after month.

In the end, I think Andie succeeded in what she set out to do: give you a sumptuous, toothsome bite of what it means to be big in a world obsessed with small, a reminder to love yourself and chase what matters to you.  I would recommend it. Thanks for sharing, Andie.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

PopSugar's 2015 Reading Challenge

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As many avaricious readers are apt to define, I like to send a reading goal for myself yearly. I usually do this via Goodread's Reading Challenge widget and stop it there. This year, though, a curious little challenge was floating around Reddit and Facebook, and I decided I might as well give it a go.

PopSugar is a company largely known for sending out "Must Have" boxes (a subscription service where you pay a set amount every month and receive a box of full-size goodies), but they apparently set out these challenges every once in a blue moon. The range of subjects covered was pretty intriguing so I figured I would give it a go.

If you've been looking for something a little more interesting or ambitious for your 2015 reading, check it out! I'll be adding a page to this website to keep you updated on my progress. I'd love to hear about yours!

Happy Belated New Year!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Vibrant Food by Kimberley Hasselbrink

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There's very little I love more in the bound world than a cookbook that can double as a coffee table centerpiece. I've now kept Vibrant Food by Kimberley Hasselbrink between a candy bowl and a candle hurricane in front of my couch for months, and it's rare when people don't pick it up.

When I received this book in the mail, the first thing that struck me was the quality of the printing. The colors stand out on sturdy paper, the cover plush, the binding strong. It's really quite striking. The recipes inside are even more so.

My husband and I have gone through several now, by the seasons, and have enjoyed each one. Kimberley Hasselbrink offers surprising combinations, which I feel is difficult to achieve in a world of over-saturation of ideas as we do today.

I've found that most of the recipes are easy to adapt with the ingredients you might have on hand, and they translate well for weeknight meals, as well as entertainment courses. The recipes with tree fruits and figs are definitely my most favorite of the bunch, and my favorite recipe would actually be the Celebration Salad found on page 150.

If you're interested to read a bit more, the first section is available for free on Scribd. Although, it is many times the case that I feel books could be purchased on e-Book (the Kindle Paperwhite being my personal poison), this book in particular is lovely in hardback. If you're able to find it, would like to try out some interesting seasonal ideas, and need something for people to flip through while they wait for you to finish getting ready - I would definitely check this one out.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.