Monday, November 24, 2014

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

I read Dad is Fat when it came out, and really loved it. I like Gaffigan's voice, and looked forward to reading this. There were parts that were vastly amusing, but on the whole, for me, it didn't match his first book. The old "it would have made a great article" syndrome applies. The things that appealed to me were the personal experiences and the bits about his family. The dissertation on types of foods and restaurants, not so much. It wore thin, though I did find myself craving an all-beef hotdog while reading.

On the whole, though, I think Gaffigan is a talented artist, and seems to be a dad involved with his kids, and a man able to avoid many of the pitfalls of fame.

Thank you to Blogging for Books, and to the publisher for sending this copy my way.

Tags: blogging-for-booksfoodiei-got-boredi-liked-the-picturesmixed-feelingsok-but-not-greatread-for-reviewthought-i-was-gonna-like 

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

I am a synesthete. Different fibers, texture, and touch, as well as music, have color for me. My ability has varied at different points in my life, but I know that Mozart is filled with blues and yellows of Van Gogh's Starry Night, my mother's touch when I was had chicken pox was like milk chocolate, and a caress can be the color of midnight blue velvet against the nap. As my hearing has diminished, and my bilateral tinnitus has increased, my color perceptions aren't as clear, but I still treasure the honey gold hue of my son's laugh when he was a child. To read this story , about a girl with synesthesia learning to understand how her world is colored, was wonderful.

Mia has a different type of synesthesia than I do. Her world is more vibrant as numbers and words take on color, texture, and hue. At the same time, she faces issues that confront most of us: the pain of grief, the despair of loss, the confusion of growing up, the recognition of being different.

Handled with sensitivity and compassion, Wendy Mass guides the reader through Mia's world, sharing information, intuition, and understanding.

A lovely story.

Tags: kids-of-most-ages, places-i-have-been, ya-lit  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Cuppa Love

Back in the day, maybe fifteen years ago, my elder brother and I wandered into what was, in his view,  the height of coffee culinary cuisine. There was something about the coffee that was served there which he adored.  Javaczuk and I speculated it was because when left to his own devices, he often left the mocha pot on the stove long enough so that the house reeked of slightly burned beans, or that in Erico's mind, coffee could never be too dark or too bitter. He liked to add condensed milk to his, which counteracted both the dark and the bitter. Our thoughts were somewhat confirmed, because his favorite name for the establishment we were in was "Charbucks".

We were standing in line, when my eye was caught by some  stainless steel travel mugs. I'd been in search of a travel mug, thwarted because many used natural rubber latex in the seal, which, for me, with a severe latex allergy, would have meant that any beverage in the mug would become a true killer cup. But these mugs had silicone seals on the cap. They were colorfully painted, and curved in such a way that they felt good to hold.

Let me back up to explain that just the day before, Erico had found me in tears, self esteem completely gone. Thanks to the steroids that had actually saved my life when my respiratory function plummeted (a gift from that severe latex allergy mentioned above), I had gained a significant amount of weight. (How significant? Let's just say I stopped getting on the scale when I passed a number on the scale that is 40 pounds heavier than my current weight. And I got even heavier, until I was well enough to start exercising regularly again.) I was in tears, because in desperation, I'd pulled out my maternity clothes to find something to wear, and even those were tight on me. I felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Pillsbury Doughboy, and Bibendum's sister.  I wallowed, waddled, and wept. It was as if I gave ginormous new meaning.

Let me tell you something about my brother, Erico. He was a master story-teller. He could spin a yarn like nobody's business. Paul Bunyan and Blue had nothing on him. His response to his little sister in a melt-down was not to cajole and coddle me. He told me stories. And by the time my son got back from school, my mother up from her nap, and my husband home from work, we were deep in story-land. It was a wondrous thing and I was no longer a huge ball of mess, just huge.

That day at Charbucks, Erico grabbed up one of the pink travel mugs and announced he wanted to get it for me. It reminded him of me, all pink and curvy.

I carried that mug many places. Sometimes it held a beverage I brought from home, sometimes a brew I picked up from one of the wonderful coffee places that have sprung up here in Charleston. In 2008, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, the pink of the mug took on new meaning. The following year, when both she and Erico were no longer with us, it became a talisman that gave me happy memories when I sipped from it.

But as with anything that gets constant use, there is wear and tear. That pink paint got chipped and scratched. By this year, it was looking a little ratty. Other mugs, sexy and sleek, beckoned, but I held on to my pal, even though it was rather tattered looking.

One day, while talking to a friend, whose art I love, a scheme was launched. He would repaint my mug for me. I told him of Erico, and of "pink and curvy" and placed the mug in his care. I knew this was right, for though I love the memories associated with the giving of the mug, I am not the person I was back then. I've shed the weight, reshaped my life, and kept the memories. I am stronger, and hopefully, a better person. It was only fitting that this talisman transition, too. 

It's still got some pink, kept the curves, the memories,  and a gotten a touch of the vibrancy of street art I love (there's some stenciling along with the spatter). With this mug travelling with me, I'm ready for new roads, new adventures. Thank you, Crosby Jack, for painting new life into a old companion. I've been blessed with wonderful brothers, lots of memories and good friends.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hurricane Sisters by Dorthea Benton Frank

I find that Dottie Frank's books are hit or miss with me. The ones that people adore often irritate the be-jiggers out of me (it's usually the stereotypes that irk me, or mispronunciations of audio book readers, if I'm partaking of the book that way.) I do love her characters, and the insertion of local spots and faces (though now I'm worried that Martha Lou's is going to be overrun by visitors wanting to try the food, rather than us locals, who come back for more of the best southern food available.) With this book, I seem to be in the minority -- I liked it. I thought it was a decent vehicle for presenting an important message: that violence against women must stop.  The women in this novel are realistic, genuine, with their own eccentricities and foibles. They each face a challenge in the course of the story which causes them to reevaluate, and to grow. What I liked bout this book was the reminder that what is a crisis at the moment is often just a point in a larger arc in a life-story. Life isn't always high drama, and not every hurricane makes landfall. But we do need to look out for those we love. It's never to late to try.

Tags: charleston-sc, met-the-author, read, set-in-my-stomping-grounds, set-in-the-south, thank-you-charleston-county-library

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke

Somehow Brock Clarke has flown under my radar until now. It's hard to believe that I have missed a title as delicious as An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, but I did. However, thanks to a book giveaway by Algonquin Press, I ended up with a copy of Clark's next novel, The Happiest People in the World. That this refers to Danes, and that we'd just had a long discussion with a Danish friend about the virtues of her country, I was eager to read the book.

Remember back in 2005, when a Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons which depicted the prophet Muhammad, and the resulting objection caused protests, riots, and a boycott of Danish goods in some countries? I think there were even death threats made against the artist, but haven't looked that up to verify.  Clarke has loosely based this novel around those events. In this case, a somewhat hapless Skagen newspaper artist creates a response cartoon, which results in his home and the newspaper office being firebombed. The end result is that he goes into hiding, ending up in upstate New York (actually Boonville, which actually bills itself as the snow mobile capitol of the world, though not in this book -- the things you learn about upstate NY when you are a reader.) There, he becomes the guidance counselor at the local school, which should have worked out well, except a) the town actually has a recruiting presence for the CIA, b) a hit man is on his way to find him, and c) everyone in the books is a bit off-kilter in how they view life. Oh, and there's a moose head in it. With a camera. And a microphone that doesn't work. Brilliant

This really was a well written, attention getting book, very funny in some parts, but I read it with the feeling of a train going downhill, without brakes. From the beginning of the book, you know true disaster is coming. It's just a matter of who will escape and how they'll survive after. But I read on, waiting for the train wreck, amazed at all that gathered and scattered as it came to the inevitable crash.
I will look for more by this author. Thank you Algonquin Press for sending this book my way. To date, I've never read a publication from Algonquin which didn't get me thinking, and tickle some aspect of my reader fancy. This was no exception.

Tags: algonquingiveaway, at-least-the-writing-was-good, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, funny, good-but-made-me-sad, made-me-look-something-up, read, set-in-my-stomping-grounds, thought-provoking, will-look-for-more-by-this-author

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Love and Ordinary Creatures by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

This is not your average love story, or even your average pet story. It's no Marley and Me, Incredible Journey, or any of the movies and books that claim to be from the point of view of a pet -- at least not from the point of view of the parrot in this book. It's not a "One day I hope to be the person my dog thinks I am", either, as the humans involved vastly underestimate the thought process and intelligence of the particular bird involved. From the human viewpoint, it was a whole lot less complex, but the reader is only treated to that p.o.v. via overheard conversations between human characters.

Caruso is one of the most passionate central characters to grace the pages between book covers in a while. That he happens to be a parrot doesn't lessen the intensity of the story. Set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in the 1990's, Caruso's world is centered on Clarissa, with whom he now lives, and who he loves desperately. He learned about love, albeit obsessive love, from his previous owner, whose heart never relinquished its hold on a childhood sweetheart, loved and lost. How this translates into the obsessive love Caruso carries for Clarissa, how his world shakes and tilts when Clarissa begins a relationship with a man, and how life resolves it all play out a large part of the book. Another another piece of the book intermingles descriptions of Caruso's memories of life in the wild, the world he was snatched from at a tender age, giving the  story a different depth.

There were parts of this book that just grabbed me by the attention horns, and wouldn't let go -- until they did let go, and I found my mind wandering until the next phrase, or scene, or glimmering thought grabbed me again. This is a deeply passionate story.  I've rounded up to a 7/10 star because of those moments that caught me in a snare. Thank you LibraryThing and Ashland Creek Press for sending a copy along to me.

Tags: early-review-librarything, read, set-in-the-south, taught-me-something

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator)

I'm a Murakami fan, so it's hard to displease me with a novel of his (and the cover of this one is a clever play on something that becomes clearer in the early parts of the book.) But I have to say, despite the fabulous prose, imagery, and character presentation, this might actually be my least favorite Mirakami. I felt somewhat let down at the end, mostly because I needed more closure. There were too many loose ends for me. But, because it's Mirakami, I rounded up from 3.4 to 4 stars.

Plot: 5 friends in high school. In the early days of college, four turn against the fifth, colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. In adulthood, he decides to find out why, and what has become of them. The rest is Murakami.

This article, which I read before reading the book, helped answer musical questions for me.

Tags: a-favorite-author, at-least-the-writing-was-good, e-book, good-but-made-me-sad, made-me-look-something-up, mixed-feelings, read, still-trying-to-figure-this-one-out, translated

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

I'm woefully behind in my reading for this year's Y'allFest, which is this weekend. This year Ann Brashares is one of the authors. This book is a bit of a departure from her Traveling Pants series and some of her other books. I see that it's had some unhappy readers writing about it, but luckily for me, I not in that group. I found this a rather thought provoking work, with several interesting "what-if"s thrown in. For starters are the two opening quotes:
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. --L.P. Hartley  and If time travel is possible, where are the tourists from the future? -- Stephen Hawking

In this story, the future folk are, indeed, here among us, fleeing a dying world, where there is a shortage of everything that sustains life.  Prenna James is one of the immigrants from the latter part of this century, sent back in time with her mother, and a community of other children and parents who had not succumbed to the deadly mosquito borne plague that is decimating the population. The rules of their community strictly prohibit interactions with "native timers" both so to not change the course of history, and to prevent the type of slaughter that occurred when Europeans first came to the Americas and introduced their foreign bacteria. (The one bit that's a little confusing was that there also is mention of saving the world they come from from the problems it encounters, but if you're not to interact with the natives, that could prove difficult.)

When Prenna arrived 4 years before the start of the story, her entrance was observed by Ethan Jarves, Though she had no memory of her arrival, it made a profound impact on him, and now their paths cross again in high school. Prenna has a bit of a rebellious streak in her and Ethan is smart, charming, and nuts about her. At the same time, events unfold to make Prenna question all that she remembers and has been told, and the two realize it may be up to them to help save Prenna's world from its fate.

Things I liked:
-Prenna and Ethan together. Their relationship was gentle and full of trust and intelligence
-That the deadly plague is an advanced form of dengue fever, which is bad enough now (it's also called Break Bone fever, because that's what it feels like) but has turned deadly, and that it can be spread because our climate of the future favors misquotes over humans.
-The thought of finding clues to to future in something as simple as a newspaper.  Prenna talks about how the technology we dream of today is a reality in her world, but what has become really special is handwritten works, or the printed word.
-Who gets saved on May 17, 2014
-No vampires or Zombies
There were some things I didn't cotton to (see above about saving worlds), including the relationship Prenna has with the adults in her group, but hey, it's a YA novel, and what's a little angst among teens?

Tag: read, thank-you-charleston-county-library, time-travel-reincarnation-etc, ya-lit, yallfest

Choose Your Own Autobiography, by Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris makes me wish I'd been raised by a gay dad. Or a dad who was a childhood actor, and retained his love of song and dance. Or a dad who looked good in a white lab coat, and people called "doctor". Or had a love of magic and showmanship.  I guess three out of four ain't bad.

I'm one of the few who has probably never seen Doogie Howser or How I Met Your Mother, and one of the many totally in love with Dr Horrible. But, because of how this great big thing we call social media/internet works, I am a NPH fan.  Even though I find the "build your own adventure" books a little annoying, I decided to seek out this memoir because the man himself interests me. I wanted to learn more about the inner dialogues that allow him to do what he does on stage and screen, and also share the persona he does to the world in real life. I don't remember any big deal when it became more public knowledge that he was gay. What has caught my attention, though is the way he and his husband, David, are raising their kids, with vibrancy, joy, humor, and a whole lot of parenting sense. I didn't expect less. I like how they are modeling for parents in general, not just same sex parents. (Case in point: Halloween costumes.)

This memoir is fun, and because of the format (which I read straight through, not choosing any adventure) reveals even more about the wonderful mind of NPH, as well as his heart. I hope someday I get to see him on stage. Since reading the book, have been eyeing HIMYM on Netflix, working up to suggesting we put it on our queue.

(PS I tried to get this via Blogging for books, to get an early release, but couldn't. I was, however, first in line for it, when it hit my library.)

Tags: biography-autobiography-or-memoir, funny, i-liked-the-pictures, made-me-laugh-out-loud-for-real, made-me-look-something-up, magic, read, taught-me-something

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Shovel Ready, by Adam Sternbergh

I like quirky. I like mystery. I like science fiction and dystopian themes. I like edgy, dark , noir tinted story-lines, that tiptoe into suspense and prick the shadows of life. I liked Shovel Ready.

I'd been in the dumps, because several of my favorite thriller writers have passed from this life, leaving me minus their writing skills, and a hole in my literary friendships as well. The characters I've followed now exist in some sort of unfinished arc limbo. Happily, Adam Sternbergh gives every indication of helping to fill this gap created by the untimely demise of other well-loved authors.

Shovel Ready introduces readers to a New York City in the not so distant future. The big difference between our Big Apple and this one is that someone set off a dirty bomb in Times Square, tainting much of the city, and causing much of the population to flee. The remaining inhabitants mostly occupy that rung of society's ladder that is too poor, too battered, or too zoned out to leave. The other big difference is that, while the internet still exists, it's mostly for the scruffy folks. There is, however,  a new play-toy, a modern day opiate that is a linked in virtual reality. There, you can make your own dreams come true, but only if you have enough money to afford both hooking into a fantasy world and the attendants to keep you safe, and monitor your intake of nutrients given IV to sustain you while you are hooked in.

Spademan was a garbageman in the old New York. In this world, he is a hit-man, taking out lives someone else deems garbage. He's got his own set of principles. (I kill men. I kill women because I don't discriminate. I don't kill children because that's a different kind of psycho.) He's got his box cutter, which he uses to dispatch his victims. He's got a circle of friends, and he's got his memories of days before the bomb, before his wife was killed and he and the city tumbled into a different world. He's hired to kill the run-away daughter of a powerful (in both the real and virtual worlds) evangelist. He asks no questions as to motives, just sees himself as the bullet (or box cutter) that gets the job done.

Except, things aren't as clearcut as they seem, and Spademan finds himself sorting through realities, switching from hunter, to protector, to avenger. It's a gritty, dark ride, but promises to be the beginning of a new series to follow.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and to the publisher for sending me this copy to read. I look forward to future books in the series.

Tags: blogging-for-bookscurrently-reading,dystopian-ishpart-start-of-a-seriesscience-fictionsuspense-thriller