Monday, January 30, 2017

Pretty Little World

Title:  Pretty Little World
Author:  Melissa DePino and Elizabeth LaBan
Publication Information:  Lake Union Publishing. 2017. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1503941027 / 978-1503941021

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "If Celia had been paying attention, she might have notices the signs - the pipes clanging much too loudly when she turned on the shower, the water pressure dropping off just enough to prevent her from completing rinsing the conditioner out of her long blond hair, the dirty water that had backed up into the utility sink in the laundry room."

Favorite Quote:  "You are so hard on everyone ... So black and white. Don't you think that in the course of a, say, fifty-year marriage, and that's if you're really lucky, that there's going to be a lot of gray? That things are going to happen that you didn't expect, that you never factored in? Things that you are just going to have to accept, somehow, and get past?"

The premise of this book - a modern day commune - is intriguing. Three couples - Celia and Mark, Hope and Leo, and Stephanie and Chris - are close friends. They live in adjoining row houses on a residential street. The book begins with the assumption that their closeness extends to being together every night, raising their kids together, and essentially doing most things together.

One couple makes the difficult decision that they need more space in a home and need to move away. A water leak in one houses break through one of the walls between two houses. This gives birth to the idea of joining homes. The three families will share an open first floor living space that encompasses all three houses. The upstairs will remain private to each. They will share home duties, from the care of the kids to the shopping to the cooking to the cleaning. They will all contribute to a shared household account.

Oh, and they will also share the secret. They decide that they will tell no one about this living arrangement because of a fear of what people may say to them or their children. That, to me, is a hole in this story. Why keep it a secret? And how? They turn down play dates for they children and other friendships to keep their secret. Neighbors question, but they turn them away with explanations. Also, practically, they manage to convert three houses into one with no one finding out about the construction. If this is the right choice for them, why the secrecy?

I am still intrigued enough to see how they make the living arrangements work and the impact it has on the adults and the children. The impact on the children is not really dealt with at all. Perhaps, it is because the children depicted are rather young, but they do seem as placeholders in the parent's stories. The children are depicted in highlighting parenting and co-parenting issues rather than as unique characters in and of themselves.

The impact on the adults touches on some deep issues. How do you measure contribution to a household - money, household chores, etc? Is it necessary to measure and equalize that contribution? How does the relationship between a husband and wife change when they are continuously surrounded by others? How do you keep the priority on your relationship when always functioning in a group? In a crisis, do you differentiate between those who are your actual family versus the broader constructed family? What is the boundary of friendship and responsibility for a friend's marital issues?

The book touches on these issues but does not develop them in depth. The plot also pursues some of these questions in story lines about sexual fantasies and pursuits and those not necessarily between spouses. This focus seems to come to the forefront, and, for me, detracts from the book. Marital issues exists in and out of communal living; I would rather the focus had stayed with the story lines centered around the shared living experience.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook

Title:  The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook
Author:  Helen You
Publication Information:  Clarkson Potter. 2017. 128 pages.
ISBN:  1101906634 / 978-1101906637

Book Source:  I received this book through the Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "For some, dumplings are merely the start of a meal, but in my family they sit at the center of the plate."

Favorite Quote:  "A dumpling is the perfect food:  proteins, vegetables, and seasonings all wrapped up in an easy to eat bundle of carbs."

Take a piece of rolled out dough. Add just enough filling - not too little that the end result is all dough and not too much that the dough bursts. Close up the dough. Cook in a myriad of ways depending on the dough and the filling.

It is amazing that almost every culture has a version of this. Dumplings. Samosas. Empanadas. Ravioli. Pierogi. Calzone. The list goes on an on. The recipe for the dough differs. The fillings are limited only by the cook's imagination. This book does one thing - Chinese dumplings - and does it well. It's not a big book and only 128 pages - definitely a specialty cookbook.

I love cookbooks that begin by saying that we will teach you the basic rules. Then, feel free to experiment. Experimentation is my favorite kind of cooking, using whatever I happen to have in the fridge and pantry at the time. "Dumplings are made to be customized, and this book will give you all the confidence you need to explore your own dumpling galaxy."

The first ten pages of the book are the basics. Ten pages doesn't sound like a lot, but a lot of information fills these pages. It starts with a history lesson establishing the author's credibility. Then, it includes general tips for fillings, the three methods of cooking dumplings, tools that make the job easier, how to make the dough depending on the method of cooking, and finally shaping the dumplings.

The remaining sections of this book are about the flavors - classic, green, faraway, and dessert. All told, the book contains about 45 flavor combinations. The classic flavors are all east based with eight out of fourteen recipes featuring pork. Three out of the six green recipes include egg as does the dough for boiled and panfried dumplings. So, depending on your definition of "green," these recipes may or may not fit into your dietary restrictions. The faraway flavors all feature some kind of meat or seafood. So, the concept and technique can work for anyone; the relevance of the specific recipes is, well, more specific.

A final section highlights about ten sauces and sides. The recipes themselves are not that long because they refer to the techniques described in the first ten page section. The recipes do not have too many pictures; I suppose, how many different way can you photograph a dumpling? I would have like to see pictures of some of the fillings coming together though and some more pictures of the actual process of assembling the dumpling.

What I really enjoy about the book is that it seems to anticipate the questions I ask. I am an experienced cook but new to the art of dumplings. Reading through, I wonder about many things and, usually, within a few pages, is the answer. Each recipe includes an introduction, explaining either an unusual ingredient or some cultural significance. Tips sprinkled throughout add to the information the book provides. At the end, I confirm my initial reaction. This book packs a lot of knowledge into a relatively small package.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Futures

Title:  The Futures
Author:  Anna Pitoniak
Publication Information:  Lee Boudreaux Books. 2017. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0316354171 / 978-0316354172

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was a story that made sense."

Favorite Quote:  "This was part of the problem ... There had been no dramatic betrayals. Instead there was a long stretch of absence. Where I saw an accumulating string of rejections, lonely nights and questions unasked, Evan probably saw a normal relationship."

College ends, and "real" life begins. You must now navigate being a grown up and all that being a grown up entails. Job. Career. Boss. Colleagues. Family. Friends Home. Relationships. Ex-relationships. How do you cope? What road maps exist to help you find your way? What if you cannot find your way? What if the path you start down turns out to be the wrong path? How do you own the fact that you may have chosen wrong? How do you even know? Before you know, "real" life is happening, and you are in the middle of it. No guarantees. No directions. Just you and your choices.

This is where Julia and Evan find themselves. They meet at Yale University as undergraduates. Julia is from the East Coast. Evan is from a small town in Canada, recruited to Yale for his ice hockey skills. At graduation, Evan lands a job with a prestigious hedge fund in New York. Julia is not sure of her direction; when Evan asks her to move with him, she says yes. Evan is busy carving out a career in the investment world as the market heads for a meltdown. Julia finds herself in New York, directionless and wondering if she did the right thing.

In a lot of ways, this book is a coming of age story. Generally, I think of such stories in the context of children growing older. Although they are not children, Julia and Evan are now stepping in adulthood, figuring out who they are as individuals and as a couple.

The book presents both Julia's and Evan's perspective in this first person narrative. It also goes back and forth between the present and different times in their college days. Sometimes, the perspective and the time period shifts with no warning. As such, it becomes difficult at times to see where the story is. I did a lot of re-reading to keep up.

The characters are not particularly likable, and their choices are often off-putting. Julia's character at times does not ring true, but her lack of direction and her lack of career opportunities seem to belie her background and her Ivy League education. There is a lot of drinking. There is also a lot of sleeping around, and a lot of thinking about other partners by two people supposedly in a committed relationship.  Be warned that there is one scene that reads like sexual assault, but it is described as a memory of a perfectly ordinary occurrence. I find the presentation of how that relationship continues shocking. Yet, at the same time, the characters are compelling, and their struggles of "real" life draw you in.

Mind you, their "struggles" are first world problems. Evan lands a prime job before graduation. Julia is well-connected socially, and that helps her along. They are financially stable and seem to have the extras for travel and restaurants. This is not a story about college graduates unable to find work and struggling to pay of student debt. Real life is an affluent version of "real."

This book has its highs and lows, and I am somewhat torn how I feel. Enough compels me to keep reading to see where the book goes, and to say that this is a promising debut novel.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Everything Belongs to Us

Title:  Everything Belongs to Us
Author:  Yoojin Grace Wuertz
Publication Information:  Random House. 2017. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0812998545 / 978-0812998542

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley and the Penguin First to Read free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "They had come to the roof for three days to watch the strike at the Mun-A textile factory."

Favorite Quote:  "But lies were for people who didn't believe in the future. Who saw only an endless stretch of present without consequences or change."

The scion of the elite. The committed student who bears the burden of hope that her success may be a path out of poverty. The manipulative conniving social climber. The eager-to-please, eager-to-fit-in, eager-to-get ahead young man who must decide on the difference between living with principles and fitting in. Jinsun. Namin. Juno. Sunam.

The connection between the four is the country's top university in Seoul, Korea. The meaning of success at the university is to join the professional elite of the country and to lead a life of privilege. Jinsun, the daughter of a wealthy, powerful industrialist, comes from wealth. She shows a disdain of the privileges wealth brings her; she wants to protest against that privilege. Namin's family is making enormous sacrifices such that she may study; her success could change their entire life. As such, she is ambitious and protective of her path out of poverty. Juno wants to solidify his hold on wealth and privilege through a convenient marriage. Sunam is simply trying to find his place, being unable to define it for himself.

Sadly, the character I find most interesting in the book - Namin's sister - is not one of these four and has only a small, side role. Hers is a tale of desperation and sadness. Hers is also the story of a young woman making incredibly difficult choices. The fact that she makes them and follows through is what makes her intriguing. Sadly, the book tells her story only as it touches Namin's, and I am left wanting to know more.

This story is set against a background of student protests and regime crackdowns in 1970s South Korea. In 1961, Major General Park Chung-hee took control of the country in a military coup. He ruled South Korea for the next eighteen years until his assassination in 1979. During this time, Korea was termed a republic but essentially under authoritarian rule. Through the years, students and other advocate for democracy protested the rule. The regime used both arrests and other violent responses to suppress the protests. These protests in 1978 become the setting for this book. This book takes place about one to two years before the time described in Human Acts by Han Kang.

Human Acts bears witness to a history that I might never otherwise have read. It builds a story and finds that balance between history and story. This book unfortunately fails to do the same and is completely not what I expect.

I requested this book because the description speaks about a transformative time in South Korean history and a generation that leads that transformation. I expect politics and history anchored around the story of four young people. What the book delivers, however, is more a soap opera centred around the lives of these four people. It's about who holds the power in a relationship. It's about who is in a relationship with who. It's about the family dynamics of each. It's about the individuals. That could be great because historical fiction needs a strong personal story to anchor the history. Unfortunately, for me, the story completely overtakes the history. I don't get the sense of the story of these young people being the story of a time and a place; it's just their story and not necessarily their role in the history of a nation.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My (not so) Perfect Life

Title:  My (not so) Perfect Life
Author:  Sophie Kinsella
Publication Information:  The Dial Press. 2017. 448 pages.
ISBN:  081299826X / 978-0812998269

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "First:  It could be worse."

Favorite Quote:  "I think I've finally worked out how to feel good about life. Every time you see someone's bright-and-shiny, remember:  They have their own crappy truths too. Of course they do. And every time you see your own crappy truth and feel despair and think, Is this my life, remember:  It's not. Everyone's got a bright-and-shiny, even if it's hard to find sometimes."

I remember reading social media advice saying, "Don't compare your actual life to someone else's highlight reel." That statement is essentially the advice coming from Sophie Kinsella's My (not so) Perfect Life. Work drama. Family drama. Friendship. Self-discovery. And, of course, a love story. This book has a little bit of all the predictable elements of a sweet chick-lit story.

Katie Brenner is our heroine who has transformed herself into Cat Brenner somewhere between her farm upbringing and the London city life she craves. She works for an advertising agency with Demeter Farlowe as her boss. From Katie's perspective, Demeter has the charmed life - looks, husband, children, successful career, and the opportunity to be absolutely horrendous boss. Think the paragon from The Devil Wears Prada, and you have an image of how Demeter is perceived. Anyone subjected to her tirades is referred to as having been demetered.

Katie seems to have the life of the have-nots, always falling short of what she believes is everyone's perfect life. Her life is completely no-so-perfect. Her father doesn't understand her London life and would like to have her home no the farm. She feels he disapproves of her life choices. She lives in a tiny shared apartment in a room so small that her closet is a hammock hung above her bed. Her commute is a battle through the public transportation system everyday. Katie is trying hard to be the person she thinks she needs to be to have the perfect London life, but the persona of "Cat" doesn't quite fit comfortably.

Also part of this picture are Katie's co-workers who share her angst about Demeter. Then, there's Alex, who is Demeter's friend and a principal in the advertising agency. In other words, he is Katie's bosses' boss. He is handsome, eligible, and, of course, known for the broken hearts he leaves around the world.

Circumstances aka misunderstandings aka drama lands Katie out of a job and back on the farm in Somerset with her father and stepmother. Circumstances change again, and a new venture begins, giving Katie a chance to shine. Ever heard of glamping - camping with all the amenities? Picture yurts, luxury bedding, and enough farm-like activities to make you feel like you are living the country life. All without having to give up any of the comforts of a lovely hotel.

Katie meets Demeter, Alex, and her co-workers again under different circumstances, and predictably learns that not all is at it had first appeared. This leads to more adventures and some hilarious antics. Let's just say payback in in order for insults suffered in all directions.

This book checks all the boxes of an enjoyable light read. It gives me what I expect. The book also leaves a message about being true to yourself and not believing everything you read on social media. (I know! Shocking, right? Not!) A predictable story, lots of laughs, a little romance, and the beautiful English countryside make this book a lovely escape from daily life.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Windy City Blues

Title:  Windy City Blues
Author:  Renée Rosen
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2017. 480 pages.
ISBN:  1101991127 / 978-1101991121

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She did her worshipping from the hood of a rusted-out Chevrolet in a junkyard on Twenty-ninth and State Street across from the church."

Favorite Quote:  "See now, the good thing about them bad days is they don't last but for twenty-four hours."

As in White Collar Girl, Renée Rosen takes us to Chicago, the Windy City during the 1940s through the 1960s. In this case, the book brings us back to the birth of the Chicago Blues. This is a story of Jewish immigrants and Southern migrants who all converge upon Chicago and make magic happen through music. This is a story of music and a story of the Civil Rights movement. In particular, this story follows the history of Chess Records, one of the instrumental companies which was founded for and prospered through the blues.

Some interesting historical notes. Phil Chess passed away in October 2016 at the age of 95. Of the two Chess brothers, only Leonard Chess was recognized for his contribution to music through his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony in 1987 recognized, "Chess not only became the true repository of American blues music, but it also presented black music for the edification of white audiences throughout the world." In 2013, both brothers were recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with a Trustees Award for lifetime achievement. This dichotomy between the brothers, with Leonard being the more public face of the duo, comes through in this book.

I choose this book to read because it goes towards many topics I am interested in - civil rights, Chicago, and music. I also really enjoyed White Collar Girl, which is strong story and a period piece set around journalism. That book though keeps a strong focus on the story of the main character. The history surrounds the story, but the focal point remains the one main character.

The description of this book suggests that this story centers on one main female character as well -  Leeba Growski.  Leeba is a musician. She belongs to a family who wants nothing more than their daughter to find a nice white Jewish young man, to marry, and to settle down. Leeba dreams of other things. She dreams of a career in music and finds that in part through her work with the Chess brothers. She also falls in love with another musician. Red Dupree is a talented guitarist from Mississippi; he is also a person of color. Their careers wind through the music industry, and the interracial relationship thrusts them into the Civil Rights movement.

The premise of the book and the historical background setup for a fascinating story. The book, however, scatters its focus with many characters whose story and perspective is told and much name dropping in addition to that. That name dropping seems even more prevalent if you are not familiar with the known celebrities of blues music.

Too much of a good things is sometimes a really wonderful thing, and sometimes it is just too much as is the case with this book. It becomes difficult to form a connection with the main character or really any of the characters. I keep reading it as an interesting historical narration, but that is lot to keep going on for almost five hundred pages. The book is clearly well researched, with fascinating historical details. However, the characters get a little lost in the history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Sleepwalker

Title:  The Sleepwalker
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2017. 304 pages.
ISBN:  038553891X / 978-0385538916

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It makes all the sense in the world."

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes I'm not sure which hits us harder ... that relief when we wake up from a nightmare and realize it was just a dream, or the sadness when we wake up from a good dream - a really god dream - and realize that nothing was real. And then there are moments like this: you're wide awake and wish you weren't. You wish it was just a dream. That is the worst, I agree."

I am a fan of Chris Bohjalian's books. I look forward to each new one for two reasons. One because usually tasks go undone and sleep gets forsaken as the books draw me and keep me avidly reading page by page until the very end. Second because each book that I have read takes on a completely different topic meticulously researched. The ones I have read in recent years dealt with sex trafficking, nuclear disaster, World War II, Armenian genocide, and herbalists. I have liked the books to varying degrees but always appreciated the thoughtfulness with which the topic is handled.

This book is no different. It centers around parasomnia, which is defined by the dictionary defines parasomnia as any of a group of sleep disorders characterized by unwanted behaviors or perceptions that occur during sleep or partial arousal from sleep. This book also narrowly focuses on the devastation - the guilt and the anguish of one family because of a disappearance.

Annalee Ahlberg and her family live in a small town in Vermont. She is an architect; her husband Warren is a professor. Their older daughter Lianna is twenty-one and a college student at Amherst. Their younger daughter Paige is twelve and on her way to becoming star athlete. Annalee suffers from parasomnia. One night, she disappears. An investigation ensues, and a family is left to cope. The story is told from Lianna's perspective as she attempts to step into her mother's role as homemaker, as she attempts to process her own grief, and as she attempts to investigate what happened.

Two things rankle a bit in this book. One is topic itself - parasomnia. The "unwanted behavior" described in this book is sexual activity; the medical term is sexsomnia. The condition is medically documented and has even been used as a defense in assault and rape cases. However, it leads to some graphic descriptions and makes for uncomfortable reading. So, reader beware. The other jarring note in this book is a relationship that develops that given the circumstances is completely inappropriate and, for me, unnecessary to the story.

This book reminds me of The Double Bind, the first Chirs Bohjalian book I read years ago. Both books narrate a story and in between present short snippets of another narration. In The Double Bind, the interludes were doctor's notes. In this book, they are excerpts from a journal. The big question in The Double Bind was the identity of the patient. The big question in this book is the identity of the journal writer. Is is Annalee whose sleepwalking is at the base of this book? Is it Lianna from whose perspective the main story is told? Is it Paige who is only twelve years old? Is it Gavin, the detective who is Annalee's friend and who is a sleepwalker? Is it perhaps even Warren with an unrevealed secret still to come? Is it another character yet to be introduced? The correct answer to this question is also answers the mystery of Annalee's disappearance.

Given the small number of characters in the book, I do guess the ending. However, I am not sure until the very end when the mystery is finally solved.That is mostly because with Chris Bohjalian's books, I expect a twist. The ending of The Double Bind came as a complete surprise such that I found myself re-reading that book to see if I could have seen this coming. This ending is not a surprise, but the book engrosses me regardless. The plight of this family and the voice of Lianna telling this story involves me into the story. Such is the magic of Chris Bohjalian's writing in most of his books. I find myself completely immersed in the story until the very last page.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Setting Free the Kites

Title:  Setting Free the Kites
Author:  Alex George
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0399162100 / 978-0399162107

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Nathan Tilly gave me the story I'm going to tell, but it was the old paper mill that set my memories free."

Favorite Quote:  "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; love leaves a memory no one can steal."

A small coastal Maine town. The 1970s. Middle school. An older brother with a life threatening illness. Parents whose attention is focused on that ill sibling. A ramshackle amusement park that is the family business. These are the things that define Robert Carter's life. Oh, and one more thing. A Best Friend. Robert meets Nathan Tilly on the first day of eighth grade, and life is never the same. Nathan Tilly is new to town. Nathan Tilly is an optimist, bold and daring. Their friendship begins with a stand against bullying and is cemented because of family tragedy. They are inseparable.

The story is told from Robert's perspective. Decades later, he reflects back on the friendship and on that time in his life, filled with a lot of sorrow survived only through friendship. Although not directly, this reflection comes forth with the reason for telling the story. "I need to confront my loss, not run away from it. I wanted to wade in with my eyes open and all my senses alert. I wanted to register everything, from the giant waves of sorrow to the inkiest ripples of remorse. I didn't want to miss any of it."

His reflection becomes a reflection on childhood and growing up and all that entails. "Sometimes life-changing moments slip by unnoticed, their significance only becoming apparent in the light of subsequent events." Robert and Nathan's story covers things you may expect in a coming of age story - school, bullying, jobs, parent complaints, jobs, and the attraction of forbidden places and activities.

Robert and Nathan's stories also tackle much bigger issues - terminal illness, accidents, and death. Thus, this is very much a story about grief and how different people process grief differently. This is true not just of Robert and Nathan but also of the characters that surround them. The grief of Robert's parents for their ill child is palpable. The grief of others - Nathan's mother and Lewis - are much more subtly expressed. Along with grief is a sense of survivor's guilt - the guilt of not being able to save someone and of being still here and still living. Through all of this, Robert and Nathan's friendship becomes their anchor.

I  love the storytelling in this more more than the actual story. The plot has some twists that seem to come out of nowhere and seem out of place. Some character's back stories and some actions leave me wondering. Some of the connections drawn seem contrived and unnecessary. However, the storytelling weaves everything together in a way that keep me reading. Although the story is set in and around an amusement park, the storytelling conjures up an image of a cold, secluded, and dark place. The image does not match the setting, but it does match many of Robert and Nathan's experiences that year.

A coming of age story. A story of friendship. A story of loss and grief. All of these come together with memorable writing that places me in the heart of Haverford, Maine.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson

Title:  The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson
Author:  Nancy Peacock
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2013 (original). 336 pages.
ISBN:  1501116355 / 978-1501116353

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I have been to hangings before, but never my own."

Favorite Quote:  "This is what white people always told us. Work and behave and nothing bad would befall us, as though being a slave was not evidence of something bad having already befallen us."

Persimmon Wilson and Chloe meet because they are bought by the Joseph Wilson in the same slave auction. Persimmon is a slave but has had the opportunity to learn to read and write, a fact he hides well for it could be a death sentence. He is strong and is put to work in the cane plantations. Chloe is lovely and light-skinned, an unfortunate combination for a slave. She is deemed a "fancy," which translates essentially to being a sex slave for her master. That is the only life she has ever known. So begins a love that will last a life time and will be the anchor for Persimmon Wilson, wherever life leads him.

This book is almost like reading two separate books in terms of the history it confronts. The first half is Persimmon's life as a slave in Louisiana towards the end of the Civil War. It describes all the atrocities of slavery, atrocities so numerous and so horrific that it would be impossible to enumerate them here. At the same time, it describes the love and friendship that still manages to flourish even in such circumstances. Unlike a lot of the books about slavery that I have read, this one is not set in the cotton plantations but rather the sugar cane plantations of Louisiana. The book also describes the back-breaking work that goes into planting and harvesting this crop and the work on the Louisiana levees to hold back the water.

The transition in the book comes because of the coming end of the Civil War. The white plantation owners desert their plantations, take what they can, and leave Louisiana for Texas. The "property" they take includes the slaves they own. In this chaos, some slaves escape; some perish; and some are forced to Texas with their masters.

The second half of the book moves to Texas and the lives of the Comanche First Nation at the time of the Red River War between the First Nations and the United States army. Persimmon Wilson evolves into Kweepoonaduh Tuhmoo. This half of the book describes the atrocities of war on both sides and the love and friendship that still exists in this harsh life. In addition, this book delves into the plight of the First Nations and the destruction of their way of life, from the reservations to the outright attacks to the slaughter of the buffalo herds.

Reading The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson is an immersive experience. The book begins at the end as Persimmon Wilson awaits his hanging. His last request is pen and paper to write his story. This beginning and the first person-narrative creates a deeply personal memoir-like feel; I walk through Persimmon Wilson's life with him. Through his eyes, the book also brings to life the history it is set in. Again, the first person narration means that the reader "lives" the history through Persimmon's eyes with all of his perspective, experiences, and emotions. Through his eyes, his strong unshakable love story also comes through; I want to believe in a love that transcends all boundaries of place, time, and logic.

Mind you, none of this book is comfortable to read for it describes some horrible acts and uses language that is most definitely not acceptable today. Yet, as a memoir-like tale set in that time and place, the story can be told no other way. Just be prepared to be uncomfortable.

So I leave you to think about this book in the Persimmon's own words ... "If I learned anything at all from living with the Comanche, it is this:  words don't mean a thing unless they're true. So you do what you will, burn my words if you want to, set them loose into the air. Nothing would make me happier than all of you having to breathe this story, this truth of what I am about to tell you. Nothing can kill truth, not even white men."

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Underground Culinary Tour

Title:  The Underground Culinary Tour: How the New Metrics of Today's Top Restaurants Are Transforming How America Eats
Author:  Damian Mogavero and Joseph D'Agnese
Publication Information:  Crown Business. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1101903309 / 978-1101903308

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Thirteen years ago, Jeffrey Frederick, a former chef, took a new job as vice president of food and beverage operations, in charge of managing every food and beverage outlet in a resort owned by Harrah's Entertainment, on of the big gaming companies in Las Vegas."

Favorite Quote:  "This is the message I want to drive home:  you don't have to create a huge menu to create a successful restaurant and satisfy today's foodies. You just have to give your guests something that they crave and want to come back to. They eat it once, and the next time they think of that one food ... they will think of your restaurant."

This book has quite the title. An underground tour implies something secret, exclusive, and mysterious. This book also has quite the subtitle too. Data and metrics imply concrete knowledge that is visible, measurable, and usable. What does one have to do with the other? The idea of this book is simple to understand. Appropriate use of appropriate data can help restaurateurs improve their performance and help demystify that "something" that keeps customers coming back. Implementing the idea may be something quite different. "I must confess that I have told you something of a white lie in saying that this book is about data. It's really about creativity ... Data and technology are only as good as the way they are used."

A disclaimer to begin with. I do not work in the food industry. I, however, enjoy cooking, collect cookbooks, and have an interest in books on food and cooking. Hence, my take on this book is that of an avid amateur. My interest in this book is not for the "how to" but for the story.

The story is exactly what this book delivers. The author Damian Mogavero is the founder and CEO of Avero, a company offering software solutions for restaurants. The software enables restaurateurs to gather the data to effectively run their business. Hence, the company has the lofty goal captured in the subtitle of the book - transforming how America eats.

I don't think the substance of the book quite lives up to its lofty title. The book is much more general and much more tailored to a broader audience. This book is not a how to of data gathering and analysis. It is not a look at the solutions the company offers or a detailed look at exactly how clients have used the tools to transform their business. Rather, it is a memoir like narrative of Damien Mogavero's work.

One main story of the book is an actual culinary tour of New York, an annual invitation only event for restauranteurs to provide them with a two day gastronomic look at innovative ideas they may bring back to their own businesses. The story is a literal description of the tour with a brief discussion on why each stop on the tour is included. This portion of the book is not data driven, but rather just one means by which restaurateurs may gather data. I doubt most of us would ever qualify for an invitation, but I can walk away from this book with a brand new list of New York restaurant adventures to experience.

Other case studies include applying the same data techniques to large Las Vegas establishments, nightlife venues, and other implementations of the hospitality industry. The metrics addressed in the case studies range from menu, server training, kitchen management, and even theft prevention. The focus of the book is not the specifics but rather an introduction to how data might be used. As a reader not in the industry, it has the right amount of detail and, couched in a narrative, is an entertaining and easy to read behind-the-scenes look at how the hospitality industry operates.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Sun is Also a Star

Title:  The Sun is Also a Star
Author:  Nicola Yoon
Publication Information:  Delcorte Press. 2016. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0553496689 / 978-0553496680

Book Source:  I received this book through the Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."

Favorite Quote:  "What if we are just a digression in someone else's history?"

The cover of this book makes complete sense after having read the book. It is nail and string art where the threads cross and form so many intersections. In the hard cover edition, the cover is textured such that you can feel the words of the title.

I choose to read the book based on its description. Two teenagers from immigrant families meet. Natasha is in the country illegally because of decisions her parents make. Her father chased a dream to America. Her mother and Natasha followed. Her younger brother Peter is born in the US. Natasha and her family are now facing deportation back to Jamaica even though this is the only life Natasha and her brother have ever known. Daniel is the younger son of parents who immigrated from Korea, searching for a better life. They own a business and want their sons to pursue the American dream of an Ivy League education and a professional career. Daniel wants something different. The burden of family expectations weighs heavily.

That focal point of the immigrant experience is the strong undercurrent of this book. However, even stronger is how the story revolves around the idea whether things in life happen for a reason or randomly. The structure of the book really lends itself to that debate. The book is written in very short - 1 to 2 pages - chapters, each from a different point of view. Of course, most depict Natasha and Daniel's point of view. Many chapters, though are from the perspective of the lives that Natasha and Daniel's lives touch - parents, an attorney, a waitress, a hit and run driver, an Immigration security guard, and several others. A few chapters are not from an individual perspective, but rather an explanation of a word, a concept, or a history.

I love the foundation of the immigration experience and the premise of the reason for things that this book builds on. So, why not a higher rating then? Warranted, I am not the target audience for this book, but a few things about the book fall short for me, particularly for a young adult audience. First of all, this is an insta-love-story. Daniel and Natasha's relationship goes from just meeting to eternal love in less than a day - a day already filled with other overwhelming experiences for both of them. I don't buy into the love story. Second, the book introduces adult infidelity, which is unnecessary for the story line and unnecessary for a young adult audience. The fact that the impact of that no remorse or sadness is shown for the impact on that infidelity on that family is a jarring note in the book. Thirdly, the reason Natasha's story ends the way it does is not because of due process or mere chance but because of a conscious decision. Poor decision making and outright deceit about that decision again is a jarring and unnecessary note in the book.

Overall, the structure of the book works. It begins to mimic the cover of the book, as the threads of these individual lives intertwine and have effects far beyond what the individual can imagine. Some connections are literally life altering. The fact that this book covers only the period of one day makes that impact all the stronger. Even a momentary, seemingly small interaction can change the direction of a life, a lesson we should all remember.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, January 2, 2017

All Our Wrong Todays

Title:  All Our Wrong Todays
Author:  Elan Mastai
Publication Information:  Dutton. 2017. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1101985135 / 978-1101985137

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have."

Favorite Quote:  "I remember, as a kid, when I first understood that only half of every tree is visible, that the roots in the soil are equal to the branches in the sky, that a whole other half is underground. It took me a lot longer, well into adulthood, to realize people are like that too."

What if you lived in a "perfect" world? Clean energy. No crime. No poverty. No hunger. No conflict. Your every need and desire anticipated. What if you were still unhappy? That is Tom Barren. His world in 2016 is near perfect thanks to the the 1965 invention of the Goettreider engine, a machine that provides an endless supply of clean energy.

Even in this supposedly perfect world, Tom Barren's problem is a classic one. He feels like a failure, particularly in comparison to and in the eyes of his genius father. His father is working on making commercial time travel possible. Tom is meandering from thing to thing with little purpose. Perhaps, perfection is not so perfect. After all, how perfect could a world be where "actual books, the paper-and-ink kind that nobody made, let alone wrote anymore"?

As you may suspect, things happen. Cataclysmic things happen, and they turn Tom's life into something he never expects. It's difficult to say without spoilers, but let's just say that Tom's life becomes a journey through time, through the world, and inwards into himself.

This book is the main character - Tom Barren. All the other characters are less developed and in a supporting role. Tom's voice though shines bright and clear throughout the book. Therein lies the appeal of the book. Tom's choices are not always likable. At many times, I want to tell him to grow up, to stop whining, and to consider the people around him. So many of his issues seem to be of his own creation. Yet, through it all, I find myself liking him, cheering for everything to work out for him, and wanting to know where his story goes.

His story certainly goes in a lot of different directions. Be warned, the book starts of really slow to the point that I begin to question if it is going anywhere at all. It's like the first slow hill of a roller coaster in the dark. You know the drop should be coming, but you can't see the hill or what lies beyond. However, then the first crest is reached, and the book is off on a wild ride. As soon as I think I know where the story is going, it takes a complete turn in a different direction. This happens over and over all the way up to the end.

On the surface, this book is a roller coaster ride of science fantasy. Be warned, there are some graphic descriptions and some lewd humor. That's not really my thing. Fortunately, in this book, the story is more predominant, and I look past the pieces that are not for me. Just suspend disbelief and go along for the fun ride.

Below the surface of this book lies another level. This book is about defining yourself and living with all the different needs and wants that battle within one person. "Your belief system is how you actually spend your time every day ... If you believe in a bunch of stuff but never act on those beliefs, they don't matter." It is about learning to believe in yourself and learning to set your own priorities. "This is how you discover who someone is. Not the success. Not the result. The struggle." It is about relationships and friendships - parent and child, old friends, new friends, and lovers. "That's what love can do for you, if you let it - build a person out of all your broken pieces." It is about learning to deal with changes that life throws at you. "Is it possible to think outside the box of your ideology? Or is ideology the box and you just have to work at opening it?" That's the philosophy in the book if you should choose to pursue it.

Either way, this debut is an entertaining page-turner that leaves me with a lot to think about.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.