29 May 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 5 Short Book Reviews

5 short book reviewsHappy Memorial Day to everyone in the United States. Hope you've got something fun planned for today--either quiet time or cooking out with friends and family. It's raining here, but I'm confident it will clear up enough to enjoy at least some outdoor time this afternoon and evening.

I'm spending the day getting ready for my quick trip to BookExpo (aka BEA). Besides getting most of my packing done, I want to do a few house chores, organize my work so I'm not not lost when I get back from my trip, and maybe cook ahead to make it easier on Mr. BFR when I'm gone. We'll see how much time I have for the extras.

This week on the blog: I think I'm going to go very light this week on Beth Fish Reads. Besides today's post, I'll have a Wednesday photograph and a Saturday Weekend Cooking post. I don't think I'll have time to write more before I leave.

What I read last week: I had a great reading week, making up for last week's poor showing. I received several of these books and audiobooks from the publishers for review.

Review of Eight Flavors by Sarah LohmanEight Flavors by Sarah Lohman (Tantor Audio; 8 h, 33 min): This is a well-researched look at the history of how eight foods became staples in mainstream American households (black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha). Lohman talks about the intertwining of economics, exploration, politics, and immigration with our diets and introduces us to some of the people who were instrumental in bringing these flavors to the American public. The book was interesting, but if you're well read in food history you won't find much new or surprising. In addition, Lohman goes off on some tangents that seem to be more distracting than rounding out the text. Lohman herself reads the unabridged audiobook; her odd pauses and halting delivery likely took away from my overall enjoyment. (More on the audiobook at AudioFile magazine.) Regardless, this is a good place to start if you're new to the field of food history.

Review of The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk ArudpragasamThe Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam (Flatiron Books; 2016): I read this book for my email book club and was surprised by how big of an emotional punch this slim volume delivered. The story takes place in about 24 hours at a refuge camp in Sri Lanka during their civil war and concerns a young man who once wanted to be doctor but is now a laborer who helps at the medical clinic by carrying the injured to triage and burying the dead. All alone in the world, he is surprised when a older man approaches him, offering his daughter in marriage with the hope of protecting her and giving her some kind of future if the war allows one. The book explores how life changes both materially and psychologically when war chases you from your home, takes your loved ones, and gives you few choices. Is it possible to find a way to become emotionally vulnerable again and make a real connection with another person? This is a book you won't soon forget.

Review of The Dying Detective by Leif G. W. PerssonThe Dying Detective by Leif G. W. Persson (translated by Neil Smith; Random House Audio; 15 h, 27 min): I was curious about this Swedish crime novel about a retired captain in the national police force who is brought down by a stroke. While recovering, Lars cannot stop thinking about a cold case involving the rape and murder of a little girl that took place decades earlier, and so he enlists the help of his best friend (also retired from the detective force), his brother-in-law, and his in-home aid. Once I started listening to the audiobook, I found it difficult to put down: I liked the characters and the way the case gnawed at Lars. I also liked the descriptions of Lars's struggle with regaining his old life and his frustrations with his new physical limitations. Erik Davies narrated the audiobook, bringing the characters to life by using appropriate accents (Swedish and Russian) and distinguishing between spoken and inner dialogue. My only issues had to do with the translation, especially the rendering of idioms. The literal translation was sometimes strange and I had to mentally rework the text into common everyday English. Regardless, I recommend this standalone Scandinavian mystery.

Review of The Whole Thing Together by Ann BrasharesThe Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares (Listening Library; 7 h, 36 min): This short novel is billed as young adult but the themes and characters make this a great adult crossover book. The book mostly takes place on Long Island at the beach house owned jointly by a long-divorced couple who never see each other. They share three children (now in their twenties) and each have a seventeen-year-old from their second (and current) marriages. The two teens have shared a room at the beach house all their lives, each getting the room every other week for the entire season, but they have never met because their parents have kept them apart. Although they share the same half-sisters, they themselves have no genetic connection. This is the messy, broken, and dysfunctional foundation of the summer that everything changes for these two families. I liked the story, though I sometimes felt the parents needed a good talking to. There are family secrets and drama and a few emotionally rough moments. The main themes are self-identity and seeing yourself as separate from your parents. Brittany Pressley did a nice job with the narration of the unabridged audiobook. Although not a particularly outstanding performance, she was expressive, kept the characters separate, and had a good sense of pacing. I would give both the book and audiobook an above average rating; not the best book ever but worth the read or listen.

Review of Eggshells by Caitriona LallEggshells by Caitriona Lally (Melville House, 2017): I had high hopes for this story of an isolated young woman who inherits her great-aunt's house in Dublin. She takes rambling walks around the city, believes in the Irish folk tales, and still imagines that she was left by fairies for her parents to find. Although she hides from her neighbors, she is determined to make a friend, as long as that person is named Penelope. I read about 40 pages of this novel and just couldn't find a way to connect to Vivian. I think her quirkiness was just too quirky for me. I have put the novel aside and doubt I'm going to pick it up again. You may have better luck, seeing as Kirkus, the New York Times and other print sources seemed to have loved the novel, which was also a finalist for Irish Book of the Year.

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (Touchstone; 2017): I've just stared a combo read and listen (audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell) of this time travel novel. I like it so far but hope it doesn't end up being an Outlander wannabe.


Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 5/29/17, 7:53 AM  

I've heard Story of a Brief Marriage is an emotional gut-punch! Glad you enjoyed it.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 5/29/17, 7:54 AM  

I'm sorry to hear that Eight Flavors was disappointing. I've been looking forward to that one.


Cafinated-Reads Molly 5/29/17, 8:20 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cafinated-Reads Molly 5/29/17, 8:21 AM  

I am jealous! I have always wanted to go to BEA! I'm doing Armchair BEA instwad

Cafinated-Reads Molly 5/29/17, 8:22 AM  

Whoops. Accidently hit publish. Stupid fingers. That should read instead. I hope you have a safe trip!

Susie | Novel Visits 5/29/17, 8:52 AM  

Have a great time at BEA. Bring back lots of news for those of us who can't go.

The Story of A Brief Marriage has been on my TBR for a long time now. Maybe I'll get to it this summer.

Girl Who Reads 5/29/17, 9:14 AM  

Have fun at BEA. I'm doing the armchair version. I want to the read The WHole Thing Together. See what I've read, am reading and will read

bermudaonion 5/29/17, 9:27 AM  

You had a great week! My mom says she didn't know what garlic was until she was an adult so Eight Flavors sounds fascinating. I'm sure I'll see you at BEA!

Laurel-Rain Snow 5/29/17, 10:00 AM  

Sounds like a busy week for you! Enjoy your trip and come back to tell us about it.

The Whole Thing Together looks like a book I might enjoy. Thanks for sharing...and for visiting my blog.

Kathy Martin 5/29/17, 11:02 AM  

Nice bunch of books. I hope you enjoy BEA. I've always been curious about it but the timing is wrong for a school teacher who can't take days off at that time of the year. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

JoAnn 5/29/17, 1:07 PM  

Have fun at BEA... can't wait to hear about all the new books!

Yvonne 5/29/17, 4:25 PM  

I hope your weather cleared. It's raining here too so it's a soggy Memorial Day. Hope you have a great time at BEA!

Sue Jackson 5/29/17, 4:43 PM  

Sounds like quite an eclectic group of books! I didn't realize Ann Brashares had a new novel out.

Hope you enjoy BEA!


2017 Big Book Summer Challenge

pussreboots 5/29/17, 5:55 PM  

Eight Flavors sounds fascinating. Enjoy your time at BEA. I'm getting ready for Armchair BEA. Come see what I'm reading.

Greg 5/29/17, 7:57 PM  

Happy Memorial Day! And have a great time at bookExpo. I think the Ann Brashares book looks really interesting, I wanted to read her The Here and Now and never did get to it. And The Eight Flavors might appeal to me too, sorry to hear it was a bit disappointing!

rhapsodyinbooks 5/30/17, 6:00 AM  

I just ordered Eight Flavors because I doubt I know as much as you about food history so maybe I won't be disappointed! Have fun at BEA!!!

Nise' 5/31/17, 7:56 PM  

Have a great trip. Cassandra Campbell is one of my favorite narrators.

Tina 6/2/17, 6:37 AM  

Eight Flavors is on my list at the library, glad I can preview it free before plopping down cash in case I'm not a fan. I didn't like The While Thing Togther and just reviewed that on my book blog. Ah....so excited and jealous you will be at BEA, I want to go one day. I saw Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is going and mentioned seeing you. I am a fan of hers as well as yours, love the blogs.

nishitak 6/2/17, 11:01 PM  

The Story of a Brief Marriage sounds fascinating and will now go on my TBR. Have a great time at BEA!

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