27 November 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Hits, 1 Miss

4 Short Book ReviewsHello Monday and back to real life for those of us in the USA who are coming off an extra-long weekend. I really planned to read, read, read, but ended up with a bad cold. I was in that frustrating state of being too sick to read but not sick enough to sleep. Short stories and audiobooks came to my rescue.

Besides listening to books, cooking, and resting, I spent a whole day trying to get the book stacks out of the living room. It may not bother us much in everyday life, but I like a cleaner space for holiday entertaining.

I ended up with several bags of books for charity and a new supply of books slated for my neighborhood book bin. Best of all, I rediscovered some books I really want to read.

This coming week is going to be all about gift-giving and holiday reading, so look for lists on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

What I Read Last Week

Review: Skating on the Vertical by Jan English LearySkating on the Vertical by Jan English Leary (Fomite, Nov. 1). The stories in this collection focus mostly on women who are at turning points in their life: a change in circumstance, a move to a new country, a death. The stories had a big emotional impact, even when the protagonist (as in “Skin Art,” about a former cutter) and I shared little. The stories aren’t easy, but they each embraced me fully. I especially liked the story "Mother's Helper," about a teenage babysitter helping out after the death of a client's infant daughter. The title story was about a young boy struggling with self-identity when his family life is upended. I didn’t read this collection straight through, instead I read only one or two pieces a day, giving myself time to absorb the words and think about each main character. (review copy provided by the publicist)

Review: Body Music by Julie MarohBody Music by Julie Maroh (Arsenal Pulp Press, Nov. 14). Love comes in many forms and has many stages. The graphic short stories in this collection look at all kinds of relationships: missed love, broken love, love on fire, love on a break, love to last. The characters represent a range of sexual and gender identities across the heterosexual and LGBTQ spectrum, and their experiences and relationships are utterly relatable for everyone. Maroh's use of a muted gray–pink palette lets the expressions and emotions of her characters take center stage. Read in order, the collection takes us on a journey from first meetings to "Togetherness with a Captial T." This is a must-read book. The stories are all set in modern-day Montreal and were originally written in French. (review copy provided by the publicist)

Review: Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca MaraisHum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais (Putnam, July 11). I really wanted to love this book set in Johannesburg in the aftermath of the 1976 Soweto Uprising. The themes of acceptance and equality are important, but much in this book just didn’t sit right with me. The story is told from two points of view: 9-year-old white Robin, whose parents were killed in the riots, and middle-aged Beauty, a traditional Xhosa who travels to the city to search for her daughter who went missing during the uprising. I found Robin’s observations to be too precocious, and although I understood that her story was told in retrospect, the girl’s voice still didn’t ring true. In addition, it seemed that each character was created to represent a specific issue in the fight for equality (LGBTQ, Jewish, black angel, single woman, white angel); the novel would have been stronger if it had stuck primarily with Apartheid. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 14 hr, 25 min), which was read by Katharine McEwan and Bahni Turpin. Each narrator read with good expression, but each performance had issues (for example, McEwan’s pronunciation of common Yiddish and Hebrew words). My full audiobook review will be available via AudioFile magazine.

Review: Fasting and Feasting by Adam FedermanFasting and Feasting by Adam Federman (Chelsea Green, Sept. 8): I loved this well-researched biography of food writer Patience Gray. If you don’t recognize Gray’s name, you may have heard of one of her two most well known cookbooks: Plats du Jour or Honey from a Weed. Barring that, you know her through her influence on the slow food movement and the farm to table movement. She led an unconventional life at a time when it was difficult for women to break the bonds of social expectations, especially in England. From the time she graduated college in the late 1930s until her death early in this century, she wrote, created, loved, and lived in the way that suited her best. Even if you have little interest in food writers, you will be fascinated by Gray’s fierce independent streak and her insistence on sticking to her principles; for example, she and her partner, the sculptor Norman Mommens, moved to a remote area of southern Italy in the 1960s and lived without electricity or running water and grew the bulk of their own food well into their old age. Her Honey from a Weed is one of the best cookbooks ever written and was one of the first to combine memoir with food writing. Gray was not without her critics, however (including Elizabeth David), and after finishing this biography you too may not agree with all she did. Still, her Honey from a Weed will always have a permanent place in my house. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (13 hr, 42 min) wonderfully read by Naomi Frederick. My full review will be available at AudioFile, but I have nothing but good to say.


Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 11/27/17, 7:30 AM  

Fasting and Feasting sounds interesting! Love a good foodie memoir.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 11/27/17, 7:39 AM  

That’s what happened to me, too! Sick again, but not sick enough to feel horrible...just enough to make me not want to do much.

I hope you are feeling better. At least you got a chance to enjoy some good books. I’m especially intrigued with the story of the slow food movement pioneer.

Susie | Novel Visits 11/27/17, 8:51 AM  

I felt exactly the way you did about Hum If You Don't Know the Words. Robin just didn't ring true and the things she did at the end were so unbelievable. I'd have liked the book more if it had just been about Beauty and her daughter. Have a great week!

Laurel-Rain Snow 11/27/17, 10:20 AM  

Enjoy your week, and I hope you are feeling better.

Thanks for sharing your books, which do look tempting...and for visiting my blog.

Daryl 11/27/17, 10:42 AM  

thanks .. i think Fasting and Feasting is perfect for a foodie friend's holiday gift and i hope you're feeling better

Unknown 11/27/17, 11:41 AM  

I hope you're feeling better, and thank goodness for audio books.

Kathy Martin 11/27/17, 11:56 AM  

I hope you are feeling better now. It is terrible to be too sick to read. Come see my week here. Have a great week!

Vicki 11/27/17, 12:57 PM  

I hope you're feeling better. This year I've listened to a lot more audiobooks than I've read. I got hooked at the beginning of the year which surprised me.

Greg 11/27/17, 1:11 PM  

Sorry to hear about the cold! Hope you're feeling better... the bug kinda hit here too over the weekend so Saturday was kind of a nothing day. Hope you had a great long weekend other than that. We need more long weekends. :)

Fasting and Feasting sounds so interesting!

Les in Oregon 11/27/17, 2:16 PM  

I've started taking Airborne every morning with hopes that I can avoid catching any of the bugs floating around here in the coming months. We've recently moved to Oregon, so I might be more susceptible to new viruses. Who knows!

Fasting and Feasting sounds like a delightful read/listen. Adding it to my Audible wishlist.

Have a good week!

JoAnn 11/27/17, 3:24 PM  

Fasting and Feasting looks good to me, I'll keep an eye out for your full review. Sorry to hear you were sick over the holiday weekend.

bermudaonion 11/27/17, 3:38 PM  

You got a lot read last week. I hope you're feeling better. I want to read Fasting and Feasting!

pussreboots 11/28/17, 12:26 AM  

I'm putting Body Music on my wishlist. Come see what I'm reading this last week of November.

Mae Travels 11/28/17, 5:22 AM  

Honey from a Weed really needs a reissue by the publisher! It's ridiculous that there's no reasonably priced edition. I'm looking forward to rereading it and reading the new bio.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Yvonne 11/28/17, 6:52 AM  

I hope you are feeling better. Interesting books on your list. Have a great week!

JEL 11/28/17, 9:26 AM  

Beth, Thank you so much for your kind review. I am most appreciative. I'm glad you liked "Mother's Helper." i have a soft spot for those characters. Feel better.

Nan 12/1/17, 9:59 AM  

I've never heard of Patience Gray so I thank you for this review. I am very interested in her.

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