Category: "Books: Read"

Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life - Kim Severson

April 7th, 2011

Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life by Kim SeversonSomewhere between the lessons her mother taught her and the ones she is now teaching her own daughter. Kim Severson stumbled. She lost sight of what mattered, of how she wanted to live her life. It took a series of encounters with famous cooks to show her the life lessons she forgot and some she had never learned in the first place. Some were as small as a spoonful, and others were so big they saved her life. But always, the best lessons were delivered in the kitchen.

Marion Cunningham taught her that, in food and in life, it is fine to start over. Alice Waters taught her to preserve and be patient. Ruth Reichl taught her to compete only with herself. Marcella Hazan taught her to accept what comes her way. Together with Rachael Ray, Edna Lewis, Leah Chase, and Kim's mother, Anne Zappa Severson, these women offered her crucial wisdom just when she needed it most.

Kim Severson bares her soul in this memoir that chronicles how she found comfort and acceptance through and around food (with a little help from sobriety). She details many problems she had making friends, meeting her parents' approval and finding love. And the book was good, but it would not have taken much to make it better.

I am going to be a little tough on this book. The subtitle of "How Eight Cooks Saved My Life" sounds good and certainly looks good on paper, but the chronology of the book suggests otherwise. While the author candidly describes her problems, *my* interpretation was that her life was "saved" before she even met the large majority of these eight cooks. Let's call this book Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Changed My Life. It is certainly less dramatic, but I would still read that book.

The constant drive to compare her own life to Ruth Reichl was a distraction. I appreciate that Ms. Severson was up front and honest and admits that she has somewhat of a complex about Reichl. Reichl was a prominent (maybe the single most prominent) food critic. Severson becomes a food critic. Reichl wrote a memoir (followed by others) about how she developed into a foodie in Tender at the Bone. Severson writes this memoir. I am oversimplifying. If you read the book you will see it. It boils down to a seemingly compulsive need to best Reichl at a game where the cards are stacked in Reichl's favor. If Ruth Reichl jumped off a bridge, someone keep an eye on Kim Severson.

This book could stand apart from Ruth Reichl and I almost feel that the author does not truly understand that. The eight stories she shares in this memoir are inspiring for anyone who aspires to better appreciate food. To foodies, and more specifically food bloggers, Kim Severson's experiences are epic and the book offers some valuable insight into food and how to write about it.

This book just needs to be given to a good friend who could go through it and clean it up a little before it went to print. Overall I am more positive than negative on this book. I think food memoirs are interesting and Spoon Fed offers perspective that I had not read before.


Poke the Box - Seth Godin

March 21st, 2011

Poke the Box by Seth GodinWe send our kids to school and obsess about their test scores, their behavior and their ability to fit in.

We post a help wanted ad and look for experience, famous colleges and a history of avoiding failure.

We invest in companies based on how they did last quarter, not on what they're going to do tomorrow.

So why are we surprised when it all falls apart?

Our economy is not static, but we act as if it is. Your position in the world is defined by what you instigate, how you provoke, and what you learn from the events you cause. In a world filled with change, that's what matters -- your ability to create and learn from change.

Poke the Box is a manifesto about producing something that's scarce, and thus valuable. It demands that you stop waiting for a road map and start drawing one instead. You know how to do this, you've done it before, but along the way, someone talked you out of it.

We need your insight and your dremas and your contributions. Hurry.

Some may call it a "business book," while others may say it is simply "self help." Then again, a person or three might just call it a pamphlet, since it is so short. Neither labels nor length matter to my feeling about the book, ultimately. I have read a few other written pieces that try to tackle this topic and I think they are beginning to help me with the understanding that, if nothing else, I am not alone. It seems silly to think that I feel better by thinking I am less unique, but I do. Works like this one are made possible by the countless number of people who dream. I am a dreamer. I have ideas. I believe that the world is my oyster and I will take it BY STORM...someday, someway.

My one recommendation is that while you read this book: take notes. Not on the book. It is not that type of book. But it is surprisingly inspiring. Take notes on where your mind goes while you read. You will frame your dreams in his context. You may have new perspective. Take notes. Oh, and don't read this book before bed; you won't sleep while your brain toils away.

This book sets itself apart by taking a a tough love approach. Instead of saying, "keep right on dreaming," Mr. Godin asks, "what good are those dreams without action?" Like I mentioned above, I feel more human because of this book. I feel like failure is just something that happens between successes. Is Seth Godin the Pied Piper for however many of us have been afraid to fail?

Will I answer his call?

Will you?


Something Missing - Matthew Dicks

March 10th, 2011

Something Missing by Matthew DicksA career criminal with OCD tendencies and a savant-like genius for bringing order to his crime scenes, Martin considers himself one of the best in the biz. After all, he’s been able to steal from the same people for years on end—virtually undetected. Of course, this could also be attributed to his unique business model—he takes only items that will go unnoticed by the homeowner. After all, who in their right mind would miss a roll of toilet paper here, a half-used bottle of maple syrup there, or even a rarely used piece of china buried deep within a dusty cabinet?

Even though he's never met these homeowners, he's spent hours in their houses, looking through their photo albums and reading their journals. In essence, Martin has developed a friendship of sorts with them and as such, he decides to interfere more in their lives—playing the part of a rather odd guardian angel—even though it means breaking many of his twitchy neurotic rules.

Along the way Martin not only improves the lives of others, but he also discovers love and finds that his own life is much better lived on the edge (at least some of the time) in this hilarious, suspenseful and often profound novel about a man used to planning every second of his life, suddenly forced to confront chaos and spontaneity.

Something Missing introduces Martin, a man who steals for a living. The genius in Martin's business model is that he steals only items that will not be missed. Guided by his OCD tendencies he goes to great lengths to isolate items that have been replaced and/or forgotten. This discipline allows him to visit the same homes frequently. His career takes a turn when an arguable coincidence strikes him as epiphany -- the information that Martin gathers on his "clients" can be used not only for his own personal profit, but also for the greater good in the lives of others. Ironically, Martin begins to consider himself a guardian angel.

Sometimes I become frustrated when a talented author relies only on their story-telling ability. Contrarily, I greatly appreciate when it is apparent that a talented author has done thorough research for a book, gone the extra mile. And thus I greatly appreciate what Matthew Dicks has done for Something Missing. I think he is a talented writer, but more than that I am impressed with the detail into which he goes to explain Martin's compartmentalized methodologies.

At times the detail does become a small burden, as the story slowed to allow for further elaboration as to how well Martin premeditated each situation, but this happened infrequently. The good outweighs what little bad there was.

As the book winds down, a few things may seem too far-fetched, but if you can forgive an author for that you will be rewarded. As the book finally wrapped up I began to realize how much I was enjoying it.

If you have any OCD tendencies of your own, you may delight in seeing how Martin thinks things through like you do. There were certainly a few things that I do that were highlighted in this book. Rather than be self-conscious about it, I'm just embracing my habits.

I am really glad I read this book.


Buffalo Lockjaw - Greg Ames

February 22nd, 2011

James arrives at The Elms just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with his mother.  He's left Brooklyn and his dull job writing greeting card copy to return to his hometown of Buffalo, New York, and rescue his parents.  In the back seat of his rental car: a suitcase and a copy of Assisted Suicide for Dummies.

Ellen, James's mother, is slowly dying of Alzheimer's.  His father stoically visits her every day at the nursing home, but has fallen into his own version of despair.  Before the disease took hold of her, she had confided in James, told him she was contemplating suicide, and as any 24-year-old son would, he had talked her out of it.  Now, four years later, he wants to right that wrong.

But before he does there are hours to be spent with his family and details to be worked out on his own.  He reconnects with his high school buddies, all of whom are working iffy jobs, if at all, and partying heavily in local dives.  He reconnects with Buffalo, with its louche bar scene, citizens who walk around naked in snowstorms, and hip young populace who can't muster the energy to leave town.  And, somehow, he finds the wherewithal to actually do something.

Darkly comic, with an ingeniously subversive humor, Buffalo Lockjaw is a rare find: a debut novel that captures the zeitgeist while also capturing readers' hearts.

This book covers a lot of big topics to which many people may relate, not the least of which are family, sickness and death.  I found this book, unlike many that I have come across, to be less about growing up and more about having grown.  I generally gravitate towards a....ah heck, I'm a sucker for a good maturation story.  But this book was more about a young man who has grown up and left his old life behind and he is different now - for better or for worse. Life happens and sometimes life's path takes turns.  His hometown, his life-long friends, his family - James's relationships are not the same as they once were.  He has grown up and arguably apart.  But there are still some very strong ties, and those ties help him deal with his sick mother, and those ties allow him to help others as well.

I really liked how Greg Ames wrote the characters in this book, and that he wrote the City of Buffalo as a character in this book, not merely the setting. It is an arguably bizarre plot, but somehow that doesn't matter. You get sucked in and you go along for the ride because you need to know how it will all play out.

I have waited a substantial amount of time after reading this book before typing my review. I had a very positive emotional response to the book. In fact, I have not recommended a book as often as this one since I read it. And I understand that there is always bias in a review, at least to a certain extent, but I wanted to try to separate myself from that emotional response and write something more cut and dry about what I liked about this book. Hopefully I was able to do that and if you give it a try, I hope you like this book as much as I did.


Royal Assassin - Robin Hobb

July 2nd, 2009

Royal Assassin - Robin HobbFitz has survived his first hazardous mission as king's assassin, but is left little more than a cripple. Battered and bitter, he vows to abandon his oath to King Shrewd, remaining in the distant mountains. But love and events of terrible urgency draw him back to the court at Buckkeep, and into the deadly intrigues of the royal family.

Renewing their vicious attacks on the coast, the Red-Ship Raiders leave burned-out villages and demented victims in their wake. The kingdom is also under assault from within, as treachery threatens the throne of the ailing king. in this time of great danger, the fate of the kingdom may rest in Fitz's hands -- and his role in its salvation may require the ultimate sacrifice....

Fitz is in a weakened condition after someone tried to kill him and now he must make choose between going back to Buckkeep to live under the same roof as the man who wants him dead or striking out on his own and abandoning the oath he made to his king. When duty prevails, arguably over good sense, Fitz makes the treacherous journey home. Rest was in short supply then as he needed to be ready for any possible danger that may befall him back in the castle while he grew into a man and more of a weapon for his king.

Royal Assassin is book 2 of Robin Hobb's The Farseer trilogy. What was maybe only hinted to be a complex story in the first book blossomed in the second. The first book only scratches the surface. The second book plunges readers into the story head first. Fitz continues his training to kill from the shadows as a secret assassin for the king, he learns to fight in hand-to-hand combat when Prince Verity sees what he can do on the battlefield, he sails with his people to confront the Red Ship Raiders learning to row a ship and fight onboard, he receives permission to court a young woman, he makes new friends, and he maybe loses another. Love, hate, betrayal, loyalty, pain.

This book was wonderfully written and had elements of every genre I can name. The characters’ emotions ran wild across the pages and I was the string wrapped around the author’s finger, unable to put the book down until I knew what happened next. Can you recall the book that cemented the fact that you would read every book that Robin Hobb wrote? I can – Royal Assassin.

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The Last Coyote - Michael Connelly

March 17th, 2009

The Last Coyote - Michael ConnellyHarry Bosch's life is on the edge. His earthquake-damaged home has been condemned. His girlfriend has left him. He's drinking too much. And after attacking his commanding officer, he's even had to turn in his L.A.P.D. detective's badge. Now, suspended indefinitely pending a psychiatric evaluation, he's spending his time investigating an unsolved crime from 1961: the brutal slaying of a prostitute who happened to be his own mother.

Even after three decades, Harry's questions generate heat among L.A.'s top politicos. And as the truth begins to emerge, it becomes more and more apparent that someone wants to keep it buried. Someone very powerful....very cunning...and very deadly.

Edgar-Award-winning author Michael Connelly has created a dark, fast-paced suspense thriller that cuts to the core of Harry Bosch's character. Once you start it, there's no turning back.

What is a hot-headed detective supposed to do while on involuntary leave for putting his boss's head through a window? A series of frustrations get the better of Harry Bosch, starting when he had to testify in court about his mother, the prostitute. And now he has plenty of time to think about what he has done. Instead he considers his leave a blessing-in-disguise; what better time than this to investigate his mother's murder -- a case that is decades old.

In theory this book was my worst nightmare. To me an unbridled Harry Bosch, gone rogue, cowboying across L.A. against great forces is a recipe for boredom. It is like when you used to play DOOM after you learned the cheat code for "God mode." When the characters act without concern for even fictional danger, walking into situations as if bulletproof, I don't want to read it. And that is how this book the beginning. Thankfully Mr. Connelly pulled up on the reigns and brought Harry back down to Earth.

The story developed pretty well as it took us from California to Florida and back. A few things were set in motion that I will be curious to follow up on in the next book. One might argue that the plot twist was a little predictible, but if you really want to enjoy a book you probably aren't trying to predict the ending anyway.

Another solid effort and another solid addition to the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly. It wasn't as good as the last, but it was still a good book.

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The Concrete Blonde - Michael Connelly

March 5th, 2009

The Concrete Blonde by Michael ConnellyThey call him the Dollmaker, a serial killer who stalks Los Angeles and leaves a grisly calling card on the faces of his female victims. When a suspect is shot by Detective Harry Bosch, everyone believes the city's nightmare is over. But then the dead man's widow sues Harry and the LAPD for killing the wrong man -- an accusation that rings terrifyingly true when a new corpse is found with the Dollmaker's macabre signature. Now, for the second time, Harry must hunt down a ruthless death-dealer before he strikes again. Careening through a blood-tracked quest, Harry will go from the hard edges of the L.A. night to the last place he ever wanted to go -- the darkness of his own heart...

A civil lawsuit is brought against Detective Harry Bosch for the wrongful death of a man that Harry believed to be a serious criminal. Harry had no doubts that the man was the rapist and murderer he was investigating -- until a new body is found and it matches the killings Harry thought he had stopped. Is there a copycat killer who somehow knows intimate details of the prior murders, or did Harry kill the wrong man?

This is the third Harry Bosch book and it is easily the best so far. I loved the duality of the investigation and the trial. I will admit my bias due to my interest and training in law, but I found it very interesting how Connelly developed the court case. Another factor that may have contributed to my enjoyment was that when Harry was in court he was vulnerable. And a vulnerable Harry Bosch is a better read than a Harry Bosch who is always in charge -- he often gets too over-the-top cowboy in those situations and it becomes unrealistic (see my review of Harry Bosch #2 - The Black Ice).

One thing that I like about Michael Connelly is how well he writes frustration. I find that many other authors who write serial detectives will always have them unsure of a situation to keep the story believable, but with those other authors you never really get a sense that the bad guy might get away. Granted, there are times when Connelly gets away from this, but I have already detailed that for you.

I'm through three Harry Bosch books now and they seem to be written more quickly than I read them (I don't like to read a series back-to-back), but I am still interested enough to try to catch up. And if the others are as good as this one, that catching up will be well worth my time.

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Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb

December 17th, 2008

Assassin's Apprentice - Robin HobbYoung Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father's gruff stableman. He is treated as an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz's blood runs the magic Skill -- and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family.

As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.

A young boy is abandoned and left in the charge of the prince's men; the boy, they've said, is the prince's bastard. It is more than irony that descends upon the royal family when news that Prince Chivalry, at least in one act, has not lived up to his name. Upon some assemblance of acceptance, the young boy begins his education -- bastard or not, the son of a prince should be educated in books and battle. He also secretly begins his other training -- as an assassin for the king.

While Robin Hobb's work was basically recommended to me as a whole, this particular series, The Farseer, was said to be her best. I love the idea of a boy from a very young age being trained to do the king's most secret bidding. And just like that I am engrossed in these books.

I am pleased with the recommendation so far. Much of the action in the first book happens elsewhere and is then retold, rather than our young protagonist being there to experience everything first-hand. And there was a lot of setup in the first book, but that is fine because there was a lot to set up. By the end of the book, things are really set in motion and there is a great momentum that will carry me forward. I just hope that the momentum continues when I delve into book 2.

After one book I love that this is a three-book series. I am currently in the middle of a few series that seem neverending. My opinion may change as I get deeper into the trilogy, but for now I am excited for my next dose of Robin Hobb.

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This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald

September 29th, 2008

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott FitzgeraldThis Side of Paradise established F. Scott Fitzgerald as the prophet and golden boy of the newly dawned Jazz Age. Published in 1920 when Fitzgerald was just twenty-three, it is the story of Amory Blaine, a privileged, aimless, and self-absorbed Princeton student whose journey from prep school to college to the First World War is a prescient account of what Gertrude Stein would later call the Lost Generation. Fitzgerald memorably describes Amory and his contemporaries as "a new generation...grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken." An exuberant pastriche of literary styles, this dazzling, virtuosic chronicle of youth remains recognizably relevant today.

This story is about Amory Blaine, a young man whose story we follow from his early childhood of great privilege through his college graduation to see him develop a great skepticism. It may have been his life's great economic downturn, maybe it was his poor luck at love, or maybe a mix of these and more led Amory to his new perspective. As readers we feel sorry for what has been forced to endure, but the silver lining comes as Amory and his mates discuss love, politics and growing up. The opinions they share are substantial, eye-opening, and they still ring true generations later.

This book was recommended to me a few years back by a friend. I asked her what her favorite book was and this was her response. It obviously took me awhile to get around to reading it, but I am glad I did. Better late than never, as they say.

I feel the book is best broken up into three sections: pre-college, college and post-college. And the first and third sections were my favorites. The pre-college section covers his childhood as Fitzgerald writes him as an Elizabethan "mack daddy." I laughed continuously as the young man with the silver tongue would, always minding his manners, attempt to seduce any woman he encountered.

The college section, which is the majority of the book, we begin to see the transformation of Amory Blaine. Through a group of friends that I found similar to the Dead Poets Society from the movie of the same name, Amory begins to finally see pain, suffering and injustice. He is handed a social conscience and wears it from then on as a badge of courage. This section of the book grew a little monotonous for me and was where I had to strengthen my resolve to get through it.

The post-college section, though somewhat pessimistic, was my favorite part of the book. In this final few chapters to the book I believe I found why my friend had recommended it. While I agreed with some of Amory's arguments at the end of the book and disagreed with others, I found them all to have merit. I must admit that I am even depressed that many of Amory's complaints about the state of society still plague society today. I applaud the author for writing a book that is still relevant so many years later.

This Side of Paradise is a short book where you may breeze through the beginning, lose interest in the middle, and become somewhat empassioned towards the end. I did not love this book, but I enjoyed parts of it a good deal. I'm glad to have now read some Fitzgerald other than just The Great Gatsby.

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The World According to Garp - John Irving

September 3rd, 2008

The World According to Garp by John IrvingThis is the life and times of T.S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields -- a feminist leader ahead of her times. This is the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes -- even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with "lunacy and sorrow"; yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust. In more than thirty languages, in more than forty countries -- with more than ten million copies in print -- this novel provides almost cheerful, even hilarious evidence of its famous last line: "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."

T.S. Garp is the only child of the famous, yet constantly-misunderstood, Jenny Fields. Under her care he had a most peculiar upbringing and maybe...just maybe, that can help explain who he has become. For one thing, he has become a writer, like his mother, but he is different. His mother's memoirs, her only published work, are read by many as the original feminist manifesto. Garp writes fiction. The World According to Garp is exactly that: a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a man who was raised by the woman credited as the founder of the feminist movement, and is now married and raising children of his own.

I appreciate recommendations as much as, if not a little more than, the next guy. And this one came with a very passionate delivery. Anyone who can speak with that much resolve about a book has my attention. She did not tell me what it is about, just as I was unable to really tell anyone what it was about while I was reading it. She only told me that it was the best book she had ever read, and she seemed a credible source.

While it wasn't, necessarily, the best book I have ever read, I thoroughly enjoyed The World According to Garp. It took me awhile to get through it; each word seemed so carefully chosen that it deserved as much attention as the rest. From cover to cover I was captivated by the writing. A few sections of the book made me a little uncomfortable, but for the most part Garp was an interesting protagonist who was able to hold my attention.

The gentleman who sat next to me on an airplane as I read this book shared that he had enjoyed it when he read it. I told him my thoughts on the slow pace of the book and he said Irving writes each of his books that way, calling his writing very "Southern." I'm not sure if he was saying that so I wouldn't feel isolated in my opinion or as a caution should I ever choose to read Irving again. If he meant it as the latter I do not plan to heed his warning; I liked The World According to Garp and I am curious to read more from John Irving.

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