Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Same Sky

The Same Sky
Amanda Eyre Ward

The Same Sky

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):In this heartrending and poignant novel, award-winning author Amanda Eyre Ward tells the story of Alice Conroe, a forty year old Texas barbecue owner who has the perfect life, except she and her husband long for a child. Unable to conceive, she’s trying desperately to adopt but her destiny is quickly altered by a young woman she’s never met.

Fearless thirteen-year-old Carla Trujilio is being raised by her grandmother in Honduras along with her four year old twin brothers. Her mother is sending money home from Texas where she’s trying to make a better life for her family, but she only has enough to bring one son to her. When Carla’s grandmother dies, Carla decides to take her fate into her own hands and embarks on a dangerous journey across the border with Junior, the twin left behind.

Two powerful journeys intersecting at a pivotal moment in time: Alice and Carla’s lives will be forever and profoundly changed. Heartbreaking, emotional, and arresting, this novel is about finding the courage to trail blaze your own path in life with faith, hope and love, no matter the struggle or the tragedy.

 
Review:  I'm tired of writing reviews, and I read this book too long ago to remember all the details, so this is going to be short.  Carla's story was terribly tragic, but it was so well done, and she was such a sympathetic character that I just loved the story.  Alice's story was a little less interesting, but she seemed like quite a nice person.  I suspected how their stories were going to connect from very early on in the book, but I wish they had connected a little earlier, or that more of the story had been told after their connection.

Rating: 5 stars

Neverhome

Neverhome
Laird Hunt

Neverhome

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): An extraordinary novel about a wife who disguises herself as a man and goes off to fight in the Civil War.

She calls herself Ash, but that's not her real name. She is a farmer's faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. Neverhome tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.

Laird Hunt's dazzling new novel throws a light on the adventurous women who chose to fight instead of stay behind. It is also a mystery story: why did Ash leave and her husband stay? Why can she not return? What will she have to go through to make it back home?

In gorgeous prose, Hunt's rebellious young heroine fights her way through history, and back home to her husband, and finally into our hearts.

 
Review:  It was interesting to read a story of a woman pretending to be a man fighting in the Civil War.  The author has a gift for writing descriptions, which I appreciated when reading about the setting, and was a little disturbed by when reading about the battles, which were terribly bloody, gory and awful.  The heroine was a brave and bold woman whom I admired through most of the novel, but the ending soured my opinion of her.

Rating: 4 stars

Bon Appetempt

Bon Appetempt
Amelia Morris

Bon Appetempt: A Coming-of-Age Story (with Recipes!)

Genre: Memoir

Summary (from Goodreads): When Amelia Morris saw a towering, beautiful chocolate cake in Bon Appétit and took the recipe home to recreate it for a Christmas day brunch she was hosting, it resulted in a terrible (but tasty) mess that had to be served in an oversize bowl. It was also a revelation. Both delicious and damaged, it seemed a physical metaphor for the many curious and unexpected situations she's found herself in throughout her life, from her brief career as a six-year-old wrestler to her Brady Bunch-style family (minus the housekeeper and the familial harmony) to her ill-fated twenty-something job at the School of Rock in Los Angeles. 

As a way to bring order to chaos and in search of a more meaningful lifestyle, she finds herself more and more at home in the kitchen, where she begins to learn that even if the results of her culinary efforts fall well short of the standard set by glossy food magazines, they can still bring satisfaction (and sustenance) to her and her family and friends. 


Full of hilarious observations about food, family, unemployment, romance, and the extremes of modern L.A., and featuring recipes as basic as Toasted Cheerios and as advanced as gâteau de crêpes, BON APPÉTEMPT is sure to resonate with anyone who has tried and failed, and been all the better for it.

 
Review:  I don't even really remember this book, so perhaps I should take a star away for not being memorable. I thought this was a fictional chick-lit type of story, and was a little surprised to find that it was actually a memoir.  Becky, I don't think you'd like this type of memoir though, because the author is basically an ordinary person who started a food blog and then decided to write a memoir.  Some of her stories were funny, some were moving, some were entertaining, but it was mostly a story about her trying to find herself amidst dead-end jobs in LA.  The summary is a little deceitful because she doesn't describe all that many failed attempts at cooking, which would maybe have been fun to read about. 

Rating: 3 stars

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kitchens of the Great Midwest
J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): “Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. A standout.” —Library Journal (starred review)
Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer’s most hotly-anticipated debut.

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

 
Review:  This book was bizarre, in that it seemed to be more of a collection of short stories that somehow related to the main character, Eva, rather than a novel.  Eva was the focus of only one chapter in the novel, and was hardly mentioned in some of the chapters.  The last chapter provided a bit of a resolution to a few of the characters, although Eva didn't even make an appearance in it.  But overall, the novel was a bit dark and the recipes/dishes were too bizarre and pretentious for me.

Rating: 2 stars

When In Doubt, Add Butter

When In Doubt, Add Butter
Beth Harbison

When in Doubt, Add Butter

Genre: Women's Fiction - Chick Lit?

Summary (from Goodreads): From the New York Times bestselling author of Shoe Addicts Anonymous and Always Something There to Remind Me comes a delicious new novel about the search for true love and all the ingredients that go into it.

As far as Gemma is concerned, her days of dating are over. In fact, it’s her job to cater other peoples’ dates, and that’s just fine by her. At thirty-seven, she has her own business, working as a private chef, and her life feels full and secure. She’s got six steady clients that keep her hands full.

There’s Lex, the fussy but fabulous department store owner who loves Oysters Rockefeller and 1950s comfort food; Willa, who needs to lose weight under doctor’s orders but still believes butter makes everything better; a colorful family who may or may not be part of the Russian mob; an überwealthy Georgetown family; the picture-perfect Van Houghtens, whose matriarch is “allergic to everything”; and finally, a man she calls “Mr. Tuesday,” whom she has never met but who she is strangely drawn to.

For Gemma, cooking is predictable. Recipes are certain. Use good ingredients, follow the directions, and you are assured success. Life, on the other hand, is full of variables. So when Gemma’s takes an unexpected turn on a road she always thought was straight and narrow, she must face her past and move on in ways she never would have imagined. Because sometimes in life, all you need is a little hope, a lot of courage, and---oh yes---butter.

 
Review:  This was an entertaining easy read about a personal chef struggling to make a living while dealing with her eccentric clients.  I saw the plot twist coming early in the book, felt that the romance was a little formulaic, and was appalled at how Gemma decided to deal with her "unexpected turn on the road."  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the well-drawn diverse characters that Gemma interacted with; the supporting characters were almost more interesting than Gemma herself.  I was surprised that there wasn't more focus on food and recipes given the story, the title, and the cover, and I think the book would have benefited from those things, or alternately, the title and cover should have been changed.  For a chick-lit book, this was quite fun and entertaining, but I was looking for a little more.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Seveneves

Seveneves
Neal Stephenson

Seveneves

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): An exciting and thought-provoking science fiction epic—a grand story of annihilation and survival spanning five thousand years.

What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.

But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain . . .

Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

 
Review:  The premise of this book was fascinating - what would happen if the people of the world found out that it was going to be destroyed in two years?  The majority of the story focuses on how engineers jury-rig the International Space Station to be able to support enough people to continue the human race.  While this section was well-written, interesting, compelling and somewhat plausible, I thought there was too much focus on technical space engineering, and not enough on the emotions of the main characters.  This section ended too abruptly for me, just at a time when I was getting really interested in how the remaining survivors would manage to survive longer.  The last quarter of the book skips ahead 5000 years, and giving a glimpse into how humanity has managed to survive, and how they attempt to return to Earth.  I would have preferred more information, more emotion from the characters, and more believability.  And again, the ending was too abrupt.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Beneath the Marble Sky

Beneath the Marble Sky
by John Shors

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: Journey to dazzling seventeenth-century Hindustan, where the reigning emperor, consumed with grief over the tragic death of his beloved wife, commissioned the building of a grand mausoleum as a testament to the marvel of their love.  This monument would soon become known as the Taj Mahal-a sight famous around the world for its beauty and the emotions it symbolizes.

Princess Jahanara, the courageous daughter of the emperor and his wife, tells their mesmerizing tale, while sharing her own parallel story of forbidden love with the celebrated architect of the Taj Mahal.  Set during a time of unimaginable wealth and power, murderous sibling rivalries, and cruel despotism, this impressive novel sweeps you away to a historical Hindustan brimming with action and intrigue in an era when, alongside the brutalities of war and oppression, architecture and the art of love and passion reached a pinnacle of perfection.
from the back of the book

Review:  The author is clearly skilled in describing settings so that the readers can picture their surroundings as they read. I but those descriptions slowed down the plot at first.  It dragged the story down and made me not want to keep reading.  I learned to just skim over the descriptions so that I could get on with the story and it was worth it.  I got swept away in the life of the princess.  This story is a heartbreaking one of love that rises above all the horrors and cruelties.  I found myself wondering how much of this story was based on fact but the author didn't include that information in any sort of afterward which was a little disappointing.

Rating: 4 stars