Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Julie and Julia:365 days,524 recipes,1 tiny apartment kitchen by Julie Powell

Again, another work where the title pretty much explains the book's purpose. In 2003, Julie Powell was on the brink of turning 30 and about to enter a midlife crisis when she decided to cook all of the recipes from Julia Child's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the span of one year. During that time, she blogged about each recipe and quickly gained notoriety with a large following on the 'Net. What's nice about this book is that Powell doesn't spend a lot of time rehashing her old blog entries; rather, she gives a behind-the-scene look about what went on during her year in the kitchen (i.e. her family struggling to accept that what she was doing was actually worthwhile, problems in her marriage, her growing waistline, etc) . Powell is a very funny writer, so readers can expect some laughs along with a great deal of "food talk" Most of the recipes sounded fabulous, with some exceptions. Calves brains, anyone?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Let me start off by saying that it takes a lot for me to cry (or laugh) over a book. As in, it rarely happens and I don't even know if I can remember the last book that elicited that emotion. However last night when I finished Die, I was actually sobbing like a fool (seriously, it was kind of embarassing). The novel follows Tessa, a 15 year old girl with a terminal illness as she attempts to get the most out of life before the cancer gets her. She constructs a list of 10 things she must get done and the beauty of this is that they're things that anyone would want to do - fall in love, be famous, have sex, etc. What makes this novel so heartbreaking is not Tessa's deterioration, but seeing how her illness has affected her family and friends. Even though you know how the book ends, it's still a shock.

Downham's novel is targeted and marketed to the Young Adult demographic, but honestly, I think anyone would enjoy it. Just be prepared - Terms of Endearment and Beaches have nothing on this book.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Though I'm not one for historical fiction, after catching the steamy preview for the movie adaptation, I decided to give Boleyn Girl a shot (see for yourself at Sony's website). Gregory's novel was originally published back in 2001 and has since risen to be a ubiquitous "book club" pick throughout the country. It's definitely easy to see why, considering that the book is chockfull of meaty discussion material ranging from sex, feminist issues, political themes of the time, familial relationships and the age old search for love (and baby making).

Readers follow the plight of Mary Carey (the oft-forgotten sister of Anne Boleyn and the title's figure head) as she is used as a romantic pawn by her family in their greedy quest for riches and recognition from King Henry VIII. Eventually the tables turn and Anne becomes the proverbial apple of King Henry's eye and crown jewel of the Boleyn family. Then things start to get ugly...

Gregory's novel is a hefty one, spanning over 600 pages. It will definitely be interesting to see how the film adapts to the book's many twists and turns. Personally, I kind of loathe Natalie Portman so in a strange way, it's nice to see her play a particularly nasty character that I'll probably hate too.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Life on the refrigerator door : notes between a mother and daughter : a novel in notes by Alice Kuipers

Sometimes the simplest ideas can be so clever that it makes you go, "now why didn't I think of that???!?!" Kuiper's novel is exactly what its title suggests - literal notes that pass between a mother and daughter on their shared refrigerator. It's amazing to see how just a few scant lines here and there (one note simply reads: "Yes") can create such a compelling and surprisingly emotional narrative. It's also amazing to watch the communication between mother and daughter evolve from a simple relationship to a highly mature one.

And of course, it makes sense that Kuipers would precede her book with the famous William Carlos Williams poem "This is to Say":

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

Fans of David Sedaris and Dave Eggers will undoubtedly appreciate this memoir by Kimmel, nicknamed "Zippy" because of her boundless energy as a child. Growing up in Mooreland, Indiana (population: 300), Kimmel regales readers with stories of her youth, family and eccentric neighbors with a quirkyhumor and surprising sense of sarcasm. The fight between her father, their next door neighbor, and a few dozen hounds is definitely entertaining.
Overall, Kimmel's vignettes come together for a charming narrative and the book concludes on an especially nice note.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

I'm a pretty fast reader for the most part, but even I was surprised that I was able to get through Dictionary in 2 days. Honestly though, it was because it was that good. The book follows Z, a young Chinese woman who is granted the opportunity to learn English in the UK. Along the way, she meets a mysterious man and they become lovers. As can be expected, the relationship soon becomes turbulent with clashes over culture, the language barrier, and standard "love" issues. The interesting thing about this book is that Z's narrative starts off with horrible grammar, spelling and punctuation, but improves as she becomes acclimated to Western life.

Overall, a funny yet bittersweet read.