August Round-up

I read 5 books in August, 1 non-fiction, the rest fiction. 3 were on the Kindle, and 2 were print.

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery. Let’s just state for the record, that most “lesbian” novels are crappy. Just… not good. Avery wrote one of my favorite lesbian novels ever – The Teahouse Fire (which I wouldn’t even call a lesbian novel, so much as a novel with lesbians in it). The Last Nude is just as good, but totally different – instead of being set in Japan during the late 1800s, this one is set in Paris, during the period between World War I and World War II and features the very real painter, Tamara de Lempicka. It was an enjoyable read. I like Avery’s writing, and am interested to go back and read her first book, The Smoke Week, about New York in the week after 9/11.

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith. Alexander McCall Smith is an incredibly prolific and popular writer, and I think I’m ready to declare that the only series of his that I really like is the 44 Scotland Street series. I think I don’t really like his “mysteries”, which don’t really seem too mysterious to me, but I do enjoy his quirky characters and the sense of place in his novels.

Fire by Kristin Cashore. This is the “companion” to Graceling which I read and loved back in June. It took me longer to get into this book, but in the end, I loved it just as much. Apparently YA Fantasy novels and I get along well. In this book, Fire is a “monster” human with special powers to affect the minds of people and beasts. There is a third (and final) book in the trilogy that I just got from the library, so I’m looking forward to rounding on the trilogy.

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster. This is the sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, which is a book that I LOVED as a kid. It’s always a risk going back and rereading classics you loved or books from authors you loved, because there is the chance that there are going to be things that make you uncomfortable. In this case, the way Webster wrote about “feeble-mindedness” made me a little twitchy, but overall I enjoyed the book and was happy to discover the sequel. (If you have a Kindle or Kindle app, this book is available as a FREE Kindle book. Yay, free!)

Running with the Kenyans: Passion, Adventure, and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth by Adharanand Finn. I got this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I thought the premise was interesting, but I’m not a runner and running sounds so utterly unappealing to me. Finn made me see why someone might want to run and also gave a good glimpse into a particular segment of a particular society (runners in Kenya) that I didn’t really know anything about – and his descriptions of Kenya made the landscape sound appealing and beautiful (something I hadn’t thought about Kenya before). I picked this up during the Olympics, after watching the Men’s 800 meter race, won by Kenyan David Rudisha. This made the book that much more engaging to me, especially since Finn trains in the Kenyan town of Iten, where David Rudisha is also training. If you like “triumph of the wills” type stories, I think you will enjoy this one (even if you don’t like running!)

August Round-up

Early Reviewer: My Korean Deli

Last week, through the goodness that is LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program I got a copy of My Korean Deli: Risking in All for Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe in the mail. As soon as I picked it up, I didn’t want to put it down. The book is a memoir centering on the author’s purchase of a Brooklyn neighborhood market with his wife’s family (immigrants from Korea, which is where the subtitle comes from). As a city dweller, I love a neighborhood market and have often wondered about the family commitment necessary to keep one running, and this book confirms that it’s intense and stressful – but does so in an entertaining and thoughtful way. (The book also made me miss NY markets that really are deli – with a meat counter and some “real food”. I wish DC markets would do that as well). If you enjoy memoirs (or just love a deli, bodega, or local market), this book is for you.

Early Reviewer: My Korean Deli

Early Reviewer: Little Princes

I think this may be my favorite Early Reviewer books of the year. Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan is a book very much in the vein of Three Cups of Tea. Grennan first went to Nepal in 2004 for what was supposed to be a relatively brief (few month) stay at the start of a one year trip around the world. Volunteering at the orphanage outside Kathmandu was supposed to be his “good deed” before his big, fun, responsibility-free adventure. Grennan did leave Nepal after his stint was up, but couldn’t forget the children he had met and cared for there. He returned to Nepal again and again, eventually founding a non-profit, Next Generation Nepal, opening a second children’s home, and beginning a quest to find the families of the children within the two homes. (Most of the children were not truly orphans, having instead been trafficked by men who promised to take the children to safety in Kathmandu for large sums of money from the parents).

This was a captivating and engaging read. I finished it in two days and never wanted to put it down. It’s not being published until February, but I highly recommended it once it is available.

Early Reviewer: Little Princes

Early Reviewer: Fannie’s Last Supper

Fannie’s Last Supper by Chris Kimball was a fun book. The premise is as follows: Kimball, founder and editor of the magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, and host of the PBS show America’s Test Kitchen decides to create and served 12-course, Victorian dinner from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cookbook. As you can imagine recreating recipes from 1896 is a challenge, and sometimes fairly gross (Mock-Turtle Soup, made with a calf’s head. Ugh.). It was interesting to see how much cooking had changed in just over 100 years, and while it was really fun to read about this different food and to get a little history into how this country ate, it made me glad that I live when I do now when cooking doesn’t take all day and I never have to make gelatin from calves’ feet.

While the planning and preparation for this dinner took two years, and the books covers this, there was also a documentary made of the dinner itself, which is supposed to be showing on PBS “during the holidays”. So far I haven’t seen it listed on my local PBS station, but I am hoping to catch it when it airs. It would be interesting to actually see the food described in the book.

Early Reviewer: Fannie’s Last Supper

Early Reviewer: How to Read the Air

I felt really lucky to get this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program. How to Read the Air is the second novel by Dinaw Mengestu. His first, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, was set in Washington, DC, which is why I picked it up. It was also beautifully written, which is why I enjoyed it. This book has no DC connection. It follows the protagonist, Jonas Woldemariam, as he retraces the steps of his parent’s road trip from Peoria to Nashville, trying to make sense of his and his parents lives. It’s not really an uplifting book, Jonas’s parents had an unhappy and abusive marriage and his mother left once he was in college, Jonas’s marriage is falling apart, but as the story unfolds I found myself caring just as much as Jonas about what had happened and how the characters found themselves where they are. Mengestu is a great writer and if you haven’t read him before, I really recommend it.

Early Reviewer: How to Read the Air

Early Reviewer: Two Cents Plain

I have a backlog of Early Reviewer books from LibraryThing at my house (3 more to review after this one), which I suppose is not a bad problem to have. Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood is a graphic memoir by Martin Lemelman about (as you could probably guess from the subtitle) growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 1960s. His parents were Holocaust survivors (his mother spent World War II hiding in the woods in Poland and his father was a soldier in the Soviet army). They met in a displaced persons camp in Germany and married. They settled eventually in the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn, where they owned a candy store and raised their two boys (Martin is the younger). While Martin’s childhood wasn’t idyllic, the store does have that glow of nostalgia that makes the hardships (the angry father, the poverty, the roaches) not seem that harsh. The book is illustrated by Lemelman’s drawings and by snapshots and memorabilia (ticket stubs, letters, etc) that give the book a scrapbook-y feel. A good book.

Early Reviewer: Two Cents Plain

Early Reviewer: Girl in Translation

I got my copy of Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program, which has been treating me quite well recently. I started it on the honeymoon, but read it leisurely, finishing quite a few books in between. It was good, well written and engaging. It reads somewhat like a memoir, and tells the story of a girl who immigrants to the US from Hong Kong with her mother, and their struggles working in the clothing factory, and living in a condemned apartment, as well as Kim’s triumphs as a student. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. The blurbs on the back compare it to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which happens to be the book for book club next month, so I’m interested to compare.

Early Reviewer: Girl in Translation