Thursday, October 17, 2013

What I've been reading

Time for another Book Nook post! (So soon, you may ask? Hey, reading beats watching the dreck on television these days -- or watching the New York Giants lose another football game.)

As per usual, I have divided the books into Fiction and Nonfiction and then listed them alphabetically by author. Titles are hyperlinked to their page on, where you can read additional reviews. Titles with an asterisk (*) in front of them are "favorite reads," which I plan on including (as of now) in my 13 Favorite Books of 2013 blog post at the end of this year.


The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister. While called "a novel," The Lost Art of Mixing is more a series of interconnected short stories about love and loss, community, and the power of food to bring people together and console. Or you can think of it as a multi-course meal, where you are not sure what the next dish will be, and may not like everything you sample, but you find yourself liking things you didn't know you liked and walking away satisfied and satiated. The axis of the story is Seattle area chef and restaurant owner, Lillian. Rotating around her (so to speak) are Chloe, her young sous chef, who doesn't trust men; Finnegan, her very tall introverted dishwasher, who has a crush on Chloe but doesn't know how to woo her; Lillian's introverted accountant Al, who loves numbers and rituals; and Lillian's lover, Tom, who is still grieving over the loss of his young wife, who died of cancer. We also meet and learn about Isabelle, a kindly older woman in the early (or middle) stages of Alzheimer's who lives nearby with Chloe, and Louise, Al's bitter, suspicious wife.While the characters may not sound so appetizing, The Lost of Mixing is worth checking out. (Note: It took every ounce of willpower I had not to use the words "poignant" and "heartwarming" in that review.)

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. Magical realism at its best. Choo, a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent who studied and now lives in the United States, is a masterful storyteller, effortlessly combining Chinese folklore, traditions, superstitions, and her knowledge of 19th century Malaysia, to create something both new and familiar -- and beautiful. The ghost bride of the title is a young woman named Li Lan, a Malay of Chinese descent whose family has fallen on hard times since the death of her mother (when she was very young) and her father's addiction to opium. To cancel the Pan family's debts, the wealthy Lim family asks Li Lan's father to permit Li Lan to become the ghost bride of the Lim family's recently deceased son. Li Lan's father refuses, as does Li Lan, but Li Lan is soon haunted by her would-be ghost groom, a spoiled, despicable fellow who comes to her in her dreams. Seeking a way out of her dilemma, Li Lan embarks on a long journey, where she discovers things about this life and the next -- and about true love.

The Adventuress by N.D. Coleridge. We've all known someone like the title character, Cath Fox, an attractive glamor-and-riches-seeking young woman from a working class family who constantly reinvents herself as she climbs -- or rather sleep her way up -- the social ladder (i.e., a social climber). At least I know I have. And so no doubt has the author, Nicholas Coleridge, the president of Conde Nast International. (Cath, who marries a British footballer at one point in the book, in some ways reminded me of Victoria Beckham, who makes an appearance in the novel.) A perfect airplane or vacation read -- "delightfully wicked."

*The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank. I loved this book, and I am totally not into the whole Southern ya-ya sisterhood type of novel. But Benton Frank had me cheering for the heroine, Leslie "Les" Carter, the put-upon (by her husband and adult children, who take Les for granted), about-to-be 60 "last original wife" among her close-knit group of couple friends, and chuckling to myself repeatedly. She also made me want to move to Charleston. While guys will probably consider The Last Original Wife menopausal chick lit, that's selling the book short. To me the book is a heartwarming (dang, I used heartwarming!) yet humorous tale about self discovery, taking charge of your life, and going after what you want -- something apparently you're never too old to do. Highly recommend.

The Body in the Piazza: A Faith Fairchild Mystery by Katherine Hall Page. As I have written before, I am a sucker for books that take place in Italy -- especially if they involve food. And I do enjoy a mystery. So it was pretty much a given that I would enjoy The Body in the Piazza, the latest Faith Fairchild mystery by Katherine Hall Page, which takes place in Rome and in Tuscany, mainly at a cooking school outside of Florence. The good thing about this book is you don't have to have read any other books in the series to understand and enjoy it. It stands on its own.

The Witch of Little Italy by Suzanne Palmieri. A better title might be The Clairvoyants of Arthur Avenue, but I guess The Witch of Little Italy had a better ring to it -- even though I never thought of the title character as a witch (by either definition) and most people when they think of Little Italy think of the one in Manhattan, not the one in the Bronx (which I never heard called Little Italy). That said, I mostly enjoyed this book, the story of Eleanor Amore, an art student at Yale, who finds herself pregnant by her abusive boyfriend and returns "home" to her mysterious grandmother and great aunts' house in the Little Italy section of the Bronx, a place she hasn't visited since she was 13 and only vaguely remembers. A tale of magic and love, abandonment and pain, and overcoming your fears to find happiness. (Plus there's food.)

*The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro. I LOVED this book, the tale of two women, one French, one British, which moves back and forth between Paris in 1955 and New York in 1927 (with a stopover in the South of France in the early 1930s and Paris in the early 1940s). The title is a bit of a red herring, at least in my opinion, though a large part of the novel does involve perfume. At its heart, however, the novel is a tale of betrayal, hope and love. (Seriously, why am I not writing jacket copy for a living?) The central question or mystery: Why did Eva d'Orsey, the mistress of a famous French perfumer, who died at the age of 41 or 42, leave her considerable fortune to Englishwoman Grace Munroe, a young woman of 27 who didn't even know d'Orsey? And did I mention it's mainly set in Paris -- and there's food and Champagne and shopping and romance? A must read for my female readers (maybe some of the male ones, too).

[I also read The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio, but I had too many issues with it to recommend.]


The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America by Langdon Cook. A fascinating field guide to or first person account of the who, what, and where of wild mushroom picking in the Pacific Northwest -- the many characters involved in the picking and brokering of wild mushrooms (porcinis, chanterelles) and the chefs who covet them. I only wish Cook (or his editor) had included a short guide to edible mushrooms, not just in the Pacific Northwest but across the United States, with photographs. By the way, you don't have to love mushrooms to enjoy this book, though it helps. And if you do love wild mushrooms, make sure you make a reservation at a restaurant that serves them as this book will make you very hungry.

To see my previous book recommendations, click here or on the Book Nook label at the end of this post.

So what have you all been reading? If you read a book you'd recommend (not just to me but in general), please leave the title and author in a comment on this blog post. It doesn't have to be a new book. Could be a classic or something that was published a few or a dozen years ago.

Finally, a shout out to The Book Dumpling, a great book recommendation site a friend recently turned me onto. Check it out.

No comments: