Ruth Reichl – Garlic and Sapphires

Author: Ruth Reichl

Title: Garlic and Sapphires
Published: April 2005
Publisher: Penguin
Length: 328 pages
Genre: Food memoir
Why I picked it up: Recommended by Margot, host of the second challenge linked below
Rating: 3.5 stars
Challenges: 100+ | Foodie’s 
Buy: Barnes and Noble | Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

This was just the sort of book I was looking to read after finishing Saramago’s Blindness. I needed something fun and light; Garlic and Sapphires was just what I was looking for. The book is about Ruth Reichl’s adventures, you could say, as the restaurant critic for the New York Times in the nineties. I enjoy reading any type of story about New York and this book was no exception. I really liked hearing about the different food cultures of the city, from the fancy restaurants to the local bakeries, butchers, etc.

Occasionally I read books about food (I’m hoping this challenge will get me reading some of the ones I should have read awhile ago!) but usually they’re books about the behind the scenes of food, ex. books about GMOs. I’ve never read about restaurants at all before, especially not reviews like those found in the Times so this book was very refreshing for me. I haven’t tried any of the recipes in the book (there are 17) but some of the sound very interesting and I will be photocopying them before I return the book to the library.

I wasn’t at all expecting the story of Carol. Her story added another more emotional level to the book that was welcome (for me, at least!) in such a humorous book that didn’t seem to have a lot to tie it down. It felt a little strange/awkward/unnatural/something to me the way Reichl inhabited her characters so fully, but I’ve never had to pretend to be someone else in public so I can’t really comment on that. That’s all I have to say for this one…it was nice to be able to quickly read through an enjoyable book, just for fun, with no heavy thinking attached 🙂

Extra Books – January 1 to 8

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
    • Published: 1997
    • Genre: Magical fantasy
    • Why I picked it up: Figured it was time to give the series another shot
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • Challenges: 100+ | Harry Potter 2011
    • My Thoughts: 
      • When I first started reading Harry Potter, there were four books out. I read each of them once (although I might have read the third one a few times…I actually liked that one) and then the day after each consecutive book was released, I would borrow it from my best friend, read it once and then returned it. This was a trend I had to stay on top of, even if I wasn’t much of a fan, because it involved books in a way my generation had never seen before. I always knew the books were good, they just weren’t my favourite kind of story.  Now that I’m older, I’ve decided to give the series another shot because I think I can appreciate it better.
      •  It’s hard to give any sort of objective review of Harry Potter…everyone knows the story so well and there’s the movies and all the different books; it’s hard to isolate just the first one. What I noticed was that it was so small! Haha. I felt like nothing happened, but I suppose that’s because I know what comes in the next five six seven books. That being said, I thought the book was kind of cute and I can see why it appealed so greatly to hoards of ten and eleven year olds. I am looking forward to when the story starts to bulk up, though.
  • Wild by Jay Griffiths
    • Published: 2006
    • Genre: ‘Part travelogue, part manifesto for wildness’
    • Why I picked it up: Library browsing, looked good
    • Rating: 5 stars
    • Challenges: 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • I first started this book in February, but I only read the first chapter (the best, IMHO.) Click here to read my thoughts on that. (I did start from the beginning again when I read it this year, just to clarify :P)
      • [See the link above for my thoughts on the prose].
      • The author uses a lot of sex metaphors…not all the time, but they do crop up often enough. I’m probably still too ‘immature’ to appreciate them properly :/
      • Griffiths isn’t afraid of writing about the more brutal aspects, either.
      • The final two ‘element’ chapters, Fire and Air, seemed to kind of wander all over the place and weren’t very similar to the previous chapters. They were more about the trials of Aboriginal peoples. The final chapter, Wild Mind, however, is where the book really returns to its strong points, about nature, about wild and how we as humans, with such real emotions and heart need it so desperately. Everything I loved about Wild was exemplified in the final chapter and it was a great way to finish off the book.
      • It makes me so sad to hear about the horrors inflicted upon Aboriginal peoples, especially those of the Inuit. While I definitely support bringing awareness to the terrible situations people found and find themselves in, I felt like this book was more about human rights of sorts than about the wilderness/wild at times. Not a bad thing, I fully appreciate what the author’s getting at…it just wasn’t I really wanted to read at times (ie. Book could have used more wild, less people. or…something. It sounds bad when I put it that way >.<). 
      • It’s hard to pin this book down into one category…it was kind of all over the place. Most people will like one aspects of it, but not the rest. There were a few things I didn’t really like, but I was able to overlook them in favour for the better parts of the book.
  • 1984 by George Orwell
    • Published: 1949
    • Genre: Dystopian scifi
    • Why I picked it up: Should have read it years ago
    • Rating: 5 stars
    • Challenges: 100+ | 2011 TBR Pile
    • My Thoughts: 
      • Excellent. I don’t why I didn’t read this ages ago…well, I do know why, it’s because when everyone read it in grade ten I felt like I should have already had read it by then and I didn’t want to be seen walking around with a copy and I knew the basic plot and about Newspeak and just never really saw the point in actually reading it. I got the idea, that was enough at the time.  I expected it to be some stuffy English lit type book, hard and dry to get through, even if the story was interesting. Well, obviously when  I finally started the book I found the actual writing to be very unexpected and far more ‘modern’ than I was anticipating. I had always thought of the whole plot as a short story, I never expected the actual story and the characters (I especially wasn’t thinking of a Julia-type character). Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised =)
      • Nearing the end of the book, I was completely absorbed. I actually twitched a little when they were caught, when a third voice speaks after Julia and Winston. O’Brien actually terrified me, or rather the words he spoke did, I suppose. I’ve never experienced a book that really frightened me in whatever way. 
      • Excerpt that gave me chills and really made me think:
      • Anything could be true. The so called Laws of Nature were nonsense. The law of gravity was nonsense. ‘If I wished,’ O’Brien had said, ‘I could float off this floor like a soap bubble.’ Winston worked it out. ‘If he thinks he floats off the floor, and I simultaneously think I see him do it, then the thing happens.’ Suddenly, like a lump of submerged wreckage breaking the surface of water, the thought burst into his mind: ‘It doesn’t really happen. We imagine it. it is hallucination.’ He pushed the thought under instantly. The fallacy was obvious. It presupposed that somewhere or other, outside oneself, there was a ‘real’ world where ‘real’ things happened. But how could there be such a world? What knowledge have we of anything, save through our own minds? All happenings are in the mind. Whatever happens in all minds, truly happens.

      • This is definitely a book that I need to buy and reread and mull over…lots to think about here.
      • Sidenote: When I was writing notes on my iPod, I was reading the part where they’re trying to convince Winston 2+2=5 and I wrote Nineteen Eighty-five instead of Eighty-four. Spooky o.o

Will Ferguson – Beyond Belfast

Author: Will Ferguson

Title: Beyond Belfast
Published: October 2009
Publisher: Viking Canada
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Travelogue
Target age: Adult
Why I picked it up: Written by an author I enjoy
Rating: 4 stars
Challenges: 100+ 
Buy: Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

Will Ferguson is a Canadian author known for his books about his travels and about Canadians. I’ve enjoyed him since we first studied Why I Hate Canadians in grade 11 history. My favourite book by Ferguson is Hitching Rides With Buddha. The only other book I’ve read by him, aside from this one, is How to Be Canadian. Still have to read Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw and I’m sure I’ll get around to his fiction one day...Anyhow. Beyond Belfast, the story of his ambitious undertaking to walk the Ulster Way (a 560 mile path around Northern Ireland) will be released in soft-cover just before my birthday and I will definitely be putting it on my wishlist.

The aspect of Ferguson’s books I love most is the way he can blend humour and serious reflection (that’s the best way I can think of to describe it…). There were plenty of sentences that made me grin while I was reading and there were plenty of sentences that made me feel rather sad and melancholic. (There’s a passage in Hitching Rides with Buddha that actually makes me tear up but that never happened in this book). One reviewer had it right: ‘Like Bryson, Ferguson is often as his best (and laugh-out-loud funniest) when most annoyed.’, such as when he realizes he’s the creepy old man in the youth hostel or when he gets trapped in a church during pilgrim ceremonies. To give you a taste of his style, two humorous quotes and one of those sad melancholic passages:

 Ha! You didn’t get me this time, you fokkers! The driver was eyeing me in his mirror. I had said that last part out loud. “The rain,” I said by way of explanation.  “It’s been trying to get me.”

It was bloody friggin’ marvellous, so it was. (A view like that brings out the poet in me).

I thought about pensioners under siege on Park Road, about children burning, about off-duty police officers dragged from pubs and kicked to death, about the watery cries for “Revenge!” As I walked toward the shopping plazas in the city centre, I saw a McDonald’s at one end, its golden arches catching the light- and I felt a sudden surge of relief. I walked toward the arches, rested my forehead on the cool condensation of its windows, the glass like ice on a fever. It was so comforting, the polished surface, the lack of memory, the lack of any larger context.

I like the perspective of an outsider looking in on another country’s struggles, providing a mostly unbiased and balanced perspective and observations on things a native would take for granted. I particularly liked how he distinguished dialects by how they pronounced fokker, fekker, fooker.

Of Ulster’s many verbal tics, the ones I found most charming were “aye” and “wee”…Likewise with the indiscriminate use of “wee”. I’m not sure what “wee” means, but I do know it doesn’t mean “small.” That’s what it seems to mean; certainly the room they found for me in the back was a bit “wee”, but when I told her I was hiking the Ulster Way, all five hundred and sixty damn miles of it, she said, “A good wee walk then.” (No doubt, in Ulster, King Kong would be referred to as “a great wee monkey”)

 He provides a balanced view of the Protestant and Catholics sides and because neither side is prejudiced towards him, he can interact with both. The fact that Ferguson is Canadian is a bonus. I can easily understand a Canadian perspective and appreciate the little jokes he makes about being Canadian.  

Being Canadian in Europe is a lot like being Welsh in North America: no one really cares. It’s not that they hold it against you. If anything, they have a vaguely positive image, a sort of benign lack of interest, as it were. “Canadian? That’s terrific. “Welsh, you say? Good for you.”

Another reason I enjoyed this book is because it’s about a subject I know (knew?) next to nothing about. Northern Ireland has always been this fuzzy patch of knowledge in my mind, where I knew it was dangerous and I think it was dangerous because some Christians were fighting. But that’s all I knew. Starting the book was tricky for me because I had trouble keeping the two ‘sides’ straight, for example, I couldn’t remember if the UVF was for Catholics or Protestants and which side was unionist or loyalist, etc. Fortunately, Ferguson provides a handy little ‘binary code’ of different terms and aspects starting on page 26. He does caution that obviously not all aspects of the two sides can be reduced to this pairing code, but it did help me keep up with the various terms used throughout the book. I very much enjoyed the segments on the history of Ulster. They helped give Ferguson’s tale and the current conflicts greater context. I still had trouble remembering names of places. With so much travelling in such a short period of time, bouncing around through all these tiny little villages, I guess that’s to be expected. It didn’t really detract from my reading, though.

As if all that wasn’t enough for a good read, there’s also a subplot of sorts that sees Ferguson seeking out some lost family history. This book is packed full of all sorts of good things and often reads as though Ferguson is sharing his story with you over a beer. If you’ve got any interest in Northern Ireland, humour or travel, I would definitely recommend this book.

Wrapping Up 2010, Looking Forward 2011

Hullo! Is it the end of the year already? That was fast. Christmas came and then things were very busy for awhile and now that I have time to sit down at the computer I find 2010 is over. Well. I suppose I should tie up some loose ends now. Here’s a few things I just finished up:

  • Finished Falling for Snow review (almost…I’m so tired, my apologies…..)
  • Posted a Depeche Mode review for December 28
  • Posted the second part of The Hunger Games trilogy review
  • Edited the books, writing and music links up top. Now you can browse an index of sorts of all my posts in the loads of free time you have. ;P

I’ve realized that posting one book review a week is not enough, especially in 2011 with all the challenges I’ve taken up! Here are some short review of a couple of books I finished recently but didn’t have the change to post review. I just want to wrap them up here so I can have a fresh start next year.

  • The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville (Rating: 3.5 stars) – The fourth and final book in a series I began in grade two. The first two books were published in the last nineties, the third was published in 2008 when I never ever expected the series to be finished. This final book did not disappoint and keeping in mind that it’s a series meant for early/middle schoolers, I still enjoyed it. I couldn’t help but compare the family dynamics to those of Inkheart which of course is an entirely different story, so while the family aspects of The Last Hunt could have been much stronger, they were appropriate for the story. I would have liked to have seen more of the Dimblethum, but otherwise it was a good read. I hope to read these books to my niece or nephew one day, perhaps.
  • Blood Relatives by Craig Francis Powers (Rating: 4 stars) I bought this book at the local writers festival in September and finally read it in November. Young Newfie author, his first book. Completely different from what I usually like to read (very gritty, realistic, people are shit and so is my life kind of story) but I found myself really enjoying the prose and the story, even though almost all of the characters were disgusting (but that was the point). The ending was not at all what I expected but it was satisfying. I’d recommend this if you can get your hands on it.
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (4.5 stars) – I can’t remember why I picked this up. It was very good (dur…). The beginning was a bit slow, but I eventually became absorbed in the characters and the straight-forward but oh so true prose. I don’t usually read books like this, that are sort of a reflection on people and relationships, but I was in the mood for something like that for once. I will for sure be buying this one. I’m also interested in seeing the movie, especially since it stars Carey Mulligan.

Earlier this month I discovered ‘book blogging’ and challenges. While I wouldn’t put myself in the category of book blogger, I’ve been enjoying browsing blogs and I definitely like the idea of challenges. You can click here [page no longer exists] to see the ones I’ve signed up for. I’m hoping these challenges will help me plow through some books I’ve been meaning to read for ages and also to just generally increase my reading habit back to a level where it used to be. With the list of books I have now, I’ll have to read one book every two days or so for 2011. That would’ve been no problem a few years ago…but with a full university course load and work I’ll have to see how well I’ll do! I’m not really sure how I’ll go about blogging about the books…perhaps I’ll do my best do full ‘reviews’ as often as possible and then do a monthly summary review if need be.

Happy New Year 🙂

Suzanne Collins – Catching Fire and Mockingjay


Author: Suzanne Collins

Series: The Hunger Games trilogy
Titles: Catching Fire/Mockingjay
Published: September 2009/August 2010
Publisher: Scholastic
Length: 391/390 pages
Genre: Dystopian scifi
Target age: Young adult
Why I picked it up: So many people have been raving about it, I felt like something had passed me by when Mockingjay was released so I bought a boxed set of the trilogy
Rating: 3 stars/2 stars
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!
Related: The Hunger Games review

I am sad that I have so many negative things to say. To see an author put out a fantastic book followed by a good book followed by a terrible book is very sad to see. Let me be upfront: This review is going to be full of nothing but complaints. The reason is, I’ve been paying far more attention to authorial choices, if you will, when I read and these two novels made it very easy for me to see something and think ‘Why would she make that choice?!’ I wasn’t quite so frustrated with the two books while I was reading them, merely annoyed. I was somewhat disappointed in the ending, but the feeling grew as I thought of more and more things I didn’t like. I would still recommend the trilogy as a whole. Read the books, just don’t get your hopes up for a satisfying conclusion.
CATCHING FIRE SPOILERS AHEAD
My first and only point is more of an observance rather than an objection. I wasn’t anticipating the premise of the second book at all. I was fully prepared to follow Katniss as she mentored a girl for the next Hunger Games. I should have known better than to think it would be something like that, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to find her and Peeta back in the arena. I was so surprised by that at first, I didn’t have time to groan about it. But, it turned out to be a much more interesting story than I could have expected. Not quite as exciting as their first time around in the arena, but still a good read.

MOCKINGJAY SPOILERS AHEAD

 

It’s easy to screw up death scenes. But sometimes they’re just so blatantly bad you wonder how come nobody noticed. An author should make an effort to make the reader feel some sort of emotion when a character dies. Two deaths happened that should have made feel something but neither did. Finnick’s death was so poorly portrayed I read past it a few pages and then thought ‘Wait, I think Finnick just died back there’ and I had to go back. Finnick was my favourite character and if he had to die, he deserved a much better death. I didn’t like how Annie was shown dealing with his death, it didn’t seem to fit her character at all. And Prim’s death…ooh, that just infuriated me. Poorly executed scene. Unemotional. Who cares. Ultimately had little affect on the story. Her death could have been handled far, far better and actually served some purpose to the plot instead of just ‘Oh, it’ll be sad if we kill off the cute little sister.’ Gahh.
My complaints about how Peeta was handled tie in with my complaints about how the romance was dealt with. One of my notes for this post reads: ‘Lack of Peeta/hooking up with Peeta at the end/lack of support for Katniss’ choice FUUUUU PEETA.’ It’s not Peeta’s fault that he had to play such a terrible role, though. I feel bad for him. I don’t think Peeta was present enough in the story for being such a crucial character, but I’m not sure if that’s a valid criticism or just my own personal preference. Earlier in the trilogy, I felt like there could be something between Peeta and Katniss. That vanished in Mockingjay but somehow the two have no problems reconnecting and picking up their ‘love’ despite everything that did/didn’t happen between them in the final book.
Perhaps the most shocking/disturbing thing to me was the decision to hold a final Hunger Game, a decision which was decided ultimately by Katniss. That was a true WTF moment for me. It was such a quickly decided thing, with no little explanation and no actual impact on the story. It was just ‘Yeah, sure, let’s hold one more.’ No! No! I want to know why, I want to know more about that, that’s such a huge decision! But it wasn’t, it was totally played down in the novel. Maybe it was just me, but I don’t understand why Collins would include something like that if she was just going to sweep over it.
Those are my biggest issues with the conclusion of The Hunger Games trilogy…other things include there being too many dull passages, cheap tricks (like knocking out the protagonist for the climax. I find that so irritating, I understand why an author might do that, but it feels like an easy way out) and the epilogue (Katniss just settles down and has kids and everything? What a disappointing message. I think the story would have a much better impact if Katniss had been destroyed by her whole ordeal but I like my stories bleak).

I couldn’t resist looking on Amazon to see if I was the only reader so frustrated with this conclusion. Apparently the opinion is split, the two most helpful reviews when I looked are a five star review and a one star review. For a lengthier, more eloquently written review (the review took the words straight from my mouth, if I could have said them as well :P), I’d actually recommend this. I found myself nodding and muttering yes as i read it. I wish I didn’t have to feel this way about Mockingjay. It’s a tragedy to see a story fall apart in just three books.