Blood, Bones & Butter

If you like food like I do, then you probably search for cooking shows as often as you can.  The latest series I have become hooked on is The Mind of a Chef thanks to the hub.  When a female chef is highlighted on the series, my interest piques even further since, for reasons I can’t quite wrap my head around, female chefs are in the minority.

Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef and owner of Prune restaurant in New York’s East Village, was featured as I was binging on The Mind of a Chef via Netflix.  I found myself intrigued at the allusions to her past in the series, but frustrated at the lack of full explanation.  I felt I needed to know more, so when I googled her, I discovered she had written a memoir (my favorite genre), Blood, Bones & Butter:  The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.  Next thing I know, I am ordering the book online from my local library and impatiently awaiting the e-mail telling me my book is on reserve and waiting.

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Hamilton begins her memoir retelling her unique, yet idyllic childhood born the last of five children, a childhood which revolved around food.  The daughter of a French woman, Hamilton recalls her mother standing in the kitchen with some stew or underutilized cut of meat simmering on the stove.  When her parents divorce, and she, in essence, becomes forgotten, Hamilton accurately describes how the fracturing of her family affects each child in the same family in a unique manner.  Out of this upheaval, though, Hamilton describes with such grit and honesty how she found her way despite the lack of familial support and eventually becomes the chef and owner of Prune and mother of two, a journey one does not want to miss out on reading.

So, time should be set aside while reading because this memoir will keep even the casual foodie up into the wee hours of the night and make one’s stomach grumble with gluttonous hunger . . .

 

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Up the Ladder

I receive a lot of requests to review books.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to read them all even though I would very much like to find myself lost in books both day and night.  Donna Lee’s Up the Ladder:  Buddhism, Bikram, Bhakti intrigued me as it was presented as a woman’s spiritual journey up the ladder, or “‘The process of linking oneself with the Surpreme . . ..'”  (XI).

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An interesting life which seems to go from one extreme to the next, the reader follows Lee from a seemingly loner, but not lonely, childhood to a teen birth to the human-potential movement to an unhappy marriage to a sighting of Lord Shiva’s bull.  Lee’s life is nothing if not fascinating, and she expresses her successes and failures in all aspects of her life throughout her memoir with much honesty.

Early on, Lee takes an objective look at her comfortable life with those seated around her at the dinner table and realizes “. . . the conversations are mean-spirited and the humor was not nurturing, but always at the expense of someone else”  (47).  Thus, shortly thereafter, Lee’s immersion into Buddhism began.  For me, Lee’s ability to identify the catalysts in her life and then act on them kept me turning the pages.

Years later, Lee opened her own Hot Yoga studio on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Teaching two classes each day and one on Saturday to a constant turnover of students, Lee continued despite her exhaustion learning to “. . . show up when . . . [she] didn’t want to . . . [coming] to know yoga as a metaphor for our lives and at some point our lives become the reflection of our yoga”  (89).

When reflecting on a former romantic relationship and how painful it was to have to walk in front of his new home with his new lover, Lee finally came to the realization that “Love doesn’t go away.  Love exists, regardless of one’s state of mind”  (159).  In other words, Lee was now able to look upon that past relationship as a “loving expression”  (159).

Lee is the kind of author one wishes he/she knew personally in order to have a front seat to her life’s adventures, and her memoir probably deserves a second reading for a full understanding of her studies and chosen paths.  What I did wish she discussed more was her relationship with her children.  With a brief mention of tension with one daughter, it would have been interesting to know her children’s existence in Lee’s path up the ladder.

 

 

The Darkest Evening of the Year

I had never read a novel by Dean Koontz before, so I was intrigued when I found The Darkest Evening of the Year in a pile left for me by my voracious reader- (I don’t know how she puts the books away like she does) soul sister- friend.  The image of the Golden Retriever on the cover sealed the deal as I am a dog lover, especially of Retrievers.

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So, reading through chapter one, Koontz had my attention, but not in the way I had hoped.  Tears were welling in my eyes at his description of dog abuse.  I was nearly “out,” so to speak, and onto the next novel, until my friend reassured me the novel does not focus on the abuse for long.  Whew!  Give me murders, natural disasters, disease, I can read on and on, but I cringe at even the mention of animal abuse.  Yes, I am the one who changes the channel when “that commercial” comes on because the one time I watched, I was wiping tears as I reached for the computer to search the inventory of our local humane society.  Ugh!

As for the book itself, its structure reveals each character’s perspective chapter by chapter which kept urging me to read further even into the wee hours of the night.  The protagonist Amy Redwing has such a passion for Golden Retrievers she has founded Golden Heart whose mission is to find forever homes for this particular breed.  Koontz detailed description of the behaviors of Redwing’s dogs is uncanny.  I laughed thinking of how my own Labrador Retriever acts in the same manner if not in a more untrained fashion.  Working on it!

The reader slowly learns along with her boyfriend Brian of her past which she has kept secret for nearly a decade.  As he reveals his own regrets, the truth of how the characters’ lives are entwined comes to fruition.

What made me sit up and take notice is that sprinkled throughout the novel, Koontz offers his outlook on life with some truly deep thoughts.  One such example comes at the conclusion of The Darkest Evening of the Year:

Too many dogs continue to be abused and abandoned- one is too many- and people continue to kill people for money and envy for no reason at all.  Bad people succeed and good people fail, but that’s not the end of the story.  Miracles happen that nobody sees, and among us walk heroes who are never recognized, and people live in loneliness because they cannot believe they are loved . . ..  (354)

The World’s Strongest Librarian

Heartbroken with my mother’s dementia and busy with my two kiddos off of school for the summer, I have struggled lately with finding a book which captures my attention.  While on vacation in Salt Lake City, Utah, though, I discovered that book I had been searching for desperately.

When out of town, I always like to explore the local library with my family, especially a library located downtown.  All of those books housed right in the center of the hustle and bustle of a city causes the goosebumps to rise on my skin.  So, while in Salt Lake City, my girls and I sought out the local library.

While at lunch, we asked the waiter to point us in the right direction of the city library.  I was bummed when while rubbing his chin he repeated my question back to me with, “Hmmmm.  Where is the local library?”  Doesn’t everyone know where his/her local library is and frequent it on a daily if not weekly basis?  I know the answer is “no,” but always advocate for an eventual answer of “yes.”

After too long of a walk for my arthritic knees, we arrived at a beautiful glass building with multi-levels.  We could barely contain our excitement as we entered the structure.  What was interesting to note is that to the left of the main entrance was a row of small shops, one being the library’s gift shop.  My daughters and I agreed we would definitely peruse this shop once our exploration of the library as well as the FREE art class offered by an instructor from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts was complete.

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Two hours later we were looking at all of the literary offerings in the small shop.  What caught my attention was a book with the title The World’s Strongest Librarian with a subtitle of, A Book Lover’s Adventures.  Sold (!) even before the young woman working behind the counter said the author, Josh Hanagarne, was a librarian who worked in this very branch, the branch my girls and I had just explored.  If this wasn’t the perfect souvenir, I didn’t know what was.

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Immediately taken with the anecdote offered in the Introduction, I giggled, cried, and learned while feverishly reading this book.  Hanagarne has such a humorous take on life which comes shining through in his detailed descriptions.  I could smell the stench in the library, hear the man calling Hanagarne a “. . . tall bigot” (1), and feel his exasperation when young people didn’t think reading was “cool.”  When he described how in one of his college English classes, students nearly came to “. . . blows over the implications of a semicolon . . .” I couldn’t help but think of my own English studies full of uncomfortable arguments in class, which I had to sit through while watching the clock, and laugh out loud.

With his words, Hanagarne caused me to fall in love with his devout Mormon mother, the person responsible for the author’s love of reading and his constant cheerleader through life, and his wife Janette, who stood by him through years of educational and career failings due to his Tourette Syndrome.

I found myself reading portions of the book to my hub and then later catching him reading The World’s Strongest Librarian on his own in our hotel room.

Besides a fascinating look into the life of a Mormon, a young boy suffering with Tourette’s, and a young man struggling to find his way in life, it is also a list of recommended readings as Hanagarne highlights books which have touched his life throughout the years. . . a definite must-read.

 

 

 

What I Told My Daughter

Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something when a dear friend gifts me Nina Tassler’s What I Told My Daughter, and I also receive a copy in the mail to review.  So, read I did.  A work of nonfiction, Tassler along with Cythia Littleton act as editors to more than fifty essays written for their daughters by women who have created success in their lives.

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The essay which initially drew me in was “Dear Eva” written by Rabbi Sharon Brous.  She was told at her daughter’s birth that “. . . having a child is like wearing your heart outside your chest”  (19), and I can completely relate times two.  Rabbi Brous continues with the importance of her daughter knowing “. . . one nearly universal thread, across ethnic, cultural, and geographical boundaries, is the oppression of girls and women”  (20).  Thus, having the knowledge which may not be so apparent in one’s own community is key to creating an inner need to want to somehow make a difference, even a little, in the world.

Author Ayelet Waldman in her essay, “Be Nice to Fat Girls,” further instills in her daughter the need to speak up for not only herself, but for others as well.  Because of hollering moral advice while running alongside her daughter Sophie’s bus years ago, Waldman’s daughter remembers to always be kind, inclusive, and generous.  When as a teenager, a group of boys in Sophie’s high school create a competition on social media to find the “ugliest” girl in their eyes to ask out on a date, Sophie heads straight to the administration “. . . demanding justice on behalf of this girl and all girls subject to this environment”  (37).

Most like to shy away from any controversy even if it is at the cost of a child’s well-being.  As Dr. Juliet Garcia discusses in “The Wall,” many people during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing chose to run for safety as quickly as they could.  However, some chose to run towards the explosions in order to see how they could help others.  Dr. Garcia notes, “There is always much to learn from these moments, but chief among them is that the toughest battles in our lives are those we learn from the most.  They are the ones that make us surface our courage”  (72).  Amen, Sistah!

Dr. Madeline Albright in her essay “Role Reversals,” writes how the balancing act between work and home became more difficult as her career advanced, but “. . . the worst pressure . . . came not from my daughters but from other women”  (83).  In the same manner, I have felt pressure for choosing to stay home with my daughters.  After taking nearly four years to conceive and then spending time in the hospital both before and after the births of both of my daughters, I knew I wanted to savor every minute with my girls if given the opportunity.  While doctors still attempted to adjust my medications in order to control my blood pressure postpartum, I had people asking me, “When are you going back to work?”  My thought to myself was always, “Well, my baby just left the neonatal unit, and I need to make sure I’m not going to croak first.”

Further passages I have marked with Post-Its come from Sharon Osbourne in “Privileges,” with ” . . .  never have a sense of entitlement, [do] not judge others, be accepting, tolerant, and always open-minded”  (150).  Michelle King In “Simply Irresistible,” tells how her daughter stood up to a bully and what she learned from the experience, we “. . . need tough, self-confident young women willing to smack the bullies when they get out of hand”  (161).  And, Roma Downey’s “Love Is a Verb,” brought tears to my eyes while reading.  Downey summarizes her offerings:

The lessons learned are at times painful.  Loss is real, parents pass away, and hearts break, but the truth is that love never dies, not really.  Love lives on through us.  Not just in our memories but through our actions and the choices we make.  In the way we live our lives we can make a difference.  (212)

A thoughtful gift for any woman, not simply a woman with a daughter, or man, Nina Tassler’s What I Told My Daughter is a must read.

 

 

Invisible Monsters

When your BFF ends up reading two or three books a week, one ends up with stacks and stacks of books in his/her family room, bedroom, bathroom, etc.  In an attempt to work through my own spillage of generously donated books, I picked the top book on the pile, Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters.  The cover was intriguing, an ambigram, and this is the same author of the Fight Club, so I thought it would be a good read.  I had no idea what I was in for . . .

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In the opening scene, I am introduced to Evie whose blond/brown hair has been burned off, and all the clothing that remains on her body are the wire hoops from her wedding dress.  Visual imagery at its best.  What ensues is a complex, often vulgar and absolutely dysfunctional, tale of a brother, sister, her boyfriend, and her best friend.

Now this BFF Sarah mentioned above has introduced me to many a book I would never have picked up on my own, but loved at first read such as the Merry Gentry series by Laurell K. Hamilton (I love me some Frost).  When I asked her her thoughts on Invisible Monsters, she replied she had abandoned the read after a few chapters.  Ugh!  I wish I had known . . .  For me, though, I am unable to let a read go until completion.  I must see it through to the end as I always tell my students because you can learn from books you both like and dislike, and you never know how it’s going to end until it ends.

After wincing through several portions of Invisible Monsters and learning from others, Palahniuk definitely introduces his readers to cultures of people not necessarily readily known.  Likewise Palahniuk’s message about the emptiness of striving for idealized beauty and sacrificing all in the name of love came through loud and clear after a continuous roller coaster of plot twists.  A definite thriller of a ride which I now need some time from which to recover.

 

Standing in the Rainbow

When an avid reader and dear friend recommends a novel, her favorite one at that, I gladly agree to read the loaner.  In this case, Fannie Flagg’s Standing in the Rainbow does not disappoint.

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Following the lives of residents from the small town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri, through generations, the reader becomes emotionally engaged, and, in essence, a member of middle America.  Visualizing Bobby Smith, the only son of the Smith family, overcome his fear in order to climb the water tower as a young boy and his coming to the realization of his smallness in this vast universe offered the reader his raw humanity:

Could it really be possible that . . . [I] was nothing but just another small dot among a bunch of other small dots? . . . always thought . . . [I] was something different, something special.  Now . . . [I] was thrown for a complete loop.  (21)

Furthermore, reading of Bobby’s school work struggles which resulted in the repeat of sixth grade allowed me to bond with this young man, and I found myself silently cheering him on.  His eventual enlistment in the Korean War caused me great tension because I was so invested, fearful he may not return, so I proceeded slowly and with caution while reading as my buddy who had given me the loaner has probably been wondering when I was planning to return her novel.

Flagg writes with such humor as in her depiction of the Oatmans crammed in their car travelling cross country to their next singing gig.  With the older brothers and daughter, Betty Raye, in the back, and the chaos and noise from the front seat, the reader learns, “Chester the dummy was out of his box, yammering away at Ferris and complaining because Floyd had also wanted to stop at the gas station and get himself a cold Dr. Pepper”  (100).

Flagg, in her writing, is able to capture such a simpler time, bringing forth a sense of nostalgia for the reader.  When Bobby’s Cub Scout field trip is canceled due to rain, he is not bothered or unable to entertain himself.  Instead, he spends the day on the porch watching the rain and listening “to the sounds of the cars swishing up and down the wet streets” (102), no cell phone or computer needed.  Later, when his grandmother joins him on the porch, and he inquires about life when she was a child and whether she was bored with no electricity, movies, or radio,  Mother Smith explains, “We had books and we played games and sang and went to parties.  You know, you don’t miss what you don’t know”  (103).  This brought to mind my many weekends spent with my own grandparents feeding the geese, helping grind meat, and walking around their farmhouse in the ice and snow pretending I was on quite the explorer’s adventure.

Just a friendly suggestion, but towards the end of Standing in the Rainbow, be sure and keep the tissues within an arm’s reach.  As the reader concludes following roughly four decades of life, there is the inevitable end of life and reflection on what has been, what could have been, and what inevitably remains.  Thus, take the time to meet Tot, Macky, Neighbor Dorothy along with the other residents of Elmwood Springs and really listen to their stories.

Tricky Twenty-Two

You know your hub loves you when he comes home from a business trip bearing the latest novel in the Stephanie Plum series, Janet Evanovich’s Tricky Twenty-One.  Not even knowing Evanovich’s latest installment of Mmmmmorelli and Ranger was out, I was beyond elated.

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Always hoping Stephanie Plum, the protagonist of this series, makes a final choice between the two hotties in her life, I must continue to read until there is a resolution.  By book twenty-two, again, I was hoping for resolution, but (spoiler alert!) I’m not convinced with the “finality.”  I wonder how many more I have to read until I finally, once and for all, know with whom Plum chooses.

Entertaining as always with a mystery and much humor involving Grandma Mazur and Lula, for the love of humanity, please Evanovich put an end to my desire to know:  Ranger or Morelli?

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

As mentioned earlier, my youngest is hooked on Brian Selznick novels.  So, I went to the library and picked up Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, winner of The Caldecott Medal in 2008.  After she finished reading The Invention of Huge Cabret, she passed it on to me so that we could then watch the movie, Hugo Cabret together.

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Again, Selznick’s drawings do not disappoint, but help draw me into the story.  What differs in this book than from Wonderstruck is how the drawings follow the plot versus the pictures creating a storyline of their own.

What I appreciate is how Selznick weaves historical truth into his fiction, so I learned a great deal about early films and specifically about Georges Melies and his collection of automata.

More than anything, though, is my joy at how these novels mesmerize my seven-year-old reader.  In fact, tomorrow I am being sent back to the library in order to find more Selznick novels.

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Although hesitant at first to watch the movie Hugo Cabret due to a friend saying how scary it was when Hugo turns into a robot (spoiler alert: it was a dream), my seven-year-old and I snuggled and watched with much anticipation.  We enjoyed how the majority of the movie followed the book, but felt bad when we realized Etienne never made an appearance.  Personally, I preferred the overall pace of the movie as compared to the book, but as always, I do believe the book was better.

Who Was Beatrix Potter?

You know you’ve waited in the doctor’s office a long time if you are able to start and finish Sarah Fabiny’s Who Was Beatrix Potter?.  This is exactly what happened to me this past week.

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Beatrix Potter, the author of the twenty-three “tale” books including The Tale of Peter Rabbit was not only a groundbreaking author, but also a trailblazer in women’s rights.

Born in 1866 into a wealthy family. Potter was raised to be seen and not heard until she would eventually marry or simply stay at home and care for her aging parents.  Those were her options.  While her brother was sent to a boarding school to be schooled. Potter took art classes at the South Kensington Museum and excelled.  Thankfully, Potter’s brother Bertram, while home from school on a visit, encouraged Potter to send out her drawings to publishers, and the rest is history.

Although met with adversity and hardship along the way, Potter is a true example of someone who can achieve her dreams with hard work and determination as told in Fabiny’s Who Was Beatrix Potter?.