Friday, September 26, 2014

Around the Web

unrelated grainy iPhone photo, but one that makes me happy
Shana Tovah to all of you who celebrate, and to those of you who don't, Happy Friday :) Here are some favorites of mine that have been floating around the web this week - from desserts that made me want to reconsider my "less-sugar!" plan to photos that burst with color and reviews of books I know I want to read next.  Who says you can't travel the world from right where you are?

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches from Amy at Club Narwhal (Michigan)

Sunken Apple and Honey Cake from Deb at Smitten Kitchen (New York)

A beautiful photo of a woman on the street in Milan from The Sartorialist (Italy)

A nuanced review of historical fiction from April at the Steadfast Reader

Pictures of Recently Enjoyed Things from Drea at OhDearDrea (Florida)

True Story from Amber at The RunaMuck (Arkansas)

Broken Monsters & Good Books With Bad Endings from Shannon at River City Reading (Virginia)

How was your week? Do you have any favorites you found that you want to read, create, or eat? ;)

Monday, September 22, 2014

review of tarquin hall's "Vish Puri" series

I'm rolling these three into one review, because I've read them and I love them and I can't decide which of them to review.  I'll differentiate between them, since they are, of course, different, but let me start here:

If you've been reading this blog for a little bit, you know I enjoy a good mystery.  Often the mysteries I review here can be quite dark - and more often than not, pretty gruesome.  I'm not sure why that is (weird quirk?), but whenever and whatever I read, I like a plot and a set of characters that hold some authenticity - where it's almost as if there's part of a character that gets how difficult and grungy life can be. Andrei Bolkonsky, Scarlett O'Hara, Lisbeth Salander - many, many more fit the bill.  I'd rather read through the evolution of one of those characters than a floppy, fun piece of fluff (though those have their place also).

The Vish Puri books are not gruesome.  They are light and engaging, with amusing riffs between family and minor characters that add color and intrigue to a seemingly straightforward storyline.  Food is a big part of Vish Puri's life, and the descriptions of the dusty streets and the diverse and flavorful lives of throngs of people in India made these books some of my favorite reads during my daily commute.

The Case of the Love Commandos: This was the first of the series I read, and I didn't realize that the style was a bit different from the others.  We got far more in-depth glimpses into Facecream's story alongside Vish Puri's, which I thought was a smart way of allowing more minor characters - part of Vish Puri's investigative team - to come forward and develop.

The Case of the Missing Servant: This is the first book in the series, and I loved seeing more of Mummy's character here.  She's one of my favorite characters - there is nothing overdone about her, nothing excessively boisterous, and yet she is so funny and such a passionate part of the series.  Another really lovely part of these books is the fact that Vish Puri does not hate his mother.  In fact, the relationship between them is comfortable and mutually respectful (to a degree ;)).

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken: This was the most complex of them all, and felt longer than the first two, which was a positive.  What I most enjoyed was delving into the historical, cultural, and geographical complexities that have impacted and continue to influence India and Pakistan - and though I have never seen a cricket match, it very nearly made me want to ;)

Do you find yourself reading certain genres over and over again? Are there characters that you love to watch develop and become more complex?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

DC Book Festival

The DC Book Festival last weekend was a ton of fun.  As I got off the metro and was walking into the Convention Center, I thought, "There must be a baseball game today, because there's no way this many people are heading to the book festival."

Nope! Any and all totally normal-looking people on the metro that were thronging around made their way into the Convention Center along with me.  Gaggles of people milling about.  Enthused green-shirted volunteers handing out thick packets of schedules for author readings, sightings, and signings.  The kiosk with the free posters was a madhouse!  Papercut city, people bonking strangers on the head with rolled up posters spilling out of their arms.

I went with a new friend of mine, and the first thing we saw was Billy Collins doing a reading.  Billy Collins! Man, Billy Collins.  When I was a freshman in college someone put together a mixtape for me with a reading of his included on it, and I'd be minding my own business listening to whatever it was I was listening to, and then his voice would come over the earbuds or the tinny laptop speakers reading a poem of his and I was hooked.

Sometimes I'd skip them ( is a serious exerciser that can jam to a non-slam poem while at the gym, I say) - but mostly I enjoyed them tremendously.  I'd been a fan of his poems before, but hearing them read aloud changed them.  So from the back of a packed room I could sort of see Billy Collins, and that was pretty cool.  It was a nice reading, and his voice is the same as it was then.  (PSA - read A History of  I'll hang on a sec.)

We wandered around a bit, looking for interesting speakers, and found ourselves at the back of a packed room, again, listening to Representative John Lewis speaking about the Civil Rights movement and his new book, March: Book One.  I love a good graphic novel, and particularly one about history.  It was very cool to hear them talk about the process of putting together the book and about the Civil Rights movement back then as well as today.

Oh, and someone let their child pee on the floor right where I was.  That was...a less charming part of the book festival experience, but! Anything for books, I guess.  After a quick trip to the ladies' room (oh yes, the pee got on me, too) to freshen up, we booked it ;) to the book sales and took our sweet time perusing.  Serious decisions to be made, with much weeping and wailing about limited book funds and dramatic sighs.  Finally we chose our books and tucked them away neatly after purchase.  My two picks were Someone by Alice McDermott and The End of Night by Paul Bogard.

Were any of you there? Been to any local book fairs? What have been some of your favorite readings?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Currently Reading...

Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson

What I'm enjoying so far: I like that it's been broken down into sections - of life and of the home.  It makes it easier to flip through and find what's of interest at any particular moment.  The recipes and lists for shopping and a Zero Waste wardrobe are useful.  I'm also really enjoying the personal anecdotes and her story of how she got to this point - and that it's not all about recycling.

What I hope to see more of: Resources and content that reflects the life of those who might not live in a mild climate like certain parts of California.  Rain boots, snow shoes, umbrellas and mittens were not listed.  Those who work in the business world, in certain types of professional settings or in corporate jobs might not be able to only buy clothing that is washable, for instance.  I'm hoping that this book isn't only for those who work at home and live financially comfortable lives.

My overall thoughts on the book: I like the fact that Bea Johnson doesn't say that everyone should do this exactly her way, or become Zero Waste immediately.  She doesn't catastrophize and the book is not preachy.  It's definitely made me consider how much waste I produce in my own home - the amount of recycling I take out each week, how many plastic containers I have, what I'm buying from the store that has plastic or some kind of packaging, and what I can do to minimize that.  While grinding up kohl to make my own eyeliner is not my style, and I'm way too much of a scaredy-cat to bring my own glass container to be filled at a meat/fish counter, I think it's cool that she put that information in there.  It's made me think more about my own lifestyle.

**On a side note, this is also not a scientific book - there are very few statistics and studies shown.  I don't think Bea Johnson is trying to prove whether or not global warming is real or whether or not certain types of plastic leach chemicals, for instance.  If you're looking for that kind of a read, I'd say go elsewhere.

For more information on the book and the movement she's discussing, here are some neat resources:
Zero Waste Home
My Plastic-Free Life
My Zero Waste

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

September Reads

I always try to think of the fall as a time to recharge, reflect, and delve deeper in the kind of reading I do.  It's not yet time to hide indoors under a blanket, far far away from dripping shoes and muddy coats with a tropical read.  At its best, I think, early fall is the chance to take in the chill and the crisp air and hang out around a campfire in the hopes of getting some whistling apples (yum) and learning something new.  Maybe it's the new year or the beginning of school that still lingers for me, but fall always feels like a new chance to grow.

Last year, my memorable fall reads were The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.  The Ministry of Special Cases helped me learn about the disappearances of young people in Argentina in the 1970's, and the lengths to which people still go to try and find their loved ones.  Horrible, tragic, devastating - and an absolute must-read.  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand was a mild and mellow retreat into the life and mind of a middle-aged man in the UK, and his search for fulfillment and meaning.  It was a lovely read - I wish I'd started writing about books I read earlier last year! If you've enjoyed Zadie Smith and are looking for something a bit different, I'd give this one a shot.

Here's what I'll be nose-deep in this month:

Someone*, by Alice McDermott An ordinary life—its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion—lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott’s extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of After This. Scattered recollections—of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age—come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott’s deft, lyrical voice. Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an “amadan,” a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott’s novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another. Marie’s first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother’s brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents’ deaths; the births and lives of Marie’s children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn—McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived; a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today. (from Goodreads)

The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light*, by Paul Bogard A starry night is one of nature's most magical wonders. Yet in our artificially lit world, three-quarters of Americans' eyes never switch to night vision and most of us no longer experience true darkness. In The End of Night, Paul Bogard restores our awareness of the spectacularly primal, wildly dark night sky and how it has influenced the human experience across everything from science to art. From Las Vegas' Luxor Beam--the brightest single spot on this planet--to nights so starlit the sky looks like snow, Bogard blends personal narrative, natural history, science, and history to shed light on the importance of darkness--what we've lost, what we still have, and what we might regain--and the simple ways we can reduce the brightness of our nights tonight. (from Goodreads)

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. (from Goodreads)

*I picked these two up at the National Book Festival this weekend! I'll be writing more about that experience soon.

What about you? What are you reading this month? What books do you pick up every fall?