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Archive for March, 2009

Review: I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci

March 30, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

I Made Spaghetti

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci
Scheduled Release Date: April 8, 2009
Non-Fiction (Memoir), 288 pages
Grand Central Publishing

Advanced Reader’s Copy provided by:

Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Synopsis:
Giulia Melucci tells her story of romances gone bad and recipes done well. Along the way she shares mouthwatering recipes and her musings on why she is so good at something she loves while not so good at love itself.

I would’ve used the synopsis off the back cover, but I didn’t particularly care for it. I know the publisher is trying to get the reader to open her up, go for a test drive, and buy the book, but on this occasion it was a bit much. For some reason Billy Mays’ voice kept leaping into my head each time I read it.

To be honest, I had a hard time writing this review. I kept wondering if the issues I had while reading this were strictly mine, the format, or the tone. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a little bit of all three.

Not that this is a bad read – it really isn’t. However the flow of the story is continually interrupted by the placement of recipes. Every time the author remembers one from her childhood, or when trying to impress or de-stress, it was inserted immediately into the narrative. It’s very distracting.

There were also some style issues. The author writes well: however in the beginning, and in a few instances later on, the writing is a bit clunky and not well formed. Of course, this being an ARC, it is entirely possible these items will be smoothed out in the finished book.

But there are some gems:

Though my perception of Kit throughout the four years we were together remained as distorted as it was the day after our first date, when it came to putting distance between us, he met me halfway.

Even with statements like this, she never garnered much feeling from me. Not that this is the goal of the book. She just didn’t share anything in her remembrances or insights that resonated strongly with me. More often than not, I just wanted to shake some sense into her. I have to say though, I did enjoy her sense of humor, especially when naming some of those recipes – and the directions given for them.

When I finally finished, I was left with an undecided attitude about whether or not I really liked what I’d read. It’s so strange to feel this way. I don’t hate the book, but I can’t say it thrilled me all that much either.

At the time of this post, there weren’t many reviews out there for me to determine if I’m much off the mark about my feelings for this memoir. From what I was able to find, most have given this the same rating I had decided on before doing any research.

Thus, I am giving it 2 Stars as it did need a little effort to finish due to the constant breaks in the narrative. However, at only 288 pages, this would be a good book to take on a weekend retreat. Maybe a spot with a well equipped kitchen as I can tell you, some of the recipes are very tempting.



Giulia Melucci was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She is the former Vice President of Public Relations for Harper’s Magazine. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1988 and has been employed in publishing ever since. I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti is her first book.

Sunday Salon: Project Fill-In-The-Gaps

March 29, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Miscellaneous

IMG_0346WP

I follow a gazillion bloggers of various types. Okay, maybe not a gazillion. Maybe it’s more like a bazillion.

One of them, Editorial Ass aka Moonrat, recently posted:

Awhile ago, my friend Andromeda Romano-Lax, the author of the beloved novel The Spanish Bow, told me about a project of hers, which I’ve decided to totally rip off (sorry, Andromeda).

She collected a list of 100 books that she wants to have read in her life to fill in some of her reading gaps of classics and great contemporary fiction. She knew it was a monumental task ahead of her–we all tend to choose fun things instead of things we should read, right? At least I do–so she gave herself 5 years to try to get through the list, and gave herself 25% accident forgiveness, meaning if she finishes 75 titles in 5 years, she’ll consider herself to have been victorious.

I’m copying her rules EXACTLY except I’m giving myself 5 years starting now and rounding up (i.e. almost 6 years…) so my goal will be to finish 75 of these 100 books by New Year 2015. I hope this window will also allow me to pick up other non-list books along the way (cuz let’s face it, I will… I have a compulsive book buying habit).

She then asks, which of us would like to play?

Now what self-respecting bibliophile can turn down a request like that?

If you don’t already have a personal list of books you’d like to read, or think perhaps you should, here is a link to the comment thread on Moonrat’s post. Other bloggers are making great suggestions and leaving links to their own lists. Maybe after looking at a few, including mine, you will find that you too want to join in the fun.

I hope you do.

Since this will be a lengthy project, and I don’t have any more room at the top of my blog for another tab, the list will be linked on my sidebar.

Most everyone is copying the criteria exactly; mine are similar:

1. Snobby classics I’ve always wished I’d read, but didn’t because I thought I wouldn’t like them. These will probably end up making up the 25% I fail to read. We’ll see.

2. Books I’ve owned for a long time, but haven’t read because when it comes to deciding, I’ve got a time commitment problem. But no more. Size no longer matters. Or so I’ve been told. Ahem.

3. Books I’ve been given, but haven’t yet read. Oh the guilt!

4. Memoirs and Non-Fiction. For some reason I stopped reading these but will make it a point to put more on my list.

5. This list will be dynamic; ever changing as it will include award winning books, and there is no way to know what the Pulitzer or Man Booker will be five years from now.

I think I remember seeing somewhere a progress meter type widget. As soon as I figure out where it is and how to use it, I will post it in the sidebar so that you can see my progress at a glance.

Have a great Sunday and an even better week!

Review: The House of The Spirits by Isabel Allende

March 27, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

House of the Spirits

The House of The Spirits by Isabel Allende (1982)
Translated from the Spanish by Magda Bogin
Magical Realism, 448 pages
The Dial Press a division of Random House, Inc.

Read For:
The 999 Challenge
1001 Books to Read Before You Die
Read Your Own Book
The Year of Readers
Banned Books Challenge

Synopsis taken from the author’s website:
The House of The Spirits is the magnificent epic of the Trueba family – their loves, their ambitions, their spiritual quests, their relations with one another, and their participation in the history of their times, a history that becomes destiny and overtakes them all.

If word of mouth or reviews do not convince someone to read this novel, the opening sentences will. They immediately draw the reader in, and prepare them for what they are about to read:

Barrabás came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy. She was already in the habit of writing down important matters, and afterward, when she was mute, she also recorded trivialities, never suspecting hat fifty years later I would use her notebooks to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own.

In reading this beautifully woven tale, it becomes evident why it has been consistently on the challenged/banned book list. However, I never took offense at any of the language or subject matter. Never did I sense that any of the passages in question, did not belong or fail to further the plot. It must be noted though, that there will be those who take offense as there are scenes of rape and torture. But the story takes place during a tumultuous time in South American history, thus they have their place.

This was a difficult book for me. I have not read many novels of this nature, so I found that I couldn’t read it for long stretches of time. This is a genre that, for me, requires I digest its narrative slowly. So much is said, and so much is meant by every sentence, many of them long and descriptive such as:

During the summer, she had complained about the stifling evenings, which she spent shooing flies, about the dust clouds in the courtyard, which covered the house as if they were living in a mine shaft, about the dirty water in the bathtub, where her special perfumed salts became a Chinese soup, about the flying cockroaches that got between the sheets, about the burrows of the mice and ants, about the half-drowned spiders she found kicking in the glass of water on her night table each morning, about the insolent hens who laid their eggs in her shoes and shat on the lingerie in her dresser.

Also, the story is told in three “voices” or points of view. The flow was not affected, and I never became lost, as there was always a break before a change. It was just another aspect of the book that I needed to become accustomed to as I read.

I did like the book, and if you are a fan of magical realism, family sagas that span generations, narrative that flows like a raging river at times and a quiet stream in others – then this is a novel for you.

I am giving this a 3 Star rating as it is a good read, but one I could only do in stages. Perhaps it’s me, but I cannot see sitting down with this book and completely digesting it in a single afternoon. I also feel its style may be challenging to others and some of its subject matter too disturbing for sensitive readers.

Don’t let the lower rating fool you. I liked it well enough that it is not the only Allende book in my library. I look forward to reading Daughter of Fortune and Portrait in Sepia, whose stories are connected to The House of The Spirits.


Isabel Allende is has written eight novels, which include Portrait in Sepia, Daughter of Fortune, Of Love and Shadows, and Eva Luna. She has also written a collection of short stories; three memoirs, and a trilogy of children’s books.

Review: A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal

March 24, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

A Lucky Child

A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal
Scheduled release: April 20, 2009
Non-Fiction (Memoir), 256 pages

Advanced Reader’s Copy provided by:
Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Synopsis:
Thomas Buergenthal, now a Judge in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, tells his astonishing experiences as a young boy in his memoir A LUCKY CHILD. He arrived at Auschwitz at age 10 after surviving two ghettos and a labor camp. Separated first from his mother and then his father, Buergenthal managed by his wits and some remarkable strokes of luck to survive on his own. Almost two years after his liberation, Buergenthal was miraculously reunited with his mother and in 1951 arrived in the U.S. to start a new life.

Now dedicated to helping those subjected to tyranny throughout the world, Buergenthal writes his story with a simple clarity that highlights the stark details of unimaginable hardship.

First of all, I will admit that I am not much of a non-fiction reader. However when offered the opportunity to read a compelling account of someone’s life, or memories of a particular episode in that life, I simply cannot pass. I have always been intrigued by the stories of World War II survivors. (My grandfather was a POW in the South Pacific, hence the interest.)

I was surprised at how quickly an impact this book made upon me; and this was before I’d begun reading chapter one.

I knew I was about to read the remembrances of a man who survived Auschwitz as a child. I knew there were going to be accounts of horrors that would affect my emotions strongly. I was not prepared to open the book and see this:

T Buergenthal

This is a photo of the author. This boy, this child, was about to suffer and survive one of the greatest horrors of the war. Not too many years after this was taken, his family was on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the oncoming terror. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it, and by the age of ten, young Thomas found himself struggling to survive in one of the most infamous death camps in history.

How did he do this? According to the title of the book, it was because he was ‘a lucky child’, and after reading his stark account, one has to agree the number of coincidences and happenstance that occur are almost too much to believe. If one does not put stock into destiny or fate, they may feel differently after reading this book.

Even the author himself questions this luck, but not with any guilt. As he says, “I came to view survival and non-survival as a game of chance over which I had no control and was, therefore, not responsible for the outcome.”

It does no good to spend one’s life wondering, “Why me?” Not only does he survive, he rises above the hatred, the anger, the initial desire for revenge and, as an International Court judge, dedicates his life to the protection of human rights. “My past would inspire my future and give it meaning.” And that it has.

The only problem I had while reading this was its tone. I guess I was expecting more ‘drama’. Not until reading another comment, that I was able to put my finger on what was bothering me:

“The unsentimental tone of Buergenthal’s writing magnifies his deliberate decision not to make melodrama out of a story that is plenty dramatic enough. Like Primo Levi and Anne Frank, Buergenthal can only tell the story of one life, but through that life we are led to consider and honor all the lives of those who weren’t so lucky.”–(Kate Braestrup, author of Here If You Need Me)

This explains it so well. For the most part, his voice does come off unsentimental, however I can tell you that this does not detract from the story. The author clearly understands that he does not need be overly dramatic as the story itself provides the necessary tension and heartache.

Still, I found the formality of his speech, and the minimalistic approach to some of the recollections a little distracting at times – but not severely.

If you are at all interested in this subject matter, I recommend that you consider this book for your library. It is definitely remaining in mine.

I am giving this book 4 Stars as it was not a stellar read, but a very good one.



Judge Buergenthal is a specialist in international and human rights law.

He is the author of more than a dozen books and numerous articles on international law, human rights and comparative law subjects. He currently serves as a member of the International Court of Justice which is located at the Peace Palace in The Hague.

Review: "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O’Connor

March 22, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O’Connor
Reprinted in 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology
by permission of Harcourt, Inc.

Read for:
C.B.’s Short Story Sunday
John’s Short Story Monday

 

Advisory: This story contains language of a nature that might offend some readers. However, taken in context, the terms and names used are not done in a gratuitous manner. Bigotry did exist at the time, and this is the setting in which this story is set. In addition, the ending is extremely disturbing.

After reading the above, it will be interesting to see how many will read this story or not. I can tell you that it began well, however the ending was so upsetting, I doubt I will ever recommend it without a warning. Even as I write this, I remain strongly affected.

When I first heard the title, I immediately imagined a story about a relationship, or perhaps someone in search of one. It actually means just what it says: as one character notes, "A good man is hard to find…Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more."

This reminded me of how I grew up, in a neighborhood where everyone knew each other well enough that strangers would stick out like a sore thumb. There was no need to lock our doors and windows.

Then came the end of the decade; Martin Luther King assassinated, the Zodiac Killer, Charles Manson and his followers. Things changed then. Fear crept into our lives and our neighborhoods. We started using locks on our doors and windows – and trust.

In a "Good Man Is Hard to Find", I was left with a number of questions regarding the perception of good and evil.  How protected are we against those who are not afraid of the consequences? A good man has a conscience, and this it what helps him to abide by societies norms and laws.

But if these men (and women) are becoming harder and harder to find, who do you trust, who do you fear? What kind of evil is let loose when the goodness in us has died away?

There is also the concept of redemption. What if you were faced with someone who felt they were beyond redemption and that there is no such thing as salvation? No matter what you say or do, you are powerless to convince them that there is any good left in them, and thus have to face whatever evil they wish to inflict upon you.

This is how the story ends. It is not a happy ending – and that is the only spoiler I’ll offer.

I am giving this story 4 Stars. It is a good story yet it disturbed me. Still does every time I think about it. But, as you can see, it raises a lot of questions. It will be interesting to see who has read this, and what you thought about it.



Flannery O’Connor works include two novels, The Violent Bear It Away and Wise Blood. She also has two short story collections, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge. Both collections were consolidated, and several other stories added, for The Complete Stories published posthumously in 1971.

Flannery O’Connor succumbed to complications from Lupus at the age of thirty-nine.

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