Book Review: The Yard

March 24, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction, Historical Fiction 0

YardThe Yard
by Alex Grecian, Historical Fiction 
(Released May, 2012)

Bottom Line: Read it.
Following Jack the Ripper’s reign, London’s Scotland Yard “Murder Squad” must solve the murder of one of their own detectives.
My Thoughts: This book is somewhat similar to The Gods of Gotham, which I reviewed last year and included on my 2012 Holiday Gift Ideas List. However, I liked this one a little better than The Gods of Gotham, mainly because of the historical context of post-Ripper London. I never realized how terrified and paralyzed Londoners were following the Ripper’s reign, and also how public sentiment turned against Scotland Yard for failing to catch him. Another interesting dynamic is that Scotland Yard was having a hard time wrapping its head around the existence of “serial killers” and was mentally fighting the fact that someone other than the Ripper might be killing just for sport. Aside from the context, there were three cases going on at once and part of the suspense is trying to figure out how they will all connect in the end. And, there is a focus on the developing forensics technology (including fingerprinting) of the time and the methodology of solving cases without the advanced technology we have today. If you are interested in criminal history or the development of forensics, you will find this book fascinating. The Yard is going on my Books for Guys List.

Business Books List

March 22, 2013 Business, Nonfiction 0

Books on this list are behind the scenes stories – dramatic, scandalous, and back-stabbing – and teach you a bit about business along the way. Most importantly, I got a much better understanding of what caused the 2008 financial crisis (which I wasn’t getting by following the news) by reading a couple books on this list. And don’t worry – not all “business” books (and certainly none on this list!) are dry and boring.

Business Books List

Book Review: East of Eden

March 17, 2013 Books to Skip, Classics, Fiction 0

East of EdenEast of Eden
by John Steinbeck, Fiction 
(Released September, 1952)

Bottom Line: Skip it.
The multi-generational story of the Trask family, focusing on two sets of brothers (Adam and Charles and twins Aron and Caleb) and spanning the mid-1800’s through the early 1900’s.
My Thoughts: I’ve been thinking about doing a “Revisiting the Classics” type recommendation list for books that might have been required reading in high school and are worth reading now. The problem is that I only actually remember about two of my required books from high school, so I’ve been asking friends if they have any “classics” they’ve read in later life and loved…which is how I decided to read East of Eden. I really liked the central story of the Trask family, but there is a lot of extra clutter in this book that detracts from the main plot (and gets you close to 700 pages!). According to Amazon, this book “echoes the biblical account of Cain and Abel” and there is a large section that analyzes the Cain and Abel story. I found it virtually unintelligible and thought about putting the book down after that section. The story of the Trask family is good enough to stand on its own without the meandering metaphor of the Cain and Abel story. There are also philosophical tangents at the beginning of each “Part” of the book that don’t really connect to the story, but are more just musings on life and are indecipherable at times. Now, on to the positive. The Trask family and its close associates are great characters containing good vs. evil and straightforward vs. manipulative dynamics. There are intriguing villains and people you want to root for. And, it’s just a good story. To be honest, I was on the fence about whether you should read or skip this one, but I decided to go with “Skip it” mostly because it’s so long and I really felt it’s length. With every other long book I’ve recommended, I enjoyed reading it so much that it made me forget how long it actually was…and I didn’t feel that way with East of Eden.

Sports Books List

March 16, 2013 Nonfiction, Sports 0

For all the guys out there, I want to make sure you know that my husband has reviewed this list and ensured that guys would like most (if not all) of these books. The only things he can’t vouch for are the Olympics and tennis. The list is in alphabetical order by sport.

Sports Books List

New Format

March 15, 2013 Uncategorized 0

You may have noticed that the site looks a little different and be wondering where the “I Just Finished Reading…” section has gone.

Now that the site has been active for a little over 6 months and I have learned more (particularly about a “blog” vs. a regular web page), I have decided to turn the former “I Just Finished Reading…” section into a blog format. The blog will serve as the site’s main home page. 

The blog format will allow you to:

  • See the latest book or post right when you enter the site
  • Find and email links to reviews of individual books 
  • Search for books by category (including “Books to Read”, “Books to Skip”, and genres) using a drop down menu on the right sidebar
  • Subscribe to the site via email to receive updates of new posts

I will also be adding occasional blog posts that are not “book reviews”, but do relate to books and reading.

Disclaimer: I updated every book I posted in 2013 into the new format, but did not update every book I read in 2012. The 2012 books will still reside in the 2012 Archive, which can be found on the main menu.

As always, I am open to suggestions and feedback, so please tell me what you think!

Cooking / Food Book List

March 13, 2013 Cooking / Food, Nonfiction 0

Weekend Cooking, Cooking books, food booksI just discovered fellow book blogger, Beth Fish Reads‘, weekly meme (a “community” blog post, for all those non-bloggers out there) called Weekend Cooking, so I decided it was a great occasion to update my Cooking / Food Books List post.

In addition to reading, cooking (and eating great food!) is one of my favorite things to do. So, I obviously had to compile a cooking / food book list! Books on this list are not cookbooks – these are actual books about food, cooking, restaurants, chefs, and cooking school – although a few do contain some recipes.

Click here for my Cooking / Food Book List

Book Review: The Soul of a Chef

March 10, 2013 Books to Read, Cooking / Food, Nonfiction 0

Soul of a ChefThe Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection
by Michael Ruhlman, Nonfiction – Cooking/Food 
(Released August, 2001)

Bottom Line: Read it.
Ruhlman explores what makes a chef successful by profiling three different examples: the Certified Master Chef (CMC) exam at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), rising star chef Michael Symon, and reknowned chef Thomas Keller.
My Thoughts: This book is almost like three separate short stories, which makes it an easy read and keeps things interesting. Part 1 focuses on the CMC Exam, which is a professional certification given by the CIA (this is NOT the exam that CIA students take to graduate from the school). Ruhlman does a fantastic job writing about the exam in a way that has you biting your knuckles with suspense as if you were watching a sports event. His descriptions of the franttic lead-up to service for each section of the test and the judging panels provide serious drama. However, I did find the detail about classical cooking methods tedious to read at times. Part 2 focuses on Cleveland chef Michael Symon, who was a rising star on the culinary scene at the time and is now an Iron Chef on Iron Chef America. It’s a light-hearted section compared to Part 1 and showcases Symon’s bubbly personality, a critical factor in the success of his restaurant. I loved learning more about Symon’s background, cooking style, personality, and business philosophy after seeing him on numerous cooking shows. He’s kind of a badass and does food his own way while winning respect in the culinary industry. Part 3 focuses on Thomas Keller and “The French Laundry”, widely considered the best chef and restaurant in the country. Ruhlman focuses on how Keller got to where he is despite no formal training and growing up in a family that was never focused on food. Ruhlman might be my favorite food writer – and this one is joining his first book, The Making of a Chef, on my Cooking / Food Books List.

Have you read The Soul of a Chef?  Tell us what you thought (without spoilers!) in the comments section.

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

March 10, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction 0

Whered You Go BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel
by Maria Semple, Fiction 
(Released December, 2012)

Bottom Line: Read it.
Summary: Bernadette Fox disappears following a series of embarrassing incidents at home and issues with anxiety, sending her eighth grade daughter (Bee) on a quest to find her.
My Thoughts: Finally…the first book I’ve read in 2013 that I’ve absolutely LOVED! This book is surprising, quirky, heartwarming, and suspenseful. At first, I thought it was going to be a flighty read about neurotic mothers in the carpool line. But, about a quarter into the book, you learn more about Bernadette…she’s a complex character and I was hooked on her after reading the ArtForum article profiling her former architecture career. Her complexity as a character is sort of shoved into a light and funny surrounding story, which gives the book great balance. I also loved Bee, Bernadette’s daughter. She reminded me of Becca Moody, Hank’s daughter on the TV show “Californication”…a calm voice of reason juxtaposed against a family full of turmoil. Beyond great characters, this book contains a quirky mix of topics that somehow all gel together…”crazy mother” dynamics, Microsoft corporate culture, mental illness, architecture, and Antarctica. It sounds scattered, but each topic has its logical place in the story…it just worked. Finally, I loved the structure of the book – the story is told through a combination of Bee’s thoughts, emails and letters between characters, news articles, and reports by various “officials” (I don’t want to say what types of officials for fear of giving away spoilers). You get lots of different perspectives of what’s going on and the structure illuminates the contrast between Bernadette’s self image and everyone else’s view of her, which gets to the heart of the story. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is going on my Book Club Recommendation List.

Have you read Where’d You Go, Bernadette??  Tell us what you thought (without spoilers!) in the comments section.

Book Review: Eye of the Needle

March 10, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mysteries/Thrillers 0

Eye of the NeedleEye Of The Needle
by Ken Follett, Historical Fiction (Released 1978)

Bottom Line: Read it.
Summary: A German spy (“The Needle”) who discovers a key Allied secret during World War II is being hunted by MI5 and collides with a woman living on a desolate island off the coast of Aberdeen.
My Thoughts: Before The Pillars of the Earth and The Century Trilogy (Fall of GiantsWinter of the World), Follett was best known for his historical fiction thrillers. Since I love his historical epics so much and I love thrillers, I figured I should try one of the types of books that originally made him famous. Eye of the Needle was originally published in 1978 under the title Storm Island and was Follett’s first truly successful novel, so I figured it was a good place to start. After being disappointed by the last WWII thriller I read (Simon Tolkien’s Orders from Berlin), Eye of the Needle was what I’d been looking for! The plot centers around a fictional (but relatively probable) “what-if” scenario involving the lead-up to the Normandy invasion, which gave the book its historical depth. It’s also a fantastic page turner – with spies, MI5, murder, police work, and a side love story as well. My one small criticism is that I thought the Epilogue was contrived and unnecessary to the story – but you can just stop reading when the regular book ends, so it doesn’t end up doing much harm. This one is going on my Books for Guys and Page Turners lists.

Have you read Eye of the NeedleTell us what you thought (without spoilers!) in the comments section.

Book Review: Seating Arrangements

March 10, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction 1

Seating ArrangementsSeating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Released June, 2012
433 Pages

Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary

Family and friends gather on a small island in New England for the wedding of Daphne Van Meter, who is seven months pregnant, and Greyson Duff.

My Thoughts 

The Van Meters (Winn and Biddy are the parents – I mean, get a load of those names!) and Duffs are snobby, New England families that don’t talk about anything unpleasant and fear “inappropriateness” and “social embarrassment” above all else. Obviously, a wedding where the bride is knocked up has the potential for many moments that would send these people into a tailspin.

Many of the reviewers on Amazon passionately hated the characters and everything they are about. However, it’s obvious from the first page that this is a social satire and Shipstead wrote the book with a tongue in cheek attitude. These characters aren’t meant to be loved…they are meant to provide comedy and represent certain cliches.

Shipstead also perfectly captures the ridiculousness that can overcome packs of women as they prepare for a wedding. Seating Arrangements is a fun, light read with just the right amount of substance.