Friday, January 31, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

     Maybe it's just where I am in my life--in the midst of family changes-- but this book struck a chord in me and I really, really liked it. To me it wasn't about the food or even the main character, but about family, history, personal choices and resolution.

     I think that often we find what we're looking for in books--they kind of mirror something in us--which is why sometimes really good ones get ambivalent reviews--some people love them and some really don't like them, depending on where they are in their own lives. Some books do get rave reviews from everyone, but all opinions are subjective, so perhaps those rave reviews have as much to do with trends, public consciousness (etc etc) as they do with good writing? Is it that the truly enduring classics touch enduring commonalities and that's why they consistently receive high ratings? I know that many garbage books that hit trends get huge ratings but do not endure beyond the current flavor of the month/year. Hm.

In this book we meet Haji in India at the beginning of his life before he ever begins to cook. Even at the beginning of his life, though, he is surrounded by the smells and tastes of what will drive him through his adulthood. We follow him and his family from India to Britain and, finally, to France. His journey is filled with food and family and relationships and sumptuous descriptions of it all. 

This story was more of a fairy tale in many ways than it was a (fictional) memoir. There were ugly things, but mostly there were beautiful things that happened at the right time in just the right way. It was a simple book with obvious cause and effect relationships between what happened to Haji and how the rest of his life was changed by what came before.

I liked this book a lot. It reminded me a little bit of a cross between two other of my favorite books, "Edward Trencom's Nose" and "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank" (two books that I have not reviewed here! If you read "Edward" be warned that it is earthy in spots). It was the mix of the sensual (not sexual--there's a difference, you know), the earthy and... Paris, I think (not that I particularly like Paris). Hard to pinpoint. I like simple books with yummy writing. I like multiple connections and clear resolutions. Mostly, this book had some themes that I've been thinking a lot about lately, so I loved reading it.

Sex: Haji has plenty of girlfriends with whom he has sex, but there are no descriptions.
Bad language: Two serious swear words towards the end from the mouth of a very pleasant lady who has Tourette's Syndrome.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

An Elegant Solution by Paul Robertson

     I loved this book. Mostly. I also felt bored, overwhelmed, confused, frustrated and transported by turns. For one thing, it took me almost HALF of the book to get into the story. And there were a few very self-conscious passages that seemed to be shouting, "I'm deep!" 

     But there were also beautiful parts and very interesting parts and captivating parts. Altogether I really liked Paul Robertson's writing style and I loved his mathematics and his mysterious/beautiful/divine/dark/convoluted imagery. The first half was a little too existential for me, but like I said, the story finally grabbed me and then I didn't want to put the book down.

     This is the story of Leonhard, a mathematical genius (somewhere in the 18th century, I think) who finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery that he somehow has the power to resolve. He is a young man of absolute integrity and unshakeable faith--in mathematics and in God. He is servant/friend/student to the head of one of the most brilliant mathematical families in Europe. He lives in Bern, Switzerland and that city is beautifully depicted by Paul Robertson. The book seemed very well-researched and the brilliant people from history that he fleshed out really came alive in this story.

     I did wonder why only Leonhard took the steps to resolve a problem that had troubled many wiser men than he (although were they really wiser?). And how and why was Leonhard able to see that which other men didn't see (really--he kind of saw visions)? And I did feel that the ending might have been a little too...mystical almost. But! I did love the, well, the essence of this book. And I'd like to read more Paul Robertson. I'll have to rest up, though, because sticking with this one (as satisfying and lovely as it ended up being) took some definite effort (it's good for me, though! Right?). If you're geared up for a "thinking" book that will take a little determination to get into, I highly recommend this one. It really did have some transporting moments.

Sex: absolutely none
Bad language: none

77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz

Here's the summary from Amazon: "Welcome to the Pendleton. Built as a tycoon’s dream home in the 1880s and converted to luxury condominiums not quite a century later, the Gilded Age palace at the summit of Shadow Hill is a sanctuary for its fortunate residents. Scant traces remain of the episodes of madness, suicide, mass murder—and whispers of things far worse—that have scarred its grandeur almost from the beginning.

But now inexplicable shadows caper across walls, security cameras relay impossible images, phantom voices mutter in strange tongues, not-quite-human figures lurk in the basement, elevators plunge into unknown depths. With each passing hour a terrifying certainty grows: Whatever drove the Pendleton’s past occupants to their unspeakable fates is at work again. And as nightmare visions become real, as a deadly tide begins to engulf them, the people at 77 Shadow Street will find the key to humanity’s future . . . if they can survive to use it."

I don't like summarizing so this time I took the lazy option.

I listened to this book in the car and listening, as you know, is quite a different thing from reading. When we started our 10 hour drive, we noted that this was a 14 hour book recording. So, with only a few hours left in the drive, we skipped to the last few CDs. Sadly, it didn't make a whole lot of difference in the continuity of the story, because so much time in the book was spent on building up suspense. Every single Pendleton resident's story was told, each encounter with the scary things that were creeping around...all that went on and on.

I like Dean Koontz a lot and I especially appreciate the lack of bad language and sex scenes in his books. But this one was one of his least engaging books, I think. The doomsday premise was interesting and worth thinking about (reminded me a bit of the computer in "2001 A Space Odyssey" or the one in "I, Robot"--the movie, not the collection of short stories)--the book was worth reading. But some skimming here and there won't hurt the story. And I'm happy to report that Dean Koontz is really good at resolving all pieces of the plot, so you won't be left with any uncertainties. I do like that.

Sex: none, except there is a twisted criminal weirdo that likes to sniff his mother's underwear and talks about sex some. I started fast forwarding his icky ramblings towards the end.
Bad language: I don't think so. There may have been some mild cursing, though, that I don't remember (it's been a month since we listened to it). But Dean Koontz doesn't use the hair curling stuff. One of the reasons I really like him.

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

     I love Sherwood Smith. Some of her books seem stronger than others, but I haven't read one that I haven't liked.

     This one is similar to my very favorite Sherwood Smith book (so far), "The Trouble With Kings" (which I apparently haven't reviewed here)--there's an embattled princess who begins by hating a powerful leader and then is moved to understanding and finally to love, there's plenty of kingdom politics--but there's a whole lot more battling going on in this one. In fact, at first I was really turned off by the battles, but as I got into the story I really enjoyed it.

One sentence summary: Meliara and her brother promise their dying father that they will overturn the present (corrupt) regime, but their efforts are stymied by their poverty, their lack of allies and their misunderstanding of what is really going on with kingdom politics--and when the corrupt regime is finally ended and their lives are dramatically changed, things seem as complicated as ever.

   This is a charming book with some good messages, a strong (if stubborn) female main character and a happy ending. I really liked it.

Sex: nope
Bad language: none

Break It Up by E.M. Tippetts

This is another installment in the "Someone Else's Fairytale" series of stories. This one follows Jason's (our "Someone Else's Fairytale" hero) sister's stepdaughter (got that?) Kyra Armijo as she finds her career path and her personal path. It asks some questions too, and has a message. It was pretty good.

I like this whole series. I thought the first book was the strongest, but these last two have been pleasant, engaging and clean. I didn't love this book, but it was fun to read.

Sex: none--but consequences from past promiscuity, so sexual promiscuity is discussed
Bad language: none

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I know, I know! I should have read this one YEARS ago! I don't know how I got through my college years without reading it (my major was English)! After college, I do know why I didn't read it. I developed a dislike for all things Bronte. They're just strange girls and they wrote some strange books. Wuthering Heights? Heathcliff is so disturbed. That whole story is twisted. (Apologies to those who love the book! My personal opinion only!) Anyway, my daughter, who has long loved Jane Eyre, brought over this movie (<--that's the cover over there) to watch one night in December and I was hooked! After I watched the movie half a dozen times (yes, I'm kind of obsessive about these things occasionally), I finally read the book.

And I loved it. I think I loved it better because I watched the movie first--the book filled in all the empty spaces, if you know what I mean. The part I liked the best was how fiercely Jane protected her integrity. She never wavers even as she loses everything. She's pretty amazing. That kind of heroine doesn't show up in stories very often anymore.

Seems like most love stories are all about chemistry or, worse, all about sex. Or they're about a "damaged" heroine/hero who must battle through her/his "issues" to find a balanced relationship (which may or may not include marriage)--I find those stories painful at best and boring at worst. I hate wading through someone else's unprocessed pain. I like reading about strong women who suck it up and move on.

Jane was an orphan, she was abused and abandoned and then sent away to a mismanaged school where she was mistreated again....but she emerges stronger. She doesn't wallow. She makes her peace with life and works to earn a place for herself. She clings to her unshakeable beliefs, embraces a future that she made for herself, endures hardship to maintain her character and her personal standards, is willing to start all over again and give up her comfort and her love. AND there's a happy ending. That's the best part, of course. I found it a very satisfying book.

Sex: none
Bad language: none

A Little Hair of the Dog by Jane McBride

This was a cute one. It's written by a Mormon (a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and it's about a Mormon, so it's full of those sorts of cultural details.

One sentence summary: Ann, having recently lost her father, moves back to her home town where she adopts a very large dog named Henry, meets a good man and gets involved in a mystery.

Yeah, that's about how it went. It was engaging and sweet. Jane McBride uses some regional dialogue that comes off as sounding a little odd now and then, but I didn't find it distracting. I liked the book; it was fun to read.

Sex: none
Bad language: none

Poison Me by Cami Checketts

Hmmmm. I read this book a few months ago....

 It's been pretty busy around here. I think I had a no-post month for the first time since I started this blog--I didn't post anything in December!! Which doesn't mean, of course, that I wasn't reading. Just that I didn't take the time to write anything down. So I'm gonna post a few short entries about some books that I liked (and that I can remember! But I guess if I can't remember it well enough to to write a little something about, it must not be worth blogging about, right?).

I like Cami Checketts. She writes clean, engaging stories. This one is a mystery with a touch of romance thrown in. It takes place in a retirement home. Ruby--our lovely retiree--understands that when people get old, they die, but when her friends start dying unexpectedly she suspects that their deaths were not natural. Now, you know I don't like amateur detectives. Ruby is definitely no professional, but her snooping seemed kind of natural-ish. Or maybe I just liked Ms. Checketts' writing well enough to stick it out. Plus I was interested in everybody's back story...It was a cute book.

Sex: None
Bad langauge: None