Category Archives: travel

Thoughts: Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

10th January 2013

Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

I am not a foodie. I am the exact opposite of a foodie. I don’t plan out restaurants when I travel. I love food; however, I’m one of the pickiest eaters you’ll meet. But I love love love Anthony Bourdain and his show No Reservations. I guess because, unlike some foodies, he genuinely seems to enjoy what he eats – without reservation.

Medium Raw is just what you’d expect from Bourdain: a series of rants, raves, and love notes to the food, its industry, and its people, and I loved every second of it. The essays range from his thoughts on the unexpected success of Kitchen Confidential, to his storied past and his more domestic present.

Most of the time I was out of the loop when Bourdain discusses famous chefs, restaurants, and meals, but I never once felt patronized or excluded. Bourdain loves food in the way I love books, talking about certain dishes as transcendent, and damn, even if it included some random thing I would never eat, I was tempted as I flipped the pages.

Obscene in the best of ways, heartfelt, and yes, raw, Bourdain’s writing is a treat to read, and if you are at all interested in the man or what he loves, you will absolutely want to own a copy of this one.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

P.S. And thanks to Cassandra at Indie Reader Houston. Two years ago at BEA, she went to Bourdain’s signing at Union Square and bought me my own signed copy. 🙂

Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi: Thoughts

1st October 2012

*I picked up this book at BEA from the great people at Tin House Books.

Beside the Sea, a novella by Véronique Olmi, translated into English by Adriana Hunter, is what Lionel Shriver (author of We Need To Talk About Kevin) describes as “[a] sustained exercise in dread for the reader” because from the opening lines of the novella, it is apparent that all is not well with our unnamed narrator who is taking her two sons on a trip, staying in a rundown hotel, parceling out her coins for hot chocolate and a trip to the carnival, knowing all along it will be the last trip they make together.

We took the bus, the last bus of the evening, so no one would see us. The boys had their tea before we left, I noticed they didn’t finish the jar of jam and I thought of that jam left there for nothing, it was a shame, but I’d taught them not to waste stuff and to think of the next day.

This mother wants no witnesses to their departure, and though jam is left out, it won’t be used again, so she doesn’t mind the waste too terribly. Though the title implies a vacation of some sort, the way the author describes leaving, it doesn’t sound as though this will be a pleasant holiday on the seashore.

In that oddly-disturbing stream of consciousness manner evident in the brief quote above, the narrator and mother of two boys, describes the two-day trip, and as she does, her further descent and overwhelming despair are suffocating. Riding the bus, she describes watching the cars below:

So cars – which are normally so frightening – were pathetic little contraptions now…it made them see less dangerous, yep, we felt better protected in that bus, even if we were dying of cold.

And here:

Now that we knew where we were we could pretend we didn’t give a damn about anything, didn’t feel any danger, like the other passengers.

This is a fragile individual, one for whom the everyday is nearly impossible, but there are moments of lucidity:

…shoes are the ruination of many a mother. I love saying that: many a mother! then heaving a sigh, overwhelmed, like the ones who wait at twenty-five after four, that’s when you feel like you’ve got so much in common and might understand each other.

But no one does understand this mother, and she’s obviously been tested before as she mentions the social worker with whom she’s met multiple times for various reasons, though none is ever explained. We do know, though, that she’s incapable of remembering almost anything, so rarely remembering to pick up her young son from school that the 9-year-old Stan takes over the responsibility.

At times, she’s painfully aware that she’s different:

You’re never what they want you to be. You irritate them, disgust them….Sometimes, no one knows why, someone exactly matches what everyone expected. And everybody loves them, they cheer them and put them on TV. It’s very rare.

When they finally reach their destination, wet from the rain, dirty, and exhausted, she talks about her weariness:

I’m the only one who’s so exhausted, didn’t I used to long to be knocked down by a car and break my leg so I’d finally have a good enough reason to be left in peace? When am I going to be left in peace?

Yet her children don’t seem to disturb that peace, though her son Stan is ever watchful, watching over Kevin, the youngest, and his mother, obviously aware of any changes in her mood and sensitive to them. Reading her descriptions of him made me achingly sad, so aware that his little life was full of anxiety, wondering if his mother would need to cry or need to sleep or need silence.

They go to the seaside because the boys have always wanted to see it, and because the outing isn’t successful, ruined by a shopkeeper who scorns the few coins she has to feed the boys on their trip, she decides to make it up to them, taking them to a carnival, wanting to see them happy. But the happiness doesn’t last, and they return to the hotel:

I was frightened. We went into that place like going into a church….Churches are very old but they never die. An empty church is something you can’t explain, I like it. The hotel was the same. Something had to happen there.

And happen it does, in a most effective way. The translation award-winning Adriana Hunter is beautiful, all the more because of the challenge of the stream of consciousness narration. At 119 pages, this novella is brief but incredibly powerful, exploring all those unanswerable questions that arise when a mother kills her children.

Buy your copy from Barnes and Noble or Indiebound. Check out what others thought on Goodreads.

Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Imperative by Eric Van Lustbader

23rd July 2012

*I received this book from the publicist on behalf of the publisher Grand Central Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

When Bourne pulls an injured man from the freezing sea  in Sweden, he doesn’t realize the man is the victim of a botched interrogation. The man wakes with no memory of who he is or why he’s there, but he speaks in several different languages and knows the name of any firearm Bourne hands him. It’s six weeks since Bourne’s last entanglement and near escape with a Mossad agent, Rebeka, and when he meets back up with her, he realizes nothing is coincidence.

Back in D.C., Treadstone directors Peter Marks and Soraya Moore are on the trail of a legendary assassin known as Nicodemo. Much like Bourne’s own identity, the man is part myth and part reality, making his existence and reign of terror even more terrifying. Where is Nicodemo, and who is he hunting? If you’ve read any Bourne books or seen the films, you know the answer – Jason Bourne.

Every once in a while when I review certain books, I always think: my readers must think I’m nuts. I’ll be the first to admit my reading tastes are…ahem…eclectic. For the most part I read literary fiction or mysteries, but I’ll veer off into sci-fi, romance, or action now and again.

I absolutely, positively love the Jason Bourne movies. In fact, James Bond, Mission Impossible, any spy/action movie is right up my alley. I’d rather watch Ghost Protocol (bad as it was) than New Year’s Eve or any other rom-com. They’re fun and ridiculous and make my palms sweat. This novel was no different.

With these sorts of novels, keeping track of the plot is difficult, and though I follow it, I’m not the person who will be able to point out any flaws or holes unless they’re pretty obvious. No, with these novels, I’m along for the ride, and the ultimate test (for me) is the fun factor. I like the twists and turns and action scenes, and The Bourne Imperative supplied plenty on and off American soil, with the Treadstone team dealing with issues of its own in the form of a possible spy sent from the president.

The gadgets and double agents and international diplomacy make this another win in the Bourne oeuvre, and if you’re looking for a quick read and/or something suspenseful, pick up The Bourne Imperative.

Buy a copy for your Nook or Kindle.

P.S. Did anyone see the preview for the next Bourne move, minus Matt Damon? I really love these films but want Damon back as Bourne. I also don’t understand how you can get Rachel Weisz but not Damon? If it was just a cheaper version, eh, but there are some big names. My dad (who was with me in the theater when the preview played), made the point that Bourne is an identity not a person, so does it matter? It does to me. Anyone else?

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (& Audio Giveaway)

10th July 2012

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

*Warning: If you haven’t read A Discovery of Witches, you may not want to read further.

“Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown.”

A Discovery of Witches left off with Matthew and Diana traveling to 16th-century Britain, hoping to discover more about Diana’s powers and the now-infamous Ashmole 782, a document that could explain the origins of witches, vampires, and daemons. However, studying the past and timewalking into it are two different things, and Diana quickly learns that every aspect of her – from her voice and accent to her height and features – makes her stand out. As a witch mated to a vampire, Diana and Matthew certainly don’t need any additional attention. Witches are being hunted, and Diana’s powers are not strong enough to protect her. Plus, the Matthew of 1590 has obligations other than educating Diana. He must juggle family, espionage, and his place in the mysterious School of Night, as well as the friends who are curious about his new wife. Neither has an easy task, and life in Elizabethan London as newlyweds, as creatures, and as timewalkers challenges Diana and Matthew in ways they never anticipated.

In the opening pages of A Discovery of Witches, Harkness introduces Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Thomas Harriot, all friends of Matthew’s and all members of the School of Night. Matthew…such a namedropper. Want to make an academic – a historian, no less – squeal with excitement? Put her in the same room as these historical figures. Diana is overwhelmed. She’s thrilled to discover these living, breathing legends, but she’s also tense. A. She’s a witch. B. She’s from several hundred years into the future. and C. People have been hunting her. No big thang. Oh, and there’s a D. Chris Marlowe hates her. He’s a daemon, and he’s in love with Matthew. Two strikes against Diana.

Then, just as Diana grows comfortable with this rag tag group at Matthew’s table, the couple is off to meet Philippe, Matthew’s father. This section is totally Beauty and the Beast. Beast: Don’t look at me. I’m hideous. Belle: Let me love you, dammit.

Matthew is home, not only in place but in time. His father is alive. His home looks and smells and feels right. For this man who has lived centuries, coming home is fraught with emotion. In A Discovery of Witches, the relationship just sort of happens. Tingle, tingle, you’re meant for me. Shadow of Night is the courtship. It’s the makeout session and the listening to your favorite love song on the radio, but it’s also the chance for Matthew to face who he is and to ask Diana to accept it. It’s Diana’s awakening to her powers, her heritage, and her desires. It’s the part that made my heart go pitter patter because it’s so realistic. Ok, maybe you and your significant other don’t have to talk about how many people you’ve killed and drained of blood, but relationships aren’t all simple.

That said, everything changes in London. People are losing heads and being tortured as witches. It’s some treacherous territory. Matthew is in a precarious position as spy, vampire, and secret society member. Diana must find a witch willing to help her without placing her trust in the wrong person. Both must be cautious of their modern way of speech and manner and steer clear of the vampire priest godfather dude who isn’t happy that Matthew is back or that Diana is his wife. And this is where the book became tedious for me.

Understandably, Matthew is concerned for Diana. His protectiveness has increased to the nth degree in this book because torture! Vampire godfather! Witches should burn! But the issues I had with A Discovery of Witches were amplified in this book because of those restrictions. Diana is no bored, boring high schooler waiting to be whisked away. Yet no balance is struck between the two in Shadow of Night. Matthew is overprotective. Diana gets upset. Diana apologizes. I wanted to stamp my foot because each time it almost seemed like Matthew would pet her on the head and have ALL THE SEX and voila! No more pesky independent woman.

Again, these are dangerous times, but I repeat my comparison from my previous review: the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Jamie and Clare deal with very similar circumstances, yet Clare’s spirited nature and fight to be heard and seen as Jamie’s equal are the strongest parts of those books. There are sexytimes, but in the beginning the sex was often more adversarial as Clare fought for an equal partner. In Shadow of Night, Diana plays the role of victim and damsel too many times for my liking.

But even though I wish Harkness had written Diana differently, I can’t help but enjoy these books. I gripe, yes, but I gripe because I’m picky. The history, even though a bit lengthy, is incredibly fun, and the idea of these two strong intellectuals falling in love (a romance for academia!) is irresistible to me.

Verdict: Fun and a definite read for fans of A Discovery of Witches. But if you enjoy this series, I highly recommend Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Just ask Andi. 🙂

And you can win an audio copy of Shadow of Night, courtesy of Penguin Audio. Just leave me a comment (by midnight CST Friday, July 13, 2012) telling me why you absolutely must read/listen to this book.

Don’t want to wait? Buy your copy now for your Nook.

Don’t take my word for it: Jen at Devourer of Books loved this one. Iris, however, felt more like I did.

UPDATE: Congrats, Heather Lindskold! You won the audiobook version of Shadow of Night.

Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews

2nd July 2012

*Lydia with Riverhead Books sent me this novel in exchange for an honest review.

In 1939, Jack Kennedy is 22, in poor health, and trying to convince his doctors to release him so he can travel through Europe working on his Harvard senior thesis. Yes, war is on the horizon, but Jack is the son of an ambassador and likely to die before he reaches 30 anyway. In the meantime, the United States has no intelligence service, and someone is funneling Nazi money into the United States to prevent President Roosevelt from winning the 1940 election. Using the convenience of Jack’s trip and his status, Roosevelt recruits him as his personal spy, asking Jack to keep an eye on the situation.

My biggest complaint about this book? I so wanted it to be true. Even though there’s a big old tab telling me that Jack 1939 is “A NOVEL,” somehow my brain thought: JACK KENNEDY WAS A SPY. Until I realized it wasn’t true. So yeah, JFK as a spy, cavorting around Europe with women, dodging bullets and a brutish killer? Yes, please.

John F. Kennedy actually was in Europe in 1939, researching for his senior thesis, which would be published in 1940 under the title Why England Slept. He was also extremely ill as a young man, spending extensive amounts of time in medical facilities, his family all elsewhere. These are aspects of the legendary John F. Kennedy I did not know, and this novel is definitely one that you’ll pull out ye olde encyclopedia or ye new iPhone and Google to your heart’s content.

Preorder this book now for your Nook or from Indiebound. Comes out July 5.