Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Recipe for Secrets

The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan


It wasn't as if Lila didn't know what she was getting into when she married Sam, but she didn't know what Sam was going to get into when he got his dream job of restaurant critic for a major Philadelphia newspaper. With her toddler daughter and another baby on the way, Lila knows that moving to a new city isn't going to be easy. However, Sam is making it even harder for her, because he's suspicious of everyone, including the neighbors. That's because if a restaurant critic doesn't have his anonymity, he can't write an objective review, since the chef and staff will never treat him like just another customer. To top it all off, not only is Lila lonely because she can't make friends, she's also aching to go back to work. Unfortunately, going back to her high-profile position as a crisis manager for the Addison Hotel chain can only put Sam's attempts at obscurity in even more danger.

Yes, I know what you're thinking, not another "wife of" book, but seriously, is the title of a book so important? I mean, if the book is good, certainly we can forgive the author (or publisher, or editor) for giving us a title that seems a bit less than creative or original. Of course, there's the old saying that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, so perhaps we shouldn't judge a book by its title either. That said, I love the cover of this book, but I have to admit that the title almost put me off. What grabbed me, however, was the blurb. I do like culinary fiction stories, as well as ones that have female protagonists, so this one seemed to fit the bill.

What LaBan gives us here is wholly Lila's story. Here's a woman who was a professional, and successful in her job. Not very long after she breaks up with her (mostly long-distance) boyfriend of two years, she meets Sam Soto and they fall in love. One thing leads to another (in this instance, a pregnancy that leads to a marriage). The focus here is on how Lila tells the reader the trials and tribulations of becoming a stay-at-home mother, while her husband's job makes her almost go into total hiding. While that seems to be enough of a problem, Lila soon realizes that as much as she loves being a mother, she also needs to be back in the workforce, for her own sanity as much as her own self-worth.

LaBan's style is light and comfortable, with just enough seriousness to build Lila into the type of woman that we come across every day. Mostly we like her, but there are times we want to slap her when she's blind to some of the stupid things she does. Lila is also a truly modern woman who doesn't depend on a man to make her happy, yet finds one that does. Even so, she sometimes falls into situations where she forgets her own strengths, and allows the weaknesses of others to control her actions. I'd say that Lila has the potential to be the type of model feminist that we all aspire to become, especially because we can appreciate and understand her frustrations when sidetracked or she loses focus.

What makes this book fun is how creative Sam gets in trying to keep his identity a secret while visiting these restaurants. We laugh at his amateurish attempts to disguise himself while patting himself on his back at his cleverness, but Lila knows when Sam's failed to fool anyone but himself. Unfortunately, Sam's paranoia at failing to stay incognito also becomes Lila's problem, when the gossip columnist Sy Silver spots her at eateries or with people connected to the restaurant business around town. Adding to this are the delicious descriptions of the foods that they sample along the way, together with each chapter headed by a snippet from one of Sam's reviews (each one of which foreshadows the coming chapter).

However, fun isn't everything, and what brings this out of the genre of simple comedy is how LaBan incorporates levels of self-analysis and introspection into Lila's character. In turn, Lila uses these aspects of her narrative to try to get to grips with her precarious circumstances, while at the same time, trying to understand her own feelings as well as what she really wants for her future - both professionally and in her growing family.


LaBan carefully balances the mixture of these two elements throughout the book (with one small exception), keeping this story from being either overly silly or overly serious. This only becomes obvious when LaBan makes the mistake of letting Lila over-psychoanalyze herself and all the people in her life for a handful of pages near the end of the book. A more self-indulgent writer wouldn't have been able to keep that single false step so nicely contained and that is, if you ask me, close to a stroke of genius. Those few pages are the only thing keeping me from giving this book a full five stars. All told, I really enjoyed this book; I liked Lila and all the other characters, and drooled at the foods along the way. That's why I can warmly recommend this book with a strong four and a half stars out of five. 




"The Restaurant Critic's Wife" by Elizabeth LaBan, published by Lake Union, release date January 5, 2016, is available (for pre-order) from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publisher for allowing me to read the ARC of this book in exchange for a fair review via NetGalley.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - December 22, 2015



Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:


  • Grab your current read (or the next book on your reading list)
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teaser:
 "Waiting for a table at Igloo can be like running the Iditarod sled race— it’s a test of endurance, and it might even involve sledding, not to mention encounters with bear noses and free-range venison. But once you settle beneath the fur in your igloo and start in on some good old Inuit bison-marrow dumplings, you’ll realize it was worth the wait to find the Eskimo’s house. —Sam Soto" 
--  The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan.


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT with either the link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your ‘teasers’ in a comment on Jenn's latest post, here (if you don’t have a blog). Thanks!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Depths in simplicity

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout


If there is one quote from this novel that both sums it up, and yet is also the exact opposite of what this story tries to do, it is this: "we never know, and never would know, what it would be like to understand another person fully. It seems a simple thought, but as I get older I see more and more that she had to tell us that." The "she" in this quote refers to Sarah Payne, an author that holds a writing workshop that Lucy attends. This is a very truthful and telling line, both for writers and readers alike. Yet, this is exactly what authors attempt to convey to their readers - a story where we can understand another person fully. That Elizabeth Strout (author of the Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories Olive Kittredge) is able to reveal the character of Lucy Barton to her readers so fully, is only part of her genius. The other part is that she does it with such economy of text (just over 200 pages), making this book virtually magical.

Strout gives us Lucy Barton, who is a very simple person, in self-observed hindsight. The event at the center of this story is Lucy's hospitalization due to mysterious complications following appendix removal surgery. More specifically, Lucy's catalyst for telling this is her mother's visit with her, as she was recovering. This chapter in Lucy's life appears to be smack dab in the middle of her timeline, but since Strout tells Lucy's story in hindsight, we also get glimpses into events and incidents from both before and after that episode. This, of course, rounds out Lucy's character as we gain insights into both her life and why she writes down her thoughts in this semi-memoir of a story.

As I mentioned above, what is most incredible isn't the story itself, or even Lucy Barton's character, but how Strout presents us with this story in relatively few pages of prose. The best word that comes to mind is obviously evocative, while some might even call it poetic. This brings to mind something akin to the style of my all-time favorite writer, Michael Ondaatje. Ondaatje began his writing career as a poet, and this heavily influenced his fiction, whereby he always seems to include elements of poetry into his prose. The artistry in this is that both Strout and Ondaatje achieve this depth of redolence without ever sounding flowery or poetic.

Obviously, if I'm comparing Strout with Ondaatje, I must be enamored. So yes, I admit it, I adored this book, not only because Strout makes me feel and see her characters; but also because after I finished reading, I believed I really knew and understood them. Most importantly, I loved this book because she did all this with a surface of simplicity that belies the complexity that lies seamlessly underneath. This book gets five out of five stars, and I'm already reserving a top spot for it for my "best of 2016 books" next year.



"My Name is Lucy Barton" by Elizabeth Strout, US release date January 16, 2016 (UK release date February 6, 2016), is available for pre-order from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, UK, Canada & Australia), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery) as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for allowing me to read an ARC of this book via NetGalley.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Feature & Follow Friday (December 18, 2015)



Feature & Follow is a blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read. The purpose is to meet new people and gain more followers in the book blogging community. 

If this is your first time here, welcome! You are about to make some new friends and gain new followers. But you have to know, the point of this hop is to follow other bloggers also. I follow you, you follow me.


Question of the Week: 
If you could write a book what would it be about? - Suggested by Go Book Yourself.

My Answer:

Surprisingly enough, The Chocolate Lady wouldn't write a book about chocolate. In fact, I've actually started writing a book. The book I am writing is historical fiction, which takes a few of my family's stories/legends and combines them together with the (real life) contemporary discovery of the 1940 census that lists the names of two girls and has them entered as my father's younger sisters (but... he was an only child). I want to follow those two girls, and the fictional brother I'm giving them, from their birthplace in Estonia to my father's apartment in Chicago and then make up what happened to them afterwards. What do you think? Would you read that book?

Feature & Follow is a blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read. The purpose is to meet new people and gain more followers in the book blogging community. 
If this is your first time here, welcome! You are about to make some new friends and gain new followers. But you have to know, the point of this hop is to follow other bloggers also. I follow you, you follow me.

Question of the Week: Question of the Week: If you could write a book what would it be about? - Suggested by Go Book Yourself.

- See more at: http://www.njkinnysblog.com/2015/12/friday-feature-and-follow-66.html#.dpuf


 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Confessions of a Frustrated Reader

Anachronisms & Inaccuracies


My friend, author Rabbi Ilene Schneider recently wrote a post on her blog called "Blueberries in Hammonton in 1920? - Doubtful," which discusses researching something that seemed to her to be an historical inaccuracy from the TV show "Boardwalk Empire." Such anachronisms can ruin watching movies, TV shows and of course, reading novels. I'm sure that like you, I've come up against these kinds of problems of inaccuracies with many novels; most of which have to do with areas I know quite a bit about. Of course, even when that is the case, before I say anything about these problems, I'll start researching the items to make sure my initial impression is correct. Two of my most prominent examples are as follows:


When I read the novel "Melting the Snow on Hester Street" by Daisy Waugh, I couldn't believe just how many mistakes I found. For example, while the author knew that many Jewish immigrants worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory (the place of the huge 1911 fire that killed 146 people, mostly women), that the author couldn't get someone to fact check that immigrant Jews wouldn't be speaking Hebrew to one another, but rather Yiddish, was surprising to me. This seemed to me to be one of the more easily checked points she got
wrong. Other mistakes were less obvious. For example, there's the important heirloom necklace with the distinctive charm on it. The author said that charm was a "hamsa," which is a hand-shaped charm that's supposed to ward off the evil eye (like the one in the picture here). While many Jews wear such things today, most of the immigrants to the USA in the early 20th century were from Eastern Europe. Since this symbol is Arabic in its origin, only Jews from North Africa would have worn these back then. The blending of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions is something that is relatively new, mostly through the melting pot of Jews coming to Israel and the various cultures borrowing from each other. Another one I particularly liked, but that most people wouldn't notice, was one scene where a woman decides to make her husband a traditional Jewish breakfast. One of the items on the menu was a dish called shakshuka. Once again, the author included a Sephardic item that an immigrant from Eastern Europe couldn't have known about.


Shakshuka - NOT an Ashkenazi dish!

More recently, someone sent me a copy of his self-published novel, which takes place in Israel. According to his biography, the author lives here in Israel, but I assume he doesn't live in Jerusalem. In case he does live in Jerusalem, I have to assume that he and his family are extremely healthy and never had to step inside the hospital where the opening scene of his book takes place. Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with the hospital in question. Many years ago I was hospitalized there, and since then, I've had both very close friends and relatives hospitalized and/or treated there. Therefore, when an author writes that a patient's room is on the fourth floor, I know that this can't be right. That floor, despite its number, is the main entrance floor, and I know for an absolute fact that there are no patient rooms on that floor - and there never have been any. When the author then wrote that the protagonist bought a book "downstairs" in the hospital gift shop, I balked completely. That hospital's gift shop is on the fourth floor, so you can't go down to the gift shop if your (fictitious) room is on the fourth floor. Aside from that, I have my doubts that the gift shop even carries the type of book the protagonist bought, and it is even more doubtful that they'd have it in English.

While I was saddened that Ms. Waugh's fact checkers needed to be fact-checked themselves, the inaccuracies of this other book actually angered me. How difficult would it have been for this Israeli writer to take a day-trip to Jerusalem to visit this hospital, and get his facts straight? Even if the writer lives in one of the furthest corners of the country, one day would be the very most he'd need. Even if that is impossible, he must know at least one person in Jerusalem who could have checked this out for him. Baring all that, the very least he could have done was pick up the phone and spoken to someone at the hospital. I'm sorry, but that's just laziness on the part of the writer, and that is unacceptable.

If you are beginning to wonder where this rant was going, now is where you'll find out. You see, I've been dabbling with the idea for a novel of my own for a few years now. Our family has many fascinating, old stories that I've recounted to people on many occasions. I don't know how true most of them are, and I'm sure they've morphed over time to be more interesting. The thing is, often when I tell the stories people tell me I should write a book about them. Until a few months ago, I always laughed these suggestions off. Seriously, how many books are there about Jews leaving or forced out of their homes, only to overcome a myriad of struggles until they reached the 'promised land' of America? Too many, I'm sure, by far.

That was until I read about an author who decided to write a fictional novel about one of her real family's long-standing mysteries. Since she couldn't solve the mystery in real life, she decided she would solve it through fiction instead. Isn't that a brilliant idea? Well, I thought so. Mostly because this immediately reminded me of a family mystery of my own, and suddenly I started thinking how that family mystery could be the perfect thing to bring all our family stories together into an interesting novel - one that is different from all the rest. However, I can't allow myself to be lazy like that author I mentioned with his self-published book that I couldn't finish reading. I want to make sure that what I write has no anachronisms, and no inaccuracies. Oh, sure, I'll let myself take poetic license here and there, but there's no way I'll let things into my book that are glaringly wrong. That's a promise to both me, and my potential future readers!

Now, how do I stop getting overly involved in the research and start spending more time writing? I will gratefully welcome any suggestions!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

How do you eRead?

Seeing as I'm in between reviews, I thought I'd discuss something a little different. No, not chocolate (although I certainly could), but rather what I've discovered about eReading, and how I read eBooks these days.

Anyone who read either of my early posts about print vs. eBooks will know that I'm still certain that dead tree books are still very much long for this world. Although those posts are both over two years old, I haven't changed my mind. I also don't intend to, because frankly, I doubt I'll ever tire of reading from the printed page.

Of course, who knows what will happen with the next generation of readers? If there's one thing we need to do is continue to encourage people to read. The young readers of today will be adult readers of tomorrow and they'll spawn their own young readers. If that means that we'll eventually have libraries that only have shelves of flash-drives for hooking up your eReader to borrow books, well then, so be it. However, that's unimportant, because what I want to discuss right now is my eReading experiences.


I first started reading eBooks when my lovely sister bought me a Nook. It was just a simple touch model (not like the fancy GlowLight ones they have today), with WiFi that I never used. (This is one of the disadvantages of living in a country where bookshops aren't yet compatible with eReaders. Even there are, they probably only sell books in a language I find too difficult to read for pleasure - due to my dyslexia.) The Nook is actually a nice item that reads many different types of files. In fact, nothing beats it when it comes to a PDF file that I know of. Of course, because I didn't use the WiFi, the battery life on this baby is incredible - I mean, sometimes I could go for over six weeks without having to charge it. Since the eBooks I get from NetGalley are available as ePub files, this was a real boon to my reading - and my reviewing, of course.

Unfortunately, the Nook isn't perfect. First, since my model is a very simple one, the biggest drawback is that it has no backlight. That meant that if I want to read this somewhere without light (on a plane, or in bed while my husband is sleeping), I had to get my own - not terrible, but somewhat inconvenient. More importantly, the NetGalley files I send to my Nook expire after 55 days. That means I had to be careful not to download a book too soon. Since NetGalley files have archive dates, I also had to make sure I download before that date. The first time that happened to me, I realized that I needed a backup (but more about that later). Then there's the problem with technology, which advances extremely quickly these days, and gadgets like Nooks aren't built to last all that long. Recently my poor old Nook started hiccoughing - not literally, but it would do things like lost my place even though I'd bookmarked the last page I read, or it would suddenly flip over to the home page. However, the last nails in my Nook's coffin began when I upgraded my desktop to Windows 10. That's when my Adobe Digital Editions started screwing up and not accepting my NetGalley files. Mind you, I was able to scrape through using one of the laptops we have, but I soon realized that I needed that backup plan even more than ever.

The first backup plan I had was downloading eReader apps to my tablet. (Yes, Barnes & Nobel does have a reading app, but surprise, surprise - it isn't available in my country!) Being a person who likes to support the "little guys," I took down practically every eReader I could find, except for the Kindle reading app. Of course, this didn't help if I downloaded a file and didn't get to read it before it expired. When that happened, as a last resort, I broke down and finally got the Kindle reading app for my tablet. The biggest advantage to this is that the NetGalley files never expire; the drawback is that you can't lend those files to anyone. This made sure I didn't miss downloading a book before NetGalley archived it, as well as working with other ARC sights like Edelweiss.


So, why did I eventually abandon my Nook? Well, a combination of the Windows 10/Adobe Digital Reader disaster and my old Nook's hiccoughing is what did it for me. You see, I don't like reading on my tablet because the little icons that tell me things are happening in the background are distracting. In addition, because I have my tablet hooked up to the WiFi all the time, the battery needs charging far too often for me to read on it as much as I do. That's why I broke down and ordered a Kindle Paperwhite.

There are two drawbacks to buying a Kindle. The first is that they only take certain files, so all my ePub books I had on my Nook before I got the Kindle reading app are useless, unless you get a program to convert them (I did find one, that gives me 10 conversions for free, but that doesn't help with the files that have expired). The other is that the US site doesn't ship to where I live, and the UK site charges a whole lot for shipping (not to mention that customs here like to charge duties for these because our postal service is in the pocket of our largest chain of bookstores). Thankfully, my buying the Kindle coincided with my daughter's trip to the US, who stayed with my best friend - that gave me a US address and free shipping via my daughter's suitcase!

What do I like the most about my Kindle? First, I can send my NetGalley (and Edelweiss) files directly to my eReader with just one click. That's a huge convenience after having to go through the triple steps of downloading the files to the Adobe Digital Editions, then plugging in my Nook and then transferring the files from the PC to the eReader. I also like how light and thin the Kindle is, compared to the Nook it fits in my handbag much better, leaving room for a print book as well. I love having a backlight on my eReader, since I don't need any external lighting to read my books anymore. Of course, because it is new, it's working beautifully and I just hope that lasts a long time. As for the battery, since I keep the WiFi off except for when I'm downloading a book, I hardly have to charge it (but the battery on the Nook is still better). Finally, as soon as I get accepted for an ARC, I can send it to my Kindle right away, and I don't have to worry about the file expiring and I'll never miss getting a book because it was archived.

There you have it; that's how I'm eReading these days. Now it's your turn. Do you read eBooks? If so, what do you use to read them?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays (December 1 2015)



Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:


  • Grab your current read (or the next book on your reading list)
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teasers:
 "Between Moose Jaw and Saskatoon, Harry had certainly seen stretches that seemed to bear out the jibe, but as he left the Battlefords behind and drove the laden cart along the almost deserted dirt road towards Cut Knife, he was pleased to see mature stands of trees and then even a hill or two. It wasn't exactly Derbyshire, he told himself, but neither was it Norfolk.
-- Page 199, chapter nineteen, A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale.


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT with either the link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your ‘teasers’ in a comment on Jenn's latest post, here (if you don’t have a blog). Thanks!