Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: A Letter to My Cat

I think I'm about to send my cat a Christmas card. Reading Lisa Erspamer's book, A Letter to My Cat, has made me feel like she's a much more integral member of the family than I'd realized.

I read this book with my cat curled up on my lap. I stopped to show her pictures; she didn't care. She usually closed her eyes just when I asked her to look. I think she was mad that she wasn't allowed to lay on the book. Now that I'm finished, she can lay on it t her heart's content.

This was such a sweet, enjoyable read. I especially liked the Prime Minister's wife's story of their cat. But it's hard to choose favorites. Each cat is special in his/her own way, as is mine.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review. If you're a cat lover, I encourage you to pick up a copy and read it with your cat.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Book Review: Prayers for the Stolen

   It starts with this sentence:
                                            Now we make you ugly, my mother said.

We're immediately taken to Guerrero, Mexico, near Acapulco, where scorpions, snakes and fire ants abound, men are scarce, drug traffickers run rampant, and girls are stolen. They are hidden from view, passed off as boys for as long as possible, then tucked away in holes dug in the ground. The women in this harsh, rural area must hide their daughters, or their daughters may very well disappear.

The story is riveting. It's one of those novels that's almost impossible to put down. We are transported to a spot in this world that few of us will ever see. Through the author's words, we can imagine it so clearly, and then we have to wonder -- how much of this story is true?

A look at the Author's note in the back tells us that most of this is true. Though the story of Ladydi and her friends is fiction,  it is based on the author's interviews with hundreds of Mexican women and the reality that girls in Mexico often disappear.

As I started to realize how thorough the author's understanding of this problem is, alarm bells went off in my head. I wanted to scream from the rooftops that something must be done! The world needs to know, just as we've been alerted to the honor killings in the middle east and the genital mutilation of girls in Africa, girls in Mexico are being stolen and sold!

This novel is hard-hitting and honest. I cannot imagine living in an environment like Guerrero. I cannot imagine the poverty, hopelessness, or danger. As much as Jennifer Clement let us see, and let us imagine it, I cannot fathom it. This is a story and problem I won't soon forget.

It's the best book I've read this year.

(Lucky me, I received this book from Blogging for Books to review.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Life As Neil Patrick Harris

Is it a DIY book? A memoir? A choose-your-own adventure fiction full of mystery and magic?


It's all of that and more. Actor Neil Patrick Harris has penned his autobiography...kinda. He's left it up to the reader to decide how his life will go by incorporating one of Harris' favorite book styles from childhood. He's chosen to write his memoir in a "Choose-You-Own-Adventure" format and I couldn't wait to see how this would work.

At the end of the first chapter which describes his parents and Southwestern childhood, Harris lets the reader choose: go on with this happy tale, or see how life might have been otherwise. Naturally, I read both segments (which is where a bit of fiction comes into play) and loved the humor and fun he included in describing his childhood. I knew right then that I'd be reading every page. There were no more choices for me.

At times, my choice to take every adventure threw me for a loop since the pages and chapters didn't necessarily make sense when read in straight order. But I got the gist. He threw in some magic tricks (since he is, after all, an amateur magician). And some retrospectives from fellow actors mentioned in his book. This is why it would have sucked for me to choose my own adventure for him; I would have missed out on so many fun chapters.

This was a fast, light read unlike any other memoir I've read. It seems so in character for him. Not that I know him. But through this bit of lighthearted engagement, I feel like I do.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Book Review: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking

It wasn't until I read Anya Von Bremzen's memoir, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, that I realized I know next to nothing about Russia. Her memoir, part history lesson, part food chronicle, part personal tale, is a combination that appealed to me on many levels. While I often got bogged down in the details of the politics going on in the Soviet Union, it was a necessary frame-of-reference for the food the author then described. I learned quite a bit having the story told in this context.

Oddly, the tales she told made me long to visit Russia and see some of this for myself, and at the same time, made me think I should never visit Russia. This, combined with the recent coverage of the winter Olympics followed by the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, all jumbled together in the same way that the information in this book did. Bottom line, I don't know what to think about Russia.

But I do know one thing: I want to try Russian food. It wasn't until I read this book that I realize I've never had Russian food. In fact, I can't think of any Russian restaurants anywhere either. There must be some in San Francisco, though I missed them. And while the cuisine seems very similar to Polish food (which I love), there is something distinctly Russian about the recipes and cultural staples she describes. I'll be on the search for Russian food now.

Or, I suppose, I could pick up one of Von Bremzen's cookbooks and try to replicate a recipe myself. She is a James Beard-winning food writer with five cookbooks to her name.

But this memoir should be read before making any Russian dishes. Understanding the story behind the foods and putting meals into the context of Soviet history should be one of the main ingredients of mastering Soviet cooking.

*I received this book to review from Blogging for Books.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: The Soul of All Living Creatures

When I was a student in zoology, we were tasked with studying an animal at the zoo and writing a paper about our observations. It seemed so simple at the outset. I chose zebras and spent hours watching them graze in their confined space. I studied their stripes. I worked at distinguishing one animal from another. In essence, I had no idea what I was doing.

Studying animals and animal behavior seems like it should be a simple and straightforward task, too. A dog wags his tail; he's happy. But there's so much more to it than that, which is exactly why we need veterinarians like Vint Virga to observe our animals and treat them when there's something wrong. Dr. Virga sees more than just the symptoms displayed by a sick or injured animal; he sees the whole being and its relationship to us.

As a specialist in veterinary behavioral medicine and consultant to zoos and wild animal parks, Dr. Virga's expertise spans the animal kingdom from dogs and cats to wild species such as leopards, gibbons, wolves, and giraffes. He has served as an advisor to leading U.S. corporations, professional associations, and animal welfare organizations and has appeared as a featured guest on ABC World News, National Geographic Explorer, and PBS Nature.

What I learned from reading his book is how patient we need to be with our animals when they're sick. And how patient we need to be with ourselves. We're so quick in our society today to rush to solve problems without always understanding what the problem is. We may not even recognize what we're seeing when we observe our pets or other animals. There's a language there that we haven't quite breeched. It takes more time, more practice, and more patience.

I enjoyed reading Dr. Virga's book because it wasn't just about the animals. It's about our relationship to them and what we learn about ourselves as we learn more about the animals around us. This is a book for any type of animal lover -- including those interested in human behavior.

You can read more about Dr. Virga and his book The Soul of All Living Creatures in this New York Times article.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books to review.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Summer House with Swimming Pool

I loved Herman Koch's novel The Dinner so I couldn't wait to read this book. His characters are so despicable. There wasn't a single one in The Dinner that was redeemable. This was true again in Summer House With Swimming Pool. I'm starting to wonder what goes through the mind of this author!

If you read this book, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Koch has little respect for women. His characters view them as nothing more than sex objects, including the two young girls in the novel who are 11 and 13-years-old. Koch pushes it to a limit that sent alarm bells ringing through my mind. The girls pose for a couple of boys as they stand on a diving board and are squirted with hoses as part of a "Miss Wet T-shirt" contest. The girls' father finds it amusing. I found it disturbing.

What kind of father is okay with boys making his daughters into sex objects at that (or any) age? One of the boys gets angry at the younger girl and calls her a "slimy bitch." Again - what kind of father allows a boy to call his 11-year-old daughter that in front of him?

All of the male characters in the novel are atrociously misogynistic. I couldn't stand any of them. I knew the book would take twists and turns that rattle the rational mind, but didn't expect some of the things that came up. Again, it made me wonder what in the world goes through Herman Koch's mind? That being said, I can't wait for his next book to be translated into English. So what does that say about my own psyche?

HERMAN KOCH is the author of eight novels and three collections of short stories. The Dinner, his sixth novel, has been published in twenty-five countries, and was an international bestseller. He currently lives in Amsterdam.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding

I can't decide how I feel about this book. It was initially off-putting as author Kristin Newman immediately jumped into her sexual escapades around the globe. It reminded me of twentysomethings who think it's cool to brag about "that time I was so wasted," or "I was so drunk," etc. But instead, it was Kristin boasting about all the men she slept with in various foreign countries. I don't consider myself that prudish, but there were times when it seemed like she was trading sex for a place to stay or a ride when she needed one.

But her writing won me over and soon I was caught up in the adventures and locales she described. As a writer for several sitcoms, she had the time and the money to spend on periods of extended travel and her stories were entertaining and funny. It was easy to see how she made a living entertaining people with humor.

Then I'd teeter back to not liking her. Maybe it was jealousy in part because I'm more aligned with the "people who were breeding" in my twenties and early thirties while she was globe-trekking. (Is it my imagination or is her book title purposely offensive?) I can admit that a part of me wishes I'd been as wild, carefree and uninhibited as she was. Then I remember who I am, and that I'm not an extrovert who gloms onto strangers and takes them up on their offers to fly halfway around the world to stay at their place. That's just not me.

But I loved the adventures and the travel descriptions. So I teetered back to liking the book again.

Overall, I'd have to say I liked the book. It kept me reading and made me drool with envy. Unfortunately, Kristin's sexual romps were distracting in what was otherwise a great travel memoir.

Decide for yourself. You can read the opening chapter here:

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.