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.