Friday, November 18, 2016

Generation Chef by Karen Stabiner

Generation Chef book review
It's hard to write a book review when you know the author personally. Even harder when you've known the author your entire life and looked up to her because she had what you envisioned to be the "ideal job." I think I've spent most of my life dreaming about either being an artist or a writer. This book, Generation Chef, was written by my Aunt. I couldn't wait to read it, and now I'm going to try and review it, sort of.

It has been amazing to grow up wanting to be a writer while having a real-life writer to connect with. She never glamorized it, which I feel made a big difference for me. I'm not a professional writer today, probably because of the insight she brought to the profession for me. However, I still write professionally. I never gave up my passion for writing and for developing as a writer, and I think my Aunt deserves some of the credit for that. All that being said, it makes it hard to write a book review about my Aunt's book. My perspective is a little shaded by my emotional attachment here, but...

If you've ever found yourself channel surfing and end up binge watching The Food Network, this book is for you. If you love food - cooking it, eating it, snapping pictures for your Instagram - this book is for you. If you love real stories, about real people, struggling to make their dreams come true, this book is for you. The journey in this book goes from the first steps toward building a restaurant for a young, aspiring chef, to Huertas' second anniversary and all the unknowns for the chef and the staff that still linger. It's a story that is constantly moving and changing because that seems to be the nature of the industry. You can't be complacent with just one accomplishment, it must build toward the next and the next. It's honestly a lifestyle and pace I could never keep up with, but one that I'm so very interested in understanding.

I don't typically recommend books to my friends that my Aunt has written. Mostly because some of the topics she's previously covered don't really apply to the lives of the people I know. There was also this one autobiographical book where I'm mentioned a tiny bit, and it would have felt strange to have my friends read it. But, this book hits the mark for me. I enjoyed reading it so much and have already been talking it up to as many people as I can. I've also had the actual pleasure of eating at Huertas. I went with my Aunt while she was still working on the book. It was fantastic, and worth a stop in if you're ever in (or currently live in) NYC.

Regardless of who the author is in relation to me, Generation Chef, is a great read, and I think you (whoever you happen to be) would enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodola

I've always had a connection to the written word. It isn't to language itself - I can be quite inarticulate when speaking - put a pen in my hand and words just flow. I'd love to get paid to write, to have others read the novel, still in its shitty first draft phase, on my shelf, but like so many of the writers profiled here, life's distractions currently take precedence. Luckily, I can nerd out with my favorite authors by reading their books and going behind the curtain of their individual writing process in this great book.

Thinking of myself as a 'literary nerd,' this book gave me a key opportunity to 'nerd out.' Stodola profiles so many great authors here, focusing on how they started writing, what their process is like, and what an average day looks like for them. It's an amazing relief to see that the struggle for excellence is real no matter how accomplished you already are. It's reassuring to know that great work happens even if you're only able to write 200 words a day, if it takes you years to finish that masterpiece. This is no right way to write.

This book is the perfect piece of non-fiction for any novel-lovers book list. It's fun, interesting, and encouraging (if you have dreams of writing.) I might finish my first novel some day and figure out what my own writing process actually is, or I might throw it out and start something new when I finally get some extra time. Either way, I know, in my heart, I'm already a writer.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

I'm pretty sure I first read this trilogy in college, before everyone was writing about witches and magic and demons. Rick already had her iconic vampires, but those books weren't for me. I wanted a little magic. What Rice delivers is more about abilities than magic with spells and potions - practical magic. Rice makes it all feel real. It's what has kept these books on my favorite list for so long, and why I'm excited to finally have time to reread them.

The Witching Hour chronicles the history of The Mayfair Witches, a family who begins manipulating magic early in their genealogy to bring forth Lasher, an immortal being that's almost like a ghost demon. In each generation, one witch is chosen (the legacy,) and Lasher aligns himself to them bringing them riches, love, and protection. Unfortunately, the majority of these "chosen" witches die young and tragically (and so do most of the men they fall in love with.)

Before being called to the family, Lasher is unaware of humanity, unconnected to the physical world and not a threat. Once linked to people, he changes. Emotions and desires corrupt his spirit in a way that motivates him toward a single goal regardless of consequences. Through the generations of the Mayfair Family, he pushes his own agenda as he seemingly loves and supports his human companions. Throughout the generations, Lasher leaves behind a manipulated trail of inbreeding, rape, and murder all to create the "perfect" witch to aid in his own plan. He's such a seductive character that his true intentions aren't quickly figured out.

When Rowan Mayfair is born, Lasher's work is essentially complete. She's the "perfect" witch. She's powerful, passionate, and intense. You're not sure if she'll actually help Lasher or defeat him. She ultimately stands as a very tragic figure beside the seductive Lasher through her roller-coaster journey in the story.

Rice is an intense writer, there's no doubt about that. It's that element that initially drew me to her writing way back in college, but every read of a book is different. This time around, I felt more. I got into the heart of the book rather than getting tripped up on the action itself. The story definitely withstands the time test and still feels relevant and even a little more cerebral than a lot of what's coming out today in the same genre. You'll have to settle in for a long read if you're ready to pick this one up. At over 1,000 pages of very dense narrative, it does take a while to get through the book, but it's an enjoyable ride that doesn't lag.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Fates Worse than Death by Kurt Vonnegut

Aside from reviewing this book, which is really nothing more than a collection of previously-published essays, I want to share how this book made me feel. 

I love Vonnegut. Sirens of Titan, Galapagos, and so many others are up there with my all-time favorites, so it was saddening to be told, by the author himself, that he just isn't invigorated by being a writer. It simply pays the bills and his books are so out there because he's clinically depressed. 

The essays are all over the place and are interesting enough - covering war, conservation, bits of Vonnegut's own life - all the biggies that appear in his fiction. He really has been around long enough to have met everybody. His name-dropping throughout surprised me more than once, but again, why did he not love what he wrote? Why did it seem to do nothing for him that his books blow people's minds? 

I realize Vonnegut must have been a very complex person, and it's not like I can go and ask him all the why's that bubbled up after reading this book. Not only was his life full of so many different situations, his mental state affected his interpretations of the world around him, and he saw a lot of messed up stuff. Yet, I had hoped his non-fiction would bring me closer to him as a writer than I feel like I already am because of his fiction. As a writer myself, seeing inside the mind of writers I admire has always been such a special experience. This book didn't do that. He may be the first writer who I feel is completely unattached to his writing.

Mostly, Vonnegut reminds me of an older version of my Dad, born into my grandfather's generation, but imbued with the lack of trust in the world around them. I just don't know what I think of him now, but I refuse to let it lead me to love his works any less. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Mort by Terry Pratchett

Death "lives" in Discworld, and he's having an identity crisis. Maybe he has been detached from humanity for too long, or maybe he's jealous of the complexity of life - either way, Death's solution is to take on an apprentice. When you're alive though, being Death's apprentice is a very strange place to be, and Mort definitely doesn't have an easy time of it. In fact, as Death delves deeper into his study of life, Mort is forced to pick up the slack. The one issue, Mort is still human (and alive) and humans make mistakes.

The cast of characters in this Discworld book are all a little but snotty or snooty - and it works. Of course, Death is full of himself and Mort is snooty in his ignorance of just about everything, but we also have a pair of wizards (think they're better than everyone,) a princess who would be Queen (snob,) and Death's living daughter (adopted.) They all have issues, but are brought together when Mort makes a major mistake on the job. He lets someone slated to die, live.

The fun storytelling, crazy action, and unique sense of humor that populates Discworld novels makes them all worth reading. It's an alternative world where anything can happen (and does,) and the ridiculous isn't silly, but funny and entertaining in an intelligent way. I've enjoyed every book I've read in this series, and especially enjoy being under no obligation to read them in order. Pick any title that sounds interesting and welcome to Discworld.

Other Discwold books I've reviewed:

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

I'm not really sure how to review this book. It was exactly what I'd expected it to be - a quick, light read of little significance. Nothing blew me away in the book, but I enjoyed the mental vacation while actually on vacation (spring break!)

Revenge picks up 10 years after we first met the "devil," Andy, and Emily. Although so much time has passed, Andy is still haunted by her experience at Runway magazine as Editor-in-Chief Miranda Priestly's second assistant. I've no idea why she's still plagued after so much time has elapsed. Her successful career as the Editor and owner of a bridal magazine should have been enough of an f-you to the past to empower Andy, but it looms and eventually gets right in her face when Runway's publishing company (and essential Miranda herself) want to acquire Andy's magazine.

There's more drama in the book, some that's simply in Andy's head, some in reality, with an unsurprising twist at the end that's meant to be a jaw dropper. The one thing that just didn't make sense through, throughout all the goings on is Andy herself. She hems and haws between a woman who gets the job done, who is capable, confident, and successful and a self-doubting, afraid-to-speak-up, passive person. It's almost like she's two different people and unfortunately turns off her confident self when it would do her the most good (except maybe at the end.)

But, like I said, even with its flaws, this book is exactly what it claims to be and was a much enjoyed break from the classic literature I spent the previous four months reading. I wasn't upset I took the time to read it, I just wish the lead character was a better version of a female. That Andy had a stronger voice through all the crazy situations she found herself in in the book.

If you're looking to read anything else by Weisberger, check out my review of Chasing Harry Winston, a fun beach read.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

Finishing The Last Chronicle of Barset is really the end of a reading era for me. The entire Barset series consists of six books, and I've read every one. Not consecutively, obviously, but over the course of seven to eight years.

This series epitomizes my favorite genre of literature, where the excitement is in the daily lives of the characters - personality clashes, scandalous gossip, etc. Where the women and men primarily worry about property, money, and family. Where everything seems to happen in a muted melodrama, heavily-laden in dialogue with paragraphs of description that can be more than a page long. I realize how boring this might sound to most of you, but it's my literary sweet spot, and having this series to satisfy my Brit Lit craving has been wonderful.

This book is a tome - 861 pages of poor Mr. Crawley being accused of stealing a check (for hardly any money) and all the repercussions both of being poor and being a member of the clergy accused of a crime. It affects his family, his income, and it's all the people of the county and talk about. The incident though shows us what these characters are really made of - who's kind, who's cruel, who's lack of action is just disappointing, and it's really a fitting way to say good-bye to characters we've followed through so many pages.

Of course, no book from this era (1867) is complete without taking about love and this book has it all - lovers held back by outside forces, unrequited love, loving the one you're with, and love to ensure stability. There's also the steadfast love of Mrs. Crawley who stands by her accused husband through his whole ordeal, doing her best to support him. It's an incredibly busy story although not much action happens.

I could probably talk about this intricate fictional town for a long time. For me, so much has happened between the pages of this series, especially in this last book that it's too much to recap, but it's really not the plot that makes this, and other 19th Century books, so wonderful. it's the depth. The depth into the lives of regular people where what's going on may not really matter to us, but it matters to them. Instead of being all about the action or contriving extreme situations to force the characters through, Trollope is about the people and how they experience their unique versions of a regular life, and I absolutely love it.

I previously reviewed the rest of the books in this series. Click here if you'd like to take a look.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Taking the Time to Read a Long Book

I have anxiety that it has been so long since I've finished a book/blogged. Being a reader is a part of who I am as a person and I'm still reading as much as I was a few months ago when books were being finished and blogs were being added. The difference is now I'm reading a LONG book and it's a slow book in today's terms, not something the average reader would pick up off the shelf for fun. But, it's the last book in a series I've stuck with over quite a few years, and it's a connection with classic literature - an area of reading that's really important to me. So, why do I feel guilty about reading a really long book?

People ask me what I'm reading from time to time and for the last two months it has been the same answer, "It's this book in a really old series, probably not your style." Or, someone tells me about a great book they're reading and I write down the title, knowing it will be a long time before I consider something new. When most people aren't even talking books anymore - Podcasts are the thing now - I'm nose-deep in a book that's 150 years old where the biggest issue of the day is whether a clergy member stole 20 pounds or accidentally thought it was his money. And, even though reading this book isn't making me feel very relevant, I'm loving it. 

Everything today moves so fast, is served up in such small sound bytes, that having this tome to return to each night, to just get through a few pages before I fall asleep, slows everything down for me in just the right way and I'm thankful for that. Books don't have to be dystopian, full of supernatural beings, or focus on relevant issues in order to do what books are meant to do, take you away from your life and snuggle you into a different world for a short time, giving your brain a break.

I'm not a slow reader, but dense books take a long time for anyone. And, while I might be missing out on the latest thing for a while and while the cobwebs might grow across this blog that I still love writing for, it's ultimately okay. Reading isn't a race, it's a pleasure even if the soon-to-be-read books on my shelf continue to tempt me to go the tiniest bit faster.