BOOK REVIEW – Tomatoes

Tomatoes
Miriam Rubin
Hardback Cookbook
2013.

So, I’m actually working on an entire anthology of tomato themed stories, so when I happened on this book on display at my new library, I decided that I wanted to check it out.

This is a cookbook, but it starts out with a bit of history about the tomato.  It’s really interesting stuff, actually – for instance, the tomato was first cultivated with the Aztecs, not in Europe like everyone assumes, but weren’t widely popular until about 200 years ago.   The series itself is a southern cooking series, so they made sure to talk about the importance of the tomato in the south.

The second part of the book is all recipes where the tomato is a very important ingredient.

So here’s my problem – the recipes include everything from the wildly complicated down to the ridiculously simple.  One of them actually says to slice a tomato and serve it.  Ahem.  But there are NO PICTURES, which is my number one cookbook pet peeve.  And let’s face it.  If you’re so clueless enough that you need to be told to slice something and serve it raw on a plate, you need to know what a finished dish is supposed to look like, especially if it has a dozen ingredients.    USE PICTURES PEOPLE!!!

And I have to admit that when I saw there were no pics, I almost returned it without reading a single word.  Its that important to me.

But, I read the thing anyway.  (Remember, I said I’m doing a themed anthology.  I thought I might get something useful.)  And I have to say, I’m sad.  I mean, it’s clear that the author is in love with her subject matter.  And if this had been a non-fiction book about the tomato, I’d have read 5000 pages by this author.

Unfortunately, it’s not.  So I’m going to give it a 3/5.  As a cookbook, it just misses the mark.

Book Review – Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Title: Allegiant

Author: Veronica Roth

Format: Hardback

Published: 2013

 

After finishing Insurgent I was quick to pick up Alegiant and read it. I was excited for the read as I had enjoyed insurgent. So I delved in looking forward to getting lost in the book to be jerked right out of the story by the second chapter. Instead of the story being told in first person perspective from the eyes of Tris the story alternates back and forth from the eyes of Tris and Tobias. It is almost every other chapter that the voice changes in first person. Each chapter is marked with whose perspective the story is being told but taking the time to note that every chapter pulls you out of the story that is being told instead of getting lost in it. In addition to that if I got interrupted in the middle of a chapter it was difficult to determine whose perspective I was reading from unless I looked back a few pages at the chapter start.

 

Over all, I don’t mind changing perspectives in third person because that is easy to tell and the voice doesn’t really change just the scene does, but in first person it can be difficult to determine who “I” is. Honestly I feel the story in Allegiant suffered from the changing perspectives and in some ways it was a little necessary but a lot of times it wasn’t and I didn’t see the point of the change in perspective. Alternating back and forth I feel was a poor execution of telling the story. Honestly there are better ways of executing things if there is a need for change in perspective such sections, it still pulls a reader out of the story but not as frequently so one can go multiple chapters without being pulled out. Also a font difference would also help as it is a quick reference and easier to notice than stopping at each chapter to read a name to verify whose talking. Long rant cut short, this made me very cranky and frustrated me with the book.

 

Despite the changes in perspectives, I still read the book because I wanted to know what happened and it was still a good story that kept my attention as far as stories go and toward the end I was locked into the book and was ready to murder a person for interrupting me in my reading as the story picked up and had enough action that changing perspectives was not a bit deal. Overall the book was a pretty good read, and I will give it a 4 out of 5 pages. If the story wasn’t as good as it was the formatting would have forced this book into a 3 out of 5 but the story saves the book keeping at a strong rating and something I would say is a good read but I would warn about the changing POV’s as that can be annoying.

Book Review – Dark Witch

Title: Dark Witch

Author: Nora Roberts

Format: Trade paperback

Year Published: 2013

I enjoy romances. The happily-ever-after, the sure-fire knowledge that my heart is not going to be yanked from y chest and stomped on… (and then sometimes I’m WRONG, book-that-I-have-blocked-the-title-from-my-mind-but-am-still-mad-at).

When I was heavy in my romance-reading ways, I devoured Nora Roberts’ books. (Unlike what I first tried to type, I did not devour Nora Roberts.) Going back to them, however, the books are very heavily formulaic. I do enjoy reading them, still – they’re totally brain candy – however, I’ve found that once I’ve read them, I very rarely want to reread them. (And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why the library is my friend.)

This book was the first in a classic Nora Roberts trilogy – girl, who has never really fit in where she was, arrives at a new place and immediately feels like she’s at home. There she meets her cousins – usually a brother/sister combo, but occasionally they’re also cousins to each other), and immediately connects to them. She also meets and falls for a friend of the male cousin. In addition, the female cousin will have a close female friend that will eventually end up linked to the male cousin, and there will be another friend of the male cousin that she once had a torrid affair with that ended badly. There’s some sort of supernatural problem that requires all six involved to resolve. Occasionally one of the women will be a mother, but the father will either be dead or uninterested and the male interested int eh mother will eventually adopt the child/ren as his own.

So obviously I knew what I was getting into with this series. Here’s the specifics: Iona is coming from America, and already knows and can use her magic in small ways (this was a welcome change from other series, as the woman moving into town usually had no idea she was magical). She also knows the story of the Dark Witch, her ancestor, who gave her life and passed her powers on to her three children. (As a side note, the names of the children threw me. They were far too contemporary for 1263.) Iona arrives in Ireland (another big theme) and meets her cousins, Branna and Connor. They immediately make a connection and then the trouble starts – the dark force that their ancestor gave her life to defeat is back, and they’re the three that must stop him.

I enjoyed as Iona learned to control her powers, and I liked that she wasn’t the typical ‘fish-out-pond’ heroine that appears in these trilogies. She’s new to the land, yes, and somewhat new to her power, but she owns in. (I also really enjoyed that when she got nervous she babbled, as that made her seem less like a typical romance heroine and more like an actual human.)

The big fight of the book felt a little bleh. You knew going in that they weren’t going to win (how could this be a trilogy if they did, after all?) but it was missing something.

Still looking forward to the next two (waiting on my couch now), so I’ll give this a 2.5/5 – not going to win any awards, not going to wow anybody, but perfect for when you want to shut your mind off.

Book Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

TITLE: Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers

AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ILLUSTRATORS: Steve McNiven, Sara Pichelli, etc
FORMAT: Graphic Novel/Comic Collection
PUBLISHED: 2014

This collection covers Guardians of the Galaxy 1-3 and 0.1, and also Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers #1, and has bonus artwork in the back as well.

So, the story starts with Star-Lord’s origin story, where we meet his mother and find out who his father is, etc.  Then we have Star-Lord in space with the rest of the Guardians.  Earth is in trouble, they have to protect it, etc.  Oh, and Iron Man shows up.

The comic is a little different from the movie – for starters, the origin story is different, because Cancer makes a better movie apparently.  And I can totally see where the idea for the movie came from in this comic, although the comic is a little different.

But that’s not a bad thing.

Honestly, if they had been more true to these comics, I think the movie would have been better.  Iron Man was an interesting addition, and I kind of liked it.

I’ll give this one a 4/5.

Book Review – Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Title: Insurgent

Author: Veronica Roth

Format: Hardback

Published: 2012

 

Overall, I feel like everyone on this blog has read and reviewed at least the first book in the Divergent series and some of us have gone forward and reviewed the latter books in the series. I myself have reviewed the first book over a year ago. [ Link ]It was a good read as I recall but I held off reading further considering that my fellow reviewers were doing the same books. I have now returned to the series not because of the not too long ago released movies but rather because I happened to on a lark pick up the audio book of Divergent.

 

In listening to the first book I was reminded of how good the story was and the audio book placed a rather good and compelling voice to the main character of Tris. After finishing the audio book I decided that I very much wanted to read the rest of the series and so I quickly jumped on picking up the next book to read. Once I opened the book I was reminded of how engrossing Veronica Roth’s writing style is. The story was decent but the writing style is one that simply draws you in and refuses to let you go. I found myself quickly lost in the book turning the next page over and over again and hardly noticing when there were chapter breaks.

 

As some of you may know I am a bit of a slow reader. It can take me a long time to get through a book unless it is rather good. In the case of Insurgent I had it done in two days. I hardly put it down for much of anything. I loved how the story traveled to the different factions and there was a lot of interesting information that was revealed in the story. In a lot of ways the action and tension kept pretty strong in this book.

 

Though the book engrossed me and would not let me go and I finished this rather thick book in short order I would still give this book a solid 4 out of 5 pages. Yes the book is good and is certainly a good read but this isn’t a book that I would go rushing out to own and recommend to all of my friends. This is a book that if asked for a book to read I would mention it, or if I see someone already reading it I might remark that it is a good book and a good read but that is where it ranks. I certainly don’t regret reading this book and find that it was time well spend those two days of reading.

Book Review – The Anybodies

Title: The Anybodies

Author: N.E. Bode

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2004

The Anybodies was brought to my attention by a friend when we were discussing another novel. (Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, for the curious, which has very little to do with this other than the ability to pull things out of books.) The Anybodies is about a girl named Fern who discovers that the people she thought were her parents aren’t because she was swapped at birth. Her real father has come to collect her and swap the children back, and Fern learns all sorts of secrets about her past.

Her father tells her that her mother was an “Anybody” – somebody who could become anybody (or anything). Fern’s mother had been a natural, and had taught her father some of the secrets. She had owned a special book (The Art of Being an Anybody) and Fern’s father (the Bone) is worried about it falling into the Miser’s hands. He tells Fern that the Miser had been his best friend growing up, but that he had grown bitter when Fern’s mother had fallen in love with the Bone instead.

They end up at Fern’s grandmother’s house, a place full of books, where Fern learns the art of shaking items out of books while both her father and the Miser search for Fern’s mother’s book. While there, Fern learns about her mother and what the secret of The Art of Being an Anybody is.

My friend who told me about the book warned me that the narrator broke the fourth-wall quite often, and I found that quite distracting (but after I realized that I wasn’t learning anything really important in those tangents, I started skipping them and the book got much better). Some of the antics of the characters was a bit over-the-top, but not too out of place in a middle grade book.

I really enjoyed Fern – she was actually rather believable in her longing for a family and a place where she felt like she was at home, and she wasn’t overbearingly precocious.

3/5 pages, though I would personally take off another half page due to the narrator issue

Book Review – Memoirs of a Geisha By Arthur Golden

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: 
Arthur Golden
Format: 
Paperback
Published: 
1997

Memoirs of a Geisha is the story of a young girl who is sold along with her sister into prostitution.  The older sister is taken directly to a brothel which she soon flees, while the younger is taken to an okiya to be raised as a Geisha.  In the real world, it was integral to the role of a Geisha that she is not a prostitute, but in Arthur Golden’s world Geisha sell their virginity to the highest bidder and must work as a mistress for hire to exceedingly wealthy men to be “successful”.  At 14 our young girl, who goes through three names but ends up Sayuri, falls for a man in his mid forties and spends the next fifteen years or so obsessing over him until she finally gets to be his mistress.

Skip the book, see the movie, then go read a book or two about actual Geisha.  The movie garnered its own share of criticism by casting Chinese actresses in the main roles and inaccurately representing Geisha dress and culture, but even so, it is visually stunning and well acted.  Details of the film bothered me, and I had hoped Hollywood had not done the book full justice.  No such luck.  This is a case of the film improving on the book, trimming down some of the more disturbing elements like Dr. Crab who not only makes a practice of paying large sums for the privilege of deflowering the young Geisha but keeps a collection of their blood from the encounter as well. If this guy isn’t creepy enough for you, the woman who is supposed to be training and guiding young Sayuri is fully aware of this creep’s practices but still goes out of the way to get him in on the virginity bidding for her own financial gain.  Even her love interest was involved in arranging this fate for her, though he had hoped originally to do the deflowering himself.  Basically, everyone in Sayuri’s life is using her for sex, either on the buying or selling end.  She’s positioned as a high-end prostitute with other talents, but the focus is selling her body more than her entertaining skills.

Historically and even currently young girls go through similar hardships, but it’s not the way of Geisha.  Golden has heavily sexualized one of the few outlets for women in 17th century to WWII era Japan to pursue independent careers which weren’t dependent on marriage or prostitution.  Geisha did originate in brothels, originally men but the role was adopted by women who entertained alongside high class prostitutes who had their own ranking system.  Geisha were not allowed to be prostitutes in part because it conflicted with the courtesans’ business.

Certainly a few of them crossed the line, and there were prostitutes who presented themselves as Geisha and Geisha who turned to prostitution in desperate economic times.  However, Golden presents these as standard and ritualized Geisha practices, as though he can’t believe in a world before radios or television men would pay women for their entertainment skills.

Geisha (a word that mean “artist”) are skilled performers who might specialize as singers, musicians, and/or dancers.  They also provide company and conversation similar to an escort.  And yes, it is more than a little offensive to suggest they couldn’t possibly hold onto a patron without also being his mistress or they need to auction off their virginity to graduate to a new level of Geisha.  It would be like suggesting Michelangelo couldn’t get a job unless he was also putting out.  Golden thanks the real Geisha Mineko Iwasaki for granting him an interview, even though she had asked him to keep her name private.  She in turn sued him for breach of contract and defamation of character in 2001, and published her autobiography Geisha of Gion in 2002 to help give the world a more accurate view of Geisha life.

This book made me kind of mad.  Golden sets up a pretence of historical accuracy, only to take us through a series of what are essentially rapes, have a pretty young girl obsess over a middle-aged man, and then the publisher has the nerve to call this “romantic, erotic, and suspenseful” when it’s none of these things.  If I was being flattering, I might call it beautifully tragic, because it takes a resilient person to survive sexual slavery, even with comfortable trappings, and the kimono and setting descriptions are often lovely.  If I take a deep breath and try to see past my indignation, the writing is passable with strong descriptions and believable characters but not gripping or entertaining.  Sayuri is a sympathetic but somewhat bland narrator.  The plot meanders, which is perhaps more realistic, but if you’re going to ignore realism to pander to fatalistic sex fantasy, then I’d much rather have a tight plot and clever narration.

As with the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (which is also fiction), the writer can’t even give his subject the consideration that they might be competent enough to write their own books, but must wrap it in pretense of being recorded for posterity by a “real writer” who also happens to be a male very similar to the actual male writer.  Maybe that’s to help bridge us between the male name on the cover and female narrator, but I’m developing a strong distaste for fake memoire fiction.

Final verdict is 2 out of 5.  Golden’s writing is solid enough I might try other works by him.  He comes off as a capable writer, but lazy or indifferent in the wrong places, at least in this book.

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