what I’m reading

Books #49

My goal for 2020 is to read 150 books. A little less than last year. Usually I try and read more books each year but last year I just barely made the goal. ๐Ÿ™‚

1 – Save Me The Plums: A Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

I loved this book! It was so interesting! I was legitimately sad when the book ended and this might be one I buy and read again someday.

I’ve been a fan of Ruth for awhile. I’ve read one of her other books and liked it and I always liked it when she was a guest judge on Top Chef. Her critiques were thoughtful and interesting.

This is a memoir of her decision to leave her job as a restaurant critic and become the editor of Gourmet Magazine in the early 2000’s. It was the height of the magazine world but Gourmet, part of Conde Nast, was kind of floundering. The business side of the magazine was mismanaged, the ideas were stale. She came in and turned everything around at a time when chefs were becoming famous like rock stars.

Every chapter was a fascinating glimpse into the behind the scenes life of a food magazine. I loved reading about the test kitchen and how they created recipes. The chapter on 9/11 was a gripping and emotional read, written by someone who was there at Ground Zero, and after the fact fed the first responders.

“Iโ€™d learned an important lesson: When something frightens me, it is definitely worth doing.”

Her writing was excellent, descriptive, poetic and every time she described food I could taste it, smell it and desired it, and yet it wasn’t verbose or overdone. She didn’t drone on, I was never bored, I never skimmed. It was excellent!

2 – The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of September 11, 2001 by Garrett M. Graff

Wow, what an intense read. This book is definitely not for everyone. It’s a huge emotional roller-coaster. Anyone of a certain age remembers that day like it was yesterday. Those images will be etched in our memories forever. That is not something you ever get over or ever forget.

“It looked like a ticker-tape parade.”

The book is a first hand recounting of that day from people that were there. People that were on the flights that crashed (one of the flight attendants called in for help when it was hijacked and the book had the transcripts). It was transcripts of people that left voicemails from the hijacked planes (I totally cried reading those):

โ€œHey Jules, this is Brian. Ah, listenโ€ฆ Iโ€™m on an airplane that has been hijackedโ€ฆ if things donโ€™t go well, and theyโ€™re not looking good, I want you to know that I absolutely love you. I want you to do good, have good times, same with my parents. Iโ€™ll see you when you get here. I want you to know that I totally love you. Bye, babe, I hope I will call you.โ€

It was first hand telling from firefighters, police, nurses, doctors, regular people that were just going to work that day. People that SURVIVED the towers falling (their stories were INCREDIBLE).

“โ€ฆjet fuel blasted out of the central elevator bank and mushroomed everywhere. People wereโ€”20 yards from meโ€”lifted on this fireball and thrown through those lobby windows and incinerated.”

I literally could not put the book down. I could not stop reading it. It was SO INTENSE.

“One of the firemen from Rescue 1 looked up and said, โ€œWe may not live through today.โ€ We looked at him, and we looked at each other, and we said, โ€œYouโ€™re right.โ€ We took the time to shake each otherโ€™s hands and wish each other good luck and โ€œHope Iโ€™ll see you later,โ€ which is especially poignant for me because we all had that acknowledgment that this might be our last day on earth and we went to work anyway.”

The book is powerful, emotional, heartbreaking and just so gut-wrenching but really, really important to read.

“Ultimately, 60 of the FDNY personnel killed on 9/11 were supposed to be off-duty that morning.”

โ€œFrederick Terna, Holocaust survivor and Brooklyn resident: As ashes were falling, I was back in Auschwitz, with ashes coming down. In Auschwitz, I knew what the ashes were. Here, I assumed I knew what the ashes were- it was a building and human remains.โ€

This is a book that will stay in my memory for a long time. Incredible.

#3 – Anyjar by Jaimie Gusman

I don’t know where to begin with this review. It’s a book of poetry and it’s so raw and so beautiful. It took me about 4 months to read it (and it’s not a long book). I read each poem slowly, savoring each word, picturing the poems and stories the author was trying to tell.

The book of poetry is beautiful. With poetry, of course, it’s open to interpretation, but to me it seemed largely about grief and healing. But the imagery in the book was vast; oceans and birds and love and sex and memories and family. It was deep and had levels within levels.

I loved the book and will reread it again.

#4 Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

This was a really engrossing read. It spanned several generations. The story starts out in the early 70’s when two young guys become cops in New York and start families. They live next door to each other in the suburbs and then after some time has past, a tragic event happens that forever ties these two families and their kids together.

The story is really good and told well. It flows through the years and even as new characters are introduced, you are still interested and keep reading. In the end the book about is about forgiveness, love and life. I loved the ending. It felt right.

#5 – Dear Girls : Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong

I love Ali Wong. Her standup is biting and hilarious and sometimes raunchy. This book is all of that. I found myself laughing out loud so many times and I could totally hear her voice while I was reading the book.

It was funny and she had some interesting life advice. It was sort of a memoir, but not really, in letter form to her daughters. Basically talking about her life as a single girl, what it’s like being an Asian American comic/actress and talked about her culture and heritage and family, but with humorous stories. I’ve read a lot of books by comics and they aren’t always funny. This one was.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters about pregnancy. (And if you’ve seen her stand up, you know.)

“Before I got pregnant, I was determined to have a kumbaya hippie birth in water, surrounded by a Santa Monica sorceress named Owlfeathers and lots of chanting. One TV director gave me her meditation CDs that were meant to guide you through an epidural-free labor. (Fun fact: You canโ€™t meditate your cervix to open wider so donโ€™t waste your time!)”

“Bring a nice blanket, something soft and cozy that feels like the inside of an Ugg boot or a Care Bearโ€™s vagina. Hospital bedding does not spark joy.”

“Babies are often born with fingernails so disturbingly long it made me wonder why nobody told me there had been a raccoon living inside my uterus.”

#6 Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey

I heard a podcast about Isabella recently and wanted to know more about her so I got this book. It was long, very detailed but totally fascinating!

Isabella was a strong, powerful woman even when she was a teenager and defied her brother and married King Ferdinand in secret. She had a lot of forethought and wisdom at a young age.

She was also the Queen that financed Columbus’s adventures but she was also a kind, religious person who wanted the Native people to be treated with kindness. She was not too happy to hear the reports of how Columbus and the other explorers were treating the people they discovered in the new world.

There were a lot of facts and history so it’s a slow read but very fascinating.

Happy Reading!

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Books #48

My goal for 2019 was 165 books and I just reached that goal!

I’ve read some good ones lately! I also had a FLOOD of library books all come available at the same time, of course, so it was hard to get through everything. But here are some favorites:

#1 A Season to Lie (Detective Gemma Monroe #2) by Emily Littlejohn

Really strong sequel. I enjoyed this mystery a lot. Gemma is back, a new mother, and trying to fit back into work after maternity leave. She gets a big case–a famous author is murdered. I didn’t guess who the doer was until almost the end, so I liked the surprise. There were lots of twists and turns and red herrings. The characters showed some growth, too, and seemed a little more fleshed out.

#2 The Birth House by Ami McKay

I really enjoyed this book! It was a fascinating read and I loved the characters.

It takes place in the early 1900’s in a remote Canadian community in Nova Scotia. Dora is a teenager and is befriended by the town midwife, Miss B, who takes her under her wing and teachers her how to “catch babies.”

“Miss B. never asks for payment from those who come to her. She says a true traiteur never does. Grandmothers who still believe in her ways and thankful new mothers leave coffee tins, heavy with coins that have been collected after Sunday service. In season, families bring baskets of potatoes, carrots, cabbage and anything else she might need to get by.”

It’s a fascinating time period because it’s a clash of two worlds. The old world, where women went to the midwife for everyone, and the new “shiny birthing center” built by an insurance company and run by a man. This is also the time of “twilight birth” being touted as the BEST way to give birth! Chloroform and ether! Yay!

“โ€œThe latest methods of obstetricsโ€”chloroform, ether, chloral, opium, morphine, the use of forcepsโ€”these things can make birthing the joyful experience it was meant to be. I can even administer Twilight Sleep if desired.โ€ “

There was so much history and interesting stuff in this book and it was a real joy to read. The book was well written and a fast read.

“If women lose the right to say where and how they birth their children, then they will have lost something thatโ€™s as dear to life as breathing. Iโ€™m tired of being afraid.”

#3 Old Bones (Nora Kelly) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

So good! Nora Kelly is “back”–she was first introduced in one of my FAVORITE books (Thunderhead) so it looks like they are making a series out of her. In this book, Nora is approached by a historian who has knowledge of a secret third camp from the Donner Party in the Sierra Nevadas. Together they convince her boss at the Museum to put together a team to search for it.

The book is really well written. You get sucked into the story immediately and it’s exciting and faced paced. Felt like an Indian Jones movie, with a little twist of horror. Loved the ending!

#4 Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Laurel Mack is a 50-something mother of three who never really got over the fact that her 15 year old daughter, Ellie, disappeared 10 years ago. It destroyed her, destroyed her marriage, fractured her relationship with her other two kids. Now she’s trying to piece together her life and move on. She starts by dating a handsome stranger, Floyd, whom she meets in a cafe.

But as the buzz of new happiness starts to dissipate, Laurel starts to question some things about Floyd and his 9 year old daughter, Poppy.

So the book was good. It kept me reading long after I should have put the book down. The writing and the dialogue was good. The atmosphere created was good. The plot points were obvious and predictable and unrealistic, but I still liked the book a lot so it kept me reading.

#5 The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Wow! This book blew me away. It was so so good. The author expertly created a vibe of creepiness that never wavered throughout the book. The creepy, remote house in the middle of nowhere in Scotland. Creepy kids. A house that is super high tech where you’re constantly feeling watched…All the elements were there.

Rowan takes a job as a live-in nanny in remote Scotland. The parents are rich architects and away a lot. Rowan is kind of thrown into the mix immediately and strange things start happening in this weird house, where there’s a history of “ghosts” and hauntings and there’s a poison garden on the grounds. Everything about the place and the kids and the situation has Rowan on edge. In the end, a child ends up dead. (Thankfully, it’s not described in detail, so don’t let that aspect deter you from reading the book like it almost did me.) The ending had several twists and turns that were surprising.

#6 The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

I found this book enduring and sweet and heartwarming. Arthur is an 80-something year old man who visits his wife in the cemetery every day for lunch. He’s lonely. Maddy is a teenager who is also lonely and visit her mom in the cemetery. They become unlikely friends. The book was reminiscent of Catherine Hyde Ryan books. I enjoyed it.

Happy Reading!

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