Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

This story takes place over one weekend on the East Coast island of Waskeke. The Van Meter family is gathered for their eldest daughter's wedding. It's like we're flies on the wall of their beach house as everyone gets together and catches up.

I don't want you to write this book off as a chic-lit wedding weekend easy reading book. For having so many characters (the parents, sisters, bridesmaids, groomsmen, other relatives), each one is quite distinct and memorable. Furthermore, the relationships between each person are also very clear.

This is a very detailed and observant book about relationships, the things we tell ourselves, and the importance of figuring out what matters in life and what doesn't.

For whatever reason though, I'm finding that I can't give this a wholehearted recommendation. Maybe about an 70%-hearted recommendation. It's a good read, just not one to make me gush.

PS: Contains adult themes and content.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

This is a graphic novel about a Japanese-American man, Ben Tanaka. His longtime girlfriend, Miko Hayashi, accuses Ben of being attracted to white women. This is just one of her problems with Ben. What's really going on between them and can it be helped?

Ben is really not likable at the beginning of this book. I started to have some empathy for him toward the end. And at the very end, it was just heartbreaking, so give this guy a chance!

The dialogue in this book is spot on. The observations about ethnicity and relationships also hit close to home. Painful and heartbreaking, but I'm recommending it! However, if you happen to have some Asian male angst, I'm not recommending this to you because it might hit TOO close to home.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friends Like Us by Lauren Fox

Willa was best friends with Ben during high school. He had a secret crush on her. Fast forward to their mid-20s. Willa and Ben re-connect, Willa introduces Ben to her best friend, Jane. Ben and Jane fall in love. However, as the Prologue tells us, Willa and Jane are no longer friends. The rest of the book tells us what happened between them and Ben.

Okay, sounds like another chic-lit book? And it kinda is, but this one is different mostly because it is painful and crushing to read at times. I found it to be very engaging. The only distracting thing is that Willa likes to use a lot of puns, and this is a bit overdone. Overall though, this would make a satisfying read for a rainy winter afternoon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The End-of-Life Handbook: A Compassionate Guide to Connecting with and Caring for a Dying Loved One by David B. Feldman, PH.D. and S. Andrew Lasher, Jr., MD

This book has been sitting on my shelf for years, and I finally picked it up and worked my way through it.

It's not easy to talk or even think about end-of-life issues, but this book addresses the kinds of questions that families might have when a loved one is dying.

The titles of the chapters are in the form of questions:
Could the doctors be wrong? (chapter 1)
Who are all of these people? (chapter 2)
What treatments are available? (chapter 3)
...and so on through symptom relief, what to expect as someone dies, and how to say goodbye, etc.

I appreciated that this book addressed not only the physical component of caring for a dying loved one, but also the emotional piece as well. This book also discusses hospice care which I think is a very under-utilized service, or if it is used, a patient is oftentimes admitted very late, so there's not enough time to take advantage of all of the services that hospice has to offer.

Hopefully you won't need the information in this book right now or anytime soon, but if you ever do, know that this is a very helpful guide to read, and that there are answers to your questions.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Bee's mom, Bernadette, is a brilliant ex-architect who hates Seattle (where they live) and also dislikes people. So Bernadette hires a virtual assistant from India to take care of various tasks for her, including planning a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for Bee's excellent marks in 8th grade.

Right before the Antarctica trip, Bernadette disappears, and Bee is left to figure out what happened.

This is a very delightful, clever, and engaging read and one of my favorites this year.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

Elderly Englishmen and women move to a Bangalore retirement home, and although there isn't always electricity, there are a lot of unexpected laughs and adventures.

I found this book to be slow and plodding. It alternated between being interesting and very boring. It took me awhile to get through it. It was okay. This is a case when I actually wondered if the movie might be better. Has anyone seen the movie yet?

PS: To my junior readers, this book contains mature content.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life by Gretchen Rubin

This is a sequel of sorts to Rubin's bestseller The Happiness Project. In her newest year-long project, she focuses on making changes in order to make her home a happier place. She focuses on a different theme each month, such as Parenting, Time, and Marriage, and chooses several goals to work on.

One of her goals was to "Create shrines." Rubin writes that we enjoy our possessions more when similar things are grouped together. She's a fan of children's literature, so she put all of these books together so she could enjoy them all.

I decided to try this out and re-organized the wall of books in my house. I put all of the Harry Potters on one shelf, all of the Chronicles of Narnia on one shelf, and all of the Lord of the Rings on yet another shelf. Indeed, seeing all of the series together did make me happier. I then grouped all of the other books according to subject. This made me even happier, and I enjoy looking at the bookshelves much more now.

Overall, this book was interesting to read. In general, I like Rubin, but she does come across as pretentious and busy! She is so task and results oriented that I feel tired after reading everything that she strives after. I'd love to see her write a book on Rest.

Also, she makes it pretty clear that her family is very well-off, and I think this is what allows her to spend money on family portraits and creating a miniature scene in a kitchen cupboard, etc. which is definitely not really an option for a lot of families in order to make home a happier place.

Friday, November 9, 2012

I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life Through Events--the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don't by Jennifer Gilbert

Jennifer Gilbert was 22-years-old when she was brutally attacked in New York City on the way to visit a friend. She doesn't want the attack to dictate the rest of her life, so she bravely goes forward with life, buries the trauma, and never speaks of it.

She starts her own business as an event-planner and creates picture perfect weddings and parties for her clients. However, on the inside she did not feel like the perfect, successful, happy image she projected on the outside, and she finally finds that she needs to face the trauma and how it has affected her.

Gilbert is humble, funny, and aware. I liked this book.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Heya! I know that I haven't been giving very glowing reviews lately, but that is how the cookie crumbles. And I do love cookies, especially peanut butter. However, I am in the process of reading some books that I think will be getting some very good reviews, so you'll have to be patient here. In the meantime, send some cookies to keep this reader going. Thanks!

Okay, so here goes another mediocre book. There are two story lines in this book. One is in May 1933 in Seattle with Vera Ray, who leaves her three-year-old son at home while she goes to work as a hotel maid and when she comes back in a freak May snowstorm, her son is missing. The other story also takes place in Seattle, but in 2010 after another freak snow storm with reporter, Claire, who is assigned a story about the snowstorm.

Like Sarah Jio's other books, there are many predictable coincidences and connections from the past to the present and everything is neatly explained by the end.

With that said, I did read the entire book in one sitting last week while I was at home on a rainy afternoon. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments by Alex Witchel

Witchel's mom starts to show signs of dementia, and this is the story of Witchel coming to terms with losing the mom she knew. Wichel goes back and forth between recounting her relationship with her mother while growing up and the present-day dealings with her mom.

A pleasant enough read, but not a book that I found to be engrossing or one that I would re-read.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life by Nancy Sleeth

Sleeth writes about her quest to lead a simpler, more intentional, and slower life. She addresses different areas of life like finances, community, service, and nature, and gives some really practical ideas to slow down and enjoy life and people around us.

A pretty easy-to-read book, but can, at times, be preachy, pretentious, and really conservative (she suggests that sticking to traditional gender roles keeps things more simple and clear-cut for everyone). In addition, sometimes the writing felt like it belonged in a pamphlet, not a book. There's also a lot of Scripture quoted, so if that's not something you're into, I wouldn't recommend this book to you.

I liked the ideas in this book, but I didn't like the delivery as much. The one big plus about this book though is the collection of simple recipes she includes at the back. I cooked the curried lentil soup, and I really liked it, and so did the spouse.