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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

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From the internationally bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the boldly imagined tale of a poor boy’s quest for wealth and love. 

His first two novels established Mohsin Hamid as a radically inventive storyteller with his finger on the world’s pulse. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia meets that reputation, and exceeds it. the astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.”

It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along. 

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a striking slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval. Romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious, it brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hopes it depicts. And it creates two unforgettable characters who find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change.

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Rating: 3 out of 5.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve kind of had to think about whether I truly enjoyed reading this one or not. Kind of on the fence about it at the moment. Confused and disliked it at first then it sort of grew on me. I read it for Life’s Library Book Club. I think anyone looking to read something written a bit differently may enjoy it.

The Story
It’s more of a love story, more of an autobiographical quality really, which was a unexpected to me, having not paid little attention to the description as I often do, just scanning it for key words that make me say “yay I’m excited” or “nay this is going to be a slog,” which felt indulgent if only going by the title as I read the beginning chapters.

I wasn’t disappointed, just intrigued and surprised by how it all came to be in a book like this. I had a lot of questions that were answered in the very end so I glad I stuck with it as it did have some redemptive qualities. There just wasn’t a crux or a character/plot arch per say, yet it kind of was in itself as a whole if that makes sense once you hear from the author himself, as I did by listening to an author interview that made the read a bit more complete for me. More of a passing on of wisdom in a different sort of sense.

The Writing
This is the unique bit about the book. Written in 2nd POV, present tense, often omniscient. Sort of talking in a futuristic sense as well. Sort of built up the premise up in this way, which also made for a very long-winded account.

I admit I was incredibly bored at the beginning, not as much about the content, though it felt jumbled to me and I had a hard time processing it, but mostly in the writing in the way it was presented. My brain was tired of the POV and self-help theme, but I got more into it by the end which you could argue its effectiveness of that.

There was no framing. Completely lacked which made it amiss for me.

The style spoke of universal implication and also individual anonymity. This I quite liked.

Descriptions
I think for me, there was just so much detailed play-by-play. Not with a lot of descriptors or emotional state, not a lot details of atmosphere or mood, just more about people doing things. All the smell descriptors were about disgust, nothing about cuisine or spice which I would have liked to have known. Which is okay, just made me antsy because I kept waiting for something to connect to, to look forward to, especially something about the How to part. It wasn’t a complete bait-and-switch though. I won’t spoil it here, but I was happy to have read it to the end. Though overall I am still not sure how really invested I was.

Tried hard at being somewhat philosophical, lofty, kind of gibberish at times, too abstract for my liking. Very likely could have been my mood and hunger for more of a connected tone or escapist reading experience at the moment.

Probably what it really was now that I think about it, was this use of far fetched vocabulary to describe things that were much more simpler than they came out to be. I had to look up a lot of words. Perhaps this is what distracted me the most. Took me out of the story.

The Characters
All this yearning for physical intimacy and hardly a mention of emotional intimacy. No real introspection, no one barely gets to talk about their feelings. It often came across as a very empty, disconnected read. In the end though, it sort of read like a mobster story which I enjoyed.

I loved the comedic bits. Though I don’t think I got all the cultural humor. Felt like an inside joke sometimes where I was the only one that didn’t know what was going on.

I absolutely loved that the author took risks in the writing, playing around with a less common approach and style that is unique to the lit fic genre as it is typically classified.

I think I probably would have appreciated it more if I knew more about the culture he was basing this book off of, the dilemmas, successes, and backstory.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

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Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, a searing literary debut novel set in India about mothers and daughters, obsession and betrayal “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure,” says Antara, Tara’s now-adult daughter.

This is a love story and a story about betrayal—not between lovers but between a mother and a daughter. … In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her arranged marriage to join an ashram, embarked on a stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents), and spent years chasing a disheveled, homeless “artist,” all with little Antara in tow.

But now Tara is forgetting things, and Antara is an adult—an artist and married—and must search for a way to make peace with a past that haunts her as she confronts the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her. Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Burnt Sugar unpicks the slippery, choking cord of memory and myth that binds mother and daughter: Is Tara’s memory loss real? Are Antara’s memories fair?

In vivid and visceral prose, Avni Doshi tells a story at once shocking and empathetic of a mother-daughter relationship and a daughter’s search for self. A journey into shifting memories, altering identities, and the subjective nature of truth, Burnt Sugar is the stunning and unforgettable debut of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a unique read for me. I’m not sure how to phrase my description of the book both in writing style and content. Unspoken depth. Scorching, uneasy, distorted, repulsive, mentally unsettling. Sharp.

It’s definitely not a light-hearted book. More disconcerting than comforting, especially at the beginning when I was gauging my first thoughts about it, wondering where they would settle. I kept reading though.

I’m not sure who I would recommend this one to as it reads more like an expression of complex, conflicting thoughts of a mother-daughter relationship than an adventurous, satisfying arch of a character study as the progression is quite subtle as circumstances come to term, ending a bit open-ended for me. I think it would make a good book club pick for the right people. Also would be an interesting one to analyze in a behavioral psychology course, a supplemental book for any Freudian psychoanalysis study section.

Some sights were outright grotesque.

Not likely a book I would have picked up on my own apart from seeing it as a prize winning debut. I mention that because others may share the sentiment and I think that is worth sharing in especially if you’re a reader like me who has certain likes and dislikes though is typically quite open to taking risks in what you consume. Within reason of course as some likely may find the subject matter quite disturbing.

The Story
It’s really a glimpse into the way the main character copes, divulges, restrains herself in her relationships, with her mother being at the core. In a contrarian way, giving thoughts to things unspoken, the unsightly, the struggle. Bodily functions were almost maddening at times. The inner-monologue was honest, raw, while action was restrained, indirect, disconnected, passive-aggressive, hostile at times.

Portrays a relationship that seeks to please and preserve your own self and another at the same time, when both have needs that need to be met, sometimes not able to be met simultaneously. I think it is one that will hit people different in ways as far as content in questioning and fulfillment is concerned.

Depicts uncertainty, ultimately insecurity, a type of emotionally immature child and parent relationship, definitely not a plot-driven thriller if that is something you’re looking to read.

The Writing
So strong as told in first person POV. The expressions were concrete, deep with accuracy, insight, and evoking emotion, rich in passing. Rich in foresight and in lingering in my mind well after.

Characters
Careful crafted and careless in content at the same time. It’s the conflict that was so well displayed. A good balance between telling a reader what you need to know and what should be left to ponder. All of it making a point, whether subtle or overt. Well-separated were the thoughts and actual actions of the main character, how she kept herself in check, perceptive, sane, and pushing forward, bonded to her relationships, with an introspection that kept me as the reader tight to her thought process.

Tone
The anticipation of hope that is incremental, harboring resentment, conflicting feelings. Kind of left me feeling sour and a bit wretched.

Characterization was done really well. I was especially mesmerized by the writing in the dream sequence.

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Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Science Fiction

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

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Simon Schuster Logo | Erica Robbin

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Featured in the Netflix series Love, Death & Robots

Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his multiple award-winning stories for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. This mesmerizing collection features many of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon Award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

Insightful and stunning stories that plumb the struggle against history and betrayal of relationships in pivotal moments, this collection showcases one of our greatest and original voices.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Really appreciated this one. I read this one for SunBeamsJess Book Club. I’d recommend it to anyone. I’d say those looking for something different, as self-described in the book toward the end, it portrays collected works. Genre distinction of science fiction, alternate history, magical realism, fantasy, noir. Makes for an excellent book club read.

The Story
I suppose from reading the description there is not much really telling about the book apart from accolades so I’d say that this book reads like a sampler variety of writing, anthology of sorts of different writing styles. Speculative fiction, some literary fiction, essay like, sometimes thriller. The telling of historical events, war crimes like U731, the surrounding denial and silence. Cultural nuances, love, human relation, humor, random insight. The future of technology and human response to it.

The book made much more sense to me in the end. Themes described as delving into the past, speaking for the dead, recovering their stories. Forms of telling stories from ideograms and papier-mâché. Storytelling, translation, memory, identity. Mentioning this because it would have helped me understand what the whole collection was and likely would have helped me understand it even more.

Some stories didn’t really have a plot or characters, happenings that I cared as much about, some heart-wrenching. Others, as often with essays, there’s always certain ones that resonate with me more than others, as opposed to a collective whole. Certain ones I was more invested in than others, in this case and overall, I thoroughly felt grateful for this one for its unique approach and the heavy topics it mentioned. And these were told without apology or over-explanation which was key appreciation for me as far as past, present, and future speculation and transparency goes.

The Writing
All the parts of the collection were quite different from each other so it’s difficult to comment on, but I’d say as a collective piece, the running themes, the writing, as story I should say, were all like an interesting experiment tied together in an aha moment for me at the end.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Romance

Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden (Agatha Raisin #9) by M.C. Beaton

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Simon Schuster Logo | Erica Robbin

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There is nothing more depressing for a middle-aged lovelorn woman with bald patches on her head than to find herself in an English seaside resort out of season. Agatha Raisin, her hair falling out after a run-in with a hairdresser-cum-murderess from a previous investigation, travels to an old-fashioned hotel in order to repair the damage away from the neighbors in her all-too-cozy Cotswolds village.

Unhappy about the slow results and prompted by the elderly residents of the resort, she consults the local witch for help. Agatha purchases a hair tonic (and a love potion, just in case!) and is soon sprouting hairs and capturing the fancy of the village police inspector. But the quiet town is stunned by the murder of the witch. Which of the graying guests is capable of such a brutal crime? The brassy yet endearing Agatha won’t stop until she finds the culprit-and, of course, a little love too.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OH Agatha, you’ve gone and done it again! I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Penelope Keith, so spot-on animated and fun to listen to. Amazingly never gets dull, tuckered out, or old.

The Story
The predicaments just get so creative and even though there’s the same theme, the relationship chase, the meandering around that finds Agatha in trouble, the amateur detective entertained me once again.

The Writing
Simple and flowed effortlessly in this one and I liked the placing of the big reveal in this one.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

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Simon Schuster Logo | Erica Robbin

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When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this one. I’d recommend this one to a more younger audience, perhaps junior high or high school age, a younger crowd would probably enjoy it more than I did.

The Story
Loved the premise, the portrayal of family characteristics and potential dilemma. Deeper sentiments included career aspirations, family expectations. Self-doubt was a bit more belabored around the same things, a bit drawn out, more than I thought I would have enjoyed at the present time, but overall, really enjoyed the unveiling of what was going to happen based on what I read in the book description.

I would have liked more tension, more interpersonal conflict. Like a cafeteria scene of someone commenting on stinky fish sauce or some type of lived experience to justify their mention in passing.

The Writing
Enjoyed the changing POVs, felt it added a bit more dimension, angle to the story, though it also made the story drag out a bit at the same time because it felt like each character had to have their same length of say in the matter.

Characters
I wasn’t feeling the relationship. It teetered between puppy love and deeper longing but the characters felt flat to me and lacked personality, distinguishing characteristics, I couldn’t really tell them apart. Would have enjoyed a little more personality to the characters as a lived experience, more warmth and charm to the characters and their situation rather than almost being told how to feel by explanation rather than a lived reading experience.

Some of it was more explanation which was okay at times, but I would have liked rather that the characters just live it. For example, the lines “Nothing is more efficient at waking you from a dead sleep—while also drawing out an involuntary, undignified high-pitched scream—than a Vietnamese mother bursting through the door without warning.” I was thinking a nice touch would just have the characters portrayed in action and let the readers see for themselves to get a more settled glimpse into what was being conveyed rather than be told. Like why not make the mother screech in the most abrupt way, even exaggerated to show instead of tell and contrast it with a friend who doesn’t share that same sentiment.

Descriptions
The food description was really fun, but then it became a little overkill, and I love food description. Pho is one of my favorites, could eat it every day, all day. I suppose it seemed like too much description because it was coming from young adults who describe the food like a t.v. show food critic, but not really the treasured memories, personal connections, or emotional experience, so they became quite boring and monotonous. I just don’t know any kids, younger adults as they are portrayed, that are that aware and descriptive with everything they eat, whether talking about it to themselves, savoring every bite, or talking to the other people dining with them in such a detailed way, to that length with every course.

Pacing
Pacing was the major issue for me. Found it to be quite slow. Didn’t always hold my attention, some scenes were a bit tedious, but I realized after reading a bit that I perhaps was not exactly the target demographic and that may have influenced my feelings toward lack of progression. Felt like it was 100 pages too long. A reading exercise reaching for completeness. I started to skim read by chapter 14, realizing that not much progress was being made, maybe only about 3-4 chapters at a time, finally something “happened.” I could have skipped through a few pages without learning much new. Kind of centered so tight around a concept that a little more side story reveal with again, more real time interpersonal conflict, would have helped to freshen it up for me.

The cell phone text portrayal/print format could have been formatted a little better.

Absolutely loved the language integration.

Sweet story but just less of my type of book, less of what I was looking for when I picked it up.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Humor Science Fiction

Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

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Simon Schuster Logo | Erica Robbin

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Maui Island | Erica Robbin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So entertaining, I laughed the entire time. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Bill Irwin who was great. Not always his most enthusiastic self, but when he gets into character, the storytelling becomes so dynamically amusing. He has a wonderful, commanding voice, an occasional fade that I had a hard time picking up on from time to time, still very enjoyable anyway. Loved the whale sounds, a nice touch. I’d recommend this one to anyone who is looking for something funny and lighthearted.

The Story
Moore, a comedic genius. Outlandish, but makes perfect sense at the same time.

The Writing
Again, Moore, a comedic genius. Not pretentious or try-hard, just telling it like it is which is my favorite style.

And I learned some things about the whales.

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Blue Whales Breeching | Erica Robbin
Blue Whales Breeching, Maui, Hawaii | Erica Robbin
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Maui Sailing | Erica Robbin
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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

The Year of Dangerous Days Riots, Refugees, and Cocaine in Miami 1980 by Nicholas Griffin

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In the tradition of The Wire, the harrowing story of the cinematic transformation of Miami, one of America’s most bustling cities—rife with a drug epidemic, a burgeoning refugee crisis, and police brutality—from journalist and award-winning author Nicholas Griffin

Miami, Florida, famed for its blue skies and sandy beaches, is one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations, with nearly twenty-three million tourists visiting annually. But few people have any idea how this unofficial capital of Latin America came to be.

The Year of Dangerous Days is a fascinating chronicle of a pivotal but forgotten year in American history. With a cast that includes iconic characters such as Jimmy Carter, Fidel Castro, and Janet Reno, this slice of history is brought to life through intertwining personal stories. At the core, there’s Edna Buchanan, a reporter for the Miami Herald who breaks the story on the wrongful murder of a black man and the shocking police cover-up; Captain Marshall Frank, the hardboiled homicide detective tasked with investigating the murder; and Mayor Maurice Ferré, the charismatic politician who watches the case, and the city, fall apart.

On a roller coaster of national politics and international diplomacy, these three figures cross paths as their city explodes in one of the worst race riots in American history as more than 120,000 Cuban refugees land south of Miami, and as drug cartels flood the city with cocaine and infiltrate all levels of law enforcement. In a battle of wills, Buchanan has to keep up with the 150 percent murder rate increase; Captain Frank has to scrub and rebuild his homicide bureau; and Mayor Ferré must find a way to reconstruct his smoldering city. Against all odds, they persevere, and a stronger, more vibrant Miami begins to emerge. But the foundation of this new Miami—partially built on corruption and drug money—will have severe ramifications for the rest of the country.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Miami 1980 by Nicholas Griffin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Interesting, insightful, I learned so much. I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Pete Simonelli who was pleasant to listen to. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone.

I came into it having visited Miami just a handful of times, wondering about how much Miami has changed over the years, the cultural exchange and influence, crime data analysis, and wondering what ever happened to that little boy named Elián who come into country floating on a raft, remembering the news reels, the wet feet, dry feet policy and the controversy over that, events leading up to how it all came to be.

The Story
I feel like it presented a fair assessment. Everything from culture of law enforcement, criminal conviction. Drug trade. Crisis and money exchange. Permissive and restrictive regulations. Drug enforcement tactic. Justice system. All coming down to questions about violent minorities representing immigrants, Cubans seeking asylum, language integration and language exclusion, cuisine variation, and how it all came to be, Miami, deemed as an unofficial capital of Latin America.

The Writing
It was easy to get into. I enjoyed the organization, the timeline both chronological, but also a re-examination of events with new information and context as they were seen and now.

A complex and fascinating history.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Romance

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham (Agatha Raisin #8) by M.C. Beaton

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So funny. You already know how invested I am in this series. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Penelope Keith, wonderful as always.

Always love the recap of the previous story. Not belabored, not tedious, but fresh and concise.

The Story
Hilarious and clever. I’m willing to go wherever Agatha goes at this point. It’s always going to be a good time, her and her curious ways, even when situations get dumb, obnoxious, or stupid. I just like listening and meandering along with it. To me, they get even funnier, especially this one with the allure of getting your hair dressed and the way the whole story unfolds is so relatable. The relevancy stands strong, whether time of time or pop culture.

Escapist reads for me, no matter what they are about or how silly they become, I just keep divulging in the series. And it’s rare that I’m attracted much less desiring to finish a series. This might be the longest running series I will ever finish aside from childhood Nancy Drew, Box Car Children, or The Baby Sitter’s Club. I’m amazed at myself that I’ve followed so far.

The Writing
The right amount of one-liners, succinct descriptions, hits the sweet spot and overall balance at the same time.

The series is like candy for me.

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Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Romance

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin

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Violette Toussaint is the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne. Random visitors, regulars, and, most notably, her colleagues—three gravediggers, three groundskeepers, and a priest—visit her as often as possible to warm themselves in her lodge, where laughter, companionship, and occasional tears mix with the coffee that she offers them. Her daily life is lived to the rhythms of their hilarious and touching confidences.

Violette’s routine is disrupted one day by the arrival of a man—Julien Sole, local police chief—who insists on depositing the ashes of his recently departed mother on the gravesite of a complete stranger. It soon becomes clear that the grave Julien is looking for belongs to his mother’s one-time lover, and that his mother’s story of clandestine love is intertwined with Violette’s own secret past.

With Fresh Water for Flowers, Valérie Perrin has given readers a funny, moving, intimately told story of a woman who believes obstinately in happiness. Parrin has the rare talent of illuminating what is exceptional and poetic in what seems ordinary.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved this. I read the English translation, the choice of words along with the inclusion of original language. My French is limited, I appreciated what I presumed in the interpretation. I’d recommend this to anyone. It would make a great book club read.

The Story
Grief, the human condition, deep resonance. Original, thought-provoking. Also a very therapeutic read. Reminded of questions proposed and analyzed in my university Death and Dying course. Some parts joyous, others heartbreaking, some funny notes, other themes more daunting. Each chapter titled with funerary epigraphs graciously set the tone. Struggles, perplexing matters and thoughts from satisfying life choices whether personal or relational, episodic, near death, or overall.

Loved the telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s, The Fir Tree.

The Writing
Prose rich, deep, lyrical. Poetic. Every sentence was so tightly linked. Like a game of dominoes where the two numbers match up, adjacent the fives, so on and so on. Interconnected and all tangible in the same way, whether my lived experience or not, the style of writing was captivating. Word choices and scenarios were presented in such a pure, honest, personal way.

This is one to savor and will be in my thoughts for a long time to come.

MY FAVORITE LINES:

“What do you expect will become of me if I no longer hear your step, is it your life or mine that’s going, I don’t know.”

“Being is eternal, existence a passage, eternal memory will be its message.”

“You must learn to be generous with your absence to those who haven’t understood the importance of your presence.”

“People are strange. They can’t bear to look in the eye a mother who has lost her child, but they’re even more shocked to see her picking herself up, dressing herself up, dolling herself up.”

“It’s the words they didn’t say that make the dead so heavy in their coffins.”

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Reading Group Discussion Questions

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1. One critic called Fresh Water for Flowers “A tender and poignant exploration of love, loss, and redemption.” How do these themes weave together in the narrative? Given the multiple characters and storylines, how do such feelings transcend the characters’ stories in the novel and reflect back on to the readers?

  1. The novel recounts Violette’s life over the course of many years, but not always in order. How does this inter-changing chronological structure add to the narrative? Does it take away from it? How does it further underscore the novel’s theme of life’s unpredictability and Violette’s (and, ultimately, ours) resilience?
  2. Violette spends most of the novel telling her story as the cemetery keeper in Brancion-en- Chalet, but the novel also recounts her life as a level crossing keeper. Discuss the differences in Violette’s life in these two places. How do both locations subvert readers’ expectations and how do they imprint themselves on Violette’s life?
  3. Each chapter begins with an epitaph as a preamble for what’s to come. Do you find these epitaphs informed the contents of each chapter? What role do the epitaph’s play in the story?
  4. By following the lives of multiple characters other thanViolette(Philippe,Gabriel,Irene,Julien, etc.), the novel opens onto the impossibilities and contradictions that make up a person. To wholly care for someone, but to be distant. To be in love, but still unfaithful. In doing so, what commentary does the novel make on how a single life can hold a multitude of lives within it? Do you feel as though each character has redeemed themselves by the end of the novel? Is Violette’s capacity for forgiveness, then, ultimately, a weakness or a strength? Is there anyone who did not fully redeem themselves by the end and, if so, do you at least understand them better?
  5. Chapter 75 ends with Violette wondering of Julien, “How will our encounters end?” (346). Meanwhile, Chapter 76 begins with the epitaph “The family isn’t destroyed, it changes. A part of it merely becomes invisible” (347). How do Violette’s encounters with the prominent people in her life— Phillipe, Leonine, Sasha, Celia, Julien, Irene, etc.—guide her to the end of the novel? How does her family change over the course of the novel? Is a family merely one made up of a bloodline?
  6. After Leonine’s death, both Philippe and Violette grieve in their own ways, all the way having to deal with the scrutiny from friends and family around them. Discuss how this novel the different ways this novel portrays grief and the avenues with which each character takes to heal. Does any character grieve in a similar way as you? If so, what did you learn from it?
  1. This novel portrays different kinds of love: the love friends share; your first love; the love between a mother and a daughter, and between a father and a son; the complicated loves; the loves lost; the misunderstood loves, and more. Do you find love to be enough of a driving force for redemption with some of these characters? Do you believe Violette to be incapable or unworthy of love, as she continuously claims?
  2. One critic calls Fresh Water for Flowers “a triumphant celebration of life and love.” Discuss the ways in which this novel reproduces the cycle of life and the ways in which it celebrates it, with all the good and the bad that come along with living? Did you learn anything along the way?
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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas

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A summer escape she’ll never forget . . .

Lucia has worked hard as a lawyer in Wales, aiming for a big promotion she hopes will shortly come her way. Finally taking a well-earned break at her grandparents’ house in southern Italy, the sunshine, lemon trees and her nonna’s mouth-watering cooking make her instantly feel at home. 

But she’s shocked to learn that her grandfather is retiring from the beloved family pizzeria and will need to sell. Lucia can’t bear the thought of the place changing hands – especially when she discovers her not-quite-ex-husband Giacomo wants to take it over! 

Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life. Is this her chance to carry on the family tradition and finally follow her dreams?

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such savory stories and writing. I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance readers copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who are looking for a refreshing travel escape while on lockdown or feeling bogged down by life circumstances.

The Story
Reading stories by Jo Thomas are always such a treat to dive right in and be whisked away to a lovely place.

Reads like the first glance at a restaurant menu, where everything sounds so delicious and you want to devour it all, a good restaurant with good conversation, one where you leave happy and satisfied.

Took me right there. First sip of morning coffee. An early day’s work of homemade pizza dough divided and ready for a lunch time feast, fired in a wood oven. Wandering around the plaza, the market, the people I might meet. The aroma of fresh cut citrus, garden basil, garlic, tomato, mozzarella bubbling, ready for your heart’s content. I was there enjoying it with Nonno and Nonna.

And this one was all about Italy, family, and love. With deeper sentiments, life circumstances, with crossroads that were unexpected, interesting, and dynamic enough to make me think about my own.

The Writing
Every book I’ve read thus far has delivered its promise and this was was no exception. Inviting and not overly descriptive. Just enough to create alluring atmosphere while just enough to allow my imagination to feel like it was my own experience.

I really liked the initial and subsequent use of Italian language and translational presentation.

Questions I had were later answered in more subtle, internal monologue and character interaction. Super gratifying when that happens and when it doesn’t feel forced, jarring, or overly-explanatory. Makes for a good reading experience that doesn’t feel either rushed or boring.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one and am looking forward to the next read!

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Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas Pizza | Erica Robbin
Pizza I craved and ate after reading this book.
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Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fiction Science Fiction

The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey

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Two best friends create a computer that can predict the future. But what they can’t predict is how it will tear their friendship—and society—apart.

For Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, the answer is unequivocally yes. And they’re betting everything that you’ll say yes, too. Welcome to The Future: a computer that connects to the internet one year from now, so you can see who you’ll be dating, where you’ll be working, even whether or not you’ll be alive in the year to come. By forming a startup to deliver this revolutionary technology to the world, Ben and Adhi have made their wildest, most impossible dream a reality. Once Silicon Valley outsiders, they’re now its hottest commodity. 

The device can predict everything perfectly—from stock market spikes and sports scores to political scandals and corporate takeovers—allowing them to chase down success and fame while staying one step ahead of the competition. But the future their device foretells is not the bright one they imagined.

Ambition. Greed. Jealousy. And, perhaps, an apocalypse. The question is . . . can they stop it?

Told through emails, texts, transcripts, and blog posts, this bleeding-edge tech thriller chronicles the costs of innovation and asks how far you’d go to protect the ones you love—even from themselves.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was immersed in this one. I read this one for The Poisoned Pen Bookstore Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Club. I’d recommend this to anyone, especially those who have been intrigued by recent past events as it pertains to the aspects of corporate social responsibility when it comes to social media, where it’s been and where it’s headed. It is also a very accessible science fiction book if you’re new to the genre.

The Story
It was clean and linear while maintaining enough side interest. Well-organized plot from this aspect. The overall theme was just presented, not forced, which I found to be very refreshing. I didn’t feel like reading a book with a loaded political message so I was delighted to read how ideas in this book were brought forth, especially the ending.

A very interesting and insightful spin, as an informational source, entertainment, and at times an almost satirical take on recent past events which I adored.

Interestingly enough, I actually enjoyed the court proceedings. Usually I zone them out. I’m actually quite proud of myself for reading them through. Perhaps it was because I was one who was glued to watching the entire senate hearing of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony on behalf of Facebook. I recognized aspects of it and enjoyed every bit of it.

There were some funny inferences. The Tumbler posts were hilarious and clever.

Relevant and timely.

The Writing
Sort of a modern epistolary format which matched the storyline and wasn’t overly complicated. Solid in its structure.

The characters were pretty standard, pretty stereotypical, which was quite fitting all in all. I wasn’t always incredibly personally attached them as a result because they didn’t offer too much out of the ordinary character-wise, but maybe that was part of its strength. Also maybe it was just as well because I felt that rejection in the returns of the thesis proposal and prospective partnership emails, very well written.

And I learned a lot.

The photos were a very nice touch too.

Enjoy reading this one, I certainly did!

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Cookbooks Featured

Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence by Claire Saffitz

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Claire Saffitz is a baking hero for a new generation.

In Dessert Person, fans will find Claire’s signature spin on sweet and savory recipes like Babkallah (a babka-Challah mashup), Apple and Concord Grape Crumble Pie, Strawberry-Cornmeal Layer Cake, Crispy Mushroom Galette, and Malted Forever Brownies.

She outlines the problems and solutions for each recipe–like what to do if your pie dough for Sour Cherry Pie cracks (patch it with dough or a quiche flour paste!)–as well as practical do’s and don’ts, skill level, prep and bake time, and foundational know-how. With Claire at your side, everyone can be a dessert person.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence by Claire Saffitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Really enjoying this cookbook.

It features beautiful, almost retro style photos. Thumbing through the book is like having a peak at yummy pastries behind the glass at a local bakery or donut shop and having a hard time choosing from all your favorites.

I like the informational tidbits at the beginning and reading the backstory behind each recipe.

The recipes overall are quite unique, well-thought out in proportion, and so far very yummy. Contains not only desserts, but a few savory ones as well which was a nice surprise.

I’m still working my way through it, mostly starting with cookies, and had a make a few ingredient substitutions which turned out lovely. But that has made it all that much more fun, especially after following along with the accompanying Claire Saffitz x Dessert Person YouTube videos where Saffitz even modifies her own recipes, which I find quite enduring as it has brought out a certain improvisational creativity that I’m quite drawn to.

View all my reviews

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