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Micaela Reviews 2008

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 5 months ago

Micaela's Book Reviews for Summer 2008


Goal: Read and review 10 books. Challenge- finish at least 1 of the unfinished books on my to-read shelf; 2 of the 10 will be non-fiction books.


2007 reviews


Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

c. 2004, fiction, 336 pages


The story of the Empress Orchid, the last empress of a chinese dynasty. This book begins with a prelude, from Empress Orchid, explaining how she has been trapped for 50 years. Then the story of her ascent to the throne begins, in first-person past-tense and somehow, even though you've been told how it ends you are on edge, waiting to find out what happens next and even being midly caught up in various suspenseful moments regarding Orchid's fate. I found the book to be slow going at first, there was a lot of description, which I found myself skimming. But the second half of the book was much more page turning IMO.


Ruby by Francesca Lia Block and Carmen Staton

c. 2006, YA fiction, 209 pages

challenge book: off of to-read shelf


This is the story of Ruby young woman abused as a child. While it is mostly set during Ruby's early twenties (I assume, it is never stated outright) there are flashbacks (for lack of a better word) to Ruby's childhood. Throughout the book Ruby is actively pursueing her way out of her former life and into her fate, though at times she is unsure of exactly what her fate will be. This book was taken from my 'to-read' shelf and I started where I left off, at page 72. Reading it felt very stumbly at first, almost clunky; which was the exact reason that I put the book down many months ago. Either I got into the rhythym of the book or I just really wanted to finish it because I finally did so and then went back to re-read the first 72 pages. But still the writing just felt a little flat compared to other FLB books.


The Glass Castle: a memoir by Jeannette Walls

c. 2005, biography, 288 pages

challenge book?: does this count as non-fiction #1


I believe many people find this biography heartwarming, but I mostly found it depressing. Walls tells the story of her family, from her first memory at the age of 3 (getting severely burned while making hotdogs for herself) through adulthood. Despite her parents, many moves and awful conditions no child should endure (hunger is just one of them) she and two of her siblings manage to thrive and become functioning adults. Unfortunately for me, this book is mostly about the path out of the life her parents choose/felt compelled to lead and I found it depressing to read about instances of hunger and the conditions of squalor they dealt with. Walls is a good writer as I still found myself tearing through the book to see what happens next.


Pug Hill by Alison Pace

c. 2006, fiction, 312 pages


Aha, I found my fluffy read.  Pug Hill is told in first person, first person speaking to the reader.  The story is of a young 30-something single woman who isn't real happy in her life, she doesn't actually like her boyfriend, she is crushing on an unavailable co-worker, she still feels like she ranks below her older sister and she has to give a speech at her parents' anniversary party despite the fact that she has a debilitating fear of public speaking that she sort of shaped her life around.  And she likes pugs but doesn't have one of her own.  The story starts out kind of slow and the main character's voice is slightly annoying.  Mostly the book covers her journey through a public speaking class she takes to prep for the upcoming anniversary speech, and of course her regular visits to Pug Hill to visit pugs that are not hers for relaxation.  The ending was nice, since it didn't actually wrap up nice and neat but did have a "happily ever after" sort of vibe.


Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

c. 2004, fiction, 357 pages


Fluffy read strikes again, clearly just one wasn't enough.  First off, I want to state that I absoluted hated the first Shopaholic so I picked this book up with a good amount of trepidation (but hey that's what makes libraries so great).  Luckily the main character, Emma, is not so mind-stabbingly stupid as the Shopaholic character seemed.  This book is really cookie-cutter chick-lit, 20-something single British girl in London working a job she isn't so fond of, who runs into some man-trouble and prepetually manages to get herself into wacky hijinks (though I do not remember a gay-best friend, just a best-friend of forever/flat-mate).  Oh yes, and it has a pink cover just a hair darker than petobismal pink.  However, it is a good story, and like I said, while Emma does some stupid things they feel believable.  It would have been a nice vacation read, if I wasn't worried about finishing it during the plane ride to said vacation.


Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston

c. 1973, (memior ?), 145 pages

challenge book: off of to-read shelf


I first read this book in 8th grade for a class.  And since then I've thought of it, but was unsure of the title, just remembering it was about a girl's recollection of her time spent in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans.  This spring I found the book at my grandmother's house and brought it home.  This is a quick read, a bit sad but not horribly so (unless you focus on how crappily these people were treated - that can get to you).  Jeanne, a Japanese-American - first generation I think, is in elementary school when her family life is uprooted due to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  First her father, a fisherman, is taken away, and then her family is moved to an internment camp for the duration of the war.  She recalls both her daily life and muses on how her family, from her mother to her much older brothers and sisters dealt with the hand they were given.  At the end of the book she muses on how the internment, combined with the values she was taught at home (and stem from Japanese culture) shaped who she was.


The United States of Arugula by David Kamp

c. 2006, non-fiction, 364 pages

challenge book: non-fiction #2


 This book more or less starts the culinary history of the US in the late 1930's and goes until present day (well 2005/2006). French chefs who came to open a restaurant in the French pavillion of the 1939/1940 World's Fair, the first food writers and restaurant critics, when the general populace became aware of individual ingredients, important cookbook authors, chefs and the celebrity chefs.  The author does a lot of name dropping and will chronologically take 2 steps forward and one step back.  After a while I gave up keeping up with every single person introduced, because I'm certain many of them weren't beyond, "Lastname did this and said that..."  as though the reader knows exactly who Lastname is and their signifigance in the food world.  Other times it interweaves great little mini-biographies by explaining how various people (Julia Child, James Beard, Alice Waters to name just three) shaped the US food scene.  How that scene developed differently on the West Coast (generally Berkeley) and the East Coast (generally New York).  At times it chronicled restaurants, other times food movements (and how that was shaped by restaurants and other food figures).  Other times it chronicled ingredients, such as the importation and rise of balsamic vinegar - almost everything is told within the story of individuals, when there is conflicting recollections both are often given (such as did Marcella Hazen recommend balsamic vinegar to Chuck Williams of William-Sonoma or did he find it himself).


Under the Duvet by Marian Keyes

c. 2004, non-fiction, 286 pages


A collection of short essays and columns written by Marian Keyes about her life, marriage, family, etc.  Many of the pieces have been previously published, but mostly in UK publications.  It is collected into groupings based on general topic: her life as an author, her family, her marriage, travel, growing-up, etc.  It was a nice quick read, it didn't feel like any of the essays were more than a few pages long.  It is funny and sometimes serious, but honestly I like her voice as a fiction story-teller more than telling stories about her life.  My favorite line might be, "The womb is not a locating device."


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