Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Forever on Thanksgiving Day
The heart will find the pathway home.
~Wilbur D. Nesbit

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday Intro: The Buddha in the Attic

"On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves. Some of us came from the city, and wore stylish city clothes, but many more of us came from the country and on the boat we wore the same old kimonos we'd been wearing for years - faded hand-me-downs from our sisters that had been patched and redyed many times. Some of us came from the mountains, and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters of fishermen who had been around the sea all our lives. Perhaps we had lost a father or brother to the sea, or a fiance, or perhaps someone we loved had jumped into the water one unhappy morning and simply swum away, and now it was time for us, too, to move on."
The Buddha In The Attic
by Julie Otsuka

A short book is just what I need for this busy holiday week and, at just 129 pages, The Buddha in the Attic seems like the perfect choice. Have you read it? Would you continue reading based on this first chapter? Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

TSS: Home, At Last

Finally, we are at home for an entire weekend. The past four have involved two college Family Weekends, a couple of days with Twin A, and a weekend getaway for my husband's birthday. While the weekends themselves have been fun (and good for my backlog of audiobooks), it has been a little exhausting too. Many 'winterizing' chores have been postponed and it already feels like I'm playing catch-up with the holidays. Oh well, it will all get done eventually.

November has already been a fantastic reading month, thanks mostly to increased audiobook time. I'm slowly working my way through the pending reviews.

Reviews posted this week:
The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber
Jitters: A Quirky Little Audiobook by Adele Park
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

I have a giveaway going on for Jitters, but fear a blogger comment snafu has lost some of your entries. This was a very entertaining audio and won an Audie Award in the Multi-Voiced Performance category. There is still time to stop by and let me know if you're interested. The winner will be announced on Friday.

I'm currently reading The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka and listening to State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I've read all of Patchett's books and loved them (with the exception of Bel Canto), but this is my first time listening. State of Wonder captivated me instantly. I didn't want to stop listening and may need to locate a print copy to read at home. Either way, I'm looking forward the a three and a half hour drive on Tuesday to pick up Twin A for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving plans are falling into place. All three girls will be home and we're hosting Thanksgiving dinner for 22, or possibly 25, on Thursday. Friday is our annual leftover feast (no Black Friday shopping for me), followed by a family Christmas party (complete with Yankee Auction) with all of my cousins on Saturday. Sunday we hope to cut down the perfect Christmas tree before Daughter #1 returns to college. I'll drive Twin A back early Monday morning.

Finally, in this spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd like to say how thankful I am for all of my blogging friends. In the confusion of the last month, I missed Lakeside Musing's third anniversary, so will take this opportunity to say thank you to all my readers and regular commenters. It's been an amazing three years!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber

The Language of Baklava
By Diana Abu-Jaber
Anchor Books, 2006
330 pages

Publisher's summary:
Diana Abu-Jaber’s vibrant, humorous memoir weaves together stories of being raised by a food-obsessed Jordanian father with tales of Lake Ontario shish kabob cookouts and goat stew feasts under Bedouin tents in the desert. These sensuously evoked repasts, complete with recipes, in turn illuminate the two cultures of Diana's childhood–American and Jordanian–while helping to paint a loving and complex portrait of her impractical, displaced immigrant father who, like many an immigrant before him, cooked to remember the place he came from and to pass that connection on to his children. The Language of Baklava irresistably invites us to sit down at the table with Diana’s family, sharing unforgettable meals that turn out to be as much about “grace, difference, faith, love” as they are about food.

My thoughts:
Food, arguably the most outward expression of culture, was an essential part of Diana Abu-Jaber's childhood. With a Jordanian father and American mother, she grew up straddling two cultures. Food was at the heart of family tradition and ritual, especially for her father. Most important events, lessons, and memories revolved around food.

Abu-Jaber writes with humor, warmth, and obvious love for her family. Her father's fixation on Jordanian foods and rituals reminded me of my own Italian-immigrant grandparents. Surely the desire to preserve food traditions for future generations exists in all cultures.

The familiar setting, Syracuse and Central NY, also contributed to my personal enjoyment. I have visited the same parks, eaten in the same restaurants, and survived the same brutal winters.

Recipes are included with each chapter - an added bonus! I'll be trying the Peaceful Vegetarian Lentil Soup, "Start the Party" Hummus, and Diplomatic Magloubeh. For the Very Fried Falafels, however, I will happily make another trip to King David's restaurant.

Favorite Quotes:
"Making shish kabob always reminds the brothers of who they used to be - the heat, the spices, the preparation for cooking, and the rituals for eating were all the same as when they were children, eating at their parents' big table. But trying to kill the lamb showed them: They were no longer who they thought they were." p.19 
"So now what did I just do?'
"You ate some baklawa?'
She curls her hand as if making a point so essential, it can be held only in the tips of the fingers. "I looked, I tasted, I spoke kindly and truthfully. I invited. You know what else? I keep doing it. I don't stop if that doesn't work on the first or second or third try. And like that!" She snaps the apron from the chair into the air, leaving a poof of flour like a wish. "There is your peace." p. 190

My rating:

Bottom line:
The Language of Baklava is one of the best culinary memoirs I've read in quite some time.

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jitters: A Quirky Little Audio Book by Adele Park

Jitters: A Quirky Little Audio Book
by Adele Park
Narrated by: Adele Park, Susan Paige Lane, and 7 others
Straight to Audio Productions, 2010
6 hours 31 minutes

Publisher's Summary:
Nancy Neptune loves to stir up trouble – it makes for awesome radio. But even the Queen of Obscene is amazed by all the twisted things that go down in the polygamist community of Zion Flats.

For Sandy Wyman, a one-armed reporter, sharing a house with Nancy Neptune is like living in a dorm room on steroids. Seeking refuge from the chaos that comes from being within 20 feet of a person like Nancy Neptune, Sandy befriends a polygamist with a host of sketchy habits.

Nadine Mackleprang, a nosy neighbor, is trying to eat everything that isn't nailed down so she won't have to think about why her husband has left her for another man. When she learns that Sandy's polygamist pal is in danger, Nadine waddles to the rescue.

Join Nancy Neptune and her eccentric gaggle of girlfriends for an unforgettable tour through polygamist country in Jitters - A Quirky Little Audio Book.

Jitters is a full-length audiobook told in first-person narratives. Each chapter begins with a newscast on KNVL, the radio station headed by the notorious Nancy Neptune. Listen as a cast of 15 characters react to the events of the day.

My thoughts:

Most of you know how much I love lists, especially those related to awards. Jitters came to my attention when it appeared on this year's list of Audie Award Winners in the Multi-Voiced Performance category. It was up against some pretty stiff competition, including Room by Emma Donoghue. When I mentioned on dog eared copy's blog that I thought Room was a shoe-in, the author offered to send me a copy of Jitters. How could I refuse?

The story consists of a series of first-person narratives relayed by a full cast of extremely colorful, quirky characters. Each chapter opens with a KNVL radio news broadcast. The news always concludes with the latest Utah Jazz NBA scores, serving to ground the events in reality. One character's interpretation of the events follows. Let me tell you, the combination of shock radio and polygamy can lead to some very funny situations. Characters are basically stereotypes, further exaggerated by the narrator's voice (Nancy Neptune's over-the-top Jersey accent, for example). However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. These characters are far better suited to audio than text, and narrators make full use of their opportunities.

That said, Jitters was not what I expected.  I listen to audiobooks to fit more books into my life - while I drive, clean, cook, and walk the dog. Jitters was never actually a book, but a performance designed specifically for audio. Even so, it still made for a very entertaining six and a half hours!

Check out the trailer:

My rating:

Bottom line:
Jitters was not exactly what I was expecting, but still a lot of fun.

The author generously included an extra copy to give away. If you would like a chance to win Jitters: A Quirky Little Audio Book, please let me know in the comments. The giveaway is open to US residents. I'll draw a winner on November 25th. Please include your email.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan
166 pages
2008, Vintage Books

Summary (from Publishers Weekly):
Not quite novel or novella, McEwan's masterful 13th work of fiction most resembles a five-part classical drama rendered in prose. It opens on the anxious Dorset Coast wedding suite dinner of Edward Mayhew and the former Florence Ponting, married in the summer of 1963 at 23 and 22 respectively; the looming dramatic crisis is the marriage's impending consummation, or lack of it. Edward is a rough-hewn but sweet student of history, son of an Oxfordshire primary school headmaster and a mother who was brain damaged in an accident when Edward was five. Florence, daughter of a businessman and (a rarity then) a female Oxford philosophy professor, is intense but warm and has founded a string quartet. Their fears about sex and their inability to discuss them form the story's center. At the book's midpoint, McEwan (Atonement, etc.) goes into forensic detail about their naïve and disastrous efforts on the marriage bed, and the final chapter presents the couple's explosive postcoital confrontation on Chesil Beach. Staying very close to this marital trauma and the circumstances surrounding it (particularly class), McEwan's flawless omniscient narration has a curious (and not unpleasantly condescending) fable-like quality, as if an older self were simultaneously disavowing and affirming a younger. The story itself isn't arresting, but the narrator's journey through it is.

My thoughts:
On Chesil Beach is a hauntingly sad novel... quite unlike anything I've read. Edward and Florence obviously love each other, but the reader realizes early on that their wedding night will end badly. An omniscient narrator relays the story and its aftermath, and provides just the right amount of background information to aid our understanding of the characters.

McEwan's writing, however, is the main attraction - beautiful, compassionate, and simply a pleasure to read. This devastating novel is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Favorite passages:
"For the first time, her love for Edward was associated with a definable physical sensation, as irrefutable as vertigo. Before, she had known only a comforting broth of warm emotions, a thick winter blanket of kindness and trust. That had always seemed enough, an achievement in itself. Now here at last were the beginnings of desire, precise and alien, but clearly her own; and beyond, as though suspended above and behind her, just out of sight, was relief that she was just like everyone else." p. 87-88 

"Whatever new frontier she crossed, there was always another waiting for her. Every concession she made increased the demand, and then disappointment. Even in their happiest moments, there was always the accusing shadow, the barely hidden gloom of his unfulfilment, looming like an alp, a form of perpetual sorrow which had been accepted by them both as her responsibility. She wanted to be in love and be herself. But to be herself, she had to say no all the time." p. 146

My rating:

Bottom line:
On Chesil Beach will be one of my favorite novels this year.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger
386 pages
2009, Jonathan Cape/ Random House

Summary: (from
Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers - normal, at least, for identical 'mirror' twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn't know existed has died and left them her flat in an apartment block overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin ...but have no idea that they've been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt's mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the twins' mother - and who can't even seem to quite leave her flat. With Highgate Cemetery itself a character and echoes of Henry James and Charles Dickens, "Her Fearful Symmetry" is a delicious and deadly twenty-first-century ghost story about Niffenegger's familiar themes of love, loss and identity. It is certain to cement her standing as one of the most singular and remarkable novelists of our time.

My thoughts:
Reading The Time Traveler's Wife was pure escapism for me and, although I'm not usually drawn to novels with supernatural elements, I wanted to read Her Fearful Symmetry eventually... once the hype and excitement died down. I was excited to discover a UK edition at the library book sale last summer (the US cover doesn't do a thing for me), happily paid the two dollars, and set it aside for R.I.P. season.

While it can't compare with my experience of reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle during a Halloween storm/power outage, it was perfectly suited to the season. Ghosts, communication with the dead, questions of identity, and, of course, Highgate Cemetery all contribute to its eeriness. The cemetery was especially intriguing and a tour will surely be part of my next London itinerary. I was also fascinated by the presentation of twin relationships - thankfully very different from that of my daughters and sisters.

In the end though, my reading of Her Fearful Symmetry was simply for pleasure. It provoked no deep thoughts on social, political, or economic issues. Its value was solely as entertainment ...and that is exactly what I needed during a stressful, busy week.
My rating:

Bottom line:
Her Fearful Symmetry was enjoyable and entertaining, but not quite as good as The Time Traveler's Wife.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday Intros: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

My name is Renée. I am fifty-four years old. For twenty-seven years I have been the concierge at number 7, rue de Grenelle, a fine hôtel particulier with a courtyard and private gardens, divided into eight luxury apartments, all of which are inhabited, all of which are immense. I am a widow, I am short, ugly, and plump, I have bunions on my feet and, if I am to credit certain early mornings of self-inflicted disgust, the breath of a mammoth. I did not go to college, I have always been poor, discreet, and insignificant. I live alone with my cat, a big lazy tom who has no distinguishing features other than the fact that his paws smell bad when he is annoyed. Neither he nor I make any effort to take part in the social doings of our respective kindred species. Because I am rarely friendly— though always polite— I am not liked, but am tolerated nonetheless: I correspond so very well to what social prejudice has collectively construed to be a typical French concierge that I am one of the multiple cogs that make the great universal illusion turn, the illusion according to which life has a meaning that can be easily deciphered. And since it has been written somewhere that concierges are old, ugly and sour, so has it been branded in fiery letters on the pediment of that same imbecilic firmament that the aforementioned concierges have rather large dithering cats who sleep all day on cushions that have been covered with crocheted cases. 
Similarly, it has been decreed that concierges watch television interminably while their rather large cats doze, and that the entrance to the building must smell of pot-au-feu, cabbage soup, or a country-style cassoulet. I have the extraordinary good fortune to be the concierge of a very high-class sort of building. It was so humiliating for me to have to cook such loathsome dishes that when Monsieur de Broglie - the State Councilor on the first floor- intervened (an intervention he described to his wife as being "courteous but firm," whose only intention was to rid our communal habitat of such plebeian effluvia), it came as an immense relief, one I concealed as best I could beneath an expression of reluctant compliance.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery

Blogger opinion has been divided over The Elegance of the Hedgehog, so I am approaching it with some trepidation. It does seem to be agreed that the audio version, with its dual narrators, is the better choice. This is definitely a novel of ideas. After three CD's, the plot is nearly nonexistent but, so far, it's a nice change of pace.

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reviews coming soon...

A couple of crazy weeks followed by weekends of travel have lead to a sorry scarcity of  'proper' reviews at Lakeside Musing. This week is shaping up to be more of the same and will be followed by a weekend get-away for my husband's birthday. My goal is to carve out an hour or two, find a quiet spot (the one above is on Daughter #1's campus), and finish up some reviews.

Here's what I'm working on:

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman. My book club met last Thursday. Now I can include their reaction, too.

Jitters - A Quirky Little Audiobook by Adele Park. I'll also be hosting a give-away.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

The Language of Baklava  by Diana Abu-Jaber.  Saturday's Writer's Almanac told me it was her birthday, but also served as a reminder that this review has been lingering in my draft folder for far too long.

Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

My google reader is crying out for attention, too.
Wish me luck...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday Intros: Travels with Charley

"When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, the engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don't improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself. 
When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from. Next he must plan his trip in time and space, choose a direction and a destination. And last he must implement the journey. How to go, what to take, how long to stay. This part of the process is invariable and immortal. I set it down only so that newcomers to bumdom, like teen-agers in new-hatched sin, will not think they invented it."
Travels with Charley in Search of America
by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley was our audiobook selection last weekend as we traveled into the path of the nor'easter. I've been a huge Steinbeck fan since high school, so my husband and Twin B decided to humor me when I suggested this title for our journey. His eyes were mostly closed (don't worry, I was driving) and Twin B was plugged into the iPod, but as I listened, I fell in love with Steinbeck all over again.

This is my first experience with Steinbeck's non-fiction and his 'voice' is simply captivating. Only one CD played before my passengers awoke or unplugged and wanted to talk. There were so many quotes I wanted to note and hear again, I plan to purchase a print copy today.

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, who remains without power following the nor-easter mentioned above.


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