Archives for posts with tag: ★★★★

mindy kalingGenre: Nonfiction, Humor, Essays

Notes: Book 1/50.  I want to hang out with Mindy Kaling

Review: Mindy Kaling is adorable in an “I’m a (mostly) respectful daughter of Indian immigrant parents, I don’t do drugs and didn’t drink in high school, and come from a place that any awkward girl can identify.” In case you don’t know who Kaling is, she is a writer on The Office and also plays Kelly Kapoor in the show. She also writes and stars in her own show The Mindy Project. Mindy seems so refreshingly real and a welcome break from more generic celebrities who fit the mold of what America finds desirable and attractive. As sad as it is, most women who are hilariously funny find themselves behind the camera more often than in front of it if they don’t fit the standard of American beauty. You know, size 2, petite, pretty face, etc. I mean, Tina Fey had to lose like 30 pounds before she could get on television (even though Liz Lemon on 30 Rock fantasizes about food and eats like shit and should NOT be as skinny as she is, but that’s a rant for another day), but Mindy somehow snuck her way onto television without us taking a ton of notice or shouting “Hey! She’s breaking those norms!” I mean, really, she’s a pretty woman who probably fits the average American woman’s body. She’s a size 8. I’m a size 8. But compared to the twiglets in Hollywood, she probably feels like a bloated whale who is always stuck in a navy blue dress. (Which is apparently the color they dress anyone over a size 4 in because someone decided it was flattering)

This book isn’t Bossypants, but it’s a fun, quick read about someone who has been wildly successful in Hollywood as a writer and actress. Kaling makes you feel like anything is possible as long as you just keep at it. The way Kaling tells it, it took one super successful entry into the International Fringe Festival to get her noticed and get a spot as one of the writers on The Office. She embodies the American Dream because he parents immigrated from India to give their children a better life here and what immigrant parents doesn’t harbor the desire that their child will become a star in America? (Or a doctor or lawyer more likely) She provides an interesting narrative on what it means to grow up Indian in America and not quite fit into the WASP-y American ideal as a child. (The school pictures she includes in the book are priceless). However, I think Kaling barely skims the surface on what could be a deeper discussion about the lack of diversity in Hollywood or not fitting into the standard body in Hollywood. It’s not my book (obviously), and I’m sure Kaling skirted around those topics for a reason.

Bottom Line: This book is cute, funny, and light. It takes all of a day or so to read so if you’re looking for something to read on a plane or on a lazy Sunday, this is the book for you.


Genre: Historical Fiction

Notes: Book 24/50 North Korea is..interesting.

Review: I prepared myself for the book to disappoint me.  It has been hyped over the last year and every book club in America has probably read it.  (Mine is too)  But I am happy to say that Johnson did not disappoint!  I’ve never read a book set in North Korea, probably because the entire country cloaks itself in secrecy and mystery. We hear stories about work camps, starvation, and (when Kim Jong Il died recently) the adoration for their Dear Leader and his distinct pompadour.

While writing and researching this novel, Johnson actually received the opportunity to travel to Pyonyang and see North Korea for himself, which lends an air of authenticity to the narrative.  I’m sure he only heard the approved version of North Korean history and saw only approved sites but nevertheless, he stepped foot in North Korea.

This novel follows an orhpan who isn’t really an orphan named Pak Jun Do. He never knew his mother and grew up in an orphanage as his father was the orhpan master.  Consequently, he is mistaken for an orphan for the rest of his life and gets assigned to terrible duties like tunnel digging in the DMZ and kidnapping unsuspecting Japanese and South Koreans at night.  Pak’s life is ridiculous.  I mean, the trajectory his life takes from a simple misunderstanding of mistaken identity by American diplomats creates what is essentially a suspense thriller.  This novel isn’t just about North Korea and how insane and unpredictable of a place it can be, but how people can cope under extreme circumstances. It helps break the sort of cookie-cutter mold of poor people winning their circumstances and breaking free by offering a less than perfect protagonist.  Pak Jun Do kills people.  He sometimes operates under questionable morals and could probably be best categorized as opportunistic rather than an all around good guy.

Probably the best part of the book is how the communist government broadcasts Pak’s story in one chapter while in the next, we get Pak’s version.  The difference between the two is striking and helps readers understand how difficult truth is to come by in this regime. Plus, again, it offers that air of authenticity from Johnson’s painstaking research and visits to North Korea.  It feels real.

Bottom Line: The book is totally worth the hype! There are slightly graphic torture scenes which might turn some people off, but it’s the offhand way some truly awful things are mentioned that reall stuck with me after reading this book. Also, after reading this novel, I’m glad Kim Jong Il is dead.

Genre: YA Dystopia

Notes: Book 16/50.  YA Dystopia is my bread and freaking butter.  I’m slightly ashamed that my reading tastes will never grow up, but then again, I don’t care.

Review: First of all, I need to stop starting trilogies.  I went to the library and this book looked interesting and, lo and behold, it is a dystopic trilogy.  This novel is set in a different world where you can hear everyone’s thoughts. Even animals.  Well, technically not everyone.  No one can hear women’s thoughts.

We follow Todd, the last boy who is not a man in Prentisstown.  Boys become men at age 13 through a ceremony that does not get revealed until much later in the book, and Todd only has a month to go. Except Prentisstown isn’t what it seems and Todd meets Viola Eades, a settler from Earth with her family (who is now dead) to get ready for the rest of their ship to land.

I really, really, really wanted to love this book.  I like it, I will read the other two, but it didn’t draw me in like most other novels of its kind do.  The writing (intentional misspellings, the Noise in a different font, Todd himself) took some getting used to, and I found it slightly annoying. Also, I don’t think Todd’s importance is explained well enough for me.  In the novel, Todd is chased by an entire army made up of thousands of men from Prentisstown and other towns along the way, and they never let up.  Ever.  But why?  Just ignore Todd and carry out your plan.  I don’t see how he makes you stronger.  It doesn’t make any sense!  Perchance I am too old to be reading these types of novels, but I still demand a well-written story.

This book did, however, give me a lot to think about.  I found it interesting that what seems to be the most religious, fanatic town (Prentisstown) is the cursed town and as Todd and Viola run to Haven (which sounds an awful lot like Heaven) with only Hope.  Hope that Haven will be able to protect them.  Hope that Haven actually exists.  Hope that they can finally stop running.  However, they are disappointed with what they find there.  (Disappointed is an understatement, but I don’t want to give anything away)  Maybe I’m reading too into this book, but Ness doesn’t seem to be a fan of religion and how far off track it can get.  People can do anything in the name of religion and call it right – even if they are committing murder.  And Haven’s lack of a Haven for Todd and Viola crushes any hope you have for this fictional world.  Frankly, quite a few YA books have this similar theme.  A theme of balance and thinking for yourself instead of letting other people make decisions for you – even if it is in the name of religion.  It’s an interesting and sticky subject, especially with the political battles going on today.

Bottom Line: Ness likes to give you hope and then stab you through the heart.  Can’t we all just get along?

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Cannibalism

Notes: Book 15/50.  This is exactly like the movie.

Review: First of all, I’m 3 solid books behind on this blog, so get ready for a flurry of updates.  Second, when I say this book is exactly like the movie, it is exactly like the movie.  They did an excellent job with the film adaptation but you know what? I didn’t care.  I didn’t feel like reading something where I already knew what happened.  As I’m sure you well know, I need my movies to be exactly like the book thankyouverymuch, but once I’ve seen the movie, I usually don’t go back and read the book if they’re that similar.  Like, Game of Thrones for example.  HBO did such a great job with season 1 that I wish I had skipped book 1 and moved straight on to book 2. So, this book kind of dragged.  I pictured Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal, heard all of his lines as he delivered them in the movie, and saw Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling.  (That’s who played her, right?)

The book itself, had I read it before I had watched the movie, is fantastic.  Harris does an amazing job of creating suspense, making you sweat, grip the edges of the book, and stop breathing.  Hannibal, even though he’s not truly the villain in this novel, is purely terrifying.  I find him more terrifying than your average serial murderer because he’s so damn polite and smart. The way he orchestrates his escape is both genius and horrifying.  Buffalo Bill really feels like a sideshow in this novel, as he did in much of the movie.  Even though Hannibal is basically only a consultant in this case, Harris really has him steal the show.

Side note, I totally read this on the beach.  Talk about a beach read, eh?

Bottom Line: If you’ve seen the movie, the book doesn’t really have anything else to offer.  Skip!



Genre: Fantasy, epic, Lord of the Rings-ness

Notes: Book 11/50.  I’m behind.  Stop judging me.

Review: Fuck you, sir, for only giving me half of a book

When I finishedStorm of Swordslike months ago, I was trolling Amazon on my kindle to buy the fourth book.  But all the reviews were like “This book sucks” and “Be prepared to be bored.”  One reviewer broke the book down and said Cersei had over 1/5 of the book – which was why it was so gouge your eyes out boring.  So, needless to say, I put off reading this monster book. Which was stupid, BECAUSE THIS BOOK WAS GREAT.

Is it wrong I love Jaime Lannister? Amputee, incestuous, Jaime Lannister? Good, because I love Jaime Lannister. It’s kind of sweet how devoted he is to his sister – he remains completely faithful to her while she basically whores around and is generally a terrible person.  (I’m not saying people who have a lot of sex are bad – I’m saying it’s bad when you do it manipulate people into doing things you want)  Jaime is actually a gallant knight!  I even suspect there may be some feelings brewing beneath the surface between him and Brienne, even though the book constantly harps on how ugly she is.  And, with her mishap in A Feast for Crows, she will now be completely disfigured.  Slash she might have **SPOILER ALERT** died. But then again, I thought Arya died in the last book and she clearly didn’t.  So I’m going to wait until A Dance with Dragons to be sure.

For those of you who liked the other books, George R.R. Martin does not disappoint.  He’s like the American Tolkein with a story that could possibly go on forever.  There are so many plot lines, so many stories interwoven into the fabric of this novel, that the series could theoretically never end.  Kind of like Star Wars and the immense amount of fan fiction that only an original movie trilogy has spawned.

However, as the book wound down (all 980 pages of it), I thought to myself “Where’s Jon Snow?  Where’s Tyrion?  Where’s Dany and her dragons?” And, finally, on the last page, I saw Martin’s note.  He decided to write the whole story for half of the characters rather than half of the story for all of the characters.  So Jon, Tyrion, and Dany all have their voices in A Dance with Dragons. And like, I’m fine with “To Be Continued,” I really am, but I wished I had gotten some prior warning.  Don’t let me get 900 pages in and be like, “Yeah, I know.  I had to cut the book into two.” I can’t judge the whole book because it feels like the book is coupled with A Dance with Dragons. I only have half of the pieces and pawns in this story and don’t have the whole picture.

Bottom Line: Read it!  It takes awhile, but I am beyond sucked into the world of Westeros and Braavos.  Sansa Stark is still an idiot, but she’s learning.  Even though methinks she’s going to have to hold Peter Baelish off of her or run away sometime soon.  Her pretend “father” is getting a little too close for comfort.

Genre: Auto-biography

Notes: Book 9/50. FOOD. PORN.

Review: Be careful what you get good at.  You might just be doing it for the rest of your life.

Gabrielle Hamilton never set out to be a chef.  She just kind of ended up being a chef to support herself after her parents’ tumultuous divorce that left the kids to fend for themselves.  She passed herself as 16 when she was 13 to get a job as a dishwasher in a local restaurant and passed herself off as 21 to work in a NYC bar.  Everything just kind of snowballed from there.  Eventually, without every working as an executive chef or sous chef in a restaurant and very little formal schooling, she opened her own restaurant in NYC called Prune which has absolutely raving reviews on Yelp.

The book itself is glorious.  Hamilton has an MFA from the University of Michigan, so she knows how to handle the written word and craft a story.  Hamilton separates the book into three sections: Blood, Bones, and Butter.  After reading fan fiction, this book felt like a cool drink of water on a hot day.  The first section, Blood – I can’t even describe.  Hamilton writes about her idyllic childhood in rural Pennsylvania so clearly I felt transported back in time.  It was nostalgia overload in a good way.  The other two sections of the book, Bones and Butter, didn’t quite deliver but they weren’t really a disappointment either.  I devoured this book ans savored the descriptions of food, her round about way of becoming a chef/owner, and her weird INS sham/ not-sham marriage.  (You married an Italian man so he could stay in the country and you’re slightly shocked it didn’t work out?  Really?)

One of the things I didn’t like about the book was her focus on her marriage.  Granted, I get marriage is a big part of a person’s life and the subsequent failure or success shapes a lot of your personality.  But the way Hamilton writes about her marriage to her M.D/Ph.D husband just oozes contempt.  And surprise about ever being married in the first place.  She began an affair with Mr. Italian (I forget his name at the moment, but most of his personality is boiled down to his Italian-ness anyway) behind her then girlfriend’s back and, when his visa runs out, she decides to marry him.  She waltzes up to the court house, some friends on tow, and marries him – all the while assuring everything this is just for the INS.  She describes it as a piece of dramatic theater she took to the finish and it never really meant anything.  I mean, my god, in the span of their three year affair, Gabrielle never introduced her lover to her friends, never really got to know him, and never really laid any sort of foundation for a marriage. And yet (!) a lot of her book talks about how she feels her marriage should be more.  That she wants the partner that marriage provides, not this name on a piece of paper or this man who is the father of her two children and little else.  They even live separately.  She says, “”Ever since I was actually married, I have hoped for it to be everything I think a real marriage should be, an intimacy of the highest order.”  But why?  You picked totally the wrong guy, picked someone you didn’t really even seen to like that much from the beginning, and tried to forge this sham of a life.  And then you brought kids into your weird marriage mix?!  WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Marriage rant aside, Hamilton’s rise to fame is a good one.  As far as chef authors go, she and Bourdain top my list.  Non-professional writers (although Bourdain might be more of a writer than chef these days) who can still write are a weakness of mine.  I think writing (in any profession) is essential and people who can’t compose a tight paragraph or a clear sentence make me scream.

Bottom Line: Loved it!  Don’t read on an empty stomach though – the descriptions of food alone were enough to get me salivating.

Genre: Fantasy with a bit of Austen-esque parlor dialogue

Notes:Book 5/50.  I need to stop reading 800 page books.

Review: Oh my god.  I want to crawl inside this book and live in it forever. It’s fantastic and probably one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. As I mentioned previously,Jonathan Strangeis over 800 pages.  But I would have gladly read more if there had been more to read.

This book tells the story of two English magicians in the 1800s as they delve into the practical magic that hasn’t been seen in England for centuries.  The two magicians couldn’t be more different – Norrell is careful, calculating, and does all he can to be England’s only magician while Strange finds himself pulled to the darker, more sinister types of magic.

If this plot soundsLord of the Rings-esque,think again.  The best way I can describe this novel is Austen-esque.  The book reads like a gothic novel and builds slowly, in parlors and at dinner parties.

While the magicians dabble in weak weather magic and  generally elementary stuff, the man with the thistledown hair wreaks havoc.  Mr. Norrell made a deal with him for Lady Pole’s life – in his quest for power and to be the only magician in England, he basically sells her to life of servitude in Fairie. She lives half of her life in England and gets spirited away at night to dance in awful balls in Fairie every single night.  She walks around in a stupor because she never sleeps, and if anyone asks about her condition, she only speaks nonsense due to a powerful charm that prevents her from asking for help.

I don’t really know how else to describe this book other than lovely.  It’s so different.  It’s extremely well-researched and reads like a historical novel rather than fantasy.  Clarke includes extensive footnotes that are almost as interesting as the novel itself.  From reading other reviews, you either love or hate the footnotes.  I (clearly) loved then because it gave me the feel of an academic text and if you know me at all, you know that I still harbor some belief that fairies exist and magic isn’t all made up. It feels more legit.

An 800 page novel deserves more of a review, but honestly, you’ll just have to check it out yourself!

Bottom Line: This book demands patience.  And, honestly, it might be a book only a book lover can enjoy.  If you hated the British Lit you read in school (Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, etc) you probably won’t like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  And yes, I realize that sounded really pretentious.