Monday, August 28, 2017

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: It tastes empty

Remember roughly a million years ago (or like, 7, but at the rate things are going right now, it may as well have been a million) when everyone was reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake? Here I am, late to the party. Fashionably late, let's say, to make me feel better.

Anyway, a friend was downsizing her bookshelves (something I totally need to do) and among the books she was getting rid of was this one, which I thought "Hey, free book!"

For those who aren't familiar with the plot, a young Rose finds that she can taste the emotion in food of the person who prepared it. She learns this when her mother, who seems so happy, bakes a lemon cake for her birthday and it tastes terrible. Like depression. From here we have an insular story of a family that seems happy on the surface but is suffering underneath, something that it seems only Rose is able to see. Or taste, as it were.

Eating becomes a hassle because, it turns out, everyone who makes everything ever is super angry or depressed when they cook. She eats a lot of vending machine food which isn't to say it's made with love, but it is made by machines who don't drip their petty human emotions into the food.

Later she can determine where food is from which, I guess specific places have emotions? And the emotion is "This egg is from Michigan." Even though it would have been more interesting to get the feelings of the animal if we're going to go several layers down in this "tasting emotion" thing but whatever.

She tries to talk to her science-obsessed brother about this "power" though he's too wrapped up in his own world to pay too much attention. Joseph has his own stuff going on.

I liked the conceit better than the execution.

Stories about families that seem happy but have their problems is not, generally, my favorite genre (though shout out to Everything I Never Told You for being a kick ass book in this vein) but if it's done well I can get behind it. And maybe if the book had used Rose's gift/curse as a jumping off point to dig more into the family instead of focusing so much on what food outside the home tasted like or other magical realism/surrealism elements, I would been more on board. As it was, it felt like pieces of the family history and emotions were touched upon but we never got deep into them, as we were too busy with other magic. And really, I know it sounds like nonsense that I'm like "Less magic, more suburban ennui" but seriously, that's how super not into the magic I was. I liked the beginning with Rose and her magical tastebuds but the more we dug into it and other stuff, the more I wanted to back away.

I did like the writing. I appreciated Bender's descriptions (at times) when Rose would eat something.
I made my own pretzels! [her mother'd] announced at 4 p.m., turning off the oven, whipping her hair into a fresh ponytail. I had to taste them - she had presented a few tiny warm pretzels on a plate to me with such a look of triumph and hope - and it turned out to be the food that best represented her: in every pretzel the screaming desire to make the perfect pretzel, so that the pretzel itself seemed tied up in the tightest of knots, the food form, for once, matching the content.
So there were good features of the book.

There was another thing that I would say turned me on the book, but it's spoilery so, you've been warned.
Her brother turns into furniture. Yup. Furniture. Like he wants to get away from things and possibly it's depression so he will randomly become furniture and no one in the family knows where he's gone, just that he's disappeared. But we don't actually learn too much about him. Beyond, I guess, that he especially likes to become a folding chair that used to belong to his grandma.
Spoilers contained.

So yeah, I think it was an interesting concept that unfortunately got a bit too muddled.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 12

Bender, Aimee. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Anchor Books, 2010.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing: I will not sink her

I received a copy of Jesmyn Ward's latest book, Sing, Unburied, Sing back in March in exchange for an honest review. Normally I try to write these reviews right after finishing the book so my thoughts are still fresh. However, this book came with the request not to publish anything until around the time the book would be released, September 5th. And sure, I could have written the review right away and saved it (that would have been the responsible thing after all). So naturally I did no such thing and now it's August and I'm working on remembering the book.

Before I go back and skim through to get details and whatnot, I want to share my feelings as I remember them these 5 months later: this book was fantastic. It wasn't what I expected, but then again I didn't entirely know what to expect. I hadn't read anything of hers before, though she's been on my radar. But the book was touching and raw and haunting and involved multiple narrators which is one of my favorite things.

Our first narrator is Jojo, who lives with his grandparents, Pop and Mam, and his younger sister Kayla. His father, Michael, is in jail and his mother, Leonie, is a drug addict who left her kids with her parents, flitting in and out of their lives.

Jojo adores his grandfather and helps with much of the care and raising of his sister. His grandmother is dying from cancer and Jojo, only thirteen, has to grow up quickly.

Jojo's mother Leonie is the second voice we hear. It'd be easy to paint her with no redeeming values, abandoning her kids and deeply jealous of Jojo's relationship with Kayla. Seeing her perspective doesn't mean she's forgiven for the things she does, but it helps explain.

Leonie comes back into their lives when Michael is about to be released from prison, Parchman's. Despite her parents best wishes, she wants to take Jojo and Kayla to the prison to pick him up. The trip will take a couple days but she thinks it's best for them to be there to see their father, especially Kayla. Michael went to prison before she was born.

There are few other characters. Michael's parents. Michael is white, Leonie black, and his parents vehemently disapprove of the relationship and the children that have come of it. Leonie's friend who makes the trip to Parchman's with them. A few others.

There are also ghosts. Leonie's brother comes to her when she's high, both a blessing and a curse for Leonie. There's also the spirit of  Richie, someone Pop knew from his own time at Parchman's.

This multi-generational story touches on race, family, love, poverty, the ghosts from our past all set in rural Mississippi. Ward's writing is superb, touching and lyrical. One of the best books I read this year and definitely an author I will be reading more from.

Gif rating:
Title quote from location 2821

Ward, Jesmyn. Sing, Unburied, Sing. Scribner, 2017. NetGalley

Monday, August 21, 2017

West Coast Bonanza! Part 2

I wrote the first piece about my trip to the west coast and then I just didn't write much of anything so here I am, back to cover off on the last leg of our trip. Back to Seattle!

Years ago we randomly decided to visit Seattle for a vacation cos hey, why not? And it turns out that we sort of love it there. So we've been back a few times. Basically any time we find ourselves in the vicinity of the west coast, and this trip was no exception.

I have the most photos from this leg of the trip, probably because it was the part we weren't with friends and I tend to forget to take pictures when people are around. Except at the zoo. I have about a million from there.

First stop:
Paseo OBVIOUSLY. There's been lots of drama around Paseo and the new restaurant (which is run by the son of the original owner of Paseo) Un Bien and I could GO ON about this. But I won't. I'll just tell you that we landed in Seattle, picked up our rental car and went straight to Paseo and it was just as I remembered. Amazing. We headed to Kerry Park to enjoy our sandwiches. I don't have any pictures before I started eating, because that would have required me to hold off on digging in, but I did get one mid-way through.
We then enjoyed the beautiful weather and view.

We were trying to decide what to do for the evening when we saw that there was a production of the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time going on. And they had tickets available. I had read the book back when it first came out but Tom didn't know anything about it so surprises for him. BTW it was very good and if you get the chance to see, I recommend.

The next day we decided to check out the Chihuly Garden and Glass near the Space Needle. Cos we've done the Space Needle and the MoPOP (formerly the EMP, Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum) a bunch of times. Well we've done EMP a bunch of times. Anyway, we wanted to see something new and glass art is pretty.

We made our way over to the Market for some lunch (Country Dough, homemade Chinese noodles) and wandered around the stalls. We did our mini-shopping: picked up some tea from MarketSpice, Rainier cherries from one of the farm stalls, Chinese pastries from a place I should prob remember the name of, and some homemade pepper pasta from another stall I should prob remember the name of but I am a bad shopper. 

The weather, which had been overcast and drizzly in the morning, improved in the afternoon so we drove up to Snoqualmie Falls and did a little hike. I mean, we hadn't totally planned the hike. It was more like "Hey, let's walk down this path and see the waterfall from a different angle" and then we realized we'd have to come back UP the path to get back to the car. But it sounds better if I just say "And then we did a little hike." There were notices to watch out for mountain lions and bears and I wouldn't have been super surprised if there was a Bigfoot out there. 
We ended the day meeting up with some friends for dinner (at which point Tom coined the term Satellite Seattelite and he's very proud of this) before heading back into the city.

Cities tend to have tall buildings with observation towers, and Seattle is no different. We'd done some of them on previous trips but Tom found one in the Smith Tower, which was originally built in the 1910s. What it lacks in height of some of the newer buildings it makes up for in having a whole bunch of history (which they tell you buy way of a mini-scavenger hunt type thing where you pretend to be a bootlegger from the '20s. Or like a cop or something, but I went bootlegger), a cool old fashioned elevator and a really pretty observation room. And so pretty views of the city.
We went to Il Corvo for lunch. It's this place that makes homemade pastas. They only have a few options each day and the line is insane.We'd been a few times before, including when they had a location at the Market and lines weren't so long, but word got out that the food is delicious so it was about an hour wait. We were prepared and the food was worth it.
After lunch we wandered around Chinatown for a bit before heading to the Underground Tour. Which we've done before BUT it's a neat tour, all about the history of the city and the fact that they had to build everything up a level and also "seamstresses" (aka hookers) were really responsible for a lot of the success of the city. Our tour guide wasn't plastered like the last one we had (who we noticed was now working for a rival underground tour group) but entertaining nonetheless.

Finally we went to a Mets/Mariners game because of course there's gotta be baseball. Tom got some great seats and the Mets won AND it was fireworks night so good times.

(I'm almost done, I swear).

Our last day, we had a red eye leaving around 10pm so we had one final day in the city. We met up with a coworker of Tom's who was in the city for Mets stuff. After breakfast, as it was another beautiful day, we decided to drive around a bit. We went through some new neighborhoods, making our way to Un Bien because we HAD to compare Un Bien to Paseo. It was amazing and delicious and trying to choose between the two is like trying to choose between children. We ended up at Woodland Park to enjoy our epic sandwiches (they were so good) and watch some LARPing (not planned but it was happening), then headed over to Gasworks and the Ballard Locks before picking up some more Un Bien sandwiches (IMPORTANT) and heading to the airport and back to the real world.
West Coast, you were pretty swell. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Invasive: When the going gets weird, the weird needs Hannah Stander

What do you think of ants? They always seemed like they were probably the best option in the bug world, even if you are not a fan of creepy crawlies. I mean, think about ant farms. And an ant was a hero in Honey I Shrunk The Kids. Sure, there are those bullet ants that will mess you up for at least a day if they bite you, but overall ants almost seem cute.

OK, so maybe not cos most ants are FINE (even if some are taking over the planet and we should probably be concerned about that). But if you're in the Invasive world, there's a very good case to be made for why these things are horrifying.

A bio-tech thriller set in the same world as Zer0es (though you don't need to have read it to enjoy this), the book opens with a strangely mutilated corpse. Because let's start the weird right out the gate. FBI consultant Hannah Stander is called in to try to figure out what could have done this, which leads to a compound in Hawaii. There are worse places to have to investigate, even if your investigation involves GMO ants.

Hannah has to figure out what is going on, how did these ants get loose, and how much damage could some ants really do? (Spoiler, OH MAN so much damage.)

I don't want to give away too much in regards to the plot, cos, you know thriller. But I will tell you that the story was suspenseful and creepy and I was engaged. If you've read anything by Chuck Wendig before, you have an idea what you're getting into. And if you haven't, what are you waiting for? His stuff is great (as long as you're cool with thrillers and some-to-a-good-amount of violence). The books are so much fun and he can write female characters who actually seem like real people.

I realize this is a short review but I also feel like I hit upon all the key points.
You may have thought ants were sort of cute but WRONG SO WRONG
Suspenseful bio-technical thriller
Female main character (who was raised by doomsday preppers. I forgot that bit but I'm addressing it here)
Chuck Wendig

Gif rating:

Wendig, Chuck. Invasive. Harper Voyager, 2016. Kindle

Monday, August 7, 2017

West Coast Bonanza! Part 1

As we get older, it seems it's harder and harder to meet up with people. Life seems to get in the way and making plans requires so much work and coordination and shared calendars. But last month we somehow managed to make it work, and Tom and I spent time on the west coast with a bunch of friends. And it was amazing. So hey, let's look at some pictures I took during vacation while I procrastinate on getting actual reviews written.

First stop: Vegas
OK so, I don't actually have that many pictures of Vegas. I tend to be bad about remembering to take pictures. But Tom is better about that so here's a few.

We spent some time wandering among the various casinos (I don't gamble so I mostly enjoyed how ridiculous they all are as well as the AC). Otherwise we ate some good food, saw the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil show and hung out with a couple of our friends who drove out from San Diego.

Second stop: Grand Canyon
I was very excited for the Grand Canyon. I'd never been before and it looked so beautiful and different compared to any sort of landscape I'm used to on the east coast. Since we were going to be driving from Vegas to the Canyon and then from the Canyon to San Diego, we stuck to the west rim to save us a few hours of driving.

It was as breath-taking as everyone says. Also, while I understand not wanting to put up anything that would mess with the view, OMG there is NOTHING preventing people from falling into the Canyon other than a few guys going "Hey, don't get to close please" which is STRESSFUL. But beautiful so.

Third stop: San Diego
I give Tom tons of credit for helping coordinate, well really the entire trip, but this piece especially because there were a lot of people to try to get on the same page. There were, of course, the friends that were with us in Vegas (we were staying at their place during the San Diego leg of the trip); there were our other friends who just recently moved (and in her case moved back) to San Diego this past winter; there were our friends who were coming out from Rhode Island for a week in San Diego; and finally there was our friend from NYC who was literally spending 48 hours in Cali before having to head back home.

San Diego was great, in no small part to the company. There were bonfires and zoos and brewery tasting rooms and baseball and beach and lots of Mexican food. Generally this was a very chill part of the trip with some touristy things but a lot of relaxing.

I'll post some zoo pictures (because I have SO MANY from there) and then leave the rest to another post.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

July Reading Wrap-Up

July was a pretty swell month. Tom and I did a big west coast vacation we've been planning for months* which included meeting up with friends in Vegas, spending a couple days there before driving to the Grand Canyon and then San Diego (where said friends live), meeting up with other friends (some from San Diego and some coming in from the east coast) for bonfires and bar crawls and zoo visit and baseball games before Tom and I split off to spend some time in Seattle. I'll have a longer post about the trip, but this is why I've been less available the last few days. But now we're back to the grind.

So hey, let's see how I did reading-wise

Number of books read
Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation by Andrew Lycett
World War Z by Max Brooks
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales

Number of pages read


Female authors

POC authors
US authors

Book formats
audiobook: 25%
ebook: 25%
paperback: 50%

Where'd I get the book
Gift: 25%
Indie bookstore: 50%
Kindle/Audible: 25%


Blogger reco



Books by decade
2000s: 50%
2010s: 50%

Books by genre
Biography: 25%
Horror: 25%
Sci Fi: 25%
Thriller: 25%

Resolution books
Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation is by a non-US author (Lycett is British)
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino is by a non-US, POC author (Kirino is from Japan) and is a translation
The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales is by a POC author

*Haha "we". Tom did 99% of the planning and I just showed up.