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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen

"Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" is a memoir spanning three generations and the history of Russia over a century which includes famine, food and family. Each chapter represents a decade of Russian history as well as the food of that particular decade. This quote at the beginning of the book sets the tone for it: "Food, as one academic has noted, defined how Russians endured the present, imagined the future, and connected to their past." The type of food described in the decades of Russian history and the family memories it evokes, makes for interesting reading.

The author and her mother came to the United States in 1974 and share their recollections of their life in Russia and then later when they go back to visit. But in spite of all the hardships of the Russian people including the author and her mother, their food survived along with the meaning of family.

This book was not as much about food as I thought it would be. There are some recipes included in the back of the book though. It does, however, give a fascinating look at the life and times in the former Soviet Union and even in present day Russia.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

I really enjoyed "The Story Hour" and thought the author's way of telling this story was compelling. I felt as though I really understood the thoughts and feelings of the characters and could not put the book down. For some there may be some language or scenes that may be offensive, but there are few incidences.

Lakshmi is an immigrant from India caught in a loveless and lonely marriage and is carrying a lot of guilt and shame. She finally reaches a breaking point and attempts suicide which lands her in the hospital. There she meets a psychologist named Maggie who is assigned to her case and also happens to be married to an Indian man. An unlikely friendship develops between uneducated Indian immigrant Lakshmi and well educated African American Maggie. They both are carrying secrets which if shared could destroy their trust in each other and in their marriages.

I really don't want to say any more about the plot because it may spoil it for the reader. I will say that what I was reminded of is at what lengths we go to at times to justify our own behavior even when it is harmful to us and to someone else. You see one character comes to terms with her past and move forward while another continues to believe that she can do what she wants and not suffer any consequences. It was a very thought provoking book and filled with a promise of hope.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

"A Man Called Ove" by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman is a delightful read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Ove is the grumpy neighbor you try to avoid. He see things in black and white, right and wrong and is inflexible to say the least. His world is turned upside down when a lively family moves in next door to him and things begin to change.

Ove's wife, Sonja, seemed to be the one person that understood Ove over the 40 years they were together. Since her death, Ove in a sense has also died and given up on any chance of happiness. He plans to take his life, but circumstances keep intervening to keep him from carrying out his plan. You get to meet a number of the neighbors including Jimmy who grew up next door, Rune suffering from Alzheimer's disease along with Rune's wife Anita and Parvaneh, an Iranian woman to name a few.

Along the way you get glimpses into Ove's past to see why he is the way he is. As he allows himself to respond to the care of his neighbors, Ove begins to change. This is a heart warming story. I laughed and cried while reading it. It is a testament to power of reaching out to people in our lives who may be difficult. No one is beyond hope and no one is beyond redemption. It is a good reminder for all of us.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shades of Mercy by Anita Lustrea & Caryn Rivadeneira

"Shades of Mercy" is a coming of age tale centered on Mercy, a fifteen year old girl, growing up on a farm in the Northwoods of Maine in the 1950's. In the Northwoods, there is a tribe of Maliseet people who are relegated to shacks near the town's dump. Mercy is in love with Mick, a Maliseet teenager. Racial tensions escalate when one of the town girls elopes with a Maliseet young man. As tempers flare and tension increase, Mercy and Mick find themselves in the middle of the escalating situation.

The characters are engaging and you get a glimpse into that time period in rural Maine along with some of the local customs and traditions. It is a good lesson about how prejudice and assumptions not based on fact can lead to tragedy. It was eye opening for me to learn about Native Americans being displaced in the state of Maine and the ongoing struggles that they still face today.

This is an enjoyable read and a fascinating look into that period of history in Maine and the tensions that existed.

I received this book from Moody Publishers for this review

Mickey And Willie by Allen Barra

Sportswriter Allen Barra gives you an in depth look at the lives of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and how their lives intersected over the years. Both came from hard working families where sought ways in the off season to make some extra money. They did endorsements together and appeared together. Their statistics were similar and there was often the debate as to who was the better ball player.

Neither one of them had very happy personal lives. You get more of a glimpse into Mickey's life because he was much more open about it. Willie tended to be more private. They were both very popular with their fans, Mickey with the New York Yankees and Willie with the New York Giants (later the San Francisco Giants). They both played during baseball's golden age before the National Football League reached the popularity it is today. It was a simpler time for baseball and there is no doubt that Mickey and Willie contributed greatly to the enjoyment of all baseball fans at that time.

The writer does an excellent job of researching details, conversations and statistics as well as sharing his own personal experiences with the two players. For anyone who loves baseball and history this is a very entertaining read.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, September 8, 2014

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

As a serious reader of classic literature finishing the book "War and Peace" is much the same as a serious runner completing his first marathon. I had read "Moby Dick" (a little too much information about whales for me) and "Les Miserables" (too much information about the Paris sewer system for me)so I felt I had completed some half marathons of reading. However reading "War and Peace" is in a whole other class. I read the Maude translation which I felt was easy to read and had helpful footnotes. It also included some illustrations which also helped. The fact that the book is divided into small chapters or sections also helped.

The novel is set in Russia during the invasion of Napoleon from approximately 1805 to 1812. The focus is on different Russian aristocrats and their lives during this changing time. It is also about the Russian army and its response to Napoleon. There is a lot of history in the details about the battles between the Russians and the French which is explained in the notes included along with the Maude translation. The research Tolstoy would have had to do to write about the war is mind boggling.

The characters are complex and described is such detail they become alive and the story stays with you. The fact that I read "Give War and Peace a Chance" which I reviewed previously on this blog, gave me the courage to go ahead and start reading "War and Peace." It is an experience that will enrich your reading and give you a sense of accomplishment.

"War and Peace" must be considered one of the greatest works of fiction ever written and I am in awe of Leo Tolstoy and his writing ability. Reading this book is not for the faint of heart as it requires a great deal of perseverance to continue through it and finish it, but for me it was well worth it.