Jenn Reads: A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

I love Japanese history. I loved it so much I wrote my senior history thesis in college on the court culture during Lady Murasaki’s time (Lady Murasaki wrote the first ever novel, Tale of Genji in the 900’s).

I was pleased therefore when my friend selected A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki as her pick for my girlfriend’s book club. A Tale For the Time Being takes place partially in Tokyo, with a 16 year old narrator named Nao and on a small island off British Columbia, with Ruth.

A Tale For the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale For the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

Ruth discovers while walking on the beach, a plastic bag filled a Hello Kitty lunchbox and other seemingly garbage-like items. Upon opening the bag, Ruth finds that these items are from Japan, and likely floated over after the 2011 tsunami. What ensues is a non-climatic story of Nao finding her place in the world, and Ruth figuring out if Nao was a victim of the tsunami.

There is a lot of word manipulation and double meaning in this book. For example, Nao’s name in English would be pronounced now. Time beings all happen in the now. It goes on and on like this, until you’re almost ready to scream at the book, “OK! I get it!”

It should be mentioned that this book was long-listed for the Booker Prize and is very literary. Perhaps almost too literary for the particular stage I was at in my life while reading this book. It should also be mentioned that everyone LOVES this book. I can’t say I loved it, but I didn’t hate it either.

Ozeki, a New Haven native, crams a lot into this book, which is over 400 pages. There is life in modern Tokyo, life on a small Canadian island, Zen buddhism, extreme bullying, Alzheimer’s, kamikaze, physics, time travel, philosophical theory… it just had too much. After a while there were so many issues and concurring themes I wanted to give up. There were several themes I thought could have been saved for another tale, another day.

There were times when I felt Ruth’s storyline was too personal. For me, it was a look into the real life of Ruth Ozeki, without this being an autobiography. Her husband, Oliver, is a secondary, but main character in Ruth’s narrative, and at times I wanted to cringe at the interactions between the two. It was almost a place for her to air her grievances, but not the right forum.

I did however love Nao’s narrative. Being almost the exact same age as her, I could relate to the pop culture references she referred to, and the difficulties of being a teenager in the 2000’s. Nao’s life was not easy, and she had no one, except her Zen Buddhist nun great-grandmother Jiko, who completely understood her. The scenes with Nao and Jiko are the best in the story- Nao is not judged by Jiko, who listens, provides guidance, and parental affection lacking in her life.

If this book had been just Nao’s story, or we found out what happened to Nao, which to me is the great mystery of the book, I would have rated it higher. I partially read and listened to this book, read by Ozeki herself. I enjoyed listening to her inflections and pronunciations, which can be difficult for those not acquainted with the Japanese language.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

See you in the stacks,
Jenn

Jenn Reads: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Hey there old friends. Been a while.

Sorry for leaving you for so long, but I’ve been caught up in DVD land for quite some time now, with little time to write a proper post. And I really haven’t read anything worth writing a review for, until the past week, when I’ve finished two books in a row. Yay me!

I must be one of the ten people in the reading world who has not yet read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I like to keep those super popular, everyone-and-their-grandmother-has-read-it-right-now books until the popularity has worn off. Since Gone Girl is still going strong, I’ll hold off.

However, Dark Places fell into my lap due to the mystery book club I belong to. Our youngest member selected it as her choice for January, and I was finally introduced into the twisted and weird world of Gillian Flynn.

I’ll start off right away by saying that I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. It had the potential for 4 stars, but there were several serious flaws. I listened to DP,

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

which was masterfully read by a full cast, with voices for Libby Day, Patty Day, and Ben Day, it was easy to breeze through this book.

A brief premise: Libby Day is now in her early 30’s, but as a seven year old, her mother and two older sisters, Michelle and Debbie, were allegedly murdered by her 15 year old brother, Ben. Libby’s life is a mess- she’s never worked a day in her life and has no money left. Libby herself is a mess- she’s rude, snapping, surly, angry, and just nasty. She would never be your best friend, or a bridesmaid at your wedding.

Libby receives a letter from a college-aged guy named Lyle, requesting her to appear at a group he belongs to. The group is called The Kill Club, and they are intent on proving that Ben did not kill Patty and her two daughters. If that isn’t weird enough, they agree to pay Libby to talk with people from her past who may know more about the story and who was the actual murderer.

The story flashes between present day (2009) Libby and 1985 Patty and Ben, and the events that occurred that fateful January day. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Ben is not the killer- but who is?

That to me, was the biggest flaw of the book. I’m not one of those mystery readers who sets out from the very beginning to figure out whodunnit. I’d rather take the journey along with the main character and discover with them who the culprit is. Unfortunately, from almost the very beginning, I had figured out who the killer was.

And that was a big bummer.

This is not a book for those who do not like reading books with violence against children, violence, unpleasant circumstances, or those who are easily scared. DP is a dirty, filthy, foul book, with a scenario that could happen in real life. I wasn’t bothered by the violence or foulness of this book, but rather by the lack of depth in the main character, Libby. Only after her life is threatened again (spoiler!) does she finally start to grow as an adult, and the potential to move out of the dark places is opened.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

See you in the stacks,

Jenn

PS- DP is being made into a film, starring Charlize Theron as Libby Day.

Jenn Reads: Main Street

I am continually awed by the power of classics, a genre so often scoffed by those who think classics have no importance or relevance in our contemporary lives.

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

How wrong they are.

Our September pick for the Cheshire Cats Classics Club was Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, not to be confused by Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle. Main Street is the story of Carol Kennicott, a city girl who dreams of making over a small town. She has high ideals, lofty thoughts, and big hopes.

She marries Will Kennicott, a small town doctor and they move to the Midwest town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota (based on Lewis’ hometown of Sauk Center). When Carol first see Gopher Prairie, she is horrified- it’s so small town, ugly, and provincial. She immediately hates her new home.

Main Street is essentially the story of Carol and her foibles, misdoings, and failed attempts at making Gopher Prairie more modern and less offensive, in her opinion. But more than that, it is the story of one young woman and her attempts at fitting in, a task she never accomplishes. In her efforts to modernize and bring culture to Gopher Prairie, Carol offends, bulldozes, and in general doesn’t understand the ways of the town.

There is a lot to Main Street, many characters and stories, all of which are rich and full. You know these people, because these people are in your town, your city, your village. Yes, Lewis does stereotype and characterize, but stereotypes so often have truth behind them.

Lewis writes in a contemporary voice, witty, and satirical in a way that is meant to hit you at your core. Which in Gopher Prairie are you? Are you Vida? The Red Swed? Mrs. Bogart? Lewis attacks the “perfect” small town lifestyle that people told still hold dear. The ideal that everything is SO much better in suburbia, nothing bad ever happens, and everyone just loves one another. Oh, how wrong we are to still believe this falsity. Lewis cleverly attacks gender roles, government and bureaucracy, religion, friendship, marriage, and the bonds that tie us together.

Lewis made me laugh, made me rage, made me think, and came pretty darn close to making me cry, when several main characters die (small spoiler alert!).
I haven’t been touched, angered, or thought so much by a book in a while. Highly recommend.

Rating: 5 stars (and you know how stingy I am with my 5 stars!)

See you in the stacks,
Jenn

Jenn Reads: The Turncoat

All I have to say first is: Oh my.

I needed a hot shower after reading this book.

If you’ve followed my reviews, you’ll know I typically don’t read bodice busting, Fabio-inspired books. My fare tends to include classics, mysteries, literary fiction, and chick lit. Not historical romance.

The Turncoat by Donna Thorland was a gift from my two cats (yeah, yeah) for my birthday. I had picked it out at Barnes and Noble based on the cover and synopsis on the back jacket. It did allude to some smut, but I thought, “Ehh- it’s a large paperback. It can’t be that bad.”

I chose this book for my turn for my girlfriend’s book club, thinking that it would be a lighter read and easy enough for everyone to get through in the allotted time. I warned them that there would be some smut.

I didn’t realize how much smut.

Now, I’m no prude, and wasn’t offended by the sex that was in this book or the quantity of sex. It wasn’t gratuitous and made sense in the context of the story.

And that’s all I’m saying about the smut.

The Turncoat opens with Quaker Kate Grey hosting a British general and his entourage during the American Revolution. There is an instant connection between Kate

The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

and Peter Tremayne (of course). Kate’s father, Arthur, is on his way with supplies for the rebel army and she hopes to stall Peter so the British do not catch up with him. With Kate is her “Aunt”, a woman she has never met before. Tremayne ends up pilfering a letter Arthur Grey had written that would give away secrets, military strategy, etc. In an effort to retrieve the letter, Kate ends up alone with Peter in her bedroom. She does not get the letter back.

After Peter leaves, Kate and her “Aunt” end up fleeing the Grey house and traveling to see General Washington with news. Turns out “Auntie” is a spy for the rebel army. Kate decides to join Aunt Angela as a spy for the rebels and is placed in Philadelphia close to British General Howe.

There is a lot to this story besides the romance between Kate and Peter. One of the reasons I was drawn to this book was that it takes place during the American Revolution, and historical fiction in the last ten years has largely been ignored. The book, while being about a Quaker spy, is also about the British invasion of Fort Mercer in 1777, the occupation of Philadelphia, and John Andre.

Thorland packs a lot into 400 pages and overall I think you get a good idea of what went on during this period of the American Revolution. A couple of her facts are incorrect- like the number of Jaguers that are killed/wounded/captured during the assault on Fort Mercer, but it’s not enough to distract from the story.

The Turncoat was engrossing, but at about 300 pages, I was ready for the story to end. The last hundred pages could have been made into a sequel, as they deal with the turning of Benedict Arnold, and hint at the future capture and hanging (history spoiler!) of John Andre. Thorland is making this a trilogy, but not with the same characters.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 (would have been 4, but it got long)

I’m looking forward to the next one!

See you in the stacks,

Jenn

No Meat Please: Vegetarian Cookbooks

October 1st is World Vegetarian Day, and I get to celebrate it this year! In March my husband and I decided to become vegetarians, for a variety of reasons, and we haven’t looked back since. I get asked all the time, “So how IS it being a vegetarian???” Let me tell you, my carnivorous friends, it’s really not that bad. I thought I would crave burgers and chicken, but not really. The only thing I really miss is… bacon! It’s my trigger word.

When we made the decision to go veggie, I took out a LOT of vegetarian cookbooks and looked through them. Many of them have rather unusual, and frankly weird ingredients that my husband and I just aren’t ready for (some of these things you need to ease into). And tofu will never be a part of our diet. No matter how it’s prepared, it always tastes like a pencil eraser to me. But to each their own.

Whether you decided to be, or already are a vegetarian, or just like meatless cooking options, here are a few vegetarian cookbooks we have added to our collection this year:

Small Planet, Small Plates

  1. Small Planet, Small Plates: Earth-Friendly Vegetarian Recipes by Troth Wells. There are over 100 recipes from all around the world in this cookbook, dishes ranging from Africa, Latin-America, and the Middle East. Wells is a firm believer in low-impact eating and moving towards a vegetable-based diet as a sustainable method for our planet to survive. Picture with each recipe.

    French Market Cookbook

  2. The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes From My Parisian Kitchen by Clotide Dusoulier. Dusoulier is the blogger behind the popular blog ChocolateandZucchini.com and is not a vegetarian. But like a lot of people, she has chosen to eat fewer meat dishes. She includes 82 recipes using fresh, in season, and ripe ingredients that do not have a lot of cheeses, creams, or dairy.

    Meatless

  3. Meatless: More Than 200 Of the Very Best Vegetarian Recipes by Martha Stewart. Meatless has over 200 recipes, all with pictures, that are for the vegetarian and meat-eater alike. What is cool about this book is a guide on how to stock a vegetarian pantry, with essentials like beans, vegetable stock, and pastas.

    Simply Satisfying

  4. Simply Satisfying: Over 200 Vegetarian Recipes You’ll Want To Make Again and Again by Jeanne Lemlin. This is a reinvention of Lemlin’s first cookbook, published more than 25 years ago as Vegetarian Pleasures: A Menu Cookbook. In this new cookbook, Lemlin’s first in more than 10 years, she uses fresh, easily available (key in my book), and robust flavors. One recipes that sounds to die for is fragrant vegetable stew with corn dumplings. YUM!

    Welcome To Claire’s

  5. Welcome to Claire’s: 35 Years of Recipes and Reflections From the Landmark Vegetarian Restaurant by Claire Criscuolo. We are lucky enough to live within a half and hour of Claire’s Corner Copia and hope to make it there soon. If you’ve been to Claire’s before, you’ve likely tried her Lithuanian Coffee Cake. The recipe is included here!

See you in the stacks,

Jenn