Good Reads // December 2014

ReadingBench

Hello friends and fellow bookworms!  It’s time for my final 2014 monthly book reviews post!  Enjoy!

My first read of the month Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan as part of my Blogging for Books account.  The first lines: “What are my qualifications to write this book?  None really.  So why should you read it?  Here’s why: I’m a little fat.  If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book.”  Summary from Goodreads: “Bacon. McDonalds. Cinnabon. Hot Pockets. Kale. Stand-up comedian and author Jim Gaffigan has made his career rhapsodizing over the most treasured dishes of the American diet (“choking on bacon is like getting murdered by your lover”) and decrying the worst offenders (“kale is the early morning of foods”). Fans flocked to his New York Times bestselling book Dad is Fat to hear him riff on fatherhood but now, in his second book, he will give them what they really crave—hundreds of pages of his thoughts on all things culinary(ish). Insights such as: why he believes coconut water was invented to get people to stop drinking coconut water, why pretzel bread is #3 on his most important inventions of humankind (behind the wheel and the computer), and the answer to the age-old question “which animal is more delicious: the pig, the cow, or the bacon cheeseburger?”  My thoughts:  I have never been to a Jim Gaffigan stand-up comedy show or even read his first book, Dad is Fat, which was a big success and made it onto the New York Times Best Seller’s list.  Maybe I’ve been living under a rock…but I truly did not know who this comedian was before I stumbled across this book.  But after reading it, I can tell I would love to see him in person!  I kind of wish I had read this book as audiobook, so it would be like Jim performing just for me.  To be honest, even reading the printed word, I burst out laughing countless times.  The cover is clever – a cake topper version of Mr. Gaffigan next to a cake topper version of a hot dog, on top of a fancy wedding cake.  It truly captures the essence of his stories.  And the story behind the cover is an easy read, with lots of funny observations.  It’s a bit of a mishmash, with everything connected to Jim’s love of food.  But not in a ‘foodie’ way – nope – this is about his love of all food, not just artisanal cheese from locally sourced cows.  Sure, he devotes a fair amount of space to fancy steak, but a lot of it centers around places and items like McDonalds, hot dogs, and pizza.  It’s a hodgepodge that seems even more disconnected than your average collection of essays, and yet it works.  He has divided the country into food clichés, coffee in the northwest, cheese in the Midwest, seafood in the northeast, and attacked with gusto and green chiles.  And cheese.  “People look at a map of the United States and see different things. Some people see red states and blue states. Some see North and South. Some see East and West.  I see food. I’m not saying the geographical areas of the United States actually look edible to me (not yet, anyway), although I once saw a potato chip shaped like Alaska. Unfortunately, I ate it before I could take a photo.”  Gaffigan packed the book with hilarious takeaways – some of my favorites include:
– I try to stick to three meals a day and then another three at night.
– I like to think coffee comes from beans; therefore it’s a vegetable.
– Going to the gym for an hour is the American way of fasting.
– Maybe Canadian explorers made it to Alaska and saw the Eskimos eating blubber and thought: “Oh, the Americans already got here.”
– I don’t know much about grammar, but I think kale salad is what they call a double negative. (Compare to cheesecake, a double positive.)

Thanks to the Blogging for Books program for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  (3/5 Stars)

First Published: October 21, 2014 by Crown Archetype
Category: Non Fiction, Humor, Memoir
I literally flew through my next book – The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes.  The first lines: “October 1916. I was dreaming of food.  Crisp baguettes, the flesh of the bread a virginal white, still steaming from the oven, and ripe cheese, its borders creeping toward the edge of the plate.  Grapes and plums, stacked high in bowls, dusky and fragrant, their scent filling the air.  I was about to reach out and take one, when my sister stopped me. ‘Get off,’ I murmured. ‘I’m hungry.’”  Summary from Goodreads: “Whatever happened to the girl you left behind? France, 1916. Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. When she is ordered to serve the German officers who descend on her hotel each evening, her home becomes riven by fierce tensions. And from the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait – painted by Edouard – a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision. Almost a century later, and Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and its troubled history. A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv’s life upside down all over again . . .In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for what they love most – whatever the cost.” My thoughtsAbsolutely loved this story!!! This story bounces back and forth in time: it starts in 1917 France, in a town German soldiers have occupied for World War I, then fast forwards to 2006 England.  The connection is a painting entitled The Girl You Left Behind. This is a powerful book about courage, fighting for what you believe in no matter what happens around you and no matter the consequences, and the power of love.  What I love so much about the way Moyes writes is that she creates complex characters that are more than meets the eye.  She’s not afraid to give them flaws, to make them slightly unlikable.  She draws you into the plot immediately, and you find yourself hooked, because you need to know how the plot will be resolved. Beautifully told story that I highly recommend.  (5/5 Stars)
First Published: 2012
Category: Cultural, Historical Fiction
Next up was the much-anticipated Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand via audiobook.  The first lines: “All he could see, in every direction, was water.  It was late June 1943.  Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Army Air Forces bombardier and Olympic runner Louie Zamperini lay across a small raft, drifting westward.  Slumped alonside him was a sergeant, one of his plane’s gunners.  On a separate raft, tethered to the first, lay another crewman, a gash zigzagging across his forehead.  Their bodies, burned by the sun and stained yellow from the raft dye, had withered down to skeletons.  Sharks glided in lazy loops around them, dragging their backs along the rafts, waiting.”  Summary from Goodreads: “On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.  The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.  Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.”  My thoughts:  Wow…a truly eye-opening read about WWII.  I’m utterly stunned and heart-broken at what POWs went through – but am glad that their stories are shared.  Overall, it’s an amazing story of survival, hope, and miracles.  It’s long – and at times I wasn’t always eager to pick it up due to the repetitively awful scenes of the prison camps – but it’s definitely a part of history that should be told and remembered.  This book came recommended to me via multiple friends, runners and non-runners alike – and it did not disappoint.  The main story follows that of Louie Zamperini, a track and field star of the 1930’s, who participated in the Berlin Olympics, was part of the US Air Force in WWII, shot down over the ocean, adrift in the Pacific for over a month, held as a POW by the Japanese forces, and finally, not only made it back to his life, but also had the courage to live it to its fullest.  (4/5 Stars)
First Published: November 16, 2010 by Random House
Audiobook: Read by Edward Herman
Category: Non Fiction, Biography, War, History

My next read is probably a shock to some…but I finally read Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.  The first lines: “Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.”  Summary from Goodreads: “Everyone’s favorite redhead, the spunky Anne Shirley, begins her adventures at Green Gables, a farm outside Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. When the freckled girl realizes that the elderly Cuthberts wanted to adopt a boy instead, she begins to try to win them and, consequently, the reader, over.”  My thoughts:  I realized earlier this year that I had never read this series.  I’m not sure how it could have passed me by in the middle of all of the other classic children’s stories I read when I was younger…but I was finally ready to give it a try.  I expected to slowly make my way through this children’s book, picking it up whenever I had a free moment.  What I was not expecting, was to find it absolutely delightful!  This vivacious, witty, enticing novel with its brilliant characters and hilarious scrapes is a beautiful work of literary fiction. Anne makes me want to be a little girl again, discovering life, imagination, love, and friendship for the first time.  I wish I could live in the east garret at Green Gables, play by the Dryad Bubble, float on the Lake of Shinning Waters, and drive through the White Way of Delight.  The love of life as only a child can see it is captured brilliantly in the wonderful pages of this simple story.  (5/5 Stars)

First Published: June 1908
Category: Fiction, Young Adult, Classic, Canada
My last read of the year was Paper Towns by John Green.  The first lines: “The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle.  Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust.  But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us.  I could have seen it rain frogs.  I could have stepped foot on Mars.  I could have been eaten by a whale.  I could have married the queen of England or survived months at sea.  But my miracle was different.”  Summary from Goodreads: “Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew…”  My thoughts:  I like John Green…and really like his writing style.  But I didn’t love this book.  What I did love was that the kids were real. They got angry with each other. They made mistakes. The lead character was kind of a bitch, because, well, at that age…  There are quite a few good, and I mean really good, philosophical statements that I love – that I think many readers connect with, such as when the main character is presented with the idea that often we fall in love not with a person, but with the idea of a person – and then when that person says/does something that doesn’t jive with the idea of the person we have in our head, we feel personally betrayed.  And about getting through the end of something isn’t enough to make you satisfied.  Like breaking into SeaWorld late at night, only to discover how devoid of excitement the place actually is.  “Nothing ever happens like you imagine it.”  In this manner, the end is just a reminder that we have succeeded, but that which truly makes something extraordinary is the journey.  “But then again, if you don’t imagine, nothing ever happens at all.”   (3/5 Stars)

First Published: October 01, 2008
Category: Fiction, Young Adult
What are you currently reading? What was your favorite book of 2014??
Jen
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