Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
Algonquin Books, 2014
273 pages
source: ebook borrowed from library

Summary (from goodreads):
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Quick thoughts:

I laughed. I cried. In the end, this book was a little too sweet, somewhat predictable, and wholly improbable.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry  just didn't live up to my expectations. BUT it was still a good enough book, especially the beginning, so go ahead and give it a try.

Everyone else loved it!

A few favorite quotes:
"I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn't be—basically, gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful—nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups à la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children's books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and—I imagine this goes without saying—vampires." 
“Despite the fact that he loves books and owns a bookstore, A.J. does not particularly care for writers. He finds them to be unkempt, narcissistic, silly, and generally unpleasant people. He tries to avoid the ones who've written books he loves for fear that they will ruin their books for him.” 
“They had only ever discussed books, but what, in this life, is more personal than books?" 
“We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.” 
“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?” 
“We aren't the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved."
My rating:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday Intro: Beyond the Pasta

Some passionate love affairs are easily forgotten, others are only remembered as passing fancies or are over before they ever truly begin, but some are so instantaneously intense and wrought with pure, unbridled emotion that they can forever alter your life. I have had two such love affairs in my life and the one led to the other. 
It began with my first trip to Italy in September 2001. This trip was not going to be a guided tour; instead it was a self-catered vacation - a thrilling idea: to have the freedom to navigate the country and the culture with no guides, only my partner Richard and our mothers. "Wait a minute - a love affair began while on vacation with your mothers and partner?" Yes, and it was a love affair of the heart, too, but not the kind you are imagining.
Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family
by Mark Leslie

This book caught my attention when it was offered as a kindle deal for $3.99. My first impulse was to "purchase with 1-click", but then I realized recipes are included and I hate e-cookbooks. Luckily, my library had a copy (obviously well-loved). So far this book is almost as good as a trip to Italy.

The goodreads summary makes it sounds even more appealing:
Several years ago, on a break between theatrical gigs in Alabama, Mark traveled to Italy and fell in love with the people, food and culture. Armed with just enough courage, minimal Italian language skills, and a certain proficiency in the kitchen, he enrolled in a full-immersion cooking and language program. He would travel to Viterbo, Italy and live with an Italian family. His teachers were beyond his wildest dreams-he learned to cook from the grandmother, or Nonna, of the family, who prepared every meal in a bustling, busy household, as women in her family have done for generations. Her daughter, Alessandra, taught him the language with patience and precision. Besides culinary secrets and prepositions, they opened their lives to him, and made him a real part of their extensive family. Though the book contains authentic, delicious family recipes Nonna shared with Mark, Beyond the Pasta delves into food memoir subject matter not found in a typical cookbook. It was the day-to-day shopping with Nonna, exploring the countryside and le gelaterie, where he truly developed his language skills, and a new, more joyful and uniquely Italian way of looking at the world. 
What do you think? Would you keep reading?
The kindle deal was still available last time I checked.

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Weekly Update: August 17, 2014

Hello, friends. It's time for another weekly update. After a beautiful weekend (the above photo is last Sunday's sunset), it has felt like fall much of the week. We've had high temps in the 60's and downright chilly overnight lows. That's perfect for long morning walks, but I'm hoping for more summer-like weather this week.

I started the second half of my #100HappyDays Project on Instagram. Flowers, the lake, books, food and my daughter heading off to Paris have been the subjects of this week's photos. Since I've missed a day here and there, this exercise will actually last a little longer, but I like focusing on small things that make me happy each day.

Read last week//  I had the best day last Sunday! We decided to stay home - all day- and I finished two books. I can't even remember the last time that happened. First was the delightful The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones. I had my mother read it, too, but she didn't appreciate it quite as much as I did.

After a few weeks of mostly listening to Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck, I finished it on my kindle. This is the fourth Buck novel I've read and, while I love her historical fiction set in China, this was not quite as good as the other three.

Current reading//  The Classics Club spin dealt me An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. It's a very long book and I've decided to approach it as a read/listen combination. I'm at the 15% mark now and feel full-invested in the story. I look forward to spending some time with it this afternoon.

I also started reading Beyond The Pasta: Recipes, Language and Life with an Italian Family by Mark Donovan Leslie. Reading this travel memoir (with recipes!) almost makes me feel like I'm in Italy, too.

On the blog//
Weekend Cooking: Seared Swordfish with Lemon and Rosemary Wine Sauce
Review: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
Tuesday Intro: An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

In the kitchen//  I tried two new recipes this week. New York Strip Steak with Corn and Avocado Salsa from Weber's Real Grilling  was good, but not great.

The real winner this week - and a big surprise, because I never would have thought of grilling a burger already in a pita - was Spiced Lamb Burgers from the July issue of Bon Appetit. The recipe was posted yesterday at Beth Fish Reads for Weekend Cooking. The burgers disappeared before I got a chance to take a picture.

Watching//  My daughter and I saw The Hundred Foot Journey one rainy afternoon last week - highly recommended. It seems like the television hasn't been on for anything other than news lately.

Later today we'll head to my sister's for my nephew's farewell dinner. Hard to believe he leaves for his first year of college in a few days. Now I want to spend some time with the Sunday papers and have another cup of coffee. What are you up to today?

This post will link to It's Monday, What are You Reading? hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Seared Swordfish with Lemon and Rosemary Wine Sauce

I know a lot of my Weekend Cooking posts are about seafood. I'm lucky to have a wide variety of fresh fish and shellfish available at Wegmans and we routinely eat it at least a couple times each week. During the summer months, it's mostly grilled, but a recent streak of rainy evenings sent me back into the kitchen. With fresh swordfish in the refrigerator and grilling no longer an option, I turned to Pinterest for ideas and found a recipe for Seared Swordfish with Lemon and Rosemary Wine Sauce at Simple Comfort Foods.

Pan-searing is, without a doubt, my favorite technique for cooking seafood indoors.  It's quick, easy, and I love the slightly crisp, flavorful crust it produces. With basic ingredients on hand and fresh rosemary and thyme just waiting to be picked from my herb garden, selecting this recipe was a no-brainer. This dish was outstanding - definitely as good as anything from my favorite restaurant. The recipe can be found here.

To learn more about the technique, here is Wegmans Pan-Searing Seafood video. It's 4 minutes well-spent even if you're a pan-searing pro!

Pan-searing can also be used to cook chicken and meats... and Wegmans has videos for that, too. In fact they have, the have a variety of videos on various cooking techniques as well as specific recipes. Even if there isn't a Wegmans in your area, you can still check out their YouTube channel.

Do you ever watch cooking videos on YouTube? Any favorites to share?

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
by Sheri Fink
narrated by Kirsten Potter
Random House Audio, 2013
Length: 17 hrs and 33 min
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:

In the tradition of the best writing on medicine, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the listener into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amidst chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the listener into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters - and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

My thoughts:

"Emergencies are crucibles that contain and reveal the daily, slower-burning problems of medicine and beyond - our vulnerabilities; our trouble grappling with uncertainty, how we die, how we prioritize and divide what is most precious and vital and limited; even our biases and blindnesses."

In a way, Five Days at Memorial seemed like two books. The first part focuses on Hurricane Katrina at Memorial Hospital - the storm itself, patient care and relief/evacuation efforts during the following days, and how management, staff and patients coped. It details the horrifying conditions and immeasurable human suffering endured by those within the hospital. The second part of the book deals with the aftermath of all that occurred during those five days - the investigation, allegations of euthanasia, and its ramifications.

This book held me spellbound for nearly two weeks. I have spent many years working in large, teaching hospitals and was utterly shocked by the lack of preparedness and breakdown of communication detailed in this book. As a former health care worker, I found it hard to believe that these events could have occurred in the 21st century United States. I admired the workers, both medical and support staff, who stayed and devoted themselves to patient care under such desperate and deplorable conditions. It is difficult to predict how one might react under such circumstances and even harder to judge professional decisions made at such a time.

If there is a bright spot in this book, it lies in the contrast with one New York City hospital during Superstorm Sandy. Perhaps lessons were learned.

A note on the audio production:
Kristin Potter, with over 150 audiobook credits, is a narrator I will listen to without hesitation. Her voice is clear and strong, with just the right amount of authority necessary for narrating a piece of investigative journalism. Overall, a perfect match for this book.

My rating:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Classics Spin/Tuesday Intro: An American Tragedy

Dusk--of a summer night. 
And the tall walls of the commercial heart of an American city of perhaps 400,000 inhabitants--such walls as in time may linger as a mere fable.
And up the broad street, now comparably hushed, a little band of six,--a man of about fifty, short, stout, with bushy hair protruding from under a black felt hat, a mostly unimportant-looking person, who carried a small portable organ such as is customarily used by street preachers and singers.  And with him a woman perhaps five years his junior, taller, not so broad, but solid of frame and vigorous, very plain in face and dress, and yet not homely, leading with one hand a small boy of seven and in the other carrying a Bible and several hymn books. With these three, but walking independently behind, was a girl of fifteen, a boy of twelve and another girl of nine, all following obediently, but not too enthusiastically, in the wake of the others.
An AmericanTragedy
by Theodore Dreiser

The most recent Classics Club Spin has dealt me An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, a book I have wanted to read for decades. Published in 1925 and based on an actual (and fairly local) 1910 murder, this 800+ page novel is both a character study and portrait of early 20th century life. Here's the goodreads summary:
A tremendous bestseller when it was published in 1925, "An American Tragedy" is the culmination of Theodore Dreiser's elementally powerful fictional art. Taking as his point of departure a notorious murder case of 1910, Dreiser immersed himself in the social background of the crime to produce a book that is both a remarkable work of reportage and a monumental study of character. Few novels have undertaken to track so relentlessly the process by which an ordinary young man becomes capable of committing a ruthless murder, and the further process by which social and political forces come into play after his arrest.
In Clyde Griffiths, the impoverished, restless offspring of a family of street preachers, Dreiser created an unforgettable portrait of a man whose circumstances and dreams of self-betterment conspire to pull him toward an act of unforgivable violence. Around Clyde, Dreiser builds an extraordinarily detailed fictional portrait of early twentieth-century America, its religious and sexual hypocrisies, its economic pressures, its political corruption. The sheer prophetic amplitude of his bitter truth-telling, in idiosyncratic prose of uncanny expressive power, continues to mark Dreiser as a crucially important American writer. "An American Tragedy," the great achievement of his later years, is a work of mythic force, at once brutal and heartbreaking.
As with many classics this length, I'll approach An American Tragedy as a read/listen combination. The ebook has been downloaded to my kindle and I've used an audible credit for the 34-hour audiobook narrated by Dan John Miller. The first couple of chapters, like the opening paragraphs, are very descriptive. I have high hopes for the story and think I can manage the October 6 deadline.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.


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