A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

1649385E.M. Forster is an author I’ve always meant to read but never have. I started doing a buddy reads thing with my best friend and co-organizer of my Atlanta book club last year, and our most recent selection was A Room With a View. I quickly downloaded a free copy onto my Kindle and settled in.

Lucy is a young girl on holiday in Italy. She wants to break out of the constricting, conservative mold of proper English society, but constantly finds herself and her means thwarted by older cousin and chaperone, Charlotte. They meet many interesting characters abroad including an older gentleman and his younger son, George Emerson. The Emersons aren’t the right kinds of people, but George and Lucy share a kiss in a field of violets that puts Twilight to shame. After the incident, Lucy and Charlotte flee to Rome and then back to England where we discover Lucy’s become engaged to a colossal douchebag named Cecil. But then the Emersons move into the neighborhood and things get very interesting.

I’m glad I read this around Valentine’s Day. If you were unsatisfied with Twilight, try this! Seriously, a great love story not just between two lovers, but also between a woman and who she wants to be – free to love and live as she chooses. It’s short, sweet, and simple, but poses a lot of questions about English society and the changing of societal norms from the Victorian Era to the Edwardian period. Plot and substance! Plus, you can watch the miniseries that has Daniel Day Lewis. I repeat, Daniel Day Lewis.

Victoria wasn’t as enamored because she couldn’t connect or like any of the characters beyond George Emerson. She wanted to like and love Lucy but wasn’t able to. She thought Lucy did a whole lot of talking about breaking free without a whole lot of actual doing. This is a valid complaint (until the end, at least), but I just think she’s a product of her time. We can’t hold her to the standards we hold women to today, can we? I think that can be one of the hardest parts of reading literature over 100 years old.

Anyway, loved this and will be exploring Forster further. Highly recommended.

Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear

17707720Anything That Moves is Dana Goodyear’s journalistic endeavor to discover just what modern day American foodies are made of and the extreme things they’ll eat to remain at the top of their game. Jimmy and I (along with several friends) consider ourselves amateur foodies and so this kind of book pushes my buttons. If nothing else, I thought it would provide some interesting fodder for future supper club outings we organize every Wednesday night.

Goodyear’s book reads more like a collection of similarly themed magazine articles that cover a wide range of foodie topics such as foodie bloggers, the raw movement, and insect eating. She sets out with many different foodies from all walks of life to discover why, how, and what they eat. She also provides a decent amount of background, historical information on the origins of some of the bizarre foods/movements mentioned. It’s a great introduction to the foodie society.

Some have complained about Goodyear’s disconnect from the weird food experiences she’s writing about. I think this is a valid complaint. She was pregnant through much of her research and didn’t feel safe eating the questionable foods. I understand her decision, but it leaves a rather large gap between her and her subject matter. My favorite bits involved her actually describing her personal experiences with the food – the tastes, smells, textures, and emotional responses to what she was eating. So just be prepared for several third party moments.

My personal favorite topic she discussed was insect eating. It just fascinated me. Not only how psychologically against turning bugs into an edible protein source most Americans are, but also how sustainable and environmentally friendly these little critters can be. And I’m not going to lie, they sound delicious. Well, the crunchy ones. I still have mental issues with worms and such. I don’t like squishy things. I started trying to Google Atlanta restaurants that serve things like tempura fried grasshoppers and couldn’t find any. I suspect I’ll have to use underground methods to discover such delicacies.

So, if you’re adventurous and aren’t overly sensitive to graphic depictions of eating animals, I’d suggest this book as a fascinating look inside the food culture of modern America. There’s a lot to learn and some genuinely disgusting moments such as the eating of a baby bird (bones, beak, feathers – the whole shebang). If you’re already well-established in the foodie world, you’ll have tried many of the rare meats and food described here, but it’s still fun to see if anything Goodyear discovers will gross you out! And I’ve now removed foie gras from my diet. I had no idea how it was made and now I’m amazed that such a thing is even legal (which it isn’t in many states).

What are your favorite foodie investigation novels? Any food bloggers you love to read? What’s the strangest food you’ve ever tried? Mine is probably stinky tofu, but I also love chicken gizzards.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

251688Reading In Cold Blood changed my mind about reading nonfiction. Previously, I had stayed away believing the factual side of literature to be dull and filled with textbook-like passages where I zoned out after two or three words. Truman Capote showed me a different side – the narrative nonfiction side – and became a literary hero of mine. It’s a shame I’ve waited this long to read any of his fiction.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a short 90 page novella that most people think was only ever a movie. I admit that I fell into this category until I got to college and realized the source material was a Capote story. The narrator of the story basically becomes infatuated with a woman who lives in his building named Holly Golightly. She’s a progressive, hedonistic woman who has loud parties, drinks too much, and allows various men into her bed. Not the most shocking thing now, perhaps, but for a woman in the Forties this was dramatically offensive behavior. Men, including our storyteller, are infatuated with her. Capote chooses to focus only on the brief time Miss Golightly lives in this New York brownstone, but with his talent and expertise at the wheel we manage to learn quite a bit about Holly while still not learning all of her secrets.

I loved it. I love how Holly’s a wilder, darker thing in Capote’s imagination than the Holly brought to the screen by Audrey Hepburn. Both are compelling, but I prefer the written Holly as a sort of a high class call girl figure who mixes and mingles with mobsters.

The next three stories in this collection are equally as fascinating if a little less famous. My favorite of the three was “A Christmas Memory” which was made into a film starring Patty Duke, I think. It’s about a boy and an elderly woman who are the best of friends. You don’t often get to see such relationships explored as we so frequently shelve old people in the dusty back corners of our brains. I’m not ashamed to admit that the humanity and sweet sadness of this story brought me to tears. That doesn’t much happen to grinches like me so kudos, Mr. Capote, on inspiring my heart to grow three sizes larger.

Now I shall focus on reading all of Truman Capote’s backlist. And you should too.

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

The-Perfume-Collector-PBThe Perfume Collector is a book that often falls under the nebulous and debated genre known argumentatively as women’s fiction. To be honest, books with this dubious label I often avoid just because there’s a sameness to them that irks me. But several readers I really respect have read this and loved it, so when it was offered for review I decided to give it a shot.

The narrative follows two main characters. Grace Monroe is a married British woman in her late twenties who discovers her husband has been cheating while also learning a mysterious woman has died and left her an enormous inheritance. She takes off to Paris to uncover the woman’s identity and keys to her own past. Interwoven throughout, we follow Eva d’Orsey, an orphaned French teenager working in a high class hotel in New York City in the 1920s. Along the way we meet scoundrels, perfumists, and visit the hallowed halls of 1930s Monte Carlo.

Tessaro’s novel is easily read and quickly finished. The armchair travel might be worth the read whether or not you enjoy these kinds of novels. I loved visiting the fancy hotels of New York, Paris, and Monte Carlo along with the characters. I preferred Eva’s story to Grace’s, but both narratives held my attention and kept me turning the pages. I’d suggest this as a great summer read while lounging poolside. Tessaro really knows how to put her readers in a certain time and place.

On the flipside, I can’t say the novel will stay with me or be something that I remember this time next year. The plot, while enjoyable enough, was also burdened with a predictability that plagues similar stories. I wish something in the book’s conclusion had surprised me. I also wish the book had had a better editor. It’s been a long time since I read a book with so many typos and grammatical mistakes. Boo.

Have you read The Perfume Collector? What do you think about novels with the same predictable plot twists? Do they annoy you or do other aspects of the novel, like the armchair travel, make up for these limitations?

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Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review. Check out the other tour stops here!!

About the Author:

Kathleen-TessaroKathleen Tessaro is the author of EleganceInnocenceThe Flirt, and The Debutante. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband and son.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

16068905I’ve mentioned more than once that I’m a former (okay, maybe former and current) fanfiction writer. So after I read Eleanor & Park last year and discovered Rainbow Rowell had written a book about a girl who writes fanfiction…well…consider my interest piqued.

Cath is a normal college freshman. She’s anxious to start her first year of college, bummed that her identical twin sister is trying to break away from their special built-in bond, and terrified of leaving her manic father alone. She still harbors a lot of hurt over her mother’s abandonment and her college roommate appears to hate her. Then there are boys. You can’t blame a girl for wanting to crawl inside her fandom and disappear. We’ve all felt like that a time or two.

What made me love Fangirl? All of the things. Literally…all of them. My first year of college was so similar to Cath’s that I just melted under all the nostalgia. Rowell is the master of creating real teenagers. Everything from Cath’s extreme social introversion to her oddly forceful awkwardness around boys can be found on college campuses around the world. The relationship she had with her roommate was great – perhaps the best relationship in the book. Their dialogue was quirky and age appropriate which I often find lacking in young adult literature.

Many readers have claimed Fangirl has too much going on – too many little plot bunnies running around and not enough time to give the proper attention to any of them. These are valid complaints. But this didn’t bother me even a little bit. I, too, had crazy family drama going on around me during college and often didn’t have the time to focus on my actual real life issues. So for me, this felt just like what I had actually gone through a decade ago. It’s like Rowell had channeled 20-year-old Brooke and written this novel just for me.

My own personal criticism lies only in the romance. I loved the slow build-up, but the after parts were too squishy. Every time Levi called Cath sweetheart I wanted to gag…sorry, not sorry. This pet peeve is also just a personal preference. Jimmy and I have never used pet names for each other because I think they’re gross. See why romantical stories are not my favorite? But, the rest of the book was the perfect bookend to my twenties and felt particularly poignant with the big 3-0 looming on the end-of-month horizon. And even though I wish I’d had Rainbow Rowell all those years ago, I can honestly say I’m just as happy I’ve got her now.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

243714Jhumpa Lahiri has won or been nominated for almost every prestigious literary award imaginable. And I haven’t read either of her two novels. I think I almost purposefully avoid award winners. Why do I do this? I think I tend to be disappointed when they don’t live up to this idea in my head of what an award winner should be. But I’m happy to say that Interpreter of Maladies deserved its Pulitzer.

It’s a collection of nine short stories focusing on Indian and Bengali characters both in India and in the States. You get nine brief glimpses into the lives of some beautifully rendered people having honest struggles. Many of those struggles revolve around marriage and relationships which is universal around the globe. You get realistic portrayals of what it feels like to be a foreigner in many different scenarios. You get a little bit of history, a lot of culture, and one of the best short story collections published in the last decade.

I read these stories in one sitting while the snow fell in Atlanta and everyone else seemed to be trapped in their vehicles. With the fire warming my toes, I literally could not stop reading long enough to care about those stranded commuters which included my husband. Maybe this makes me a terrible person or perhaps this makes Jhumpa Lahiri a magician or a wizard. Either way, I won the great snowpocalypse of 2014.

None of these stories are super joyful. In fact, most of them are downers. I had to take a couple of moments after each conclusion to mourn whatever needed mourning before I could continue. But I always continued. The pull of Lahiri’s writing was too much to resist no matter how gut-wrenching or desolate the stories read. What often irritates me about short story collections is how unfinished each snippet can be – how each story ends just as soon as you finally feel pulled in. Interpreter of Maladies didn’t have this flaw. I felt like I had gotten to know a complete story – or at least all I needed to know for the moment – at each story’s end. Utter perfection.

By now, you can clearly tell this was a no-brainer five star book for me. The Pulitzer people knew what they were doing with this selection. Now it’s your turn to pick it up for the first time or to reread and discover the magic all over again.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

11887641The Song of Achilles was a book everyone seemed to rave about during 2012 and 2013. And my copy has a Donna Tartt blurb right across the top. Talk about hype. I was thrilled when my book club ladies selected it as our November read. And then I got all end-of-year slumpish, only read half in time for the discussion, and finished the rest a couple of weeks ago.

Madeline Miller’s novel is a retelling of The Iliad. To be straight with y’all, I’m not sure I’ve ever read The Iliad all the way through. I’m fairly certain I’ve read both The Odyssey and The Aeneid. But basically, the story follows Achilles through the eyes of his male companion, Patroclus, from their childhood together to adulthood and beyond.

Miller’s writing has a swift pace. For a story about a 10-year war, you never get bored which was an absolute blessing. I liked that she used Patroclus as the narrator instead of Achilles. Patroclus allows her to take more risks with historical fact since not much is known about the man beyond the parts he played in Achilles’s life and one pivotal moment in the Trojan War. One of our book club members is something of a Greek scholar and purist. She thought Miller did a superb job making the story interesting, modern, and still grounded in known fact.

I think everyone at least liked the book. Everyone seemed to have finished before the discussion occurred (except me, ha!). Personally, it’s a book that I really, really liked, but didn’t love. Mostly because I thought the love between Patroclus and Achilles was a bit too saccharine and sentimental which is a personal pet peeve. On the other hand, I think it’s nice to see a warrior and his male lover portrayed in such a sweet, endearing way. We don’t get that much, if ever. And Miller does an excellent job of tackling masculine and feminine stereotypes.

So, have you read The Iliad? Is it worth the time and effort to go back and re-familiarize myself with the ancient texts? Decisions, decisions.