Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Deception, Scorpio, Bread and butter, Flavia, and a self-severed arm

I'm probably on a plane right now, or else at home with no idea what time or day it is. So enjoy some book reviews from August!

I already told you about A Safeway in Arizona.

Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage TodayDeception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage Today by Edward Lucas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As my husband noted when he read it, this book is really three mini-books in one. There is a really interesting section about the state of Russia today and how such a place gave rise to spies like Anna Chapman. Then there is a section about some random stories of espionage from WWI, WWII, and the Cold War. Then there is a section about another specific spy, Herman Simm from Estonia. These three mini-books are not woven together very well, which means that no matter how interesting they are on their own, this makes for a very puzzling and disorienting read. An editor should have had the author reorganize it and tighten it up and it would have been fine.

Jeremy and I talked as much about this book's odd sequence of chapters as much as we did about the content of those chapters. Fortunately, I think we solved the mystery. I was almost done with the book when I chanced upon an endnote (well, I flipped to the back of the book to read an endnote, which I don't do for every single one) that I think hints at the genesis of this book. Mr. Lucas apparently planned to write a book all about Herman Simm, but must have decided that it wasn't enough material for more than two chapters (which is the treatment it gets in this final product). So then he added in a bunch of stuff about espionage in the Baltics and Russia in general. Then maybe his editor thought he should throw in some stuff about Anna Chapman et al because that's tangentially related and could bring in a lot of readers. Then they LED with the Anna Chapman stuff since it was the most exciting section of the book. So we have here a book about espionage in the Baltics, focusing on Herman Simm, that only gets at its subject 2/3 of the way through because of a lengthy detour through Anna Chapman-ville.

ANYWAY. An uneven but worthy read.


I Am Half Sick Of Shadows (Flavia De Luce, #4)I Am Half Sick Of Shadows by Alan Bradley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I liked hanging out with Flavia some more, but the Very Special Christmas Episode story was sub-par.




The Scorpio RacesThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not one of those "horse girls" who loves horses and wants to own a horse and will read any book about a horse. And yet: I LOVED this book, and it's all about horses. It was such a joy to read this book - very beautiful and touching. The author spent so long (probably 9/10 of the book) spinning a detailed web of characters and motivations and obstacles and settings that by the time the end came, all she needed to do was tug a few strings and the story turned into a lovely complete picture, with the reader caught in the middle, enchanted.

By the way, if you asked me when and where this story took place, I could hardly tell you, though it obviously could exist in the real world. The fact that the story was not moored to a particular place or time made it all the more lovely.


Between a Rock and a Hard PlaceBetween a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The whole time I had this book I wanted to wear a sign that said,

"EVERYONE PLEASE STOP TALKING TO ME SO I CAN FINISH THIS BOOK."

So good.


Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch -- Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade FoodsMake the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch -- Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods by Jennifer Reese

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm sure this wasn't the author's intention, but this is the perfect cookbook for an American living overseas. Since we moved to the UAE I've been learning how to make a lot of food items from scratch because they're unavailable or prohibitively expensive. So while the author's cost comparisons don't always pan out the same way for me, the principle behind the recipes is the same. I am so glad to have all of these recipes and tips in one place so I don't have to run back and forth from the kitchen to Google with flour-covered hands.

A downside of reading this book is that now my "buy in the US and take back to the UAE with me" list is longer than it was before...and Jeremy gave me a nice, long, you-are-crazy look when I said I wanted to make cheese.

A final note: I wondered as I read if this is the book Barbara Kingsolver thought she was writing with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Jennifer Reese quotes AVM a few times and it seems like she might share my opinion of that book, at least to some degree. In many ways, Make the Bread is the antidote to AVM's shrill sanctimoniousness (I said that about What to Eat, too, but I think it's even more true here). Where Kingsolver was inflexible and condescending, Reese is cost-conscious and self-effacing. Read AVM's account of raising a turkey. Then read Reese's version. I prefer the latter. As Reese says: "It seems a tragic waste to shape one's life around doctrinaire rejection of industrial food. Which means, I suppose, both insisting on high standards most of the time and then, sometimes, relaxing them." This is my kind of cookbook.

1 comment:

  1. I have not been able to get myself to read "Between A Rock and a Hard Place." Your review gives me courage...I worry that I will lie awake at night thinking about his experience, and then translate it into horrible fantasies for myself. I'm too visual.

    ReplyDelete

I had to disallow anonymous comments because of all the spam I was getting. Sorry!

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