Thursday, June 28, 2012
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Bobby's a classic urban teenager. He's restless. He's impulsive. But the thing that makes him different is this: He's going to be a father. His girlfriend, Nia, is pregnant, and their lives are about to change forever. Instead of spending time with friends, they'll be spending time with doctors, and next, diapers. They have options: keeping the baby, adoption. They want to do the right thing.
If only it was clear what the right thing was.
What Hooked Me:
As much as I talk about, worry about and preach against teenage pregnancy almost everyday as part of counselling teenagers during their annual physicals, I think this is the first book that I have read that actually brings the crisis to life from the teenage boy/father's point of view. I saw the other side I seldom think about. This short novel reads real, the writing infused with enough tenderness to soften the helplessness of the situation. I will definitely be recommending it from now on.
'My mom says that I didn't sleep through the night until I was eight years old. It didn't make any difference to her 'cause she was up too, listening to the city. She says she used to come into my room, sit cross-legged on the floor by my bed, and play with my Game Boy in the dark.'(opening lines)
'I've been thinking about it. Everything. And when Feather opens her eyes and looks up at me, I already know there's change. But I figure if the world were really right, humans would live life backward and do the first part last. They'd be all knowing in the beginning and innocent in the end.'(6)
'This little thing with the perfect face and hands doing nothing but counting on me. And me wanting nothing else but to run crying into my own mom's room and have her do the whole thing.'(12)
'But then I realize. I've done it. I know something. I know something about this little thing that is my baby. I know that she needs me. I know what she does when she just needs me.
No big screaming thing.
Just a whimper, then she only wants me.'(13)
'I want to say to this woman who'd always been nice to me and listened when I complained that damn it, I didn't feel good, I was tired, I didn't know where I was going to lay down in a few hours, and by the way could she just write me a note and get me out of this?
It didn't have to be a long note.
It didn't have to tell anything about a medical condition.
It just had to get me out of staying awake at night, changing diapers every hour, and doing nothing except think of the yawning little thing in the white booties, whose baby carrier was all I wanted to be in.
I just want a note to get me out of it.
Just one note.'(19)
'My stomach is hurting by the time that question is out of his mouth and into the air. I don't say; it's not up to me. I don't say; whatever I want, I can't say. My dad already told me now was the time to shut my mouth. What Nia wants is what it's all about.
'As long as my mouth is moving, she's happy. As long as sound is coming out of it, the whole world is just fine for my caramel, sweet-faced, big-eyed baby; who's killing me, and keeping me so tired I can't keep my eyes open.'(30)
'Her eyes are the clearest eyes I've ever seen.
Sometimes she looks at me like she knows me. Like she's known me forever, and everything I ever thought, too. It's scary how she looks at me.
And she's so new Been on the the planet for only a few months. I been thinking about it a whole lot lately. I feel old.
I feel old when I wake up at three thirty in the morning and change her diaper, then change it again when she pees right after I put her sleeper back on. ...
I really feel old when I'm holding her on the subway and some lady tells me what a good brother I am and how I'm so good with her. I feel stooped over then. You'd think I'd feel young.'(52)
'Afterward I always kiss her, my baby, and look into her clear eyes that know everything about me, and want me to be her daddy anyway.'(53)
'I can tell you how it feels sitting in the window with Feather pointing out the creek that rolls past our backyard. I can tell you how it is to feel as brand new as my daughter even though I don't know what comes next in this place called Heaven.'(82)
a Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers Nook Edition
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Synopsis from Goodreads:
In her satisfying, sensual third novel, Nicole Mones takes readers inside the hidden world of elite cuisine in modern China through the story of an American food writer in Beijing. When recently widowed Maggie McElroy is called to China to settle a claim against her late husband’s estate, she is blindsided by the discovery that he may have led a double life. Since work is all that will keep her sane, her magazine editor assigns her to profile Sam, a half-Chinese American who is the last in a line of gifted chefs tracing back to the imperial palace. As she watches Sam gear up for China’s Olympic culinary competition by planning the banquet of a lifetime, she begins to see past the cuisine’s artistry to glimpse its coherent expression of Chinese civilization. It is here, amid lessons of tradition, obligation, and human connection that she finds the secret ingredient that may yet heal her heart
What Hooked Me:
I am sure having just gone back from China is the major reason I really enjoyed this book. Or maybe the writing caught my mood for a simple, straight-forward book. It is probably also because each chapter's epigraph from the fictional book, the Last Chinese Chef, that supposedly inspired this novel are so memorable I almost wanted to include all of them on this post. Or perhaps I just love to eat, read and talk about food. Whatever it may be, I so welcomed reminiscing the delicious, albeit sometimes weird and strange (fried sparrows or duck feet) Chinese cuisine we experienced during our trip.
'Apprentices have asked me, what is the most exalted peak of cuisine? Is it the freshest ingredients, the most complex flavors? Is it the rustic, or the rare? It is none of these. The peak is neither eating or cooking, but the giving and sharing of food. Great food should never be taken alone. What pleasure can a man take in fine cuisine unless he invites cherished friends, counts the days until the banquet, and composes an anticipatory poem for his letter of invitation? (opening epigraph)
'Three qualities of China made it a place where there grew a great cuisine. First, its land has everything under heaven: mountains, deserts, plains, and fertile crescents; great oceans, mighty rivers. Second, the mass of Chinese are numerous but poor. They have always had to extract every possible bit of goodness and nutrition from every scrap of land and fuel, economizing everywhere except with human labor and ingenuity, of which there is a surfeit. Third, there is China's elite. From this world of discriminating taste the gourmet was born. Food became not only a complex tool for ritual and the attainment of prestige, but an art form, pursued by men of passion.'(11, epigraph for Chapter 2)
'The perfect meal is balanced, not ornate.'(23)
'Yuan Mei, one of the China's great gourmets, once asked his cook why, since he was so gifted and could produce great delicacies from even the most common ingredients, he chose to stay in their relatively modest household. The cook said, "To find an employer who appreciates one is not easy. But to find one who understands anything about cookery is harder still. So much imagination and hard thinking go into the making of every dish that one may well say I serve up along with it my whole mind and heart:"'(31, epigraph for Chapter 3)
'Food should be more than food; it should tease and provoke the mind.'(34)
'He put him under one of the greatest cooks of the palace, Zhang Yongxiang, Zhang knew no limits. His most famous dish involved hollowing out fat mung bean sprouts with wire, then stuffing them with minced seasoned pork and steaming them to delicate perfection.'(40)
'He often said that the best food was simple and honest; it reminded us of when we were lit up with believing in something.'(42)
'One of the most important peaks of flavor is xian. Xian means the sweet, natural flavor - like butter, fresh fish, luscious clear chicken broth. Then we have xiang, the fragrant flavor - think frying onions, roasted meat. Nong is the concentrated flavor, the deep, complex taste you get from meat stews or dark sauces or fermented things. Then there is the rich flavor, the flavor of fat. This is called you er bu ni, which means to taste of fat without being oily. We love this one. Fat is very important to us. Fat is not something undesirable to be removed and thrown away, not in China. We have a lot of dishes that actually focus on fat and make it delectable. Bring pork belly to the table, when it's done right, and Chinese diners will groan with happiness.'(49)
'Once you understand the ideal flavors and textures, the idea is to mix and match them. That's art in itself, called tiaowei. Then we match the dishes in their cycles. Then there is the meal as a whole - the menu - which is a sort of narrative of rhythms and meanings and moods.'(50)
'For instance -- what about tofu in the shape of a lute, stuffed with minced pork, flash-fried? And a chicken's skin removed whole, intact, then stuffed with minced ham and vegetables and slivered chicken meat and roasted at high heat until fragrant -'(58)
'The classics tell us that the mysterious powers of fall create dryness in heaven and metal on the earth. Of the flavors they create the pungent. Among the emotions they create grief. Grief can neither be walled away nor be held close too long. Either will lead to obsession. For someone grieving, cook with chives, ginger, coriander, and rosemary. Theirs is the pungent flavor, which draws grief up and out of the body and releases it into the air.'(68, epigraph for Chapter 5)
'There is always a tension between imagination and reality, between what we wish for and what it is the Gods have granted us...'(94, epigraph for Chapter 7)
'The major cuisines of China were brought into being for different purposes, and for different kinds of diners. Beijing food was the cuisine of officials and rulers, up to the Emperor. Shanghai food was created for the wealthy traders and merchants. From Sichuan came the food of the common people, for, as we all know, some of the best-known Sichuan dishes originated in street stalls. Then there is Hangzhou, whence came the cuisine of the literati. This is the food that takes poetry as its principal inspiration. From commemorating great poems of the past to dining on candlelit barges afloat upon West Lake where wine is drunk and new poems are created, Hangzhou cuisine strives always to delight men of letters. The aesthetic symmetry between food and literature is a pattern without end.'(108, epigraph for Chapter 8)
'This is what you must understand if you are to be a true Chinese chef. Eating is only the beginning of cuisine! Only the start! Listen. Flavor and texture and aroma and all the pleasure - this is no more than the portal. Really great cooking goes beyond this to engage the mind and the spirit - to reflect n art, on nature, on philosophy. To sustain the mind and elevate the spirit of the meishijia. Never cook food just to be eaten...'(116)
'Did you ever want something so deeply you were scared to let yourself have it? ...
Like a desire so great you know you will never forgive yourself i you fail. So you hang back. ...
And then you wake up one day and you realize if you don't do it now, it will move out of reach forever?'(133)
'From the family on out, food was at the heart of China's human relationships. It was the basic fulcrum of interaction. All meals were shared. Nothing was ever plated for the individual. She realized this was exactly the opposite from the direction in which Eurocentric cuisine seemed to be moving - toward the small, the stacked, the precious, above all the individual presentation. The very concept of individual presentation was alien here. And that made everything about eating different.'(145)
a Mariner book Nook edition
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves--fingersmiths--for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.
One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives--Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of--passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum. With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways...
But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.
What Hooked Me:
This enjoyable book delivered what it promised: an intricate plot that offers surprising multilayer unravelings with an unexpected and equally important emotional involvement to boot!! This convoluted plot is also the main reason that a lot of 'spoiler passages' from the last 150 pages of the book have been omitted from this post.
'My name in those days, was Susan Trinder. People called me Sue. I know the year I was born in, but for many years I did not know the date, and took my birthday at Christmas. I believe I am an orphan. My mother I know is dead. But I never saw her, she was nothing to me.'(opening lines)
'He never took chances: that's what made him so good. Everything that came into our kitchen looking like one sort of thing, was made to leave it again looking quite another. And though it had come in the front way -- the shop way, the Lant Street way -- it left by another way, too. It left by the back.'(13)
'In short, there was not much that was brought to our house that was not moved out of it again, rather sharpish. There was only one thing, in fact, that had come and got stuck -- one thing that had somehow withstood the tremendous pull of that passage of poke -- one thing that Mr Ibbs and Mrs Sucksby seemed never to think to put a price to.
I mean of course, Me.'(14)
'Dark nights are good to thieves and fencing-men; dark nights in winter are the best nights of all, for then regular people keep close to their homes, and the swells all keep to the country, and the grand houses of London are shut up and empty and pleading to be cracked. We got lots of stuff on nights like these, and Mr Ibbs's profits were higher than ever. The cold makes thieves come to a bargain very quick.'(17)
'We need a name that will hide you, not bring you to everyone's notice. We need a name' -- he thought it over -- 'an untraceable name, yet one we shall remember ... Brown? To match your dress? Or -- yes, why not? Let's make it, Smith. Susan Smith.' He smiled. 'You are to be a sort of smith, after all. This sort, I mean.'
He let his hand drop, and turned it, and crooked his middle finger; and the sign, and the word he meant -- fingersmith -- being Borough code for thief, we laughed again.'(37)
'She was certainly, then, what you would call original. But was she mad, or even half-way simple, as Gentleman said at Lant Street? I did not think so, then. I thought her only pretty lonely, and pretty bookish and bored -- as who wouldn't be, in a house like that?'(69)
'When Gentleman came, the show gave a kind of jog. There was a growling of the levers, people quivering for a second upon their sticks, the carving of one or two new grooves; and then it all went on, smooth as before, but with scenes in a different order.'(93)
'We were thinking of secrets. Real secrets, and snide. Too many to count. When I try now to sort out who knew what and who knew nothing, who knew everything and who was a fraud, I have to stop and give it up, it makes my head spin.'(95)
'She sleep at once, and heavily, as housemaids do. She smells of a violet facecream. Her gown has ribbons upon it, at the breast, and I find them out with my gloved hands and hold them while I wait for sleep to come -- as if I am tumbling into perfect darkness and they are the ropes that will save me.
I am telling you this so that you might appreciate the forces that work upon me, making me what I am.'(158)
'Perhaps children are like horses after all, and may be broken. My uncle returns to his mess of papers, dismissing us; and I go docilely back to my sewing. It is not the prospect of a whipping that makes me meek. It is what I know of the cruelty of patience. There is no patience so terrible as that of the deranged. I have seen lunatics labour at endless tasks -- conveying sand from one leaking cup into another; counting the stitches in a fraying gown, or the motes in a sunbeam; filling invisible ledgers with the resulting sums. Had they been gentlemen, and rich -- instead of women -- then perhaps they would have passed as scholars and commanded staffs. -- I cannot say.'(160)
'The world calls it pleasure. My uncle collects it -- keeps it ordered, on guarded shelves; but keeps it strangely -- not for its own sake, no, never for that; rather, as it provides fuel for the satisfying of a curious lust.
I mean, the lust of the bookman.'(165)
'On the contrary. How could it be a misfortune to be wise? I can never be deceived, for instance, in the matter of a gentleman's attentions. I am a connoisseur of all the varieties of methods by which a gentleman might seek to compliment a lady.'(177)
'The rareness of the article is relative to the desire of the heart that seeks it.'(179)
'We are not meant for common usage, my fellow books and I. My uncle keeps us separate from the world. He will call us poisons; he says we will hurt unguarded eyes. Then again, he names us his children, hid foundlings, that have come to him, from every corner of the world -- some rich and handsomely provided for, some shabby, some injured, some broken about the spine, some gaudy, some gross. For all that he speaks against them, I believe he likes the gross ones best; for they are the ones that other parents -- other bookmen and collectors, I mean -- cast out. I was like them, and had a home, and lost it --'(181)
'She will be distracted by the plot into which I shall draw her. She will be like everyone, putting on the things she sees the constructions she expects to find there.'(188)
'Don't misunderstand me. Don't think me more scrupulous than I am. It's true I shudder in fear -- fear of his plot -- fear of its success, as well as of its failure. But I tremble, too, at the boldness of him -- or rather, his boldness sets me quivering, as they say a vibrating string will find out unsuspected sympathies in the fibres of idle bodies. I saw in ten minutes what your life has made of you, he said to me, that first night. And then: I think you are half a villain already. He was right. If I never knew that villainy before -- or if, knowing it, I never named it -- I know it, name it, now.'(195)
'But I am not sorry, I am only amazed. Not to read! It seems to me a kind of fabulous insufficiency -- like the absence, in a martyr or a saint, of the capacity for pain.'(203)
'She lets one fall, and has not seen it: the two of hearts. I place my heel upon it, imagining on of the painted red hearts my own; and I grind it into the carpet.'(214)
'I wake to moan and long for slumber -- for always, at the last, comes the remembrance, sharp and fearful, of where I truly lie, how I arrived there, who and what I am.'(289)
'A tumbling stream of things -- not like the books that came to Briar, that came as if sinking to rest on the bed of a viscid sea, through dim and silent fathoms; nor like the things the books described, the things of convenience and purpose -- the chairs, the pillows, the beds, the curtains, the ropes, the rods...
There are no books, here. There is only life in all its awful chaos. And the only purpose the things are made to serve, is the making of money.'(301)
a Riverhead Book Nook edition