April 16 Reads

Now that Spring is officially here, I was hoping to settle down on the patio chair with a book and a cup of tea on weekends. What ends up happening is I wake up at noon and most of the time goes either in catching up on TV series or just heading out. I started a new routine wherein I wake up a few minutes earlier than intended, make myself a cup of coffee in microwave and read a couple of pages while I finish the aforementioned coffee. While it isn’t much in the way of progress, it does give me that tiny bit of satisfaction.

The Fur Person by May Sarton was the first book I’ve read this April. This is a short and sweet narrative of a stray cat who considers himself The Cat Person and his quest to find the perfect human to cater to his needs. Highly recommended for all cat lovers!

April was also a month where it took me longer to finish some of the books and as a result, I was able to get through only a few –

brooklyncColm Toibin’s Brooklyn was bittersweet yet an intense and fabulous read! This coming of age novel traces Eilis Lacey’s journey from small town Ireland to America as she struggles to overcome home-sickness while gathering the courage to sit for bookkeeping certifications. She finds friends in the unlikeliest places and so does romance come eventually.

A tragedy in the family turns out to be a test in disguise, for the choices she must make means leaving a loved one behind. Its as cryptic as I can get without giving away much. The prose was beautiful, slow paced and evocative prompting the readers to close their eyes and picture the scenes, Eilis’s emotions as she struggles to take the right step or say the right words. With the exception of perhaps the last few pages which were a tad too long, this book is simply beautiful. I loved it more than Nora Webster.

 

avmbkAnimal, Vegetable, MiracleBarbara Kingsolver’s books had rave reviews on both amazon and goodreads, especially her latest book titled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This lengthy book documents Kingsolver’s year long experiences as she and her family embark on a transformative phase of moving from Tucson, Arizona to their ancestral farm in Appalachians, of moving from grocery store purchases to sustaining themselves on fresh seasonal produce grown on their farm by the family. As Kingsolver notes, the journey is tough at first what with having to give up soda, candies, fruits and a lot more items, then making the resolve to buy seasonal produce at the local farmers market. She also provides plenty of facts and numbers on the amount of fuel consumed for moving food across the countries, amount of fuel consumed to get out-of-season produce to the grocery stores across the US. Another alarming fact which I was vaguely aware of having seen the struggles of farmers in India is the extensive control that Monsanto has over the seed and fertiliser market, its quest to crush farmers who are trying to save the genetic strains of vegetables and fruits that were consumed by Americans centuries ago not to mention the hidden havoc that GMO crops might be wreaking on human bodies (the rise of allergies).

Overall, this was an eye-opener for me and R as we are trying our best to stick to seasonal produce. While in New Jersey, we often bought locally grown organic produce, this book just strengthened my belief to hopefully continue the same in Cali.

 

lalaLyrics AlleyLeila Aboulela’s depiction of life in Sudan and Egypt in the early 1950s through the lives of Mahmoud Bey Abuzeid, his family and friends evokes the times gone by when peace and prosperity ruled Africa. The story is inspired by the accounts of Aboulela’s uncle who was a poet and this can be witnessed through the lyrics and poems composed by Nur Abuzeid, the heir apparent of the Abuzeid dynasty, whose dreams are dashed by a fatal accident. Nur’s journey in seeking solace from a broken heart and a broken body forms the crux of Lyrics Alley. Beautiful and vivid portrayal of characters, each with their own background. The story also portrays the transformation they undergo following Nur’s accident.

For me, it is also a book that gives you glimpses into a world where things are perfect, just the way you would like them, a sudden catastrophic event could change everything and everyone you’ve ever known. Religion, politics and women’s liberation form a strong backdrop as witnessed through the conversations between the protagonists and the surrounding cast of characters. Yet another all-time favorite!

 

Deborah Madison popped up on my radar through a chance search on Amazon. Seeing how her books were rated high on goodreads, I borrowed The Greens Cookbook and Local Flavors from the library. Madison lists off the popular recipes that she and her team created at her famous restaurant in the Greens Cookbook. Also, this one is predominantly aimed at Vegetarians. Local Flavors on the other hand touches lightly on meat and poultry based dishes and when I say lightly, I mean a few recipes are scattered about. What Local Flavors does highlight is the importance of using fresh seasonal produce, the flavor profile of unusual varieties of greens not to mention exotic fruits and vegetables. I loved the Greens Cookbook a lot more than I did the Local Flavors.

And then came May!

March 16 Reads

It was sunny and cold in California this March…weekends typically were cloudy and sometimes rainy courtesy El Nino. Lot of greenery around after a long time yet I wish it rained a lot more so we could officially move out of the drought.

While most of my weekends were spent outdoors, I did manage to sneak in a few books albeit aggressively and these include –

  1. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (link to review)
  2. India through images and words by Mark Emeola – This big book with gorgeous photographs from all over India had me and R drooling, and making wistful travel plans within India – be it to visit the beautiful and stately palaces in Rajasthan or the ethereal ruins at Hampi and Konark or the lush green places in Kerala. Reality is quite different when we land in India…almost always visiting relatives or running between 2 cities to pacify in-laws and parents who discreetly make plans to include temple trips should we ever speak of visiting any of these places. Nope, not happening! So we settled to wistfully mull over the compositions, colors and locales.
  3. Marvel Encyclopedia 75th Anniversary Edition – Contrary to my expectations I have become a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU as it is known as. So when I stumbled on the encyclopedia at the library, I just had to borrow it to know the character history. The giant book literally took me 3 weeks to finish as I pored over the book like I was preparing for a test, one of R’s constant jokes. Just reading about character histories for Cap America, Whitney Frost, Hawkeye, Jean Grey and all the X-men…ooh it was heavenly though the MCU seems to differ from the comics universe!
  4. Vampires in the Lemon GroveKaren Russell’s short stories and fiction in general, have always challenged my patience and attention. This has nothing to do with her writing or the subjects she chooses to portray by marrying fantasy with realism, it in fact has everything to do with my feeble impatient attempts to read between the lines considering every tale is infused with deep meaningful undertones of events and experiences that shape the current generations. For that alone, I recommend you try Karen Russell to decide for yourself whether you enjoy her writing or not.
  5. Lord Krishna’s Cuisine by Yamuna Devi – This hardbound voluminous book covers different variations of vegetarian recipes from western and southern part of India. It may very well have covered some of the dishes from the north but like I mentioned, it’s all variations. As to the quintessential question of whether the recipes taste any good, I did try the rice khichdi which tasted all right, suppose it had to do more with adjusting measurements than following the recipe to the T. It’s one of the books that covers a wide variety of Indian vegetarian dishes. Yamuna Devi also covers measurements, spices and instructions for preparing basic ingredients in great detail. My only peeve is that there aren’t many visual representations of the dishes which makes some of them hard to imagine. Other than that, this is definitely a book you must add to your list if you are looking around for vegetarian recipes.
  6. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by Ryan Stradal – This is my personal thought but I suppose books which can be labeled food memoirs or food fiction have gained popularity probably because recipe books have become so predictable. Imagine entering a fictional world, where the protagonist either speaks of his/her past while doling out the recipe from their family books or a 3rd person fiction, where you turn a page and delight yourself for finding a recipe. Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a great coming-of-age story with plenty of emphasis on family and relationships. Through the life journey of Eva Thorvald, Stradal explores the depth of the relationships between parents and children, and of teens foraying into their first relationship – be it the first impressions, the anxiety of pleasing loved ones and the disappointment when that fails.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

When 21st Century Fox released the film titled The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2013, R & I could scarcely contain our excitement to watch this one of a kind film featuring the creme de creme not to mention Dev Patel whose rise to fame rests on The Slumdog Millionaire. I wasn’t aware that this film might be based on a book that is so little known. While surfing Amazon recently, I discovered the book version written by Deborah Moggach and thanks to the lovely local library, was able to reserve this book instantly.bestexotic

As is common with any films based on books, the characters, their background stories and relationships differed a lot between the book and the screen. For instance, Sunny the energetic and ever optimistic hotel owner portrayed by Dev Patel is described as a corpulent and energetic personality whose enterprising schemes often come across as ruthless to the parties concerned. The book also features plenty of ancillary characters to support the plot and remind the readers of the protagonists’ travails in their home country. Though enjoyable, there were often times when monotony would set in and I had to force myself to plod through the uninteresting details just to get through the book.

What Fox did was create an energetic gala romantic drama out of an otherwise quiet and contemplative story, while retaining the essence of the characters. One character that quickly became my favorite was Evelyn, for her tenacity and patience in the face of an adversity. The optimism she displays at such a ripe old age while striving to create a niche for herself is incredible. The sequel which was released early this year in March, was equally entertaining if somewhat predictable. An amusing coincidence was that we watched both the films in the week of our wedding anniversary.