This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki, Mariko Tamaki

18465566Paperback, 320 pages
Expected publication: May 6th 2014 by First Second
Source: Publisher

Synopsis:
Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rosie’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. One of the local teens – just a couple of years older than Rose and Windy – is caught up in something bad… Something life threatening.

It’s a summer of secrets, and sorrow, and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

Review:

This book – what a book. Rich and provocative, beautiful and poignant – honestly I lack the words to properly convey how much this book meant to me.

I had the kind of ideal childhood that people usually read about. Rambunctious cousins, felicity of the mornings, sugarcane farms, freshly tilled fields and an innocence that permeated our lives. The art in this graphic novel evoked the feelings in me that growing in Fiji made me feel. Jillian manages to capture, for me, that exuberance of childhood. Those golden moments suspended in time and memory where all was right with the world and life was all about the feel of the sand under our feet.

Rose and Windy are two friends who meet once a year when their families go out to their summer cabins in Awago. Rose and Windy are both on the cusp of, if not adulthood, then something, that transient period of existence which is less innocent than childhood but less cynical than adulthood. Rose’s mother is going through issues which are real and serious but at the same time, does not excuse the way Rose is treated. I often feel that parents ask children to understand things they are not equipped to. They are often told to excuse crappy parenting simply because the parents are going through stuff and I don’t know how I feel about that. I mean, I understand that parents are people and are individuals with lives and feelings outside of their relationship with their children but at the same time, I resent that children have to bear burdens they are too young for. I aligned myself with Rose and felt as angry as she did at her mother. I loved her father because Rose loved him.

Then there’s Windy who is a Puck-like character, fey, fickle and oddly difficult to pin down. She straddles both childhood and adolescence and her innocence is charming. She is a great foil to Rose’s character who is calm and more acerbic understandably. Their friendship is subtle; one initially maintained by habit but by the end sustained by a sincere fondness for each other. I love how subtle everything is in the novel. Mariko’s writing is perfectly in tune with the truly gorgeous art and multiple readings will evoke multiple flavours from the narrative.

Rose and Windy both do some growing up in the course of the narrative. Interestingly enough, they are, oftentimes, situated as viewers and observers whether of movies or of real life and I guess that is kind of what growing up is all about. When you stop observing and start taking part? When you separate yourself from your parents and start acting on your own. I don’t know what else to say except that I truly loved this book.

I sincerely recommend this book to anyone who loves beautiful books.

My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz

18209508Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Ten Speed Press
Source: Publisher

Synopsis:
A collection of stories and 100 sweet and savory French-inspired recipes from popular food blogger David Lebovitz, reflecting the way Parisians eat today and featuring lush photography taken around Paris and in David’s Parisian kitchen.

It’s been ten years since David Lebovitz packed up his most treasured cookbooks, a well-worn cast-iron skillet, and his laptop and moved to Paris. In that time, the culinary culture of France has shifted as a new generation of chefs and home cooks—most notably in Paris—incorporates ingredients and techniques from around the world into traditional French dishes.
In My Paris Kitchen, David remasters the classics, introduces lesser-known fare, and presents 100 sweet and savory recipes that reflect the way modern Parisians eat today. You’ll find Soupe à l’oignon, Cassoulet, Coq au vin, and Croque-monsieur, as well as Smoky barbecue-style pork, Lamb shank tagine, Dukkah-roasted cauliflower, Salt cod fritters with tartar sauce, and Wheat berry salad with radicchio, root vegetables, and pomegranate. And of course, there’s dessert: Warm chocolate cake with salted butter caramel sauce, Duck fat cookies, Bay leaf poundcake with orange glaze, French cheesecake…and the list goes on. David also shares stories told with his trademark wit and humor, and lush photography taken on location around Paris and in David’s kitchen reveals the quirks, trials, beauty, and joys of life in the culinary capital of the world.

Review:

Anyone who knows me will be shocked to see me with a cook book. I’m not exactly known for my cooking prowess but not being able to cook does not at all hamper my love for food. Even though I only eat halal, and dishes with bacon and pork etc. don’t do anything for me, I can still substitute for another or just look at another recipe. I also read somewhere that watching people eat is the same as eating yourself – that is, the brain releases the same chemicals it would when the person eats as when the person watches someone else eat. No wonder Food TV is so popular.

That said, David Lebovitz’s The Paris Kitchen is not just a compendium of scrumptious sounding recipes but also a rather intimate look into Lebovitz’s life as he writes about not just the food but the people and places in Paris that he came across a particular dish or ingredient. The volume offers an amazing window into Parisian food culture and shows how food is not just something eaten to fill oneself but irrevocably interwoven in peoples’ lives and cultures. The many photographs in the volume help to visualize the dishes and create keen appetites.

I also like that the cookbook is not aimed at any particular gender or age group. The book is for anyone who appreciates the fine art of cooking and eating. I recommend it heartily to aficionados of food, Paris and French culture.

Review: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

17412780Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 19th 2013 by Quirk Books
Source: Publisher

Synopsis:
You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.

Review:

Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie is a much more expansive look at princesses than the ones afforded by Disney. Written as a response to the very same Disney princesses who have created a princess culture characterized by consumption, the volume looks at the real princesses who have dotted human history with their exploits of both the scandalous and courage variety.

I agree with McRobbie that Disney’s princess culture is problematic and that parents need to be aware of all the things that these princesses stand for and signify. Princesses Behaving Badly is a brilliant answer to these rather uniform fictional constructs and goes a long way to remind people that real life is just as rich and fascinating, real people are just as complex and crazy as their fictional counterparts.

The book is split into sections and McRobbie organizes the princesses by their defining characteristic. There are warrior princesses, manipulative princesses, crazy princesses and party princesses. She does not attempt to box them into these singular traits though, this is just to create a semblance of order to the princesses.

And these princesses are so varied: the Chinese princesses who controls an army of 70 000 soldiers, the Indian princess who was killed for her efforts during the second world war, the not-crazy princess who was locked into her room and was refused when she asked to see her children. There is one thing that becomes clear when reading about these women who dot the landscape of human history: all of their lives were moulded by the men who tried to control them and when they couldn’t control them, they killed them. Between the lives lived and the deaths faced by these women are the whispers of the men who profited off them. It is a chilling realization that the history of women, who we were, is so reliant upon the scribblings of men.

Anyway, this book is brilliant and it should be used as reference material for authors looking to bring princesses to life. There are many women here who could inspire heroines who are not afraid to take their life in their own hands, damn the consequences. I think each one of you should read this book and even if it just at a glimpse, get to know these real life princesses who are diverse, brilliant, flawed, evil, good.

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

18242896Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Delacorte Press
Source: Publisher

The Here and Now comes with a fantastic premise and from an author with a solid reputation for storytelling. I expected to like it a lot. I expected to tear into it and not let go until I was done reading the last page at least five times. I loved the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Brashares won me over with her characters and her word weaving and I wanted a repeat of the magic. Granted her starcrossed lovers book didn’t do anything for me especially considering the presence of another book with very similar characters and premise released at the same time but we’re talking about The Here and Now now.

So the book starts off on a bad note, for me. The prologue has the love interest seeing the protagonist, Prenna, appearing, naked, out of nowhere, in the middle of a stream. He falls immediately in love and it is established that she is SUPERAWESOMELY AWESOME beautiful. Then he, being the chivalrous dude he is, gives her his jacket to cover her nakedness, and she accepts it and stumbles away from him without saying anything more but definitely taking his heart with her. And that’s that or so we think but unfortunately, she appears in his classroom two years (or so?) later and then the show starts.

So Prenna is a time traveler, no, she’s a fugitive of time. Along with her really useless mother and other horribly useless adults and a missing father she has traveled back in time to, ostensibly, change things so the future doesn’t end up barren and plagued. Only, the time traveling adults do not seem to want to change anything. They have a strict set of rules, actually, they have a little dystopia going on with counsellors and other evil adults making all these rules and not just controlling their movements but putting all time travelers under constant surveillance. Yeah so Prenna doesn’t like any of that since she’s a special snowflake.

She questions even though she’s not supposed to and she is in love with Ethan, the dude who saw her naked arrival into the 21st century. Of course she doesn’t remember him because hey, drama, and to spice up the love stew, there’s the rule that sexytimes are not allowed between time fugitives and time natives. So pent up lust and frustration and whatnot. Then Prenna is told by a random hobo that he might need her help to prevent a murder because apparently that is the pivot point – that is what changes the future.

Then comes action with Prenna kicking ass, behaving stupidly, stealing kisses, guns, maybe some junk food, more kisses, fighting, jails, some introspection and a lot of angst.

The trouble I had with The Here and Now is that it was underwhelming. There is nothing fresh or new about the story line. Everything has been said, done ad infinitum. Prenna as a character brings nothing new to the genre; there are no quirks to her that set her apart in her cohort, she’s not funny, or interesting. Ethan, too, does very little for me as a character though I admit I like him better than Prenna. The parents in this novel are ridiculous. The plot has holes in it – if they succeeded in changing the future, Prenna would disappear as there will be no need for her to travel back in time to do what they did. Right?

I had a lot of expectations for this book – if it was not going to present anything new, I expected it to at least entertain me with the same old story and it failed to do even that. So I’m afraid I cannot recommend this to you. Check this out of the library or read a sample before you buy this.

The ACB with Honora Lee by Kate De Goldi

16126609Hardcover, 120 pages
Published October 2012 by Longacre Press
Source: Publisher

Dear Readers, meet my favourite book of 2014 so far. This non-assuming book that gives no indication that it contains such a magnificent story took me completely by surprise. In a good way. I expected something good, something funny and witty, something that would make me happy but nothing that would linger with me, nothing that would make me crow with delight and announce to all and sundry that this is what good books are about. This little novel transcends its genre limitations and, in my opinion, carves itself a place as a well-loved, long-loved story.

And the way it does this is deceptively simple.

Over at The Book Wars, we’ve been discussing picturebooks in earnest, particularly, the duality it offers to readers. By duality, I mean, it speaks to both adult reader and the child reader. The ACB of Honora Lee accomplishes this feat quite easily.

As an adult reading children’s literature, there are times when I read something in a book that the younger reader probably will not catch or understand. In Honora Lee, I believe that the main character is autistic though this is never said explicitly. There are little mannerisms, little hints of it in Perry’s interaction with the world and some things that Perry’s parents say that give it away. Speaking of Petty’s parents, they are typical overworked parents who have very little time for the daughter they love.

The titular Honora Lee is Perry’s grandmother who, to the bafflement of Perry’s parents, holds great appeal to the nine year old. Perry is determined to spend more than the allocated time with her grandmother and this chance comes along when Perry’s Thursday extracurricular program falls through. Honora Lee is quite old and possibly suffering from Alzheimers, I think, which has her forgetting Perry daily. She lives in a nursing home and that is where Perry finds herself on Thursday afternoons.

The patients in the nursing home, the caretakers of the patients, nurses etc., Perry’s grandmother and Perry herself are such amazing characters. Honora Lee is unlike any grandmother I have met in a fictional setting. I find it so admirable that Goldi is able to express the complexity of Honora’s character using just the interactions between Perry and Honora, and Honora and the other inmates of the nursing home.

The novel, though slight, deals with some really heavy stuff, death being one of them. There is also a really beautiful moment when Perry observes without any intent how her father and his mother, Honora, have a similar mannerism. This stops Perry’s father short and though the child reader probably will not read too much into that, I thought it was a poignant way to show him finding a part of his mother in himself. He doesn’t really understand Honora’s peculiarities and she doesn’t seem to pay him any mind.

Perry’s mission to create an alphabet or rather create a book of the ABC with the letters of people or things she knows, for example, H is for Honora. The whole project is beautifully executed and I only wish it was included with the book so we could see the finished copy of it.

The book itself is really beautifully made, the pages are quality and the illustrations pleasing. I recommend this novel heartily – whether for yourself or for the child in your life. Get it, read it and let it make you happy.