Sunday, September 24, 2017

Something from the Oven by Laura Shapiro

  • THE BOOK
    • Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America by Laura Shapiro
    • Published April 28, 2005
    • Other works by author include: Julia Child, What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories, and Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century.
  • THE PREMISE
    • After World War II women returned to their homes from the wartime work force. 
    • Food businesses were creating new products to make life easier for the modern cook.
      • This went hand in hand with the new appliances for the kitchen.
    • People today assume that everyone ate TV dinners in the 1950s and that women embraced the new frozen foods (and other shortcuts) now available to them.
      • Frozen foods had been around at least since the 1930s but not many stores had the equipment necessary to carry them. This was before the advent of the big supermarkets.
      • I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and TV dinners were special treats, not the norm. My mother cooked most nights and eating out was another rare treat.
        • This jibes with the author's premise that women didn't jump on the frozen food bandwagon in any great way in the 1950s.
    • There are sections covering the frozen food industry, the Pillsbury Bake-Off, Poppy Cannon (The Can-Opener Cookbook), Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking and "The French Chef"), MFK Fisher, Alice B. Toklas Gertrude Stein's partner), Peg Bracken (The I Hate to Cook Book), James Beard, Betty Crocker (not a real person but based on and played by real people) and Betty Friedan, to name a few topics.
      • Poppy Cannon was a new name to me and I found her story fascinating.
        • Her birth name was Lillian Gruskin. She worked as a food writer for several magazines and collaborated with Alice B. Toklas on a food book.
        • She was already married when she met Walter White, who worked for the NAACP (he was eventually head of the organization from 1931-1955).
          • Poppy had been born in South Africa and she was white (also Jewish).
          • Walter had white skin, blue eyes and blond hair. He had 5 black great-great-great grandparents and 27 white ones but as someone born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, he was considered black and that is how he identified.
        • Thanks to the times, and his work with the NAACP, their marriage was an affront to everyone. (That and they were both married to others --- and already had children --- when they fell in love.)
        • They met in 1927 but didn't get married until 1949. He died in 1955 and she died in 1975 (in a fall from the balcony of her 23rd floor apartment in New York City, a possible suicide).

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I have recently read another book by Laura Shapiro (What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories, see review here) and this title looked interesting to me too.
    • I have the 50the anniversary edition of Peg Bracken's The I Hate to Cook Book on hold at the library.
    • I definitely enjoyed the history of the 1950s as related to food. Poppy Cannon was interesting, as stated above, but I also really enjoyed the history of the Pillsbury Bake-Off as well as the creation of Betty Crocker.
    • Recommended for those with an interest in American food history of the 1950s.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen

  • THE BOOK
    • Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen
    • Published June 20, 2017
    • One other book by author: Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema. Also the Culture writer at Buzzfeed.com

  • THE PREMISE
    • From the book jacket blurb: You know the type: the woman who won't shut up, who's too brazen, too opinionated --- too much.
    • The author has written several essays based upon the woman who in her opinion best exemplifies the chapter heading:
      • Too Strong: Serena Williams
      • Too Fat: Melissa McCarthy
      • Too Gross: Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer ("Broad City")
      • Too Slutty: Nicki Minaj
      • Too Old: Madonna
      • Too Pregnant: Kim Kardashian
      • Too Shrill: Hillary Clinton
      • Too Queer: Caitlyn Jenner
      • Too Loud: Jennifer Weiner
      • Too Naked: Lena Dunham

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This was interesting, especially the biographical information on the women spotlighted.
    • I get that society, aka the Internet, labels women like this but it's not a part of the Internet I frequent.
      • I learned more about the Kardashians from watching "The Soup" where Joel McHale showed clips out of context for laughs. 
        • There was a scene in "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" where Kimmy rattles off every current detail about the Kardashians and then wonders, "How do I know all that?" 
          • I totally get this as I somehow learns details of famous people's lives without even trying sometimes, mainly because I read TV and movie entertainment websites.
        • Pop culture insists we hear about certain famous people and their doings even if we don't care or don't want to know!
      • I root for Serena because I think she is awesome in all ways but I don't actually follow tennis anymore. (I was a Chris Evert fan long, long ago.)
      • I enjoy Melissa McCarthy when I see her in something but I don't seek out her films. That said, I just don't watch many current movies anymore so I could say the same thing about almost any movie star!
      • I voted for Hillary because I am a Democrat. Most of my family are Republicans so my vote would be meaningless if they were the only ones who decided elections!
      • I have never watched "Broad City" and I don't think I have read any books by Jennifer Weiner. Sorry, fellow women!
      • I love much of Madonna's work as she began her career when I was in college so it was part of my personal soundtrack.
      • I don't know any of Nicki's music because I have never developed a taste for hip-hop. I know who she is and have never assumed she was "slutty" because of the outfits she wears during her work as a musician.
      • I watched "Girls" and loved it. I also read Lena's book.
    • Advice for those who read this list of names and hate some of them: it's okay to ignore the people you aren't interested in! 
      • Don't like the Kardashians for instance? Don't watch their shows! Don't click on links about them! It's okay!
    • Again, most of this was fairly interesting but because they were personal essays some bias was evident. The author does not seem to like Madonna at all because she IS too old, apparently. 
    • Recommended for those who are interested in popular culture and how society labels women.
    • ★ ★ ★

Monday, September 18, 2017

What She Ate by Laura Shapiro

  • THE BOOK
    • What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro
    • Published July 25, 2017
    • Other works by author are: Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America and Julia Child.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The six women are:
      • Dorothy Wordsworth, sister to poet William
      • Rosa Lewis, cook and caterer of Edwardian England
      • Eleanor Roosevelt
      • Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress/wife
      • Barbara Pym, author
      • Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex & the Single Girl and longtime editor of Cosmopolitan magazine
    • By delving into their eating habits --- or in the cases of Braun and Gurley Brown, non-eating habits --- the author seeks to learn about the women and their lives.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I found this quite interesting. Generally, when you read a biography of someone they seldom mention what or how they ate. This book rectifies that for six women.
    • Here are a few tidbits:
      • I had never heard of Rosa Lewis but her life was used as a basis for the Masterpiece Theatre show, "The Duchess of Duke Street".
        • Interesting to learn about fancy food of those days.
      • Eleanor Roosevelt, who came from a wealthy background, rarely cooked but when she did she used a chafing dish to make scrambled eggs.
        • When the Roosevelts entered the White House, Eleanor hired Henrietta Nesbit. Mrs. Nesbit was a TERRIBLE cook. The scuttlebut in Washington D.C. was that you should make sure you ate before going to the White House for a meal. Some samples:
          • "Eggs Mexican": rice topped with bananas and fried eggs
          • "Pear Salad": canned pears covered in cream cheese, mayonnaise, chives, and candied ginger.
          • Five "stuffed eggs" were supposed to feed 6 people. (It is unclear what stuffed eggs are? Like deviled eggs?)
          • Dinner appetizer: canned, cut pineapple rolled in crushed peppermint candy. (Note to my husband: guess what's for dinner tonight!)
          • "Asheville Salad": canned tomato soup in a gelatin ring mold
          • Probably the best line in the book: "How the men reacted to "Jellied Bouillon Salad' is not recorded."
          • Bess Truman ultimately fired Mrs. Nesbit for continuing to serve brussels sprouts after she was asked not to and she continued to do so anyway.
        • The Roosevelts lived in the White House for 12 years, all with this horrible cook! The author thinks it was one of Eleanor's methods of punishing her husband for his infidelity.
      • Eva Braun was only 17 when she met Hitler and was basically his mistress from then on. She was immature and star struck. Her role was to be the perfect German woman. That meant keeping a good table for Hitler and his cronies but eating very little of it herself.
        • I wonder how the world would have treated Eva had she decided against suicide in the bunker (she was 33). Would she be hated utterly? Something of a celebrity? She would have loved being famous but not being infamous.
      • Helen Gurley Brown ate practically nothing but she would cook regularly for her husband. She made breakfast for him every day. She weighed 105 pounds with a height of 5'4" and was never fat a day in her life.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy reading about food, especially over the last 100 or so years.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

  • THE BOOK
    • The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
      • Book #1 in the Athena Club series
    • Published August 10, 2017
    • Debut novel by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • Mary Jekyll's mother has just died and she is left penniless in 1890s London. Her father died when Mary was a child.
    • Wrapping up business with her mother's lawyer and finding other details in her mother's papers Mary sets off on an adventure across London.
    • Mary meets the following women:
      • Diana Hyde, daughter of Edward Hyde
        • Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde come from the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, the classic case of split personality. Jekyll invents a serum that splits him between good and evil halves. Hyde, the evil persona, soon takes control.
      • Beatrice Rappaccini, daughter of Giacomo Rappaccini
        • Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a short story called "Rappaccini's Daughter" wherein the daughter was raised to take care of poisonous plants and thus became immune to their affects but became poisonous to others through her breath or touch.
      • Catherine Moreau, creation of Dr. Moreau
        • The Island of Dr. Moreau, a novel by H.G. Wells, introduces a man who experiments on animals by vivisection, surgery while the animal is conscious and feels all the pain entailed. Dr. Moreau surgically turns animals into human-like beast folk. Catherine is the last one he creates.
      • Justine Frankenstein, creation of Victor Frankenstein
        • Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley, has the monster demand that Frankenstein create a mate for him. He does but ultimately destroys her. This novel posits that the events actually happened and Mary Shelley had the mate destroyed to hide the fact that Justine escaped.
    • Mary also consults with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson too when murders occur that tie into her story.
      • Many other subsidiary characters in the original stories also appear in this book.
    • This is the first book in a new series called The Athena Club.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I loved this book! 
    • Oddly, I haven't actually ever read any of the source tales but thanks to movies and TV I knew the gist of all the women's stories with the exception of "Rappaccini's Daughter". And of course, we all know about Sherlock Holmes!
    • It takes place in London in the 19th century, one of my favorite eras.
    • The murder mystery is almost incidental because getting the women together is really the most interesting part of the book.
    • It does break my cardinal rule where I generally wait until a series is complete before reading it and I am annoyed that this is indicated nowhere in the book jacket or on Amazon or Good Reads. I think this just might fall under my exception of mystery novels though because the overarching story was about murders.
      • The last section of the book is basically setting up the premise of books to come and I think we will be meeting more characters from works of fiction as we go along. Mina Harker from Dracula, for example.
      • According to the author's website she only has one more book in the series but perhaps this may change.
    • The book is being "written" by Catherine Moreau and we know this because the other female characters interject with asides during the narrative. Sort of like footnotes but right in the middle of the page.
      • Some people found this annoying but I liked it fine and it was a nice little twist on the mystery formula.
    • Recommended for mystery series readers, those who enjoy genre fiction featuring women characters, and fans of 19th century London.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Buried Heart by Kate Elliott

  • THE BOOK
    • Buried Heart (Court of Fives series #3) by Kate Elliott
    • Published July 25, 2017
    • Other works by author include the first two books in this series: Court of Fives and Poisoned Blade; and several other series such as Highroad, Jaran, Black Wolves and Crossroads.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Jessamy is the main character and she is finds herself as part of a rebellion in this YA fantasy novel, the final volume of the series.
    • She loves Prince Kalliarkos but he decides to become king and the king cannot be involved with a half commoner girl so they break up.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I try not to read series anymore unless they have all been published (with a few exceptions, mainly for certain mystery series) and I thought this one was complete when I ordered them at the library a few months ago. 
      • I ended up reading the first two in June and my review is here. I got the last book sometime in August.
    • I guess I kept reading to see how it all turned out but I don't actually remember! Did Jessamy end up with Kalliarkos or not?! Hell if I can recall. Hmm, not a good sign, is it? I was definitely NOT invested in the romance.
    • The general plot was always going to feature Jessamy winning the rebellion and vanquishing her enemies and that's fine. You want to see how everything turns out.
      • One thing that seemed obvious early on was that Jessamy's mother ends up being someone important and she does.
      • Other plot threads were started in the first two books and then sort of dropped or quickly written off.
        • Example: Jessamy's mother gave birth to twins in book 1 but the boy twin dies. His body is then taken over by the soul/lifeforce of a grown man because...magic.
          • Only Jessamy sees the adult in the eyes and actions of the infant but it all basically comes to nothing, with Jessamy's mother merely noting that she knows the baby is not as he seems. Okay then.
    • I am not a fan of the trend where characters are given names that aren't obvious in their pronunciation. I am fine with unusual names but I think some books should have a glossary/pronunciation guide. Sorry, my brain has already purged the examples I had.
    • As you can tell I did not care for the final book of the trilogy which is unfortunate because I really liked the first two.
    • Recommended for die-hard YA fantasy series readers only.
    • ★ ★

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Four Princes by John Julius Norwich

  • THE BOOK
    • Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe by John Julius Norwich
    • Published April 4, 2017
    • Other works by author include A History of Venice; A Short History of Byzantium; The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean; and many more.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The four princes are:
      • King Henry VIII of England, lived 1491-1547
      • King Francis I of France, lived 1494-1547
      • Emperor Charles V, Spanish Empire and Holy Roman Empire, lived 1500-1558
      • Sultan Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire, lived 1494-1566
    • These men all ruled at approximately the same time and were of an age to each other.
    • This work covers their biographies and their wars, conquests, alliances, marriages, and what happened to the succession after their deaths.
    • Sometimes they joined forces; sometimes they were bitter enemies. Sometimes they made alliances and then broke them when expedient to do so.
    • With the exception of Suleiman, whom the other three never met in person, Henry, Charles and Francis had family connections:
      • Henry's sister Mary was briefly married to Francis's cousin, his predecessor as king, Louis XII
      • Charles was Catherine of Aragon's nephew and thus also Henry's by marriage (she was Henry's first wife, the one he divorced for Anne Boleyn)
    • And the Protestant Reformation started with Martin Luther in 1517.
      • Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Muslims.
      • Some things never change...

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The author is what is referred to as a "popular historian" as opposed to an academic historian, who is usually attached to a university. (Some are both.) This generally means the writer tells history emphasizing "narrative, personality and vivid detail over scholarly analysis" per Wikipedia's article on "Popular History".
    • I read a book of the author's a couple of years ago called The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean and it was fascinating. In reading it you understand why war continues even today (hint: religions clash constantly). That book was more detailed than this book.
    • I know quite a bit of Tudor history, especially about Henry VIII, but I did not know much about the other three men. 
      • In many ways it showed Henry as a bystander to all that was happening in the rest of Europe. This was a good perspective to have because when you read a lot of Tudor history you come to see Henry as VERY IMPORTANT in history.
        • But except for history as it relates to England he was actually not a big player on the world stage. And being the father of Elizabeth I.
        • Suleiman's domains spread across east Europe, Charles had control of most of the rest of Europe except for France and England, and Francis held France, right in the middle of Charles' domains.
    • The author is currently 87 and still writes entertaining books. I can only hope I can still READ books if I ever make it to his age!
    • The book is a relatively quick read for a history book and probably a bit more surface than detail.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy general European history of the 16th century. I'm sure there are lots of you out there!
    • ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Caesar's Last Breath by Sam Kean

  • THE BOOK
    • Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean
    • Published July 18, 2017
    • Other works by author: The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements; The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War and Genius as Written by Our Genetic Code; and The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness and Recovery.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The story starts with the idea that when we breathe in we might very well be inhaling a molecule or at least an atom that was exhaled by Julius Caesar as he died on the floor of the Roman Senate. When we inhale and exhale sextillions of molecules enter and leave our lungs. 
    • The book covers the various atoms that make up our air: oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and the rest. In this respect it's a history of the air starting with the beginning of the universe.
    • But the author always includes interesting stories about the people involved.
      • The usual suspects like Einstein, Lavoisier and the Curies as well as the lesser known like Humphrey Davy, Henry Cavendish, Fritz Haber, Le Petomane, and more.
    • Many fascinating topics abound: Mt. Saint Helens (which had its big eruption 2 days before I graduated from high school), spontaneous combustion, nitrous oxide, refrigeration, anesthesia, and Roswell.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I have read every book by the author so I am obviously a fan of his work.
    • This is just a fun way to learn about science: history well seasoned with anecdotes and entertaining stories.
    • The footnotes in the back are worth reading as well because they often have a side note to the main tale. (As opposed to strict scholarly footnotes that are no fun to read at all.)
    • Recommended for those who enjoy science and/or the history of science. And for those who just enjoy a good non-fiction book.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★