Archive for May, 2011

My Korean Deli

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

By Ben Ryder Howe

The Short Take:

The true story of an uber WASP joining with his Korean wife and inlaws to purchase and run a deli in Brooklyn can’t help but be quite amusing. However, Howe made this journey a memoir about himself and , frankly, he’s the least interesting character.

Why?

The book is an enjoyable read. It is quite funny at times and peppered with those delightful characters that only come from the real world. But…  OK, I admit I am not a memoir fan, though maybe I’ve just read the wrong ones. Reading about others’ self-examinations and insights simply tends to irritate me.

Howe didn’t go too terribly far in that self-analysis direction but whenever he did, I lost interest. I just can’t appreciate how miserable it must be working with George Plimpton (!) as senior editor for the highly prestigious The Paris Review. Wah, wah.

But I sure wish there had been more about the deli, his bulldog of a mother-in-law, Kay, his strangely forgetful wife, and the other intriguing characters in this book.  Judging from the tantalizing small  tastes Howe provided, a book centered on any of them could be a feast.

Reading along, one also experienced far too many “Wait a minute, what happened with…?” moments. Situations would be brought up, presented as important developments or potential conflicts, and then disappear unresolved. I kept expecting the tale to wind back to them again, but it never happened.

I wish Howe would write this book again, with himself in the background. Now THAT would be a grand read indeed.

A Little Plot:

Howe’s wife, Gab, decides she wants to thank her mother for all her sacrifices by buying her a deli (don’t ask me to explain the logic). Mom (Kay), she and Howe will be the owners. It takes awhile to find the right one and once they do things get off to a rocky start. Then unexpected debts start rearing their heads.

Meanwhile, Howe is trying to hide his waning interest in The Paris Review from owner Plimpton, and is worried about the literary magazine’s future as well as the deli.

In addition to juggling duties at the magazine and the deli, Howe struggles to reconcile his ancestors-on-the-Mayflower, conservative, Puritan upbringing with the social and mental skills necessary for a risk-taking entrepreneur.

I fyou want to know more, I found this interview with the author: Just click here.

A Red Herring Without Mustard

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

By Alan Bradley

The Short Take:

Another thoroughly enjoyable Flavia de Luce mystery novel by the ever-entertaining Alan Bradley. This is his third entry and I do believe they just keep getting better. I can barely stand the wait for the next one.

Why?

Bradley writes an all-ages book (well, maybe for 10 or 12 and above, depending on the kid) that any adult can thoroughly enjoy. Flavia is smart, energetic,inquisitive, and determined. She also has a passion for chemistry, which plays at least a minor role in every mystery she solves. Who could ask for a better role model for girls?

In addition, the mystery plot has as many red herrings and complexities as you’ll find in any adult crime novel. But if also features a sweet and engaging innocence, largely due to Bradley’s brilliant choice of 1950s rural England as the setting. Murder and mayhem might take place, but it’s never quite what you think.

Flavia’s family — a distant father who lives for his stamps, two older sisters who pick on Flavia relentlessly, a missing/dead mother (I continue to hold out hope), and an enigmatic family retainer — bring wonderful texture to these books, from their fascinating personalities to the decaying estate they call home.

If only Nancy Drew had been a quarter this good! An eighth!

A Little Plot:

After accidently burning down a gypsy’s fortune telling tent, Flavia guides the older woman’s caravan to a secluded place on her family’s estate as a way of saying “sorry.” Unfortunately the gypsy is badly beaten and, if Flavia had not come upon her, would have died.

Distraught, Flavia tries to figure out the who and why of this assault. Meanwhile, a murder, stolen antiques, an odd religious sect, and a missing baby all add to the mystery’s complexity. Are Flavia and her trusty bike, Gladys, up to the challenge? What do you think?

To visit Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce website, click here.

The Tiger’s Wife

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

By Téa Obreht

The Short Take:

I loved reading this book but am not at all sure what to say about it in hindsight. It takes a magical realism approach to exploring the life of a prominent physician in the Balkans through war and peace. Every page was a joy to read, but somehow I was vaguely dissatisfied in the end.

Why?

Ostensibly this book is about a young woman doctor, Natalia, who is trying to piece together secrets from her grandfather’s past in order to better understand his death. To me, it was more about her grandfather’s life, from the people he grew up with, through the wars and the dissolution of his country (think Yugoslavia), and his life-changing encounters with a tiger, the tiger’s wife, and a deathless man.

Key characters of his childhood village are introduced then later given backstories which may or may not change how you feel about them. Death and war and the way people embrace or deny them are a constant theme. The writing is lyrical, the creativity obvious. But, somehow, the end felt flat footed compared to the rest of this wondrous novel. Don’t get me wrong — it’s still well worth reading. And it is surely quite possible that I just didn’t “get it.”

A Little Plot:

Natalie is carrying vaccines to an orphanage when she learns her grandfather has died in some remote village that no one has heard of. As she goes about her own tasks and strives to locate this village, she thinks back on tales her grandfather told her: a man he met who could not die; a tiger that roamed outside his village and befriended a deaf-mute girl; how he came to be a doctor.

She also reflects on their own shared past, from daily trips to the zoo to the distances that grew between them as she matured. The narrative vacillates between various times in the past and the present but is presented in such a way that is fairly easy to keep track of and keeps you wondering what happens next.

For more about the author, click here.

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