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Posts tagged ‘book club’

Review: The Book

The BookThe Book by M. Clifford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steps to freak yourself out:

    1. Buy a Kindle or other e-book device.
    2. Purchase and download the novel The Book by M. Clifford.
    3. Consider yourself freaked out.

One of my book clubs selected the novel “The Book” as our monthly suggestion. I had never heard of this book until fellow bookclubber Joanie added it to her to-read list on goodreads. It sounded like just the sort of book I would enjoy reading (think dystopian novel where books are controlled by “the man”). 

“The Book” is a self-published novel that was release earlier this year. It is set in the United States in the  not too distant future at a time when everyone has an e-reader called “The Book”.  The Book is distributed and automatically updated by The Publishing House.  All books are read in electronic form as paper books are illegal due to environmental laws that have banned the use of paper. 

The lead character, Holden Clifford loves to read. He looks forward to his ride home from work where he can take out his Book and continue reading.  Holden has never read from anything other than The Book.  When he stumbles across a single paper page from “The Catcher in the Rye”,  Holden discovers that the text of his favorite novel is not the same in The Book as when it was originally published.  This leads Holden down the path of figuring out why the contents of The Book were altered and just how many other works have been changed from their original version. 

I highly enjoyed this book.  M. Clifford did an excellent job evoking a nation where what people read and think is highly censored and controlled.  It reminded me of some of my favorite dystopian reads such as Orwell’s 1984 and Bradbury’s Farenheit 451.  If you were a fan of these classic dystopian novels I recommend that you read “The Book”.  I also recommend this book if you love the act of cracking open a book and flipping through the pages…smelling that book scent. 🙂  “The Book” will force you to think about how much we can trust what we read in an electronic medium.

For more information check out the novel’s website:

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Review: The Painted Veil

The Painted VeilThe Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I rented the recent film version of  The Painted Veil (starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts) from Netflix sometime last year when I was deeply entrenched in my pregnancy. I vaguely recall watching it at home alone one Sunday and falling asleep on the ending. Oops, that is what pregnancy did to me…made me take naps in the middle of the day, no matter what else was going on.

So, as I was reading this novel, I had random flashbacks to my slumber-hazed memories of the film. In my mind the lead characters Walter and Kitty Fane were Norton and Watts.  But while the movie made Walter and Kitty equal “leads” in the story, the novel definitely focuses on Kitty.  Kitty is a pretty, young English woman in the early 20th century who clearly enjoys her carefree life of attending parties and socializing and refuses to settle down and get married…that is until her younger and less attractive  sister gets engaged and Kitty feels her mother’s disapproval about her unmarried state. In a panic, she quickly accepts a proposal of marriage from Walter Fane, a serious and taciturn bacteriologist, who she has met a few times at parties.  Kitty doesn’t love Walter but she sees him as a way out of her looming “old maid” status.

If a man hasn’t what’s necessary to make a woman love him, it’s his fault, not hers.

Walter and Kitty move to China where Walter is doing work as a researcher for the government. Kitty quickly becomes bored in her marriage and her husband’s apparent lack of social standing.  She soon becomes involved in an affair with a married man. Walter finds out and gives her an ultimatum: she can either divorce him (and be forever stigmatized as a divorcee) or move with him to the inland China where he has volunteered to help out with a cholera epidemic. Kitty choses to stay married and moves with Walter. This is where the true heart of the novel starts.

Remember that it is nothing to do your duty, that is demanded of you and is no more meritorious than to wash your hands when they are dirty; the only thing that counts is the love of duty; when love and duty are one, then grace is in you and you will enjoy a happiness which passes all understanding.

“The Painted Veil” was a relatively quick read and I quite enjoyed it.  The story focused on a woman character, who while I didn’t like her as a person, kept me engaged. The book makes you think about the choices women make in life and what the ramifications of those choices are. It also makes you think about relationships and what it takes to make them work.  I liked “The Painted Veil” more than I liked Maugham’s “Razor’s Edge” which I read earlier this year. I look forward to reading his work “Of Human Bondage” sometime in the future.  I highly recommend “The Painted Veil” to anyone looking to read a quick, straight-forward, well written work of classic literature.

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Review: The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial PacificThe Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are books that make people on the train do a double-take when they catch a glimpse of the cover. “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” is one of those books. I felt like wearing a sign that said “no, it is not actually about the sex lives of cannibals.”   This provocatively named book is actually a travel memoir of sorts by a 20-something man who moves to the south Pacific island of Kiribati.  Troost and his wife move to the island for 2 years. Troost struggles to adapt to life on the island.  With a strong dose of dry wit and sarcasm, he writes of his tribulations with everything from the extreme temperature, the strange customs of the locals and the lack of everyday comforts he was used to from his life before he moved to the island.

What he thought would be an island paradise ends up being a place where the locals defecate in the ocean. Sounds like a perfect tropical beach destination, right??

I think the one topic in this book that made me never want to live on Kiribati was the descriptions of what the average diet on the island was like…not very appealing…  like on Hawaii, the islanders find Spam to be a delicacy.  Also, one would think that being on an island the residents would have a diet full of fresh seafood…not so much.  One other island delicacy is dog.  (for more on eating dogs, see the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. 😉 )

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Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

When this book was picked as our monthly book club selection there were quite a few people who said “Ugh, not a dog book!”. I will admit I have been waffling over the past year as to whether to read The Art of Racing in the Rain or not. On the one hand I had heard good things about the book but on the other hand I am generally not a fan of sappy animal books.

Well, I read it and found it to be a quick read that I looked forward to picking up. I enjoyed that it was told from the perspective of the dog…a philosophical dog who enjoyed watching TV and tapes of his master, Denny, racing cars. I was not a big fan of all the “life is like auto racing” chapters. I am not a car racing fan so those chapters kind of irked me and I freely admit that I started to skim those parts to get to the others chapters more quickly. “The Art of Racing…” was one of those books that made me cry at the end. Of course, I was on the train when I was reading the ending…but I sucked it up and held back those tears. Small victories!

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Case Histories

Case Histories: A Novel Case Histories: A Novel by Kate Atkinson

 rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kate Atkinson writes distinct unforgettable novels. Case Historiesis the fourth novel by Atkinson that I’ve read. In this twist on a detective novel, Atkinson weaves together 3 different cold case mysteries–2 sisters whose baby sister went missing decades earlier, a man whose daughter was murdered by an unknown man, and a woman searching for her lost niece. Jackson Brodie is the private investigator working these cases.  He’s a bit of a loner with a life that is in shambles. He’s recently divorced and his 8-year old daughter dresses like Britney Spears.

Jackson has never felt at home in Cambridge, never felt at home in the south of England if it came to that. He had come here more or less by accident, following a girlfriend and staying for a wife.  For years, he had thought about moving back north, but he knew he never would. There was nothing there for him, just bad memories and a past he could never undo, and what was th point anyway when France was laid out on the other side of the channel like an exotic patchwork of sunflowers and grapevines and little cafes where he could sit all afternoon drinking a local wine and bitter espressos and smoking Gitanes, where everyone would say, Bonjour Jackson, except they would pronounce it “zhaksong”, and he would be happy. Which was exactly the opposite of what he felt now.

Though the subject matter was a bit dark, what with children going missing and people being murdered, the book was still laced with dry British humor.  I found myself silently chuckling a few times while reading Case Historieson the train. I didn’t really like Jackson at the beginning of the novel but grew to like him more as the story went on.

We discussed Case Histories in one of my book clubs and it led to a great discussion. We touched on topics such as sibling relationships, parent-child dynamics, and and how people gain closure and re-establish their lives after a tragic event.

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Mister Pip

Mister Pip Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love reading novels where books play an important part in the story. Mister Pip is one such book. As you may guess from the title, the book in question in this tale is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I had to read Great Expectations for a high school literature class and adored it (thank you Mrs. Johnson!).  In fact, I often compare people to Miss Havisham. (so watch out if you wear a ratty old wedding dress because you may be my next victim!).

Mister Pip is narrated by 13-year old Mathilda, who lives on a tropical island that is caught up in a war. The teacher and most of the male villagers have left. The sole remaining white man, Mr. Watts, takes it upon himself to provide the village’s children with an eduction and so begins reading to them from a copy of Great Expectations.  Mathilda quickly becomes utterly fascinated with the novel.

I had never been read to in English before. Nor had the others. We didn’t have books in our homes, and before the blockade our only books had come from Moresby, and those were written in pidgin. When Mr. Watts read to us we fell quiet. It was a new sound in the world. He read slowly so we heard the shape of each word.

Mister Pip is about the power of literature and stories and how they can help us escape the issues we face in our everyday life and how they can influence the way we interact with the world. The very fact that Mr. Watts reads Great Expectations to the villagers ends up having a profound impact on their lives.

This was the first book by Lloyd Jones that I have read. I found it engaging and charming.  It wasn’t as much of a light-hearted read  as I had initially thought it would be based on the synopsis I read, but I enjoyed the take on how a work of literature could so strongly influence the main character Mathilda’s life.  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed The Book Thief or The Shadow of the Wind, both of which are also novels about how books had an effect on a young person’s life during times of war and unrest.

Mister Pip was awarded the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

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Cuchi Cuchi

Cuchi Cuchi
795 Main St.
Cambridge, MA 02139


 cuchicuchi1My book club held its March meeting at Cuchi Cuchi in Central Square in Cambridge. This was my first time dining at Cuchi Cuchi despite it being so close to my office. Now I am mad at myself for waiting so long to check it out.

Cuchi Cuchi has a vibe all its own with ornate decor that is reminiscent of the roaring 20’s. An atmosphere that is only enhanced by the female waitstaff decked out in duds that reflect the era. The menu is made up mostly of small plates ($8-15) with influences from around the globe. There’s also a fabulous cocktail menu with a plethora of martinis and other mixed libations.


We each ordered 2 small plates, which was plenty of food. I started with the Savory Coronets with Tuna Tartare and Avocado Mousse (3 for $13), which Cuchi Cuchi describes as “Our Signature dish with a nod to Thomas Keller, The French Laundry”.  Thomas Keller is one of those chefs that I am just in awe of, so I had to order this. The three crispy cones stuffed with tuna tartare came served upright in a cute little rack.  I loved the presentation and they were tasty, but not my favorite preparation of tuna tartare ever.


I also ordered the beef stroganoff ($14), 3 chunks of sirloin with shallot and mushroom sauce served over egg noodles. The stroganoff was satisfying and filling, the perfect comfort food.


To end our meal we ordered the French Banana Bread Extravaganza and the Cornucopia, a pizelle cone filled with fresh fruit, pureed mango, and whipped cream. I found the cornucopia to be a very refreshing way to end the meal…then mango puree acted as the perfect palate cleanser.

I give Cuchi Cuchi 4 out of 5 mangoes. They are an ideal locale for a girls night out with a fun and funky atmosphere and creative cocktails.

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Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses: A Novel Out Stealing Horses: A Novel by Per Petterson

rating: 4 of 5 stars

 Out Stealing Horses is a  quiet tale about  Trond Sander, a 67-year old Norwegian man who after running into a former neighbor begins reminiscing about his life. In particular, his flashbacks focus on a summer from when he was a teenager during World War II and lived with his father in a remote area of Norway near the Swedish border.   During this time, their neighbors  experience a traumatic event that also effect Trond and his father. The prose is stark and bleak and seamlessly transitions between the flashbacks and the present day as Trond goes about his solitary days working around his cabin.

It is important not to be careless about supper when you are alone. It is easily done, boring as it is to cook for one person only. There must be potatoes, sauce, and green vegetables, a napkin and a clean glass and the candles lit on the table, and no sitting down in your working clothes. So while the potatoes are boiling I go into the bedroom and change my trousers, put on a clean white shirt and go back to the kitchen and lay a cloth on the table before putting butter into the frying pan to fry the fish I have caught in the lake by myself.

 Two of my book clubs selected Out Stealing Horses as their March book. The two different clubs were very aried on their opinions of the book–one book club didn’t like it very much at all and the other one did.  I personally found the book very readable and enjoyed it.  Everybody needs a little bleakness in their leisure reading now and again. 😉 Others found it “boring and depressing.” 

Out Stealing Horses was the winner of the IMPAC Dublin Award. It was also named on the The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year.

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The Monsters of Templeton

The Monsters of Templeton The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

 I know that I have many books that fit into the “oh, I just have to read that!” category, and Monsters of Templeton was definitely one of those. So, I was super excited when it was selected for the monthly pick for one of my book clubs. It turned out to be a big hit with everyone in the book club.

The Monsters of Templeton was a very unique book that is kind of hard to describe. At its heart, it was the story of a young woman trying to uncover who her father is. Willie Upton is a 28 year old archeology PhD student who returns home to Templeton, NY after having an affair with one of her professors. 

 Templeton was to me like a less-important limb, something inherently mine, something I took for granted. My own tiny, lovely village with a great old mansions and a glorious lake, my own grand little hamlet where everyone know your name, but with elaborate little frills that made it unlike anywhere else: the baseball museum, the Opera, the hospital that had vast arms extending into the rest of upstate, an odd mix of Podunk and cosmopolitan. I came back when I had to, to feel safe, to recharge; I just hadn’t had to in so long.

 Shortly after Willie arrives home 2 things happen: 1)  a huge, dead lake monster floats to the surface of the lake in the center of town and 2) Willie’s mother, Vi, confesses that Willie’s father wasn’t a random free love hippie in San Francisco but was in fact someone from Templeton.  Vi refuses to tell Willie her father’s name but does tell her that her father is someone who is also connected to the town’s founder.  Willie starts researching her family tree and the town’s history to try to determine who her father could be.  As she conducts her research she uncovers scandals, ghosts and more.  The chapters alternate between present day told from Willie’s point of view and the past told from Willie’s various ancestors’ points of view.

I really enjoyed this book. It was quirky and filled with whimsy and subtle humor.  There were lots of interesting characters uncovered during Willie’s research. It was a combination of historical fiction, mystery, and contemporary fiction.  Overall the book was a very engaging read that I found extremely difficult to put down.

Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last Night at the Lobster is Stewart O’Nan’s eleventh novel, but the first of his that I’ve read. We recently selected it as a book club read since it takes place in New England in the winter…and we just happen to be living in New England and it’s the middle of winter. Last Night at the Lobster is a simple, charming story about the final night of business for a New Britain, Connecticut Red Lobster.  This particular Red Lobster is located in the parking lot of a mall just off the interstate. Lobster big-wigs have decided that this particular Lobster is not meeting expectations and should be closed. The restaurant’s manager Manny DeLeon and his bare-bones crew show up for the final day of work at the Red Lobster.  It is a few days before Christmas, a day that is usually busy due to all of the shoppers at the mall. However, on this particular December day, a huge snow storm blows through town.

The novel is a minute by minute account of the last day and night at the Red Lobster. It gives a realistic glimpse into a day in the life of hard-working folks in middle America.  I have only eaten at a Red Lobster once (there really aren’t any in the greater Boston area…we have plenty of seafood restaurants without them!) and have never worked at a restaurant but have always been curious about behind the scenes “dirt”. The interactions of the staff at the Lobster is similar to the dynamics between co-workers at any job that I’ve worked at. There are tensions between some and more developed relationships between others. Manny’s ex-girlfriend Jaqui works at the Lobster and Manny still moons over her even though they’ve both moved on to new relationships.

At just over 140 pages Last Night at the Lobster is a short yet worthwhile read.  At its heart, the book is about the trying to get by in America and striving to make yourselves a better future even while you have one foot stuck in the past.  Manny finds himself asking questions such as: why are they closing my Red Lobster? What went wrong? Where did my relationship with Jaqui go wrong? What will my crew do for work now that the Lobster will be closed?  O’Nan treats his characters with respect, he doesn’t make the reader look down on them.

In my opinion, Last Night at the Lobster is the perfect book to curl up with while you are stranded inside during a winter storm. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant or wondered what it is like to work in one, this book is a great way to get a peek inside the day in the life of a restaurant crew.

Looking for something to munch on while you read or discuss Last Night at the Lobster. How about some Cheddar Bay Biscuits, find the copycat recipe for the “famous” Red Lobster biscuits in my post here.

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