Category: Book Reviews

Shot in the Dark

Shot in the Dark
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Clare Cosi returns! A smartphone dating app turns the Village Blend into a top meeting spot for its users. It's great for the business until someone gets murdered.

Cozy mysteries are quite new to me. I've only discovered this through my Goodreads feed (where I get a lot of great recommendations from what my friends are currently reading). Full disclosure, I binge-read all of Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse Mysteries in a matter of days earlier this year. I was really excited for this new addition. I really like this series because of the coffee references, and I love that there's much emphasis on where the beans are sourced and how different factors affect how coffee tastes. I liked the details. There's also a lot of food references, so reading a Cleo Coyle book always makes me hungry after, haha.

This new book has less coffee and food references compared to previous books. I really miss that. Still, it's a pretty good mystery. Somehow the character of Clare Cosi straddles that fine line between justifiably curious and annoyingly nosy. The clues, the police interaction are all plausible. I've always liked the strong female characters of this series but I love how Esther Best's character shone in this story. The poems in the slam poetry session for horrible hookup stories were funny. The story also finds the sweet spot between being comfortable with using technology and understanding how this isn't a replacement for real-life relationships. Of course, there's the usual annoyances with Matteo's juvenile ways, which I had hoped would be toned down a bit. Not much interaction with Mike Quinn on this book, but that's alright. It's actually one of the things I like about the book. There's not much of that cloying, overly-romanticized, wishy-washy love story. They're both busy with their careers, they both try to balance their responsibilities and personal lives. I actually like how the series show the day-to-day challenges Clare Cosi face while managing Village Blend, and little tidbits about how she navigates relationships with suppliers, customers, and even her coffee broker.

Cleo Coyle succeeded in making a nice little world in this series, and despite the fewer coffee and food references on this installment, I still enjoyed it a lot.

Blood, Bones, and Butter

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
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Published: March 1, 2011
This foodie memoir is an interesting personal account of a chef's journey from her childhood, where she learned how to cook in the kitchen of her mother, to the winding paths that took her to adulthood. Gabrielle is the head chef and owner of Prune Restaurant in New York. This is her story. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE REVIEW CONTAINS A FEW SPOILERS. I'll try not to drop a lot of them. 🙂

I admit that I only bought this book because it's written  by a chef (so I'm expecting a lot of food references) and because the alliterative title was cute. Yes, yes, I judged the book by the title, and the cover. I mean, an upside-down chicken, what's that about (there's an interesting story behind that, apparently)? The book turned out to be very engaging. I really enjoyed reading it. I find the approach very honest and no-frills, and a unique blend of wistful and realistic. I also like that the language she used was simple and accessible. The result was a book that I found easy to connect with.

The book opens with chapters about her childhood memories, and I found it very endearing. She described the sights, sounds, tastes and experiences that shaped her early years. She described the people in her life, with a tinge of the sadness of retrospection. She described her mother and her kitchen, and how these memories from childhood endured and made her the kind of person she is today. The way that she described  her childhood and the many wonders of it, actually made me emotionally invested in the story, which made it hard to read the parts where she described how the family broke down. There were parts in the book where I felt she was  being hard on her family, but that's what estrangement feels like. It almost always doesn't spring up on you out of nowhere.

The way that she described her estrangement from her mother, for example, is honest to the point of being slightly painful to read. It's not an emotional recounting of scarring events. It's an honest description of what estrangement looks and feels like. There's the judgment you need to endure from people who can't understand how these things happen. There's the stigma of estrangement that you carry around with you and tuck away from the new people in your life until you really can't hide it anymore. There's the passing of years and years of silence, and the surprise that comes with finding out that people can change. There's the regret of not sticking around to witness that change happen, but the reality that you also just couldn't possibly have survived it if you stuck around. There's the struggle to verbalize what went wrong. All the little micro cracks that made the relationship brittle. Hamilton did a great job at tracing those faint cracks, like vague memories that have become hazy through time.

She laid down the story of her childhood in such a way that you feel that thread throughout the book, the need to belong, to love, and be loved by family. As well as all the events in her life that have been shaped by this deep, then-unfulfilled need.

She detailed the many colorful challenges she encountered early in life, and these memories are punctuated by sensory details of food and drink, of noise and scents. It's a very descriptive book, sometimes it tends to run on in descriptions, but not in a way that makes you lose your thread of thought.

She manages to lay out her personal thoughts about being a "female chef" and all the baggage that comes with the "female" part of that description. The way she described her routines while working different jobs in the food industry shows how excellent her work ethic is and how tenacious she is. She has an iron stomach, capable of bouncing back from the daily demands, disappointments, and stresses of her chosen profession.

The book is more than just a series of events, though. It's not just a narration, but carefully crafted retelling of stories that show pieces of a complicated puzzle that is her self. For better or worse, she bares herself in all her flawed glory. This is a very interesting memoir, an absolute pleasure to read from start to end.

A Mother’s Reckoning

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
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Published: 2016
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a shooting rampage in their highschool, Columbine High, killing 12 students and 1 teacher, and inflicting harm on countless lives not just among students that day but among the members of a quiet, suburban community. Columbine would become a byword for school shootings, a sick kind of gold standard other disturbed young people aspire to. This book came 17 years after the tragedy, written…

"I had a short, vivid vision that I was standing with a multitude of spirits, all of whom suffered. They were all ages, sizes, and races; I couldn't tell who was male & who was female. Their heads were bowed and covered with tattered white robes. My old life had come to an end, and a new one had begun; a life in which joy, once so abundant, would simply be a memory. Sorrow, I understood with a painful clarify, would transport me through the rest of this life." - Sue Klebold

Nothing at all could have prepared me for this book. I wasn't sure at first if I wanted to read it, I was afraid of the usual money-grab that happens in the wake of a tragedy. But this book was published 17 years after what happened. Reading the official website for the book, majority of the profits go to charitable causes for suicide prevention, including including Mental Health America (MHA), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), American Association of Suicidology (AAS) and Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

I came across this book in a roundabout way. I was reading Irresistible by Adam Alter, a book about behavioral addiction. He mentioned in his book that Eric Harris was textbook psychopath, but Dylan Klebold  had been suicidal, depressed. That surprised me. I read the book Columbine by David Coulter after that, curious about this piece of information. I read A Mother's Reckoning after, fresh from the insights I gleaned from David Coulter's book.

Sue Klebold's account is very simply written, it was like listening to somebody very carefully trying to recall that life-changing moment and the earthquakes that came after. Trying to balance being honest and avoiding retraumatizing the victims. I was on my junior year in college when the Columbine shooting happened, and honestly I never gave a thought to the parents of the shooters. In my mind they were just as guilty as their children for missing the signs of psychological deterioration that led to the massacre. David Coulter's book showed how Eric and Dylan lied and manipulated the adults around them, they lied even to people they consider their friends.

Sue Klebold's book is a rare peek inside a parent's perspective. It shows how she struggled with fear that her son was in the line of fire in a school shooting, and the horror that unfolded when she realized that it was her son who was doing the shooting. The book alternates pre-shooting and post-shooting memories, giving the readers an understanding that before Dylan became this monster, he was somebody's beloved son. In a very motherly, gentle way, she humanized him without removing his culpability in the shooting. It included not just tender memories of Dylan as a kind, precocious, emotionally demonstrative child, but also snippets from her journal entries before and after the shooting.

The book asks the question we all probably ask every time we read about a school shooting; how could the parents not know? Many people would like to think that they can spot a troubled child capable of horrific violence, and that only parents who don't have a good relationship with their children will miss the warning signs. We want to believe that we can easily pick out a monster from the crowd, but this book is a reminder that oftentimes, the signs are really easy to miss. In the same way that parents and other family members who had to suffer through another family member's suicide can often ask themselves how could I miss the signs? Children often manage their parents' expectations by showing them only what they want to show them. My own mother once told me that she realized how parents are often the last to know when something is not going right in their children's lives. The quality of a young person's inner life is often very well-hidden from the adults around them.

The book relates how Sue's family had to face the lawsuits that drove them to bankruptcy afterwards, how it affected her marriage, how she would spend her life both in a kind of solitary confinement and a public spotlight. The way that she described her grief, the guilt that she felt, the heartbreak of losing and grieving for her son and for the people he had hurt, it really touched me to the core.

This is an unforgettable book, and many times while reading it, I find myself crying and pausing because it's simply so emotionally overwhelming. The book ended with a recounting of how she tried to move forward with the new reality of what was now her life, and how she used the painful lessons to help other parents like her understand depression. In a community of suicide survivors, she finally found her bearings again.

The book is emotionally engaging, and written with a sensitive tone. It's insightful and honest, admitting the fact that in the end, it's quite impossible to make complete sense of tragedies such as this. It chronicles how she embraced the full immensity of grieving for the death of her son, and realizing that in spite of how she and her husband had raised him, he had done what he did.

The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place
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Published: 1/1/1971
During the World War II, Corrie Ten Boom and her family helped many Jews escape Nazi Germany. They were eventually captured and sent to concentration camps. The books isn't about the horrific conditions inside the camps though (even if it gives a very graphic account of it), it's about the grace of God that has enabled her to survive, live without bitterness, and find the strength to forgive.

I bought a copy of this book through my Kindle a few weeks ago. I haven't heard of Corrie Ten Boom until Philip Yancey mentioned her in one of his books that I read a few years ago, but I had forgotten all about her until now. I bought the ebook because it popped up in my recommended books, I wasn't prepared for the emotional journey it was going to take me on from the first page to the last.

The book's first scene opened on the 100th anniversary of their family business, Ten Boom Horlogerie. The first few pages made a great impact on me because Corrie was able to describe the warmth and light that pervaded her community before the holocaust, and at the same time, inserted little glimpses of the near future that awaited her, her family and friends, like thin slivers of shadows in a beautifully-lit scene. I loved the way that she narrated the story of her life and described people. I found myself laughing out loud at her descriptions sometimes. She had this wholesome, delightful humor that wasn't trying hard to be funny. In fact her story telling technique was so fluid; she wasn't trying to be profound, she was just trying to tell her story. She had me both laughing and crying while reading the book.

She picked an interesting time to start her narration, because it described very well how that hateful darkness had begun take root. It shows how something can start out as a tiny dark cloud in the horizon, catching people unaware until it's upon them. Corrie's family is amazing. Their devotion to God, their desire to live in a way that pleases Him, their humility in surrendering their lives as a tool for His good work, everything about their testimony as individuals and as a family left an indelible mark on me.

This book details how the horror of the Holocaust unfolded around them, first as an angry voice on the radio from another country, until it crept into their home. The thread that weaves the chapters together is God's grace, and the journey through the book from start to end was life-changing. Though the book tells of the heartbreaking experiences inside the concentration camps, when viewed in the light of God's love, the family's baffling, grace-filled reaction to an unspeakably horrible experience becomes easier to understand.

It's definitely a must-read.