Archive for June, 2011

Review: The Man in the Rockefeller Suit

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter by Mark Seal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

WOW, what a weird and fascinating book! Clark Rockefeller, a disaffected and eccentric member of the Rockefeller family, set out in America in the 1970s to create a life for himself, starting with families who took him in, financed several of his projects and overlooked his weirdness because of his association with one of America’s wealthiest and most prestigious families.

He married, he had a child, he divorced. He collected art, he argued with rich neighbors, he bought a church to turn into a museum. He lived in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, and he fit everyone’s perception of a Rockefeller.

Then he kidnapped his own daughter in a bitter custody battle, and the ensuing search and investigation turned up the fact that not only was he guilty of kidnapping, he was also a suspect in at least one missing persons case, which may have turned into a homicide.

Most shocking of all, he was not a Rockefeller – he wasn’t even from the U.S. A German immigrant, he had created a persona for himself that he kept up for more than two decades, shamming hundreds of people and perpetrating one of the most incredible identity hoaxes in recent history.

 

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Review: Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling,No Weeding, No Kidding!

Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling,No Weeding, No Kidding!Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling,No Weeding, No Kidding! by Patricia Lanza
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very informative book that made gardening less intimidating and offered VERY helpful tips to setting up a garden, even for a beginner like me.

We used many of the methods the author outlines for our garden this year and have already begun planning for expansion next spring.  I can honestly say that this book changed my life by showing that gardening, at least the prep stage, is much easier than anticipated and the gardening methods make tending a garden a LOT less of a pain in the neck.

I would consider this to be essential reading for anyone starting out or anyone interested in square yard gardening, effective composting or green/sustainable living.  It really is that good.

 

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Review: Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book after receiving it from a friend, and I now include it with “Heat” by Bill Buford, “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain, and “My Life in France” by Julia Child as one of the best chef memoir/biographies I have ever read.

But this? This is one of the best written memoirs of any genre I’ve ever read, in that it is raw, engaging, hilarious, moving and absolutely fearless. Gabrielle Hamilton describes her bizarre family, her derelict upbringing, her stumbling road to being a chef…all in graphically beautiful and lyrical prose that reinforces that she’s not like anyone else at all. In any way.

Her descriptions of the writer’s workshop small groups in college absolutely unraveled me with laughter. Her description of a reunion with her meddling mother gave me probably the hugest laugh I’d gotten from any book thus far. In fact, there were many times I woke my husband with my smothered and wheezing laughter while reading this book in bed.

And yet, there were parts of the book that so moved me I cried. Gabrielle Hamilton is a gifted writer and gifted chef, and happily, both gifts were equally on display in this book.

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Review: Cutting for Stone

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

God have mercy, it took me nine days to finish this book. I found the first 60% interminably depressing and plodding, and the last portion was so much better. Even so, it could not salvage the book for me.

I would give a quick summary of what this book is about, but can’t coherently sum up what the author was trying to cover.  Conjoined twins born to an east Indian nun in Ethiopia, fathered by a British surgeon, and their life after their mother dies during their very traumatic birth (wherein they’re separated surgically and the father flees in shock).  But that’s not what the book is about; it’s about the people who raise the twins, or it’s about hospitals, or it’s about Ethiopia during the 60s and 70s, or it’s about the twins’ strained relationship, or it’s about the narrator (the twin named Marion) and his love of Genet, the daughter of a family friend.  Or something.  Or nothing. Or all of the above.

The author is a gifted writer, but there was a need for some very judicious editing in this book; not every single person’s backstory needed to be told, especially tangential characters whose histories were told with far more animation than those of the main characters.

There were parts where I thought the writing was beautifully done, and other parts where it was leaden and lethargic.  The character of Ghosh, the stepfather, was far more sympathetic and charming than just about anyone in the book, and wherever the narrator touched on his aphorisms, his behavior — in these little interludes, the novel really sang.  Less so with the characters of Rosina and Genet, where they fell flat on the page and I might have been able to dredge up some interest in what happened to them, provided it happened somewhere I didn’t have to read about them.

In my opinion, the story had so much that could have been interesting, but it really never gelled into anything I could emotionally invest in. I feel a little weird because so many people loved this book, but honestly, all I can summon is the idea that the author had the title picked out and crafted his story to fit the title, cleverly, and that’s not a fair description. It’s just my feeling. The fact that John Irving was such a big fan of the book just sealed my dislike of it; and I’m a fan of much of Irving’s work. At one point he was one of my favorite authors.  But Verghese’s writing reminded me a great deal of Irving’s lesser works, particularly the bloated “Son of the Circus.”  There’s something inherently icky about both authors’ sex scene narrations, and while some of the medical story lines were interesting, the whole thing felt like a poorly planned casserole.

I didn’t like reading this book, I didn’t like the feeling that I HAD to finish it, and I didn’t buy into the characters the way I generally do with well-written books. I can’t say much more than that.

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Review: Life From Scratch by Melissa Ford

Life From Scratch
Life From Scratch by Melissa Ford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nice mind candy, this book was sort of a Julie and Julia concept of a novel, except the character learning to cook was not as irritating as the Julie Powell who wrote Julie and Julia. A quick and fun read that made me hungry.

 

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Review: Confessions of a Left-Handed Man: An Artist’s Memoir

Confessions of a Left-Handed Man: An Artist's Memoir
Confessions of a Left-Handed Man: An Artist’s Memoir by Peter Selgin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh. I thought a couple of the pieces were good, especially the one about him being a caricature artist, but the rest were rambling and didn’t do anything for me. By the time I got to the one about his prostate, I was ready to throw in the towel and when he opened the essay with permission for the squeamish to not read it, I took that as permission to not finish the book at all, with about 25 percent left unread.

Advance Reader Copy from publisher

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Review: The Heart Specialist

The Heart SpecialistThe Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book was well-written and compelling, especially the first 2/3 of the story. The description by the publisher inferred a family scandal, that the main character’s father was suspected of murder and had fled and left the family.

Mainly, the book is devoted to Agnes White’s quest in the 1890s to becoming a doctor, following in the footsteps of her disgraced and absent father, who had taught at McGill University in Montreal, the same university that refused her entrance to the medical school based on her gender. Agnes eventually is given a post as a medical museum curator at the University, where she is in charge of categorizing and eventually teaching from hundreds of organ and tissue samples, including dozens of human hearts, many of which were excised and preserved by her father.

Then the book (in my opinion) kind of fizzled out. I expected more back story on the scandal surrounding Agnes’s father, or even the name of the family member he was suspected of killing. Character development in the final third of the book was perfunctory and unconvincing, and it really did seem that the author sort of lost interest in tying up the story or giving any sort of attention to the original storyline.

The pros: initially very sympathetic and interesting main character; history of women in medicine; the character’s quest to become a physician.

The cons: secondary characters were one-dimensional or highly predictable; sub-plots were essentially shuffled off to the side or abandoned; the description of what the book is about was misleading.

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