Friday, November 17, 2017

Zulily and Penguin Random House Help Hurricane Victims!

zulily and Penguin Random House Host Interactive Book Fair to Benefit Communities Impacted by Recent Hurricanes 

It's easy to get wrapped up in the season. You've got a thousand gifts to buy and a tight timeline to do it in. Zulily and Penguin Random House are making it easy to buy all the kids books you need while doing good for the victims of the recent hurricanes. Check out more information here!

I know I've already picked out several books for my daughters. While we try really hard not to spoil them, I always love getting them gifts that help support causes we care about!

Shop the sale here! 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind

Title: The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
Authors: Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Portfolio Trade
Publish Date: 2004
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Meticulously researched and character driven, Smartest Guys in the Room takes the reader deep into Enron's past—and behind the closed doors of private meetings. Drawing on a wide range of unique sources, the book follows Enron's rise from obscurity to the top of the business world to its disastrous demise. It reveals as never before major characters such as Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Andy Fastow, as well as lesser known players like Cliff Baxter and Rebecca Mark. Smartest Guys in the Room is a story of greed, arrogance, and deceit—a microcosm of all that is wrong with American business today. Above all, it's a fascinating human drama that will prove to be the authoritative account of the Enron scandal."

My Two Cents:

"The Smartest Guys in the Room" is the story of Enron, which was a dynamo company in the late 80s and early 90s known for blowing expectations out of the water at every turn. Alas, what seems too good to be true often is as was the case with Enron. Enron is now known as a cautionary tale for many businesses. This book almost feels Shakespeare-like with a huge cast of characters that would be at home in any soap opera.

I was pretty young when the Enron ordeal actually happened so I didn't really understand the implications at the time. I went for my Master's in business and time after time, Enron seemed to come up as a case study of exactly what not to do. I was drawn to this book by getting a full picture of how shady business and finance practices were able to infect a company that once had so much promise. What I had kind of lost by only being old enough to sort of remember the scandal is that at one time, Enron was a top, well-respected business. The hindsight always does seem to overshadow that but appreciating just how far Enron fell makes the story all that much more stunning.

This book came out relatively soon after the scandal and before all of the punishments had been handed out. Drawing on extensive interviews and reporting that was done both before, during, and after the scandal, this book gives a rich picture of exactly what went wrong and how everything fell apart. The writing is very thorough but still entertaining. The author does a great job of bringing everything to light.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture by Matt Goulding

Title: Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture
Author: Matt Goulding
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper Wave/ Anthony Bourdain
Publish Date: October 27, 2016
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "An innovative new take on the travel guide, Rice, Noodle, Fish decodes Japan's extraordinary food culture through a mix of in-depth narrative and insider advice, along with 195 color photographs. In this 5000-mile journey through the noodle shops, tempura temples, and teahouses of Japan, Matt Goulding, co-creator of the enormously popular Eat This, Not That! book series, navigates the intersection between food, history, and culture, creating one of the most ambitious and complete books ever written about Japanese culinary culture from the Western perspective.

Written in the same evocative voice that drives the award-winning magazine Roads & Kingdoms, Rice, Noodle, Fish explores Japan's most intriguing culinary disciplines in seven key regions, from the kaiseki tradition of Kyoto and the sushi masters of Tokyo to the street food of Osaka and the ramen culture of Fukuoka. You won't find hotel recommendations or bus schedules; you will find a brilliant narrative that interweaves immersive food journalism with intimate portraits of the cities and the people who shape Japan's food culture.

This is not your typical guidebook. Rice, Noodle, Fish is a rare blend of inspiration and information, perfect for the intrepid and armchair traveler alike. Combining literary storytelling, indispensable insider information, and world-class design and photography, the end result is the first ever guidebook for the new age of culinary tourism."

My Two Cents:

"Rice, Noodle, Fish" is a travelogue through the delicious and fascinating food culture of Japan. When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is to explore the new place through their food. This is a gorgeous book that takes us to many different parts of Japan to show us how the Japanese prepare and eat their food. One word of warning: do not read this book while you are hungry. If you do and you don't have quick access to authentic Japanese food, you're probably going to eat the book and that's really frowned upon! So count yourself warned...

This is not only a book about food but a book about the culture around the food. In many different cultures, food brings people together. It's no different in Japan. This book was published under Anthony Bourdain's publishing imprint and that's no surprise: this book feels like a readable version of "Parts Unknown," a show I absolutely love! The author talks not only about the food but about the people who make the food and the people that eat the food. This whole book is a treat for the senses and could only be made better if it actually came with the food that the book talks about.

I have never been to Japan before but it is definitely on my list of places to visit someday. I really, really want to visit now after reading this book!


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Connor's Gambit by Z. Gottlieb

Title: Connor's Gambit
Author: Z. Gottlieb
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: January 22, 2017
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "Brad Johnson is the lone witness to a UFO sighting. The sighting, while odd in itself, is not the only incident that occurs that evening. The incident is followed up with the alien targeting him and his family. The firefight with the alien destroys everything Brad thought he knew about his family and pulls him into an intergalactic battle between two space faring aliens. Brad quickly finds himself leaving Earth struggling to understand his role with the aliens on both sides of the conflict. One group threatens Earth's security, the other group wants something from him. All Brad wants to do is to survive and return home to his family, but not until he embarks on the greatest adventure of his life."

My Two Cents:

"Connor's Gambit" is a sci fi story about a fairly ordinary man going on a very extraordinary adventure. Imagine this - you are a man married with a wife and a kid. You are close to your inlaws and although life is not particularly exciting, it is good. One day you find out that your wife, brother in law, and sister in law may be hiding a deep secret about where they came from and what they were put on earth to do. As Brad finds out, they're aliens on a top secret mission and they will take him on the best adventure of his life.

This book reminded me a lot of The Twilight Zone (still one of my very favorite series) where things at first seem very normal until everything gets turned on its head. Some of the best stories involve ordinary people put in interesting and unique situations. Everyman Brad finding himself suddenly on a super high tech spaceship with a bunch of aliens certainly counts as one of those scenes. Not only does Brad have to contend with his personal life (why would his beloved wife lie to him for so long? what does this mean for his young son? can he ever forgive his wife or his brother in law?)

The characters were great. I loved seeing how Brad confronts the difficulties that he is now facing as he tries to navigate his new lives with aliens. I really liked learning about what the aliens were doing on earth and why they felt that they needed to hide their true intentions from Brad. The story line unfolds nicely as the author puts everything together.

While the writing of the story line was good and will appeal to many, the way that the characters speak was slightly off. Even Brad, a native English speaker, spoke in a very stilted way. I could understand sort of why the aliens' speaking would be a little less natural although perhaps not with the way that the aliens essentially download information to include language in their heads (cool concept by the way!). The stilted language was a little distracting but overall, the story was quite good!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Giveaway: The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

Hello and happy Monday! Today I am very excited to be able to give away a copy of The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller. This book was nice, cozy read! Check out my review here!

Want to win your own copy? Just fill out the form below (U.S. only, please!).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Title: Beartown
Author: Fredrik Backman
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: April 25, 2017
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

My Two Cents: 

"Beartown" is the story of a small town where the whole town seems to find hope in the kids' hockey league. There is also a darker aspect to this book that I was not expecting; this isn't exactly a feel-good story. For my fellow Americans, the hockey team has very much the same feel as a high school football team in a small American town. The hockey team brings the town hope but they also run the town and get away with a lot that they would not get away with if it weren't for the team.

Fredrik Backman is definitely on my auto-read list after reading books like "A Man Called Ove." I picked up this book automatically from my library without knowing what the book was about. This book is markedly different than "A Man Called Ove" and "Britt Marie Was Here." Different isn't bad; Backman's great writing and memorable characters are still present but don't expect a super uplifting book.

The characters in this book are very different. Some of them are hiding things throughout the book and the action is often driven by what is being hidden. The story follows both the adults and the teenagers in the book, which I really liked as you get a multi-faceted look at what makes the town as a whole tick and what brings it to its knees.

Overall, the story was good but much darker than what I was expecting. It makes me interested to see where Backman goes in the future with his books!


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review: Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

Title: Island Beneath the Sea
Author: Isabel Allende
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: April 27, 2010
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarité -- known as Tété -- is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tété finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and in the voodoo loas she discovers through her fellow slaves.
When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it’s with powdered wigs in his baggage and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father’s plantation, Saint-Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. It will be eight years before he brings home a bride -- but marriage, too, proves more difficult than he imagined. And Valmorain remains dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.
Spanning four decades, Island Beneath the Sea is the moving story of the intertwined lives of Tété and Valmorain, and of one woman’s determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruellest of circumstances."
My Two Cents:
"Island Beneath the Sea" is the story of Zarite (called Tete), a slave on the island that becomes Haiti. It covers over four decades in her life as she witnesses massive shifts in history on both Haiti and in New Orleans. All the while her life is tangled up with Valmorain, a rich man whose life will turn out in ways he can't imagine in the beginning.

Isabel Allende is definitely one of my favorite writers. If she writes a book, I will read it. I was so pleased to see her write about the revolution in Haiti, as it is a subject that I only know the very, very basic facts about. I really liked how she brought the events to life through a character like Tete. Tete is a great character. We get to see her from many angles due to Allende's brilliant storytelling structure.

Much of the story is tied up in the story between Valmorain and Tete. Valmorain is the master and has control over Tete. He fathers children with her but seems unable to form a true connection to her or the children. A lot of this seems to come from his position where he can basically do anything he wants since Tete belongs to him as his slave. Seeing how both of them navigate this strange world between a true bond and a bond by ownership that they inhabit was fascinating.

Allende's storytelling is always wonderful to me. I like how she includes magical realism in many of her books. It is slightly present in the way that she describes some of the rituals that Tete does and some of the things she believes in (voodoo, etc.). The way she changes point of view throughout the book was really interesting and attention grabbing. The book does drag in a few places and could have been streamlined but it is still a good story.

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