The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

tsar love techno cover

 

Normally, I’m not a huge short story fan. In fact, in the years that I’ve been reading The New Yorker, I have been known to pass up the fiction section entirely. Of course, the exception to this is anything by Sloane Crosley (except her latest book– woof).

I was intrigued when I heard about Anthony Marra’s newest short story collection, The Tsar of Love and Techno.  I loved the image of a mixtape on the cover, foreshadowing the common “soundtrack” that strings together the vignettes of characters through the former USSR territories.

The stories take place from the 1930s-2000s, told from different perspectives with each story. Too long to be chapters, too short to be novellas, too separate to be one novel. To say too much about the plot, I feel, would give it away. Trust that the complexities of Soviet history, blended with timeless human struggles with relationships, make for a wonderfully long-lasting book hangover.

My favorite part of the whole book is how each story links back to characters who narrated stories earlier in the book. It’s like when you walk past a familiar scent or perfume. At first you take a step back, realize it is familiar, and then slowly come back to identify it. Which character was related to whom? In what way? How long ago? It becomes very clear that they are all meant to weave together.

A good book entertains.

A good book is well organized.

A good book makes you cry.

A good book makes you laugh.

A good book tells you more about lands you’ve never been to.

This book did all of the above, and more.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Further Reading:

I received a copy of this book from www.BloggingforBooks.com. All opinions are my own. 

The Clasp by Sloane Crosley

theclasp

There are few writers that grab my attention quite like Sloane Crosley. She’s a psuedo-vegetarian, essayist, fashionista, and just a super cool chick (but not quite like the “cool girl” discussed in Gone Girl).

I was first grabbed by I Was Told There’d Be Cake, a collection of humor essays recommended to me by a friend (and purchased during my last days of working at Border’s Booksellers). The following Christmas, I received her other book, How Did You Get This Number? I immediately started following her other work, plus her co-founded blog Sad Stuff on the Street. I was so thrilled that she decided to venture into publishing fiction!

The Clasp is about three college buddies in crisis in their 20’s who reunite for a mutual friend’s wedding in Florida. Victor is an Adrian Brody look-a-like who was recently fired from his job at a search engine start-up. Kezia works for a jewelry designer with a boss who seems modeled after an edgier Miranda Priestly. Nathaniel lives in LA, trying to make it as a screenwriter, health nut, and hipster ladies’ man.

Victor wakes up the morning after the wedding, and steals a sketch of a necklace from the groom’s mother’s bedroom. He believes the necklace that inspired the sketch is in France, and may have inspired the Guy de Maupassant short story, “The Necklace.” While Victor goes to France on a hunt to find it, Kezia and Nathaniel make their way to France, for other reasons, and challenge their assumptions about their relationships and what they want in life.

Now, let me preface that I don’t have to like the characters in a book to enjoy the book I’m reading. In fact, sometimes a really un-likable character can help you reconcile and learn from some not-so-great parts of yourself. Despite my true love (and I do mean LOVE) of Crosley’s essays, this book just didn’t do it for me. Here’s why:

  • The first 2/3 of the book is just…boring. It was the first time in a long time I had to push myself to finish a book. It gets a little better towards the end.
  • The characters are not developed. For example, towards the beginning of the story, Nathaniel learns he has a not-serious heart condition. He reflects on the symbolism of it for about 1 page, wondering if this is why he has difficulty loving others. Then….that’s it. Both issues are maybe mentioned one other time, and without blending everything together. It’s like getting a hole in your jeans, and trying to sew it back together with thick yarn and big gaps in between. You’re better off just keeping the jeans “as is” and moving on.
  • The mood was not consistent. There was a continuing fluctuation of “good humored reunion” vibes, with “melancholic quarter-life crisis.” Even at the end, I didn’t know whether the characters were sad about their unresolved personal questions (about life, love, careers), or if they felt they came out of their adventure in France stronger than before.
  • The characters are unlikable. Like I said, this does not exclusively make me dislike a book, but I felt it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I know Crosley has the chops for a novel. Maybe this is just growing pains before she writes a really well-developed, enjoyable novel. I will be eagerly waiting for her next piece, but until then, I will not be recommending this one.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Further reading:

Crazy Sexy Juice by Kris Carr

I was introduced to Kris Carr my junior year of college. It was Counseling 101 at Loyola University Chicago, and our professor screened Carr’s documentary, Crazy Sexy Cancer, as a way of showing one example of the grief experience with a chronic illness diagnosis (primarily focusing on the Kübler-Ross stages of death and dying). Carr’s documentary explores the emotional and physical struggle after she is diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in her liver, with fewer medical options other than “watch and see what happens.” She took control through the lens of a camera, and her diet.

Since then, I’ve been following Ms. Carr’s journey through cancer wellness and vegan vitality. I was lucky enough to meet her in a Barnes and Noble in New York when she came out with her book Crazy Sexy Diet, which focuses not only on adapting an alkaline-based vegan diet, but also general self-care and self-compassion practices. She is just as vivacious in-person as she is in her writing.

Her new book is Crazy Sexy Juice, a book which many Carr fans have been waiting for with baited breath. Finally, the queen of green juices compiles her ultimate companion for both juicing and smoothie making.

crazysexyjuicecover-400

I decided to make her recipe for Classic Green Lemonade (recipe can also be found here). It is delicious!

green juice 1

green juice 2

Well I had to put it in a mason jar! #hipster

In Carr’s new book, you can find an ultimate list of ideas for juices and smoothies. I loved the juice recipes, but favorite part are the recipes designed for juicing pulp (besides composting, of course). I can’t wait to try the beet burgers!

It seemed like every time I turned the page, I thought “wait, there’s MORE?”

As with most things, Carr writes in a way that is both approachable, and thorough. Many of the recipes are categorized by what ailment it might aid (such as hot flashes, or digestion). So, too, does she include suggestions for the emotional components of eating healthier- not to take yourself too seriously, nor putting too much pressure on yourself for “perfection”.

I would recommend this book for folks who are interested in juicing and/or smoothie making, and trying to implement a kinder diet (both to yourself, and animals).

In summary, Carr suggests we:

“Make energy deposits instead of energy withdrawals”

Good advice for just about any part of life, wouldn’t you say?

Rating: 4/5 stars

Further Reading:

  • Book trailer on the author’s website
  • If you are interested in buying a juicer, check out Carr’s guide here 
  • The juicer I own is here

A copy of this book was provided to me by NetGalley. All opinions are my own! 

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

the grownup cover

Gillian Flynn has a dark mind, and she’s not afraid to share what’s inside.

The Grownup is a mere 62 pages, but I was nonetheless excited to read another Gillian Flynn piece. Like many others, I was introduced to Flynn’s writing through her sensation, Gone Girl. Since then, I’ve read both Sharp Objects and Dark Places, and I’ve been waiting with baited breath for the next one.

Our narrator takes on a “psychic” job in a seedy tarot joint, knowing full well that she doesn’t possess the clairvoyant gift. She was first hired as a sex worker, after years of begging on the streets with her mother. This is seen as a promotion in this little shop, and soon she takes to analyzing her clients, hoping to find a way to become a psychic entrepreneur.

This narrator is driven to visit a client’s haunted house, not knowing what to expect. The rest of the story has a ton of quick turns, like a roller-coaster that leaves you with a pleasant knot in your stomach after the ride is over. I don’t want to spoil the ending by saying much more.

As far as the publisher’s decision to publish such a tiny story, I am curious to see if this will start a new, mainstream trend. Shops like the Strand Bookstore have been carrying smaller publications of single short stories for a while, but rarely in hardcover. It would certainly make for a fun, unexpected stocking stuffer for the mystery-lover in the family.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Further reading:

I received this book as a part of the www.BloggingforBooks.com program. All opinions are my own!

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

My last semester of high school, I remember going up to my AP English teacher and asking, “Hey, can you recommend a book that isn’t wives cheating on their husbands?” I had just finished reading Madame Bovary, and earlier that year read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. My junior year, we spent several months on The Scarlet Letter. 

In case you are wondering, my teacher recommended this book, and it was exactly what I needed. My snippy high school self look a long hiatus from the adulteress-based book. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like the preceding titles, I just wanted something different.

Now enter 2015, and I fell in love with this cover.

hausfraucover

I had seen the book in magazines, but I hadn’t known what it was about, nor did I know that it was based both on Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. The author is a known poet, and this is her first novel.

The book chronicles Anna, a housewife (hausfrau) in Switzerland, who manages her day-to-day boredom with a string of affairs. She is married to Bruno, a Swiss-born baker who loves her in his own way, but is still brutish when his temper flares (Brutish? Bruno? Perhaps not a coincidence). She has three children, and admits that her youngest, Polly Ann, is not Bruno’s child. Who is Polly Ann’s father? What is his hold on Anna?

Anna visits with a Dr. Messerli, a Jungian trained psychiatrist. The author paints a picture (through Anna’s eyes) of Swiss culture as focused on practicality- the trains always run on time, high quality timepieces and chocolates, the women wearing practical clothing. Therefore, it was difficult for me to imagine a culture defined by practicality, endorsing a therapy modality such as the Jungian style, which is a more fluid, less objective form of psychotherapy, than its cognitive/behavioral counterparts. However, this Jungian backdrop made for more poetic interactions.

Like her classic predecessors, Anna has much to learn. But will she take the steps to learn them?

This was a very engaging read, and it made me want to revisit the classics. My high-school self, no doubt, is rolling her eyes.

Further Reading:

The Homemade Kitchen by Alana Chernila

Homemade Kitchen cover

Most days, sushi is the answer, even if you don’t know the question.

Remember that scene in the Breakfast Club? When Claire (or, Cuh-laire, aka Molly Ringwald) whips out that sushi in detention? THEN she gets teased by Bender…and she ignores him and keeps on eating it, because #GIRLBOSS.

When I first saw this movie, I was kind of siding with Bender on this one (mercury poisoning! gross smelling fish!). But what did I know of sushi? Raw fish? By now, I’ve had lots of time to sample the wonders of sticky rice and wasabi. Vegetarian sushi is so delicious, but I’ve always wondered how to make it myself- some veggies, rice, and nori- can’t be too pricey, right?

Alana Chernila’s book to the rescue! She includes a sushi rice recipe in her “grains” section, along with a general recipe for maki rolls (wet fingers with the sticky rice = magic). It tasted DELICIOUS and made for some nice giggles in the kitchen when I attempted to wrap the sushi into delightful, photogenic rolls (muahahaha, I laugh to myself).

Aside from showing this girl how to make sushi from scratch, Chernila focuses on the building blocks of good cooking and baking. How to Keep Fresh Herbs, Basic Pizza Dough, Reuseables in the Kitchen, Tools That Help Food Last Longer-don’t these headings sound amazing? Truly, this would make an amazing gift for a new college student, or a newlywed couple looking to build their cookbook collection (I will be coming into my marriage with multiple cookbooks, already!). Did I mention the photos are breathtaking?

However, the book is not just focused on foundation cooking. The recipes are build on from the basics.For example, Chernila shows the recipe for pie crust, followed by multiple filling recipes to fill up aforementioned crust, maximizing the pages of the book for full ideas. Chevre Cheesecake with Mint and Berries? Sounds complicated, right? Only if you make the chevre cheese from scratch. It’s optional, but the recipe is there, first, if you want to try it.

My favorite part of the book? This quote:

“Do Your Best, Then Let Go” 

My sushi became a sushi burrito- but I’m not going to take myself too seriously. I did my best, and I’ll do better next time.

side angle photo homemade

Expectations

oy vey sushi

Reality

Rating: 4/5 stars

Further Reading:

A copy of this title was provided to me by www.BloggingforBooks.com. All opinions are my own. This review is based on the print version of the book.

Current Wish List- October 2015

Andy and I get married in just 6 MONTHS! In the meantime, it’s a lot more window shopping, and a lot less real shopping. To satisfy my inner shopper, blogging will have to do!

Nail Polish

Work appropriate, and maybe a nice base for nail art or jamberry wraps.

tiramisu for two

Tiramisu for Two, OPI Venice Collection, $9.50

Handbag

I actually audibly gasped when I saw this bag. I make this pudding REGULARLY for office parties.

magnolia purse

(Check out the recipe for Magnolia’s Banana Pudding here!)

kate spade new york, Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding Container Handbag, $298.00

Sunglasses

A classic pair of cat eye sunglasses is always a great way to turn your winter outfit into an Elizabeth-Taylor inspired look. My cat-eyeliner skills are subpar, so glasses take care of the look for me!

cat eye

Cat Eye Sunglasses, J.Crew Factory, $13.99

What’s on your list?

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

whynotmecover

Have you ever read a book so moving, so sad, so touching that it made you cry in public? I definitely have…many times (see this, this, and this).

A book that’s made me laugh out loud? A smaller list, but one that continues to grow. I read Mindy Kaling’s first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) during one day of commuting back and forth from the suburbs to the city for part-time retail work after graduate school, while I was still living with my parents. Let’s just say that laughter wasn’t coming to easy to me at that time.

This latest book was just as wonderful, but with a slightly more current spin. Mindy summarizes life since starting her own show, following from its inception to cancellation. The only thing I would’ve wished for more of is Mindy’s fictional writing. There is a vignette where she drafts a set of emails set in 2005, in what would’ve happened if she had become a Latin instructor at a Gossip-Girl-esque high school in New York. This was quite possibly one of the funniest things I’ve read in years, and it makes me hope that Mindy will start a new generation of humor fiction for women (oh please!).

Mindy has a way of capturing the current pop culture climate in a way that doesn’t shove it down your throat. Her insight both into women’s issues and her own weaknesses is not only refreshing, but also inspiring:

“When you are entitled, you are the most insufferable person ever. If you are entitled and hardworking, which I am, you are still pretty insufferable but at least you somewhat earned your entitled behavior.”

Sounds pretty spot-on to me.

Rating: 4/5 stars

I was provided a free copy of this book from http://www.BloggingforBooks.com. All opinions are my own.

Bailey and Mindy Kaling

Bailey, my cat/spirit animal