Book Review: L’appart by David Lebovitz

l'appart book review

L’appart Book Review

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.*

If you want a guide on what not to do when buying and renovating an apartment in Paris, David Lebovitz’s L’appart is the book for you.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect going into the book, I chose it because it’s about living in Paris and I’ve read Lebovitz’s blog from time to time. Would it be some boring, “and then I chose this material for my counter tops,” and “this is what I picked for the floor” story about renovation, which is kind of what I feared? Or would it be just a bit more interesting?

It was, I can assure you, the latter. Perhaps because he’s been blogging since blogging was even really a thing (1999!), Lebovitz has the friendly, conversational voice thing down pat. Reading his book is like having a one-sided discussion with a friend, during which they say maybe more than you want to hear and repeat themselves a bit.

But all in all, it was a pretty engaging read and it was pretty interesting to learn about the differences between living and buying real estate in France compared to in the US (OK, I might have lost a lot of people with that sentence). For example, to get a mortgage in France, you have to pass a medical exam, so you don’t, you know, die, while owing the bank lots of money.

There’s also a big difference when it comes to interactions between “bosses” and “staff.” One of the big mistakes Lebovitz makes is tutoyer-ing (that is, using “tu” instead of “vous”) with his contractor and the workers. There’s a social distance that exists in France because of the structure and formality of the language. By ignoring that formality, Lebovitz sets the stage for his contractor to take advantage of him, majorly.

OK, also, his contractor seemed like a connard, which is probably the main reason why he did such a bad job (spoilers, maybe, but the word “disaster” is in the subtitle of the book, so you kinda know that going in).

Since Lebovitz is primarily a cookbook writer and food blogger, there are a few recipes interspersed throughout, usually bookending chapters and serving as little set pieces for Lebovitz to make his various points. I haven’t tried any of the recipes, but a few of them, particularly the pastries, look pretty tasty.

Book Review: The Lauras

* I received this book from BloggingforBooks.com in exchange for my honest review.*

I can’t quite put my finger on how I feel about The Lauras, by Sara Taylor. I enjoyed the book, it was beautifully written and timely, but I felt that there wasn’t that much to it.

The Lauras

The Lauras

One night, Alex’s mom wakes them (Alex is agender, meaning they don’t identify as either a boy or a girl) up and puts them in the car, speeding off into the distance. A fight with Alex’s dad is supposedly the reason for the departure, but evidence suggests that the grand exit has been a long time coming.

Their departure is the start of a cross-country trip that takes them down to Florida, over to Texas, up to Utah, and finally into Vancouver. Along the way, Alex’s mom tells them stories of her youth, growing up in and out of foster and group homes and meeting a range of women all named Laura.

Along the way, Alex plays a long, but you can tell their heart isn’t really in the trip. They miss their father, who’s back home in Virginia. They also start going through puberty and have to deal with the discovery of sex for the first (in one instance, in a very disgusting way).

The Lauras is a classic coming of age meets road trip tale, but with a twist (the twist being the gender identity question). Although Alex’s mom does eventually make it to where she needs to go, there’s not a sense of finality to the book. Alex eventually strikes out on their own and get you get the sense that maybe one day they will find what they need. But it won’t be in this book.

Book Review: The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up

life changing manga of tidying up konmari

The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Guide to the KonMari Method

Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up changed my life. Or at least, it made my house a lot more “tidy” and less cluttered. I know a lot of people find the book and method impractical or just plain weird, but keeping objects that “spark joy” and thanking those that you are getting rid of resonated with me.

Onto the Life-Changing Manga of Tidying UpDoes the world need the KonMari method, in illustrated form? Isn’t that what we got with her second book Spark Joy? I’m really not sure.

Manga doesn’t just illustrate the method, though, it also puts a story behind it. In it, we meet Chiaki, a 29-year-old living in the messiest apartment ever in Tokyo. Chiaki has a successful career but a not-so-successful love life, probably because her method of dating seems to involve falling in love with guys who already have a partner. Her other big issue, and one of the reasons why her flat is such a wreck, is that she picks up a new hobby with each guy she meets. Whatever that guy is into, she’s into.

Chiaki hits a breaking point when her cute next door neighbor knocks on the door to complain about the trash on the balcony. She calls in KonMari (aka Marie Kondo) to help her clean up her home. KonMari comes in and takes Chiaki through the process, step by step. Along the way, Chiaki gets to express her surprise and occasional confusion about KonMari’s way. She plays the role of the confused reader who might want to interject at some aspects of the process. At the end, Chiaki has a clean apartment and a new romantic interest.

Manga is a mix of both story and practical advice. Each chapter ends with tips on how to use the KonMari method in your own life. I thought that the tips weren’t as in-depth into the method as Kondo’s first two books.

If you’re read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up or Spark Joy and found them helpful, you won’t learn anything new from Manga. If you enjoy reading manga or graphic novels and find that you learn best from case studies or stories, this might be the book that gets you to finally tidy up.

* I received this book from BloggingforBooks.com in exchange for my honest review.*

Book Review: How Music Works by David Byrne

*I received “How Music Works” for free from BloggingforBooks in exchange for my honest review.

I’ve long been a huge fan of David Byrne. I’ve seen him enough times live that I’ve lost count. I listen to his music weekly, if not daily. I have an autographed copy of “New Sins,” which I got after seeing him read at the Free Library way back in 2001.

So I was super excited to get to read “How Music Works,” his exhaustive history of music and an inside look at how the music industry has evolved over the years.

How Music Works by David Byrne

How Music Works by David Byrne

Part musical biography, part insider’s guide to recording history, “How Music Works” takes you on a guided tour of the evolution of the music industry. That might sound dry and dull and I was actually afraid the book was going to be a challenge to read, but Byrne’s writing is engaging throughout.

Each chapter of the book covers a different area of music or the music industry. Chapter one, for example, is devoted to the discussion of the way that spaces or venues shape the music created. Punk sounds the way it does because it was often performed in gritty, underground clubs. Mozart’s compositions sound the way they do because they were meant to be performed in parlors. Jazz sounds like jazz, and actually jazz improv came about because people wanted to dance and needed something to dance to.

At times the “How Music Works” does get a bit technical. I probably didn’t need to know all about the different contracts and licensing agreements available to musicians and the pros and cons of each. But that info is probably very useful for aspiring musicians or for musicians who are wondering how to get started in the industry without giving up all the rights to their work.

If you want a guide to modern music, a look behind the scenes of David Byrne’s musical career or a general idea of how to get more involved in music and art-making, “How Music Works” is definitely worth a read.

 

 

Book Review: Woman No. 17

woman no. 17 book review

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review*

Sometimes, things aren’t what they seem. Lady, recently separated from her husband, needs to hire a nanny to watch her toddler, Devin, while she (Lady) writes a memoir.

Pretty much immediately after meeting her, Lady hires a woman named “S” (formerly Esther).

S, as you might have guessed, has a few secrets. These aren’t secrets to the reader though, and we find them out pretty much immediately, once the novel switches gears and is told from S’s point-of-view.

Woman No. 17 is a reflection on toxic motherhood, a critique on modern/contemporary art, and a page-turner. It’s weird enough and its story is gripping enough that you want to find out more.

Let’s talk about Lady. Lady’s been commissioned to write a memoir about Seth, her teenage son. Seth doesn’t speak and no one really knows why. Seth also doesn’t remember his dad, Marco, who took off when Seth was a toddler.

In the intervening years, since her baby daddy left, Lady’s modeled for an art photographer, married, and had another child, Devin, who’s now two or three. Recently, she’s asked her husband, Karl, who’s an OK but kinda boring seeming guy, to leave the house. He does, but insists on meeting at PF Chang’s every week or so.

So, enter S, a recent college grad who’s crashing on her mom’s couch and is looking to start over after a poorly thought out “art” project up in Berkeley.

She lands the nanny job and gets to move into the cottage behind Lady’s house. And then things get weird.

Or maybe things were weird to begin with, considering that S has decided her newest “art’ project is to live as her mother lived when she was in her 20s. That’s the version of S that Lady meets, not the Esther who graduated from college in Berkeley. Trouble is, S’s mom is an alcoholic. Well that’s one of the troubles.

Lady’s got mother troubles of her own, and has cut off communications with her mom, a wealthy, but difficult woman. Lady’s also dealing with the question of whether or not she’s a good mom (she’s probably not, sorry, it had to be said).

There’s a lot going on in Woman No. 17. It’s heavy on the art critique and commentary without being too heavy handed about it. It’s got a lot to say about motherhood and being a woman and life imitating art, or maybe art imitating life. And through all that, it remains a really fun, enjoyable read.

Book Review: The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

“The Glorious Heresies” opens with a bang (quite literally) and doesn’t let up from there. Maureen Phelan thwacks an intruder over the head, killing him. She’s left to call on her son, Jimmy, to get rid of the body.

From there, the novel introduces us to a variety of other characters, all of whom have some connection to the body and/or Jimmy. The man Jimmy hires to dispose of the corpse recognizes the body. Ryan, the son of the man who gets rid of the body, is introduced to and sells drugs to Georgie, the dead man’s girlfriend. Georgie, desperate to find out what happens, go around asking too many questions, putting her own life at risk.

Set in Cork, Ireland, as it struggles to recover from the 2008 crash, the novel jumps from character to character. It often leaps forward years in time. It’s fast moving, engaging, and heart breaking. Georgie, Ryan, Jimmy and Maureen all have various levels of suffering and dismay in their lives. Maureen was separated from Jimmy when he was a baby because she was an unwed mother. In at attempt to flee her life as a sex worker and drug addict, Georgie joins a weird cult, only to have the members of the cult treat her just as poorly as those on the outside. Ryan takes the fall for his drug dealer boss, landing in jail and pretty much destroying his chance of getting out of a life of crime.

No matter what, it seems every thing goes wrong for the characters. Some of it’s their fault, but most of it is due to their crappy circumstances. The novel’s strength is that it doesn’t pass judgment on the characters or push us to feel deep levels of pity for them. Instead, it’s downright funny at times, even as it’s pointing out the troubles in the world.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my  honest review*

Book Review: How to Pack

How to Pack

How to Pack by Hitha Palepu

We all probably have at least one experience that made us realize we needed to be better at packing and planning for a trip. Here’s mine: I was in 5th grade and my class was going for a three day camping trip. We were responsible for carrying our stuff from the bus to the cabins, including sleeping bags and luggage. I knew this. And yet, I still overpacked. All I remember is dragging my very heavy, floral print duffel bag and this awful sleeping bag, which managed to come unrolled, to the cabin, wishing I had packed less.

Who even knows what I packed for that trip or why it was so heavy. But probably, had I read a copy of “How to Pack” by Hitha Palepu beforehand, I would have packed a lot lighter. Not brought that silly, very large and heavy duffel bag.

Live and learn.

“How to Pack” is a quick read that’s full of useful information. It covers how to pick what to bring, how many of each item you’ll want to bring, and how to put things together. It doesn’t seek to answer the age old question “roll or fold?” but instead gives you points and tips for using each, as well as handy diagrams of how to either roll or fold your clothing. The book discusses different suitcase styles and sizes and when you might want to bring one style on your trip versus a different style.

If you’re a chronic overpacker or disorganized packer, the book will really help you get it together and fit what you need for a multi-day (and even multi-city) trip in one carry-on.

That all said, I’m not sure this book is for everyone. I’ve grown a lot since my 5th grade camping days and a lot of the info in the book was old hat for me. It’s also mostly targeted at a female audience, or at least at an audience who would be thinking of bringing dresses, jewelry and cosmetics on a trip.

As an added bonus, the book has a few blank packing lists at the back, which you can use not only to plan what you’ll bring on your next trip, but also what outfits you’ll wear and when.

** I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. **

Shopping: Madewell’s Finch Flats

Madewell’s Finch Flats

After several months of not really buying anything (!), I recently fell moderately in love with Madewell’s Finch Flats, in the willow green color. These are so unpractical, I told myself. They’re light green suede; they’ll be ruined the second I wear them outdoors.

You can get protective spray for suede, one of my friends pointed out.

Indeed, I can. So I ordered them, in my usual size 10, when they were 15 % off.

And…they were too big.

Let’s pause here and reflect on how that never happens. I’m usually struggling to cram my feet into ballet flats. But these were very loose, even with socks on. Without socks, I had about a half inch of space between the heel of my foot and the heel of the shoe.

Madewell does make these in a 9.5, which is a rarity, but I’m on the fence/too lazy to exchange them for that half size down, since the shoes are online only.

Another issue, the toe cap was short enough that, without socks on (and these do look funny with socks, by the way), you can see the spaces between my toes. Toe cleavage, I think they call it, but that’s a disgusting term. Anyway, it’s weird to see the spaces between your toes in shoes. I’d rather that not happen.

And one more issue – there’s no cushion in the sole of the shoe. I think I’m spoiled by Banana’s memory foam ballet flats (RIP) or by the very cushy soles of my Nisolo loafers, but I just can’t do with that any padding at all.

So, in sum: Madewell’s Finch Flats are pretty, nicely made, but run big and aren’t for me.

Book Review: Mexico by Josh Barkan

Mexico by Josh Barkan

Mexico by Josh Barkan

Josh Barkan’s Mexico is a collection of short stories, most of which are told from the point-of-view of outsiders, people living in Mexico who are not from Mexico. The point of view of the characters gives each story in the book a sort of voyeuristic feel and an outsider’s perspective.

Although the characters from story to story have no obvious connection to each other, what unites them all is violence. In the opening story,”The Chef and El Chapo,” El Chapo walks into a restaurant and demands that the chef make him a delicious meal. The chef, fearful of what El Chapo can do if he doesn’t succeed in preparing something amazing, decides that what El Chapo needs to eat is blood, but not just any blood, the blood of a young, innocent person.

In “The Sharpshooter,” a US army sniper has to make the decision to shoot his friend, a fellow soldier, who’s secretly working with the drug lords. In “The Plastic Surgeon,” a drug lord asks a surgeon to perform extreme plastic surgery on him, essentially transforming him into someone else. The patient dies on the table and the surgeon is left wondering if that was intentional.

The flip scripts a bit in “Escape From Mexico,” which is told not from the perspective of an US citizen in Mexico but from the point of view of a man who immigrated to the US from Mexico as a young boy, fleeing from the gang that sliced his arm open with a machete.

Although the stories in “Mexico” were entertaining and quick reading, there was a sameness to each narrator. The experiences of the characters were similar. Each person is somehow touched by the cartels and the violence connected to the drug wars. But there was just too much of a sameness to each voice, a similarity to each story that made me wonder why an entire book of stories was needed when it seemed like one would suffice.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs

Amaro

Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs

*I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review*

For Christmas last year, my partner and I decided to go to Vedge, a fancy vegan restaurant in town, for dinner, instead of giving each other physical gifts. It was at Vedge that I had Cynar, a digestif made from 13 herbs and botanicals (among them artichokes), for the first time.

The drink was both challenging and delightful and I became hooked on the concept of amaro, herbal, bitter liquors designed to be drunk at the end of the meal to help with digestion. So it was a real delight to get to read through Brad Thomas Parsons’ Amaro, which is both a love letter to and a primer on the wide world of bitters.

First off, let’s define what amaro or a digestif is. Although in the US, we might classify Campari and the like in the same group as Cynar and other amari, Parsons points out that those beverages are technically not classified as amaro in Italy, as they are typically consumed before a meal. Amaro is reserved for the big, heavy bitter drinks, like my friend Cynar, that you drink afterwards.

Along with a section on apertivo, there’s an entire section of fernet, a specific type of amaro that I really have no plans on trying soon. There’s also a section devoted to new world amaro, including a number of beverages created in the US, and lots of stories about bitter bars and amaro-devoted bartenders throughout.

Parsons really did his research here, visiting the manufacturers of some of the more well known amari, trying to wheedle the secret recipes and formulas (and there are a lot of secret formulas) out of the owners. But to no avail. Only a few people will get to know what goes into some of these beverages, ever. And I think that’s OK.

So far, I’ve enjoyed Amaro purely for the information Parsons provides. I haven’t yet had a chance to try any of the cocktail recipes included, although there are some classics, such as the Negroni. One recipe that I’m particularly intrigued by features Amaro Montenegro and orange soda. Although there are a few drinks featuring my beloved cynar, I think I’ll probably pass on making those (they contain bourbon or rye, and I’m just not a fan) and will continue to enjoy it my favorite way: straight up, with nothing added.