Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky – Book Review

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky
Published by Doubleday, an imprint of Random House

There is LOTS you can do with a degree in Philosophy, guys! You can be a valet for a nice hotel in New Orleans, or…

Okay, well, there are probably lots of other options, but that’s where Jacob Tomsky landed, parking cars. From there, he began to move up in the hotel, hitting the front desk and even working as a manager in the housekeeping department. The longer he worked in hospitality, though, the less suited he became for jobs elsewhere. In fact, the longer he worked reception at a single hotel, the less able he became to even move to another hotel because of the way that pay and preferred shifts work in the industry. So it turned out that Jacob just had to stay. Stay, and begin to grow slightly bitter.

As a result of Tomsky’s ultimate frustration with the hospitality industry, we have Heads in Beds. Tomsky chronicles much of his own personal work in hotels, hitting some of the highest-interest, most drama-filled interactions. This isn’t just someone’s catalog of complaints, though. Tomsky uses many of the incidents he recounts to give tips to the traveler in order to ensure the best possible hotel stay: how to get the best rooms, how to never pay for minibar items, and even how to get those movies removed from your bill. Also, after reading Heads in Beds, you will always, always, always tip the bellman.

Tomksy is an engaging writer, and the way he alternates between the inward look of his personal story and the outward look of his tips for travelers works very well together. There is enough balance that whichever aspect of the memoir you are reading for, I think you will be happy with it. Heads in Beds is a must for travelers who want to know what is really going on behind the scenes in the hotels where they stay. Recommended.

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Source: Publisher, via NetGalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson – Book Review

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Published by Basic Books

Whether you are an advocate of slow food or most of your nourishment comes from cans, the freezer, or drive-thrus, cooking and eating are integral parts of your daily life. But just how did we get to where we are today? Remember, at one point humankind didn’t even have mastery of fire. Now we have gas or electric ranges, rice cookers, regular and convection ovens, sous vide machines, and much more.

In Consider the Fork,Bee Wilson traces the development of many aspects of cooking and eating, including cutting implements, heat sources, cooling sources, and eating utensils. Although her focus is primarily Western Europe and, later, the United States and Canada, she does make mention of Asian innovations from time to time, particularly the Chinese ton knife and, of course, chopsticks.

Consider the Fork is chock full of interesting things that you never knew about the ways that we cook and eat, such as the fact that the act of cutting food before we eat it (knife and fork eating in the West, ton and chopstick eating in China) actually seems to have changed the alignment of our mouths; an overbite is not helpful if you’re ripping all of your food with your teeth. Although that is the factoid that most impressed and stuck with me, Consider the Fork is packed with similarly fascinating information, such as how a woman from Boston influenced the United States into measuring things in cups, when weight is a much more useful and accurate measure for dry ingredients.

A perfect read for both foodies and those interested in histories of specific objects, Consider the Fork is fascinating and a great read. Highly recommended.

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* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir – Book Review

A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House

In less than a century, England saw two rulers who would be recorded in the popular history as usurpers: Richard III and Lady Jane Grey. When Jane Grey is overthrown by Queen Mary Tudor after ruling for only nine days, her younger sister Katherine Grey feels that her life has been torn asunder. Not only is she no longer the sister of the Queen and instead the sister and daughter of traitors, but her marriage to her beloved husband is annulled by his father, who no longer sees their match advantageous. Kate Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had a happy early life, but after the death of her uncle, King Edward IV, suspicion begins to invade her life as her father’s actions in regards to the kingdom and his nephews seem increasing suspect. As relatives to unsuccessful claimants to the Crown, Katherine and Kate have many parallel experiences and a shared obsession with the fate of Edward IV’s sons, the boys who would become known as the Princes in the Tower.

I have had mixed reactions to Alison Weir’s fiction, but really enjoy her nonfiction, so when I heard she had a new novel coming out I was excited check it out. I was not terribly sure about the idea of dual historical time periods going between the reign of Richard III and the reigns of the three Tudor women; it seemed likely not to flow well, or to be too contrived. As I began reading Kate and Katherine’s stories, though, I realized just how many similarities there were in the broad strokes of their stories, with the ascension and dethroning of their family members with pretensions to the throne. This was even more true as both women underwent these experiences when they were quite young and thus had to deal with the way that these events influenced their matrimonial prospects.

Early on it seems that Kate and Katherine’s shared interest in the Princes in the Tower was going to be unsatisfying and a bit of a loose thread, but a little over halfway through A Dangerous Inheritance the pieces begin to come together and this commonality between the women weaves their narratives together even more coherently than their shared status as the kin of traitors. Ultimately A Dangerous Inheritance is a captivating pair of stories with incredibly appealing and sympathetic main characters and I can definitely recommend it.

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* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon – Book Review

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House

Twenty years into their marriage, Alice and William Buckle are more like roommates than lovers. With all the energy that she isn’t putting into her marriage, Alice has a tendency to over-analyze her children’s lives: the son she is sure is gay and in the closet, the daughter she is positive has an eating disorder after being dumped by her boyfriend. It is only this involvement in her children’s lives and throwing herself into her part-time job teaching drama that keep Alice from realizing just how dissatisfied she is. Then in her spam folder, Alice finds an invitation to participate in an anonymous online marriage survey where she is assigned the pseudonym Wife 22, and paired with Researcher 101. As Researcher 101 begins to ask Alice questions about her life, marriage, and courtship, she simultaneously remembers how wonderful her relationship with William was once, and realizes how lacking it is now.

Told through emails, Facebook status updates, Google search results, the marriage study questionnaire, and more traditional prose, Wife 22 is a completely and utterly absorbing  book. Gideon has a gift for drawing readers into her characters’ lives and eliciting empathy, regardless of how closely – or not – personal circumstances align with those of the characters. Alice is at times frustrating and is certainly not without her own faults, but she is incredibly sympathetic and understandable.

In addition to the characters who are so realistic and easy to relate to, the format of Wife 22 kept the pages turning. The emails, Facebook status updates, and Google search results are very wisely and judiciously used, so that they add to, rather than detract from the story Gideon is telling. Even more impressive, though, is the use of marriage survey questions. We see only Alice’s responses, and not the questions that Researcher 101 has asked. This is initially disconcerting, but quickly becomes almost addictive, as the reader interprets what she is answering. The questions are included as an appendix at the end of the book and it is hugely instructive to go back after you have finished reading to see exactly what she was answering with every question, but keeping them out of the flow of the story ends up adding a lot to the development of Alice’s character.

Wife 22 is smart, witty, and engaging. I became so lost in Alice’s story that I finished the entire 400 page book in only 24 hours. This story of love and relationship is not to be missed. Very highly recommended.

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Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Double Time by Jane Roper – Book Review

Double Time: How I Survived – and Mostly Thrived – Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins by Jane Roper
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

After trying in vain to have a baby and enduring fertility treatments, Jane Roper finally learned that she was pregnant. With twins. Following the initial moment of panic, Roper – a writer and reader – searched for a book that was, at the time, nonexistent: a memoir of the first years with multiples. Roper’s own first few years with her twin daughters were filled with many exceptionally joyful times, but also with renewed depression and professional hardships.

Double Time is a funny and insightful look into life raising twins. Much of what Roper discusses will be relevant to all parents, life with young children viewed through Roper’s wry sense of humor:

After extracting what cat food I could from Elsa’s mouth – not that it mattered, really, but the idea of one’s child eating horsemeat and fish eyeballs and whatever else is in dry cat food isn’t terribly pleasant, especially when, as Alastair pointed out, we hadn’t formally introduced those foods yet – I grabbed the dishes and went into the kitchen to find a towel to mop up the water. –p. 109

Of course, Roper also brings in the challenges that are unique to parenting twins, or children very close in age in general, such as the inability to be in two places at once as twin babies grow into toddlers, and both decide to engage in risky or disgusting behavior at the same time.

As the soon-to-be mother of twins, I found Double Time to be an honest and open look at twin parenthood. It is reassuring, even when Roper discusses the challenges, because she explains how she and her husband, Alastair, were able to meet those challenges without loss of life or limb. Her approach is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, which is also reassuring as she shows a picture of a family making it and being happy, rather than an unattainable picture of familial perfection. Towards the end of the book, she says something that sums up perfectly why Double Time is so reassuring, when responding to the eternal ‘how do you do it?’ question:

Of course the answer to all of these questions – in any context – is that raising twins is not a matter of being some kind of superhuman wonder parent. We simply don’t have a choice. We just do it…. Not always well, and certainly not always with the amount of patience and perspective or consistency we’d like. But we do it. –p. 259

I would absolutely and unequivocally recommend Double Time to new parents of twins, but I think many parents – perhaps mothers in particular – will resonate with Roper’s experiences. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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