Maman’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan – Book Review

Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Pub

From the publisher:

For Donia Bijan’s family, food has been the language they use to tell their stories and to communicate their love. In 1978, when the Islamic revolution in Iran threatened their safety, they fled to California’s Bay Area, where the familiar flavors of Bijan’s mother’s cooking formed a bridge to the life they left behind. Now, through the prism of food, award-winning chef Donia Bijan unwinds her own story, finding that at the heart of it all is her mother, whose love and support enabled Bijan to realize her dreams.

I was expecting Bijan’s memoir to focus more directly on her mother based on the title. There was definitely a strong thread about her parents and their life in Iran and attempts to adjust to life in America. However, more than anything, Maman’s Homesick Pie is about Bijan herself, how she came to create her unique blend of Persian, American, and French food.

Despite Maman’s Homesick Pie not being what I expected, it was still a lovely, heartfelt memoir. It is a slim tome, so Bijan does not always go into great depth of detail about people, places, or events, but what she does write is so evocative, that the sparseness of some of the details doesn’t really matter.

Foodies and those who love stories about identity will greatly enjoy Maman’s Homesick Pie.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher for BOOK CLUB.
* 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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Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart – Book Review

Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman

Fresh off of her delightfully sinister book Wicked Plants, Amy Stewart has returned with a fascinating look at the most painful, destructive, and deadly of all bugs. The book is organized in short essays about each of 220-odd bugs, with interspersing chapters on buggy trends like zombies, garden pests, and bugs with brutal mating habits.

Each chapter is almost more intriguing than the last. On page 134, for instance, the reader learns that Formosan termites were actually the cause of much of the damage in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. The seams of the floodwalls were constructed from sugarcane waste, a favorite treat of the Formosans. Worse, due to the Formosan’s building structures, the flood waters failed to wipe them out, which left the termites free to attack abandoned structures after the waters receded. What I want to know is, why is this the first time I’ve ever heard that piece of information?

Aside from making me slightly cranky and suspicious, Wicked Bugs is a joy to read. Really, what more can you ask from a book than that it make you remark out loud, “Oh Charles Darwin, you’re so dumb?” (read the entry on the Bombardier Beetle and you’ll understand). You might want to avoid reading it with other people around, though, unless you want to be That Person who constantly remarks on the interesting facts in your book. I’m sure my husband would have preferred to concentrate on what he was reading rather than what I was reading. If I had just one wish, though, it is that Stewart would have included a postscript on some of the reasons these bugs are actually valuable parts of our ecosystem, because after reading all of the terrible things they do to us, I was about ready to suggest we just get rid of them all, ASAP.

If you like to learn new, not always necessarily useful things, then Amy Stewart is like candy for your brain. Yum. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
PowellsIndiebound*

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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The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern – Book Review

The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman

The Karps are not a particularly religious family, nor are they particularly interested in their Jewish heritage. Influence and money are really bigger motivators in their lives. That is why it is a bit surprising when their son Bernie discovers an old man in their meat locker and learns that he is a rabbi who was overcome by an ice storm while praying and has been protected by the family for years. Not long after that, the power goes out and the rabbi is suddenly thawed. From here the story splits into a dual time period narrative, following Bernie’s ancestors from the time they took possession of the icy holy man up nearly through the present day, and examining the antics of the newly released rabbi, who gets himself into quite a lot of trouble.

I am very much of two minds about “The Frozen Rabbi.” The premise, certainly, is fascinating. I also loved most of the historical timeline. By following the lives and trials of the family sheltering their frozen mystic, readers got a good glimpse of the lives of Jews in small European towns over the last 150 years or so. The family was forced to move from place to place due to pogroms and general hatred, eventually leaving for America before the horrors of World War II.

On the other hand, I simply could not connect with the modern storyline. Initially the idea that the rabbi turned worldly and very much like Bernie’s father, while Bernie was inspired by the rabbi’s existence to learn about his heritage and become very spiritual was intriguing. However, the constant repetition of Bernie’s spirit floating away from his body and the rabbi being SHOCKING! got old quickly, and it felt that, for a long time, not much plot was advanced.

“The Frozen Rabbi” is quirky and funny and interesting, but really just wasn’t for me – as evidenced by the fact I had no problem putting it down for 2 weeks with only 80 pages left. Still, it was well-written and if the premise intrigues you, it might just be worth a read.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

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.

A Curable Romantic by Joseph Skibell – Book Review

A Curable Romantic by Joseph Skibell
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman

Set against the backdrop of early 20th century history, in “A Curable Romantic” by Joseph Skibell, we meet Dr. Jakob Sammelsohn, a young Jewish man struggling against his traditional religious background and the scientific progress of the new century. As a young man in Vienna, he falls in love with a young woman at the opera, a woman who is both a patient of Dr. Freud and, possibly, inhabited by a dybbuk of the dead wife Jakob never loved. As he continues to grapple with the inherent contradictions in his life, Sammelsohn is involved first with Dr. Freud, then with the Esperanto movement.

One of my favorite things about historical fiction is learning about topics about which I know nothing. Enter: the society around Dr. Freud and the Esperanto movement. Skibell does a fantastic job of making the time and place come alive. I felt that I could get a firm grasp on the broad historical strokes surrounding both Freud’s early work and the history of the Esperanto movement, and how both of these things attempted to bridge a gap between a past their leaders would see as superstitious and a future that might look upon both of them as naive. I also appreciated the look  at the role of Jews in European society that felt real, without seeming too much like Skibell was trying to get across A. Message. My only qualm with this book is that it was 600 pages long, which was perhaps a little longer than it really needed to  be.

Interesting, well-written, informative historical fiction. Recommended.

Thanks to Beth Fish Reads, who has helped me to become more aware of the imprints I love over the past year, beginning with her Amy Einhorn Perpetual Challenge. Follow her blog for regular spotlights of some of her favorite imprints.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

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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The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by – Book Review

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Publishing

While on vacation in Europe, Elizabeth Tova Bailey contracted some sort inexplicable illness. Doctors and specialists were unable to ever determine what she had come down with, unsure even whether her illness was viral or bacterial. From time to time, significant flare ups of her mystery disease left Tova Bailey bedridden for months at a time. On one such occasion, she was forced to leave the rambling old barn she called home to live in a sterile little apartment where she could be better taken care of. It may have been a convenient place for her caregiver, but it wasn’t a particularly life-affirming place for Elizabeth – until a visiting friend brought her a tiny woodland snail. Having a piece of the natural world at her bedside gave Elizabeth a purpose and rhythm to her days that was otherwise lacking.

The story of a chronic illness could so easily be fraught with distress and depression, and the story of a snail could so easily be boring. “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating,” however, was simply lovely. The writing was straightforward but strong, and the insight into Tova Bailey’s thoughts, frustrations, and joys over the course of her convalescence was clear and meaningful. It was also amazing just how fascinating learning about a snail could be in Elizabeth Tova Bailey’s hands. Her intimate emotional connection to the subject matter was evident with every word, and that made this a very special and heart-warming read.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to Beth Fish Reads, who has helped me to become more aware of the imprints I love over the past year, beginning with her Amy Einhorn Perpetual Challenge. Follow her blog for regular spotlights of some of her favorite imprints.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

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.