The Savvy Bookworm

My Personal Book Review Site

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Written By: Erika - Jun• 18•08

by Tracy Chevalier

I loved this book.  I won’t even meander about telling you about this book before I come right out and say how much I enjoyed this book.  I absolutely loved the story, and was drawn immediately into young Griet’s world.

Griet is our heroine.  She is a 16-year old girl who is hired out to help support her family.  After a horrific accident, her father can no longer support the family by his trade, so the family does what it can to help- for Griet, it is to become a maid to the Vermeer household.   Johannes Vermeer is a painter by trade, and barely supports his wife, Catharina, as well as his six children and his mother-in-law, the fierce Maria Thins.  Griet quickly adjusts to life in another household, as the elder maid, Tanneke, shows her the ropes and helps her to find her feet.  It isn’t long before Griet is assigned the task of cleaning her master’s painting studio- a room where no one else in the household dare tread without being invited.  Part of Griet’s job is to clean and dust the room without disturbing a thing- even the windows must not be washed at times, as the lighting may affect the master’s paintings.  Griet earns a modest income, but she is at least able to help her family in the only way that she can.

It isn’t long before Vermeer draws Griet into his world of painting, and she begins to help him in the studio.  He comes to depend on her to help mix his precious paints, in addition to keeping his space clean.  Also entwined in her world is a patron of Vermeer’s, Mr. Van Ruijven, who desires Griet for himself, and she does everything in her power to try and avoid the man.  Griet also finds herself being wooed by the young son of a local butcher.  Her parents are eager for this match, as they envision spending the rest of their life being supplied with meat, where meat was a rare treasure for them to enjoy.

Griet is endearing.  She is so well written, that I couldn’t help but be swept away by her world.  The fact that this entire novel is speculation about one painting just makes the story even sweeter.  And after reading this one, I look forward to reading the rest of Tracy Chevalier’s works.

Serving Crazy With Curry

Written By: Erika - May• 17•08

by Amulya Malladi

I picked up this book on the recommendation of a food blogger. This book was actually the choice for a new Food Blogging Book Club where you read a book and prepare a recipe inspired by the book. I haven’t actually made a recipe yet, but I did read the book.

The book begins with Devi, the daughter of Indian immigrants. Devi has recently been downsized, has ended a relationship that shouldn’t have been, and finds her life a complete disappointment and she decided to end her life. She plans carefully her exit from life and goes through with her plan, only to be saved by her meddling mother who finds her just in time. Devi ends up moving in with her parents, but refuses to speak, as speaking will only lead to heartache in her mind. Instead of talking, she begins to communicate through food. She’s never been one to cook, but finds herself in the kitchen, trying to take over her mother’s domain with her own twist on authentic Indian cookery. As the book progresses we become involved in each of her family members lives, and most chapters end with one of Devi’s recipes.

I found myself laughing a lot at this book,which sounds a little morose maybe, given the circumstances of the novel, but it was more than appropriate. This family was written just as that, as a real family that you felt could be your very own, or could be your next door neighbors. More than once I was also moved to tears as the frustrations in Devi’s life came more to the surface. I could feel the magic that she felt as she became frustrated and then turned to cooking to share her feelings. Cooking can be such a tactile and magical experience, I love to get lost in the art of cooking, and this author captured that very spirit, the magic in cooking.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I was rooting for a happy ending for all, and I found myself wishing I was at one of Devi’s dinners more than once. This was a very well-written book, as certain events and moments were foreshadowed, but just barely. It was just enough that as facts were brought to light, I was proud of myself for picking them out of the details previously. That is much more satisfying than the blatant foreshadowing. I enjoyed reading this book, and found myself very vested in Devi and her family. I was sad to reach the ending, although it came quickly as I found it difficult to put this one down.

Definitely recommended reading, I’m labelling it as a foodie read because the cooking and food elements are really visceral and vibrant, and I think anyone who enjoys cooking even a little could relate.

In Bad Taste? The Adventures and Science Behind Food Delicacies

Written By: Erika - May• 15•08

by Massimo Francesco Marcone

Every once in a while in the food world we hear about some crazy food delicacy, and we wonder if it really is a delicacy, or if it’s just strange.  This scientist, Dr. Marcone, thought the same thing, and decided to apply what he knows in science to some of the myths behind the world’s most expensive delicacies.

He starts off with the recent hoopla surrounding Kopi Luwak.  Kopi Luwak is a coffee that is reputed to be the most expensive coffee on earth.  It goes through a special process that cannot be replicated by artificial means.  Just what is that process?  It is partially digested by wild civet cats.  The coffee beans are eaten by the civet cat, and then they are subsequently removed from the scat piles left behind by the civet cats in the wild.  Not something that I would be too excited to try myself.  However, the science behind it is fascinating, and this leads Dr. Marcone to think about other places where civet cats live- specifically, a poorer nation in Africa.  He wonders if the cousin civet cats in Africa do the same thing, and could that be a potential goldmine for the poor people of that country.

After an extensive look into the lives of civet cats and the production of kopi luwak, we are then taken on an adventure to discover the origins of Malaysian birdsnests- yes they are really birdsnests that have been regurgitated from sea birds.  We also get a unique look at something that I’ve only heard of in passing, Argan oil. Argan oil is produced from the nuts of the argon tree in Morocco.  What makes true argan oil so special is that the nuts are first digested by tree-climbing goats.

Perhaps the most disgusting adventure in my mind, was the trip to Italy to discover the origins and the science behind a cheese that is writhing with live maggots.  And yes, the maggots are eaten with the cheese.

As a foodie, I did find this book interesting to read, and I liked hearing about some of the history behind the exotic foods he was eating.  However, I didn’t always care for the tone of the author.  Sometimes he just sounded a little too…egotistical maybe.  Look at me, I’m digging through animal scat looking for coffee beans.  Look at me as I almost get eaten by a lion.  And then we have to hear each of those adventures briefly repeated with each section of the book.  I would have rather heard much more about some of these exotic foods, or about more exotic foods!  I can only guess that maybe he held back a bit so that in the event his book was a success, he could rifle off a second one filled with all-new adventures.

Would I read that second book?  Probably.  I found it interesting enough, and could easily enough roll my eyes at some of the political connotations he worked in.  Do I recommend this book? Meh.  It’s interesting, a bit scientific, but certainly not a gripping or exciting read by any means.  It was a nice book to just pick up from time to time and read a chapter or two.  I would recommend it to anyone interested in science, someone who is interested in the whys behind the way things work.  I don’t think I’d label it as a foodie read though, as most of the things contained here are not things that an everyday foodie is going to come across, it’s more scientific in nature.  However, Dr. Marcone has a great sense of adventure and humor, and puts in enough fun things to keep it light and engaging.

Plainsong

Written By: Erika - May• 13•08

by Kent Haruf

I think this is one of those books that got a lot of buzz when it came out.  Maybe it was part of the Oprah book club at one time, I don’t know, but I do know that I didn’t read it when it was being buzzed.

Part of me thinks I should have left it that way.

This is one of those novels about intersection, we meet several people, and eventually their lives all begin to intersect in ways they never expected possible.  We first meet Tom Guthrie and his two boys, his wife has been depressed or something…she won’t get out of bed, and the family tiptoes around her until she decides it’s time to change the way things are.   We also meet Victoria, a 17 year old girl who finds herself newly pregnant and kicked out of her mother’s home.  Then we meet the McPheron brothers, to elderly men who have lived and farmed together their entire lives.  The one person that all these people have in common is a woman named Maggie, and she becomes the tie that binds all these people together.

This novel was just engaging enough to keep me turning the pages, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly great, and I don’t know that I’d totally recommend reading it.  Maybe as a beach book, something ro read while you’re waiting for the “must read” to become available at the library.  Much of this book was predictable, which I guess tells you that the foreshadowing was well-done.   I loved reading the interactions the McPheron brothers had with people, they just seemed like two old men that anyone would be lucky to have in their lives. In the same way, each character in this book had just enough about them that you were rooting for their problems to go away in the end.  I wanted resolution for all of them, and for the most part, I did get that by the end of the novel.

Overall, a so-so read.  I wouldn’t call it a great book, but it was very well written.  So if great writing is what engages you in a book, this may be the book for you.  If a fantastic plot and storyline are what grab you, this isn’t it.  But maybe give it a few chapters to see for yourself.

Beneath A Marble Sky

Written By: Erika - May• 06•08

by John Shors

I’ve decided that I love reading historical fiction. Especially historical fiction set in a country that I love learning about. And this was just such a book. Beneath A Marble Sky is one idea of how the Taj Mahal came into being. The story behind the Taj Mahal is that the Shah Jahan had the Taj Mahal commissioned in memory of the great love he had for his wife. This particular version of the story is told through the eyes of the Shah’s eldest daughter, Jahanara. Jahanara tells this beautiful tale of love in such a way…it completely captures the idea of love.

But this was much more than just a love story. It’s also a story of family and betrayal and it also has intrigue and plotting throughout. After the death of her mother, Jahanara becomes an advisor to her father, filling in her mothers place as best as she can. Also involved are her brothers, Dara and Aurangzeb. Dara is mild mannered and a bookish young man who is the rightful heir to the throne as the eldest male in line. Aurangzeb is a warrior. He is strong and tactical and leads the countries military on successful battle after successful battle. And Aurangzeb wants the throne. He wants it badly enough to kill several of their other siblings, and eventually comes after Jahanara and Dara, as well as the Shah Jahan.

Also tied neatly into the story as a whole is Jahanara’s own story of love. Jahanara accepts her parents match for her with no questions asked. She has seen love through their example, and hopes that with time, love will come to her marriage. Alas, her marriage is nothing more and a tool for her husband. He married her to gain favor and status, with the hopes that she will produce him an heir where all his prior wives have failed him. Jahanara’s marriage is not at all what she wanted, and turns to her father for help. He does his best for the daughter he loves in just another way he tries to honor the love he had with his beloved Mumtaz Mahal.

This really was a beautiful book. It captured the beauty of India, and really gave me a glimpse of what life may have been like for this royal family. When you think of royal families in history, you think of how wonderful it must have been to be royal, and be a princess, but this is one of those books that shows the reality. The danger one must be in all the time, knowing that there are plots to assassinate and try and take over the throne. It wasn’t just the king or leader in danger, but the whole family, and any supporters as well.

I most definitely recommend this book. It is a wonderful glimpse into history, as well as a great book that I simply couldn’t put down.

Wicked

Written By: Erika - Mar• 25•08

by Gregory Maguire

I’ve been meaning to read this book for sometime.  I’ve always been a fan of The Wizard of Oz, and I thought the idea of digging into the past of the Wicked Witch of The West was a fun premise.  After being completely disappointed by the last read though, I approached this with a sense of caution.  I was wary of being disappointed.

Lucky me, I was not disappointed.  It was a fun fantasy through and through.  It was very fun to see glimpses of the Oz I’m familiar with within this new land of Oz which the author created. I was enchanted by all the characters, and I especially enjoyed the friendship and its complexity of Galinda and Elphaba.

I’m not going to spoil this book by going into much detail, but I will say that if you are a fan of the musical, this is a different story apparently, so keep that in mind before curling up with the book.  I also should mention that there is one scene in the book which is pretty disturbing.  It takes place in “The Philosophy Club” and I most certainly will not go into details, but I will say that I didn’t find the scene necessary to the story at all, and I thought it could easily have been done without.

Overall though, this was an enchanting read and a fantastic choice to take me away to another world for a few hours.  I definitely recommend this book, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Son of A Witch.

The Poe Shadow

Written By: Erika - Mar• 03•08

by Matthew Pearl

After checking this book out from the library four times, I can finally put it to rest.  A while back, I had read The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, and loved it.  It quickly became a favorite book.  The thing about The Dante Club though, was that it took a while for the story to become engaging.  But once I got into it, I was unable to put the book down.

So I had high anticipations for The Poe Shadow.  It took me a long while to get into it in the first place.  I would pick it up, begin reading, and then quickly become bored.  But I trudged on.  I remembered the reward of continuing with The Dante Club, and I was looking forward to The Poe Shadow taking off, but sadly, it never did.  I had hopes, in fact, around page 120 it picked up a bit, and I became excited that the book was finally going to become exciting and enchanting.  But it wasn’t long before it became mired down in fact and truth and it was just plain boring.  There was a good story in there, it just didn’t get an opportunity to overtake what seemed to become a dissertation on Edgar Allen Poe’s demise.

I can’t recommend this book.  Not even slightly.  I just kept reading and trudging, and then I got to the point where I thought I might as well finish it, and I had to force myself to keep picking the thing up.  I was so relieved to finish this book, and I will be thrilled to drop it off at the library and never see it again.

Come on Mr. Pearl.  Do better next time would you?  Based on The Dante Club alone I will be checking out his next work as soon as it’s available, I just sure hope it delivers better than this one did.

Peaches and Screams

Written By: Erika - Feb• 29•08

by G.A. McKevett

This is a Savannah Reid mystery, and the first one that I’ve read by this author.  I always look at the books at the library, and they catch my eye with their foodie-sounding names.  In a reading slump, I picked this one up, figuring I’d give it a shot.

Eh.  It was okay.  Savannah Reid is an overweight private detective who lives in California, but has family in Georgia.  She heads home to Georgia to attend the wedding of her sister and tragedy befalls her family before she can even arrive.  Her younger brother, Macon has been accused of murdering a prominent  Judge in their hometown.  The evidence doesn’t look good, and Savannah faces the dilemma of being a PI when dealing with family.  Her associates from California waste no time flying out to join her on her mission to clear her brother’s name.

Overall, I did enjoy the story, and I enjoyed the interaction if Savannah’s family.  I did find the conclusion a bit predictable, but it didn’t end up quite as I’d anticipated.  Personally, I found that I didn’t care too much for Savannah as a person.  One minute she’s playing a hard-nosed private investigator, and the next minute she’s an insecure southern belle with a few too many pastries behind her.  The character is just a tad inconsistent.

Would I read another book in this series?  Sure, when I’m looking for a quick read, and nothing is jumping off the shelves, there are plenty of G.A. McKevett books to choose from.  I would like to read another one and see how the two stories compare, so I will certainly try out one more.

This was an okay mystery story.  It wasn’t super suspenseful at any moment in time, but I did find myself rooting for Savannah to solve the mystery before the end, so that to me is a sign of a good mystery.  And while many of the clues were laid out and foreshadowed beforehand, there were still a few surprises which, when thought upon, were more obvious after the fact.  It was a well-done mystery in that regard.

Edge of Honor

Written By: Erika - Feb• 23•08

by Gilbert Morris

Let me start off by saying that this book was intense. It really was. It didn’t start out that way, but it certainly didn’t take very long to get there. We start off by meeting out main character, Quentin Laribee, a med-student with a fine gift for surgery. He has the most nimble fingers many of his colleagues and professors have seen. Quentin lives with his handicapped sister, Hannah, and also has a fiance, Irene. It is Irene who is Quentin’s future- her father owns a lucrative medical practice, which Quentin will step into after marriage. He has a bright future ahead of him, and then he is conscripted into the last fighting days of the Civil War.

He heads off to war, thankful for the strings which were pulled which saw him as a medic. He would be safe from the front lines and be able to do what he does best- save lives. Then one day, the skirmish gets too close and Quentin confusedly finds himself on the front lines with a gun in his hand. In a tragic misunderstanding full of confusion, Quentin shoots and kills a Confederate soldier, just as he is about to surrender. This immediately affects Quentin, and it isn’t long before he is headed back home, full of remorse and sadness and a deep dark depression. Even his faith in God is shattered as he shuts himself off from the world around him.

The accident leaves a long mark on Quentin, and finally, he decides that the only way to heal his wounds would be to see what he can do for the widow of the man he killed. Quentin heads to Arkansas, despite the pleas from his fiancee to stay behind. Once in Arkansas, he meets the family of the killed soldier, and devises a plan to help them keep their farm. What he didn’t devise, nor did he see coming, was his falling in love with the widow of the young soldier.

This story was so intense at times. The agony and the feelings these people were going through literally leaped off the pages. The message of God’s love and grace is also prominent, and unlike other Christian fiction selections, there is no getting around the message of forgiveness and ultimate grace through God. Like I said, very intense. As I finished up the book it really left me with many lingering thoughts of my own that still occupy some of my thought time. It was an excellent book, and definitely worth picking up and reading. If you don’t care for blatant Christian literature, this book is definitely not for you.

The Lady And The Unicorn

Written By: Erika - Feb• 21•08

by Tracy Chevalier

I had no idea what to expect when I picked this book up. It’s predecessor, Girl With A Pearl Earring has been on my to-read list for ages, and I finally decided to pick it up. Except that it was out at the library, so instead I grabbed The Lady and The Unicorn by the same author.

When it first opened, I wasn’t sure if I should continue reading. We meet Nicolas des Innocents, a painter, who has been asked to the home of Jean Le Viste to be commissioned for a painting. And not just any painting, paintings that will surround an entire room in the form of tapestries. While at the home of Jean Le Viste we find that Nicolas has a robust appetite for women. Hence my hesitation. We see a servant girl who is round with his child, and then we meet the eldest daughter of Le Viste, and Nicolas’s appetite is awakened further. A union between Nicolas and the young lady Claude is not to be, as they are from different circles of life, and Claude’s future is tied to her father’s desire for a better status for himself. She will go to the man who can further her father the most, and the wiley spirit in her wants so much more.

Nicolas is quickly commisioned to paint the paintings which will become the tapestries, and then he is sent to Belgium, and the home of George De La Chapelle, a weaver with a blind daughter who also is not ready to accept her lot in life. Being blind, she has little chance of finding a husband, and the only man who has offered to take her is a disgusting dyer of wool, who always smells of his craft.

The weaving of these great tapestries is an amazing story itself, all the hard work that went into such work was unbelievable, and in this case, the weavers would be working for over a year on one commission. After I got past the first “love scene” in the book, the rest flowed very smoothly and tied together nicely. Future romance scenes, in fact, blended much better with the story, and actually added to the final outcome. It was just that the first scene was so abrupt and unexpected…it was much better once we had gotten to know some of the characters a little better.

That being said, I did enjoy this novel, but to me, it was missing something. The story of the weaving of these tapestries was amazingh- and beautifully done, but it just seemed too short to me. It was almost as if a whole portion of the story was missing and in the end, some of the loose ends were woven together abruptly to finish it off. That was a shame because Tracy Chevalier has a real gift for beautiful words. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and would read another by her in a second. My only caveat would be the love scenes. There are two of them in particular, as well as many references throughout the book. So I recommend this book with reservations. The story itself is beautiful and enchanting, and worth the time it took to read it- which for me was an afternoon.

The Stars For A Light

Written By: Erika - Feb• 20•08

by Lynn Morris and Gilbert Morris

This is the first in a series of 10 books by this father-daughter duo. At first I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the premise of the books or not. We first meet Cheney Duvall, a young woman who is newly graduated from medical school in the 1860’s. Set in a time period where women simply were not doctors, I was prepared that much of these books would focus on the inequalities between men and women of that time. Fortunately, they didn’t. The subject matter did come up more than once, but it was always in context and taken in stride.

Doctor Duvall has two loving parents and a beau when we first meet her. She is newly independent with her degree, and we learn that she has struggled to find a job to use her newly acquired doctoring skills. But find one, she does, aboard a ship sailing from New York City to the new city of Seattle. She has contracted to be the attending physician to a large group of women, sailing West in hopes of finding better lives and husbands as well. Cheney sends to an old colleague for a nurse to join her, and is more than surprised when a young man by the name of Shiloh Irons appears at her doorstep, claiming to be her new nurse.

The journey does not disappoint and is filled with moments of peril, disease, and a journey through the jungle along the way. While this book and all the others in the series are Christian historical fiction, I didn’t find them to be excessively preachy, as some Christian fiction can be. Yes, there are moments where the message comes through loud an clear, but mostly it was just a wonderful story sharing a bit of what life could have been like during that time period. I have since gone on and red four more books in this series, and I can say that each and every one captivated me in a different way. And even better, while they are all interconnected, they each tell a new story, they’re not just re-hashed in a new way. I will definitely be tracking down the remaining books in the series because they are so beautifully written and completely captivating.

In A Slump

Written By: Erika - Jan• 24•08

I’m unsure if I should keep this blog going. I love having it as a reference to keep track of what i read and if I enjoyed it, but lately I just have not been finding the time to read as much. I have been reading a series which I’ll review shortly, but in the meantime, I’ll be thinking carefully about this blog and whether or not I can give it it’s deserved attention.