Monday, August 24, 2009

An Honest Account of One Man's Struggle with Food Frank Bruni's "Born Round"

I seem to be having pretty good luck with the review copy gods right now. They are putting some really good/exciting titles in my way and I simply have no choice but to snatch them right up!

This was one ARC that I was super, super excited to get my hands on. I've always enjoyed Bruni's columns in the New York Times, and glad to see that he was offering this book up as a consolation prize since he's leaving the food critic's job. The book was full of Bruni-esq wit while being brutally honest. It's good to know that some famous-ish people have problems just like the rest of us. And now for a review...

Frank Bruni's new memoir Born Round chronicles the longtime New York Times columnist's lifelong struggle with food. Born into a large Italian family where cooking is a contact sport, Bruni begins to struggle with his weight as a child, and continues to struggle with it into adulthood and beyond. He tries all manner of fad diets and even eating disorders and drugs before discovering his holy grail for consumption in his mid-30s--eat food in small portions and exercise constantly. He finally has his weight and his life under control when he embarks on a great food journey--becoming the food reviewer for the Times.

I loved this memoir, and I'm not usually a huge memoir fan. Bruni gives overeating and excess weight a very human face that anyone who has ever struggled to balance a love of food and weight can appreciate. The same wit that made his columns must reads in the weekly Times food section (and I don't even live in NYC!) make this a wonderful read. The book is at times laugh out loud funny, and at other times deeply emotional. It helps that Bruni has led a very interesting life and his tidbits about life as a reporter--particularly while on the campaign trail with President George W. Bush in 1999 and 2000--just lend more color to this already very colorful book.

If you're looking for an enjoyable and fast read, I would recommend this book. However I will warn that the book contains material about eating disorders, so if you are sensitive about this subject, or fad dieting, you might want to avoid. Bruni does not advocate these things, but he is honest about his experiences.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Landing in the Middle of August with a Dud--Hester Browne's "The Finishing Touches"

So after starting August with a bang, I slowed down a bit because I had a bit of a dud. No need to go into how it was a dud here--I'll let the review speak for itself.

Hester Brown's "The Finishing Touches" is set at an English finishing school in London that has seen better days. The school's spiritual leader Franny has just died, and the school's old fashioned ways has left it with just four hopeless and spoiled students. When the owner of the school asks his adopted daughter, Betsy, to try to figure out how to bring back the school's old glory, she decides a rapid modernization campaign is necessary to bring the school back to life. But will Betsy save the school before it's too late?

"The Finishing Touches" was a cute concept, but I feel like it needed more substance. The main characters--Betsy, her friend Liv, and the girls at the school--all seemed interesting enough, but I kept wishing that they would actually DO something. The novel felt like exposition, exposition, and more exposition, with very little action until the very end. When the action started it was very good and I enjoyed reading it, I just wish it had started on page 50, instead of on page 350. Ms. Brown is obviously a talented writer, and she did a great job developing the relationship between Betsy and Liv and Betsy and her adopted mother Franny. I just wish she had put some of that talent into developing an interesting and cohesive narrative throughout this novel.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Old Favorites with New Novels--Jennifer Weiner's "Best Friends Forever"

I've been a longtime fan of Jennifer Weiner's, so I was super excited when I heard she had a new book coming out this summer. I think Weiner is as good as chick lit gets, and who doesn't enjoy some frothy reading along with all those other joys of summer.

I wasn't dissapointed by this book at all--in fact, I was glad that Weiner decided to branch out some and try something a little bit new. Her Jewish girl in Philly thing was getting a bit old, so it was good to see a different setting, different pace, different approach to the central story.

Jennifer Weiner's 7th novel "Best Friends Forever" is set in a suburban town outside of Chicago. Addie Downs has been an outsider her whole life, and now in her early 30s she is single and friendless. That is until Addie's old best friend Val shows up one night on Addie's steps. Val quickly pulls Addie into her world, which forces Addie to reflect on why their friendship had dissolved 15 years earlier. As the two women come back together Addie is forced to examine her own life and wonders if her best friend might just help her find what she's been searching for.

I'm a big Jennifer Weiner fan, and I was worried that Ms. Weiner might have lost some of her trademark wit and human touch after her last novel, Certain Girls. Well, I'm happy to report that Ms. Weiner is back in full force with Best Friends Forever! The novel's central heroine is a classic Weiner girl, but she's far enough away from her previous characters that you don't feel like you're reading the same story you've already read. There are parts of the novel that are among the most touching things I've read in Chick Lit--Addie caring for her dying mom, and her handicapped brother, to name a few.

This is a super quick read with it's pseudo crime and chase plot, but it's a fun summer read. If you're looking for a carbon copy of Ms. Weiner's previous books, this isn't it. But if you're looking for something a little bit different that still has Ms. Weiner's signature flair, I would recommend this book.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Starting August Off With Right--With Reading!

So, in an attempt to make August a bit more of a successfull reading month than July, I'm taking advantage of this quiet weekend to get some reading in. Yay! Which means I managed to power through the last 200-odd pages of Pat Conroy's new novel "South of Broad" in the past 24 hours. And watch Marley and Me and the new Harry Potter (finally!). It's amazing how much you can get done with insomnia!

Anyways, on to "South of Broad". As I say in the review below, this was a really mixed read for me. I wouldn't say I didn't like it, because there were parts of the novel that I love. But then there were other things that made me say "no way, this is ridiculous!". So read my recap below and make a decision for yourself--this is expected to be one of the biggest books of the fall and it will be released on September 15.

Pat Conroy's "South of Broad" focuses on the life of Leo King, a newspaper columnist in Charleston, SC, and his close knit group of friends. The book focuses on two periods in Leo's life, his senior year in high school 1969-1970 and a tumultuous year 20 years later in 1989-1990. Although Leo is blessed with a large and generous circle of friends and deep religious faith, his life is filled with a series of trials and heartbreaks that are recounted in this sweeping epic of a novel.

This was my first encounter with Pat Conroy, and I mostly picked up the book because it was much buzzed about as one of the biggest books of the fall. I think the word that best describes this work is uneven. There were some parts of this novel that I loved, where the story was rich and the writing matched some of the best I have ever read. But then there were other parts that seemed contrived and unrealistic to me, and by the end of the novel so many things happen to Leo that I felt like Conroy had thrown everything but the kitchen sink at me. When put together, these contrasts diminished the book for me. Conroy obviously has a gift for capturing human emotion and the richness that is found in relationships between people. But I think this book simply tries to do too many things. The essence of 3 or 4 really great stories lie in this novel, when put all together they just make one jumbled whole.