Friday, November 12, 2010

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (October 2010)


Greetings everybody. Yes, I am not making you wait four months before you get to read my book reviews for October. Isn't that great? Well, I thought so. I even managed to write two book reviews for the "Asia by the Book" blog as well and have started on another one as well, but I will save that for next time. This month I will subject you to a variety of genres - children's, food and travel, books and travel, a graphic novel, music, and some fiction as well. I hope you enjoy the ride.

IT’S A BOOK by Lane Smith – This may be a children’s picture book but it’s such a great one that I just had to share it with all my readers. In fact, the story might go over the head of little ones. But heck, if I had a kid, I would definitely by this for him/her, in fact I wouldn’t mind having this in my own library collection. Any story that promotes reading books can’t be a bad thing. And I love Lane Smith’s illustrations as he also did the art work for most of Jon Scieszka’s books as well which I thoroughly enjoy. Our story has only three main characters – a monkey, a jackass, and a mouse. The jackass is wondering what in the world monkey has in his hands. Monkey responds, “It’s a book”. Jackass then asks questions which reminds us how far technology has come and how it’s the simple things in life are soon forgotten. What am I talking about. A book of course. Jackass asks, “How do you scroll down?”, “Can you blog on it?”, “Tweet?”, “Text?”, “Wifi?” “Does it have a mouse” to which the monkey replies, “No, nope, no, no” and follows all of his replies with “It’s a book!”. Finally, the monkey just hands the book over to jackass who starts to read, and read, and read…and says he’ll charge it up when he’s done with it. The a little mouse pops out from under monkey’s hat and says, “You don’t have to” with the final, “It’s a book!”. Well, actually the last line is, “It’s a book, jackass!”

COMMUNION : A CULINARY JOURNEY THROUGH VIETNAM by Kim Fay – A week prior to reading this book, I spent a day at Yoyogi Park where the annual Vietnam Festival was being held. On this day I indulged in a variety of Vietnamese cuisines. Before that, the only Vietnamese dish I knew off the top of my head were spring rolls and pho “noodles”. I had no idea what bahn xeo , but it looked delicious so I had to try it. Of course I treated myself to a bowl of pho with clams and spring rolls as well. But Fay’s book not only features the most commonly known items, she fills us in on other dishes such as banana flower salad and clam rice. Fay had lived in Vietnam for four years in the '90s and wanted to be able to make the Vietnamese dishes she fell in love with for herself and friends in America and decided that she would have to go to Vietnam and learn how to do so properly. She also gives us a bit of history lesson of the region she visits along with origins of the items she eats. Full color pictures taken by Julie Fay Ashborn gives the impression of being in Vietnam in the now and will make you hungry to experience more Vietnamese cuisine. Fay’s culinary journey starts from Vietnam’s capital – Hanoi and then travels south to Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat, Phan Thiet, and ending her odyssey in Saigon (currently Ho Chi Minh City). Her culinary trip wouldn’t be complete without mentioning nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) which is a main ingredient to Vietnam’s cuisine as much as ajinomoto (MSG) and soy sauce are to Chinese and Japanese dishes. Fay takes us to haute cuisine restaurants with celebrity chefs to street cafes and anything in between. Bon Appetit! Now, I think I will treat myself to some banh mi!

THE GREEN-EYED MOUSE AND THE BLUE-EYED MOUSE by Bob Gill – This is another cute little children’s book written and illustrated by Bob Gill who also happens to be a graphic designer. Noah is a mouse with green eyes who lives in a hole and thought he would go out until he saw a blue eye staring back at him. Rafaella is a mouse with blue eyes who thought she would go exploring and discovered a hole only to find a green eye staring back at her. Noah thought the blue eyes might belong to a dragon or snake or something just as dangerous. Rafaella thought the green eyes might belong to some scary creature as well. They start a dialogue with, “Who are you?” “Who are you?” “I’ll tell you if you tell me first”. Each page shows what the mice imagine who the blue eye and green eye might belong to. At the very end of the book, Noah and Rafaella will count to three and Noah will come out of hole.

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH by Joel McIver – Having recently read Ozzy Osbourne’s autobiography “I am Ozzy” and seeing Ozzy in concert at Loud Park 2010, I had to read this biography on what some people would call the first heavy metal band – Black Sabbath. McIver mentions in the beginning that he did not interview Ozzy because most of the information he shares with us could be found in other books and interviews as well. After reading the Ozzy autobiography, the first half of this book was like a review as a lot of information was similar. But as this book is about Black Sabbath the band and not Ozzy, we get a glimpse of what the post-Ozzy years were like featuring new members such as former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, and a host of others – Glenn Hughes, Tony Martin, and the list goes on. The story starts from their humble beginnings in the blue collar town of Birmingham to the band’s history up to 2007 when this book was published which includes the long-awaited reunion of the original members and how Ozzy and family became respected celebrities by being the stars of their own reality tv show on MTV, “The Osbournes” I was fortunate enough to see Sabbath when Ozzy was fronting the band for their “Never Say Die” tour in 1979 in which their opening act pretty much blew them off the stage – that band would have been the up and coming Van Halen. I also saw the original members again at the 1999 Ozzfest. A must for all Sabbath fans.

LEAVING MICROSOFT TO CHANGE THE WORLD : AN ENTREPRENEUR’S ODYSSEY TO EDUCATE THE WORLD’S CHILDREN by John Wood – My review was recently featured on the “Asia by the Book” blog that I also contribute to. What does a former executive of a multi-national corporation like Microsoft have to do with Asia? Everything! After spending nearly nine years in the fast lane and spending the last seven of those heading up the ladder to a senior level position at Microsoft by working long hours and foregoing extended holidays, John Wood thought it was about time to slow down just a little and take an extended break from the rat race. His vacation led him to the mountains of Nepal where there were no phones, no internet, no meetings, no commutes and absolutely no connection to the rest of the business world. On the first day of his three- week trek in the Himalayas, at a small lodge, an eight- year- old boy offers Wood a drink. Wood asks if they have beer. The boy replies yes, and rushes off to get him a bottle of Tuborg, as if he ran the lodge himself, then apologizes for the beer being warm— but he has an idea! He asks Wood to wait for ten minutes as he takes the bottle to the nearby river and submerges it into the cold water spawned from glaciers. Wood says to a local man who watched this exchange in amusement, “Who needs a refrigerator?” This quip begins a conversation that will change Wood’s life. Pasupathi, the man whom Wood meets at the lodge, is the “district resource person for Lamjung Province,” whose job is to find resources for seventeen isolated schools. The children are eager to learn but there is no money to invest in schools or school supplies. Some villages have a primary school which teaches only up to Grade 5; if students want to continue their education, they have to walk two hours to the nearest secondary school. However, families are so poor that children are needed to help with farm work which helps to account for Nepal’s nearly 70% illiteracy rate. Pasupathi says to Wood, “I am the education resource person, yet I have hardly any sources”. Wood asks to see the school that Pasupathi is on his way to visit and the next day the two men set off on a three-hour trek. At the school Wood is shown a first-grade class with nearly 70 students in a room that can hold barely half that number. He is taken to eight more classrooms all crowded with eager students who stand in greeting and yell “Good morning, sir” in unison, using perfect English. The final room Wood sees has a sign on the door that says SCHOOL LIBRARY. However, the room is empty except for an outdated world map on the wall that still shows countries like the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Yugoslavia. In his most polite manner, Wood says, “This is a beautiful library. Thank you for showing it to me. I have only one question. Where, exactly, are your books?”The few books the school has are locked in a cabinet so the students won’t damage them. The library features “The Lonely Planet Guide to Mongolia”, “Finnegan’s Wake”, an Umberto Eco novel in the original Italian, and other books forgotten or abandoned by backpackers. Wood asks the headmaster how many students are enrolled in the school and is informed there are 450! The headmaster notices Wood’s surprise and says, “Yes, I can see that you also realize this is a very big problem. We wish to inculcate in our students the habit of reading. But that is impossible when this is all we have. Perhaps, sir, you will one day come with books” And this is where the story begins.

For the complete review, check out the “Asia by the Book” blog site at

CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese – This book reads like a Korean drama except the characters are British and Indian, and the story is set in Ethiopia. First of all, our main story starts with the birth of twins – Shiva and Marion who joined together at the head, by an Indian nun and a British surgeon named Thomas Stone. However, the mother dies giving birth, while the father who couldn’t accept the death of his only true love abandons the kids leaving them as orphans. They are brought up by a woman doctor who worked with Stone in a small village hospital along with another one of Stone’s colleagues who is in love with the woman doctor. (Are you confused yet?). At the beginning we don’t know if Stone is the father or not as he can’t accept the fact that the nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise could get pregnant. Shiva and Marion grew up with the illegitimate daughter of the maid who works at the hospital, Genet. Anyway, its mostly a coming of age story for the twins whose country is on the brink of war. It has all the makings of a mini-series, drama, romance, betrayal, love, and survival. And it’s about the identical twins who have two very different personalities.

THE NIGHT BOOKMOBILE by Audrey Niffeneggar – This is a graphic novel by Niffeneggar who is the author of the bestselling “The Time-Traveler’s Wife”. As I mentioned while writing about “It’s a Book”, I just cannot resist stories with books as their main theme. In this story which was first serialized in the U.K. paper the Guardian is about a woman named Alexandra who had just had a fight with her boyfriend. As she decides to take a walk to cool off, she happens upon a traveling bookmobile. As she enters, she gets a feeling of déjà-vu as she checks out all the books. The book mobile carried every book she has ever read from the chapter books from her childhood to her own diary. However, the bookmobile closes at dawn. She looks for the bookmobile the following night but it is nowhere to be found. Alexandra becomes obsessed with finding it but it would be years later when she stumbles upon it again. In the years between finding the bookmobile, Alexandra had become a librarian and was determined to work in the bookmobile itself, however it would be a very high price for her to pay to do so. This would be a nice book for your visual library.

1 comment:

janet brown said...

Ernie, I love your page-turners and look forward to them every month--thank you for featuring Kim!