Essays · Humor · Julia P · Memoir

Self-Inflicted Wounds | by Aisha Tyler

Self-Inflicted

Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation by Aisha Tyler
(It Books, 2013, 231 pages)

Aisha Tyler’s Self-Inflicted Wounds is a collection of humorous essays about various times in her life when she has made impressive mistakes and humiliated herself but managed to keep going and learn from what happened. We start when Tyler was young and made her first epic mistake and we proceed to the present day. Tyler has no shame in putting it out there, but her honesty fits with her personality. This is a woman who can laugh at herself.

We hear about the time she gorged on fattening food after dieting to be in a magazine only to break two toes while stumbling around in her hotel room. We learn about how she tried to show off on a sushi date by eating a large portion of wasabi, only to have everything in her mouth wind up on her date’s face. We hear about the epic party foul of passing out at a party – and no, we’re talking about an event that happened well after college. Plus all kinds of things in between. This was a quick read and an entertaining book. There were definitely parts that were laugh-out-loud funny, but not on the same level as, say, Tina Fey’s Bossypants. If you like Aisha Tyler and/or light humorous reads I think you’ll enjoy this book – I did.

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Biography · History · In the Library · Non-Fiction · Sue S

Unbroken | by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
(Random House, 2010, 406 pages)

Wow! Am I glad I pressed through and read this book! Unbroken is the life story of Louis Zamperini. The story starts out in his early years. You quickly find out that Louis was pretty rambunctious as a child. I can’t believe the stunts he pulled! Louis was also a very fast runner. Running became something that he could put his energies toward and helped keep him out of trouble. Louis eventually ran the 5000 meter dash in the 1936 Olympics.

The bulk of the book focuses mainly on Louis’ experiences in the Air Force and as a POW during World War II. It is hard to believe what he experienced in the POW camps and the way he kept on going. Even after the war he had additional struggles that he had to work through. I don’t want to give too much away but Louis’ resiliency is amazing to read about. Anything I’ve ever gone through that I thought was hard is nothing compared to what Louis Zamperini faced. I definitely recommend this book. Having read Unbroken makes me appreciate even more the sacrifices of those who have served and those who are currently serving in the military.

Andrew S · Classic · Fiction · Juvenile

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle | by Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter
(Warne, 2002, 64 pages)

This story describes little Lucie’s encounter with Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, a washer-woman with the curious distinction of being a hedgehog. Lucie has lost three pocket handkerchiefs and a pinafore when she stumbles on the industrious hedgehog. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle has a little house with low ceilings and miniature future, and she does the washing and the ironing for all the animals that live near her. Some disbelieve Lucie’s story, insisting she must have fallen asleep and simply dreamed up Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. Lucie, however, has proof – she has regained her handkerchiefs and pinafore, and they are freshly washed.

Potter wrote The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle with an audience of little girls in mind. My little girl liked it well enough, though the archaic terminology associated with some of the descriptions of household chores makes it a bit tough to follow at times. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle herself is an entertaining creation, but on the whole, this story doesn’t hold up as well as most of Potter’s books.

Andrew S · History · Non-Fiction · Religion

The Letters of Evelyn Underhill | by Evelyn Underhill

The Letters of Evelyn Underhill

The Letters of Evelyn Underhill by Evelyn Underhill; edited by Charles Williams
(Longmans, Green and Co., 1943, 343 pages)

Evelyn Underhill started her publishing career as a novelist, but she is best known for her books on Christian mysticism and spirituality written in the first half of the twentieth century. In her collected letters we are given a look into Underhill’s methods as a spiritual director and guide. Most of the letters selected are ongoing correspondences between Underhill and various people who wrote to her for advice about methods of prayer, meditation, and general spiritual direction.

I was particularly interested in this collection because it was edited by Charles Williams, who also wrote the introduction. Williams, a novelist and spiritual director himself, benefited much from Underhill’s writings, and the debt he owes to her comes out clearly in his introduction to her life and work. Though she wrote many books, Williams claims that the main part of Underhill’s vocation was not writing but to be a sort of spiritual light, an example of the possibility of communion with God through prayer and meditation. These letters reveal her shedding light on the spiritual lives of the people who sought her help.

There are a few consistent features of Underhill’s spiritual counsel. First, she insists that her correspondents combine the “passive” life of contemplation and prayer with the “active” life of charitable good works. Second, she continually discourages people from seeking mystical or ecstatic spiritual experiences – though never denying the possibility of them – and encourages them to maintain a quiet, consistent, and peaceful rule or practice of prayer. Third, she regularly suggests that private spirituality should be coupled with regular observance of the social component of spiritual practices. These letters are full of wisdom for those seeking spiritual direction, and they are informed by Underhill’s wide reading and deep knowledge of the best of the Christian mystical tradition.

The latter section of letters were written after the outbreak of World War II. Underhill was evacuated from London to the country, and her correspondence from this time is naturally full of concerns about the violence and death occurring around her. As a pacifist, the onset of war was particularly troubling for her because she believed that it spoke to her own failure and that of other European nations to uphold Christian ideals about non-violence. The letters written in these circumstances make for particularly interesting and edifying examples of how spirituality can help someone to retain a sense of peace and perspective in a time of upheaval.

Fiction · Food! · Jean R · Mystery

The Grave Gourmet | by Alexander Campion

The Grave Gourmet

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion
(Kensington, 2010, 320 pages)

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion is the first novel in the Capucine Culinary Mysteries series. The novel begins with the dead body of the President of the automaker Renault, Jean-Louis Delage , being found in the refrigerator of a famous three-star restaurant in Paris. The case is assigned to a young police lieutenant, Capucine Le Tellier.  Capucine is married to Alexandre, a restaurant critic who is able to help Capucine with questions about the inner workings of the restaurant business.

I read this book because it was a free download for the Nook. I like reading mysteries especially if they are set in foreign locales. I had never read a mystery involving gourmet food. Unfortunately, I found that the descriptions of the gourmet dishes and cooking preparations made the book a little tedious for me. I didn’t know many of the ingredients and couldn’t appreciate the description of the meals being served.

The Grave Gourmet is the debut novel of Alexander Campion. The Grave Gourmet has a good story line, but the main characters were not as fleshed out as I would have liked. I have read reviews of Campion’s more recent Capucine Culinary Mysteries. The reviewers seem to think that Campion gets better with experience. If you are interested in culinary mysteries give this one a try.

Audiobook · Fiction · History · Humor · Julia P · Mystery · Young Adult

From Norvelt to Nowhere | by Jack Gantos

From Norvelt to Nowhere

From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013, 288 pages)

From Norvelt to Nowhere is the “sequel” to Gantos’s Newbery Medal winning Dead End in Norvelt (which I loved). Like the first book, I decided to listen to this one as an audiobook. The author narrates and I really enjoyed it last time. This book kind of continues from where the last book left off, but the story line is a slightly more exaggerated. The small town of Norvelt is slowly getting back to normal after almost all the old ladies in town were murdered. Jack decides to dress up as the murderer, Mr. Spizz, for Halloween and one of the houses he trick-or-treats at is that of Mrs. Custard, an elderly woman who recently came back to town. When she answers the door and sees Jack dressed up she comments on how he looks just like someone who had previously stopped by. Then she proceeds to eat a poisoned Thin Mint and die. That’s it, Jack is convinced that Spizz is back and he heads off to Mrs. Volker’s house to let her know what’s up.

Mrs. Volker now makes it her personal mission to find and kill Spizz. When she receives a telegram telling her that Eleanor Roosevelt (the town’s founder) has died she is able to convince Jack’s mom to allow Jack to come with her as her “helper” as she pays her respects to the former First Lady. This is where things get interesting. There’s more to this trip than meets the eye. Mrs. Volker and Jack head all over the eastern United States, trying to figure out how to track down and kill Spizz. Mrs. Volker constantly compares their mission to Moby Dick, she is Mrs. Captain Ahab and Spizz is her white whale. Jack is there to try and keep things under control, but it’s hard given Mrs. Volker’s intense focus. Along the way the reader is exposed to all kinds of historical trivia as the mystery of the elusive Norvelt murderer slowly unravels.

This book was good, but didn’t compare to Dead End in Norvelt. I laughed a few times, but I kind of had to force myself to pay attention since I wasn’t as invested in the story. I still definitely recommend Dead End in Norvelt and would recommend this title to follow up if you enjoy it.

Andrew S · Classic · Fiction · Juvenile

The Tale of Two Bad Mice | by Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Two Bad Mice

The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter
(Warne, 2002, 64 pages)

In this story Potter plays with the humorous interaction of animals and inanimate playthings, as two mice, Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, invade a doll-house while its occupants are out being played with. The mice are confused by toy food made of plaster and the flames in the fireplace made of colored paper. They vandalize the little house, breaking dishes, smashing the plaster food, and making off with various items back to their home behind the walls. The dolls are appalled when they return to their house, though of course their painted faces show no expression. Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca show some remorse in the end – Tom place a crooked sixpence that he found into the doll’s stocking on Christmas Eve, and Hunca Munca sneaks into the house regularly to sweep and clean.

The inspiration for Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca came from two mice who Potter saved from a trap, granted names, and kept as pets. These mice served as models for the mice in the story, and the doll-house and toy food were modeled after items owned by her publisher’s niece. I find hilarious Potter’s depiction of mice who are confused and enraged by the cruel oddity of delicious looking food that can’t be eaten. This one is also great to read aloud – mainly because it’s fun to say Hunca Munca.