Review: Authentic Recipes from the Philippines by Reynaldo Gamboa Alejandro, Luca Invernizzi Tettoni

I wasn’t entirely sure how to interpret Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge when they made one of the categories “a food book about a cuisine you haven’t tried before.” It could have meant a chef memoir or an informational text or a cookbook and I ended up doing a combo of the last two.

Authentic Recipes from the Philippines was a very thorough, engaging read. I learned a lot, like the fact that the Philippines is comprised of over 7,000 islands and they have been colonized by many, many countries. The book also takes the reader through the ways those colonizations have impacted the country’s culinary traditions and the influences that shaped the land and how that is echoed in the shaping of their national dishes. Some dishes were clearly more inspired by China, others by Spain, etc. There was a breakdown of the different common ingredients or flavors that are used in Filipino cooking and even the tools they traditionally use and the modern appliances that sometimes are used instead. I am planning on making something from the cookbook so keep an eye out for that post. I am the first to admit that I’m not an adventurous eater but I was definitely able to find a few that I’d like to try.

If you have any interest in Filipino cooking or culture, this is a good, quick, fairly comprehensive read.

Review: Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer

First review of 2020!

I read Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer to complete the first task in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, a nonfiction YA book. I have been interested in the Salem Witch Trials since I was a kid and I thoroughly enjoyed Schanzer’s presentation of the case.

The material is constructed thoroughly but written in prose that conjured up images of sitting around a campfire listening to scary stories. The book was also peppered with evocative illustrations that captured the terror and solemnity of the Salem Witch Trials, a choice that could have been hokey but actually worked to great effect.

I can see this book being a real asset in classrooms or for other morbid little children who are fascinated with tales of witchcraft and lies. It’s a good primer for them as they get older and read The Crucible and are made aware of the real terrors of the event, like mob mentality.

Also, the book is well cited which is just a little note I like to throw in because I love a well researched and cited piece of nonfiction. Both for plagiarism reasons and because it gives the reader plenty of options going forward if they want to continue reading about the topic.

Review: In the Presence of Absence by Mahmoud Darwish and Sinan Antoon (translator)

This will be my last memoir post for the year, just in case anyone was growing tired of them and wants to go back to the realm of fiction. This is also the last book club review of the year because for December our genre was Palestinian authors and this autobiographical book of poetry was the winner.

I was thoroughly unaware of Darwish when I read In The Presence of Absence, because my literary education has been comprised of primarily British and American authors. At first I was nervous about taking on the work because I don’t have a strong grasp of the conflict between Israel and Palestine and was worried I would need to do a lot of research to connect with the book. While I know the book would impact me on a deeper level more consistently if I was more educated about this issue, the book still resonated in many ways. I don’t feel incredibly confident about writing a review of a work by an author who means such a great deal to his country so I will simply state that it was a deeply moving book and provided a voice from a country whose pain I’ve only seen discussed peripherally by white news anchors in clips from CNN and it’s a damn shame there isn’t more space given to own voices during these conflicts.

As written in the Amazon synopsis:

“One of the most transcendent poets of his generation, Darwish composed this remarkable elegy at the apex of his creativity, but with the full knowledge that his death was imminent. Thinking it might be his final work, he summoned all his poetic genius to create a luminous work that defies categorization. In stunning language, Darwish’s self-elegy inhabits a rare space where opposites bleed and blend into each other. Prose and poetry, life and death, home and exile are all sung by the poet and his other. On the threshold of im/mortality, the poet looks back at his own existence, intertwined with that of his people. Through these lyrical meditations on love, longing, Palestine, history, friendship, family, and the ongoing conversation between life and death, the poet bids himself and his readers a poignant farewell.”

 

Review: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Trigger Warning: This book is a dual memoir of two people who have an interest in true crime so heinous acts are referenced including sexual assault and murder. There are also stories shared about their own near misses with assault and child endangerment. People should also be aware that they both discuss addiction, eating disorders, and one of them relays the experience of losing their mother to Alzheimer’s which could be especially distressing to those with personal experience with that kind of loss.

I’ve been a My Favorite Murder listener for a couple of years now and my feelings about it kind of wax and wane, especially since it has become only about 50% murder and 50% sad/weird/disaster things. However, I still appreciate the podcast and when I heard this book was coming out I knew I’d read it but it took me til November to actually give it a read. I’m so glad that I did.

Even if you are not a listener of this podcast, the writing is solid and I laughed and cried at different times throughout. It’s not easy to get me to do either thing so the fact that they were both able to make me express both says something.

I also enjoy that it’s a unique format by writing a dual memoir. Even though there is a decade between the two, their stories and perspectives are very in sync and touch on broad human experiences. There is also less talk of murder than you would expect though they do explain how and why they came to love the macabre subject and what their friendship and its bond over true crime has meant to them.

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered is a poignant, well crafted memoir and stands alone as a work apart from the podcast or the true crime genre in general.

Review: A Broom of One’s Own by Nancy Peacock

I think I picked up A Broom of One’s Own at a library or local bookstore sale because it sounded interesting and was short and at this point in the year I was very far behind in my reading challenge for the year and needed something quick. The book is a brief memoir by author Nancy Peacock on what it’s like to publish a book, have it go over well, and then still end up needing to get a job to maintain your life. It’s an interesting perspective from a voice we don’t get often – the voice of the published but not prolific author.

Peacock’s profession is also interesting as she works as a housecleaner, a profession which gave her quite a few stories just from her experiences cleaning people’s homes. She also talks about some personal losses that occurred through this period of time.

I won’t lie to you all, I don’t remember it incredibly well but I do remember feeling an odd sense of melancholy. Maybe because of the different human experiences she shares. Maybe because of the reality that publishing a novel doesn’t change your life like the fairytale Cinderella stories make you want to believe. Maybe because it kept reminding me how messy my house is and how much I should clean it.

In any case, it was an interesting read and helped kickstart me back into reading after a slump. I haven’t checked out any of Peacock’s works yet. Maybe that will be a goal for next year.

Review: I’ll Cry Tomorrow by Lillian Roth, Gerold Frank, and Mike Connolly

Trigger Warning: Alcoholism, child sexual abuse, adult sexual abuse, domestic violence, anti-semitism

 

I read this memoir by 1920s film star Lillian Roth for my final paper in my class on Addiction. This was not an easy read for content but the pacing was excellent and the story engrossing. At the time she wrote I’ll Cry Tomorrow, in 1954, Lillian Roth had been out of the spotlight for years and was only recently reentering the business though to a much different extent than before. She was 44 was it was published and through her book we’re given a new look into the life of the pre-code era in Hollywood.

She recounts her youth with her parents who desperately wanted her and her sister to be stars. She discusses her father’s alcoholism from the distance that time affords though with no less pain or poginancy than you would expect. Roth’s life was filled with trauma from youth from being molested to the sudden death of her first fiance who ended up being one of two men in her life who did not abuse her in some way. From a mental health perspective I found it especially interesting tracking her descent into alcoholism as it was thrust on her to shut her emotions down in lieu of actually supporting her. She also takes the reader through the expected social aspect of being a celebrity which also included a significant amount of drinking.

Roth’s many marriages and significant relationships are overshadowed by abuse, her growing dependence on alcohol, and her struggle to conceive or adopt a child. She suffers other losses including her career and her father and nearly her own life by the time she is admitted to rehab. In many stories rehab is where it ends but Roth also provides the perspective of someone who went through rehab, graduated out, and then relapsed and ended up working with an AA program. She credits the AA program as a driving force for her recovery and became involved in helping others who struggled with addiction. She also married and had a healthy relationship with a man after years of harrowing violence from partners.

When looking at clips of Roth in movies in the 20s and 30s, it’s hard to reconcile the peppy and professional dancer with dimples and all of the coquettish allure of the iconic flapper with the accounts she gives of her grief, trauma, and struggle with addiction. This is one of the reasons I think this book is so important. It highlights the fact that we cannot know what is going on beneath the surface and that the lifestyle that comes with celebrity is often rife with loss and pain. It was also powerful reading her account of how she did finally manage her addiction and enjoy sustained recovery.

Due to the troubling subject matters discussed in the book, I would advise that if any of those topics are triggers, especially the domestic violence, you skip this one. If you can manage reading this topics and have any interest in the impact of addiction and behind the scenes of Hollywood in this era, I highly recommend this book.

Lillian Roth
circa 1930: Lillian Roth, the Hollywood film actress, dancer and singer who appeared in ‘The Vagabond King, the Paramount picture. (Photo by Otto Dyar/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Review: Becoming A Counselor by Samuel T. Gladding

Alright you guys this is gonna be quick.

This is a series of vignettes by renowned Wake Forest University professor who has worked in the counseling field for years. In this book he recounts different events from his life and in the last two sentences relates it to counseling. Reading this book was like sitting through a holiday dinner with your grandfather who tells you meandering stories that he finds hilarious and poignant and you find a speed bump between dinner and going home. Except in this instance I had to pay $30 for it because it was required reading in a class for a university that already took enough of my money that it felt especially rude to make me buy one of their professor’s publications.