Book Review

Book Review: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafeFried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“You never know what’s in a person’s heart until they’re tested, do you?”

How is it that I went so long without reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe!? The movie is only one of my top three all time movies and yet the book sat on my To Read list for years. Anyway, I finally read it and I was not disappointed.

First and foremost, Fried Green Tomatoes is a love story. Whether that story is about Idgey and Ruth or Evelyn and Ninny is up to the reader but love, friendship, and a willingness to fight to the end, come what may, ties everyone in this story together. In 1985, Mrs. Evelyn Couch meets Mrs. Ninny Threadgoode in a nursing home one fateful morning. From there, the two develop a powerful bond as Ninny tells the tale of coming of age in Whistle Stop, Alabama. We meet Idgey, Ruth, Big George, and the rest of the Threadgoode clan as try to make ends meet in the segregated south during the Great Depression. We watch Evelyn find herself while Ninny loses herself deeper and deeper in the past. It’s an achingly good book.

Told through a series of vignettes throughout the years, the book has an unusual style that may be off-putting for some readers. If given the chance, however, the book has some wonderful lessons to impart. You’ll probably want to read it alone because you’ll start looking crazy in public. At times I was laughing so hard I cried and other times I just plain cried.

Don’t expect this book to be exactly like the movie. In fact, it’s very, very different but far better than the movie.

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Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lincoln in the Bardo is a good book — but you have to be ready for it. George Saunders has taken a novel and made it just that, novel. It’s part poem, part history text and entirely complicated and moving at the same time. Readers need to prepared for the odd writing style, the numerous characters, and the constantly changing voices. However, if given the chance, the book is phenomenal.

Let’s talk premise first: Lincoln in the Bardo takes place over the course of one heart-wrenching night following the burial of William Wallace Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln’s third, and favorite, son. Willie died suddenly of typhoid fever just as the Civil War is ramping up in the United States. The story takes place “in the Bardo” which is a Buddhist term for the space between life and death, essentially the purgatory of the Christian world. Over the course of the night, many spirits appear to help young Willie on his new venture into the afterlife and we hear how each ghost ended up in their current state, some are luckier than others. In between conversations in the cemetery, Saunders intersperses actual bits of history from contemporary sources who recount the events leading up to Willie’s death. The overall narrative is alternatively emotional and humorous.

Here’s where things get tricky. The form. This isn’t your typical novel written with sentences that build paragraphs that turn into a book. Rather, it reads more like a screenplay with the character announced in italics followed by their lines in the next below. Historical sources are cited appropriately often reading as follows:

“The rich notes of the Marine Band in the apartments below came to the sick-room in soft, subdued murmurs, like the wild, faint sobbing of far off spirits.” Keckley, op. cit.

It’s a very avant-garde style of writing that makes the book difficult to follow. I found myself wondering “who’s that guy again?” or “wait — how did he die?” Towards the end of the book things start to get a little bit muddled as the narrative veers into the reflective and meditative and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about that.

Overall, the book was worth the confusion because it made me think and it threw me out of my comfort zone. I can’t recommend this book enough (with the disclaimer that it’s really not going to be everyone’s cup of tea).

Book Review: The White Darkness

The White DarknessThe White Darkness by David Grann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s better to be a live donkey than a dead lion.

Full disclosure, I’ve never read a book by David Grann and didn’t love it. This book was no different.

In another riveting book by Grann, The White Darkness tells the tale of Henry Worsley who dreams of crossing the Antarctic on his own. Long an adventurer in his own right, Worsley spent years in the British military while pining for the icy abandon of the South Pole. Finally, Worsley is able to complete the quest of his idol, Ernest Shackleton, and he and his two companions (and relatives of those who originally traveled with Shackleton) voyage together to the South Pole.  Not satisfied with making history just once, Worsley decides to traverse the Antarctic alone with no food caches, just a single sled and his own fortitude. A lifelong leader, he always said “It’s better to be a live donkey than a dead lion” but his quest puts his motto to the ultimate test.

The White Darkness is short, coming in at only 140 pages. It’s built off Grann’s previous retelling, a short article in The New Yorker. The book doesn’t specifically improve on the earlier piece, but the photos are stunning. I was able to finish the book in about 2 hours and thoroughly enjoyed it.

*I received an advanced electronic copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley.*

Book Review: Your Museum Needs a Podcast

Your Museum Needs A Podcast: A Step-By-Step Guide to Podcasting on a Budget for Museums, History Organizations, and Cultural NonprofitsYour Museum Needs A Podcast: A Step-By-Step Guide to Podcasting on a Budget for Museums, History Organizations, and Cultural Nonprofits by Hannah Hethmon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hannah Hethmon’s book Your Museum Needs a Podcast is a must read for any cultural organization or individual thinking about jumping into the world of podcasting.

Hethmon herself is a podcasting veteran but came by her knowledge piecemeal and with a struggle. She aims to bridge the gap between idea and product by helping those with little to no understanding of how to create a podcast. She covers equipment, mapping an episode, recording, editing, and more in her short guide. Hethmon has simplified everything from start to finish and presents it in a practical guide in a way that is not overwhelming.

Make sure you visit her site to grab the workbook which is referenced several times. My only qualm with the guide is that the workbook is not included in an appendix. You’ll definitely want to get it since it’s invaluable in the course of planning and carrying out the tips Hethmon neatly outlines for the reader.

Book Review: What Lies Below

What Lies BelowWhat Lies Below by Barbara Taylor Sissel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What Lies Below by Barbara Taylor Sissel is a mystery novel, a suspense novel, and a romance novel all rolled into one. Gilly O’Connell is a broken woman. She sees things other people can’t and it’s caused her unending heartbreak her entire life. She’s lost friends, family, and even her husband and child. Yet she can’t stop her dreams and must deal with the consequences that come with visions of events she is powerless to stop.

I read mysteries (a lot) and so very little in this book came as a shock to me. There was maybe one “WHOA!” moment in the entire book. However, that didn’t ruin it for me. The characters could have been fleshed out a bit more, and there were times that I thought characters could have asked more questions or probed deeper in a particular situation. Some of the chapters didn’t flow as smoothly into one another but it didn’t detract from the story. Finally, we all know that I hate the tidy bow at the end of a story and this one wrapped up just a little too cleanly for my tastes.

Overall, the book was a good read. It was quick and intriguing and I’d highly recommend it to any fan of mystery/suspense with a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

*I received an advanced electronic copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley.*