This was a rough month; hardly anything I read pleased me. I hate when that happens because my dream is to drift from book to book to book in an amiable reading mood -- kind of like Huck Finn on his raft. Alas, during August I was constantly knocking up against the shoals and biting down hard on my corncob pipe.
The Flight of the Phoenix - Elleston Trevor. The best thing about this novel (and the two movies it inspired) is the neat plot twist involving the rebuilt plane and its designer. Other than that, it seems a bit workmanlike.
Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight - M.E. Thomas. The author of this memoir (?) is pretty weak sauce when it comes to advancing her argument that she is a sociopath. Her attempts to shock are lame. She often contradicts herself. She swears she's beautiful, brilliant, charming and captivating, but her lumpy and disjointed prose style belies those assertions. Did I mention that when she's rhapsodizing about her looks she sounds like a Judith Krantz novel? I'd like to believe that a real sociopath's writing and editing would be icily precise. I was shocked, but certainly not in the way M.E. Thomas intended.
Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America - Amy Sutherland. I absolutely loved this book about the world of competitive cooking. Author Sutherland goes on the circuit to chicken, garlic, beef, chili and barbecue cookoffs, a jambalaya cookoff (Rice has a vertical seam, and one should be able to see it if it's cooked properly! Who knew?) and the motherlode of all cooking contests, the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Sutherland's descriptions of the look and aroma of dishes jump right off the page, and her profiles of the quirky, obsessed contesters are equally entertaining. A perfect summer read, but delectable any time of the year.
Anchored In Love - John Carter Cash. Anchored In Love is a memoir of John Carter Cash's mother, June Carter Cash. He doesn't seem to know much about her life before he came along that hasn't been covered before. After he does show up in her story, he loses focus and it becomes his memoir. The book also has a dull, dogmatic and stifled feel that can be traced to its being published by Thomas Nelson, a well-known Christian publishing company. John Carter Cash wanted to write his mother's story himself rather than having it done by a biographer that didn't know her, but June Carter Cash would have been better served by an objective eye.
The Surrendered - Chang-Rae Lee. This novel started off so well, but the subplot with the missionary's wife was annoying, and Lee seemed to get too caught up in flowery, operatic writing at times. However, I must salute the efficiency with which he disposed of two characters at once. It was meant to advance the plot. Not sure it helped, but it's nice to see what he's capable of.
My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store - Ben Ryder Howe. I thought the title was a bit of a misnomer -- I was picturing Howe surrounded by and selling all sorts of toothsome Korean cuisine. Instead, it seemed like a generic convenience store in New York City. The only thing that made it "Korean" was that he went into the business with his Korean mother-in-law and his wife. There was also a subplot about Howe's other job as an editor at The Paris Review, and his encounters with his boss, the legendary George Plimpton. Nothing really seemed to go together and Howe doesn't have that manic dash that could have made it work in spite of everything. The book was translated into Korean. I wonder how that audience responded to the book.
Hattie Big Sky - Kirby Larson. Hattie Inez Brooks, a 16-year-old orphan who has been shuttled from one relative to another decides to try her hand at homesteading in Montana when her uncle dies and wills her his claim. Pretty 1800s, right? Surprisingly (to me), this takes place during World War I. Author Kirby Larson manages to cover a lot of ground in this Newbery Honor book. First, Hattie must do a daunting amount of work to prove on her claim and this is all new to her. The reader also gets a taste of what's going on overseas because of the letters Hattie receives from her old school friend Charlie. At home, Hattie's new neighbors have troubles of their own. The husband is a real stand-up guy, but since he's German-American, the cloddish townspeople don't see it that way and he and his family are constantly persecuted. I liked how Larson obviously did her historical research, but she didn't lay it on with a trowel. Also, the voices seem true for the time. While I was reading, I kept thinking that Hattie Big Sky would make a perfect Hallmark movie.