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52 books in 2015: A reading list for Jul-Oct

I have been rather remiss, I fear, in keeping my book list updated here on my blog. I've been reading far more than I had hoped, but certainly not as much as I would like. I am happy to have passed the 50 book barrier with more than a month to spare! Let's see if I can get close to 60 books this year. I'm confident I'll finish at least 2-3 more this month, and hopefully another 3-4 in December. October

54. Appetite by Philip Kazan This is a book that shares much of the soul of the book I'm currently writing, which I would not realize until I cracked it open (note that strangely, it's not available on Kindle). Nino Latini is a cook who serves Lorenzo Medici, Cardinal Gonzaga and eventually Pope Alexander VI. But aside from all that, he's in love. Desperately in love with a woman he cannot have. I loved the sensuality of this novel, the way that Kazan dives deep into the flavors and tastes not just of food but the world itself. Overall I adore this book although there are a few areas where I wondered why on earth Nino would be so blind to the potential outcomes of some of his choices. Still, I could overlook that, to read more of the delicious prose, savor the particular place in history and in the hopes that Nino would finally have the woman to whom his palate was ultimately dedicated.

53. The Venetian Bargain by Marina Fiorato This post-Venice-trip read came up as a title when I was doing more research on Venice. I don't like to read too much historical fiction in the time frame that I'm writing, but I thought I'd give this one a shot as I wanted to get a sense on how the writer uses place (i.e. the physicalness of Venice) in the novel. This book juxtaposes Turkish and Venetian history, showing the political and social challenges that existed in 1576 (the book I'm writing has my characters in Venice in the 1520s or so). Fiorato nails the historical details but some of the plot points felt a little contrived and often the main character, Feyra, would do things that just didn't make sense but were helpful to move the plot along. Overall a decent read.

52. The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino I am smitten with Calvino. His prose is some of the most beautiful that I have ever read. I can't wait until I become fluent enough in Italian to read his stories in their native tongue. There is no way for me to describe this book. It is so full of the unimaginable and magnificent creatures and people and gods. I think this book has wedged itself into my top 10 ever read list.

51. Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino As a child I adored fairytales and folktales and did whatever I could to get my hands on them. I loved Grimm, Anderson, East O'the Sun and West O'the Moon. So when I saw that Calvino had compiled these beautiful Italian stories, I knew I had to pick it up. The book does not disappoint. It's a huge book of adventure, magic and wonder.


50. Venice, a New History by Thomas F. Madden As part of my research for THE SECRET CHEF, I've read a lot of history books this year on Renaissance Rome and Venice that are not on this list. This one, however, I thought was worth a mention. It's a wonderfully accessible non-fiction volume that puts the history of Venice into an easily digestible and thoroughly fascinating read. For me it was the perfect gateway book to a city that enchanted me from the very moment I saw it from the cabin of our water taxi.

49. Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine Ink and Bone straddles the YA/Adult line, much in the same way as the Harry Potter books do. There are a few similarities to the HP line of books, particularly as it is set around a small group of students put into impossible situations. Caine imagines a world where the Library of Alexandria didn't fall and the world of books is quite different than the world of books we know today. I enjoyed this book and will definitely pick up the next volume when it comes out.

48. The Library at Mount Charr by Scott Hawkins WOW. What an incredible book! I could not put this down and read it in less than a day. It isn't a book for the faint of heart, and it is full of violence and somewhat disturbing scenes, so don't go there if you can't handle it. If you can, you'll be rewarded with one of the most unusual urban fantasy stories you'll ever read. There is mystery, there is strange magic and mythos. There are characters you will love and hate. The whole tale is extraordinarily fantastic, all set around an intriguing Library, headed up by an often cruel "Father." I found myself very upset when the book was over.

47. The Visitant, A Venetian Ghost Story by Megan Chance I picked this book to get me into the mood for my trip to Venice, but interestingly enough, it had very little Venice in the book. The book is set in a weary, run-down palazzo which the characters rarely leave. Still, I found myself very taken by the story, which is a romance, a ghost story and a tragedy all wrapped into one.

46. Fool's Quest: Book II of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy by Robin Hobb 45. Fool's Assassin: Book I of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy by Robin Hobb I love anything by Robin Hobb and so when I saw that she had a new trilogy in the works I was delighted. This series follows in the footsteps of the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, so if you want a wonderful epic fantasy read, start with those first (a listing of her books is here in the event it is helpful). I was drawn right back into the story of Fitz and his dear Fool. I was shocked to find myself so wrecked by an episode that happened in book 1, a scene that had me bawling like a baby in the middle of the night because I was staying up far too late to read.


44. Ciao, Carpaccio!: An Infatuation by Jan Morris Carpaccio is one of the most celebrated Venetian painters and if you go to Venice you will have ample opportunity to see his colorful genius. Morris showcases his work with colorful commentary, a true ode to an artist whose work is not typically as well known as one of the other Venetian masters, Titian. It's a smallish book, full of beautiful color photos.

43. Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson

This book is the polar opposite of food memoir books, turning the genre (there are many not-so-veiled references to Frances Mayes'

Under the Tuscan Sun

) on its head in complete mockery with over-the-top rusticness, ridiculous food recipes and semi-clueless but cute characters. The book is hilarious, with a bent of British humor that I adore. This is another book for a gourmand reader.

42. The Debt to Pleasure: A Novel by John Lanchester

This is an artfully woven story told by an increasingly unreliable narrarator. From the book description, which I says it all: "Join Tarquin Winot as he embarks on a journey of the senses, regaling us with his wickedly funny, poisonously opinionated meditations on everything from the erotics of dislike to the psychology of a menu, from the perverse history of the peach to the brutalization of the palate, from cheese as "the corpse of milk" to the binding action of blood." Everything about this book is lush, sensuous and laden with hidden meaning. As you read you are peeling back the onion layers and deciphering breadcrumb clues to what is going on underneath Tarquin's narrative. If you are a food lover, this is a must for your shelf.

41. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

As a prep to our upcoming trip to Venice, I decided to reread this classic. I had read it in college but remembered nothing of the story. I clearly had forgotten the creepiness of the novel. I found it terribly uncomfortable to read, mostly for the obsessive, stalking behavior of Gustav, coupled with the knowledge that I had that Mann based the character on a young boy he saw, who was approximately ten years old at the time. Not that the age mattered all that much...Tadzio was only 14 in the story when Gustav laid eyes on him. There are a zillion interpretations of the story and all the subtexts, but for me, I found myself rushing through the book so I wouldn't have to read it anymore.

40. Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West

I came into the possession of this book because a friend had finished it on the T on his way to meeting my husband and I at our favorite bar and he didn't want to lug it around with him when he went out afterward. The particular cover on this book is gorgeous, recently redesigned, I believe, or perhaps it harkened back to an earlier cover of the 40s or so.

39. The Dinner by  Herman Koch, Sam Garrett  

Billed as the "Gone Girl" of Europe because of the psychological twists and turns, this is a fantastic read about two brothers, their families and the secrets they keep. The two sons have done something horribly wrong and the parents are grappling with the outcome. The story unfolds over a dinner at a nice restaurant.


38. A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel by Paul Tremblay

When I left my most recent job, I came away with people I could now call friends rather than co-workers, agency partners, vendors, etc. Two of these women wanted to do a book group and this is the book we chose. WOW, what a headgame this book is. Set in present day and 15 years hence, it's about (or is it?) demonic possession, reality TV and reality in general. Not overtly "horror" it is still one of the books I've read where I felt like I needed to keep the lights on.

37.  Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Beautiful. Breathtaking. This book was so unexpected. It's a series of 55 (prose poems? tiny stories?) that Marco Polo tells to Kublai Kahn about all the places in the world he's been. The reader knows that these places never existed, but did Kahn? Apparently the book has a complex mathematical structure as well, which I only learned about afterward.

36. Ajax Penumbra 1969 (Kindle Single)

 by Robin Sloan

This Kindle Single is a prequel to Sloan's

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

which I read earlier in the year.  I loved having the additional backstory on Penumbra and how the library came to be.


Of Love and Other Demons (Vintage International)


Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

This is one of Marquez's lesser known titles, about a girl who is bitten by a rabid dog and how her strange family and the strange town in which she lives deals with the situation. It's based on a "legend the author was told by his grandmother as a child: of a 12-year-old girl who contracts rabies but was believed to be a 'miracle-worker', with long flowing copper hair that continues to grow after death (

via wikipedia

)." I found this to be a really bizarre tale, but he writes so beautifully and the characters are so fascinating that you cannot help but be pulled in.


Best Food Writing 2014


Holly Hughes

I'm thinking about tackling some essays and articles around food and wanted to prime the pump. There are some wonderful stories in this year's volume, most by authors with whom I am unfamiliar. I enjoyed some more than others, of course. This year's collection seemed to deal more specifically with socio-economic issues surrounding food but also tackled things like the $4 toast trend over on the West coast.


The Divine Comedy: Inferno (Penguin Classics)


Dante Alighieri, Robin Kirkpatrick

To celebrate the 300th birthday of Dante, I'm re-reading the Divine Comedy. I'm halfway through Purgatorio right now but finished Inferno in July. It was interesting to read the book again now that I have some knowledge of Florentine and Papal history under my belt. The references to the individuals in the various layers of hell had meaning for me in a way that they didn't when I studied this work back in college.


Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything


Joshua Foer

As I'm aging I find that my memory seems to be harder and harder to hold onto. I read this book in hopes of finding some way to better recall certain things. I found it to be less informative in that area and more about the science of memory and following the path of Joshua Foer as he learns about memory from some of the most fascinating memory champions in the world. I already knew about memory palaces before this book but hadn't really given them a try. For my new job there is a certification test that I needed to take and it turned out that memory palaces were a great way for me to try and recall lists and bits of important information.


Providence Noir

 edited by Ann Hood

This is a collection of wonderful short noir stories set in Providence, RI including pieces by John Searles, Elizabeth Strout, Peter Farrelly, and Luanne Rice.  I received a free copy from LibraryThing and it was especially wonderful because I know or have met several of the authors who contributed. My favorite story is by

Marie Myung-Ok Lee


Missing Sri

. Set in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, it was a story that turned out to be nothing like I expected and resulted in such a loud exclamation from me that my husband had to come and see what was wrong!


The Marriage Plot

by Geoffrey Eugenides

I confess that I didn't finish this book, so should I even bother putting it on the list? I got 3/4 of the way through so I figure it's worth a count for the energy expended. I really tried to push through but I found the characters to be rather uninteresting and fairly pretentious. Perhaps if I had gone to Brown I might have been able to relate. Instead I found myself annoyed at the overwhelming amount of overly intellectual/obscure literary references. It was as though Eugenides was bent on showing the reader just how stupid they are. Add to that the fact that the characters are just plain boring. I tried hard to care about them but finally, even though I had read most of the book, I couldn't take it anymore.

June's books

Jan-May's books