Book Reviews

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Winter Solstice

From time immemorial, humans have eased the encroaching darkness of winter with gatherings and celebrations involving light, food, and sacred rituals. Holidays and traditions vary from culture to culture, but often these traditions involve recipes, crafts, and decorations for the home.

Christmas is my tradition, and I particularly love the decorated trees and lights, and gatherings with family and friends. But sometimes I need ideas for how to spice up my Yuletide celebrations so it’s not the same box of ornaments, turkey recipe, and tinsel every year.

The Kansas City Public Library (and its consortium libraries) have a wide selection of books to help you come up with ideas to enhance your celebrations in a variety of traditions. Here are a few titles to give you some practical suggestions for unique ways to celebrate the holidays:

Christmas

Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth by Dorothy Morrison presents a wonderful potpourri of holiday lore from around the world and throughout history, along with fun crafts, delicious recipes, and a calendar of celebrations for every day in December.

Sarah's Key cover

As French police force their way into her family’s Paris apartment, a frightened 10-year-old Sarah desperately locks her little brother, Michel, in the secret bedroom cupboard and shoves the key deep into her pocket. 

Calming her scared sibling by promising to let him out when it was finally safe, Sarah has no idea that nothing will ever be safe again.

Part historical fiction and part family drama, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is a compelling novel that tells two emotional stories.  The first is the story of Sarah, a young Jewish girl in Occupied France who is arrested with her family on July 16, 1942, in the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup, an event which eventually led to the extermination of thousands of French Jewish men, women and children at Auschwitz.

The second story takes place 60 years later and centers around Julia Jarmond, an American journalist who lives with her French husband and daughter in Paris. Julia is asked to write an article about the Velodrome d’Hiver incident and learns that she is much closer to the story than she ever realized.

Little Women book cover Penguin

Your classics reviewer got to this book in a rather roundabout way. I made the decision to review this title after I had bought my Nook this past January. But first, I had watched two film productions of Little Women (one with Katherine Hepburn, the other with June Allyson as Jo) on TCM.

My wife was puzzled as to why I was watching not just one, but two versions of Little Women. I pointed out my fondness for remakes and explained that to appreciate (or hate) the remake, you have to see the original. She shook her head in dismay and left to watch a different Christmas movie (I think it was Die Hard) elsewhere in the house.

And then, when I got my Nook, I noticed that it had three titles already loaded, one of which was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I figured it was fate, and you can’t fight fate, and so it became my December book this year. Another reason for reading: the book starts as the March women get ready for their first Christmas without Mr. March, making it a suitable holiday title.

Buddha in the Attic Julie Otsuka

With simple sentences that say so much and read almost poetically, Julie Otsuka in The Buddha in the Attic delivers an emotional novel about Japanese picture brides who came to the United States in the early 1900s. 

They numbered in the thousands; each had her own story. Otsuka skillfully and with great economy of words tells the collective story of this group of women while at the same time giving voice to the individual. The novel starts with their boat ride to America and ends as they are bused to World War II internment camps.   

We hear about the hardships, the disappointments, the moments of kindness, the bouts of sickness, and the struggles with marriage. We read that the first English word they learned was “water” and how they raised children in a multicultural environment. We are told about the Caucasian women who employed them as maids and taught them about American culture. We learn how the Japanese woman learned to survive in a non-sensitive, white American culture. 

I’ve never had the desire to serve anyone in a restaurant setting. After listening to Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica, I want to even less. I do, however, have a greater respect for people who work in the food service industry, and I’ll think twice before I send my order back to the kitchen.

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter undoubtedly lives up to its name. We meet the author after he’s served a short stint in the corporate health care industry. Dublanica had high hopes for his career, but soon became disenfranchised with the events of his life.

After being laid off from his job, Dublanica takes a “temporary” position as a waiter in a restaurant where his brother works. He eventually finds himself staying in the restaurant industry well into his late 30s. In order to deal with the stresses of waiter life, Dublanica starts a blog called Waiter Rant. Writing anonymously as “The Waiter,” he blasts unfriendly customers, complains about the daily grind, and unveils the inner-workings of an upscale restaurant. 

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