Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: First Impressions by Charles Lovett

I loved this book. This is not, however, to say it is an extremely well-written or brilliant book that will change the course of literature. It is certainly neither of those things. It is, though, something that I, perhaps, value even more than that: it is a deeply comforting, satisfying, and pleasurable read for the lover of books, and Jane Austen in particular. Lovett's First Impressions is a well-written and very readable novel that is made up of relatively short chapters that alternate between Jane Austen's life and that of a present-day young English woman named Sophie. It is similar in basic plot to A.S. Byatt's Possession, but it is a much fluffier and lighter version.  (I love Possession, by the way.)  Like Possession, First Impressions alternates between present-day scholars/bibliophiles attempting to uncover a major literary mystery, and the unfolding of the story of the historical literary figure in the past.  Both books also include a bit of mayhem and thievery to up the ante.  Lovett's book includes lovely and unconventional (read: not sexual, but romantic and avuncular) relationships between young women and older men.  This made me a bit uncomfortable at first (aside from everything else, the gender politics of this are not great), but the relationships were depicted in such a lovely way that I wasn't too bothered in the end.  I especially loved the description of the relationship between Sophie and her uncle, who is now among my favorite characters I have encountered in literature.  He is the ultimate bibliophile who teaches young Sophie everything she knows about loving and collecting books.

I felt that the book was perfectly paced, and the chapters were just short enough to keep me constantly wanting a bit more, but in a good way. This is an incredibly enjoyable and quick read, and it felt very much like a love letter to bibliophiles. The best word I can find to describe this book is "cozy." I absolutely luxuriated in the reading of this novel. Lovett comes at bibliophilia from all angles, and includes wonderful, delicious details about bookish research, the book trade, the reading life, and libraries. This is a book I will return to whenever I am feeling low. And that is in spite of a few weaknesses: I never felt like the character of Sophie was fully rounded out, Sophie's love story was a bit ridiculous and not very believable for the 21st century, and Lovett's explanation of the reasons behind the writing of a certain beloved book felt forced and tenuous. But seriously, none of that really mattered, as the book made me so happy.

This lovely book comes out in hardcover (and digital) on October 16 from Penguin Books.

(I received a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Penguin Books.)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Review: Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography by Meryle Secrest

Meryle Secrest’s Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography is the most comprehensive biography of the Surrealist Italian fashion designer who made some of her most famous designs in the 1930s and 40s.  In fact, Secrest’s book is one of the only English-language biographies of the designer.  Famously secretive, Schiaparelli did not leave behind diaries or many letters, and thus did not leave behind much material for biographers to work with.  Secrest’s biography is certainly constrained by these serious limitations, but she makes up for the lack of information from Schiaparelli’s own pen by mining past studies of the designer, and adding a lot of interesting historical background.  Her writing is excellent and moves along at a nice pace.  Her book is gossipy, but not excessively or offensively so.  I admit that I am more interested in Schiaparelli’s designs than her life and thoughts, so the lack of information about her doesn’t bother me much.  Secrest’s book includes many illustrations, both black and white and full color, of Schiaparelli’s most famous designs, and she includes excellent and long passages about the designs and many of Schiaparelli’s influences.  While fashion scholars and/or Elsa Schiaparelli fanatics will not learn any new facts here, readers (like me) who love fashion and a good read will enjoy this biography.  It is also a beautifully produced book with a gorgeous pink dust jacket, deckle edges, and a beautiful pale gray textured cover.

(I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Book Review: Tacolicious

So, full disclosure: I am a proud Bay Area girl who has recently moved far away from California.  I miss the Bay Area like crazy.  When I received this beautiful cookbook in the mail, I started to cry a little.  This is a testament to the true Bay Area-ness of this book: it really is like bougey East Bay foodie culture wrapped up in a gorgeous package.  Tacolicious is a cookbook by the owner of a popular Bay Area Mexican restaurant of the same name (check out their website here).  This really is a beautifully designed book, apart from anything else.  I love the covers, which are that nubby slightly rough texture of a high quality hardback, with the cover imagery printed directly onto it.  The pages are my favorite kind for a cookbook...not those shiny glossy pages, but these delicious-smelling matte pages.  The layout of the text and images is simple and clear, but varied and not too minimalist.  The photos make my mouth water.  They are really beautiful and seem to translate pictures into tastes somehow, like the best food blog porn.  I haven't cooked anything from this book, but the recipes look simple and delicious, and there are lots of text boxes that provide extra information.  For instance, there's a great one about corn tortillas, including information on how to find the best store-bought ones, and it even includes recommendations for the best grocery store brands.  This seems very radical for a bougey cookbook and I love it!  There's a whole section on how to throw your own taco party, including a list of quick and innovative and totally un-pretentious taco filling ideas.  There are recipes for salsas, cocktails, and snacks, in addition to ones for tacos.  This is a gorgeously designed book, and I can't wait to eat everything in it!

Take a look at some of the deliciousness from Tacolicious below!

(I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.)