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The theme of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival is “unboring,” and “get unbored” but not all the shows live up to this.

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Two of the shows I saw featured a young woman telling a true story of her life with the accompaniment of a male partner and music.

Near Gone

Near Gone

Near Gone

In Near Gone, Katherina Deva tells of a near death experience of her 4-year old sister.

She tells the story in her native Bulgarian language and Alister Lownie, her partner in Two Destination Language, translates. It is a story of sorrow and pain, intermingled with criticism of medical and city services in Sofia. The story is told sparingly, though some of the words are uttered repeatedly. Punctuating the words, loud recorded music plays (mostly Balkan wedding music of Goran Bregovic) and Katherina moves and dances in a frenzy. She clutches bunches of carnations (400 flowers in total during the performance) which break and fly wildly in the air.

Though it is clear that Katherina’s dance is one of pain, the show draws a thin line between celebration and mourning. Bregovic’s band is called the Wedding and Funeral Orchestra and the music, the flowers and even the dancing could easily be part of either. I found the story, music and dancing too repetitive and was bored. The deep pain and suffering exhibited by Katherina was hard to reconcile with the ultimate positive outcome (which I had guessed from the name of the show).

Leaving Home Party

Leaving Home Party

Leaving Home Party

In Leaving Home Party, Catherine Ireton tells of leaving her Irish hometown to move to Glasgow a couple years after college. She is afraid she will end up spending her life without seeing the world. She admires an aunt who travelled extensively during her life, but died right near her birthplace, but when Catherine leaves home, she feels like an outsider and overwhelmed by the differences (I admit, I had trouble understanding her culture shock—of all the places one could move, Scotland doesn’t seem so different from Ireland).

The show is a musical, with Ireton singing original songs with words that relate to the narrative. She is accompanied by Ignacio Agrimbau on keyboards, guitars and a number of less familiar instruments like a Thai khaen, a Cuban tres and a cajon. (His instrumentals are the best part of the show).

Ireton describes how she is not in control of her life. She turns down a two year cellphone contract but spends more than two years with pay as you go. She works dead end jobs and follows projects brought to her by friends and boyfriends. She says she allows her life to be guided and determined by others.

Eventually she heads back to Ireland and then has an epiphany. What that is is not clear. Does she stay in Ireland? Does she go back to Scotland? Somehow the show is over and the audience is satisfied but I have failed to see a transformation or an explanation for why she feels differently about her life. Has she taken control of her life? Has she decided she is comfortable in Scotland? Also she has failed to mention that perhaps her life is more focused than she lets on. Apparently the reason she originally went to Glasgow was to work with Belle and Sebastian. She doesn’t mention this or any of the successes she had along the way.

My ratings of these shows and the 35 others I saw can be found here.

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A number of shows that I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had formats that I had never experienced in theater before. But, though, I found them interesting, they were not successful.

Before attending the Fringe Festival (this was my first year), I decided to rate each show that I saw on a one to five scale. My friend Nanette and I agreed on what each rating meant and as we left each show we shared our ratings with each other. A three-star rating was for shows that we enjoyed. More than that, for shows we would enthusiastically recommend. I noticed along the way that there were a few shows that I had high hopes for because I anticipated something different, but ultimately I was disappointed and had to rate them less than a three.

Theater on a Long Thin Wire

One of those shows was Theater on a Long Wire (by Jack McNamara, artistic director of New Perspectives Theatre). The audience for each performance is limited to 16 people. We entered a small attic space at the Summerhall theaters—there was a chair with a cellphone on it. The phone rang. It took the group of strangers a couple of seconds to realize that someone needed to answer it. I actually tried to do so, but instead, accidentally hung up on the call. Now what? The phone rang again and someone else stepped in to answer it. The whole theater performance consisted of audience members repeating the words of the “performer” to the rest of the group.  (What happened to speakerphones?)

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The caller told us of his fear of leaving his room he was in. He then described leaving his room and coming to see us. The only suspense in Theater on a Long Thin Wire was whether we would actually see the performer (though, since the show describes itself as theater without actors, the suspense was limited).   He said he had reached the building and was on his way up the stairs. Yes, my imagination was working—I was picturing the building I had just entered and the stairs I had gone up to get to this room. I was wondering what the performer looked like. But isn’t that the purpose of reading a book—your mind creates all of the images of the written word? What happens when theater becomes an uninteresting audio book?

Following the directions of the person at the other end of the line, the phone was handed off to three others and then back to the first. Sometimes the caller requested that everyone repeat specific phrases, or clap, or look out the window. I wondered why we all followed the directions to a “T”.  Though two people left the room early in the show, the rest of us did exactly as we were told. I also found it interesting to observe how people ended up with the phone.  Is that what the show was about? Group dynamics? Co-operation? Leadership? Conformity? If so, it was done at the expense of boredom.

I gave the show 2 stars—I didn’t like it. It held my interest because I kept hoping for more, but in the end, there was no pay off. The Fringe Festival’s theme this year is “unboring”. The telephone caller in Theater on a Long Wire didn’t get the message.

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland

Another unique theater experience was The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland. The stage is divided in two.   Audience members are split. Some start out on one side and some, the other.   Halfway through the show, the audience switches sides.

Split stages of The Eradication of Schizophrenia

Split stages of The Eradication of Schizophrenia

The two parts of the stage are divided by a wall with windows.  Window shades block the view of the other side of the stage. When the performance started, I could hear some of what was happening on the other part of the stage. Occasionally actors from that side would enter the stage on my side. At some point the shades were lifted and I had a better view of the other stage.

On my side, I was viewing a man in a blue hospital outfit. Doctor or patient? An actor comes from the other side of the stage and sits on a chair—apparently he is a patient and the man in blue is his psychiatrist. On the other side, from what I can here, there is a family—perhaps a mother and her sons. Is this the past of the patient? Are these voices he is hearing? The psychiatrist seems to be troubled as well. Is he hearing voices too? We get a glimpse of an actor on the other stage—he looks very much like the psychiatrist.  Is there some relation? Are some aspects of the family on the other side actually part of the psychiatrist’s past or present?

The Eradication of Schizophrenia

The Eradication of Schizophrenia

When we switch to the side with the family, what is happening is just as elusive. The words spoken are bits and pieces, there isn’t a real conversation. The mother speaks about Dracula, saying that he was Irish. The characters discuss what to eat and ask where father has gone.

None of my questions are answered and I never get enough clues to make sense of it all.

For me, one of the more interesting aspects of the show relates to multi-tasking.  The second half of the show is, for the most part, a repeat of the first half—but now seen from the other stage. During the second half, I hear sentences spoken that I didn’t notice before.  Some of those sentences come from the side of the stage I was originally sitting on.  How did I miss those sentences the first time round?  Was my mind wandering?  Was I listening to the other side of the stage?  Another thing I found interesting was the difference between just hearing something and having both audio and visual.  I hear a shaking sound from the other side of the stage and remember the facial expressions of the actor trying futilely to open a pill bottle, but then I hear a similar sound that I don’t remember and can’t visualize.   But these things aren’t interesting enough to sustain me.

The theater group, Ridiculusmus, says the play is inspired by a treatment method for psychosis involving open dialogue (as opposed to drugs) that has virtually eradicated schizophrenia from Western Lapland. How this play relates to that treatment method is unclear to me.   I didn’t see a transformation or improvement in the character that clearly suffered from psychosis and I didn’t see (or hear) anything I could understand as open dialogue.   It seemed that some sort of psychosis was being experienced by more than one character on the stage—and that it was not in a process of being eradicated.

My rating:  2.5 stars

 

 

 


The Edinburgh Fringe Festival starts in less than a month.  There will be about 3,200 different shows across about 300 venues.  They come under the categories of theater, comedy, spoken word, music and dance, physical theater and circus.  To make things more complicated, there are a few other festivals going on at the same time.

PLANNING FOR THE FRINGE

This is my first time at the Fringe Festival and I searched high and wide on the internet for tips, guides, advice, anything on how best to attack the festival.  When during the festival should I go (the festival is 25 days long, and I was planning to go for a week)?  Should I buy tickets for shows in advance?  What part of town is the best to stay in?  How long does it take to get from venue ABC to venue DEF? How many shows should I try to see each day.  Which shows are best bets? hot tickets? When do I eat? Is there free wi-fi at the venues?  Anywhere else?

There doesn’t seem to be anyone writing about these things.  I found the site fringeguru.com which had some general info.  In terms of which shows might be of interest, I saw a couple of articles in newspapers giving their picks–two in The Guardian– one focused on theater and the other on comedy– one in The Scotsman and one on a website called Giggle Beats.  But not much more.

DECIDING WHEN TO GO

I knew that the shows will start to get reviewed at the beginning of the festival and that many people wait and rely on those early reviews to help them decide what to see.  I knew that for that reason many people go later in the festival.  Also the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Book Festival are towards the latter half of the festival, so people who want to go to all of the festivals will also go later.

Always the contrarian, I decided to go at the beginning of the festival–I thought this way I would be able to avoid some of the crowds and take advantage of preview- and 2 for 1- priced tickets and lower hotel rates.  This means I have had to pick shows and make my schedule without the benefit of any reviews.

DECIDING WHERE TO STAY

In terms of where to stay, I decided I wanted to be as close to the hub of the venue map as possible.  I started booking hotels in September 2013.  I couldn’t find the exact place I wanted at a price I wanted–so I triple booked.  Three hotels, all prepaid, but cancelable.  They were all a little further out than I wanted–one above Queen Street and two in New Town.  Since I don’t know Edinburgh, it is hard for me to judge how long it would take to walk from those hotels to some of the venues towards the south, like Assembly and Zoo.  Instead of deciding between the three hotels, I took another look and yesterday found something right smack in the center at a reasonable price.  I was ready to lock in my reservation–and cancel the others.

DECIDING WHAT TO SEE

I decided to go to the Fringe Festival early last summer–so last year I monitored the festival website to get a sense of how quickly things began to sell out.  It seemed like there weren’t a lot of sellouts at the beginning of the festival, so I wasn’t too worried about buying tickets in advance.  I did want to have a base schedule though to make the most of my time.  I also wanted to co-ordinate the list with the friend I am going with.  This year, I’ve noticed a number of shows already selling out certain days–so I started to get panicky about purchasing tickets.   I decided to focus on the principal theater venues.  My friend and I came up with lists of our top choices and our second choices and then merged our lists.  Today, I purchased tickets for 24 shows.  All of our top picks and some of our seconds:

Summerhall

Anatomy of the Piano

Anatomy of the Piano

Theatre on a Long Thin Wire
Near Gone
Anatomy of the Piano
Leaving Home Party
The Object Lesson
Klip
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland

Traverse Theatre

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Valentijn Dhaenens

SmallWar (I saw Valentijn Dhaenens do his one man show BigMouth at the Under the Radar festival in January and was blown away. I hoping for more of the same)
Cuckooed
The Carousel

Northern Stage
Confirmation

Zoo

Hannah Gadsby

Pioneer

Assembly (George Square)

Hannah Gadsby: The Exhibitionist
Last Christmas
White Rabbit Red Rabbit

Assembly Hall
Title and Deed by Will Eno (I saw two plays by Eno this year–Open House and The Realistic Joneses and wanted to see another)

Roundabout

Every Brilliant Thing

Every Brilliant Thing
Show 6
The Initiate

Pleasance Courtyard 
Forgotten Voices (Though not generally interested in war history or anniversaries, I thought that it would be interesting to attend the special performance of this on the eve of the 100th Anniv. of the UK’s entry into WWI.  The show is timed to end at midnight)

Pleasance Dome
Light

Underbelly
Circa: Beyond
Chef
Shame

APP FRUSTRATION

After I purchased the tickets, I downloaded the Edinburgh Fringe app onto my iPhone.  At first I was impressed.  There is an easy way to look up a venue and show it on a map.  There is a list of all the shows–which you can filter by date and time.  But when I logged in to see the shows that I purchased, only 11 of the 24 are showing up–even though most of them were in the same order.  I deleted the app and reloaded it, thinking that maybe the sync got interrupted, but I had the same result!  Oh well . . .

GOING TO THE FRINGE?  DO YOU BUY YOUR TICKETS IN ADVANCE?  WHAT ARE YOU SEEING?

 

 


I spent three days at the Fancy Food Show walking the aisles where tens of thousands of food products were on display, and many of them offered up on-the-spot tasting opportunities.  I tried chips and dips, cheeses and crackers, pickles and peppers, cookies, candies, meats and cold cuts, soups, yogurts, tomato sauces, hot sauces, sweet sauces, teas, sodas, gluten-free you name it, ice creams, crackers, smoked fish, canned fish, fresh fish, prepared meals, jams and jellies,  and more.

Of all these things, there are a few that I can still remember and still want more of.  Here are some of my favorite things at the Fancy Food Show:

PICKLES AND PEPPERS

Wickles Pickles

Wickles Pickles

Wickles Pickles

 

“Wickles” stands for a wickedly delicious pickle and they truly are.  The company was started a little more than 15 years ago by two brothers, Trey and Will Sims, using a family recipe.  The pickles have a little sweetness and a little heat.  Besides their flavor, they have an amazing texture.  They are somewhat translucent–so you think they will be soft–but they have a nice crunch that is very different from the crunch of a raw pickle.  It has something to do with starting them in a saltwater brine, which somehow ferments them and changes their texture.  Anyways, forget the science.  These are the perfect pickles.

Sweety Drops 

Sweety Drops

Sweety Drops

I’ve never noticed these before.  But I tasted them at one booth at the Fancy Food Show and then saw them at many other booths.  They had slightly different names but all of them were tiny pear- (or teardrop) shaped red peppers that were slight hot, slightly sweet, and rich in flavor.  They originate in Peru.  Some say they are a cross between a cherry pepper and a jalapeño pepper, but they seem more like a cross between a peppardew pepper and a cherry tomato.

Sweety Drops

Sweety Drops

Meat and Cheese

Bacon Cheddar Bratwurst from Nueske’s

Nueskes

Nueskes Bacon Cheddar Bratwurst

I was never big on sausage until about 10 or 15 years ago.  I’d say that its the sausages that have changed and not me, except that Nueske’s has been around since 1933 and they still use some of the original recipes.  They specialize in applewood smoked meats.  I like their bacon too, but when I went by the booth at the Show, I tasted the Bacon Cheddar Bratwurst.  The bratwurst, which is a combination of beef, pork and bacon, has a nice smoky flavor and you can both see and taste the cheese in it.  Since Nueske’s is from Wisconsin, they use Wisconsin cheddar.

Truffle Tremor Cheese from Cypress Grove Chèvre

Truffle Tremor Cheese

Truffle Tremor Cheese

Cypress Grove is located in Humbolt, CA.  They started in 1983 and still focus solely on fresh goat milk cheeses.  Best known for their Humbolt Fog cheese, which has a thin layer of vegetable ash through the middle, I’d have to pick the Truffle Tremor cheese as my favorite.  I love the earthly flavor and smell of the truffles combined with the tangy, soft goat cheese.

DECADANCE

Sea Urchin Caviar from Jose Andres Foods

Sea Urchin Caviar from Jose Andres Foods

Sea Urchin Caviar from Jose Andres Foods

A number of booths were featuring products from Spain. A number of booths featured canned products, such as tuna, anchovies, mussels, and cockles. Tastes of Spanish cured hams, which were prohibited in the U.S. until less than ten years ago, where being offered in many places. And Jose Andres, the owner and chef of several restaurants in D.C., L.A. and Las Vegas, has his own line of products — oils,vinegars, olives, potato chips, canned seafood — all from Spain. His most decadent has to be a sardine style can of sea urchin caviar. At first glance, it looks almost like a terrine that has been made from sea urchin, but as you start scooping it up, you can make out the meat of individual sea urchins. The consistency is a little more solid and grainy than fresh sea urchin, but the flavor is there. It was delicious out scooped up out of the can with a potato chip, but J.A. Foods shows it over deviled quails eggs on their website.

Sea Urchin Caviar over Deviled Quail Eggs

Sea Urchin Caviar over Deviled Quail Eggs

 

A CATEGORY OF ITS OWN

Som Drinking Vinegar from Pok Pok

Okay, so this one I already knew about from previous Fancy Food Shows.  I even have some in the fridge.  But I had forgotten how delicious it is.  If you haven’t had it, the idea of a drinking vinegar probably does not sound very appealing, but they are not what they sound like.  You add the vinegar to soda water and you end up with a carbonated beverage that is very flavorful, not overly sweet and has only a hint of sourness.  I like the herbaceous flavors like Thai Basil and Ginger and Tamarind, but there are also a number of fruit flavors.  They also make great cocktails–something a little different from tonic water, but not too sweet and sugary.

 

PREPARED FOODS

Masala Dosa from Tandoor Chef

Masala Dosa from Tandoor Chef

Masala Dosa from Tandoor Chef

A Masala Dosa is an Indian crepe made of rice flour and flour made from a black lentil bean known as an urad dal that has been folded over and stuffed with a spiced potato mix.  Since a dosa is usually served freshly made, I was surprised to tastes these dosa that come frozen.  The potato mixture was very tasty and the crepe had a nice crunch to it.  If I had a dosa craving and I couldn’t get to Curry Hill (Lexington Ave. in the 20’s), these would do just fine.

Malaysian Curry Sauce from Asian Meals

Malaysian Curry Sauce from Asian Meals

Malaysian Lemongrass Curry Sauce from Asian Meals

I love Malaysian food and the sauces are alway complex and hard to find outside of Malaysia.  I enjoyed the lemongrass curry sauce and the black pepper sauce from Asian Meals, a Malaysian company.  Their website links to some Youtube videos with demonstrations on how to cook with the sauces.

Sabatino Truffle Mac and Cheese

Sabatino Truffle Mac and Cheese

Truffle Mac and Cheese from Sabatino Tartufi

Like the Truffle Tremor cheese I mentioned above, I can’t resist the combination of cheese and truffles.  Sabatino is one of the premiere makers of truffle products and importers of truffles.  They also have products such as oils, vinegars, tapenades and honey.  I didn’t know they had packaged products like truffled risotto, potatoes and mac and cheese.  I only tasted the mac & cheese and it was quite nice–there was a definite truffle flavor and I liked the tasted and consistency of the pasta and cheese sauce.

CANDY

Chocolate covered Tabasco jelly beans from Jelly Belly

Chocolate covered Tabasco Jelly beans

I’ve never had a chocolate covered jelly bean. You taste the chocolate more than the jelly bean. At first I didn’t taste the heat, but it snuck up on me. These were definitely spicy. A little like red hots, but a better taste. The heat stayed with me for a while.

HOT SAUCES AND DRESSINGS

There were many sauces that I liked.  Here is a slideshow of them:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 


Today was the first day of the Fancy Food Show which fills the Javits Convention Center in New York for three days.  Organized by the Specialty Food Association, the exhibitors are makers of food and beverage products hoping to catch the eye of representatives of restaurants, supermarkets, and anyone else who buys food for commercial or retail use.

I only walked about half of the show today, but I noticed a few trends:

CHIPS AND CRACKERS MADE FROM UNUSUAL FOODS AND GRAINS

There were lots of exhibitors with crackers or chips that are made of something not so typical. It went past “multigrain” or “gluten free” to chips/crackers made of things like red fife and spelt, falafel, pasta, sweet potatoes, beans, chickpeas, pomegranates and broccoli. And then there were lots of flavor combinations, such as sweet chili, sea salt, maple honey, mesquite cheddar, rosemary and thyme, and another trend, sriracha.

CAKES AND JARS

There was a lot of weird stuff going on with cakes and cookies, including making appearances in tubes, jars, bottles and cups.

Cupcake pops

Cupcake pops

I’m not sure it’s advisable to squeeze a cupcake into a plastic popsicle tube. I didn’t taste one of the cupcake pops, but I hate to think of having to eat all the whipped cream before I can get to the cupcake.

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Cakes are also being shoved into jars of multiple sizes. Cakelove is doing it with cream cheese icing. Goodbye layer cakes.  The idea is that you can have a little now and store the rest in the fridge for later. Who are they kidding?

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You don’t want a glass jar? Well, you can have your cake in a mug. This time, it hasn’t been cooked yet. The My Cup of Cake package includes a dry mix, an oil packet and a ceramic mug. You put everything in the mug with some water and then cook it in the microwave for less than three minutes. Voilá: Belgian chocolate soufflé. The larger size comes with enough for four ramekins–you supply the ramekins.

Cookies in a jar

Cookies in a jar

More than one company is selling a jar that looks like one of those colored sand bottles you made at camp. Inside are the ingredients to bake cookies, just add egg, butter and vanilla. Unlike a mix, the ingredients are layered separately in the jars and include mix-ins like chocolate chips, dried fruits and nuts jelly. The Mason Jar Company allows you to make your own combinations online.

SistersGourmet has a set selection of cookie mixes.  You can select the bows on the outside of the jar — it seems they are mostly intended as gifts.

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SistersGourmet cookie mixes in a jar

ASIAN SAUCES GO MAINSTREAM

THE Sriracha

THE Sriracha

Sriracha, a hot sauce modeled after Thai hot sauces, has become ubiquitous.  The Sriracha sauce that started it all is made by Los Angeles company, Huy Fong Foods.  Sriracha has become a common table top condiment like ketchup and soy sauce.  Now, competing Srirachas sauces are made the large food manufacturers and “sriracha” flavor has shown up in all kinds of products like the chips mentioned above.  More recently, a Korean fermented chili paste, Gochujang, is rising in popularity.  Gochujang is more of an ingredient used in cooking than a condiment, but now you can see it mentioned more often in recipes and in descriptions of food items on restaurant menus (and not just Asian restaurants).

So, perhaps partly due to the successes of Sriracha and Gochujang, I noticed today at the Fancy Food Show a lot more companies specializing in Asian style sauces, from Korean hot sauces that bear a resemblance to gochujang, but are intended to be used as a condiment, to Indian style chutneys and ketchups that have been spiced up.  Here are some examples:

GLUTEN FREE GONE WILD

The obsession with gluten free only gets bigger.  The GF certification could be seen everywhere.

IMG_6747The lists of what products DON’T have are getting longer and longer:

What's left?

What’s left?


 The Big Buzz:  Keep an Eye Out for These Books

BEA Editors' Buzz Panel

BEA Editors’ Buzz Panel

Book Expo of America (BEA) is the largest book trade show in the U.S.  This year’s show was last week at Javits Center in New York.  The main event is the Exhibit Hall where publishers are marketing next season’s books to booksellers, librarians and the media. There are also a number of panels–including the Editor’s Buzz Panel.  This year’s panel:  7 editors from 7 publishing companies, each one championing one book, in hopes of bringing it out from under the radar.  Six of the seven books are scheduled to be published in late August or September.  One of the books won’t be published until 2015. Five of the books were fiction, two non-fiction.

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Jennifer Jackson, Senior Editor, Alfred A. Knopf with Emily St. John Mandel’s  Station Eleven

SYNOPSIS:  This book is about a traveling Shakespearean theater company in a post-apocalyptic world.  It starts on a night right before a fever epidemic changes the world.  A famous actor dies onstage during a performance of King Lear.  The story moves back and forth between the actor’s life and a time 15 or 20 years after the epidemic.  (This reminds me of the recent play Mr. Burns by Anne Washburn which also had a traveling theater troupe in the years after most of the world’s population has died).  In looking at the survivors’ lives after an apocalyptic change, the book is, Ms. Jackson said, “an elegy to the world as we know it.”

INTERESTING TIDBIT:  Ms. Jackson explained that this book had a backwards route to publication.  Emily St. John Mandel has three previous novels all from a small indie publisher.  Instead of agent to editor to sales force to booksellers, here it was the booksellers who became fans of Mandel’s work and talked her up to the sales rep.  The sales rep told Ms. Jackson about the author.

COMPARISONSCloud Atlas (David Mitchell), Dog Stars (Peter Heller), A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan)

PUBLICATION DATE:  September 9, 2014

MY TAKE:  I like stories that move back and forth between two time periods.  A comparison to Cloud Atlas intrigues me. I’ve read a couple of pre-apocalyptic novels lately (Age of Miracles and The Last Policeman), and am watching a couple of post-apocalyptic shows on TV, so I might enjoy the contrast.  But, I’m not sure about this one. . .

 

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

Marysue Rucci, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, Simon & Schuster

with Matthew Thomas’ WE ARE NOT OURSELVES

SYNOPSIS:   Eileen Leary, a nurse from Queens, NY is working to build a nest egg to move her Irish American family to Westchester.  But things do not always go as planned.  This hefty novel follows the nurse and her family through three generations.  It is about hope and resilience in the face of disappointment. It is about the American middle class in the 20th century.

INTERESTING TIDBIT:  This is the author’s first novel.  Thomas spent 10 years writing on the book while working as an English teacher.

COMPARISONSOlive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout), Charming Billy (Alice McDermott)

BLURBS:  Joshua Ferris, Charles Bock and Chad Harbach

PUBLICATION DATE: September 2, 2014

MY TAKE:  I definitely want to read this one.  In addition to the Book Buzz Panel, it was recommended to me by people who have had a chance to read the advance copy.  It sounds like it has the combination of good writing and good plot that I will enjoy.

 

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Lee Boudreaux, Vice President, Editorial Director, Ecco with Jessie Burton’s THE MINIATURIST

SYNOPSIS:   Set in 17th century Amsterdam, a young wife is given a dollhouse by her husband to keep her occupied while he is busy working as a merchant trader.  She orders a set of miniature furniture from an artisan.  After receiving her order, she begins to receive additional miniature items that she didn’t order.  What message is the artisan trying to send her.  The suspenseful story is about secrets and hypocrisy, appearance vs. truth.

INTERESTING TIDBIT:  The editor, Boudreaux, also recommended Lauren Oliver’s adult debut, Rooms (coming in September), and Smith Henderson’s recently published Fourth of July Creek.

COMPARISONSFingersmith (Sarah Waters), Slammerkin (Emma Donoghoe), The Signature of All Things (Elizabeth Gilbert)

BLURB:  SJ Watson (Before I Go to Sleep)

PUBLICATION DATE: August 26, 2014

MY TAKE: Not sure about this one.  I am interested in the background of Amsterdam during the height of the East India Dutch Company, and the exploration of the position of women in society at the time.  The Amsterdam setting and the bird on the cover (though green, not gold) are meant to invoke the book Goldfinch which I really liked.  Also, I am a fan of Fingersmith which this book was compared to.  My only concern is that there may be a “supernatural” element which I am not sure I would enjoy.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

 

Amy Einhorn, Vice President and Publisher, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam with M.O. Walsh’s MY SUNSHINE AWAY

SYNOPSIS:   The debut novel takes places in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the author M.O. Walsh lives.  It starts out “there were four suspects in the rape of Lindy Simpson” and later in the first chapter: “I should tell you now that I was one of the suspects.”  Einhorn insisted that this is not a book about rape.  It is about adolescence, family, memory and forgiveness.

BLURBS: By Tom Franklin (Poachers) and Kathrynn Stockett (The Help)

COMPARISONS:  Master storytellers of the south such as Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor and Kathrynn Stockett

PUBLICATION DATE: January 15, 2015

MY TAKE:  This sounds like a good one–a page turner with something more than a mystery.  I also like the idea of a first person narrator, the question of whether the narrator is reliable and a story that reveals itself slowly–all of which this book sounds like it has.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt

 

 

Josh Kendall, Executive Editor, Little, Brown and Company with Laird Hunt’s NEVERHOME

SYNOPSIS:  The novel starts out “I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic.”  This is a civil war story about a woman who takes her husband’s place on the battlefield.  Why does she do this?  Will she come home?

INTERESTING TIDBIT:  The author grew up on a farm in southern Indiana.   The novel is based on letters he found in the barn.

BLURBS: Paul Auster, Kevin Powers

COMPARISONS:  Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier), Winter’s Bone (Daniel Woodrell)

PUBLICATION DATE: September 9, 2014

MY TAKE:  If editor Kendall didn’t sell me on this book, I’m more likely to read it because of Paul Auster’s blurb: “A spare, beautiful novel . . . had me under [its] spell from the first word of Neverhome to the last. Magnificent.”

On Immunity by Eula Biss

Jeffrey Shotts, Executive Editor, Graywolf Press

with Eula Biss’ ON IMMUNITY: AN INOCULATION

SYNOPSIS:  An investigation of the fears and myths surrounding the subject of vaccinations.    Diseases that were irradiated are now resurfacing as a result of people who have stopped vaccinating their children.  Editor Shotts explained that it is mainly college educated white, upper middle class people who have the greatest fears about inoculation.  The book brings in Patton, Defoe, Candide, Dracula, Dr. Bob and many more references into the discussion.

INTERESTING TIDBIT:  (1) The author, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, grew interested in the when she became a mother and was dealing with her own fears. (2) The editor’s name is Shotts.

COMPARISONS:  Susan Sontag (On Photography), Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed), Andrew Solomon (Far From the Tree)

PUBLICATION DATE: September 30, 2014

MY TAKE:  This is a very timely subject.  Jon Stewart even had a whole piece on it last night featuring Samantha Bee.  I find the subject very interesting, but am not sure I will get around to this one.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

 

Colin Harrison, Editor-in-Chief, Scribner with

Jeff Hobbs’ THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE: A BRILLIANT YOUNG MAN WHO LEFT NEWARK FOR THE IVY LEAGUE

SYNOPSIS:    Robert Peace was charismatic, smart, well-liked and a Yale University graduate with a degree in microbiology.  He was also an African American who died at the age of 30 as the result of a drug-related murder.  Colin Harrison described this book as overwhelming and claustrophobic.  One that hits the reader at a primal level.  It races questions about poverty, race and education.

INTERESTING TIDBIT:  The author of the book was Robert Peace’s roommate at Yale for 2 years.

COMPARISONS:  Random Family

PUBLICATION DATE: September 23, 2014

MY TAKE:  I am putting this on my TBR list, though I can tell I will find the book sad and frustrating.

 

 

 

 


There were a lot of things going on in the East Village yesterday. There was a Dance Parade

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which went down St. Marks Place headed for Tompkins Square Park.

The outdoor tables of the restaurants were out and people were eating their BBQ from Mighty Quinn’s and their blintzes from Veselka while enjoying the beautiful weather.

And there was the annual Ukrainian Festival on 7th Street.  It continues today.

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Many people were dressed in traditional garb.  Food lines were long for varenyky (pierogis) and stuffed cabbage. Ukrainian CDs, clothing and other knickknacks were for sale.

There were also some signs of the current political events

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Just around the corner on 2nd Avenue is a more somber display of what people have lost in recent months.

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