Thursday, December 23, 2021

Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer's Guide (Cecily Wong, Dylan Thuras, et al.)

The talent behind Atlas Obscura has taken a geographic food tour with Gastro Obscura, a globe-trotting tour of all things uniquely culinary. Edited and written by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras (among others), Gastro Obscura offers a mix of short writings, recipes, and other stories about the world’s unique tastes. If you’ve ever read Atlas Obscura online, you’ll likely assume (correctly) that this tour will be on the odd side.

If you’ve seen “Bizarre Foods” on TV or watched any Anthony Bourdain shows, you’ll see similarities in this book. Parts of a cow that most Americans wouldn’t touch, fermented foods that you didn’t think could even be fermented, and regionally unique dishes all get featured. Hot dishes, hot peppers, hot dogs, and food cooked over hot coals all get mentions.

It’s a fun book for adventurous foodies that also serves as a travel guide, giving advice on finding things such as The Lunchbox Museum or various festivals that pay homage to local foods. As someone who likes to travel and see unique sites, although without the full curiosity in my palate for odd foods that this book has, there are a good number of places that I can still add to my “need to visit” bucket list.


Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Santa Suit (Mary Kay Andrews)

Mary Kay Andrews's The Santa Suit is advertised as a novella. It's a quick read, and if you go in not expecting much of a plot, you might come away enjoying it. For me, it was just so-so.

Ivy Perkins is recently divorced and impulsively buys a farmhouse from afar without even touring it first. Not only does the farmhouse need a lot of work, but it's also filled with the previous owner's furniture. Ezra, the real estate agent who sold her the house, helps her with some of the work, along with other people she meets in the charming town. 

In a closet, Ivy finds an old Santa suit with a note from a child in the pocket. The child has one wish -- that her father will return safely from the war. Ivy tries to find out information about the child, like who she was and if she ever got her wish. 

I wish The Santa Suit focused a little more time on this mystery. It (and the book) is resolved rather abruptly, and it would have made for a richer experience if we could have learned more. But it's a holiday novella, so I might be asking too much.


Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club: Naval Aviation in the Vietnam War (Thomas McKelvey Cleaver)

The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club is Thomas McKelvey Cleaver’s detailed account of air warfare over the eleven years the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. Cleaver recounts this history from the Gulf of Tonkin incident through just after the fall of Saigon in 1975 in a descriptive, analytical account.

Much of Cleaver’s book details the evolution in aircraft and combat strategy, involving accounts from a number of Naval veterans who provided first-hand details of flying in helicopters or airplanes and the challenges they had with the aircraft, as well as in dealing with the Department of Defense’s strategy throughout Vietnam.

Given our recent exit from Afghanistan, one of the most powerful and appropriate statements in the book comes from the introduction. Cleaver answers a question about lessons being learned from our time in Vietnam by saying “a five minute examination of the daily paper can quickly lead to the answer...” 

Cleaver, a Navy veteran who commanded ships that had been involved in Vietnam, brings a personal connection to this book. While it is a highly technical account of the conflict in Vietnam, it is a book that military historians and individuals who have an interest in aviation would have an interest in reading.


Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Last House on Needless Street (Catriona Ward)

When Catriona Ward's The Last House on Needless Street first came out, it had tons of buzz. It's rare that you'll find a long synopsis of it anywhere, too. That's probably because it's nearly impossible to say a lot about it without giving anything away. So I won't be doing that here either.

What I can say is that the book alternates its narrators between Ted, Lauren, and Olivia (a cat). We also learn about a child who has been kidnapped and her sister who won't give up the search. But nothing is as it appears.

For me, I didn't really understand the buzz. Once you figure everything out (I didn't find it too difficult), you'll realize that this has been done before. All in all, The Last House on Needless Street is a perfectly fine read, but not an earth-shattering one.