Literary Feasts – Running the Rift, by Naomi Benaron

Literary Feast Banquet Image @ Linus's Blanket

Naomi Benaron’s Running the Rift takes place in Rwanda and a  lot of the staple foods were unfamiliar to me, with the exception of a few vegetables. All of the food sounded delicious, and I took to the internet to look some of it up. Isombe is a stew made of cassava leaves, fresh vegetables, peanuts and peanut butter, and ugali seems closest to a grain like polenta or grits, albeit cooked and served in coarser texture.

The table was set up in the front room, covered wit the tablecloth resrved for holidays. There were plates of ugali and stews with bits of meat and fish to dip it in, bowls of isombe, green bananas and red beans, fried plaintains, boiled sweet potatoes and cassava. There were peas and haricots verts sauteed with tomatoes, bottles of Primus beer and Uncle Emmanuel’s home-brewed urwagwa. Angelique had not stopped cooking, bringing mam tea, wiping everyone’s eyes. The power was off. Candles flickered; lanterns tossed shadows at the wall. Jean-Patrick and Roger sat on the floor with Jacqueline, feeding Clemence bits of stew wrapped in sticky balls of ugali.

 

Ugali, pictured above, and below with beef and sauce.  Photo source: Elimu Strive’s Blog  & Wikimedia Commons.

 Ugali is supposed to be an acquired taste for the American palate. Like I said, the closest equivalent I can think of would be grits, which can also be vey plain if not flavored with butter and salt, and eaten with (usually) eggs, bacon, sausage or fish. Shrimp and grits is also a favorite.

Here is a quick recipe that I found for ugali:

In a 2-quart saucepan:

Boil rapidly 1 quart water or chicken broth

Add 1 tsp. salt and 1 cup any fine white cereal.

Swirl the cereal into the boiling water and cook according to package directions to a thick heavy mush.

Keep warm over hot water (in a double boiler) until ready to serve.

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Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron – Book Review

The complexities and tragedies of Rwanda and the Tutsi-Hutu tensions are intricately and beautifully captured in Naomi Benaron’s emotionally stirring debut, Running the Rift. Jean Patrick Nkuba is a young Tutsi boy who loves his family, excelling at his studies and running with his brother. A school visit from an award-winning  runner awakens Olympic dreams in Jean-Patrick, but his world begins to change in frightening ways after his father’s sudden death. Adding to his unease is the family’s move to live with his maternal uncle, which is hastened in the wake of frightening harassment, which raises the specter of past violence, which becomes all too common in Jean Patrick’s everyday life.

Running the Rift is an amazing book, carefully nuanced and paced in a way that  perfectly examines the way the ordinary can coexist with unspeakable horror and violence. Benaron convey the joy, frailty and contradictions which are the handmaidens of human existence, no matter the cataclysms that life offers up. Jean Patrick has the potential to be an extremely frustrating character, endowed as he is with a preternatural innocence that allows him to believe unfailingly in his father’s dream of a united Rwanda, in spite of his brother’s wise insight, and what he sees around him. Instead he becomes a stand in for the reader’s own vain hopes that the history that has been so clearly written can be avoided.

The writing of the characters, land, food, culture, and the treatment of running,  is gorgeous, honest and oddly enough, hopeful. Benaron peoples her book with fascinating and strong multi-faceted characters who are doing their best to live according to their beliefs, which is of course a big part of the tragedy. Tutsi and Hutus are neighbors and employees, teachers and students, lovers and family. The lines  drawn and decisions made as they betray and save each other will both break your heart and restore your belief  in humanity.  Highly recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Devourer of Books – She is Too Fond of Books – Fizzy Thoughts 

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The Woman In Black – Movie Trailer

 Just about two years ago I read Susan Hill’s novella The Man In the Picture. I had some issues with the novella format, and though the story was creepy, I wanted more detail and resolution in the plot. The soon to be released The Woman In Black  is based on a novella  by Susan Hill and this trailer conveys all the creepiness that was promised in my reading of The Man In The Picture. In years past, I’m not sure I’ve been satisfied with the explanations of events offered in most horror movies I’ve seen, but I hope that this one won’t disappoint. The trailer is amazing in that it features all the scary images known to terrify me in childhood – clowns, old gothic looking houses, and scary looking dolls. This is definitely not a picture I plan to see alone!

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Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer – Book Review

Cinder by Marissa Meyer, is the story of a half-cyborg girl adopted by a businessman, but left in guardianship of his wife after he dies suddenly. Cinder lives with her stepmother, Adri- and stepsisters, Peony and Pearl- in the kingdom of New Beijing. She has a strong relationship with Peony, but her place in the household is precarious due to the resentment filled relationship she shares with Adri and Pearl. Her adoptive father left the family with debts, and Cinder is tasked with providing an income for them through her work as a mechanic. She frequently forgoes the comforts enjoyed by the others, the only bright spots in her life being visits from the handsome Prince Kai (who is looking to have his robot repaired), and her dreams of escape.

Cinder, as the name implies, is the clever marriage of the Cinderella fairytale with a YA dystopian coming of  age novel. This delightful read is imaginatively enhanced by being set in future Beijing, where vast regions of the planet are governed by councils, and interplanetary wars are commonplace threats to the inhabitants of Earth. While most elements of the Cinderella mythology are readily apparent, others are obscured by new subplots featuring plagues, royal intrigue,  and intergalactic foes who seek to control human emotions by wielding powerful glamours. The Lunar Queen, Levana, is deliciously hateful and a powerful enemy to the relationship of our young would-be sweethearts. There are couple of easily guessed “revelations”, that are so poorly concealed that I wasn’t even sure whether Meyer intended them to be hidden, but those are easily overlooked when compared with a strong heroine, plenty of narrative tension and a doozy of a cliffhanger. Be warned…this is the first in a quartet. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Presenting Lenore Rhapsody In Books – Book Hooked Blog – A Library Of My Own

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Book Trailer: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley


I’m still a little hazy on what book trailers are supposed to accomplish and who they are for. I usually only watch them after I have read a book since I like to form my own opinions before entertaining any others. The trailer for Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook is not what I expected it to be at all. It conveys the humor of the novel, but none of the suspense or intrigue which made it such a captivating read. Though the trailer is very funny, with the irreverent receptionist fielding calls regarding supernatural sightings, I definitely wouldn’t have picked up The Rook if it was all I had to go on.

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The Demi-Monde Winter by Rod Rees – Book Review

Ella Thomas is a down on her luck eighteen-year-old – just days away from not being able to pay rent – when she auditions for a gig as a jazz singer. After completing of a rigorous interview process she finds out that she has been recruited by an arm of the military for an assignment that only she is qualified to perform. The president’s daughter has become trapped in an immersive computer simulation designed to acclimate soldiers to realistic combat scenarios. A glitch in the system has left the soldier’s (whom we don’t really care about) and the president’s daughter unable to wake from the deadly game. A backdoor in the system will allow, only, Ella to go in and attempt extracting them from the simulation.

 I had a difficult time getting past the first few chapters of The Demi-Monde Winter. What I read seem plagued by improbable dialogue, and a few paragraphs of  particularly ill-constructed Southern dialect  almost did me in. But, I pushed through to read a bit more, and as I settled into the story I found a cleverly constructed alternate world and an engaging, if also largely flawed, read. The Demi-Monde world has been purposely constructed by American military leaders as home of the most vile and destructive political leaders in history (think of Holocaust architect Reinhard Heydrich joining forces or battling against those such as Aleister Crowley, Empress Wu, Toussaint L’Ouverture, et al) to create the most intense and warlike environment to train soldiers. It is the worst place imaginable for any human being to be trapped, and there is a fair amount of hostile language toward women and various races/ethnic groups. It is appropriate within the construct of the world Rees has created, but it also got very, very old.

Ella provides the framework for the action of the novel, however (unfortunately) she isn’t the main character, but one of a few others whose stories are told in detail. They are all mostly genre archetypes like, the spoiled brat who will probably eventually come into her own (Norma), the shady rogue who slowly discovers that he has a heart (Vanka), and the genteel girl who given the opportunity develops into a radical badass (TrixieBell). Naturally, as the story develops , the downfall is that not all of the characters and narrative arcs are plausible or even as compelling as the others. I  enjoyed Ella and Vanka quite a bit (the most palatable of the personalities), and was happiest when the narrative followed them or when their stories overlapped with the others. Readers are challenged to process a lot of information – names of religions; various constructed regions of the Demi-Monde with their particular quirks, rulers and animosities; and the techno-babble of the mechanics computer simulation.

The Demi-Monde Winter is an ambitious undertaking with lots of moving parts, and an inventive storyline. It doesn’t always succeed in all that it seeks to accomplish, but it is entertaining in spots, and has a killer cliffhanger. It’s also the first in a quartet of “seasonal” books.

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Out Of Twenty: Alex Gilvarry, Author of From The Memoirs of A Non-Enemy Combatant, Answers Six Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer!  Right now I am thoroughly enjoying  Alex Gilvarry’s funny (and you know I don’t say this lightly)and poignant debut From the Memoirs of  a Non-Enemy Combatant. Here is what Alex had to say about reading, writing, and more specifically, writing in his underwear.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I fell into writing through watching films. When I was a teenager I was seriously affected by Quentin Tarantino and Wong Kar-Wai, then Wes Anderson and P.T. Anderson. I wanted to be a writer/director of films, so I started out writing screenplays, but I could never finish one. I had a talent for novel ideas and not following through on them. When I got to college I realized how much organization making a film took, how many people one needed to do it, and so I discovered that all I really wanted to do was tell stories. I wrote a few short stories for workshops but it was the novel that I always had my eye on. The book I wrote and the books I hope to write are satirical works of the way we live now. My current novel is about living in the last decade—a decade of war—and its consequences. It’s a satirical look at the situation in Guantanamo Bay, a what-if, hard-luck story about a struggling fashion designer who gets swept up in post-9/11 paranoia.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the proccess of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

 You know how they say you should never write in your underwear? [ Editor’s Note – I have never heard of this. I wonder if it applies to blogging too?] Well, I write in my underwear. It’s the only job where you can show up to work in just your underwear, with the exception of exotic dancer. But in all seriousness, when I left my career in publishing—I was once an editor, too—it was very freeing for me that I could do this if I wanted to. So after a few hours of writing from home, wearing very little, I get dressed and go to a café to be around people, and write for a few more hours.

 What are you reading now?

 I’m reading Michael Hastings’ new book, The Operators, which grew out of his Rolling Stone article, “The Runaway General” about General Stanley McChrystal and changed the course of the war in Afghanistan. His book is like spending a long, drunken weekend with McChrystal and his entourage in Paris, but it’s also a history of the war correspondent’s role during wartime.

 Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

 Absolutely. For this novel I read a lot of Graham Greene, Max Frisch, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Since I started writing this novel, my first, in my late twenties, I needed a crash course in structuring a novel. All of these gentlemen wowed me with their craft. 

 Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

 I had the title of my book as soon as I began. I always title in the first few pages of writing something new, because in my fiction, the title is an integral part of the story. In the case of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant, the story begins on the title page. Since my novel is the protagonist’s memoir, written from prison, the title is a declaration of his innocence, his own declaration.

 As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?

 They are currently translating my book into German and Portuguese. This has been the biggest surprise for me. When writing, you never think that someone will read you in another language. In German, I’m the author of a book called “Bekenntnisse eines friedfertigen Terroristen.” To me that is wild.

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The Rook, by Daniel O’ Malley – Book Review

When Myfanwy Thomas regains consciousness she is standing in the rain surrounded by dead people wearing latex gloves.  Armed with only a mysterious letter that she finds in her coat pocket, and absolutely no memory, Myfanwy has to assimilate into a life previously inhabited by a former incarnation of herself. The letter leads her to make a choice- and to more letters- that explain a former life. Myfanyway finds that though the former Myfanway Thomas had a more timid personality, her incredible organizational skills earned her a place as a Rook (a chief administrator) in a little known government agency called “The Chequy” – dedicated to protecting the UK from supernaturally endowed humans and alien species. Now all Myfanyway has to do is to fit in and try not to get herself killed before finding out who in the tight knit organization wants her dead.

I wasn’t plannning to read The Rook when I picked it up. My curiousity was piqued when it showed up unexpectedly, and once I had read a few pages I wasn’t able to put it down. This novel approach to what is basically a spy/mystery novel is enlivened by the dual narratives of the Myfanwy Thomas’- one of whom guides her future self via an extremely organized and detailed set of letters, and the other reading and trying to discover who among her colleagues wants to destroy her and the organization. O’Malley successfully mixes and matches elements of humor, mystery and suspense.  Thomas’s letters are absorbing, and realistically convey a world populated by fascinating people with physical and/or manipulative powers. In addition to the central mystery, which is well-plotted and hard to figure out, there are inter-agency investigations and sub-plots dealing with Myfanwy’s family, the government’s co-opting of children in the interests of national security, and the evolution of the new Myfanwy in comparison to her predecessor.

The Rook is well-written mystery with unique plot twists that on the whole make sense and add to the suspense of the story.  Set in London, it also has very English sensibilities, and provides some insight (though fictional) on how goverment operations differ on the other side of the pond. Myfanwy is a kick-ass heroine whose adventures and smarts are a pleasure to follow. Recommended.

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Darkness All Around by Doug Magee – Book Review

Doug Magee’s Darkness All Around  focuses on Sean, an alcoholic whose life is unraveling, and his mysterious disappearance from the small town in which he’d grown up and married his childhood friend, Risa. After Sean is missing for several years, Risa finally has him declared dead and goes on with life to the best of her ability. She marries Sean’s best friend and her own high school sweetheart, Alan, and makes a family with him and Kevin- the son she had with Sean. On a day that has Risa oddly filled with foreboding, Sean reappears, grappling with disturbing visions that lead him to believe he is responsible for the death of Risa’s best friend Carol. Risa is as much convinced of Sean’s innocence as he is tormented by his guilt, and she takes it upon herself to do some investigating only to discover familiar faces are deeply involved.

Darkness All Around  is a psychological suspense novel with lots of moving parts – all of which were well-integrated into a thoughtful plot. It is a fast-moving read and more complex than I would have imagined, but I never felt overwhelmed , or as if there were too much going on. Magee fleshed out what could have been a typical murder mystery with explorations into experimental treatments for alcoholism, links between suicidal parents and their children, the effect of violent sports on American teenagers and their families. While Risa’s reactions to Sean’s return were hardly surprising, the mystery of Carol’s death did have me juggling a few scenarios, with mixed results in my getting to the bottom of the crime. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: S. Krishna’s Books – Jenn’s Bookshelves

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Round Up- January 1- 14, 2012

Happy New Year Everyone! Boy am I getting a late start this year.

 

There are almost always too many books to list when I look at what’s coming out from week to week. I managed to narrow it down- just a little bit- to the ones that caught my eye. I have the starred (*) ones on my shelf and I have even read the double starred ones (**).

 

Parnormal/ Dystopian

Non-Fiction

Mystery

Literary Fiction

Historical Fiction

 

Classics Related

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