Archived Book Nook News: Vol II, Issue 3, June 1998

Presenting a Summer Fruit Basket for You!
Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto
In Kitchen, and its accompanying story Moonlight Shadow, Banana Yoshimoto gives us two simple, moving stories about love, loss and dealing with loneliness.
In Kitchen, a young woman, suddenly bereft of her family, is invited to live with a close school friend and his eccentric, endearing mother.  The mother is a transvestite club performer, a well-meaning man who became a woman to assure best opportunities for his son.  The three live in a small apartment with a wonderful kitchen central to the plot.  The narrator has always taken great comfort in kitchens, and in this particular healing room, she learns that families come in all types and can be found in many unexpected places.
Moonlight Shadow tells of a young woman grieving her lover who died entirely too young.  She begins running as a means of counteracting her severe insomnia.  One morning, she meets a strange yet compelling woman.  The woman seems to know her, seems to instinctively feel and understand her pain.  Through this woman, the grieving jogger is given a bittersweet, mystical opportunity to say good-bye to her beloved.
Both stories are sincere and tender, and told with such simplicity that you almost don’t realize what a myriad of subjects they touch upon.  Not only death, loss and grieving, but joy, strength, friendship, love, food, kitchens.  Set against the background of modern-day Tokyo, but the themes are universal.  I highly recommend it.
Banana Rose, by Natalie Goldberg
I took this out from the library, but I will probably end up buying a copy for myself.  I know I will want to read it again, re-visit Taos, New Mexico and these wonderful characters.  It’s a big, grilled-cheese sandwich of a book!
It’s a rather plotless story of a group of hippies living on a commune in Taos, New Mexico.  Among them is Banana Rose, born Nell Schwarz in Brooklyn, New York.  Rose is a struggling artist, trying to find her voice and her style.  She meets Gaugin (born George Howard), a likewise struggling musician, and they fall passionately in love, a little too passionately for their own good.
In a spiritual coming-of-age story, we follow Banana Rose and her  relationship, from the sun-drenched mystical mountains of Taos, to the bitter cold streets of Colorado and Minnesota.  There they marry, and attempt to live a “conventional” life, but Rose feels empty somehow.  She deals with her Jewish identity, the growing conflicts in her marriage, and her prying family in Florida.  She also has unfinished business with Anna, a writer from the Taos commune who moved to Nebraska.
The book is filled with descriptions of breathtaking scenery, food, life in a small New Mexican town, and deep emotions.  I loved Banana Rose.  I loved her passion, her struggling, her resiliancy, how she screwed up and hit rock bottom but kept on plugging along, kept on trying, and in the end, followed her heart back home where she belonged.  It sounds corny, but I find myself still thinking about her, wishing her well.
The Orange Cat Bistro, by Nancy Linde
Like Banana Rose, this is a book I’ll want to read again.  I wish I hadn’t been so fast in returning to the library because there were a number of passages and sentences I wanted to jot down and remember.  It was a very good book to have around me at a shaky time.  It’s comforting when someone else puts into words what you are feeling and wish you could express yourself.
Claire is a writer whose novel is taking over her life. Or, rather, her novel’s protagonist, a shy, eccentric, beautiful sculptor named Nevada, is living a life that’s becoming inextricably linked with Claire’s own; the two women have become not just friends but actual players in each other’s lives. While Claire struggles with her fiction and her real life (it’s often hard to tell the difference, as she spends most of her time working on the book), Nevada struggles to free herself from a bad relationship with Alec–an egotistical but talented painter–and from her latest piece of art, an enormous shell that contains within it a world of its own.
As Claire sits typing her manuscript in her room above the Orange Cat Bistro, occasionally banning Nevada to “Literary Hyperspace” when her character refuses to behave, she reflects on her divorce, her solitary state, and on a traumatic episode from her past.  This episode is something else she and Nevada share in common, and it was a little anti-climactic when I found out what it was.  It came so late in the story, that it remained tantalizingly undeveloped.
Who is the potter and who is the clay?  Did Claire invent Nevada, or Nevada Claire, or are they both created by Madame, who owns the Orange Cat Bistro?  I found I didn’t really care, I was too taken in by what the characters had to say.  I thought the dialogue passages were great.  There were great exchanges between Claire and Nevada in Madame’s kitchen; wonderful conversations between Nevada and her new love, Nicholas.  Again, there was a lot in here that I wish I’d thought of myself.  A really great read.
The Orange Tree, by Carlos Fuentes
Five novellas spanning a wide range of eras and characters.  Each features an orange tree, symbol of Spain, brought by the Moors to Spain and by the conquistadors to Mexico.
“The Two Shores” explores the power of language and interpretors in the New World; from his grave, the narrator tells of his adventures in the service of Hernan Cortes.
“The Sons of Cortes”, is told in counterpoinrt by the two sons of Cortes, one legitimate, the other the son of Cortes’ Mayan mistress.  The two Martins bring the man and his times to life with their conflicting view.
“The Two Numantias” is about the Roman conquest of Spain.
“In Apollo and the Whores”, an aging, Oscar-winning actor comes to Acapulco about to portray his greatest role: death.
And in “The Two Americas”, Columbus returns by jet to America, 500 years after he left.
A cornucopia for the senses and an interesting look at the conquest of the Americas.
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, by Kiran Desai
Poor Sampath Chawla, at 20 years old, has become a complete misfit in the eyes of his family and to the villagers of Shakhot.  A failure as a postal worker, he runs away and takes residence in a guava tree.  There he attains widespread celebrity as he begins showering his observers with matter-of-fact revelations, and shocking insights into their personal lives (the latter of course, attained by his days in the post office, reading their mail!).
Sampath’s family sets up a compound in the guava orchard: his practical father; Pinky, his sister, who has had the bad grace to fall in love with the village ice-cream man; and his ever-hungry mother, Kulfi, who is on a quest to cook her son the perfect meal.
The hullabaloo increases when a band of alcoholic monkeys also take up residence in Sampath’s tree, and a local Atheist Society sends one of their spies to prove Sampath a fraud.
I had mixed feelings.  On the one hand, it was beautifully written – I loved the language and the descriptive passages; it reminded me somewhat of John Irving’s A Son of the Circus.  When the story stayed within the Chawla family, I was interested.  Once the monkeys, and the spy, and all the government characters were introduced, I found myself skipping ahead.  It was charming, like a fairy-tale, but it got stretched a little too thin, and the ending just kind of dwindled away.
ALSO FOR YOUR FRUIT BOWL…
I did not actually read these, because I couldn’t find them at the library (and I’m trying to be good and not spend a lot of money on books).  But they were fun to pick out!  All reviews were taken off Amazon.com)
Watermelon, by Marion Keyes
A grand first novel by Irish writer Keyes is a hilarious treatise on love’s roller coaster. Both elated and exhausted after giving birth to a daughter, the 29-year-old Claire is shocked senseless when her husband James comes to the London hospital not to celebrate, but instead to break the news that he’s leaving her for their dowdy downstairs neighbor.
The stunned Claire, with new baby in tow, and feeling as big as a summer melon, hightails it back to her family in Dublin to sort out her life. Wandering around her childhood home in her mother’s old nightgowns, a vodka bottle in one hand and the bawling Kate in the other, Claire tries to banish images of the frolicking James and his “other woman.” Her two younger sisters prove to be a comfort.  Sweet Anna, a hippie drug-dealer, loans Claire money for booze, and haughty Helen deigns to buy it for her. And drunken anguish does have its rewards, for in no time Claire sheds her extra weight, thanks to a steady liquid diet and nights spent on the family rowing machine fantasizing James’s ruin.
But it is only when Gorgeous Adam appears on the scene that Claire begins to recover a sense of purpose. A college friend of Helen’s, Adam exemplifies perfect manhood–and helpfully takes a liking to her, too. But just as things begin crackling between them, James shows up, oh-so- generously ready to forgive Claire for driving him into the arms of the other woman. Torn between the comforts of her former life in London and a new, heartening sense of self-worth and self-sufficiency, not to mention the Gorgeous Adam, Claire finds herself hard put to make a decision. A candid, irresistibly funny debut and perfect summertime read. – From Kirkus Rewview, Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
Esperanza and her family didn’t always live on Mango Street. Right off she says she can’t remember all the houses they’ve lived in but “the house on Mango Street is ours and we don’t have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noise, and there isn’t a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom. But even so, it’s not the house we thought we’d get.”
Esperanza’s childhood life in a Spanish-speaking area of Chicago is described in a series of spare, poignant, and powerful vignettes. Each story centers on a detail of her childhood: a greasy cold rice sandwich, a pregnant friend, a mean boy, how the clouds looked one time, something she heard a drunk say, her fear of nuns: “I always cry when nuns yell at me, even if they’re not yelling.” Esperanza’s friends, family, and neighbors wander in and out of her stories; through them all Esperanza sees, learns, loves, and dreams of the house she will someday have, her own house, not on Mango Street.  –Reviewed by Jesse Larsen, from 500 Great Books by Women
Apple Blossom Time, by Kathryn Haig
When World War II breaks out, Laura joins the British war effort against the Nazis. Her assignment takes her to Egypt where she learns the horrors of war, including the death of her spouse.
When her term is over, Laura has an obsession to learn more about her father, whom she has never seen since he died a hero’s death in France during World War I.  She journeys to his village to learn that her sire’s name is not included on the war memorial honoring the dead. Her own family refuses to speak about him except to say that he was a hero. As she digs deeper into her family’s past, an unknown assailant begins sending her letters that threaten her with bodily harm.
Apple Blossom Time is a very good period piece that will be enjoyed by fans of the first half of the twentieth century life styles of the English. The story line is actually three sub plots that blend into a wonderful tale rich with intriguing characters. Though the novel may prove to British too be everybody’s cup of Earl Gray, fans of Masterpiece Theater will love this family saga.  – Reviewed by Harriet Klausner
Shadow of the Pomegranate, by Jean Plaidy
Synopsis from Amazom.com: The seemingly ideal marriage of Katharine of Aragon to young Henry VIII took place under the insignia of the pomegranate, the Arab sign of fertility, in an ironic gesture of fate. What follows fills this vivid novel of love, intrigue, and betrayal in the royal courts of England and Spain–
meticulously detailed by one of the most popular authors of historical fiction
While I didn’t find this particular book by Jean Plaidy on the library shelves, I did find the other 30 historical-fiction books she’s written on every European monarch in history!  I am not allowed to go near that shelf, otherwise you will never hear from me again!
Death by Rhubarb, by Lou Jane Temple
Synopsis from Amazon.com: Heaven Lee is one of Kansas City’s premier caterers. With a string of failed careers behind her, Heaven’s finally found her true love–Cafe Heaven. Open-mike night at Cafe Heaven gets pretty hairy but Heaven is shocked when lawyer Tasha Arnold drops dead from poisoning. With the law and word-of-mouth threatening to close her down, Heaven turns sleuth to find a killer who could turn her into Kansas City’s freshest corpse.
Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, by David M. Masumoto
Masumoto is a third-generation fruit grower in Del Ray, California. In his simple memoir, the college-educated farmer discusses the continual challenge of growing fruit in an area where annual rainfall is marked in single digits (irrigation is the answer) and weeds threaten to overtake the crop. In chronologically arranged chapters that extend from spring planting to summer harvesting to winter waiting, Masumoto reflects on a variety of topics, including the fact that his succulent, organically grown peaches, which have a shelf life of only one week, aren’t in demand; and his recollection of losing 35,000 trays of drying raisins to intense rainfall reveals why he always “feels persecuted by the power of nature.” A lyrically written memoir by an introspective orchardist. – From Booklist, Copyright© 1995, American Library Association. All rights reserved
Raspberry Island (Our Town), by Willa Hix

Amazon.com synopsis: Looking for a taste of true adventure, wealthy Jenna Guildenbergh becomes the nanny for the children of lighthouse keeper, widower Erik Ingman. But as Jenna slowly makes a place for herself in Erik’s home–and in his heart–Erik knows he has found more than someone to care for the children. He has found a woman who makes his life worth living again

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