Review: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson audiobook

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson audiobook

Four days ago, I finished the audiobook Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson, but I cannot stop thinking about it. Samuelsson’s voice still runs in a constant loop in my head. His eloquent words bounce around my mind as I recall how he spoke of his his inspiration, his journey, and his ambition. I’ve read many books and it’s rare that one sticks with me for so long.

I knew a little bit about Samuelsson’s life before reading his memoir. I first heard of him while watching Top Chef Masters, a favorite reality show of mine. Soon after he was named the season 2 winner, I met him at BlogHer in 2010. I was drawn to his story: Ethiopian born, Samuelsson and his older sister were adopted by Swedish parents. My children, while not adopted, are biracial, and I was fascinated by the dichotomy of Samuelsson’s life. My children will probably face similar challenges as they straddle their different cultures and races.

Thien-Kim cooking with Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Yes, Chef opens with Samuelsson’s memory of his Ethiopian mother, who was one of many tragedies in a tuberculosis epidemic that hit Ethiopia. Both he and his sister were stricken but survived. Samuelsson doesn’t mince words as he describes how life must have been for his mother, yet his calm, strong voice hit me hard:

I have never seen a picture of my mother.

I have traveled to her homeland, my homeland, dozens of times. I have met her brothers and sisters. I have found my birth father and eight half brothers and sisters I didn’t know I had. I have my met my mother’s relatives in Ethiopia, but when I ask them to describe my mother, they throw out generalities. “She was nice,” they tell me. “She was pretty.” “She was smart.” Nice, pretty, smart. The words seem meaningless, except the last is a clue because even today, in rural Ethiopia, girls are not encouraged to go to school.”

(You can listen Samuelsson read the opening chapter on Audible.)

Samuelsson shares his journey with complete honesty. He’s a chef, so of course the text is peppered with expletives that are probably thrown around in restaurant kitchens. His observations of race and of being black as he travels throughout Europe and America are gut wrenching because there is truth to them.  Being black in the restaurant business was almost as bad as being female, but Samuelsson didn’t let the racism stop his ambition. In fact, he aimed to prove that he was the best, no matter his skin color.

The topics he covers in his memoir are weighty but he adds levity in the right places. I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book. I”m sure my fellow Amtrak passengers thought I was crazy!

Samuelsson’s curiosity about food and flavors combined with his extensive travel has given him a unique view on cooking.  This is evidenced by the recipes in his cookbook New American Table. He wants to create more than food that tastes good, but he aims to build restaurants and dishes that create and build community, just like the Red Rooster in Harlem, NY.

I highly recommend getting the audiobook so you can hear him tell his own story. My only regret is not purchasing a print copy to read in tandem with the audiobook. There are many passages that I would have highlighted or made notes next to.

Even if you’re not a foodie like me, you’ll enjoy Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson.

For a more personal post about how Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir inspired me, head to my blog I’m Not the Nanny.

50 Authors Celebrate Summer With Original Stories on Biographile

Biographile That Summer Story Series

I recently learned about Biographile, the Penguin Random House website dedicated to biography, memoir, and truth in fiction. It looks like a great site to read about new and distinguished authors, inspiration, and the craft of writing. Currently, the site is in the midst of That Summer, a month-long series celebrating the magic of summer. Every day in July, Biographile will share original essays from more than 50 renowned authors from Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, and others, who share personal tales of that memorable summer.

Calling all writers: Biographile, in partnership with Paste Magazine, is running a writing contest for you to share your summer story.  The winner will have their story published on Paste and Biographile plus become the new owners of a curated collection of books. Hurry, though because submissions are due on July 23rd.

Now back to the stories about authors’ memorable summers. Their stories explore themes such as love and sex, rites of passage, and personal growth, while spanning generations, from the freewheeling ’70s to the digital aughts. Authors include:

  • Jojo Moyes, author of One Plus One, remembers a teenage summer in her colorful London neighborhood and the freedom associated with learning to drive.
  • Thomas Cahill, author of Heretics and Heroes, recalls moving to Ireland with his wife, and their adventures involving superstitious country folk and Irish moonshine.
  • Margaret Atwood, author of the forthcoming Stone Mattress, remembers her fascination with stromatolites (fossil-like pillows of stone), which she encounters during a boating trip through the North West Passage.  It turns out, that trip was fodder for a new short story…
  • Lisa See, author of China Dolls, recalls a summer of driving and sex under the stars during the ’70s when she lived at home as a teen without parental supervision.
  • Saroo Brierley, author of A Long Way Home, shares his emotional journey to India in hopes of finding his birth village and family with the aid of Google Earth after a 25-year separation. 
  • Amanda Vaill, author of Hotel Florida, recalls a breakthrough in her writing while conducting research at the New York Public Library during her first job as an assistant for the New Yorker.

Biographile has plenty of great stories to feed your reader this weekend. Come back each for a new story will be like unwrapping a birthday present everyday for a month.

What are you reading this weekend?

Book Review: The Pearl That Broke Its Shell

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

Thanks for the great response to my post yesterday about diverse books for adults! I’m putting my money where my mouth is and want to tell you about a book I recently fell in love with.

My knowledge about life in Afghanistan was limited to news blurbs and short website articles. This all changed when I picked up Nadia Hashimi’s debut novel  The Pearl that Broke Its Shell. The novel follows two Afghani girls. Rahima is nine when her family transforms her into bacha posh, a traditional where young girls are dressed and live like boys. These bacha posh return to being girls once they’ve begin puberty. Rahima’s great-great-grandmother Shekiba lived as a man when she guarded the king’s harem.

For several years “Rahim” enjoyed and relished the freedom and rights of a male child. She attended school, went to the market for her mother, and even found a paying job. Rahima is abruptly returned to girlhood after her mother catches her wrestling with her male friends. Like all girls of marriageable age, Rahima and her two older sisters are forced to become child-wives to men old enough to be their father.

After all the freedom she experienced as a boy, Rahima finds it difficult to live as a subservient fourth wife to a warlord. Her crippled, unmarried aunt continues to visit Rahima to regale her with stories of Shekiba.  Her great-great-grandmother’s desire to do more with her life is the rock that helps Rahima push through her mother-in-law’s beatings, her husband’s wives’ wrath, and the nightly visits with her husband.

Rahima and Shekiba’s stories are heartbreaking but powerful.  Even with all of their hardships, they wanted a better life and fought for it in their own way. Even readers like me who aren’t familiar with Afghani culture and society can relate to these women. Thank you Nadia Hashimi for telling their stories. While the book is a work of fiction, I have no doubt that similar stories abound.

Add The Pearl that Broke Its your shelf. You won’t regret it.

The Kindle version of the The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is currently $1.99 so you have no excuse not to read it!


Book Review: ‘Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

Till The Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

Till The Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

As a child I’ve always loved books that transported me to another world, real or imaginary, that I would never be able to visit otherwise. In novel ‘Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma, I traveled to Trinidad. Not only did I learn what life is like in on the island, but Francis-Sharma’s rich writing allowed me to walk in Marcia Garcia’s shoes.

There’s so much to this multi-layered novel, that I’m not even going to attempt a synopsis for you. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

A glorious and moving multi-generational, multicultural saga that begins in the 1940s and sweeps through the 1960’s in Trinidad and the United States. Lauren Francis-Sharma’s ‘Til the Well Runs Dry opens in a seaside village in the north of Trinidad where young Marcia Garcia, a gifted and smart-mouthed 16-year-old seamstress, lives alone, raising two small boys and guarding a family secret. When she meets Farouk Karam, an ambitious young policeman (so taken with Marcia that he elicits the help of a tea-brewing obeah woman to guarantee her ardor), the risks and rewards in Marcia’s life amplify forever.

On an island rich with laughter, Calypso, Carnival, cricket, beaches and salty air, sweet fruits and spicy stews, the novel follows Marcia and Farouk from their amusing and passionate courtship through personal and historical events that threaten Marcia’s secret, entangle the couple and their children in a scandal, and endanger the future for all of them.

What I admired most about Marcia was her ability to keep pushing to give her children the best life she could even when obstacles were thrown at her. It’s not to say that Marcia was a perfect character. She had her imperfections, just like everyone around her. All the characters in the novel are well developed. They felt so real to me that I could envision myself walking down Marcia’s street and waving at her neighbors.

Even if I can’t related to the struggles and joys of living in Trinidad, I could relate to Marcia’s desires and dreams. We all want a better life for ourselves and our family. We dream of finding love and to be loved unconditionally. Marcia could easily be one of us, even if her path is different from our own.

Pick up a copy of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma. You won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: A Better World by Marcus Sakey

A Better World by Marcus Sakey

A Better World by Marcus Sakey

I like reading trilogies.  Before becoming emotionally invested, I know there is a definite end to the story as opposed to neverending book series.

That being said, I loathe to start a series by reading the second or third book. While I couldn’t read book #2 of the Brilliance Saga, A Better World  by Marcus Sakey fast enough, the suspense thriller ruined me for its prequel, Brilliance.  That caveat aside, A Better World was an entertaining suspense thriller. You definitely do not need to read Brilliance before starting A Better World, but I highly recommend it.

Since 1980, “brilliants” have popped up around the world. This 1% of the population are genetically wired with special skills and talents: the ability to sense if someone is lying, predicting future events based on patterns, or sense time differently than the “normals.” Thirty-years later, a terrorist network attempts to disrupt the balance of abnorms and norms–to the side of the “abnormals.” Former secret agent Nick Cooper is a brilliant and advisor to the president of the United States. Only he can stop the impending civil war.

A Better World pulls readers in immediately in its action-packed storyline. In fact, it’s no surprise that the first book of the Brilliance Saga is in preproduction for a movie. Sakey knows how to write a suspense thriller. There’s enough twists in the story to keep me turning the pages. Nick Cooper is an incredibly honest and likeable character. In fact, sometimes he seems to good to be true. He’s a stereotypical federal agent hero who saves the world with his two bare hands (and a gun).

My main pet peeve about A Better World, except for the book #1 spoilers, is the ending. Since the Brilliance Saga is a trilogy, A Better World suffers from middle child syndrome. The ending is a major cliffhanger, making the novel just a huge setup for the third and final (I hope) book.

 A Better World  by Marcus Sakey is fast-paced novel is perfect for a summer or beach read. However, I highly recommend you start with Brilliance, the first book in the trilogy.

I received a review copy of the novel.

Book Review: The Naughty Girls’ Book Club

The Naughty Girls' Book Club by Sophie Hart

The Naughty Girls' Book Club by Sophie Hart

The last couple of weeks have been pretty intense with work. Nothing hard or challenging, but my brain is just full of great information and ideas. That means it has been harder to concentrate on reading, but I feel lost if I don’t read a few pages before turning for the evening. Luckily, I had the perfect novel waiting for me: The Naughty Girls’ Book Club by Sophie Hart.

The Naughty Girls’ Book Club is about a group of strangers who start a book club, but with a fun twist. Estelle manages the struggling Cafe Crumb. After the indie bookstore across the street permanently closes, she starts a book club to draw in new customers. The group, with 5 women and one man, seems unlikely to succeed, especially after the first book club selection is a dud. Until a Fifty Shades of Grey-type book tumbles out of Estelle’s stack of papers. The group decides to read it for their next meeting and soon the book club about classic literature turns into an erotica book club.

The novel isn’t about the erotica books itself, but how the books help the very different characters discover themselves and grow to become close friends.  Each character, even the man, learns more about themselves with each book they read. They have their own life problems, and the cafe and the book club allow them to find a way to deal with their crisis.

Even with its rocky start, I enjoyed the escape to Cafe Crumb and its circle of friends. The characters are fun and I could identify with many of their struggles. I relished each moment I snuck to dive into the book. I wish I could visit Cafe Crumb and gorge on the delicious pastries that she cooked. I wanted to go shopping with Grace so she could help me pick out sexy 1950s fashion. I giggled with Rebecca as rekindled her marriage.

Add The Naughty Girls’ Book Club by Sophie Hart to your summer reading list. You won’t regret it!