Baking Cakes in Kigali Gaile Parkin Hardcover: 320 pages Publisher: Delacorte Press (August 18, 2009) 5/5 stars Angel Tungaraza moved to Kigali, Rwanda from her native Tanzania when her husband took a job at the local university. An accomplished cake ...

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"Medb's Montage" - 5 new articles

  1. Baking Cakes in Kigali
  2. The Dud Avocado
  3. The Child Thief
  4. Anniversary by the River
  5. The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School
  6. More Recent Articles

Baking Cakes in Kigali

Baking Cakes in Kigali
Gaile Parkin
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press (August 18, 2009)
5/5 stars

Angel Tungaraza moved to Kigali, Rwanda from her native Tanzania when her husband took a job at the local university. An accomplished cake maker, Angel adds extra income to her large family and gives herself much joy by making custom-ordered cakes for friends, neighbors, and strangers who have heard the good word about her fabulous creations. In addition to being a "professional someone" (as she would call herself), Angel is Mama to her five orphaned grandchildren, confidant of friends and strangers, and a true example of a good woman.

Each chapter centers around one of Angel's cakes, giving the reader shorter stories inside the larger story. It is a story of family, of community, of all manners of love and reconciliation, and of course, of beautiful cakes. I wish I could explain the plot better, to show how desirable a read this is, but I simply can't. Suffice it to say that it is a surprisingly complex plot, despite this books benign face, with Angel facing several interesting ethical issues as well as the range of various good, bad and amusing situations.

Ms. Parkin uses the fact that Angel is an outsider to Rwanda to easily explain the current situation and the bloody past of this country. It never feels contrived; the explanations happen very naturally--as does most everything in this book. . . It all feels very natural. Customs are clarified, situations set up, the reader gently led here and there and yet, it just feels "real" and lifelike, always smooth and believable. Even the conversations, held in a manner so different from Western conversations, become so real that when a Westerner does appear, using typical Western speech, it seems brash and out of context.

This is truly a masterpiece, a first novel of the highest quality. It is a lovely, heartwarming book that sparkles with gentle wit, at times tugs the heartstrings, but is above all, a joyful experience. I can not recommend this novel highly enough. What a pleasure, what a delight. I expect to see much more of Ms. Parkin in the future.

The Dud Avocado

The Dud Avocado
Elaine Dundy
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: NYRB Classics; 2nd printing edition (June 5, 2007)
5/5 stars

The Dud Avocado tells the story of Sally Jay Groce, fresh out of college and ready to live life to it's fullest in Paris. Once in Paris, she goes "more native than the natives" trying to cram as much "living" as she can in two short years. Sally Jay's attempts to live it up lead her into many roles, from mistress to actress to homebody, and she embraces every role with gusto--usually with disastrous results.

Dundy's 50 year old classic is fresh and witty, and sometimes a bit racy, and her prose is as close to perfection as one can find. Add this to Sally Jay, a protagonist so alive and real, and it is easy to see why this book gained such a following upon publication.

Here is an excerpt from chapter 3, one of my favorite bits, to give an example of the delicious flavor of the Dud Avocado:

At eleven o'clock that night, in one of my dangerous moods--midnight-black, excited and deeply dreading (as opposed to one of my beautiful midnight-blue ones, calm but deeply excited), my nerves strung taut to singing, I arrived at the Ritz, only to discover all over again what a difficult thing this was to do. I tended to loose my balance at the exact moment that the doorman opened the cab door and stood by in his respectful attitude o f"waiting." I have even been known to fall out of the cab by reaching and pushing against the handle at the same time that he did. But this time, however, I had disciplined myself to remain quite, quite still, sitting on my hands until the door was opened for me. Then, burrowing into my handbag, which suddenly looked like the Black Hole of Cacutgta, to find the fare, I discovered that I needed a light. A light was switched on. I needed more than a light, I needed a match or a flashlight or special glasses, for I simply couldn't find my change purse, and when I did (lipstick rolling on the floor, compact open and everything spilled--passport,m mirror, the works) I couldn't find the right change. We were now all three of us, driver, doorman and I, waiting to see what I was going to do next. I took out some bills, counted them three times in the dark until I was absolutely certain that I had double the amount necessary, and then pressed it on the driver, eagerly apologizing for overtipping. Overcome with shyness I nodded briefly in the direction of the doorman and raced him to the entrance. I just won. Panting and by now in an absolute ecstasy of panic I flung myself at the revolving doors and let them spin me through. Thus I gained access to the Ritz.

I guffawed out loud so often throughout the Dud Avocado; I read parts aloud to my husband; I laughed at and cried with Sally Jay. . . in short, I lived this book. It was pure joy to read, and one that I will certainly read a second time.

The Child Thief

The Child Thief
Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Eos (August 25, 2009)
3/5 stars

The Child Thief is a retelling, of sorts, of the story of Peter Pan. Peter, the Child Thief, steals children from this world to take into his world to use against his enemy in the long-going war in Avalon. To take a child through the Mist into Avalon, the child must go willingly with Peter, so he spends considerable effort winning the child over. Peter only picks the runaway, the abused, the abandoned child--the ones who would be eager to escape this life for the next.

The stories of the children he "steals" are full of violence and abuse (sexual, emotional, physical) and despair, all told in grim detail. While they are glad to escape from the lives, the new life Peter grants is not all that much better.

In this version of his story, Peter is not the typical hero, but is a selfish, complex, nearly amoral character. His back story is told in flashbacks through out the book, as the reader gradually comes to learn what influences have made him as he is.

Brom's writing is excellent, hence the third star. With his complex characters and thorough descriptions, he continued to propel me through the pages long after I had lost interest in the bleak, sometimes terrifying, plot. Despite not being able to enjoy this book, I would be interested in reading more by the author; his storytelling was just that good.

This is a dark, graphically violent and generally disturbing book, full of profanity and pain. In my opinion it is not one that should be given a general YA label; in fact, it is more appropriate for adults. I would advise parents to read it before giving it to a YA reader.

Anniversary by the River

We celebrated our anniversary a little early yesterday (it will be on Tuesday) with a lovely day down by the river, taking photos and then riding the riverboat. (click on the photos for full-sized images; it opens in this same page though, so you'll have to click back)

It was at this very spot, 8 years ago, that he leaned over and said, "Wanna slip off and get married next Saturday?". I don't remember exactly what I said or did, but it must've been an affirmative.

Three ladies on kayaks; the colors were just lovely on the river.

My newly colored (Shocking Blue by Manic Panic), wildly windblown hair.

Lovely summer blossoms:

This couple just struck me as cute:

Architecture and monuments are my favorite things to photograph.

I like ducks a lot. Not as much as bats or turtles, but a really big much.

They sell fish food at the steamboat gift shop, and believe me, the carp expect it! They begin congregating, coming from fathoms deep, as soon as people start walking over the bridge to the steamboat office. Feeding them was amazing; they are huge and there are so many of them it felt a bit like a horror movie. Stoney snagged a quick video with his camera; be glad there is no sound as it was really gross! The ducks give a good size reference. These monsters were HUGE! (Don't fault Stoney for the poor video. Every time we upload it anywhere, it gets stretched larger than it is and that makes it look bad. But, you'll still get the point!)

The riverboat was fantastic! So relaxing and so much fun. An immemsely enjoyable hour and a half! I was excited to see that the paddles really do propel the boat. They were fascinating to watch.

We passed under three bridges, twice each of course, allowing me a lot of bridge photography from an angle I don't normally get to see. That might have been my favorite part of the whole trip, the bridges. Well that and just enjoying Stoney's company in a new place. That is always fun.

A fellow passenger enjoying the river:

It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and I think we're going to make it an anniversary tradition.


The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School
Laurie Halse Anderson (Author)
Ard Hoyt (Illustrator)
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing (June 23, 2009)
5/5 stars

In The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School , we meet Zoe and her lovely, wild, untamed red locks. Her hair is so voluminous that, as a baby, she needed two strollers; one for herself and one for her hair.

Not only is her hair plentiful and beautiful, it is also talented. Her hair can turn on the tv, pet the cat, pour juice AND play on the computer--all at the same time. . . while Zoe sleeps!

When Zoe started school, her Kindergarten teacher loved Zoe and her tresses, giving chores to the hair while the students napped. Unfortunately, one Zoe's first day of First Grade, her new teacher lets her differing views be known immediately. "School has rules," says Ms. Trisk, "no wild hair in my class." Naturally, this stirs up the rebel in Zoe's hair, and to Zoe's embarrassment, her hair does all sorts of naughty things to annoy Ms. Trisk.

Will Zoe, her hair and Ms. Trisk find a happy medium?

I'll go ahead and tell you: Yes! This book is about compromise and individuality, how both parties can give and take with a satisfying outcome. Though Ms. Trisk is in the wrong, there is never a question about Zoe, or her parents, following Ms. Trisk's instructions. I liked this, in that it isn't showing a rebellion against a teacher, rather a willingness to compromise.

The illustrations are lovely. Zoe's amazing hair is not a vivid, overpowering red, but rather a true to form orangey red that one sees on people daily. His illustrations are also light and engaging, adding more depth to the story.

I think this is a delightful book and could certainly give across a message of cooperation, especially if discussed afterward. For younger children, who might not understand such a message, the amusing story and lively illustrations will make a pleasure to read.

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