Tag Archives For: audio

06 Sep, 2017

Give a Girl a Knife

/ posted in: Reading Give a Girl a Knife Give a Girl a Knife by Amy Thielen
on May 16th 2017
Pages: 320
Length: 10:09
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Clarkson Potter Publishers
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: Minnesota/New York

A beautifully written food memoir chronicling one cook's journey from her rural Midwestern hometown to the intoxicating world of New York City fine dining and back again in search of her culinary roots.
Before Amy Thielen frantically plated rings of truffled potatoes in some of New York City s finest kitchens for chefs David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten she grew up in a northern Minnesota town home to the nation s largest French fry factory, the headwaters of the fast food nation, with a mother whose generous cooking pulsed with joy, family drama, and an overabundance of butter.
Inspired by her grandmother s tales of cooking on the family farm, Thielen moves with her artist husband to the rustic, off-the-grid cabin he built in the woods. There, standing at the stove three times a day, she finds the seed of a growing food obsession that leads to the sensory madhouse of New York s top haute cuisine brigades. When she goes home, she comes face to face with her past, and a curious truth: that beneath every foie gras sauce lies a rural foundation of potatoes and onions, and that taste memory is the most important ingredient of all.


I spent a good portion of this memoir wondering why I listen to books like this.  It is no secret that I like foodie books but why do I listen to books where the lovingly drawn out descriptions of the food make me think, “Oh my god, that sounds disgusting!”

I’m not sure I found an answer to that.  I guess that will be the lot of wanna-be vegans who listen to chef memoirs.  You’ve been warned if descriptions of organ meats and loving talk of bloody juices and fond rememberances of torturing live lobsters bother you.

Amy Thielen was an English major before becoming a chef and it shows in this memoir.  The writing is of a more literary quality than a lot of memoirs.

This book starts with the story of how she and her husband started to live a seasonal existence.  In the summer they were in their off-the-grid cabin in Minnesota with a huge garden and in the winter they lived in New York.  This part of the book ends with their decision to move back to Minnesota full time.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 5.37.16 PM

The next part of the book goes back in time for a series of essays about events that take place before the first section. You never find out what happened after the move back from New York.  I had never heard of the author prior to reading this book so I wasn’t sure what happened besides writing this book.  I guess you are either expected to know that or expected to Google.

I was most fascinated by the story of her husband who actually managed to make a good living as a working artist in New York.  I thought that was a fairy tale.  The story of making a home in the woods was amazing to me.

The author narrates the audiobook which is normally a horrible decision but she did a very good job.  She infuses her story with a lot of emotion as she reads.


Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
  • Foodies Read 2017
31 Dec, 2014

Trip of the Tongue by Elizabeth Little

/ posted in: Reading

The author is a language fanatic.  She likes to learn all types of languages.  She decided to travel around the United States to find areas where languages other than English are used commonly.

She started with a few of the Native American languages – Creek and Najavo – to illustrate why these languages are fading even when efforts are now being made to teach them.  For years the U.S. government’s official policy was to eradicate the language of the tribes.  For generations who were punished for speaking their languages, it is not desirable for them to teach their children a language that they were taught is “bad.”  Why would they want their children to be punished?  English proficiency is also required to make it in the larger society so that trumps native language learning.

The trip continues with looks at creoles in Louisiana and Miami, Gullah in South Carolina, Basque in Nevada, and Norwegian in the upper Midwest.  It ends with a look at the use of Spanish in the United States.

I’ve never understood why people who can speak another language don’t make it a priority to teach it to their children.  Even if they aren’t going to speak it full time any multilingualism is of benefit for their brains and their college applications.

When we were in France this fall we had a conversation with a waiter who was from Corsica.  He spoke French.  His wife is German.  Their only common language when they met was English.  Their children are being raised with all three languages.  He couldn’t understand why this isn’t standard in the U.S.  I don’t get it either.

My grandmother understood Polish but refused to speak it.  One of her sons-in-law tried to speak Polish with her and she wouldn’t.  She obviously understood him but refused to utter a word.  The husband was raised in a house with Italian speaking relatives.  He considers Italian his first language but doesn’t remember any of it because once his great-grandmothers died no one spoke the language anymore.

I listened to this on audio.  There are sometimes when comparing differences in languages where it sounded like there were charts in the book.  Listening to charts being read on audio is not fun.  Also, the narrator sounds like a very proper slightly older woman.  There is profanity in the book.  It sounded quite odd being read in such a cultured, calm, and soothing voice.

26 Nov, 2014

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates

/ posted in: Current EventsReading

I’ve followed @everydaysexism on Twitter for a while and was always confused by one thing. There are a lot of tweets about street harassment. I haven’t ever seen or experienced that. No one has ever yelled at me in the street. If this was such a big problem elsewhere why didn’t it happen anywhere that I’ve lived? It wasn’t until I was listening to this on my way to work that it hit me. I’m never on the streets. I live in Midwest USA. There is no public transportation and no one is able to walk to work. We are always in the car. We are never out to get yelled at. I walk around my neighborhood but it is quiet.

This is just one example of how this book will make you look at the circumstances of your life in new ways. It discusses a variety of topics from rape to domestic violence to female genital mutilation to street harassment to body image to online targeting of women to women in the workplace. It also discusses how sexism hurts boys and men by putting them in strict gender roles (no crying, “man up”, gendered toys, no parental leave, etc.)

Each chapter is accompanied by stories that have been sent in to The Everyday Sexism project from women around the world. The goal of the book is to make people notice what is going on in the world around them and to have them speak up when they see sexism.

The author points out that every woman has stories that fit in the book. Listening to it, I remembered several. During my first year of vet school, I lived in an apartment that had access to a bike trail. I was walking on it one day when a guy grabbed me and kissed me and asked me out. It turned out that his wife was pregnant and he was in need of a sex partner until the baby was born. We were neighbors (I’d never noticed him before) so I would be convenient. Would I be ok with that? Yeah, um, no. He seemed surprised. He kept watching me for the rest of that semester and then they moved away. It never occurred to me to report this to anyone. I never told anyone, not because I was ashamed but because who was going to do anything? I wasn’t physically hurt by the guy. He was just creepy.

And the street harassment thing that never happens? In October of this year I was France. I was waiting outside a cafe while the husband paid the bill. A random guy walking past came up to me, put his face right in my face, and roared at me. I busted out laughing because it was so absurd and I figured that would offend the guy most. I was alone on a busy street in a city for about 2 minutes and a guy felt the need to mess with me. Nothing else happened for the rest of the trip because I was always with the husband. Nothing says, “Don’t harass” like appearing to belong to another man.

Some times you can have fun with it. I’ve written before about sexism in my profession. You know that thing when women have an idea that is met with blank stares until a man repeats it and it is the greatest idea ever? We used to get mad about it at my office. Now we bet on it. We’ll have an idea and then go tell it to the male business manager. We make sure the women all know when we told him and then we bet on how many days it will be until he has a brilliant idea out of nowhere! He’s used to it now so when we laugh he just asks who told him it and when.

I think this is a great, eye-opening book for both men and women.

My only criticism is that it is very British. There is a tendency to refer to British celebrities or news stories without explaining it those of us in the rest of the world. It will say things like, “Like what happened with so and so last year.” I usually had no idea who so and so was or what happened. It would have been easy to add a sentence to explain what happened. It starts in the introduction. It is written by Sarah Brown and refers to what happened to her with no explanation at all. I found out later that she was married to a Prime Minister so maybe that was part of the issue but still have no idea what she was referring to in her introduction. I also had to look up what “Page 3” referred to. That’s a topless photo of a woman run as a regular feature in a major English newspaper. See, one sentence explained it. Also, are you kidding me?

For those who think that sexism isn’t really still an issue you can just look at this review of the book on Amazon.

“Of course there are a few sexist men around, but expecting the world to change, and sexism to end, infantilises women. Still, with this book out and presumably selling well to other whiny women – of whom the world has no shortage – Bates officially becomes a professional whine merchant. I see men get a mention in chapter 10. Yippee. The difference between the sexism faced by women and that faced by men is that men don’t whine about it, they suffer in silence. If you want to get a sense of the sexism faced by men, which has immeasurably more serious consequences than the sexism faced by women, visit the website of The Alternative Sexism Project…”

I’m guessing he didn’t read the book.

The Lady Errant
23 Oct, 2014

Review of Tomlinson Hill by Chris Tomlinson

/ posted in: Reading

Tomlinson Hill: Sons of Slaves, Sons of SlaveholdersTomlinson Hill: Sons of Slaves, Sons of Slaveholders by Chris Tomlinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nonfiction – audio

AP journalist Chris Tomlinson knew that his family had been early settlers in Texas and that they owned a plantation named Tomlinson Hill. He was taught to be proud of his ancestors and was told repeatedly by his grandfather that the family’s slaves loved them so much that when they were freed they took the Tomlinson name.

LaDanian Tomlinson grew up visiting his grandmother who lived on Tomlinson Hill. He thought that the area had been named for his family until he read a historical marker that discussed the plantation.

Chris had always wondered about the Tomlinsons who were descended from his family’s slaves. He first heard of LaDanian when he was making a name for himself playing college football and then followed that with a career in the NFL. He wondered if there was a connection.

Chris spent years reporting on racial conflicts in Africa. He decided to write about racial tensions closer to home by exploring the dynamics of the two Tomlinson families.

This book goes deep into Texas history. It focus more on the white family than the black family most likely because of the availability of historical records. Because I was listening to it on audio it could get confusing at times when I would start confusing people with similar first names and not have a way to refer back to previous chapters.

It veers away from a strict family history often and goes into the larger picture so it definitely reads more like a history textbook than a family saga. I did learn more about the role of Texas in the Civil War than I knew before though.

25 Jul, 2014

Servants by Lucy Lethbridge

/ posted in: Reading

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern TimesServants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Audio nonfiction 12 hours and 43 minutes

For centuries the way of life that is imagined as so typically upper class English was made possible entirely by vast staffs of servants.  This book looks at the roles of the various servants throughout history and at the changes in society that led to the loss of servants in English life. 

For most of history the poor people near a large country estate didn’t have much hope for a better life than getting in at the big house.  At least there you’d eat better than they did at home.  The social mores of the servants of the great houses were as complex as the social structures of the people they served.  The butlers and lady’s maids certainly didn’t mix with the scullery maid.

Things started to change around World War I.  Many new jobs opened in the military factories that offered more freedom.  Women could get these higher paying jobs that didn’t require them to be deferential to a lady of the house.  They also didn’t live in a house they worked in so weren’t required to obey all the rules of the house.  Once women started to have this freedom there was no going back.

Changes in the English tax code around this time also made it harder for families to keep the large houses so many servants were let go.

In the decade between wars servants were at a premium.  The could dictate their terms and leave and find another job at will.  “The Servant Problem” was written about extensively.  People were getting uppity and not respecting their betters.  For aristocrats who had been brought up to never have to do any domestic work themselves, this was absolutely confounding.  They could not understand why people weren’t happy to be their servants.  Many attempts were made to convince English girls especially that domestic service was a noble career choice.  It didn’t work.

Because of the lack of biddable English servants, foreign workers were brought in.  Many German and Austrian Jews were allowed into England before World War II only if they agreed to be servants.  Because they had to have connections to get the visas, many of them were upper class themselves.  They were horrified at the living conditions of the British.  Most British upper class homes had shunned all labor saving devices because after all, you wouldn’t want the maid getting lazy, would you?  For Central Europeans used to modern conveniences, homes that refused central heating or running hot water or electrical appliances were a throwback to times they had never known.

At the same time homes for working class people were getting modern.  For a while it was not uncommon for servants to live in modern homes and go to work in fancy houses that didn’t have any of the modern conveniences that they had.

Traditional service today is mostly limited to the super rich and fine hotels but may be living on in companies that provide services such as custom meals.



28 Jun, 2014

Idiot America by Charles Pierce

/ posted in: Reading

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the FreeIdiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nonfiction, audio

When did being an expert on a subject turn into a liability in public debate?  Why are Americans more likely to listen to a political pundit or a television show host than a person who has made it her life work to study the matter up for discussion?  How is this dumbing down of America and Americans affecting our public policies?

  1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
  2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
  3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.

Charles P. Pierce doesn’t like a culture that considers experts to be elitists and is more concerned about who you’d rather have a beer with than who has a firm grasp on the issues.   He states that America has always been a good place for people who see things a bit strangely but it has never been so easy to make a living at it.

“The United States is an easy country to love because you can take it on faith that at some point in every waking hour of the day there is among your fellow citizens a vast exultation of opinions that test the outer boundary of the crazoid….

…. Let us be clear.  This is still the best country ever in which to peddle complete public lunacy.”


He starts with a visit to the Creation Museum.  I’ve been there and wrote about my sadness over the whole thing here.  Pierce was there about two years before me and describes the entry to the museum that must have been changed before I got there or I’d have probably passed out.  There was a dinosaur with a saddle on it.

“It was an English saddle, hornless and battered.  Apparently this was a dinosaur that performed in dressage competitions and stakes races.  Any dinosaur accustomed to the rigors of ranch work and herding other dinosaurs along the dusty trail almost certainly would have worn a sturdy western saddle.  This, obviously, was very much a show dinosaur.”

That might just be my favorite book quote of all time.

The book moves on to discuss the impact on a small town that became the center of a debate about teaching creationism.

He discusses the prolonged death of Terry Schiavo, which was debated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  She was even ordered to appear and testify before Congress because no one believed the people treating her when they said that she had been brain dead for years. Doctors are experts elitist, after all.

He discusses climate change deniers in the context of a small Alaskan town that is melting into the sea and then moves into the War on Terror.

A good companion to this book would be The Science of Fear.  It also discusses why we believe outrageous things if they “feel true” enough.

To sum up Idiot America we can quote Pastor Ray Mummert defending the Dover, PA school board’s attempt to get “intelligent design” taught in high school biology classes –

We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.



27 Jun, 2014

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

/ posted in: Reading

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Urban fantasy, audio

Wizard Harry Dresden has been in some rough spots in his life.  The roughest was an attempt to save his daughter from death where he was critically injured.  In order to be magically healed in time to save her, he accepted a job with the Queen of the Winter Fae, Mab.  Now he is her reluctant knight.  Reluctant because Mab is pretty evil and Harry does want to think of himself that way.  He’s worried that working for her may turn him whether he likes it or not.

Now Mab wants him to work with a group of very evil people headed by Nicodemus Archleone, one of Harry’s most despised people.  They are going to break into a vault belonging to Hades.  If that wasn’t suicidal enough, Mab wants Harry to double cross Nicodemus as soon at a particular point in the heist and Harry is sure that Nicodemus is planning to kill  him as soon as possible too. 

What I love about this series is the character development.  No one in these books is in the same place that they were when the series started.  Bad decisions are made and then there are consequences.  No one gets a magical “Get out of jail free” card so the character can slip back into the role that they filled previously.

If you are a fan of urban fantasy at all, you need to read these books.  There are 15 now but don’t let that stop you.  I didn’t start until around book 10 or so and I was immediately hooked. I read them all in a few months.   Start at the beginning.  Let yourself fall in love with these characters to the point that they are totally real to you.  I’ve had to walk away from reading a few times because I knew if they killed the character that was in peril in the scene I was reading that I would totally lose it.

I listen to these on audio now both to extend the enjoyment and because they are narrated by James Marsters.  He’s amazing.  There is a large cast in this world and all of the voices are believable and appropriate for the character.  The pacing is good and the essential smartassedness of the books comes through.  My only caveat is that I wish I had a paper copy of these because there are some passages that I’d like to go back and reread after I knew the ending.  That’s not so easy with 15 hours of audio.

22 May, 2014

The Greater Journey: Americans In Paris

/ posted in: Reading

The Greater Journey: Americans in ParisThe Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nonfiction, audio

During the 1800s many Americans moved to France to learn. Some studied art. Some studied medicine. Some were diplomats trying to make sense of the increasingly unstable country they found themselves in. What they would learn during their time in France would impact their lives and teach them useful skills that they took back to the young United States.

I was a bit confused when I started this book. I was listening to the audio and it starts with a whole cast of characters that it is jumping and forth between. It throws dates around willy nilly. I wasn’t sure that it was going to settle down and start making sense as a consistent narrative but it did after the first few chapters.

It starts out discussing the lives of American artists who went to study in France. In the early to mid 1800s there were no museums in France and no way for artists to see the masterworks of Western art without traveling to Europe. I had never thought of that. The book focuses on Samuel Morse, a talented painter with a side interest in inventing.

His master work was Gallery of the Louvre. He imagined his ideal gallery with all his favorite paintings in one place. His idea was that he would take it back to America and show other artists the works that they hadn’t seen. He also painted his friends into the picture. That is James Fenimore Cooper and his family on the upper left. Cooper came every day to the Louvre to watch him paint.

Gallery of the Louvre

I didn’t know that Samuel Morse was a painter. Eventually he gave up his successful career and focused on his invention – the telegraph.

Medical students came to Paris too. There weren’t any equivalent medical schools in the United States. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman to earn a medical degree, came but had to study midwifery because no school would admit her. Several of the students who studied in Paris at this time went home to found medical schools in the U.S. based on the French models.

Sometimes the most important things students learned wasn’t in their area of study. Charles Sumner enrolled in the Sorbonne and noticed that black students were treated no differently than white students. He decided that racism was learned and not innate. He because such a vocal abolitionist Senator that eventually he was savagely beaten on the floor of the Senate.

Elihu Washburne was the U.S. Ambassador to France during the siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War. He wrote a diary that gives insight into conditions in Paris. He was the only foreign diplomat not to flee the city. Because of this he aided in the evacuation of British civilians in addition to American citizens. This section discussed French politics of the late 1800s when it appeared that the French people had lost their collective minds in my opinion.

The book ends with Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a sculptor from the United States who studied in France and used French craftsmen to make his large Civil War monuments like this monument to General Sherman.


There are many more people profiled giving an overview of the history of France in the 1800s as seen through the eyes of Americans.

18 May, 2014

Just One Damned Thing After Another

/ posted in: Reading

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary's, #1)Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Science fiction – audio

When Dr. Lucy Maxwell (Max) interviews for a historian position with St. Mary’s Institute she notices that things aren’t quite right. What kind of history institute has a large building named after a physicist? A history institute that goes back in time to witness history first hand, that’s who.

Soon she is training to be accepted into the program.  Physical fitness, science training, wardrobe, craftiness, and quick thinking are musts.  Failure means immediate dismissal.

As a historian she learns that her job is to observe and see what really happened.  Don’t try to change anything.  History will fight back.

She travels to see cathedral building in England, dinosaurs in the Cretaceous, a hospital in World War I, and the fire at the Library in Alexandria.

Nothing ever goes as planned.

I really enjoyed this book.  I’m looking forward to listening to the sequels.  They are equal parts funny and suspenseful with a little romance thrown in.

The audio performance was well done also. The only thing I had a problem with was the tendency for the story to say something like, “I thought we’d have a lovely evening but I was wrong.” Nothing like getting hit over the head with the foreshadowing. But other than that I thought it was a very original take on the idea of time travel.