For FALL 2010's delicious offerings of books, art, food, film, and unique travel--check out the NEW ISSUE of our online magazine FEAST--you will not go away hungry-- http://www.feastofbooks.com/

Between issues, read our blog posts as we and our special guests share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations about books, art, food, film, and travel. We love to hear from our readers, so please post a comment! Thanks-- Rosemary Carstens, editor

SNAX ONLINE is moving during the first quarter of 2011 -- stay tuned!

Snax Online is undergoing a redesign and will be moving to a new location. Check back from time to time for a link. In its new format, this blog will cover a wider range of topics but also its usual five. In the meantime, keep up with what's happening in the world of books, art, food, film, and travel at http://www.FEASTofBooks.com --

See you in 2011!!

Sunday, December 05, 2010


GIFT WRAP AN EXPERIENCE! Give a book this year at the holidays. Books inform, educate, entertain, encourage, and open doors to new ways of thinking, fresh ideas, and an expanded view of the world and its people. It is truly a gift that can continue to give long after the first reading of the last page. All year long, FEAST suggests books you might enjoy, share, pass along; books you might otherwise miss. This time of year we like to bring you the BEST of FEAST to consider for your gift list. Here are some of this year’s favorite features!

Wishing you happy holidays and a new year filled with good reads! Watch for a new and exciting format in our next full issue—

Rosemary Carstens, Editor

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GIRL IN A BLUE DRESS, Gaynor Arnold. Crown Publishers 2008. Longlisted for the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize, this engaging historical novel was inspired by the life and marriage of Charles Dickens and presents a very believable and thought-provoking view of the most celebrated author in the Victorian world. This is his wife’s side of the story, an examination of what it is like to be the mate of someone famous, beloved, and absolutely captivating in public—a man who is much more complicated in private and much more fallible.

THE WILLOW FIELD, William Kittredge. Knopf 2006. William Kittredge’s epic first novel spans the twentieth century and uses the personal story of one cowboy and his family to discuss everything from settlers’ experiences and the plight of Native Americans and cowboys to gamblers, whores, and ordinary men and women. It’s the story of the old West told with grit, in plain language. Kittredge knows this Montana land he writes about—its dust has settled deep into his own skin and soul and he brings it to life for his readers.

ITALIAN SHOES, Henning Mankell. Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson. The New Press, in English 2009. There is some fine writing coming out of Sweden, some fresh yet often universal perspectives. In this book, Frederik Welin, a man well past middle age, lives on a tiny Swedish island surrounded by ice three feet thick, alone except for his equally aged cat and dog. Each day, just to prove to himself that he is still alive, Frederik hacks through the ice to the sea and jumps naked into the frigid water. Haunted by memories of a terrible mistake in his past, one day a woman he abandoned forty years earlier appears suddenly on his island and the protection from the outside world he has so carefully assembled begins to crumble. Beautifully written and translated.

BENNY AND SHRIMP, Katarina Mazetti. Translated from Swedish by Sarah Death. Penguin 2009. A delightful small book with some big wisdom packed into it. Two lonely people meet in a cemetery and find themselves deeply attracted to one another. The author moves back and forth between the two points of view and deftly reveals the miscommunications and confusion of two good people from two different worlds, struggling to bridge them because of love and chemistry.

THE ELEVENTH MAN, Ivan Doig. Harcourt 2008. Doig, best known for This House of Sky and The Whistling Season, turns once again to his Montana homeground in this story about a group of boys who played football together at State University and became small-town heroes in an undefeated season. Then comes WWII and each joins up and is scattered across the globe to his own piece of the war, sees action, sees more death than anyone ought to, and struggles to make sense of it all. The backdrop of major battles in both Europe and the Pacific Basin makes for interesting reading about history, especially as contrasted with present-day fighting in the Middle East. It’s a powerful story about men, their women, their moral fiber, and their friendships with one another.

BAKING CAKES IN KIGALI, Gaile Parkin. Delacourt Press 2009. In Parkin’s debut novel she creates a unique voice in Angel Tungaraza—mother, cake baker, keeper of secrets, matchmaker. Readers are lured into the heart of modern-day Rwanda with the amazing sweets Angel bakes daily and they are soon hooked by the lives of a people who have endured unimaginable heartbreak in their history yet found ways to survive, to thrive, to love again. Angel moves through her days as a “professional somebody,” weaving together her customers’ stories in magical ways as she searches to heal her own broken heart. Parkin tell this story lightly and entertainingly, filled with details that bring Kigali to life—yet it floats like crème fraîche on the darker depth that lies below.

MATTERHORN, Karl Marlantes. El León Literary Arts and Atlantic Monthly Press 2010. Marlantes' 600-page literary tour de force about the Vietnam War absolutely blew me away. I think it’s the best book I’ve read this year. It took Marlantes, a Vietnam vet, thirty years to complete and it's sure to become a classic. It is being referred to as the Great American Vietnam War Novel, up there with Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. It has important pertinence today as we consider what is asked of our armed forces when our country goes to war, how war takes our beautiful young men and women into its maw and then spits them out, the course of their lives forever changed. This is a powerful, gripping tale that reveals so much of the boots-on-the-ground reality of the Vietnam War—its strange savage mixture of love and friendships formed under fire, the obscene waste of lives and potential, the heart-searing irresponsibility of politically motivated "leaders." This is tough stuff, but as someone of the generation whose men went to that war, it filled in blanks that support my view of war as a tool of ambitious, driven politicians and brass, who are either indifferent to or have insufficient understanding of the effects of their decisions. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

THE SPACE BETWEEN US, Thrity Umrigar. HarperCollins 2005. This finely written book is about the gap between reality and the preconceived ideas or unthinking reactions we all share about race and class. Focusing on two women who live dramatically different lives in modern-day India, Umrigar casts them in sharp, telling detail. The two are close friends in spite of their differences: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the quiet terror of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, her stoic illiterate maid hardened by a life of despair and loss. Bhima has worked in Sera’s household for more than 20 years. Each character reveals prejudices at various times based on nothing more than feelings. A beautiful, poignant, and compelling story brought to us by one of the finest writers of our time.

BREAKFAST WITH BUDDHA, Roland Merullo. Algonquin 2007. What a gem of a book! Sort of an EAT, PRAY, LAUGH Till You Cry. A middle-aged man with a successful career in publishing, Otto Ringling’s parents have died suddenly in a car crash and now he must head from his urban, east coast life out to settle things at the remote North Dakota farmhouse where he grew up. He decides to drive so that his sister—who he thinks of as “flaky” and lives an alternative lifestyle—will travel with him since she won’t fly. When he arrives at his sister’s home, he finds she is not going to accompany him but convinces him to give a ride to her guru, a crimson-robed Skovorodinian monk to whom she plans to give her half of their inherited 2,000-acre farm. As the two very different men strive to find common ground as they wind their way in anything but a direct route across the country, there are snorts, giggles, and laugh-out-loud sections and some thoughtful insight into living our lives with meaning.

THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY, Heidi W. Durrow. Algonquin 2010. Winner of the 2008 Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice. One of the key things about this novel is the author’s striking mastery of what is called “voice.” Durrow writes from several points of view in this story of a girl of mixed ethnic heritage—“white” and “black”—whose mother steps off a high-rise roof holding her baby and taking the girl and her brother with her. The girl is the miraculous survivor. Her voice as she tries to leave her painful past behind and become what she calls “the new girl,” is unique and clear and the perfect vehicle for exploring how race plays out in American society. Having been raised the first ten years of her life in Europe where her heritage was not an issue, she goes to live with her grandmother in an impoverished, all-black area of Portland, OR, and is forced to absorb differences in language and culture that are at once painful and torturous. The story addresses very real issues of what it is to be perceived as nonwhite in the United States, of poverty, drugs, alcoholism, and the enduring ties of blood and love. A small book with a giant story to tell.



Melanie Mulhall said...


As usual, a list of books I might not have found for myself. Thank you for that. I'm going to get a copy of Breakfast with Buddha, your description of which sounds like familiar territory to me. And funny. And I need wisdom with humor right now.


dana said...

thanks for posting this rosemary. just listened to the NYT podcast with their picks. interestingly, they were talking about how we can purchase online versions via google that benefit local booksellers. ji'm gonna have to get rid of my kindle, tho.

kathy kaiser said...

I loved your review of Matterhorn. It makes me want to run out and read it immediately.

Gail Storey said...

Rosemary, I value your list and literary discernment highly, thanks for taking the time to read and review these wonderful books!

Margaret Pevec. MA said...

Thanks for the fiction list, especially. I just finished Audrey Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, which was really strange, but I couldn't put it down. I was pining for some new fiction ideas. I tend to read female authors only, but will try a few of these by men, since you found them interesting.