Bite-Sized Comics Review: RELISH by Lucy Knisley

Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment
relish lucy knisley cover.jpg

Relish by Lucy Knisley

This is the sort of bits and pieces, slice of life memoir that stirs up all kinds of fond memories of food in my family's kitchen growing up. Being Cuban, that meant lots of plantains, pork, beans, and rice, and delicious desserts like arroz con leche, flan, and torrejas, among other things. In Relish, Lucy shares stories of her childhood and beyond which relate to food. In some cases, she shares stories that revolve around family meals, and in others, discovering great foods in places like Mexico (and what was going on in her life at that time). Sprinkled in between chapters, she shares excellent recipes that'll have your mouth watering. Seriously, depending on how you organize your bookshelves, you might be equally tempted to sort this in with your comics or your cookbooks. If you have a "the best [insert dish here] I've ever tasted in my life was at...." story, then this book is for you. If you have a "when I was a kid, I used to love eating [insert fun and possibly gross food memory here]..." story, then this book is for you. Basically, if you like food, this book is for you. 

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: IN THE COUNTRY WE LOVE

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In The Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, with Michelle Burford

This memoir is at times funny, but entirely heart-wrenching. Diane opens up about her life up until now: living her early years in fear of her parents being deported and realizing that hell at age 14. Abandoned, even by the government, which didn't concern itself with the young girl who was left behind. Her desire to succeed and figure out how to bring her parents back (she's still working on it). Living with depression, and doing the hard work that led up to her current visibility as an actor in Orange Is The New Black and Jane The Virgin. It has as much to do with her own experiences as it does with the hard truths of thousands of other families who are torn apart when the system fails them, and the scared children they leave behind. Gripping, well-presented, and heartfelt, I highly recommend this read. Just maybe keep some tissues handy.

Bite-Sized Audiobook Reviews: WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL?

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

This memoir, read by the author, jumps around between various topics and anecdotes relating to her sexuality, life with her adoptive parents, discovering literature and finding solace in libraries, looking for her birth mother, being exorcised, and other events of her life. Some of them are funny, and she does indeed inject loads of humor and wit throughout, but there are a lot of profoundly sad moments, too. Her intensely religious mother made it difficult for her to be herself growing up, and she suffered many punishments and hungry nights for it. When she wouldn't be "cured" of her sexuality in her teen years, she was driven out of her home altogether, and took up residence in a car or with a girlfriend. If you've read her book Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, you may be familiar with some of her story, but the reality behind it is much darker, even if it did end in her freedom and successes as an adult. I recommend reading both, but you might need to keep a tissue handy.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: GULP and PICNIC IN PROVENCE

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Gulp by Mary Roach

Gulp is an exploration of the journey foods make, starting with sniffing and tasting and on through eventual dumpage. Some of it is pretty gross! But it's all very fascinating and Roach approaches all these topics with her usual wit and impressive thoroughness. Of course, she also goes into cultural taboos: how they affect scientific research and even the way we eat. I don't recommend snacking while reading this book, but I do recommend snatching it up if you're in the mood for some real science-based investigations, warts and all. If you've never read any Roach previously, though, I highly recommend getting started with Packing For Mars, which is all about space exploration and astronauts.

Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard

In this memoir, Bard talks about her life in France with her husband, their decision to move to the countryside, her pregnancy (and the subsequent birth of their son), and all their other experiences leading up to their eventual decision to open an ice cream shop. Her descriptions of the village life, the way the French rear children and approach food, and how she reconciled her American, Jewish identity with her life in France through traditions old and new are all major themes in this memoir. She also includes excellent recipes in between chapters, many of which I intend to make for myself or for family and friends. I enjoyed the way she approached her stories with humor, and now I'm looking forward to reading her other book, Lunch in Paris, which was published four years before Picnic.


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Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (narrated by the author):

After listening to Julie Powell's Julie & Julia, I wanted to sink my teeth into another food-related memoir, and remembered I'd been interested in Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential for a long time. His narrating is solid, though the cutting/editing in the audiobook file wasn't optimal, frequently cutting abruptly or transitioning in quality from one sentence to the next.

This book is a great collection of stories that spans decades, and there's no better person to get the humor, sarcasm, disdain, adoring, and other tones the tales evoke than the author himself, who spoke them all regardless of what he imagined would be no small amount of flak. His experiences aren't universal, but they're still a super interesting peek into the world of cooking as a career for a significant chunk of people. I wouldn't trade my life for how he described his in this book, but I got a lot out of listening.

I'm also hungry for more culinary books or other chef memoirs. I'll be checking some more out in the near future.

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen (narrated by Julia Whelan):

Of course, since watching Frozen I've been interested in seeing how different the original story is to the adaptation. I got this title for free from Audible, as Julie Whelan was Audible's 2014 narrator of the year.

As suspected, the book and the film don't resemble each other at all, except that there's a reindeer in both, and somehow the people affected by snow magic are total jerks. There are so many great characters in The Snow Queen I would have loved to see brought to life in the film! In this story, a little girl is separated from her best friend, who is taken away from her. She spends the book going after him, and gets help along the way from various animals and people. This cute little adventure is a quick read, and brilliantly narrated by Whelan. It's a nice story about growing up and being true to ourselves, though we sometimes go astray. And of course, the people who believe in us when we need them to the most.

Link Bits: Flea gets a memoir?

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[Woo, back home now! I don't start work for a few more days, but I'm done traveling for now. Which means... back to business ::cracks knuckles::]

Flash mob stuff is always fun. But it's pretty amazing when it's the cast of The Lion King in an airplane.

Michael Balzary (Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) is going to be writing a memoir. No title or release date are known at this time, but here's the press release from Hachette. Admittedly, I have a hard time trusting anything dated April 1, but hey. If it's real, I'll be interested in reading this.

This is a rather good, well thought out article about Disney movies in general, but mostly it's about the problems with Frozen. It's a long read, but very much worth your while whether you're a Disney lover or hater.


Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at!

Book Review: BREATHING MACHINE by Leigh Alexander

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What if there were a world bigger than the one you can touch?
Leigh Alexander recounts a stormy adolescence alongside the mysterious early internet. From the surrealism of early video games to raw connections made over primitive newsgroups, from sex bots to Sailor Moon, Alexander intimately captures a dark frontier age.

Rather than your average-size memoir full of street smarts, deep analysis, and often too many pop culture references than I can keep up with,

Breathing Machine reads more like a collection of essays that, when put in chronological order, become a body of work about humans and machines and what it's meant to the author. The book is undeniably personal, but it isn't really about Leigh, and it isn't really about computers - at least, not entirely. It's a lot about the relationship between the two, with some poignant social commentary peppered with the kind of hope that Nick Carraway would find irresistible.

Depending on when you were born and the kind of experiences you had growing up, Breathing Machine may read like a time capsule into your own past. Many of Leigh's experiences, which are vividly recounted in this short (~67-page) memoir, resonated with my own. I can only imagine that readers who are too young to remember screeching modems and the early days of the internet, Geocities (yep, I ran two Geocities fan sites back in the day - Final Fantasy and Farscape) and everything else, might feel a little alienated, because some knowledge is required to really connect with the work.

Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at!

I mentioned earlier that the book reads like a collection of essays. If you're a follower of Leigh's work and are familiar with her writing style, then you'll feel right at home. For everyone else, it may be unfamiliar territory in a work of this kind, because it isn't written by someone who writes books, it's written by someone who writes editorials and criticism, and often, for various outlets on various topics. I'm not saying it's badly written by any means, but it's highly stylized and each chapter (each essay), rather than gradually flowing along from one to the other, begins and ends most definitely once it's made its point. Leigh wrote her memoir in the style she writes a lot of her editorials, and that isn't a bad thing.

Breathing Machine is worth a read for anyone who grew up, to borrow a chunk of the copy, "alongside the mysterious early internet." Even if you didn't, it's an engaging exploration of the way we've changed along with our technology. It was also engaging for me because of the author's frankness in her recollection of events, the feeling like the words on the page were written only for me, and the focus on interactions and experiences as a whole rather than self. It's all very interesting, and before I knew it, the book was over.

Thanks to Leigh Alexander for providing me with a copy of this ebook for review.

Order your copy of  Breathing Machine from Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play here:

Book Review: 'Anything Goes' by John Barrowman

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Getting acquainted with John Barrowman and his musical theater work has been the best thing to come out of spending some time watching the new Doctor Who series. Though I'm pretty lukewarm on Doctor Who, I loved Captain Jack as a character, and some of my more invested friends learned that he can sing and dance and has had a great musical career. And then I went to a book store to browse memoirs and saw one with his face on it titled Anything Goes. Why not?

Anything Goes is not so much a chronicle of John Barrowman's life so much as a collection of experiences, thoughts, and wisdom (both from John himself and people he's met). It's not sorted by phases of his life, but by song titles and what falls under them. It isn't even in chronological order. And it doesn't have an ending, because as John rightfully points out, his story hasn't ended yet. While it made for an abrupt cut-off, he made that point clear.

John's writing voice is candid and entertaining. Though some bits of the book can get into "gushing" territory, he never lost me for a second. And on a more positive note, the overall tone of the book is fun and light, which led to a few actual laugh-out-loud moments. Some of those moments happened on trains, and I got some weird looks from people, but I think they were just jealous.

I think what I liked most about reading about John's experiences straight from his own head is that he's one of those people who are so driven, and so convicted to what they want to do, and is lucky enough (and certainly has worked hard enough) to have gotten all the best things out of the life he wanted. It's refreshing to just read a happy story from a happy person who is currently leading a happy life. It's even more refreshing that he's not afraid to spread that happiness out to others. John holds nothing back (except a few names for privacy purposes), and even goes as far as including loads of footnotes with remarks and side comments. Reading Anything Goes felt much like I was sitting face to face with the man himself and being told the same stories.

When you're in the mood for some unabashed fun at the expense of someone else's experiences, give Anything Goes a read. You'll probably see some parallels in there with your own life, even if you don't lead a glamorous one up in lights. After that, you might rewatch the "Springtime for Hitler" number in The Producers to see him in action, because like me, you might not have known that he was the lead for that song until you he told you.

Book Review: 'I Want it Now!' by Julie Dawn Cole (a memoir)

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Aptly titled I Want it Now!  based on the character she is most well-known for playing (at least for me), Julie Dawn Cole's memoir is a love letter to any person of any age who has ever loved or been charmed by the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder. The book largely focuses on her childhood experiences on the set of the beloved film and how that shaped her life thereafter.

In a way, reading about the "making of" a movie from one individual's perspective is a little bit like discovering the man behind the curtain, but Cole manages to transport the reader right back into the fantastical world of Wonka's chocolate factory. And after having read this book, I still find it every bit as enchanting as always, now perhaps even more so.

Julie Dawn Cole's life is not your typical "Hollywood story". Her childhood was full of hardship, and she was fortunate to have the right sort of mentoring and support at the right time (both at school and at home) to ultimately make the decision to attend an acting school instead of continuing her education in the usual way.

Cole discusses her life situation before and during her time at that school in depth, up until the point at which she was called in to audition for a part in this upcoming film adaptation of Roald Dahl's hit book (the first criteria she met was being the right age). Though she wrote the memoir as an adult and many years later, it's apparent that these experiences are still all quite vivid and absolutely cherished in her memory banks. All of her love and affection for her time during filming and the people who surrounded her just poured out of the pages. Honestly, this book is pretty much the furthest from what you'd expect of her character, Veruca Salt!

After discussing the film's production at length, she gets into everything that followed: the sort of roles and other gigs she took on afterwards (such as voice acting, eventually), her love life, and the life- and career-altering experience of becoming a single mother of two. Through everything, she always held on to that magical period of her childhood role on the Wonka set.

What came as a big surprise to me is that while most of the cast went on to prolific acting careers and were rather successful, some didn't continue acting afterwards and instead went on to be business men, or in the case of Peter Ostrum (he played Charlie Bucket), a veterinarian. It's always cool to learn about what people go on to do with their lives after working on something that was special at the time, but later on became a beloved classic and a permanent fixture in pop culture.

I recommend this book to fans of all ages. It contains plenty of great stories, and Cole included a nice (and hefty) selection of pictures as well. She shares her experiences intimately, even discussing her childhood crushes and first loves, and showing scans of letters she wrote home while she was away filming. She didn't need to share all of that personal information, but it adds a lot of heart to the book, making it not just nostalgic, but so very easy to get sucked in to. I found myself completely forgetting about what was going on around me while reading, and I've had various songs from the film stuck in my head for days.

Julie Dawn Cole's I Want it Now! A Memoir or Life on the Set of 'Willy Wonky and the Chocolate Factory' by the original Veruca Salt was originally published in February 2011, and I read it in Kindle format.

Buy it at Amazon:

Also available at Books-A-Million:

I Want It Now! a Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - Julie Dawn Cole - Paperback

I Want It Now! a Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - Julie Dawn Cole - Paperback

Buy I Want It Now! a Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Julie Dawn Cole in Paperback for the low price of 21.95. Find this product in Performing Arts > Film & Video - General.

Five people alive today who should eventually write a memoir

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Continuing on the vein of life stories which haven't been written yet (see my previous post on fictional characters who we have no back stories for), my next brilliant list is about real people who are alive today and haven't penned some sort of memoir. These are people who seem to lead remarkable lives, but haven't been motivated to tell anyone their story. In some cases, these folks don't want to talk about themselves so much as share what they've learned in life. Whatever the case may be, sample my intrigue.

1) Keanu Reeves

Out of any famous person I could list, I think Keanu is the one whose story intrigues me most in the sense that, unlike other popular artists, he doesn't indulge the media with too many details about his personal life, beliefs, or general thoughts about life. Besides being ridiculously talented, he comes from a diverse family and has dealt with some hardships that are no easy task to cope with. I say all this and add him to my list, but considering he seems to enjoy his privacy and leads a rather low-key life, I doubt he'll ever write a memoir.

2) Daniel Radcliffe

It's tough to rise to fame as an iconic character and then manage to divorce yourself from it as gracefully as Radcliffe has managed to prove his worth and talent following the end of the Harry Potter series. Besides being in film and on TV, he's performing on Broadway, his most recent prestigious role being that of Finch in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He's still a bit too young (and, alarmingly, younger than I am), so it'd be a while before I think we'd be ready for words penned by him. But once some more time passes, I'm going to be all ears (well, all eyes) for Radcliffe. (This isn't to say he doesn't have anything to go on right now, I just think it'll only get better the longer he waits, for now.)

3) Billy Joel

There are very few artists who I could safely say that if you left me with their entire discography and told me that's all I could listen to for a full year or more, I'd be totally dandy (hint: he is one of them). Billy has had an impressively long, but not easy, career and is lucky enough to be a talented songwriter on top of being a musician. And my favorite kind: a pianist. I've seen him perform live once, and he's just magical to share the same room (however large) with. To top it off, I got to see him during his "Face 2 Face" tour together with Elton John, and neither out-shined the other. It was just a magical (and memorable) night altogether.

4) Ewan McGregor

Though there have been books written about him, none are authored by the man himself and thus don't count as memoirs. Besides being multi-talented (acting and singing), and having a successful career, a wife and four daughters, and counting himself among the ranks of recovered alcoholics, McGregor also travels avidly. Though I am interested in hearing the story of his life, I am even more intrigued in stories about his travels, much like Michael Crichton's book which gives a fair bit about his life and more about what he'd learned while seeing the world. McGregor has been all over the place -- he just has to be brimming with stories!

5) Commander Chris Hadfield

I mentioned it in a recent link dump, but I'll just reiterate now that Chris Hadfield is quickly becoming one of my favorite people. He's a Canadian astronaut who also happens to be a musician (this reminds me of my astronomy/physics professor back in college, who sang to us in class - fond memories) and is currently aboard the ISS. Like many astronauts (and a particular Mars Rover) lately, he's social media-savvy and keeps in touch with the internet at-large via Twitter. He also creates videos of himself doing mundane things in space, explaining how and why he needs to perform certain tasks. He appears to genuinely love Earth despite his job taking him off it, and I'd love to read what he'd have to write.

Five seems too short of a list, doesn't it? There are just so many inspiring people out there whose stories are begging to be told, that I had a hard time just selecting a handful. As with my other list, feel free to agree/disagree with me here as well as suggest other potential memoirs! Remember, the person in question must still be alive.