When Breath Becomes Air ~ Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though it is only September, I believe I can say with certainty that When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is by far the most stunning, heart-breaking and beautiful book I will read this year. My greatest fear is that with this review I will not be able to do justice to this work.

In this auto-biography written by himself, Paul Kalanithi–it just strikes me now that it is interesting he does not label himself as Dr. Paul Kalanithi–is finishing up his neurosurgeon/neuroscience residency when he is diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer with metastases to the brain and spine.

The book has a prologue written by Abraham Verghese (who himself penned the most excellent book Cutting for Stone) and the epilogue is written by Paul’s wife Lucy. In between the prologue and epilogue are a couple hundred pages divided into two parts: one primarily dedicated to Paul’s childhood (although he touches on that fairly briefly) and journey through medical school, the second on his life post cancer as he struggles to accept his diagnosis and live with it.

It’s a quick read–I finished it in a couple hours, but I also found I simply could not put it down. As a reader we are aware that Paul has been writing these sentences knowing he does not have long to live. This somehow creates an importance and urgency to this book that propels you forward through it.

His writing is both technical (most likely due to his training in medicine) and yet poetic. He philosophizes in a way that isn’t too deep or confusing for the every day man to understand. There were many times when I would stop, go back, re-read a paragraph or sentence because it struck such a deep chord inside of me.

A couple of my favourite quotes are as follows:

“The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”

Nearing the end of the book, he lightly touches on his religious beliefs in a very genuine and gentle way:

“The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time.”

We know from reading the description on the jacket of the book that Paul died in 2015, 22 months after his diagnosis. Knowing this somehow makes each word and pronouncement that much more weighty.

This book was truly a privilege to read. I can’t write anymore because I feel that one needs to read it for themselves. You will not regret it. Admittedly, you may find yourself relentlessly sobbing during the final couple chapters, but the message is so important for everyone.

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

5/5 stars. Don’t pass this one by.

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The Supreme Macaroni Company ~ Adriana Trigiani

The Supreme Macaroni CompanyThe Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani is the final novel in the trilogy of the Roncalli family and the Angelini Shoe Company. I had read the first novel The Shoemaker’s Wife and had given it 3/5 stars as I found it to be a decent light read. I did skip the second novel and picked up the third one as I found it on a random stack of books at a book outlet event. Did missing the second novel affect my enjoyment of this book? I doubt that.

The problem with this novel is…it’s just extremely boring. It opens with Valentine Roncalli (main character) becoming engaged to an older man Gianluca something (I even forget his boring name) and immediately jumps into the two of them driving to her family home for Christmas dinner and the ensuing dramatics of the American-Italian family. Even the dialogue between the family, which I think was supposed to be snappy and comedic, falls flat. After several chapters and pages wasted on the family’s reaction, wedding plans and eventual wedding day…skip to the honeymoon in New Orleans…big fight because Valentine and Gianluca haven’t deeply delved into what their life will be like post-wedding.

Then she gets pregnant, tries to manage the company, the inevitable and truly expected happens… Honestly, the entire book just seemed like a giant cliche that made me want to set it on fire. The characters were entirely one dimensional and boring; the plot line—well, what’s plot line??? This has to be one of the most boring books I ever read.

The strange thing was, I did enjoy the first novel. This book did not sound anything at all like the author’s previous writing. I have no idea what happened to Trigiani to change her writing voice so drastically, but it seems as though she didn’t give a flying fig about this novel. Perhaps she was halfheartedly attempting to finish up the series.

Whatever the reason, it’s a terrible novel and definitely belongs on my “Books to Never Read Again” list. Avoid avoid avoid at all costs.

Sorry, Adriana.

1/5

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Come Rain or Come Shine ~ Jan Karon

Come Rain or Come ShineCome Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Come Rain or Come Shine is the eleventh novel in the Mitford series by Jan Karon. I have the entire series multiple times and own all the novels, so I was quite excited to finally read this most recent work. (I was waiting for the paperback version, as usual.)

I have read many reviews on Goodreads about this novel and I would guess that most of them had the chief complaint of Karon’s work being noticeably absent of narration specification; many readers were confused by the narrative switching between characters and having to guess by pronouns who we were reading about.

In reply to that I have to say: you probably should never read any Russian literature or even any classics. You were confused by some *fairly obvious* character point of view switches? Thank God you have never attempted to read any classics. Not only that, people claim that this narrative scheme was not of Karon’s typical writing style, to which I have only to say: PHOEEY. In many previous novels, Karon wrote small excerpts from different points of view, which I personally had occasionally found far more confusing than CROCS.

Mainly, CROCS focuses on the wedding of Dooley Kavanagh to Lace Turner. As already mentioned, the novel rotates the narrative through many different character’s eyes which is refreshing. I only had a few minor issues with the novel that I will quickly list–

1. There was a brief mention of Barnabas, but I didn’t feel the reader got the Barnabas ending that we deserved.
2. The ending was a bit saccharine sweet, even for Karon.
3. The actual book felt different. The pages were much thicker than the format that her novels are normally released in. I believe this is because the novel was actually shorter than her other works. It’s a small complaint, but still.
4. The focus on Mink Hershell during the wedding was out of character. Who was he even? No one cares. Write more about Pauline.
5. And finally, more Father Tim! I suppose Karon is possibly moving her narrative to Dooley and Lace instead as perhaps she will keep writing about them? Whatever the case may be, we all know Father Tim is heading into his twilight years, so can we please have one more solid novel featuring him and his thoughts ONLY? Thanks in advance, Karon.

All in all, I was quite happy with this novel. I finished it in less than 24 hours and I have an active 10 month old underneath my feet and in my lap.

4/5 and hopefully there will be another Mitford book *fingers crossed*.

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The Angel’s Game ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Angel's Game (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #2)The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Angel’s Game in the second novel in The Cemetary of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Technically the novel is a prequel (in a way) to Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind– Sempere & Son who dominate Shadow of the Wind are featured in The Angel’s Game, but as side characters. I very much enjoyed “visiting” with the Semperes again, but that was where my enjoyment ended.

I can’t help but compare this novel to Shadow of the Wind, especially since I just finished a re-read of it and then followed it with closely with The Angel’s Game. Both are gothic historical fiction. Both are tinged with romance and mystery. Zafon desperately tries to recreate the milieu of SofW, but fails in The Angel’s Game.

First, the novel opens with the protagonist Daniel Martin, a young and poor man, working at a newspaper agency as an errand boy and eventually writer. The book is divided into three parts–the first sets the scene, the second spins the tale (and is the most boring part, in my opinion) and the third wraps up loose ties (sort of).

We discover that Martin has had a tragic upbringing with a mother who does love not him and a father who dies tragically at a young age. He finds himself mentored by a rich friend and falls in love with said friend’s chauffeur’s daughter–and we know that romance is inevitably doomed.

Trying to pull himself up out of poverty, Martin signs a deal with a couple of shady guys who enlist him to write campy and dramatic serials for their press. Eventually, unhappy with his career choice and wanting more money, Martin decides to seal a deal with a strange man who offers him obscene amounts of money to “write a book that invents a religion”.

From that point, it just gets confusing and devolves into a lackluster series of philosophical conversations between Martin and the stranger Corelli. They attempt to explore the possibility of creating a religion and a belief system that bewilders the reader. Corelli denies the existence of God and the supernatural, but it is clear from the ecclesiastical descriptions of him that he might possibly be *gasp* the devil himself.

Even though one might not think it possible, the story continues to meander along, to the point where I was forcing myself to pick it up and keep reading. Eventually as the book entered into part three, the pace of it gained momentum and I found it much more interesting. Unfortunately, from there to the end of the novel, we don’t receive a full explanation of what exactly was going down through most of the preceding parts.

It seems as though Zafon entirely clouded his writing with symbolism and analogies. We’re left guessing what has *really* happened. The novel lacks any cheerful tone or happiness and in the end, Martin is condemned to a life…well really, if I managed to suffer through most of it to reach the end, I expect you to do so without being simply told the ending.

3/5 stars… But even though I was left disappointed, I will still be attempting the next novel The Prisoner of Heaven.

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Spaghetti Squash

Last week I purchased two spaghetti squash and finally cooked one up last night to the sheer delight of my husband;  the final product was vastly enjoyed.

Spegetti-Squash

History

The origins of the spaghetti squash are very interesting.  Although one might assume that it was indigenous to North America, it was actually introduced to Japan in 1921 from a Chinese agricultural research facility.   In 1936 this squash was introduced to North America but it didn’t gain popularity until much later.  The name “spaghetti squash” pertains to the eerie similarity to spaghetti once the cooked strands are scraped from the shell.

The similarity ends there though.  The nutrients and caloric intake vastly differ between pasta and spaghetti squash.

Your standard spaghetti has 221 calories and 42 grams of carbohydrates in one cooked cup.  Our family is full of pasta eaters so I couldn’t even hazard how many cups of pasta we have consumed.  On the other hand, spaghetti squash has 42 calories and 10 grams of carbohydrates in one cooked cup.

Although pasta has a higher amount of protein due to the increased carbohydrates, protein can easily be found in other healthier sources.  The spaghetti squash is a great alternative for anyone on a low carbohydrate, paleo or diabetic diet.

Preparation

There are a variety ways that the spaghetti squash can be prepared.

-roasted whole in the oven with skewer holes
-microwaved, cut in half-microwaved whole
-baked in water (for moisture)

I have tried both the microwave and the roasting option.  For the recipe I will be posting, I opted to cut the squash in half and roast it as I have found it an easier way to determine whether it is done cooking.

Choose whatever method is best suited for you.  I have found personally that roasting in the oven does bring out the best taste of the squash.   You will find your squash is cooked through when the fork can easily pierce through the flesh and when the shell dents when some pressure is placed on it.

You made it this  far!  Now on to the recipe.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan and Basil White Sauce

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 1 hr 30 min
  • Difficulty: easy
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A Healthy Alternative with Great Taste

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 fresh basil leaves chopped
  • grated parmesan

Directions

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
  • Cut spaghetti squash in half and scrape out seeds
  • Brush squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste
  • Place halves cut-side up in roasting pan/deep cookie sheet/casserole dish.  (Another option is to place cut-side down in dish with water covering the bottom of the dish and cover with foil to keep squash moist and tender.  Either option works.)
  • Bake for 40-60 min depending on size of squash.  To check whether the squash is fully cooked, pierce flesh with fork.  When it goes easily down to the skin, it is finished cooking.  Another tip is to push the skin with a fork–if it dents easily, it is done.
  • While squash is roasting, in a small heavy pan  create your roux: melt 2 TBSP of butter. Add flour and stir until butter and flour are well combined
  • Add 1 cup of milk slowly to the roux, stirring frequently as it thickens
  • Optional:  add the fresh basil and parmesan (as much as you want) to the white sauce
  • Once the squash is finished cooking, lift out of the oven and with a fork scrape the flesh off of the skin.  The flesh will leave the skin in long spaghetti strands.  Toss in mixing bowl with white sauce and serve with more fresh parmesan grated on top

  • Do not be afraid to cook your squash longer if necessary.  My biggest mistake has been moving the squash from the oven before it is completely cooked and having to eat it a bit crunchy.  Fork a piece of flesh from it if you are not sure and try it out.
  • Add garlic, rosemary or whatever other spice you enjoy to the dish.  Spaghetti squash has a very gentle taste, so having a nice punchy sauce mixed with it is important.
  • Prepare the white sauce when the squash is nearing completion.  It doesn’t take much time to make and you will want it fresh and hot, poured over the squash.

Enjoy, my fellow chefs!

spaghetti-squash