When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka


7005652On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family’s possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert.

In this lean and devastatingly evocative first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism. When the Emperor Was Divine is a work of enormous power that makes a shameful episode of our history as immediate as today’s headlines.


I was afraid going into this book that it would be heavy, plodding, and soul crushing. Three plus years in an internment camp? How can that be anything but bleak?

Well, it is bleak. But it’s also poetic, full of scenes and images that perfectly illustrate the hell that is a flimsy set of barracks in the Utah desert. Continue reading “When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka”

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande


6667514We live in a world of great and increasing complexity, where even the most expert professionals struggle to master the tasks they face. Longer training, ever more advanced technologies‚neither seems to prevent grievous errors. But in a hopeful turn, acclaimed surgeon and writer Atul Gawande finds a remedy in the humblest and simplest of techniques: the checklist.

First introduced decades ago by the U.S. Air Force, checklists have enabled pilots to fly aircraft of mind-boggling sophistication. Now innovative checklists are being adopted in hospitals around the world, helping doctors and nurses respond to everything from flu epidemics to avalanches. Even in the immensely complex world of surgery, a simple ninety-second variant has cut the rate of fatalities by more than a third.

In riveting stories, Gawande takes us from Austria, where an emergency checklist saved a drowning victim who had spent half an hour underwater, to Michigan, where a cleanliness checklist in intensive care units virtually eliminated a type of deadly hospital infection. He explains how checklists actually work to prompt striking and immediate improvements. And he follows the checklist revolution into fields well beyond medicine, from homeland security to investment banking, skyscraper construction, and businesses of all kinds.


It’s easy to see why this book and the paper at its core started a medical revolution. Gawande makes a compelling case for smart, short checklists for procedures as small as inserting a central line and as large as crash trauma surgery. A well thought out checklist, he argues, will cut down on complications, foster teamwork, and save lives.

Continue reading “The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande”

Falling Into Bed with a Duke by Lorriane Heath (Hellions of Havisham #1)


24805225After six unsuccessful Seasons, Miss Minerva Dodger chooses spinsterhood over fortune-hungry suitors. But thanks to the Nightingale Club, she can at least enjoy one night of pleasure. At that notorious establishment, ladies don masks before choosing a lover. The sinfully handsome Duke of Ashebury is more than willing to satisfy the secretive lady’s desires—and draws Minerva into an exquisite, increasingly intimate affair.

A man of remarkable talents, Ashe soon deduces that his bedmate is the unconventional Miss Dodger. Intrigued by her wit and daring, he sets out to woo her in earnest. Yet Minerva refuses to trust him. How to court a woman he has already thoroughly seduced? And how to prove that the passion unleashed in darkness is only the beginning of a lifetime’s pleasure?


Minerva has a problem – her large dowry is only attracting fortune hunters. To a particularly awful suitor she says:

“Call on me if you wish, my lord, but know that under no circumstances will I ever marry you.”

“You won’t get a better offer.”

“That may well be true, but I seriously doubt that I shall receive a worse one.”


Continue reading “Falling Into Bed with a Duke by Lorriane Heath (Hellions of Havisham #1)”

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh


10032672The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.


I don’t do contemporary literary fiction. There always seems to be tragedy on top of heartache, betrayals, pregnancies, and tears. I read to escape the awfulness of daily life so I’d rather not go there.

The Language of Flowers was introduced to me as a romance and confused my radar. Continue reading “The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh”

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson


18934820It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother’s house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations. Yes, Chef chronicles Samuelsson’s journey, from his grandmother’s kitchen to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson’s career of chasing flavors had only just begun—in the intervening years, there have been White House state dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs, and, most important, the opening of Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fulfilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room—a place where presidents rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, and bus drivers. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home.


Before reading this book I had never heard of Samuelsson, as his rise and career in front of the camera came after I moved halfway across the world. I’m glad that I now know who he is but I feel oddly disconnected from him as a cook… not what I was expecting from a food memoir.

Continue reading “Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson”

Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas (The Ravenels #1)


24431358A twist of fate…

Devon Ravenel, London’s most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl’s three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon’s own.

A clash of wills…

Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny—and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. As Kathleen finds herself yielding to his skillfully erotic seduction, only one question remains:

Can she keep from surrendering her heart to the most dangerous man she’s ever known?


Kleypas’ backlist is massive, with something nearly 40 books to her credit. While I’ve read the Wallflower series (amazing!) I haven’t read much else, so the fact that this is her first historical in five years doesn’t register with me. Just – new shiny book from an author I like! Yea!

Continue reading “Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas (The Ravenels #1)”

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


The circus arrives at night, 11337018without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within nocturnal black and white striped tents awaits a unique experience, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stand awestruck as a tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and gaze in wonderment at an illusionist performing impossible feats of magic.

Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is underway–a contest between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in “a game,” in which each must use their powers of illusion to best the other. Unbeknownst to them, this game is a duel to the death, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.


Amazing. It’s been a long time that there’s been a book I’m reluctant to finish because I don’t want to leave the world that’s been constructed for me. The language is rich and beautiful, dripping with symbolism and hidden meanings. I’m looking forward to rereading this book in six months or a year to uncover layers that I missed the first time through.

Continue reading “The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern”

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell


24602886On August 16, 1824, an elderly French gentlemen sailed into New York Harbor and giddy Americans were there to welcome him. Or, rather, to welcome him back. It had been thirty years since the Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette had last set foot in the United States, and he was so beloved that 80,000 people showed up to cheer for him. The entire population of New York at the time was 120,000.

Lafayette’s arrival in 1824 coincided with one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history, Congress had just fought its first epic battle over slavery, and the threat of a Civil War loomed. But Lafayette, belonging to neither North nor South, to no political party or faction, was a walking, talking reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the revolutionary generation and what they wanted this country to be. His return was not just a reunion with his beloved Americans, it was a reunion for Americans with their own astonishing singular past.


I’m not a big audiobook person but the chances of my listening to one go up if it’s:

a – nonfiction
b – funny
c – read by the author
d – …who is a contributor to This American Life

It might be the narrowest of genres but it rarely fails. 😉  Continue reading “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell”