Read This, Not That: Under a Flaming Sky instead of Circus Fire

Read this not that Historical FiresCompelling history books are some of my favorites to read, and I’m especially partial to ones that tackle lesser-known events. I’m also not afraid of some gruesome details in my reads, so I didn’t hesitate to try Stewart O’Nan’s nonfiction title Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy.

Unfortunately, it ended up being a bit of a slow and ultimately I don’t think it was worth the reading time, unless you have some connection to that event which makes it more interesting for you in particular.

Instead, I’ll suggest Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 by Daniel James Brown. It’s much more engaging and readable. It is one I often pause before recommending because it isn’t appropriate for all readers (beware if you’re squeamish) but if that’s not an issue for you, it was excellent (as all of his books have been).

I’ve written about Under a Flaming Sky before, so if you’re thinking you remember me mentioning it you’re correct – I did, and then I also included it in my 31 Days of Great Nonfiction series in 2013. It’s an amazing book.

By contrast, Circus Fire is fine. It’s serviceable and you’ll learn about the fire in Hartford in 1944. There are heart-breaking details, but it’s never as compelling a read as Brown’s, and I constantly had to force myself to pick it up again and read more of it. I probably should have bailed on it before finishing, but I was interested in learning some of the outcomes and what eventually ended up happening to people in the years after the fire.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Read This, Not That: French Food Memoir

Read This Not That French Food Memoir

I love food memoirs, and books that take place in France, so combining the two makes me very excited to read a book. If you feel the same way, I’ve got two great options for you to try (and one to skip).

Read This

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – CityThe Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz by David Lebovitz is such a wonderful read. It made me wish I could move to Paris, and also feel so grateful that I’m living somewhere where I can navigate the issues of daily life with relative ease. Lebovitz is a fantastic story-teller, and terrific at describing the sounds, smells, and tastes of Paris. Prepare to be hungry as you read this one.

Or Read This

On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French TownOn Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Herrmann Loomis by Susan Herrmann Loomis is the best sort of food memoir. Her stories are engaging and bring her experineces to life. You feel like you’re with her as she’s navigating her new world and adjusting to life in France. There are recipes too, although I never tried any of them. It’s got a fairly quiet pace, but I enjoyed that quite a bit.

Not That

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with RecipesLunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard by Elizabeth Bard sounded promising, but dragged on quite a bit, and I found the repeated references to her cleavage tedious. Sections of it were quite enjoyable, but they were pulled down by the rest of it. There are recipes tacked on, and that’s just how they read – like they’ve been tacked on to the narrative in order to produce a oh-so-popular-right-now food memoir. They don’t fit with the story overall, the way they do in other examples in the genre.

Other Great Choices

While I won’t say there’s absolutely no reason to read this only, there are just so many better choices, so I’d save your reading time. Besides On Rue Tatin and My Sweet Life in Paris, try Mastering the Art of French Eating, My Life in France or The Sharper the Knife the Less You Cry (these last two aren’t as close of matches to the overall feel of the others, but they’re great reads.)

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Read This, Not That: Productivity Advice

Manage Your Day-to-Day168 Hours

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative MindManage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series) by Jocelyn Glei by Jocelyn Glei

Manage Your Day to Day has gotten some glowing reviews by readers I trust, so I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t all that crazy about it. It’s not that the advice in the book is bad, it’s just that it’s all information I’ve read before, often multiple times. In addition, many of the essays read like promotional material for the writer’s other books, or blog, or seminars.

My favorite essay was probably Gretchen Rubin’s, and there were a handful of others that I liked to varying degrees. As far as life-changing or modifying ideas though? Not here, at least for me. Lots of familiar advice and some platitudes, packaged for quick consumption.

Instead of this pick, go for Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. Or one of the more targeted books she wrote using the principles she describes in 168 hours, such as What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend or What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings–and LifeWhat the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings--and Life by Laura Vanderkam. [Read more…]

Read This, Not That: Fair Play Mystery

Mysterious Affair at StylesRules of Murder

Never heard of a “fair play mystery?” All that means is the subgenre of mysteries where the reader can solve it too – all the clues are presented in the novel, with no hidden information.

Agatha Christie was a master at this type of mystery, and if you’re looking for a Christie-type reading experience, it’s hard to beat the original.

Which brings me to Rules of MurderRules of Murder (A Drew Farthering Mystery Book #1) by Julianna Deering by Julianna Deering. First, the positives: isn’t that a fantastic cover? And doesn’t the premise of it sound wonderful?

Except, there’s a big letdown. While description sounded strong, the plotting itself was weak. There are red herrings galore, but the solution still was disappointingly easy to figure out. The main character annoyed me, as did the main secondary characters.

I get what Deering was trying to do with this book, and presumably the series, but overall it just didn’t work for me. I found myself longing for one of Christie’s original books, instead of this attempt at a nod to Christie.

Perhaps the later books in the series improve; plotting often does, but I’m more concerned with the personality issues that annoyed me, as I’d expect that to continue in later books.

Instead of falling for that fabulous cover (and the later books in her series also have wonderful covers), go with the original – Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles was lots of fun.

Publisher’s Description:
Drew Farthering loves a good mystery, although he generally expects to find it in the pages of a novel, not on the grounds of his country estate. When a weekend party at Farthering Place is ruined by murder and the police seem flummoxed, Drew decides to look into the crime himself. With the help of his best friend, Nick Dennison, an avid mystery reader, and Madeline Parker, a beautiful and whip-smart American debutante staying as a guest, the three try to solve the mystery as a lark, using the methods from their favorite novels.

Soon, financial irregularities at Drew’s stepfather’s company come to light and it’s clear that all who remain at Farthering Place could be in danger. Trying hard to remain one step ahead of the killer–and trying harder to impress Madeline–Drew must decide how far to take this game

Book Details

Title: Rules of MurderRules of Murder (A Drew Farthering Mystery Book #1) by Julianna Deering
Author: Julianna Deering
Category: Fiction / Historical Mystery
My Rating: 2 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Read This, Not That: Culinary School Accounts

Beaten, Seared, and SaucedThe Making of a ChefThe Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry

So, you’re interested in culinary school? Want to experience it vicariously, or just enjoy the accounts of what happens there?

There are plenty of books on the topic available: Under the TableUnder the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School by Katherine Darling, White Jacket RequiredWhite Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story by Jenna Weber, and my most recent read: Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of AmericaBeaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America by Jonathan Dixon.

Instead of those though, I’d suggest you read Michael Ruhlman’s book The Making of a Chef, if you want a more general look at the Culinary Institute of America, or read Kathleen Flinn’s memoir The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry, about her experiences at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I’ve shared about both Ruhlman’s and Flinn’s books before, but they’re so much stronger and more enjoyable than the other ones I’ve read that I can’t allow that to stop me from highlighting them again.

In Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of AmericaBeaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America by Jonathan Dixon author Jonathan Dixon came across more that he didn’t want to grow up and figure out what he wanted to do with his life, and cooking school was a way to delay that for a little longer. He’s 38 though, and ends up relying on his girlfriend to pay most of their bills as all of his savings have gone towards tuition.

The best parts of Dixon’s book are the descriptions of his classes, but it’s not enough to recommend this book over the other stronger options that are available. I think if Dixon had explored what it was like to be significantly older than his classmates a bit more, and the ramifications of that on a future culinary career, it would have made for a stronger book. As it was though, that was a wasted opportunity to make his book shine among all the other accounts that have been published.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Read This, Not That: Mysteries with a Madam

A Mortal Bane by Roberta Gellis; book 1 in the Magdalene la Bâtarde seriesIndia Black (A Madam of Espionage Mystery) by Carol K. Carr

Last month I read and was disappointed by India BlackIndia Black (A Madam of Espionage Mystery) by Carol K. Carr, the first book in the “Madame of Espionage” series by Carol K. Carr. If you’ve read the plot summary and thought it sounded interesting, do yourself a favor and instead read Roberta Gellis’ Magdalene la Bâtarde series, which begins with the book A Mortal BaneA Mortal Bane by Roberta Gellis; book 1 in the Magdalene la Bâtarde series. While the time period is different (12th century vs. the 1870’s), they both take place in London and feature a retired prostitute-turned-madam as the main character.

Carr’s book suffers from poor characterizations, a ridiculous plot, and the supposed chemistry between the main character India and the mysterious gentleman French is nonexistent. What’s not nonexistent is endless gushing over how beautiful India is still, and how devastated all the men who meet her are that she’s now retired and unavailable to them. Especially since her skills in that area are as amazing as her beauty. Yeah, I’m not making this up.

Magdalene, Gellis’ main character, is also a stunning beauty, but that fact isn’t brought up time and time and time again. The interactions between her and Sir Bellamy are believable and have the chemistry that the India Black series promised. And the plot line didn’t have me rolling my eyes. Magdalene’s involvement in solving the murder felt plausible – if she didn’t figure out who killed her client, she and her girls were likely to be executed as the killers. India’s involvement from the beginning was a stretch, and by the middle of the book it was absurd. She … wanted to prove to those nasty politicians that she was more than a pretty face? Make them finally appreciate her? It never made sense.

While I would have happily read the entire India Black series despite the similarities to the Magdalene series (which I’ve finished), the book was ultimately frustrating enough that I can’t justify spending the reading time on any more of it. Unless someone whose reading tastes I trust tells me that the later books are much stronger, I’ll pass on any more of India’s story.

And if you need still another reason to try Gellis’ series? Those books are out of print, but the first two are available on Kindle for only $3.99 a title. Not bad, especially compared to the Carr books which range from $7.99 – $10.99 each for Kindle copies.

Let me know if you like the idea of a regular/semi-regular “Read This Not That” feature (or maybe even a link-up if lots of you have your own strong opinions on whether someone should read one book versus another on a related theme or topic.)

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!