Review of ‘The Last Mona Lisa’, by Jonathan Santlofer
I don’t know much about art, but I do know that the Mona Lisa was stolen quite a number of times. Author Jonathan Santlofer uses one of these episodes of thievery as a central plot point in this book. In 1911, the Mona Lisa was not only stolen, but it was missing for two years. The main character in this book, Luke Perrone, learns that his great-grandfather was the one who stole it, and become obsessed with the story. Perrone is contacted by an Italian professor who claims to know the location of the great-grandfather’s journal which might include a chronicle of what happened. Perrone can’t resist but unbeknownst to him, his interest has placed him on a few lists as a person of interest.
There is something about the intensity of Perrone’s passion for the question of what happened during those two years after his great-grandfather stole the Mona Lisa that makes the main character quite compelling. The book reads like a Dan Brown book but around art instead of religious symbols. The budding romance felt a little clunky and out of place but ultimately this still makes for a great thriller.
Review of ‘Voyage of Love’, by Amy Renshaw
In the early 1900s, the leader of the Baháʼí Faith, ʻAbdu’l-Bahá visited majors cities in Europe, Canada, and the United States, spreading a message of love and unity. Amy Renshaw wrote the book that many Baháʼís created for themselves by alternating between the books with the talks of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá and the historical accounts of His visits to Europe and North America. I read this book to my five-year-old daughter and while she couldn’t handle more than 4-5 pages at a time, she was utterly captivated.
The way Renshaw presented the story of this trip to North America was captivating even for me, which I believe is because of the juxtaposition of historical elements and details with the spiritual inspiration and reasons for the trip in the first place. Famous names are peppered throughout the book, as were some well-known historical events—including the sinking of the Titanic—allowing for the travels of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá to be seen as part of the history they were a part of. A great read for history aficionados and Bahá’ís alike.
Review of ‘The End of Craving’, by Mark Schatzker—Must Read
Let me start by saying that this is not a book meant to be used as a diet book. It is a book exploring the science of eating, and only to the extent that scientists are aware of it in this day and age. Let me also add that the scientific community still had a lot to learn about eating, and that anything in this or other books should be read with a grain of salt (ha).
That being said, Mark Schatzker once again blew my mind (and make me chuckle quite a few times) in his latest book about the food industry. The End of Craving is a great tool in dismantling ways of thinking about food imposed on us by a food industry that has fallen prey, like so many other industries and systems, to the forces of greed. Its historical perspective offers a way to deeply think about the reasons why we hold certain beliefs, as a society, about food, to examine where those beliefs come from, and if they are now obsolete.
Eating well seems overdue for reflection. The influence on the ways of thinking of the times in which certain beliefs emerged and were spread, and the way the development of technology affected what was considered to be the best way to eat, offer some lesser known perspectives when we consider what it is to “eat well”.
One of the most crucial arguments in this book, in my mind, is that to eat well, we have to return back to basics, away from processed and enriched foods. Relearning to enjoy the various flavours of unprocessed foods—and making them accessible to all—would be the best “diet” available to us. There is a lot of privilege that goes into this line of thinking; it is very easy for someone like me, who doesn’t live in a food desert and who has a strong food budget, so say “eat whole foods”. With this comes the warning, that books such as this one are not meant just to change the individual’s behaviour; rather, it is a call to rethink the entire food system, so that eating well becomes an easily achievable status quo, rather than the luxury it is today.
Review of ‘The Last Cuentista’, by Donna Barba Higuera
This is yet another book sent to me as a unrequested surprise by the good folks at Raincoast Books that I wasn’t at all sure about but fell completely in love with. The contrast between the very technologically advance and sci-fi parts touching on travelling through space to find a new planet, and the campfire, grandmother, cozy farmhouse parts touching on the stories and family life were brilliant, in that they didn’t allow readers to disengage their current reality as human beings living on Earth in 2022 with what was going on in the sci-fi parts. The center point of the book, to me, was the importance of accepting and even celebrating all the parts of our humanity, rather than trying to control it and even eliminate it. It makes me think of how these days, so many are denying the fullness of their own humanity, caught in a system that focuses solely on our economic contributions, and the ensuing suffering that comes with ignoring our spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being. A great read (and a beautiful cover!)
Review of ‘Last Will and Testament’, by Dahlia Adler (Audiobook)
I picked this one up expecting a rom-com, based on the cover and the blurb. However, it turned out to be a romance heavy on the erotic scenes, which are books I tend to avoid. I’m still going to review it because although I skipped the (many) sex scenes, I enjoyed the character development around Lizzie, the main character. It was also unexpectedly realistic and yet disappointingly so when it came to the resolution of the issue at the centre of the book, i.e. the custody of Lizzie’s two little brothers after the unexpected and tragic passing of their parents. I appreciated the conversations around responsibility and adulthood centered around an undergraduate college student and her graduate-level boyfriend and got a feel for what bullying now is in the day and age of the internet and smartphones.