30 December 2006

Reads & Listens, December 2006

Singer in the Snow by Loise Marley
When I picked Singer up, I didn't know it was part of a series and so didn't enjoy it as much as I might have. Spent too much time wondering how the characters managed not to starve to death on a world where summer only comes every five years (where does the grain come from? do they grow it during the brief summers? if so than why is summer some universal holiday when it should surely be "all hands to the plough and let's hope the crops don't fail?" and what insects survive between summers to fertilize the plants, anyway?) -- and not enough time worrying about the trials and travails of our heroes. I think I might have enjoyed it with more back story, but I'm not desperate to read the other books.

Women of War ed. by Tanya Huff & Alexander Potter
I was hoping to find strong "military" characters like Signy Mallory or Paksenarrion and was ... disappointed. None of the stories in this collection grabbed me or made me want to look the author up.

Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil Worshippers Who Became Saints by Thomas J. Craughwell
The subtitle pretty much says it all.

Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns by Kenneth Briggs
Grrr. This book makes me want to shout at people and donate all my savings to the Retirement Fund for Religious, for all the good that would do.

After Midnight by Teresa Medieros
Despite the silly vampire shtick, this was quite a fun (and frequently funny) read. The chemistry between Caroline and Viscount Trevelyan (Adrian Kane! Who really thinks that is a probable name for a peer c1820?) seemed quite believable and delicious. The relationship between the sisters was also quite excellent. Still ... the set-up for the next novel (Portia & Julian's love story) was clear from the moment I found out Caroline had sisters and several events -- which didn't really have much to do with Caroline's -- just seemed tacked on to get me to read the next book. The Children of Men by P.D. James
By the sixth chapter I very much wanted to chuck the book out a window, but I forced myself to soldier on. Stupid. Horrible book. Haven't hated a book so intensely since American Psycho.

Night's Edge by Maggie Shayne et al
Collection of three novellas of which I only read Charlaine Harris's "Dancers in the Dark." It was pretty okay, but lacking some of the depth and wit I enjoy in her Sookie Stackhouse books.

Bite by Laurel K. Hamilton et al
Collection of five short stories about vampires. Of the five, only read Charlaine Harris's "One Word Answer" (bridges the gap between Dead as a Doornail and Definitely Dead).

Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras by Cathy Hopkins
First book in the series. Pretty good YA story about friendship, kissing, growing up, and all that rot. Frequently funny and often quite introspective.

Village Christmas by Miss Read
The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read

I thought I'd like to read some twee "Christmas in Merry England" type stories to get me in the mood and these were what was on hand. I hadn't enjoyed my other excursions into Miss Read's England, but thought Christmas stories would be safely saccharine. Well. Yes and no. What a nasty and hateful undercurrent runs through all these stories! And what small-minded bigots so many of her characters seem to be! Miss Read's England is one I would never wish to live in and I cannot comprehend why her books are so beloved by so many.

Rain Fall by Barry Eisler
Thriller set in a noir Tokyo full of jazz and whiskey bars. Very atmospheric and beautiful -- I want to believe in this Tokyo. However, neither the plot nor the characters were ever particularly compelling and (let's face it) anything with a nerdy computer whiz sidekick makes me cringe. Still, if you're tired of Eric Van Lustbader, this book might appeal to you.

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy ed. by Leonard S. Marcus
Interviews of thirteen fantasy writers including Terry Pratchett, Ursula k. Le Guin, Susan Cooper, and Madeleine L'Engle. Very informative and intriguing -- almost all of the authors discuss the impact of WII and Tolkien on their work. Maybe that is because many of these authors are of the same generation and class? In some ways the interviewees are too homogeneous. But still, a fun read for those of us interested in the person behind the page. The manuscript excerpts make a nice bonus, but the reading lists aren't always complete ... only the juvenile/young adult books are included, I guess?

04 December 2006

Year of Cake: Everything Is Better With Brandy

Made fruitcake over the weekend. Fruitcake being Dad's December cake selection. I'd never made fruitcake before and was, as usual when faced with a new recipe, a little nervous in the kitchen. It was not that I worried my technique would suck and I would ruin the cake, but rather that the cake would suck all on its own -- merely by being fruitcake. I don't really know what my father is expecting from his fruitcake and I worry that what I have baked is not what he wants. Certainly, the four loaves I baked look much more like tea bread than the candy-like fruitcakes I see at the market or the dense marzipan enrobed bricks I saw in England (where fruitcake is a normal celebratory cake and not a seasonal aberration).

My loaves are currently mellowing in the bottom drawer of the fridge -- all brushed with brandy and wrapped in layers of brandy-soaked cheesecloth and aluminum foil. Every time I open the fridge, I look at them and think you bastards had better taste good. It is going to be a long three weeks. Yes, I know they should mellow for five, but three will have to do for (at least) one loaf as there no time to bake fruitcake before Thanksgiving and I plan on giving Dad (at least) one loaf for Christmas. One of my fellow reference librarian claims to adore fruitcake so I may give her one, as well. I myself can probably manage half a loaf. Obviously, I will be taste testing these the week before I give them away -- in time to buy a professionally prepared one if these turn not so good.

I used King Arthur Flour Co's "Our Favorite Fruitcake" recipe with four cups of the Dried Fruit Blend/Fruitcake Fruit rather than the Fruitcake Fruits blend. That was completely my mistake -- I saw Fruitcake Fruit and didn't think twice -- so the cake may be more "real" fruit-y and less candied fruit than my father anticipates. The Dried Fruit Blend is really yummy, though. I keep nibbling it straight out of the bag. Bet it would be good stirred into my hot breakfast Kashi.

The recipe was very easy to follow and I don't doubt my loaves are edible ... I just worry they're not the fruitcake of my dad's dreams. Oh well, soak them with enough brandy and no-one may care!

30 November 2006

Reads & Listens, November 2006

Wolf Who Rules by Wen Spencer
A solidly crafted follow-up to Tinker. The cover art is still terrible, but what can you do?

M or F? by Lisa Papademetriou & Christopher Tebbetts
Frannie likes Jeffrey, but is too shy to talk to him. Best friend Marcus impersonates Frannie to woo Jeffrey for her. Jeffrey likes Frannie (as written by Marcus). Marcus likes Jeffrey. It's a breezy and (mostly) funny story of mistaken identity and false assumptions.

The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey by Lisa Papademetriou
Veronica and Heather, two total opposites, find themselves trapped in the fantasy world of the novel Queen of Twilight. They must face their fears and band together in order to save the land of Galma and get back home. Very funny.

Canning Season by Polly Horvath
Winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature (2003). Lonely and badly mothered Ratchet is sent off to the Maine woods to live with her ancient (and outlandish) great-aunts. A rollicking tall tale with lots of slapstick humor and just maudlin enough to give it some poignancy.


A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
It's the same story told in Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, but this time it is told through the eyes of Mattie Gokey, a young woman desperate to get out of the woods and take control of her life. Beautifully told. I loved Mattie even when I wanted to shake her for falling for that Roy Loomis ... gah.

To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan
I think I was supposed to hate this book, but I ... liked ... it. Even when I disagreed with Flanagan, I still felt extremely entertained and amused by this book.

American Born Chinese written and illus. by Gene Luen Yang
A 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature and no wonder. Wonderfully illustrated fable with three linked storyl ines and central characters. Plus, it features the Monkey King! What's not to like?

Garden of Eden and Other Criminal Delights by Faye Kellerman
Two of my favorites from this short story collection were "Holy Water," which involves the kidnapping of a Rabbi by a soda company in an effort to discover their competitor's secret formula and "Summer of My Womanhood" an autobiographical piece about working in her father's deli.

Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham (illus. by Medina and Leialoha, et al)
In a New York secretly populated by exiled fairy tale folk, Rose Red is found murdered. Or isn't. She was probably murdered, but maybe she was kidnapped. Or maybe it's all a ruse. It's up to Detective Bigby Wolf and Snow White to discover the truth. It's as if Agatha Christie and Neil Gaiman had a love child who was addicted to daytime television.

Y: The Last Man (Vols. 1-4) by Brian K. Vaughan (illus. by Pia Guerra & José Marzán)
Yorick Brown is an escape artist with a hot girlfriend in Australia. He is also the last man on Earth. Dangerously addictive series ... it is impossible to just read one.

The First: Two Houses Divided by Barbara Kesel (illus. by Lary Stucker, Bart Sears, et al)
Collects the first seven issues of CrossGen Comic's The First and holycrap bad.

I Feel Bad About my Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
Another book I didn't expect to like, but did. Really need to stop reading reviews -- I hate the books I'm told I'll like and like the ones I'm told I'll hate.

27 November 2006

The First Thanksgiving

Turkey Day turned out rather well. There were only six of us and everyone pretty much behaved themselves and managed to have a good time. I think. It was my first proper Thanksgiving and I was just a bit freaked out about the whole thing, but there no disasters. Everything tasted very nice and there was more than enough to go round. Even the eponymous turkey came out perfectly. I used the "Roasted Turkey" recipe from Southern Living's 2005 Annual Recipes which called for spreading sage butter between the turkey breast and skin and then thoroughly buttering the rest of the turkey before plunking it on a rack in a roasting pan which had been filled with 32 oz of turkey broth. The turkey looked beautiful when it came out of the oven -- a caramel-y maple brown -- and tasted very nice, too.

Because I wanted to make Thanksgiving as easy on me as possible, many dishes were prepared ahead of time and the whole meal ended up being far more "conventional" than I had intended. I used Betty Crocker's "Make-Ahead Garlic Mashed Potatoes" recipe to make the potatoes Wednesday afternoon. The stuffing was made in the slow cooker that morning ("Slow-Cooker Cornbread Stuffing" from Southern Living's 2005 Annual Recipes) to shave some time off the turkey so I could sleep in.

Instead of roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta and maple glazed balsamic baby carrots, we had Green Giant Niblets® Corn & Butter Sauce, Campbells® Green Bean Casserole (Mom), and cooked sliced carrots (Mom). Rather than homemade French rolls pressed with sage leaves there were Pillsbury® Oven Baked Crusty French dinner rolls. Butter was an ordinary stick of Cabot® rather than the fancy-shmancy compound butter I had considered making. The mince for the apple-mincemeat pie (Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book, Meredith Books: 1998) came out of a jar and was doctored with great abandon. Splenda®'s Great Pumpkin Pumpkin Pie replaced a salad of autumn fruits. The Husband's "Chocolate Swirl Muffin Cake" (doesn't eat teh piez) was a complete baking mix hack job. The cranberry sauce came out of a can.

Yes. Thanksgiving dinner was pretty much a complete hack job. And, like most hack jobs, completely fine. The food was delicious, everyone enjoyed themselves, and no-one missed the compound butter. Except me. I still want to make a nice compound butter and use one of those decorative butter molds to shape it into strawberry leaves or something. I've wanted to do this ever since I read the part in Little House in the Big Woods where Caroline uses carrots to yellow the winter butter and then presses it in a strawberry leaf mold ...

18 November 2006

Year of Cake: More Fun With Nuts

I made Dad's cake a little early this month, because it seemed mean to stick him with a cake immediately following Thanksgiving. Better to give it to him now while there is still room in his tummy and no other delightful foods about to distract him.

November's selection was "Pecan Cake with Tangerine Cream Filling" frosted with "Tangerine Whipped Cream" from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book (Meredith Books, 1998). When I first saw Dad's post-it next to the picture of this fancy-shmancy looking cake, I admit to freaking just a little. But it turned out to be an easy and tasty cake (Dad had thirds) which was a lot of fun to make.


The cake uses 3 tablespoons of flour. Yes. Tablespoons. Not cups. The bulk of the batter is made up of coarsely ground toasted pecans, sugar, and whipped eggs. I don't toast nuts very often, but I followed the cookbook's instructions and they came out a lovely golden brown. And the aroma! The whole kitchen smelled so good I was tempted to nibble the cabinets (eerily, same golden brown as the nuts).

The frosting and the filling were simple to make and the whole cake came together quite easily. I used my mom's old food processor for the nut grinding and batter preparation, my new Microplane to zest the orange, and the KitchenAid mixer to make the whipped cream ... this might be called a "tool heavy" cake, I guess. I don't know how you'd make the batter if you didn't own a blender or food processor. Happily, (for someone who didn't know what a Microplane was three years ago) I seem to be collecting a lot of tools.

08 November 2006

Birthday Loot

For my birthday, I received a lot of bookish loot which I have barely touched. It's been days since my birthday -- surely, I should be halfway through the pile! Lately, the only time I really read is at night in front of the television, but it seems to annoy The Husband that I'm sitting on the couch with him, but not really with him. For me, watching television isn't something you do when you want to spend time with people. You turn the television off when you want to spend time with other human beings. Otherwise, you're sitting in front of the box in each other's presence, but not in each other's company. Not really.

Probably, this is an old-fashioned way of thinking and I need to get with it and throw some Tivo parties or something.

Anyway, so not reading so much. Terrible, because there are so many things to read. All these delicious books from the library that barely get skimmed before being tossed in the return tote (yes, I have two library totes -- one for taking out and one for bringing back). And now there's the sweet sweet pile of presentses ...

The Husband gave me Boondocks: Because I Know You Don't Read The Newspaper which I have managed to read, already. It was good. Funny in a way that makes me wince, sometimes. I'm annoyed to know there won't be any new newspaper strips and who knows if new episodes are really coming in Spring 2007?? Happily, there are at least three more print collections to read.

The Husband also gave me Jane Austen's Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility in the same Headline Review editions I purchased in England. No more will I have to wonder what befell my poor benighted copy of Sense and Sensibility (or if, indeed, I had ever purchased one as I might have confused that book purchase with other book purchases .. there were so many).

Not all The Husband's gifts were of the bookish persuasion. After all, he did give me a sturdy pair of Fiskars Pro Kneelers last month. And he did give me Seasons 2 & 3 of Chef! And March of the Penguins! Yes! Penguin madness!

We have Tivo programmed to record pretty much anything that so much as mentions penguins. We get some weird shit, but we also get a lot of nature documentaries and the occasional children's cartoon. Indeed, this is how I became addicted to 3-2-1 Penguins! which is a Christian cartoon produced by Big Idea. Big Idea also does The VeggieTales, but 3-2-1 Penguins! is more about learning good behavior with a bit of instructional scripture thrown in whereas VeggieTales is much more ... biblical. Anyway, the religious bits aren't gag-worthy and the stories are generally quite amusing. Significantly better than most of the crap on Saturday mornings, anyhow.


"Let's sing a little song with eight little words about a rocketship and some flightless birds ..."

Cracktastic.

06 November 2006

Posh Dinner & Donuts

For my birthday dinner, The Husband booked us a table at Todd English's Tuscany at Mohegan Sun. I know, casino dining on my birthday? What crack am I smoking now? Delicious foi gras crack, I tell you. Yes, I know. Foie gras is a cruel and wicked food and I should burn in hell for having eaten it. Yes, yes. But so tasty.

The trio of foie gras (brilliant sauteed liver, good pate, and an amusing ravioli) was charmingly arranged in a row on a squarish white platter with accompaniments of blue cheese, fig and cranberry compote, honeycomb, prosciutto, watercress, and a couple of those crisp sesame encrusted toasts fanning out behind them. It looked too pretty to eat, but it wasn't. One taste of the sauteed liver with the fig compote and I was off. I'd never eaten foie gras before and was unsure how to go about it, but I just took lots of tiny delicious bites of different combinations and it was all good. I don't even like blue cheese, but it was absolutely delicious with the honeycomb. The fig compote? I wanted a jar to take home with me. If I hadn't been on "best manners" I might have licked the plate.

Certainly, I did fish a little of the onion-topped focaccia (came with minced kalamata olive tapenade and a pureed white bean spread ... fuckmegood) out of the breadbasket and use it to mop up the delicious honey, compote, blue cheese, prosciutto crumb detritus left at the bottom of my plate, but I managed to stop at that.

While I was off, orgasming over my foie gras, The Husband was quietly enjoying his grilled scallops over peach ice with a spicy garnish (you think you know a person and then He orders something like that). He let me sample a little of the peach ice and it was quite refreshing and I almost wished I had ordered it.

He also had a nice cuppa and that was good to see as many restaurants don't seem to understand tea and either tart tea-making up so much it's a hassle or give you a teabag floating in a coffeecup full of lukewarm water. Ick. But this was good tea with a real teapot and a proper size mug. Huzzah. (Once, when the busboy was tidying our table between courses, he swept up The Husband's pyramid of empty sugar packets and said "you use almost as much sugar as I do" which is cute, but not possible without going into a coma).

Our entrees were a mixed bag. The Husband had "Spaghetti Polpettine 'Brooklyn' Style" which was basically really nice spaghetti and meatballs. He seemed quite happy with it and only shared a tiny forkful of meatball with me. My "Crispy Skinned Salmon Filet" with sauteed spinach and walnuts, an over-salted risotto-type side, and cider reduction was good, but not as good as I expected considering how when the kitchen had rocked the foie gras. The salmon, a bit bland and overcooked, was rescued by forking it up with the spinach and then smearing it all through the twee little puddles of sauce. Indeed, the spinach with walnuts was excellent. Crisp, emerald green, and nutty. Yum. The risotto-y thing? Creamy and with bits of crab or lobster, it seemed to have a lot of promise, but was too salty for me.

Sigh.

We didn't have dessert as, well, the dessert menu was not that tempting. All I really wanted was a cheese plate and a glass of port, but that wasn't in the offing so we went to Krispy Kreme, instead.

Mmmm ... donuts ....

30 October 2006

Reads & Listens, October 2006

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck It's a hoot.

Left Bank by Kate Muir
Yes, yes, pity poor Perfect Family -- extremely flawed and far from happy. So what? The whole book left me shrugging "whatever."

Beginning With O by Olgar Broumas (forward by Stanley Kunitz)
"Cinderella" was my favorite poem, but "Thetis" ran a close second.

The Old Maid (The 'Fifties) by Edith Wharton
Part of Wharton's Old New York series of novellas. A skilfully written story addressing themes of motherhood and morality.

Farthing by Jo Walton
In alternate mid-1800s England which never went to war against Hitler and the Reich, class can only protect you from so much when you marry a Jew. Murder mystery/novel of manners.

Maurice by E.M. Forster
I know I should have a higher opinion of this book -- it is "A Gay Classic" -- but I hated Maurice and felt far more sympathy for his women.

3-Ingredient Slow Cooker Recipes: 200 Recipes for Memorable Meals by Suzanne Bonet
The recipes in this cookbook all seem simple and straight forward with no hard-to-find ingredients or extraneous prep work. Many recipes also come with "Add It!" entry listing additional ingredients and seasoning. I made three recipes (all using the "Add It!" additions) and the results were mixed. The tuna casserole came out really well and will be repeated, but the ravioli and the chicken rice dishes will never be repeated. Indeed, I wish to wipe them from my memory.

The Mysterious Private Thompson: The Double Life of Sara Emma Edmonds, Civil War Soldier by Laura Leedy Gansler
Sarah runs away from home and becomes a successful traveling book salesman. When the US Civil War breaks out, she enlists as Frank Thompson and serves as a medical orderly, mail courier, and Union spy (maybe). Excellent history and quite a nice read.

Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen
Fascinating and quirky little book.

27 October 2006

Year of Cake: Toasty Nuts

October's Cake of The Month is "Pumpkin Spice Cake" from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book (Meredith Books, 1998) with maple syrup cream cheese frosting and toasted walnuts. I had never toasted walnuts before and was a little worried they'd burn, so I think I pulled them out of the oven a little too soon. Probably, could have toasted them another 2 or 3 minutes. Better under-toasted than burnt, I guess.


The cake came out pretty well. Everyone who tasted it thought the frosting was nice and maple-y without being overly sweet. Even my mother, the diabetic, enjoyed the frosting (with her heightened sensitivity to sugar, her sweetness threshold is a lot lower than ours). The cake itself was light and airy with just a hint of pumpkin in with all that spiciness. As a welcome bonus, the whole house smelled like pumpkin pie while the cake was baking.

December's cake will be fruitcake. Yes, my dad asked for fruitcake. He likes the scary commercially prepared ones, you see, and wonders what a homemade fruitcake will be like. I worry it's not the fruitcake he likes, but the novelty of it as it is one of those things he gets, maybe, a slice of once a year. Certainly, it isn't something my mother allows in her house.

I'm trying two recipes -- both from the King Arthur Flour people. I need to get them started in the next week or two as they'll need to set for five weeks or so before they'll be properly edible. I want my father to get his cakes well enough in advance of Christmas that he will still have an appetite for them. Also, if they turn out badly, I will still have time to order him one from the Baker's Catalogue.

30 September 2006

Reads & Listens, September 2006

Reads:

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel's graphic biography of her dad and her self. Deep, poignant, painful ... blahblahblah ... it's already been said and better. Am I a horrible person if I admit a booklist was the only thing I took from this tragicomic?

Ripening Seed by Colette (trans. by Roger Senhouse)
Le Blé en Herbe. Summertime in Brittany and two young friends who have been long in love with each other are now awakening to sexual desire. Philippe, of course, muffs everything up by carrying on with Madam Dalleray (yes, she does seduce him a bit, but he keeps coming back), and then by allowing Vinca to seduce him. My very first Colette novel and quite spectacular. According to the preface, the story is based on that of Daphnis and Chloe.

How This Night is Different by Elisa Albert
Collection of stories about normal things (bat mitzahs, seder, concentration camp tourism, etc) rendered absurd by the people in them. "How This Night is Different" was probably my favorite, although "The Living" was pretty damned good, too.

5 A Day: The Better Health Cookbook by Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka & Barbara Berry
Produced by The Produce for Better Health Foundation, this straight forward little cookbook promises to show us all how to get five servings of fruits and vegetables into our daily diets. Explains the whole "5 A Day" program, provides sample menus, delicious new recipes, and tricks for getting more fruit/veg into your old recipes. I made three recipes -- "Baked Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese," "Springtime Scallop and Asparagus Stir-Fry," and "Chicken Oriental" (chicken stir-fry ... with asparagus, of course) -- and all were fast, tasty, and healthful. Yum. This book is certainly worth borrowing from the library.

Death Match by Lincoln Child
An utterly far fetched and ridiculous piece of fluff. (And the computer did it. Of course. Does the AI always have to go bad?)

Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton
Completely fantastic. How is it I never read any Sarton before?

Teahouse of the Almighty by Patricia Smith
Rough going, but well worth it.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Not nearly gender bending enough for me, but still pretty cute (and hot) for a young adult novel.

The Childless Revolution: What It Means to Be Childless Today by Madelyn Cain
If you're looking for the Childfree Manifesta, this isn't it. However, it's still a reasonably good introduction to the many whys behind "childfree" women/families and it would probably make a fine gift for overly concerned relatives (but why should we ever have to explain ourselves, anyway?)

Traction Man is Here written & illus. by Mini Grey
Funniest picture book I've read in a long time.

Mammoths on the Move by Lisa Wheeler (illus. by Kurt Cyrus)
"Big and bulky, / huge and hulky, / wide and woolly mammoths" ... are on the move! Excellent rhythm and beautiful watercolor/scratchboard illustrations make this picture book perfect for reading aloud to inquisitive little (or big) minds

The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs
The King of Greeve (as suggested by the Prime Minister) offers Princess Margaret's hand (and half the kingdom) to the prince who can rid Greeve of a three evils(a dragon, a witch, and some bandits). Obviously, Princess Margaret is not chuffed by this and (with the help of three companions) sets out to save the three "evils" and make her own place in life. A funny and very charming young adult novel.

Listens:

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (read by Alex Jennings)
This is part of the HarperChildren's Audio's unabridged The Chronicles of Narnia audio CD boxed set which was so beautifully illustrated and charmingly packaged I felt compelled to buy it last Christmas. Also, they are read by some very talented people (Michael York was a total let-down, alas). Anyway, The Horse and His Boy? Excellent story (if you suspend your modern thinking and ignore all the racist/colonialist overtones) with a nice balance between swashbuckling adventure and good moral lessons. Alex Jennings does a bang up job and I wish he'd read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, too.

30 August 2006

Reads & Listens, August 2006

Shadows in the Darkness by Elaine Cunningham
Ex vice cop turned detective starts working a case about a missing lawyer's daughter and stumbles into something much bigger that the disappearance of one pretty suburban white girl. Also, discovers she is a Changeling. Not a bad read, but obviously the first in a series and I can take only so much "elf detective" fiction before I need a lie down.

Heroics for Beginners by John Moore
A fast read about a "layabout" prince who wants to marry the princess meant for the military guy who defeats the Evil Overlord and retrieves Ancient Artifact Number 7. Mostly amusing in its spoofing of fantasy conventions, but some of the jokes (about Valerie's clothes, for example) fall flat (mainly due to repetition).

The Abortionist's Daughter by Elisabeth Hyde
I was expecting something more controversial. More political. Instead, I got a decent detective novel with just enough new-to-me medical information about abortion to make me go hmmm. Wasn't keen on the daughter's relationship with the ex-cop, but I'm becoming a prude in my old age.

Devices and Desires (The Engineer Trilogy: Book One) by K.J. Parker
First book in a trilogy and, goddamn, what a doorstop of a book! Interesting, yes, but can I read two more of them? Despite Parker's obvious skill at world building and knowledge of engineering, this book just dragged in too many places.

The Trouble With Tulip by Mindy Starns Clark
Picked this up more or less on a whim. It was a nice summer read -- mildly funny with likeable characters and an uncomplicated plot. That said, I won't be reading the other Jo Tulip books as the religious bits annoyed the shit out of me.

At the Sign of the Star by Katherine Sturtevant
Meg is the spoiled/wilful/improper only child of a widowed bookseller and fully expects to inherit her father's business. Then her father remarries and Meg's world is stood on it's head ... A fast read with good historical detail and a nice amount of character development on Meg's part.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Yes, this is the same author who gave us those great girlie masterpieces The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. In this rather amiable little novel, we have the story of Miss Fox-Seton, a gently bred but hopelessly impoverished and no-so-young woman who finds riches and happiness in marriage to a marquis. I liked it a lot, though I could see why other (more romantic readers) might find bits of the story rather horrifying.

A Girl Like Che Guevara by Teresa de la Caridad Doval
A sheltered urbanite, Lourdes believes in Che and Communist Cuba. When she is sent to school-in-the-fields, her eyes are opened to the truth of Cuba (and her family and her self). Powerful coming of age story with honest depictions of same-sex desire, too. W00t.

La Perdida by Jessica Abel
Girl, looking to find her roots, rejects the culture of her youth and, while searching for authenticity, falls in with some lowlifes who fuck her up (of course). Lots of cringe-worthy moments.

Tinker by Wen Spencer
Worst cover art ever and such a pity as this is quite an interesting and extremely entertaining fantasy novel. I mean, gutsy girl genius? Elf sex? Weird cultural quirks? What's not to like? Well, okay, the (seemingly) racist bits toward the end did spoil my fun and crimped my desire to read Wolf Who Rules. I mean, the bad, animalistic, and thoroughly wicked people were Asiatic Devils while the good, beautiful, and advanced heroes were Westernized Whites?? Wtf?

Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson
In some ways, Hetty seemed so sympathetic -- a woman who lived her life as she saw fit with no concern for anyone's happiness but her own in a time in which women did not behave so (do we now??). Yet, if gossip and Frankie's own sensibilities were to believed, then Hetty was also a cold-hearted mantis woman and who wouldn't want her friends warned away from? Basically, a fast but not unsubtle read with all those little quirks I love in period pieces. Wish we had read this in "Introduction to Canadian Literature 2."

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by Jean-Philippe Stassen (trans. by Alexis Siegel)
Dark and beautiful and wretched -- not an easy read, but a compelling and necessary one. Should be required reading.

Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
Please ignore the paperback edition's cover art. Holy crap, it is not good art, but the story is very good. I mean, girl with sword? Duels over points of honor? Gay and lesbian sexcapades? Political skulduggery? True love? Adored it all. While this is, apparently, a book in a series, I haven't read any of the other ones (and probably won't as Kate isn't in them). However, Privilege still made perfect sense and I highly recommend it.

17 August 2006

Year of Cake: Fun With Double Boilers

Dad's been complaining it's too hard for him to think up cake ideas all on his own, so I let him borrow two cookbooks to help him along. They came back to me full of bookmarks and little notes on preferred variations. His selections are rather interesting in their diversity -- everything from "Lemon Coconut Layer Cake" to (four layer!) "Pecan Cake with Tangerine Cream Frosting" to a brandy soaked fruitcake (aged for two months, no less) -- but not especially complicated and my worries involve ingredient procurement more than possible technical problems.

I'm looking forward to the fruitcake. Like the Battenburg, it's one of those things I've wanted to try, but haven't had sufficient reason to. I'm going to get my fruits from the King Arthur catalog as I'm generally pleased with their products and the brandy will be whatever Dad loves best. But, I'm getting ahead of myself, here.

August's selections was "Sponge Cake with Fruit and Cream" from Mary Wilkinson's Desserts: Mouthwatering Recipes for Delectable Dishes (pages 172-173, Anness Publishing: 1997) and it was as it sounds. Split sponge cake filled with sweetened whipped cream and berries then topped with more cream and berries. Strawberries are starting to look a bit crap again (out of season) so I used raspberries, instead, with good results.


The cake recipe called for filling a saucepan with hot water set over low heat then putting the eggs in a heat proof bowl which nested inside the pan without touching the water and (using an electric hand mixer) beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla together until the mixture was very thick. I don't have an electric hand mixer, so had to whisk it and I'm pretty sure the cake batter never quite reached the right consistency. I mean, it tasted just fine in the end, but the layers seemed much thinner than those in the photo -- not enough aeration, I guess.

I'm also guessing that I could have substituted any old cake batter recipe with just as good results. Any cake filled with fruit and cream is bound to taste good. Mmmm. A chocolate sponge with cream and raspberries ... that would be good ... or lemon with blackberries ....

Next month: "Lemon Coconut Layer Cake" also from Mary Wilkinson's Desserts: Mouthwatering Recipes for Delectable Dishes (Anness Publishing: 1997).

14 August 2006

Flutterbys

Yesterday was our seventh wedding anniversary. Yes, seventh. That's wool/copper or desk sets, if you believe in that sort of thing. Which we don't. Which is why we ended up with no gifts and a lot of butterfly pictures.

We drove up to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory on Sunday and ooo-ed and ahhhed over all the flutterbys.



30 July 2006

A Conspiracy of Bananas

There is some kind of banana conspiracy going on in my kitchen. I keep buying bananas and we keep not eating them. No matter how many bananas I buy, there are always bananas going brown and squishy on the kitchen side. I mean, I am only buying three or four bananas at a go -- it seems we ought to be able to eat them before they go brown and squishy, but no. One day there are three bright green bananas. The next day, there are two squishy brown bananas in a cloud of fruit flies. I thought at first this was because we are very choosy people when it comes to banana consumption (I like mine still faintly greenish and The Husband prefers them a nice unspeckled yellow) and weren't eating them fast enough. But, no. There is a conspiracy in the kitchen. How else would three (vibrant green) bananas I bought on Tuesday become all brown squishiness by Thursday?

Even though we do not eat the brown bananas, I am loathe to throw them in the compost. Waste of perfectly good banana! I could always make bread or muffins out of them, after all. So off they go into the depths of the freezer and never again shall they see the light of day.

Yesterday, I had three bananas in the freezer and four more squishy ones on the side. Do I need seven frozen bananas? I think not. I made "Streusel Banana Bread" from the Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book (Meredith Books, 1998). I lacked a pastry blender for blending in the butter to make the struesel topping, but found that the combination of mashing with a fork and pinching with my fingers worked pretty well.

I brought the loaf over to my parents, later, and my dad liked it well enough that he ate three slices and kept half the loaf. He seemed really enamored with the streusel topping. My mother makes a good banana bread, but it is very different from the BHG bread and I suspect half my father's infatuation was due to shear novelty.

Berry Mini-Muffins on Winnie's Tier

Because everything in the is going bad, I wanted to use the raspberries and blackberries before it was too late. They were almost over-ripe when I took them out of the fridge, so freezing them did not seem like a good idea. Happily, I found a recipe at joyofbaking for "Buttermilk Berry Muffins" which seemed promising. Since I'd already used half the lemon zest in the banana bread, I used a combination of lemon and lime zest for the muffins. I also drizzled a lemon glaze over the tops of them after they came out of the oven and had cooled for a bit. Because the blackberries were so very ripe, they disintegrated when I tried to fold them into the batter and turned the batter a nice bluey-purple. The raspberries, however, managed to hold together and look quite pretty nestled in the purple muffins.

They taste pretty good, too. My mother is allergic to bananas (yet loves my father so much she bakes him banana bread), so I brought some muffins over with the loaf and she seemed pleased and surprised I had brought something especially for her. Note to self: bake more for your mother.

My mother is a diabetic and making sweets for her can be a bit of an adventure. She can eat things with sugar, obviously, but prefers to consume sugar substitutes. Sugar substitutes bake up a little weird, you know. Even Splenda, which is supposed to be some kind of miracle sweetener, doesn't work out as well as I would like. Unfortunately, a lot of the recipes that use natural sugar substitutes use ... bananas.

Reads & Listens, July 2006

The World According to Mimi Smartypants by Mimi Smartypants
Read this on the plane on the way to Manchester and must have annoyed the shit out of the nice yeshiva boys sitting across from me what with my donkey snorts, hyena laughs, and all.

The Marriage Spell by Mary Jo Putney
So who didn't guess our darling couple would be doing it like rabbits at the sacred well? I mean, this novel was a nice bit of fluff, but there are better examples of Fantasy-Regency-Romance (Sorcery and Cecelia, for one).

The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett
A very good reason to give up hoovering.

The Brentford Chainstore Massacre by Robert Rankin
I give up. Always go "Oh! Robert Rankin! Interesting cover! Funny premise! Must read!" and then (hours later) am left feeling pretty ... eh ... about the whole thing. Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse was just an aberration. I'm not meant to read Rankin.

Septimus Heap, Book Two: Flyte by Angie Sage (illus. by Mark Zug)
An enjoyable little adventure, but not nearly so clever or well crafted as Magyck.

Inconceivable by Ben Elton
Tiresome.

My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices ed. by Lila Aza Zanganeh
Mostly breezy little collection essays by Iranian writers, artists, film makers, etc, discussing what it is to be Iranian and trying (valiantly) to create a truer picture of Iran for Westerners who see it either as an Axis of Evil or something straight out of the The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Troll Fell by Katherine Langrish
Orphan boy is taken in by his dastardly twin uncles who have terrible plans involving spunky neighbor girl, gold, and trolls. Langrish uses of elements from Scandinavian folklore/fairy tales in her world building and it's a good thing. Extremely enjoyable.

16 July 2006

The Dog's Breakfast

Because I am insane, I baked the second installment in my father's year long birthday cake extravaganza a scant three days after returning from England. Was I prepared to be baking? No. Should I have been baking? No. Did it even seem like a good idea at the time? Not very. But, I was full of this weird nervous energy. Kept feeling like I ought to be doing something or going somewhere. And baking a cake seemed like a good way to take the edge off.

Surprisingly, the cake was not a disaster. I don't think the cake was as good as it should have been -- the layers didn't rise as much as I had expected and the frosting was a bit too sweet -- but my dad seemed perfectly happy with it and he and The Husband made serious inroads when I brought it over. I used the "White Cake" and "No-Cook Fudge Frosting" from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book (Meredith Books, 1998). I'm really starting to like my BHG cookbooks as the recipes are all pretty straightforward and tend to yield good results. My mother knew what she was doing when she gave me the red and white standby for my twenty-first birthday.


Dad's leaving August's cake up to me, but Mom specified something light and non-chocolate. It's not her present, but I do think two chocolate-y cakes in a row is enough for this time of year. Actually, I'd like to try my hand at Eton Mess, but I'm not sure I could call that a cake. Somehow, I don't think Dad would complain ...

At the end of our stay with The Father-in-Law, we went down to Birmingham and visited The Husband's Auntie and other sundry relations. Auntie's Husband is quite a capable cook and one of the things he served us was Harry Blumenthal's Eton Mess with bananas and lime. It looked like the dog's breakfast, but the lime-banana-meringue combination was truly delicious and I've been thinking about it on and off ever since I ate it. I found a recipe at joyofbaking.com for the traditional strawberry version ("Strawberry with Cream and Meringue Bits") and I think my dad would it eat. He'd eat the banana version, of course, but Mom is allergic to bananas and while it's his present, she'll be eating it, too.

Mmm! Fairy cakes! Get in my belly!

Earlier this week I also made fairy cakes using the "Vanilla Cupcakes" recipe I also found at joyofbaking.com. I substituted lemon for the vanilla in the batter and frosting and they came out well. A nice taste of lemon, but not "Wow! Lemon!" I don't usually frost things I make just for us as The Husband is not too keen on frosting, but he quite liked this butter cream frosting. Well, of course he would. It's nothing but butter and sugar with a bit of cream and flavorings. How could you not like butter and sugar whipped together?

14 July 2006

Book Buying I Did Go

While I was in England I bought a lot of books. Of course. Was it ever likely I wouldn't return with suitcase and carry-on packed full of paperbacks?

There were specific titles I wanted to purchase in England, but forgot to write them down before I left so didn't get any of them. But that turned out okay, you know, as book selecting is becoming more and more about browsing and less about targeting specific authors/genres/publishers.

I did manage to get my hot little hands on trade paperbacks of Books Two and Three of Philip Reeve's Hungry City Chronicles (Predator's Gold and Infernal Devices). I had no problem locating a copy of Book Three -- every bookshop I visited had two or three copies of the shelf -- but Book Two was nearly impossible to find. Did stumble upon a battered and wrinkly looking copy at a Waterstone's in Standish which I almost bought out of pure desperation, but persuaded myself not to. At worst, I could always get a copy of amazon. Happily, whilst wandering around the duty-free area at the Manchester Airport I found one lonely, but perfect, copy in WH Smith. Did a little whoop and jig of joy which I am sure did not endear me to any of my fellow shoppers, but sod them. I found my book. Huzzah!

At the Waterstones in Blackpool, I picked up Devices and Desires (The Engineer Trilogy: Book One) by K.J. Parker, Predator's Gold mentioned above, Porno by Irvine Welsh, Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Kate Kerrigan, Inconceivable by Ben Elton, and a whole bunch of Headline Review Editions of Jane Austen's works.

Apparently, The Telegraph thinks little of these editions, but I love them. Being larger than my old Penguins, they are have bigger fonts and are easier to keep open by wedging against a breakfast bowl or dinner plate. The cover art is while nice and contemporary, not quite as girl-y or chick-lit-y as the article suggests. But, that's just my humble opinion. I went to England planning on bringing back some Austen and finding these editions (3 for 2£, as well) seemed like a godsend. My Penguin copies weren't the nicest for casual reading (though they're great from a scholarly point of view, I am not English Lit student anymore and don't need my books to shout "Boring Authoritative Work!" or "Canon!") and I am a sucker for pretty covers.

Also, am quite enjoying the "Additional Information" included in the back of each volume (particularly, Northanger Abbey).

Oh. Now I am confused. Here are Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park. Where is Sense and Sensibility? Didn't I buy it at the WH Smith in Cleveleys?? Oh, crap. It is still with the In-Laws.

You are thinking that even with the missing Sense and Sensibility these do not seem like a lot of books. Well, you also have to take into account the two dozen or so of The Husband's we liberated from a cupboard at his grandparent's. Yes. And there are more in his mum's attic, but we couldn't be bothered looking at those as we'd never be able to carry them all home. Yes. Because no-one could ever just mail them to us or throw them out or give them to a charity shop. No. They must live in attics and cupboards and be complained about until we arrive and sort them out. And, of course, we never really do, because we can't be bothered. It is not as if we lack for books here at home and the idea of schlepping extra carry-ons of books through the airport is completely lacking in charm.

But, really, where is my copy of Sense and Sensibility?

13 July 2006

Back From Foreign Parts


We're back from Blackpool, baby!

I think The Blackpool Grandparents are my favorites out of all The Husband's relatives and it was really nice to spend time with them. It is disheartening to realize how old they are getting (85!) and that we may not have many more chances to see them before they die. Blackpool Grannie gave me a couple cake tiers she doesn't use anymore and I plan take pictures of them when I used them so she can see they are not just idling, unwanted, in a cupboard somewhere. I'm thinking fairy cakes (cupcakes) with buttercream frosting.

Also, The Husband and I spent a number of days just wandering around Blackpool on our own and that was quite lovely. We bought tasty things from Hampsons (savoury vegetable tikka pasties are yummy, but cream cakes are pretty much to die for) and various chip shops, sat by the sea and ate ice cream (a 99 Flake is a soft-serve ice cream cone with a Cadbury Flake stuck in it -- really lovely), walked up and down the North Pier, shopped for books and chocolate, took the tram into "Lovely Cleveleys by the Sea," talked about much about nothing, and made out a little bit more than mature married folk are probably supposed to.


And, you know, that's all I wanted from my holiday. Much of nothing.

01 July 2006

Penguin Touch

Today we finished off our vacation with the final part of The Husband's 30th Birthday Extravaganza -- Penguin Contact at the Mystic Aquarium. It was pretty cool. Of course, when could touching a penguin not be cool? There were nine of us in the group, plus the Penguin Trainer and her summer volunteer, and only one African penguin between us all so there was not as much touching of the penguin as The Husband would have liked, but it was still pretty cool.

Needless to say, the penguin touching was pretty much the best part of our vacation. In-laws are great and English junk/fast food can be pretty nummy, but penguins can't be beat.




30 June 2006

Reads & Listens, June 2006

Lost & Found by Carolyn Parkhurst
At first I thought "a novel about reality television? oh, ick" but I was so very, very wrong. This was a surprisingly poignant and funny novel with characters (especially Abby and Cassie) I cared for quite deeply.

Dixieland Sushi by Cara Lockwood
I don't necessarily mind predictability in my chicklit -- it's okay to know from the first page that The Girl Will Get The Guy -- if the story is also fun and creative. This wasn't. No, it was unimaginative and annoying. Grr.

V For Vendetta by Alan Moore (illus. by David Lloyd)
What the fuck?

Johnny and The Dead by Terry Pratchett
In this "sequel" to Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny Maxwell discovers he can see and talk to the dead. And, boy, are the dead pissed off. Seems the local council sold the cemetery off to some giant corporation who wants to build an office block ... Funny and smart little book.

Dr. Franklin's Island by Ann Halam
One of the high school's summer reading books. On the surface, this book seems like a simple retooling of The Island of Doctor Moreau, but it's much better than that. Beautiful and scary with well written female characters. A good hammock read.

Rash by Pete Hautman
In the United Safer States of America pretty much any antisocial or "dangerous" behavior will put you in jail, but that's okay, because the economy depends on slave penal labor. Pretty good black comedy.

Warrior's Apprentice by Louis McMaster Bujold
I preferred the comic strip.

Cats in the Sun photos and text by Hans Silvester
Wonderful photograph collection the cats of the Greek Cycladic Islands. Nearly always beautiful and frequently funny, but never mawkish or cutesy-poo.

21 June 2006

Is "Closeted" too Vague a Term?

Woman approached the desk with Danielle Steel's new book Coming Out in her hands and said "It just occurred to me ... coming out ... you don't think this is about The Gays, do you?" (Yes, my dahlings, The Gays. I could hear the capitals quite clearly). I gaped at her for a minute while my brain tried to claw its way out of my head, then I pulled myself together, smiled, and said something like, "well, from what I remember from the reviews, it's a story about a mixed family with two teenage daughters who are invited to a coming out ball ... there is a closeted brother ... but why don't you take a look at the book flap and see if you want to read this before I check it out to you?" and she said "oh, no, as long as it isn't all about those Gays."

I admit my summary of the story wasn't all that precise, but I do think "closeted brother" should have been a tip-off.

I can't imagine Danielle Steel writing a gay character with any particular breadth or depth and suspect the brother is just so much window dressing. I don't know. Maybe I should be pleased "The Gays" are now mainstream enough Danielle Steel writes about them? Instead, I feel ... annoyed ... as if she's appropriated and commodified something of mine.

That's right! Because bisexual girlies living in the burbs with their heterosexual husbands have so much worth appropriating or commodifying!

13 June 2006

A Year of Cake (It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time)

Yesterday, we celebrated my father's fifty-fifth birthday. My parents came over in the afternoon and we played several rounds of croquet (he won one) and then we went off to our favorite Mexican place for much yumminess and fun, and then back to our house for more croquet, and then the opening of presents, and the eating of cake, and the playing of too many hands of Uno.

Good fun all round.

I was at a complete loss as to what to give my father for his birthday. At first, when my mother said she was buying him a hammock, I said I would buy him a nice assortment of beer, because beer and hammock are a necessary pairing. However, my mother (tricksy as she is) went and bought both the hammock and the beer. So no beer. And, of course, when I asked my father what he wanted, he was all "oh, I don't really need anything." Yes, fine. Except I couldn't give my father nothing for his birthday. So I turned to my mother who (very offhandedly) suggested a year of cake.

And so that is what I have gave him. Twelve months of cake. The birthday cake I made yesterday counts as the first cake, so he gets eleven more. He wants his next one to be a vanilla layer cake with chocolate frosting. Not very adventurous, but it is his present, after all. Vanilla cake it is.

I will probably use the "White Cake" and "Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting" recipes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (Meredith Corporation, 1996). I used that same cookbook to make the "Chocolate Cake" with "Truffle Frosting" (no double boiler!) for my dad's birthday cake and it yielded splendid results. I don't like chocolate cake all that much, but I thought this one was pretty damned good. Rich, but not leaden. Sweet, but not achingly. Chocolatey, but not disgustingly so.


Anyway, my dad seemed to like it (and the idea of eleven more) a heck of a lot and that's what really matters.

Alas, The Husband is now full of whininess and unrest over the giving away of cakes. Mutters about how everyone else gets cake made for them, but he doesn't get cake, and life is just teh sux0r. As if I had not made him a very nice chocolate bundt last week. As if I will not make him other cakes in the future. Poor husband. So benighted and put upon.

O, woe. O, waly, waly.

09 June 2006

Every Day is a Good Day for Cake

Yesterday, amidst lawn mowing and whatnot, I made a chocolate bundt cake. Not just any old chocolate bundt, but "The Darkest Chocolate Cake Ever" (Bundt Classics, Nordic Ware, 2003). Why a cake? I was in the mood to bake something bundt-esque and it seemed an easy recipe which needed no extra additional shopping.

I don't have a lot of experience with baking chocolate cakes. Whenever I've made a chocolate cake in the past, it was almost always from a box. I have made BHG's "One-Bowl Chocolate Cake" (Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, Meredith Corporation, 1996), too, but it calls for shortening and I didn't have any on hand yesterday (when was the last time I owned shortening??). Most recipes for scratch chocolate cakes tend to intimidate me, because they call for the melting of chocolate in double boilers and that is just too complicated for me. Happily, this cake required no double boilers. Instead, I made a paste of cocoa and boiling water which was allowed to cool and then added to the batter just before divvying between the cake pans. Easy-peasy. Even used powdered buttermilk and that was fine -- just followed the instructions on the tin.

I did have some concerns when I was divvying the batter up. The almond extract smell was very strong and the batter of this so-called "darkest chocolate cake ever" was more tan than not. Ahh, but no fear. Thanks to the wonders of kitchen chemistry, the cake that came out of the oven was a brown so dark it was nearly black and the chocolate smell was just amazing. Yes, a faint undertone of almond remained, but there was no doubting this was a chocolate cake.

30 May 2006

Reads & Listens, May 2006

Reads:

The Golden Mile Murder by Sally Spencer
Going to see The In-Laws, so in the mood for a little Blackpool Lit. Problem is, all the novels that feature Blackpool are disappointing detective stories like this one.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I was not very charmed by the movie version of this novel and so did not scoop up this book as quickly as I should have considering how much I enjoyed Jones's Chrestomanci books. Anyway, it's a really nice spring hammock read and significantly better than the film.

Ptolemy's Gate (Bartimaeus Trilogy: Book Three) by Jonathan Stroud
What will I do without more Bartimaeus books to look forward to??? There aren't many other series I can think of in which all the volumes pleased me so thoroughly. And the ending!

The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards
Not-so-good mystery about a Oxford historian who, together with his brand new girlfriend, chuck the rat race for a quiet life in the Lake District. Alas, the country is not so quiet ... no real surprises and a whole lot of boring patches.

The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey
While on vacation in a mountain resort, Japanese-American Rei Shimura (Tokyo-based English-language teacher) is involved in a murder.

Listens:

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (read by Shelly Frasier)
Delicious.

Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O'Neill (performed by LA Theatre Works)
Seventy minutes too long.

21 May 2006

Beer & Chili @ the New London Rotary's Springfest & Chili Cook-Of

Took my dad to the New London Rotary's Springfest and Chili Cook-Of. We don't do father-daughter stuff as often as I do mother-daughter stuff and that seems a little unfair. The Rotary Club's twice yearly beer and chili fest seemed like a good idea as we both enjoy beer and chili.

The Husband (he does not drink and so it always the getaway driver) dropped us off promptly at 6 and, in the two and half hours we were at the fest, we sampled many beers. Some good. Some bad. Some ... indescribable. The problem is, after you drink enough different samples, they all start to taste the same. Breaking for chili helped, of course, but I'm sure there were a number of IPAs (Indian Pale Ales -- believe me, it took me much too long to work that acronym out) I might have liked if I hadn't sampled them all one after the other.

We were each handed six beer tickets at the gate and, ostensibly, this (and a strong police presence) was to keep people from over-indulging. In reality, it was probably very easy to over-indulge as most of the microbreweries represented didn't have much interest in ticket taking. The chili people, on the other hand, really wanted their money. The chili was a dollar a dixie cup and was mostly good. Different area restaurants and organizations competed to make the best chili and we drunken sots got to vote for the tastiest one. There were some really good chili, but nearly all of them lacked the proper amount of fire needed to make a great chili. Or so we thought.

Happily, along with our beer tickets, we each received a program listing all the vendors and their beers. Unhappily, not everyone listed showed up and not all the beers listed were on sample (and vice versa). My dad was smart enough to bring a pen, so we scribbled notes in our programs regarding the quality of the beers we ingested. Some of the things I expected not to like -- Diageo-Guinness's Parrot Bay Sunset Surf and Wave Runner, for example -- turned out to be pretty darned good. Other things I expected to enjoy -- like any of six IPAs or Boddington Pub Draught -- were complete washouts. After having hit all the tables, by the end of the evening we were also suspicious of the whole "microbrewery" angle. Blue Moon Belgian White Ale was one of my favorites, but it belongs to Coors, for pete's sake. Coors is a microbrewery? Pull the other one.

Anyway, without further ado, my list of beers I could happily drink more than one of:
  • Blue Moon Belgian White Ale (a smoother, milder Sam Adams)
  • Parrot Bay Wave Runner and Sunset Surf (tastes like liquid candy, smells like popsicles, and comes in scary neon colors -- a beer you would use to loosen up your underage girlfriend and totally yummy, dude)
  • NV Pear Cider & NV Chesters Cider (comes in a very pretty wine-type bottle and would be good for giving to people who equate cider with scrumpy)
  • Peels Cranberry Peach (another get-your-underage-girlfriend-drunk beer and also totally yummy)

08 May 2006

Library Conferences & Loot

Went to a conference on reader's advisory and am now chock full of ideas. Got to polish my book-talking skills and filled most of my notepad with titles to try on different patrons. Had to leave a little early so that I could head back to work before rush hour started, but got lost (was distracted by a flaming minivan and missed the right turning -- what is it with me and things on fire??) and wasted a half hour getting back to where I ought to be so, yes, did get stuck in rush hour after all. Was, of course, late getting to work and felt rather bad, but then discovered the director was away all week so there was no-one to care about my tardiness and, according to co-worker, I could have arrived even later for all it mattered. Was a bit peeved about losing the end of the conference, because (of course) we were getting into scifi/fantasy reader's advisory and I was very interested in the presenter's take on it. Oh, well. I bought one of their books and it looks like it has a pretty good section of scifi/fantasy, so all may not be lost.

I also bought a copy of Philip Reeves's Mortal Engines (Hungry City Chronicles, Book One). It's been nominated for the 2006 Nutmeg award and I'm trying to read more of them as Saturday Library makes a big deal out of the Nutmeg. Generally, I've not had the best luck with the Nutmegs, but Mortal Engines rocked my world. I read a hardcover copy a couple months ago and was just completely taken with the characters and story. When I wasn't reading the book, I couldn't stop thinking about it. When I was reading it, I was good for nothing else. It was, dare I say, "unputdownable."

Alas, while I wanted a copy of my own, the American hardcover cover art shown on Amazon left a lot to be desired, considering how much better and more correct the British cover art seemed to be. Happily, the paperbacks for sale at the conference used the British covers and so I snapped one up as soon as I could get within grabbing distance of the sales tables.

I cannot wait to get to England next month and buy the rest of the series. Yes. We are going to England to see the In-Laws. Have bought tickets, applied for time off, and arranged for my parents to cat-sit. Now I just need to count down the days until I can eat Scotch eggs and book shop like the addict I wish I could afford to be.

02 May 2006

Yay For Rain

It's raining. Huzzah. Not enough to take us out of the red flag zone for long, but enough to green up the yard and put a little spring dampness back into the air.

The scariest thing about yesterday was not the idea our house might burn down, but that something terrible might have happened to The Husband. When I was coming home from work, I saw that the high school was wreathed in smoke, but there were no cars or firetrucks about so I presumed that the landfill might be on fire. I knew we were in a red flag zone and, when I was a child, our town's landfill was always catching fire so I wasn't particularly worried.

Except that the wind blowing quite strongly toward the landfill meant there should not have been any smoke around the school if the landfill was on fire. Approaching my street, it became obvious the smoke was coming from much closer to home and then I saw my road was closed and just about had a heart attack. Had a hard time getting the guy directing traffic to let me in, but I was pretty adamant about getting home and he eventually gave over.

Of course, once I was on my street, all I could see were fire trucks filling the end of the road and smoke blowing from the direction of our house. Trembling, I parked a couple houses up from ours and then flat out bolted down the street. It was obvious once I got to our yard that the fire was in the woods beyond our lot and did not yet involve us, but that did not keep me from running into the house and grabbing ahold of The Husband.

I have never been so scared. Even when The Husband was so terribly sick with ulcerative colitis and I feared he might die, I was never so afraid as I was for those few minutes yesterday. And I was never so relieved as I was when I realized he was just fine and even oblivious to what was happening outside our door.

Yes, so the fire made yesterday afternoon just a wee bit stressful.

01 May 2006

When I Said "Light My Fire," I Didn't Mean It Literally


Well, holy crap, the woods behind our house are on fire. Lots of smoke. Ash is falling from the sky. Fire trucks from four local houses are parked all over our road. The Salvation Army has delivered a flippin' canteen truck. The state police helicopter keeps circling over head and the local police's ATV keeps zooming off into the woods looking for the fire no-one has yet to find.

Darlings, 2006 is not turning out to be my favoritest year.

Because I am, perhaps, unduly paranoid when it comes to the nasty curve balls the universe might throw me, I have collected all the "important" bits of paper I think we might need should our house burn to the ground, as well as a whole bunch of emotionally important things, and a couple changes of clothes.

Yes, I understand clothes are easily come by, but if my house burns to the ground, I do not think I will be in a fit state to even contemplate shopping.

Oh, look! The media has arrived! I feel so much better knowing we are a real news item! And look! The helicopter is dropping buckets of water! Maybe, it will all be over soon.

Please.

28 April 2006

Reads & Listens, April 2006

Reads:

When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
Almost a Woman by Esmeralda Santiago

Written and set before My Turkish Lover these two autobiographies explore Santiago's early life in Puerto Rico and her young adulthood in Brooklyn. I expected to feel for Negi, but it was really Mami I was moved by.

The Thing About Jane Spring by Sharon Krum
The thing about Jane Spring is she can't keep a man. Blonde and leggy is good for attracting the men, but acting like a real ball-breaker won't keep them, apparently. Rather than modify some of her behavior, Jane completely chucks her old self to become a Doris Day clone (and not the real Doris Day, either, but the fictional one we see in the movies) ... it sounds dreadful, doesn't it? Well, it didn't seem so at the time. While reading, the story seemed utterly preposterous, but fun. In hindsight, however, it's utterly cringe-worthy. Must now go read The Truth About Abortion to clean out my brain.

The Legend of the Wandering King by Laura Gallego Garcia (trans. by Dan Bellm)
Jealous of another poet, prince Walid ibn Huyr is driven to commit terrible acts with grave repercussions. A nice combination of morality tale, adventure story, and romance.

Mary Seacole: The Most Famous Black Woman of the Victorian Age by Jane Robinson
Utterly fascinating.

The Diary of Pelly D by L.J. Anderson
Why gills? I mean, I think I know why the author gave her characters gills, but why did the characters think they had gills? What was the purpose of gills?

The Double Task by Gray Jacobik
Thank god for poetry-loving colleagues -- I would never have cracked this volume were it not for their enthusiasm and praise for the author.

The Cat Lady by Dick King-Smith (illus. by John Eastwood)
Somewhere in 1901 England, Muriel Ponsonby ("the Catlady") lives alone in a big country house with a lot of cats (some of whom she believes are reincarnated people). This is a very gentle, sympathetic, and loving story suitable for most cat lovers (story reads at about 3rd grade level).

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
I owned this book for two years before I read it and even then I didn't read my own copy, but borrowed a paperback out of the library book sale bin, instead. Why??? Why did I wait so long to read such a good book?

The Dangerouse Debutante by Kasey Michaels
Tempestuous raven-haired girlie is packed off to London for a Season in hopes someone will tame her/marry her. Immediately meets extremely unsuitable older man and falls in love. Story includes a bit of espionage, smuggling, and voodoo for extra flavor. Overall, a nice bit of fluff, but still a series novel and so full of people I would only care about if I had read or was planning to read the other books.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline)
Be prepared to cry.

Reads:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (read by Shelly Frasier)
I was so impressed by Frasier's reading of Animals in Translation that I went looking for other books she had read. How could I resist listening to her read Green Gables -- one of my most favorite books ever? Double yum with knobs on, dahlings. Frasier and Tantor have done another bang-up job and Frasier's voice, in my mind, is now forever the voice of Anne. I look forward to listening to Anne of Avonlea next.

13 April 2006

Varenyky? Pyrohy? Pirogi? What??

My mother and I got together today to make pirogies. My mother has made them before, but it was a whole new experience for me. While I've been a devoted pirogi eater all my life, the mysteries of pirogi makery seemed far beyond my ken. But, thanks to a family kerfuffle and the resulting break in the pirogi supply chain, my mother and I had been left to our own devices pirogi-wise. And, as we cannot have a proper Easter without them, we made them ourselves today in my mother's kitchen using Blind Grandma's (my maternal great-grandmother) rolling pin and authentic recipe.

Well, her supposed "authentic" recipe. If you hear my grandmother tell it, Blind Grandma brought this recipe all the way over from the Old Country and there is no other recipe that yields pirogies as good as this one. If you listen to my mother and aunts, however, they'll tell you Blind Grandma never wrote down her recipe and the pirogies we make today owe as much to a recipe in the newspaper forty years ago as they do to Blind Grandma. Regardless of its origins, the recipe makes pretty good pirogies and this is how it goes:
To Make Varenyky (Pyrohy)

3 tsp oil
about 1 cup lukewarm water or skim milk
4 cups flour
½ tsp cream of tartar
1/3 cup minced onion
¾ cup mashed potato
¾ cup dry large curd cottage cheese (drain in lined strainer in fridge for 24 hrs)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix cream of tartar and flour together. Add 2 tsp oil and enough liquid to flour mixture to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a freshly floured surface and knead slightly (don't over knead or you'll get really chewy pirogies), 10 to 12 times. Cover and let rest 30 minutes. While dough rests, sauté onion in remaining 1 tsp of oil until tender. Combine with mashed potato, cottage cheese, salt and pepper and set aside.

Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each half until about 1/8 inch thick. Use a cup or glass to cut out 3-inch rounds. Place a rounded teaspoon of potato mixture in the center of each round. Fold rounds in half and firmly press edges together (crimp edges with a fork if you want more decorative pirogies). Place on a kitchen towel and keep covered with another towel until all pirogies are assembled.

Gently plop six at a time into a large pot of boiling water. Boil uncovered until the pirogies bob to the top. Lift out with a slotted spoon and put in a colander. Rinse under warm water and drain. Place back on towel to dry while the others boil. When all are boiled, leave on towel and chop one large sweet (vidalia) onion. Fry in butter until well browned.

Put a little onion at the bottom of a baking pan. Top with a layer of pirogies and then more onion and then more pirogies and then the rest of the onion. Cover and refrigerate overnight1.

Bake uncovered at 350° for 30-60 minutes or until the pirogies are just warmed through. Serve with sour cream.

This recipe makes approximately three dozen pirogies. My mother usually doubles the amount of minced onion and mashed potato she makes, knowing she'll need more than the recipe calls for (eats any extra filling with dinner as if it were regular mashed potato). However, if you are a parsimonious cook, you might be able to stretch the one batch out.

1 You don't have to refrigerate the pirogies overnight, but they taste better when we do.

02 April 2006

You Say Hoover, I Say Vacuum

We bought a new vacuum this weekend, because The Husband could no longer abide our old suckless one. The Husband, you know, is the one who vacuums. I do not vacuum. I do a lot of other things, but not that. That is The Husband's Responsibility. And he does a good job, too.

Even if he calls it "hoovering."

I'm not sure if any of the staff at Sears believed it. The stock guy who carried it to the car seemed to think that, if The Husband vacuumed, it was something he did to humor the little woman and would probably have preferred to purchase a big screen television (which we already have, thank you, because you can't properly game or watch food pr0n on a itty-bitty screen). And the salesperson who sold us the vacuum initially kept talking at me about the vacuums, too, even though I kept alluding to The Husband being the vacuum king. Grr. People, why is this so hard to grasp? I. Do. Not. Vacuum. I do not give a toss about vacuums. As long as the floors are clean when I come home from work Saturday or Sunday, I don't really care how they got that way. He could have trained the cats to do coordinated carpet licking, for all I know.

In general, I cook the meals, dust, tidy, and wash the floors. He vacuums and cleans up cat sick. We both run the dishwasher and do laundry. Maybe, the housework is not evenly shared out enough to suit my more feministic sensibilities, but it seems to work with minimal bloodshed or shouting. Most days, that's good enough.

So, anyway, The Husband seems to have picked out a pretty good vacuum. I borrowed the October 2005 issue of Consumer Reports where they rated a bunch of vacuums ("Vacuums: Style vs. Performance," pgs 43-45) and he read the article, took some notes, and then we hied off to Sears whereupon we discovered that the models they had for sale where newer than the ones reviewed (of course). Also, they all mostly looked like highly breakable plastic toys in primary colors rather than something that could suck pounds of cat hair out of our carpets every week. Finally settled on the Kenmore Progressive with "Direct Drive" and The Husband seems pretty satisfied with it.

Now we just have to figure out what to do with the old clunker vacuum. It won't fit it the bin without quite a bit of disassembling and then, you know, it's going to take up the whole bin. I suppose we could disassemble it and then throw a little bit out each week until all the evidence is gone. Or it can just live on the back porch for a while ...

30 March 2006

Reads & Listens, March 2006

Reads:

Silver Screen by Justina Robson
By the author of Natural History which totally rocked my world. This book is not a new book -- first published in the UK in 1999, but only released in the US in 2005 -- and neither are the questions it raises. However, it is a very good book and well worth reading. Like Natural History, it's the kind of book whose ideas stick with me and skew my interpretation of the world for weeks (if not months) after reading.

Nurse Matilda by Christianna Brand (illus. by Edward Ardizzone)
I wouldn't give this to a child who liked the film without some explanation of the differences between the stories and the movie as the two are only loosely related. Stories are mostly amusing with lots of British-isms (obviously), but are also extremely repetitious.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Exquisite. I'm not usually keen on vampire stories, but this book was so well written with relatable characters who behave in very realistic ways and fantasy elements that were approached so originally that I find I'd like to read it again. I'd happily put this right up there with McKinley's Sunshine.

Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (read by Paul Hecht)
The Illustrated Man was the first Bradbury book I ever read. Yes, way back in seventh grade, it knocked my socks off. While the stories don't move me as much as the used to (many are a lot less terrifying and the gender roles depicted in most of the stories simply annoy the bejeesus out of me), listening to them was still a good way to pass the commute.

Mortal Engines (Hungry City Chronicles, Book One) by Philip Reeve
Winner of the Nestle Smarties Award. Shortlisted for the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year. 2003 Blue Peter Book of the Year. 2006 Nutmeg Children's Book Award nominee. And seriously good. Brilliant, even.

Daniel, Half Human: and the Good Nazi by David Chotjewitz (trans. by Doris Orgel)
A Batchelder Honor Book. Moving novel about Daniel, a boy from a well-to-do family, who makes friends with Armin, a working-class boy, who is as enthusiastic about the Nazis party and Hitler as Daniel. Alas, it is discovered Daniel is half-Jewish (hence, half-human) and what happens with Armin is both horrible and unsurprising. Not a book for people who like happy endings.

Listens:

Eat Cake written & read by Jeanne Ray
Mostly amusing story about a family in crisis and how a middle-aged Minneapolis housewife reinvents herself through ... cake ... in order to save her family. Luscious foodie talk and lots of interesting characters. Audiobook quality was, sadly, not good. Ray makes a lot of mistakes in her reading and those mistakes where not edited out by the fine people at Brilliance Audio so the flow and rhythm of the story is marred.

The Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis (read by Kenneth Branagh)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis (read by Michael York)

As a child, I read the Narnia books in the order they were written -- not the order in which they were set. As an adult, I'm listening to them in the order they are set and discovering that is not a good idea. After listening to The Magician's Nephew, Wardrobe seemed much less magical and surprising. However, I always loathed the Pevensies so maybe that's just personal bias kicking in. Will skip ahead to The Silver Chair, I think. The boxed set is physically very attractive. It's by Harper Collins and consists of a laminated box with slipcase and seven CD books nestled in their own individual slipcases. Everything (including the CDs) are decorated with illustrations from the books and are just delightful to look at and use. However, the readers haven't been all that great so far. As the narrator of Wardrobe, Michael York's tone is almost one of condensation and his Aslan just makes me wince.

Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson (read by Shelly Frasier)
Stunning. I learned far more about animal (and human) behavior listening to this book than I ever learned in a lecture hall. It is one of those books that permanently alter your view of the world. Everyone should read or listen to this book.

Shelly Frasier and Tantor also did a bang up job producing this audiobook. I look forward to listening other Tantor products and hope Frasier's other recordings are as good.

29 March 2006

Call Me Betty ... Betty Crocker, That Is.

I'm teaching myself to bake. This week I made a angel food cake care of The Best Light Recipe (America's Test Kitchen, 2006) and a sponge using the "Egg-Yolk Sponge Cake" from Allrecipes.com. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have attempted two scratch recipes on the same day, but the angel food cake yields a dirth of yolk, sponge cakes are usually good for eating up yolks, and I wasn't sure how long I could keep the yolks. The eggs had been brought to room temperature for the angel food cake, so I didn't think I could re-refrigerate the yolks without worrying about food safety issues.

Anyway, the angel food cake came out really nice. I used my new Baker's Secret ring pan with the removable bottom. Bought it last week at the kitchen outlet place and was all pleased with myself until I realized I should have gone with the footed model. With no legs to stand on, the recipe recommended impaling the pan on a long-necked bottle, but that seemed like a sure way to end up with glass and vodka all over the kitchen floor. Instead, I formed a triangle with three Muir Glen soup cans and then perched the cake on them. It worked out pretty well.

The whole recipe worked out pretty well, actually. Aside from The Husband's cheesecake bottom problem, the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen recipes have always worked out well. The developmental history of each recipe make for good reads, the illustrations are a godsend, and the instructions for the recipes themselves are almost always clear and correct. Anyway, the cake seems all that an angel food cake should be -- tall, light, and a uniform golden brown. It tastes, sayeth The Husband, like pancakes. I know not what he means, but it must be a good thing considering the quantity of cake he has eaten.

Now, the sponge cake was not quite what I had envisioned. Blame it on Anglophilia if you will, but when I think sponge I think Victoria Sponge and that's what I was expecting this cake to come out like. Tremendously moist, yet lighter than air. What I ended up with was certainly good, but was more like a moist yellow cake than anything. This is, quite probably, my fault. I may have over-folded, because I wasn't sure what "folding" was, causing the cake to be less airy than it ought to have been. But that is okay, too. This whole caking baking thing is all about practice and improving my skillz.

In other news, Kingdom Hearts II released today and, oh my, am I ever excited. For the first time ever, I went to a shop and purchased a game the same day it was released. Usually, it's months before I give in to temptation and buy one. Not this time. No. Must have now. (We also bought Tetris DS so The Husband would have something to do while I hogged the television). I have to decide if I'm going to start playing straightaway when I come home tomorrow or whether I should make myself wait a few days to heighten my pleasure when I finally do tear off the cellophane wrapper and pop open the box.

Maybe I'll wait until I bake my next cake. Then I can play while it's baking, but not end up anchored to the couch for hours, and later I will be able to eat sweet, sweet cake and game at the same time.

28 February 2006

Reads & Listens, February 2006

Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak by Kenneth S. Duffeyes
So we're going to run out of oil one of these days -- what can we do to end our crippling dependency on it? Switch over to other non-renewable energy sources like natural gas or coal? Go nuclear? Invest in "alternative" energies like solar, wind, and hydrogen? Duffeyes examines all the possibilities and weighs the pros and cons of each.

Two Little Lies by Liz Carlyle
Contessa Viviana Alessandri was, in her youth, an opera singer who got knocked up by the future Earl of Wynwood. Knowing he wouldn't marry her, she returned to her native Venice to marry her father's control freak of a patron. Now widowed, she has returned to England and, of course, runs into the new Earl of Wynwood. Sparks fly. Hearts break. Love conquers all. And so forth. I liked Viviana best when she wasn't with the Earl (who seemed like so much of a cad most of the time) and I really enjoyed her interaction with the secondary characters.

Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash by Liz Perle
I think this book was supposed to serve as some kind of wake-up call and empowerment tool, but all it did was depress me. Also annoyed me at points, because Perle was good at dropping one-line bombshells, but not footnoting them with the statistics or reports she drew that wisdom for. I mean, she sites a lot of different sources, but never on the bits that most interested me. And, damn, couldn't we have had more uplifting stories about women and their money to balance all the nightmare scenarios?

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Could we have a clone story in which the clone's problems don't have anything to do with her looking just like some dead girl? Clones are not copies. Granted, Haddix did cover the whole "clones don't behave identically" shtick, but still ... this book was than a little preposterous. Who thinks their twelve year old daughter is in danger and then hides her in the same tiny town where her identical dead sister/source lived and died? Hello? I know it's a YA novel, but must the parents be so stupid? And the ending? Must it be so tidy?

Dragon Keeper by Carole Wilkinson
What an enjoyable book! In China, many thousands of years ago, a slave girl rescues a dragon from certain death. They are now "free," but far from safety. They flee across China to the sea and have a whole series of adventures along the way. The witty dialogue, cryptic dragon wisdoms, and good use of historical detail make this book very hard to put down (I devoured it in less than two hours).

Syrup by Maxx Barry
Set in the wonderful world of Coca-Cola, marketing, and Hollywood, this is the first Maxx Barry book. While mostly funny and sharp, it sometimes falls flat. If you've never read any Barry novels, start with Jennifer Government and then try this one.

Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami
The first book in the Bindi Babes series. Amber, Jazz, and Geena are three (seemingly) perfect British Indian girls living with their (frequently absent) widowed father. One day, their "perfect" lives are turned upside down when their very traditional Auntie comes to stay with them. She drives them mad and they want nothing more than to get rid of her. Madcap adventures ensue. Very amusing YA novel and I look forward to reading the sequel.

Bollywood Babes by Narinder Dhami
Bollywood Babes is the second book in the Bindi Babes series and, sadly, not as funny as the first. The sisters don't stand out from each other at all and the story seems rushed and superficial. Still, will probably read Bhangra Babes when it comes out.

Good Girls Do by Cathie Linz
I thought the librarian bits of the story where quite good, but the whole "good girl/bad boy" love story was a bit unbelievable. And her "zany" family? They were so over the top, they were unfunny. On the other hand, I can easily see this novel being used as the basis for a two hour pilot for some cutesy sitcom.