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.