30 July 2004

Reads & Listens, July 2004

Reads:

Yossel: April 19, 1943 by Joe Kubert
In this compelling graphic novel, Kubert explores what might have happened if his family hadn't migrated from Poland in 1926. The rough penciled illustrations and the overall sketchbook feel of this book make reading it a very intimate experience. While I knew very well there could be no happy ever after, the ending hurt, anyway.

Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed
In Reed's near future America Beauty is God and if you don't fit the accepted mold then there are ways of making you fit. For your own good, of course. Supposedly, a chilling satire, but the novel just seemed kind-of sucky to me. I know, not very erudite, but I'm not Booklist or Publisher's Weekly, now am I?

War of the Flowers by Tad Williams
Failed rock star wannabee is sucked into Fairy Land ... too long and pretty unspectacular. I don't know ... it seemed like Stephenson's Diamond Age crossed with Gaiman's Stardust and then extra bits whacked on to thicken it up.

Kill Your Boyfriend by Grant Morrison, Philip Bond, D'Israeli, and Daniel Vozzo.
Girl, seeing the dead-end life she's headed for, meets an unsuitable lad and goes on a crime spree which culminates in a showdown at Blackpool Tower (I mean, who hasn't fantasized about blowing that sucker up?). A fast paced, funny, and deliciously twisted read. My only real disappoint was the end -- it came too soon and left me with too many questions.

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
A witty and intelligent response to those claims that Austen's life was one of little incident. Full of deliciously gossipy details about Austen's family and neighbors. Wonderful.

The Singer of All Songs (Book One of the Chanters of Tremaris Trilogy) by Kate Constable
Priestess runs off with mysterious wounded stranger after evil dude comes to her land to kill him and master her group's particular kind of magic. Most of the story centers around trying to outwit and destroy the evil dude (he wants to become the "Singer of All Songs" and rule the world). Although the world building was pretty good, the people in it seemed like stock characters and it was hard to muster up any real concern for them. I'm guessing that the priestess will be revealed as the real Singer in later books and save the world. Or something.

Inventing Elliot by Graham Gardner
After having the crap beat out of him at his old school, Elliott is desperate to fit in at his new one. Ironically, he does such a good job of "standing out in the right way" that he attracts the interest of The Guardians -- 1984 inspired student organization that runs the school ... Creepy little book well worth reading by any adult who thinks school's all sweetness and light. The plot does take a while to get going (Elliot's crisis of conscious doesn't come for ages and when it does, it's not as compelling as I expected) and sometimes it is too heavy handed in its usage of elements from 1984, but then the YA audience this book is targeted at may never have ready Orwell. If you read The Chocolate War, you might like reading this.

Listens:

Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison (read by Stina Nielsen)
Double plus good with knobs on. Story is extremely funny, but also extremely "young Bridget Jones." Nielson does an excellent job narrating this novel -- she has just the right tone.

The Paid Companion by Amanda Quick (read by Michael Page) 
Ruined by her stepfather's failed investments, Elenora Lodge sets out to experience the world on her own terms. Along the way, she meets an Earl looking for a paid companion to act as his fiance while he hunts down his great-uncle's murderer (trust me, it sounds more complicated than it is). A pretty good story overall with none of the annoying Vanza rubbish found in other Quick books. Page does a good job handling descriptions, but his dialoging isn't brilliant. The voice for the Earl, in particular, is very nasal and unattractive.

30 June 2004

Reads & Listens, June 2004

Reads:

The Fattening Hut by Pat Lowry Collins
Prose poem. Painful.

Meridian: Flying Solo by Barbara Kesel (illus. by Steve McNiven, et al)
First seven issues of the Cross Gen series, Meridian. Nicely illustrated story about a gifted girl trying to get home to save her people. I haven't read a lot of comics since the Sandman and Death series, but this was just stunning. Can't wait to read the other volumes -- I borrowed the first volume from the library and it just tickles me to know we're finally buying comics. Or manga. Or graphic novels. Or whatever you call it.

Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders
Takes you room by room through a Victorian household and explains the whys and wherefores of housekeeping in that era. Includes excerpts from guides, diaries, novels, and poems of the day. Excellent companion book when watching 1900 House or reading a period novel.

The Peppered Moth by Margaret Drabble
Odd and rather bitter, but quite readable. Skipped the afterword in which Drabble talks about her mother, because I like the characters as they are now in my head and any hint of reality will wreck that.

Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the Country by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
Think Austen with wizards and you're not far off. Now, I like period novels, particularly with lots of cunning conversation and while this book has that in spades, it also has a strong sense of ... joy? The novel reads as if the authors had a grand time writing it (and, from the afterword, I guess they did). I look forward to reading the sequel, The Grand Tour, whenever it comes out.

A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
Edwardian Europe with witches. It's not jam packed with magic, so readers looking for alternate Harry Potters may be disappointed and the romantic subplot isn't very swoony so other readers may be put off, but if you're looking for something familiar yet strange and don't mind disorderly prose, then read this book. I'm not damning with faint praise -- I liked this book, but I understand it may not appeal to many. Their loss.

Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II by Emily Yellin
Fascinating. Using a wide range of sources, including personal interviews,letters and diaries, this book offers a look at what really went on with American women during WWII. Covers everything from Julia Child's work with the OSS ... to daily life at Topaz ... to the witch hunt for lesbians in the WACs ... to the dubious existence of Tokyo Rose ... and all points between.

Daughter of the Blood: Book One of the Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop
Bizarre, but I don't usually go for the whole demons and vampires thing. The evasive language ("broken on his spear") used to describe the heavily eroticized violence is rather sickening, too.

Linux for Non-Geeks: A Hands-On, Project-Based, Take-It-Slow Guidebook by Rickford Grant
Easier to get into and seemingly more usable than other guides on the market which either make me feel dumber than dirt or irritate the bejeesus out of me by reading like geekboy pr0n. Mmmm ... pr0n ...

And, golly, what flavor of Linux is it promoting? Why, it's Fedora Core One! Let's just hope the stock keeps going up, m'kay?

The Corset Diairies by Katie MacAlister
While story sounded rather entertaining -- a plump thirty-nine year old American genealogist plays the role of an American duchess in a British reality program and falls for the leading man -- the book was really quite dumb. So dumb and annoying, in fact, I gave up trying to read it and just skimmed the last half.

Deal With the Devil by Liz Carlyle
Aubrey "Montford," a widow with a young son, is the housekeeper at Cardow which is property of Giles Lorimer, Earl of Walrafen, who avoids Cardow because of its painful memories. When there is a murder, these two are thrown together and long buried secrets come to light ... Gah. Pretty okay if you're looking for something fluffy and immemorable. Maybe, I'm in the wrong mood for reading romance. Maybe, I should be reading some Irvine Welsh, instead. Mmmm ... Trainspotting for the fourth time ...

Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
Nac Mac Feegle! Tiffany Aching! Granny Weatherwax! Woo-hoo! While not the best Discworld novel ever, still pretty great.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen & Bahija Lovejoy
Based on a folktale from Iraq. A strong-willed young woman disguises herself as a man and travels by caravan to a distant city where she sets up shop to help her impoverished family. Good plot, excellent use of language, and sweetly romantic.

Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller
Also published as A Place for Us (1967). Classic lesbian fiction about two young women in early 19th century Connecticut who fall in love. Really good romance told from both points of view. Funny and loving, but not all cutesy pie. There's an interview with Miller here.

Megatokyo, Volume 1 by Fred Gallagher & Rodney Gaston
Adventures of two Americans in Tokyo. I'm not l33t enough to appreciate this comic, because it didn't seem all that amusing to me (but, I love the t-shirts)? The Husband liked this collection a lot, and I'm guessin' he's representative of the key demographic. All l33t hax0r an' shit.

Back Home by Michelle Magorian
At age seven, Rusty was evacuated to America. Now that the War's over, she's returned home to find everything is more strange than familiar. Lots of conflict between American and English social norms -- after reading this book, I could really hate the English middle class. There are no surprises in this book (you can see everything coming a mile off), but it's still a good read and a nice YA introduction to English life post WW2.

The Forestwife by Theresa Tomlinson
Mary doesn't want to marry the old dude her uncle's picked for her so she hies herself off to the woods where she befriends the Forestwife and falls in love with some ne'er-do-well named Robin. Pretty interesting story and Mary is a strong female protagonist. However, there are some pretty heavy topics -- rape, miscarriages, and postpartum depression, as well as religious and familial skulduggery -- which may make this book a little mature for the juvenile collection (which is where my library files it).

Listens:

Wicked Widow by Amanda Quick (ready be Barbara Rosenblat)
A widow rumored to have murdered her husband seeks the aid of a mysterious Vanza master to free her from her husband's ghost who is out to destroy what is left of her family. More fun than Slightly Shady -- the dialog is quite amusing in places -- and the quasi-Eastern mysticism/martial arts rubbish isn't as annoying as in I Thee Wed. Rosenblat reads well, as always. Book is followed by an interview with Krentz (an ex-librarian) covering everything from how she writes to how romance literature is viewed.

17 June 2004

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Oh My!

I made pies for my Dad -- strawberry-rhubarb and lemon meringue! Who needs cake? I love strawberry rhubarb pie since this is the perfect time of year for it. Sure, you could use frozen rhubarb and out of season strawberries to make it in October, but that would be utterly disgusting. Proper strawberry rhubarb pie is made in June with local berries and fresh rhubarb out of the backyard. I cheat and use a ready-made refrigerated crust, but I dust it pretty liberally with ginger and cinnamon and then glaze it with egg or milk to give it a faux homemade look.

The filling recipe is straight out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, but I'm a bit more liberal with the spices and a bit more conservative with the sugar. The filling should not be a sugary gelatinous pink ooze, but moderately firm and chunky with the perfect mingling of rhubarb and strawberry flavors. The crust should be buttery (with just a whiff of ginger) and flaky -- not soggy and bland. Soggy and bland is always a no, dahlings.

Until Sunday, I had never made a meringue before. It always seemed really complicated and scary. Egg whites! Cream of tarter! All that sugar! And the whipping! So much whipping! And then it all collapses into a rubbery heap, anyway! Surprisingly, meringue making turned out pretty easy. I used the meringue recipe in the red-and-white Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook and it was all very straight forward. Oh, there was a lot of whipping to be sure, but that's what the KitchenAid is for.

Bless the KitchenAid.