Friday, September 25, 2009

Julie & Julia

By Julie Powell

Julie Powell was at a time in her life when things didn't seem so good. She had moved to New York City from Texas with her husband Eric in order to become an actress. This had not worked out. Instead she found herself working as a secretary in various temp positions which lead to a full time job at a government agency. It was a job that neither inspired her or fulfilled her, that was frequently aggravating and that was going nowhere. Then she found out that she had a medical condition that might prevent her from becoming pregnant, if and when she & Eric decided they wanted to start a family. Also, she was 29, facing 30 and all that that means.
Feeling dissatisfied with life and talking about it to her husband, he suggested she go to cooking school and when she turned that down, suggested she try blogging. And somehow the two ideas came together. But instead of cooking school, she would attempt to make all the recipes in Julia Child's cook book, MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, Volume I of II, which contains 524 recipes, within the space of one year and record her progress online in a blog. And so the story begins...
Not being familiar with the Julia Child cookbook, I didn't know what exactly she was taking on. Now, this cookbook sure as hell ain't no BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS or BETTY CROCKER type cookbook. No, this is the cookbook from hell. In this book you learn to make gelatin from scratch, which involves cooking calves feet until they produce the requisite jelling properties. It involves making your own mayonnaise and making broths from scratch. It involves splitting bones to get the marrow out to use in recipes. It involves cutting up a live lobster. This cookbook doesn't even want you to use boughten ladyfingers in recipes calling for them because the quality isn't up to Julia Child's high standards.
So this was quite a daunting goal she set for herself, never mind the chore of blogging about it nearly every day. But it turns out that Julie is quite an entertaining writer who doesn't mind sharing all her trials and tribulations with the world, even those incidents that many would keep hidden until death, like the time maggots were living under her dish drainer in the kitchen. EWWW! It wasn't long before Julie had quite a loyal following and eventually she attracted national attention. And it all ended with Julie succeeding in making all the recipes in the space of one year, getting a book deal, quitting her tedious government job, and now her book has been made into a movie starring Meryl Streep. What a deal.

I really enjoyed this book. Julie, like I said, writes a very entertaining story and following along as she masters the cookbook was fun, surprising, and informative. I never realized how much of French cooking involves simply masses of butter, just gobs and gobs of it. Some of the recipes Julie made took days to complete, requiring several pages of instructions in the cookbook. It really was quite an accomplishment making all those recipes, never mind that she did it all in just one year! What a woman and what a great book she has written.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Black Sun

By Robert Leininger

The sun gets sunspots. These are dark spots on the surface of the sun that are cooler than the rest of the surface. What if a sunspot occurred that just kept getting bigger and bigger? Since sunspots are cooler than normal, the sun would become cooler. And the effect on the Earth's climate would be devastating.
This is the premise for BLACK SUN.
Astrophysicist Maurice Tyler has predicted just such an event and it looks like his prediction is coming true. Certain elements within the government don't want Tyler's predictions made public, ostensibly to avoid widespread panic. In a misguided attempt to silence Tyler, a thug is sent to threaten him, with nasty consequences involving Tyler and a sexy female reporter who has been sent to get the scoop on Tyler's prediction. After confronting the thug, it quickly becomes apparent that the sun is cooling rapidly as daytime temperatures in July sink to wintry lows. Fearing more government thugs may be after him, Tyler and the woman, Gail, set off from Tyler's home in Arizona for California where Gail's young daughter is staying with her sister. The closer they get to their destination the more brutal conditions become, with ever increasing cold, snow and ice and a population in panic. Gail and Tyler fight their way to her daughter only to realized they are trapped in Los Angeles by the widespread panic and looting, with fires and destruction all around them. Somehow they have to get out of California and back to Tyler's place in rural Arizona where he has a shelter ready and stocked with everything necessary to survive the sun's brief but fatal decline.

When I first started reading this book, I thought it would be stupid. But it turns out to be a first rate story about an hopefully implausible but certainly frightening scenario. Although Tyler is the main character, the reporter Gail isn't just along as a love interest, she certainly holds her own in this tale of survival under the most trying circumstances. I can't judge the scientific accuracy of the premise of the story but it makes for a good tale. I especially enjoyed that Gail isn't waiting to be rescued but is an active participant in her own survival. This science fiction thriller is an exciting and gripping read.

13 Is the New 18

By Beth J. Harpaz

The author tells about how she coped with her son's transformation from little boy to restless teenager the year he turned 13. From a sweet, smart youngster to a gangly, deep-voiced young man in the space of a few short months, from a good student to an indifferent one, from spending time with his family to preferring to spend time on the streets hanging out with his friends. An exasperating, kind of scary time for his parents who realized pretty quick that there wasn't a lot they could do to keep their kid on the straight and narrow, that it would be mostly up to the young man himself. After a year fraught with guilt (her inner voice insists she is "a terrible mother") Beth sees her son pull himself out of his slump, gain new maturity and set his feet back on the straight path without getting himself in too much trouble, beyond an incident at prom involving alcohol and getting mugged on the street by a gang of toughs.

A pretty readable story, although the author's repeated declarations that she is a terrible mother wear a little thin after awhile. She's not a terrible mother and her kid is just a typical kid.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Redbird Christmas

By Fannie Flagg

Oswald Campbell isn't doing well at all. Suffering from a bad liver from years of drinking too much and bad lungs from years of smoking, Oswald has been told by his doctor that it is time to get his affairs in order. His doctor also advises Oswald to move away from Chicago to some place warmer to prolong what little he has left of his life. The doctor recommends a quiet, Southern backwater in Alabama, Lost River.
So Oswald moves to Lost River and discovers that maybe his life isn't quite over yet. Because Lost River, a very tiny community, welcomes him with open arms, with good food, good companions, peace and quiet and with a beautiful, warm environment.
Perched on the banks of Lost River, Oswald discovers the community is a mecca for migrating birds and he takes up an old interest that he never took the time to develop before, painting. He spends many hours quietly perched on the banks of the river, painting pictures mainly of birds. He gets so good at it he even manages to sell some of his works, generating a nice little extra income for himself.
But this story isn't just about how Oswald finds a new life for himself. It is also about a little crippled girl whose best friend in the world is a Jack, a cardinal, a little red bird that lives at the local grocery store.
Jack was irreparably injured as a young bird but was rescued by the owner of the grocery and he became a kind of mascot for the store, allowed to roam freely throughout the building. The little girl, Patsy, poor, unhealthy and neglected, became fascinated by the little bird and spent most of her time at the store and the two became great friends. That little redbird becomes the light of Patsy's blighted life.
But Lost River is a healing place, as Oswald can attest. And little Patsy may have a chance at a better life in the welcoming arms of the folks at Lost River.

I love this story. This is the second time I have read this book and I enjoyed it just as much this time as the first time. Lost River sounds like heaven on earth and the people of it are the kind of people anyone would wish to know. Yes, it is a total, escapist fantasy and such a place and such people don't really exist anywhere. But it so nice to take a break from the daily grind and go to a world where the folks are warm and welcoming, the climate is balmy and welcoming and where can miracles happen.

Everyone Is Beautiful

By Katherine Center

Lanie Coate and her husband Peter have just moved from Houston to Cambridge, Massachusetts with their three little boys. For Lanie it is a real change since she is leaving behind a home and family and friends that she has had all her life. But it is Peter's big chance to make it as a composer and she is willing to give it all up for him.
Their youngest child is under a year old and still nursing and Lanie hasn't managed to lose the baby weight yet, as is brought home to her very rudely when a stranger at the park asks her when her baby is due. So Lanie signs up for a gym and starts going to it to workout almost every night, even though it means Peter has to take precious time from his composing to look after the kids.
Surprisingly, Lanie chances to meet an acquaintance, Amanda, from high school who also has a young daughter and they strike up a friendship. Amanda is married to a very successful man and, compared to what the struggling Lanie & Peter have, is living the good life. She has a beautiful home, nice clothes, a quiet, well-behaved daughter, a rich husband. Plus Amanda is a beautiful woman, slim and always well-dressed and well-groomed. The opposite of Lanie, who is struggling with her weight, has three active little boys, and whose husband is just starting out in his profession and so money is very tight.
Still Lanie is trying to make the best of things and gets involved with a photography class when her mom sends her her old cameras. Lanie, who used to be quite a good painter, is now turning her artist's eye to photographs and it turns out she has a real knack for it. But problems arise when her teacher puts the move on her right in front of Peter resulting in a fist-fight and Peter maybe leaving home for good.

This was an OK story. Throughout the story, Lanie is pretty hard on herself, describing a life out of control with bratty kids, messy house, burned dinners and other such chaos. But in reality she manages pretty well, creating time to exercise, build friendships, take classes, and pursue her interest in photography. She is painted as a kind of sad sack but it turns out she really isn't one. Anymore than anyone is who is trying to raise three active little ones. So, even though she is struggling, she is only struggling with the things that everyone has to. It doesn't exactly make for the most compelling reading.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Love Bites

By Lynsay Sands

Rachel works in the morgue. One night a guy is brought in who was the victim of a car bomb. As she starts to prepare his body for the post mortem, she notices some rather odds things about his injuries. Like they seem to not be as bad as when his body was first brought in. And like maybe he has a heartbeat. But before she can take a closer look, a man bursts into the morgue and screams that the victim is a vampire and he wants to behead him with a large ax. Just as he swings the ax, Rachel, anxious to protect what maybe not a dead body but a living patient, steps in front of the ax and takes the brunt of it. It is a fatal blow. The man, seeing what he has done, flees.
Etienne, the dead body, wakes up to find Rachel dying. The only thing he can do to save her is to make her like him, a vampire. He and his family sneak her out of the hospital and to his house, there to guide her through the process of learning about the vampire life and, incidentally, to fall in love.

Like so many modern vampires, Etienne and family are not like the old-fashioned vamps. Yes, sun is a problem, but can be tolerated briefly. Garlic, crosses, holy water are not effective against them and they rely on packaged blood for nourishment. Biting people is frowned upon and those who do are dealt with by the vampire community. Oh and the vampirism is the result of a type of nano that lives off blood and keeps the vampire's body healthy and strong. As Rachel discovers when she completes the change over and finds that her breasts are perkier than she can ever remember. Also her scars disappear, including the fatal blow that almost resulted in her death. Which makes me wonder, if old injuries heal themselves, does that include her hymen? Which would of course continue to repair itself after each act of intercourse...
Anyway, this story is basically a romance novel with a vampire twist. It has lots of graphic sex scenes including one in which Rachel gives Etienne a blow job and finishes it off by biting his penis and drinking his blood. It's pretty gross. Not as gross as the blowjob talked about by the whore in PELIKAN, but still it's right up there. The story isn't too long on plot as most of the story scene never leaves Etienne's house except for a two brief excursions, one to a vampire night club and another to Etienne's mom's house. In fact, until the end when the ax guy finally makes his reappearance, there just isn't much happening at all. Just a lot sex. It's really just porn for women. I'm not a fan of it and, adding in the rather thin plot, I have to say I didn't really care for the book. There are several more in the series, of which I plan to read none.


By Kevin Brooks

Joe is a good kid from a good family. But then he meets and falls for a young street whore named Candy. Candy works for a bad guy pimp,Iggy, who controls her through her addiction to heroin. And Iggy doesn't care for Joe and Candy becoming buddies and he threatens to cut Joe's throat. But Joe can't stop thinking about her and he tracks Iggy to the house where he is keeping Candy. Joe manages to sneak in to see Candy but Iggy finds out and in the confrontation Candy busts him over the head and she and Joe escape, knowing that Iggy will do his worst to find them.
Joe takes Candy to a cottage his dad owns and stays with her as she goes through withdrawal but Iggy finds them and this time someone is going to die.

This was a pretty good story. Some parts were a little hard to swallow, like that Joe just happens to have a deserted cottage where he can take Candy and that his sister, who is a nurse, would let a kid like him take a drug addict to such a place unsupervised and all alone. Heroin withdrawal is not a pretty thing and it's hard to believe a nurse would agree to a kid handling it all on his own. Still it was pretty engrossing.