Monday, March 30, 2009

The School of Esential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

A beautifully written, delicate book on human nature.

Lillian doesn't teach your typical cooking lessons. Instead, she offers an experiential safe place for these varied students to grow, learn, and bloom under the warm rays of Lillian's attentions.

Each member of the cooking class is there for a different reason - and each has his or her own chapter. The food and the lessons carry the students' thoughts through memories and mental tangents, weaving from the past to the task at hand and then on again. Their stories unfold for the reader gradually throughout the book, much like the characters' confidence unfolds through their Monday nights in the kitchen.

I really loved this book, and will be recommending it to many readers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Eat this

Eat this, Not That: supermarket survival guide by David Zinczenko

This entire series is interesting, but not the kind of book you'll sit down and read in one sitting. I've heard it described as bathroom reading. Actually, maybe it should be waiting room reading. Doctors are always trying to push healthy living. More of them should provide this series in their waiting rooms. You know you can never finish the one article you found interesting in the plethora of magazines before they take you to the exam room. If you had this available, it wouldn't matter where you stop, and you might learn something.

Really, this is the kind of book you want to examine before your next trip to the store. I learned that I've been buying the wrong tortilla chips for years. The ones I like have way too much vegetable oil.


Dewey. The small-town library cat who touched the world by Vicki Myron

Unlike my colleague, I enjoyed this book. Dewey enchanted me, yes, but so did the community of Spencer, Iowa. This book is about more than a sweet, beautiful cat. It's about all the people who knew that cat, and how they interacted with him.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog by Nancy Elis-Bell

If you love animals stories ...

What I enjoyed most about this book was its unique subject: a blue-and-gold macaw. Not a dog, or a cat, but a big opinionated bird with a personality. And I don't have anything against good dog or cat stories - but there are truly a million of them out there. How many bird books have you read?

When Ellis-Bell adopts Sarah, a rescue bird that had been wild-caught, injured, and mistreated throughout her life, she wasn't really prepared for the magnitude of their life changes. Thank heavens her husband is so laid-back and agreeable, because Sarah upends their whole lives. There were definitely times where I thought, "Have you lost your mind, woman?" Eventually, even Ellis-Bell ponders what kind of adoptive mother she has become to all her other critters, once Sarah has established her reign of terror.

It's an interesting book, and especially informative about the quirks of bird personality. Many chapters were just a couple pages, and Ellis-Bell doesn't get bogged down in chronology - sometimes an uneventful year just flits by between chapters, summed up in a sentence or two, which helped to keep the narrative moving along briskly.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Our library's bookclub chose this book, and I'm sorry I had to miss the discussion.

Ehrenreich decided the best way to research a "living wage" was to try it. So temporarily, she left her husband and home to moved across the country, get a job, and find a place to live. Could it be done? She made a point to live on only what she could earn, and to use only life skills not earned by way of higher education or wealth. When she could no longer afford to live on her earnings, the experiment was over.

She repeats this scenario three times: as a waitress and hotel maid in Florida, working as a nursing home aid and cleaning houses in Maine, and a final stint (and her ultimate breaking point) in the Wal-mart women's clothing department in Minnesota.

The lengths to which she must stretch and conform to find housing is eye-opening. Each job will teach you a bit about things we each take for granted in the world around us. But the Wal-mart job ... well that's the one you'll remember.

Fuck You: Rock and Roll Portraits by Neil Zlozower

Were you an 80's or 90's metal rock maniac? Then this book will be a trip down memory lane.

Zloz has been one of rock's premiere photographers for almost 40 years. He took many of the photos you ripped out of fan magazines and plastered all over your bedroom walls. When he considered publishing a retrospective of his work, well, this is what happened. Every picture shows some rocker giving the finger. There's almost no text - only photo subject IDs and the year.

After the first 25 pictures or so, you really don't even notice the bird anymore: too much shock value leads to no shock at all. Instead, you start remembering bands you'd forgotten, comparing now-and-then pictures of fallen rock gods, and laughing at wardrobe and hair choices from the early days.

I wouldn't recommend buying the book, but I did truly enjoy looking through it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

Your bookclub is going to love discussing this one!

Truly Plaice has carved out a tiny little life, despite her giant size. Ostracized since birth, nobody seems to want her - her mother died in childbirth, her father never forgave her, her sister's adoptive family rejects her, and the townspeople ridicule her at every opportunity. She finally finds a true home with the poor, outcast Dyerson clan on their broken-down out-of-the-way farm.

Secrets large and small weigh heavily in this book, and it's only upon their release that anyone finds peace ... but some at a much higher cost than others.

As a quilter, I loved the fact that a quilt plays a major part in the story without it being a "quilter's story." This book will hook you early and won't let you go, even after you've turned the final page.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

After I finished reading this "tween" book, I flipped to the endpaper to see what else Forester had written. I wanted to reserve more ... YIKES! Her first book? Wow.

You know going in that something will have to make Piper McCloud very special, because life in the McCloud family is so ... so ... so normal. And regular. When her amazing talent is discovered, she is briskly approached and swept away to a special school for those with extraordinary talents. It's heavenly, it's wonderful, everything's great - except that one boy who's mean. Then everything gets turned upside down, and the mean boy may be the only good person Piper knows.

I really enjoyed this book. It wasn't predictable, and it was fun to discover the kids' unique abilities and how they can be utilized.

Late last year I read and loved "The Mysterious Benedict Society" by Trenton Lee Stewart. The two books are quite different, but also somewhat similar in tone and enthusiasm. I can see encouraging the same kids to try them both.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

If you've been dying to see Carrie Fisher's stage performances, read this book.

Otherwise, go back and read "Postcards from the Edge" or "Delusions of Grandma." They were just as autobiographical, and much more coherent. And funny. They were really funny and quick.

Although Star Wars fiends will relish her new tidbits on "character development" and behind-the-scenes peeks. (It was Harrison's weed that finally did her in!)

I think Carrie Fisher is one of the funniest women on the planet, and this book does her humor no justice. If you don't already know everything about her, it won't make sense. If you do know everything about her, you've already read better work.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

I've commonly expressed some hesitation toward all works of non-vampire science fiction/fantasy, and this new-er "Dresden Files" series (this first book is from 2000) was recommended to change my mind.

It worked! Almost like magic ...

Harry Dresden is a modern day wizard. He's got a steady side gig working with the police department's unexplained cases department and an unsteady regular gig as a yellow pages listed wizard-for-hire. He can barely keep the rent paid, but at least he doesn't have to worry about the lights - electronics and Harry don't play nice, so mostly he just conjures by candlelight and avoids all types of machinery and technology.

The book's vibe is one part classic pot-boiler private investigator story, one part modern butt-kickin' slayer of evil sh*t from places we don't want to think about. It had a token vampire for me, a demon, some fairies, a talking skull ... and seemed like it could really happen?

I can't wait to try the next book, "Fool Moon."

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows

I listened to this outstanding audiobook, which uses 4 narrators to help aurally break down the multiple letter writers' voices for your convenience, and would highly recommend giving it a try.

The whole tale is told in letters - betweeen Londoner Juliet Ashton, her friends and swains, and a new group of friends she develops on the Channel Island of Guernsey. While the book is set just after the defeat of the Germans in WWII, through the correspondences we learn the World War II tales and fates of many of these common Europeans: bombings, occupations, emprisonments, separations and shortages.

The book made me think, made me laugh, and stayed with me throughout my day. I was slightly disappointed with the ending, but not enough to stop me from recommending that you give this tale a try.