Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch surprised me. It is simply a delightful book. Blessed Are the Cheesemakers was published in 2002 and my hardcover copy is 324 pages. Very simply, it is the story of two old Irish cheesemakers who are waiting for their successors to miraculously arrive. But the story is so much better than that, for example the cows are milked by pregnant vegetarians who sing along to "The Sound of Music" soundtrack as they milk. I highly recommend this book.

From Amazon:
In the spirit of Chocolat, Lynch's debut novel is a tender love story told through the medium of food, in this case cheese. In County Cork, Ireland, Joseph Corrigan and Joseph Feehan, better known as Corrie and Fee, are the aging manufacturers of world-renowned Coolarney Blue. Their chief worry is a conspicuous lack of successors, and the narrative chronicles the solution to their quest in the unlikely but fated convergence of two characters. Abbey Corrigan, granddaughter of worrywart Corrie, who hasn't seen her in 24 years, sits abandoned on the Pacific Island Ate'ate while her irrigation-obsessed and hypercritical husband gets biblical with the natives. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Kit Stephens is a burned-out stockbroker and despondent alcoholic, heartbroken by the recent departure of his wife and now fired from his job. In a series of fantastic coincidences, the two end up at the Coolarney factory, a meeting that will forever change their lives and the future of cheese. In an engaging and humorous style, Lynch details the cheesemaking process (sun, rain, a salty sea breeze and of course, grass, are the essential ingredients, along with constant music and a secret mold), and enlivens the narrative with eccentric, loquacious and comical characters, including three ginger cats named Jesus, Mary and All the Saints. The pace of this heartwarming novel is brisk, and the background detail so colorful that the reader will henceforth eat cheese with a new appreciation for its magical properties. From Publishers Weekly

"The Princess (a cheese) oozed annoyance. She emanated anger. She fumed. Literally. She fumed. And when a good Princess turns bad, it was an eye-watering experience."

"Her mother had always told her that she'd blossom "overnight" but then her mother had also told her that Santa Claus was a child molester and that it was good luck to have nobody remember your birthday, so she hadn't been holding her breath."

"Corrie and Fee, like other artisan cheesemakers around them, had been forced to undergo inspections by pimply young men with thick spectacles and excessive dandruff who had tut-tutted a lot and written very tidy notes on gleaming clipboards."

"In my experience there's not a state in the world that cannot be greatly improved by close proximity to cheese."

"Abbey and Kit were sitting on a tartan blanket under the oak tree on the hill behind the house, testing their dental work May's nut toffee. It was delicious, but something of a challenge orthodontically speaking."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Perfectly Good Family

A Perfectly Good Family by Lionel Shriver was originally released in Great Britain in 1996. My Harper Collins paperback edition is a 2007 re-release and is 277 pages long. While not as memorable as her novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, this is still a very good book. You need to know that every character in A Perfectly Good Family is realistically flawed. In fact none of the characters are particularly likable at all, but much like any real family drama, what will happen in the end compels you to finish reading. A Perfectly Good Family is highly recommended
From Amazon:
Following the death of her worthy liberal parents, Corlis McCrea moves back into her family's grand Reconstruction mansion in North Carolina, willed to all three siblings. Her timid younger brother has never left home. When her bullying black-sheep older brother moves into "his" house as well, it's war.
Each heir wants the house. Yet to buy the other out, two siblings must team against one. Just as in girlhood, Corlis is torn between allying with the decent but fearful youngest and the iconoclastic eldest, who covets his legacy to destroy it. A Perfectly Good Family is a stunning examination of inheritance, literal and psychological: what we take from our parents, what we discard, and what we are stuck with, like it or not.
Shriver continues to use her extensive vocabulary in order to employ the right word for everything. She is a masterful writer and I am in awe of that fact alone. In the back of my copy is information about Shriver written by Shriver. She says she is a pedant, She insists on correct word pronunciation and usage going so far to correct people, so she has no friends. Although I know she would find cause to correct me if we were to ever meet, I can't help but like her (from a distance) for revealing this annoying flaw.


"My mother crafted an emotion in front of herself, much the way I worked up a sculpture - patting here, smoothing the rough edges, and only presenting it when fashioned to her satisfaction, My experience of real feelings, however, is that they do not take shape on a turntable in view, but loom up behind, brutal and square, and heavily dangerous like a bag of unwedged clay hurtled at the back of your neck. Feelings for me are less like sculpture and more like being mugged."

" 'Then it hit me: Strauss, stale crackers, hard cheese, and guilty politics - this was Sturges McCrea's idea of a good time.'
That's when the idea first entered my head that my parents might be tiresome to other people."

"In truth, not I but Truman had become the family flagellant. Barring that unconvincing tirade about routering baseboards, Truman overflowed with stories, like one of Mother's spurned apple pie, that only illustrated his neglect. I knew them all by heart."

"Around Mordecai I am impressionable, acquiescent, soft. Around Truman I am caustic, canny, imperious. They have completely different sisters."
"In any family there may be one worm, a single wriggle of corruption from which every other foulness spreads, and in the McCrea case the source-lie was that my parents were happily married. The irony? They were happily married. They just didn't believe it. They were afraid that... it might not keep, and so they turned a perfectly serviceable relationship into a religion and thereby into a fraud."

"Maybe the sibling relationship was intrinsically penultimate; maybe all our alliances with each other were brief marriages of convenience, and we tread a thin crust over a boiling magma of rivalry, which could readily spit to the surface as outright hatred. Maybe the real marvel was that we ever got along at all."

"Outside rare blow-outs, our family was congenitally civil. That doesn't sound like such a curse until you consider that as a consequence we didn't know how to fight; that is, fight within limits. Families accustomed to airing grievances understand that even when things heat up the rules may change, that does not mean that there are no rules; another set slides in, with wider margins but margins all the same. But we were conflict amateurs... so that when we finally said what we were thinking all hell broke loose."

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Bright Forever

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin is highly recommended. Originally published in 2005 my hardcover copy has 268 pages. The Bright Forever was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and definitely worth the distinction. Although some reviewers have compared The Bright Forever to Sebold's The Lovely Bones, in my opinion Martin's work is superior and I enjoyed it much more. As far as I can see, the only comparison is that they both involve the tragic death of a young girl. After setting the time and place, the story in The Bright Forever slowly unfolds from five points of view: four of the characters and a narrator. Martin is an elegant writer and this would be a great discussion book.

From Amazon:
"Thirty years after the fact, a schoolteacher in a small Indiana town narrates this gripping tale of a crime and the lives it has forever changed. On a quiet evening in July, nine-year-old Katie Mackey leaves home for the library, and never returns. In chapters written in different voices and jumping back and forth between that day and four days later, the author carefully lays out his simple yet mesmerizing plot, gradually revealing the dark secrets held by those involved--secrets that, when woven together, propel the action to its seemingly preordained conclusion. The teacher, Henry Dees, is a lonely misfit who longs for a child of his own. His neighbor hides a drug addiction even from his wife, and his discovery of Henry's secret longings gives him a sense of power. This lethal combination leads to a horrendous crime that leaves Henry wracked with guilt, knowing he'll "always be living that summer in that town." Martin's novel is hard to put down, as these dark and intertwined lives march inexorably to tragedy. ~ Deborah Donovan"

"I'm an old man now, and even though more than thirty years have gone by, I still remember that summer and its secrets, and the way the heat was and how the light stretched on into the evening like it would never leave."

"So that was how their friendship began, with this moment in the garage when they both admitted, without saying as much, that they were less than satisfied with the way their lives had turned out. They never said the words. They never said "lonely." They never said "afraid." They never spoke of the yearning or the wrong turns they'd taken over the years and the hard places they'd come to, but it was all plain in what they did say, which was, as Mr. Dees knew, as much as they could risk because they were just starting to get to know each other and how much could anyone stand to feel pulsing in another person's heart?"

"It embarrassed Mr. Dees for Ray to see how much the martins mattered to him. He couldn't begin to say what it did to him mornings when he heard their song."

"I couldn't have explained this then, but now I suspect that I had started to sense that he carried his own secrets, that he was expert in covering them over, that we were bound together by the dark lives we tried to hide."

"Life had gone on. It always did. That's what you learned as you got older. Time. It kept moving. You couldn't stop it. You couldn't go back to the moments you wish you could change. They were gone. They left you in a snap."

"I'd tell her there's always something around the corner, no matter how old you get, no matter how much you're sure you got a handle on things. Sooner or later you live long enough - I hope that girlie-girl got the chance - and the love and the heartache get all mixed up and that's what you've got."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

fat bottomed girls

It's true! As found in the Chicago Tribune, fat bottomed girls ARE smarter and they have smarter kids!

The brain/butt theory
November 18, 2007

We hope the Nobel Prize committee didn't miss this week's release of a groundbreaking study titled, "Waist-hip ratio and cognitive ability: Is gluteofemoral fat a privileged store of neurodevelopmental resources?"

Translation, for the benefit of you size zeroes out there: Are fat-bottomed girls smarter? Answer: Yes. They also have smarter kids, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Middle-age women reacted with glee -- "We're getting smarter every day!" -- and men with trepidation. (What's the right answer to the question, "Does this PhD make my butt look big?") Skeptics, most of whom likely tend toward the skinny side, seem to want to file the wider-is-wiser theory with that old baloney about men with bigger noses having bigger, um, noses. We've never seen any empirical evidence on that one.

The data on the brain/butt theory, though, is pretty convincing. In a study of more than 16,000 women, the curvy girls consistently outscored their slender counterparts on cognitive tests. Their kids outscored the skinny moms' kids too. But the researchers don't posit that bigger is automatically better. What matters is the size of the hips relative to the waist. That's because fat stored around the buttocks and thighs is high in omega-3 acids, which promote brain growth, while fat stored around the middle is loaded with omega-6 acids, which make your pants too tight.

Women with "pear" or "hourglass" shapes have greater reserves of omega-3, which nourishes their own brains and is essential to fetal brain development in the third trimester of pregnancy.

So grab a tape measure, girls, and see how your IQ stacks up. Just divide your waist size by your hip size. The smaller your answer, the better.

Now compare: Your typical runway model, with a 24-inch waist and 34-inch hips, has a waist-hip ratio of .71. Your average size 10, with a 28-inch waist and 39-inch hips, is a .72. Jennifer Lopez, at 26 and 39, is a .67.

And therein lies the scholarly merit of this study -- a scientific answer to what we thought was a rhetorical question: Why is J.Lo so hot? Because males have a biological imperative to produce intelligent offspring, that's why. "Men respond because it's reproductively important," explains Pitt's William Lassek, whose next study will no doubt attempt to identify the biological imperative associated with an eye for blonds. But let's not quibble.

The great thing about this study is, it lets everyone off the hook. Go ahead and gawk, guys. We know you're just searching for signs of a deep and genetically transferable intellect. And ladies, pass the nachos. Those size 4 jeans would just make you look dumb.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Eifelheim by Michael Flynn is a well crafted hard science fiction novel. Originally published in 2006, my hardcover copy is 320 pages. Flynn is a good writer, which makes Eifelheim a satisfying blend of hard science fiction and literature. To complete the total package, in Eifelheim Flynn has also meshed hard science fiction with historical fiction. The majority of the book takes place in the 14th century. The chapters from the present day are interspersed between the medieval story line and present the hard science fiction aspects of the story. The plot is two fold; basically an alien spacecraft crashes near a Medieval village and the villagers react to it while in the present day two university professors who are domestic partners from very different fields are working on their research projects. Just as the villagers meet the aliens, historical research meets physics. Flynn does a masterful job of blending the
authenticity of the historic characters with the extra-terrestrials, and, as one reviewer pointed out, there are no dragons.

Eifelheim is strongly recommended for fans of hard science fiction. I'm going to be looking into more of Michael Flynn's books.

From Amazon:
"In the fourteenth century, the Black Death ravaged Europe. Most towns decimated by it were eventually resettled, except for Eifelheim, despite its ideal location. Mathematical historian Tom discovers this anomaly and an unexpected connection to his domestic partner Sharon's research in theoretical physics, which seems to be leading to a method of interdimensional travel. In fact, as Eifelheim's priest back then, Father Dietrich, relates, before the plague's arrival, an interstellar ship crashed nearby. The encounters between its passengers and the people of Oberhochwald, as Eifelheim was first called, reflect the panoply of attitudes of the time, from fear of the foreign to love and charity for one's neighbors to the ideas of nascent natural philosophy (science), and the aliens' reactions are equally fascinating. Flynn credibly maintains the voice of a man whose worldview is based on concepts almost entirely foreign to the modern mind, and he makes a tense and thrilling story of historical research out of the contemporary portions of the tale. ~ Regina Schroeder"

"Sometimes he envied the monk his ability to stir men's hearts; but only sometimes. Stirred, a heart could be a terrible thing."

"It is not a beautiful thing, this world of hers. The geodesics are warped and twisted things. Space and time spiral off in curious, fractal vortices, in directions that have no name. Dimensions are quicksilver slippy - looked at sideways, they would vanish."

"There is something true about Sharon Nagy in that one half-missed detail: that she uses a pen and not a pencil. It betokens a sort of hubris."

"Sharon regarded his verbal popcorn much as a miser does a spendthrift. She was the sort of person for whom the expression, That goes without saying, really does induce silence."

"Yet, if the Krenken were ruled by instinctus, the rational appetite could not exist in them, since a higher appetite necessarily moved a lower one. Which meant that the Krenken were beasts."

And finally this gem which foretells a fable or two (keep in mind the Krenken are grasshopper like aliens):

"The krenken might have spent the summer building snug cottages instead of collecting butterflies and flowers."

Friday, November 23, 2007

finished Babysteps

I thought I had better note the fact that I finished the Babysteps Challenge!

I read:

The Post-Birthday World
by Lionel Shriver

The Chatham School Affair by Thomas Cook

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Te Vaka

I love the group Te Vaka. I blame Just me and her love of world music.
From the Te Vaka site:
The band Te Vaka, led by Opetaia Foa'i, has brought original, traditionally-influenced, contemporary Pacific music to the world. Te Vaka has released five internationally acclaimed albums and two DVDs. They have toured the world constantly since 1997 performing in over 30 countries, been nominated for two BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards, Best International Achievement Award for "Ki Mua" in 1999, the Best Roots Album for "Nukukehe" in 2003 and won Best Pacific Music Album for "Tutuki" in 2004 in the New Zealand Music Industry Awards.
For Christmas last year I ordered 3 of their CDs for Just me and me to share. We got "Tutuki", "Ki Mua", and "Nukukehe". We haven't gotten "Te Vaka" or their brand new CD "Olatia". Head's up squirrel girl! Yes, they have a new CD!

"The End of Hardbacks?"

Stephanie at Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic had an interesting post this week titled "The End of Hardbacks?":
"It seems that unless there is a "guaranteed profitable hardback market", then all books that are launched will now be in paperback format, and Picador is estimating that at least 80% of books will be released this way."
Then she posed the question:
"Do you think this would be a good thing or a bad thing?"
I've been thinking about this blog entry ever since I read it, knowing that I personally feel that ending hardbacks is a very bad thing. While I used to get paperbacks all the time and eagerly anticipated when a hardcover would be released in paperback, now I tend to get many authors in hardcover. When a beloved author releases a new book I will always look to get the hardcover, if at all possible. Any more I often look for used hardcovers that can be purchased as inexpensively as paperback. The print in hardcovers tends to be a bit larger too, and thus it is currently easier for me to read. Hardbacks are also more durable and last longer. I will concede that some of the larger paperback editions are also acceptable and I purchase them.
We're quickly approaching the time when I need to make a list of the best books I've read in 2007. This should be interesting. I may not be able to put definite numbers on them (i.e. my number one choice in 2007 is...) but I can probably come up with a top ten list.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle won the 1993 Booker Prize. It was originally published in 1993 and my paperback edition has 282 pages. Paddy Clarke lives in the working-class Irish town of Barrytown in the late 1960s. I was uncertain about how I felt about Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha until the very end of the book. This is one book that I would encourage people who are not initially enjoying it to stick with it until the end. The writing style really is a sort of a stream of consciousness from a 10 year old boy. The meaning of the title doesn't become clear until the end of the book (although a hint for those who read reviews: if someone refers to the "ha ha ha" as laughing, they didn't finish the book. It's a tad bit more poignant than that.) I appreciated this book after I finished it and recommend it. I did have to make myself continue reading it at one point, though.
From Amazon:
In Roddy Doyle's Booker Prize-winning novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, an Irish lad named Paddy rampages through the streets of Barrytown with a pack of like-minded hooligans, playing cowboys and Indians, etching their names in wet concrete, and setting fires. Roddy Doyle has captured the sensations and speech patterns of preadolescents with consummate skill, and managed to do so without resorting to sentimentality. Paddy Clarke and his friends are not bad boys; they're just a little bit restless. They're always taking sides, bullying each other, and secretly wishing they didn't have to. All they want is for something--anything--to happen.

Throughout the novel, Paddy teeters on the nervous verge of adolescence. In one scene, Paddy tries to make his little brother's hot water bottle explode, but gives up after stomping on it just one time: "I jumped on Sinbad's bottle. Nothing happened. I didn't do it again. Sometimes when nothing happened it was really getting ready to happen." Paddy Clarke senses that his world is about to change forever--and not necessarily for the better. When he realizes that his parents' marriage is falling apart, Paddy stays up all night listening, half-believing that his vigil will ward off further fighting. It doesn't work, but it is sweet and sad that he believes it might. Paddy's logic may be fuzzy, but his heart is in the right place. --Jill Marquis --

"You ran down to the jetty and jumped and shouted Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, and whoever got the most words out before they hit the water won. No one ever won. I once got as far as the second The but Kevin, the ref, said that my bum had gone into the water before I got to Of."

"Liam said she farted once when he was sitting beside her, during The Fugitive.
-Ladies can't fart.
-They can so
-No they can't; prove it.
-My granny always farts, said Ian McEvoy.
-Old ones can; not young ones."

"-Vigour, vigour, vigour!
For a day we called ourselves the Vigour Tribe. We got one of Sinbad's markers and did big V's on our chests, for Vigour. It was cold. The marker tickled. Big black V's."

"We charged through on our bikes. Bikes became important, our horses. We galloped them through the garage yards and made it to the other side. I tied a rope to the handlebars and hitched my bike to a pole whenever I got off it. We parked our bikes on verges so they could graze."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I Am the Messenger

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak was OK. The actual story, when Ed is receiving the cards and trying to figure out what his missions are, was engaging, however, it certainly was not as good as The Book Thief. My hardcover copy was originally published in 2002 and is 357 pages long.

I will conceded that there were parts of I Am the Messenger that were simply wonderful. Frankly, though, while the premise for the story was interesting, two parts of I Am the Messenger disappointed me: the language and the ending. Although I can handle quite a bit of adult language, I felt like there was simply too much swearing that involved taking the Lord's name in vain. I'd rather see the s- or f- word. Then, even though I can appreciate the ending, I didn't think it suited the book, so it was a huge let down. Add to these two major complaints all the sexual content and I also feel the book needs to be for an older audience. So, this book is only going to receive a limited recommendation by me with the notation to be forewarned about the language. If you want to read a great book by Zusak, get The Book Thief.

From Amazon:
Grade 9 Up - Nineteen-year-old cabbie Ed Kennedy has little in life to be proud of: his dad died of alcoholism, and he and his mom have few prospects for success. He has little to do except share a run-down apartment with his faithful yet smelly dog, drive his taxi, and play cards and drink with his amiable yet similarly washed-up friends. Then, after he stops a bank robbery, Ed begins receiving anonymous messages marked in code on playing cards in the mail, and almost immediately his life begins to swerve off its beaten-down path. Usually the messages instruct him to be at a certain address at a certain time. So with nothing to lose, Ed embarks on a series of missions as random as a toss of dice: sometimes daredevil, sometimes heartwarmingly safe. He rescues a woman from nightly rape by her husband. He brings a congregation to an abandoned parish. The ease with which he achieves results vacillates between facile and dangerous, and Ed's search for meaning drives him to complete every task. But the true driving force behind the novel itself is readers' knowledge that behind every turn looms the unknown presence - either good or evil - of the person or persons sending the messages. Zusak's characters, styling, and conversations are believably unpretentious, well conceived, and appropriately raw. Together, these key elements fuse into an enigmatically dark, almost film-noir atmosphere where unknowingly lost Ed Kennedy stumbles onto a mystery - or series of mysteries - that could very well make or break his life. - Hillias J. Martin, New York Public Library; From School Library Journal

Friday, November 16, 2007

withholding information

I've noticed something about myself that I've known for a long time, but never really pondered until after this last move. If a friend or family member calls and asks me, "How are you?" I will ALWAYS say, "Good!" or "Fine." even if things are not good or fine. Then, since other people don't seem to have this reticence, I will patiently listen to all their complaints, woes, struggles, illnesses, and whines for a very, very long time. It is at this point, after the caller has exhausted all their issues, that I might see if they'll listen to me. Maybe. I might say what is really going on in my life or I might not say a word.

Often I've found that once I'm ready to open up, the caller is ready to say "Bye!" and go about their business. People rarely extend the same patience in listening to me as I extend to them. Interesting, huh? There are only a few people who can get me to open up sooner than "my" time frame or who I will immediately and honestly share my concerns with on the phone. This little quirk of mine has also helped me to know who really cares about what is going on in my life. If I could recall when this behavior pattern started, I could probably figure out why it started. I have a feeling it began many years ago, when some "friend" enjoyed talking about themselves and I stayed their friend because I enabled this behavior by learning to repress my concerns.

I do have several online friends that I've known for years. They tend to hear exactly what is going on in my life. Maybe that is why we are friends. Perhaps we wouldn't be friends if we talked on the phone and I did my weird withholding information habit until they were done talking. Or perhaps they are people who are more like me and we can be more forthcoming online because they know I'm "listening" to them and I know they'll wait for me to tell it all when I'm ready. I have a feeling that even on the phone, I would open up to them right away because I trust them - but let's not test that, ok?

I also never say "Yes, it is a bad time" when asked if it's a good time, but that's a whole other issue.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Rock Orchard

The Rock Orchard by Paula Wall was originally published in 2005. My hardcover copy is 244 pages long. This was Wall's first novel. Her writing is reminiscent of Fannie Flagg - only it's not as good. Wall has considerably less character and plot development than Flagg. Although this was an enjoyable book to read, with it's one-dimensional characters it was also quite predictable and, in some ways, came off as an extended series of one liners. I enjoy humorous writing as much as the next person, but I also enjoy a little intelligent development to a novel beyond the obvious. Don't get me wrong, if you stumble across a copy, feel free to read it but know that it's not going to have a whole lot of depth. This would be a great recreational read for summer or over the holidays.

From Amazon:
The Belles have been in Leaper's Fork, Tennessee, since before the Civil War, and the Belle women have been strong, independent, and lusty. But in spite of their shocking behavior, the citizens of Leaper's Fork don't hesitate to come to them with their problems or have Belles lay hands on their newborn babies, for the Belles seem to have the sight as well. Charlotte likes to smoke cigars and make money. Not a fan of children, she nevertheless begrudgingly takes in her sister's child, Angela. Charlotte's child-raising technique is "free range," which ultimately leads to a young Angela begetting her own illegitimate daughter, Dixie. No one knows who the father is, but it doesn't slow down Angela and her sultry ways. The Belles' influence is felt throughout Leaper's Fork, and just as inviting are the townspeople in Wall's wonderfully endearing story of love, life, and change, and Wall's extraordinary and original style is the icing on one very enticing cake. Maria Hatton, Copyright © American Library Association.

"Despite her flawless track record [in predicting the future], Bedford Braxton Belle wouldn't listen when she told him hard liquor would be the death of him. You can lead a horse to water, but a jackass takes his whiskey straight up."

"Charlotte had no time for weak men or foolish women. She especially disliked tedious people. Since it had been her experience that most people were tedious, she disliked most people."

"Lettie was a born-again Baptist. It had been Charlotte's observation that while the Baptists and the Church of Christ shared the same how-to manual, there was considerable brand loyalty." (Note that this is a whole paragraph in the book.)

"Nothing ties the tongue like knowing a secret that would hurt a man more than the lie he is living."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Borrowed Finery

Borrowed Finery: A Memoir by novelist and children's book author Paula Fox was published in 2001 and is 210 pages. Borrowed Finery consists of a series of well written recollections of many brief episodes from her life as a child to a teen. These memories are presented without any analysis or self pity. "By chance, by good fortune, I had landed in the hands of rescuers," she writes, "a fire brigade that passed me along from person to person until I was safe." It wasn't until after I read the book that I learned she is Courtney Love's grandmother, and Linda Carroll, a famous therapist, is the child she gave up for adoption. Borrowed Finery was chosen as's Best of 2001. If you enjoy biographies, this is recommended.

From Amazon:

"In this elegant, wrenching memoir, Paula Fox looks at her childhood with the same detached acceptance of life's arbitrary cruelties that informs such acclaimed novels as Desperate Characters. Born in 1923, she was abandoned at a Manhattan foundling home by her alcoholic father at the insistence of her panic-stricken, 19-year-old mother. Paul and Elsie Fox were in no way prepared to take on the responsibility of a child, although they couldn't leave her alone either. Fox's austere narrative unflinchingly describes the couple swooping down on their daughter, who was being raised in upstate New York by a kindly minister, for visits that were as alarming as they were intermittent. For reasons best known to themselves (Fox does not attempt to analyze their motives), they removed her from the minister's home when she was 6, then bounced her among relatives, schools, and their own disordered care for the next 12 years, from Hollywood and Long Island to Cuba and Montreal. The restraint with which Fox describes these traumas is a reproach to all those maudlin memoirs of family dysfunction that have been so prevalent in recent years. She demonstrates that you can write about painful experiences honestly without wallowing in self-pity, and her prose here is as perfectly calibrated as it is in her novels. Thank goodness that this sad story is leavened by a running counterpoint of short passages showing young Paula discovering the pleasure of words and the power of literature. Though she too had an unwanted baby at an early age, the book closes with a moving scene of the author's reunion with the daughter she gave up for adoption. --Wendy Smith "


"For a moment the street was transformed into a familiar room in a beloved house."

"His excuses were made with a kind of fraudulent hardiness, as though he were boasting, not confessing. His handwriting, though, was beautiful, an orderly flight of birds across the yellowing pages."

"He said, 'Ah, well... people who've been parceled out and knocked around are always returning to the past, retracing their steps.' "

"My life was incoherent to me. I felt it quivering, spitting out broken teeth."

"What I had missed all the years of my life, up to the time when Linda and I met, was freedom of a certain kind: to speak without fear to a woman in my family."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Post-Birthday World

I was truly looking forward to reading The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver after reading her novel We Need To Talk About Kevin. The Post-Birthday World was published in 2007 and the hardcover edition has 517 pages.

In The Post-Birthday World we follow the life of Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator. She is in a long term relationship with Lawrence Trainer, a terrorism expert. While Lawrence is away on business he encourages her to dine out for what was a traditional birthday dinner with their newly divorced friend, Ramsey Acton, a champion snooker player. At the end of their evening, she finds herself desperately wanting to kiss Ramsey. It is at this junction that the story splits into two versions, or two alternate universes. In one Irina does not kiss Ramsey. In the other she does.

From Amazon:

"Lionel Shriver's wonderful new novel... creates parallel universes that indulge all our what-if speculations... Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator... admits, "The only thing I can't live without is a man." In this case, Shriver grants her two.

The first, Lawrence Trainer, a sweetly geeky terrorism expert, offers tranquil domesticity.... For more than nine years, "monogamy had been effortless" -- until the second man turns up. He's Ramsey Acton, dazzling celebrity snooker champion and husband of Irina's collaborator, Jude. Every year on Ramsey's birthday, Irina and Lawrence dine out with Ramsey and Jude. One July, Lawrence, away on business, encourages Irina to meet Ramsey, newly divorced, for the traditional birthday ritual. After four sakes, a deluxe platter of sashimi, cognac and a joint, Irina watches Ramsey play snooker and thinks, "If Ramsey didn't kiss her, she was going to die."

The rest of the story pivots on this will-they-or-won't-they as the novel splits into alternating chapters; in one, they kiss; in another, she turns away. Who is Irina's Mr. Right? In excessive, often obsessive, detail, Shriver explores Irina's life with each candidate through the quotidian and across a larger political and social landscape that includes Bosnia, the death of Princess Diana and 9/11.....

As Irina learns that no matter what kind of man a woman picks, "she'll wonder if she wouldn't rather have the other," the accretion of details, the parsing of characters' angst, the little moments blown into big can seem like so much navel-gazing. However fascinating, the microscopic analysis of the two objects of Irina's affection can also be wearying. Nevertheless, the rewards for sticking with these 500-plus pages are as delicious as one of Irina's feasts. Copyright 2007, The Washington Post"

Although The Post-Birthday World is not as haunting as We Need To Talk About Kevin, I felt it was very successful. This could be a novel that you either like or dislike, with little ground in between. There was a bit too much usage of the f-word but I understand how it suited the characters. Shriver is an intelligent writer and has continued to use the exact words she wants to for the situation and the characters. I've come to the conclusion that I will be following her work from now on.


"The feeling was not of being attractive precisely, but rather of not having to entertain. It was breathtaking: to be ensconced in another person;s company, yet to be relieved of the relentless minute-by-minute obligation to redeem one's existence - for there is some sense in which socially we are all on the Late Show, grinning, throwing off nervous witticisms, and crossing our legs, as a big black hook behind the curtain lurks in the wings."

"To inhabit your own contentment is to be wholly present, with no orbiting satellite to take clinical readings of the state of the planet."

"Boredom with routine is a luxury, and one unfailingly brief. You are awarded a discreet number of mornings and are well advised to savor every single awakening that isn't marred by arthritis or Alzheimer's."

"Like Anne Tyler's characters, these accidental tourists traveled in a hermetic capsule all done up in green baize."

"As in most revolutions, creating chaos is a cinch, restoring order thereafter is an undertaking both dreary and monumental. But however oppressive one's own character can become, long enough as someone else, you begin to miss it. "

"Since the love we distill for each beloved conforms to such a specific, rarefied recipe, with varying soupcons of resentment, pity, lust, and sometimes even pinches of dislike, you really needed as many different words for the feeling as there were people whom you cared for in your life."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cheez Waffies savory appetizer options

Cheez Waffies is now the number one search that brings people here.
I'm so proud.

If you manage to acquire a bag of Cheez Waffies you might be inclined to just eat them right from the bag thereby depriving yourself of some other scrumptious serving options. If you need some serving ideas, you have come to the right place. Cheez Waffies, although certainly tasty straight out of the bag, can also be the foundation for many other savory appetizer options. Some suggested toppings for your Cheez Waffies include smoked salmon, salami, liver pate', cheese, kippers, cheez-in-a-can, tomato slices, hot sauce, and Chinese vinegar, to name a few. But, by far the most delectable way to eat Cheez Waffies is with smoked oysters.
Yum! Hors d'oeuvres:

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Cheez Waffies

Remember Cheez Waffies?

We received eight (8) bags of orange cheezy goodness from a relative. Since "Cheez Waffies" is one of the top searches that brings new visitors to my blog, even more than "bald love", these pictures should up the number of visitors considerably. Behold the stash of Cheez Waffies:

Special thanks to Just Me for taking the lovely Cheez Waffie pictures.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim

Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim by David Sedaris is hilarious and had me laughing out loud several times. My hardcover copy is 257 pages long and was published in 2004. I highly recommend Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim for adults. (Sedaris is openly gay so if this will offend you, please take note.) I continue to think that I might enjoy the audio books of Sedaris' work even more. His story telling ability is very evident when you listen to him on Public Radio International's "This American Life".

"On the fifth day of our vacation [snow days] my mother had a little breakdown. Our presence disrupted the secret life she led while we were at school, and when she could no longer take it she threw us out. It wasn't a gentle request, but something closer to an eviction..... Dusk approached, and as it grew colder it occurred to us that we could possibly die. It happened surely. Selfish mothers wanted the house to themselves, and their children were discovered years later, frozen like mastodons in blocks of ice."

"My parents were not the type of people who went to bed at a regular hour. Sleep overtook them, but neither the time nor the idea of a mattress seemed important.... The upside to being raised by what were essentially a pair of house cats was that we never had any enforced bedtime. At two A.M. on a school night, my mother would not say, 'Go to sleep,' but rather, 'Shouldn't you be tired?' It wasn't a command but a sincere question, the answer provoking little more than a shrug. 'Suit yourself,' she'd say, pouring what was likely to be her thirtieth or forty-second cup of coffee. 'I'm not sleepy, either. Don't know why, but I'm not.' "

"Now I'd have to put it [red vest] on my Christmas list, which definitely neutered the allure. What had seemed hip and dangerous would appear just the opposite when wrapped in a box marked 'from Santa.' "

"My sister's the type who religiously watches the fear segments of her local Eyewitness News broadcasts, retaining nothing but the headlines. She remembers that applesauce can kill you but forgets that in order to die, you have to inject it directly into your bloodstream."

"A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate [explaining Saint Nicholas], telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before going to bed. The former bishop of Turkey will be coming tonight along with six to eight black men. They might stuff candy in your shoes, they might stuff you into a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."

"Growing up, she had a reputation for dishonesty, and her relentless, often inappropriate truth telling is, to her, a way of turning that around. ' I'm not going to lie to you,' she'll say, forgetting that another option is to simply say nothing."

From Amazon:
" In his latest collection, Sedaris has found his heart. This is not to suggest that the author of Me Talk Pretty One Day and other bestselling books has lost his edge. The 27 essays here (many previously published in Esquire, G.Q. or the New Yorker, or broadcast on PRI's This American Life) include his best and funniest writing yet. Here is Sedaris's family in all its odd glory. Here is his father dragging his mortified son over to the home of one of the most popular boys in school, a boy possessed of "an uncanny ability to please people," demanding that the boy's parents pay for the root canal that Sedaris underwent after the boy hit him in the mouth with a rock. Here is his oldest sister, Lisa, imploring him to keep her beloved Amazon parrot out of a proposed movie based on his writing. ("'Will I have to be fat in the movie?' she asked.") Here is his mother, his muse, locking the kids out of the house after one snow day too many, playing the wry, brilliant commentator on his life until her untimely death from cancer. His mother emerges as one of the most poignant and original female characters in contemporary literature. She balances bitter and sweet, tart and rich—and so does Sedaris, because this is what life is like. "You should look at yourself," his mother says in one piece, as young Sedaris crams Halloween candy into his mouth rather than share it. He does what she says and then some, and what emerges is the deepest kind of humor, the human comedy. Copyright © Reed Business Information"

Monday, November 5, 2007

Whistling In the Dark

While it was certainly entertaining and an easy read, in the end Whistling In the Dark by Lesley Kagen was a forgettable novel. This would be a good choice for summer reading. You won't feel as if you have wasted your time on it, but you won't be filled with awe either. It was originally published in 2007 and my paperback copy is 297 pages. I picked this book up just before moving this summer. It would be a good moving-half-way-across-the-country book too. You wouldn't feel bad if you lost it along the way.

One thing that annoyed me was the fact that the writing was uneven and the book needed more, careful editing. For example, when considering the writing, there was a "coulda" and a "musta" within a few paragraphs of each other in the beginning of chapter 2 and that was it... for the whole book. Either write the character's dialect how you hear them speak or don't. The ages of characters themselves were clearly stated, but in most of the book you felt very much like Ms. Kagen forgot the ages she gave the girls because the middle child, Sally, who is telling the story about this summer often came across as the youngest. This could be because she based the character Sally on her younger sister. It seems she forgot this fact through large portions of her book.

"The loss of innocence can be as dramatic as the loss of a parent or the discovery that what's perceived to be truth can actually be a big fat lie, as shown in Kagen's compassionate debut, a coming-of-age thriller set in Milwaukee during the summer of 1959. Ten-year-old Sally O'Malley fears that a child predator who has already murdered two girls, Junie Piaskowski and Sara Heinemann, will target her or her little sister, Troo, next. Sally's mom is in the hospital, while her big sister, Nell, is distracted by love and her stepdad, Hall, by the bottle, so who can save her if the killer is, as she suspects, her neighbor, David Rasmussen, a popular cop who has a photo of Junie hanging in his house? Though the mystery elements are sketchy, Kagen sharply depicts the vulnerability of children of any era. Sally, "a girl who wouldn't break a promise even if her life depended on it," makes an enchanting protagonist. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information"

Whistling In the Dark is worth a C... it's average. While I won't highly recommend it, there are times when you need an interesting but forgettable book. My copy has a note on it that it was selected by the NAL, New American Library:
"...NAL Accent novels touch on subjects close to a woman's heart, from friendship to family to finding our place in the world. The Conversation Guides included in each book are intended to enrich the individual reading experience, as well as encourage us to explore these topics together - because books, and life, are meant for sharing."
That little sentimental note alone should have given me a clue that it might not be the best book of 2007.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Long Tomorrow

The science fiction post-apocalyptic book, The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett was definitely enjoyable. It was originally written in 1955. My paperback edition from 1974 is 262 pages long. If you can find a copy of The Long Tomorrow I recommend it.

From Amazon:
" 'No city, no town, no community of more than one thousand people or two hundred buildings to the square mile, shall be built or permitted to exist anywhere in the United States of America. Constitution of the United States Thirteenth Amendment'. Two generations after the Destruction, rumors persisted about a sacred desert hideaway where scientists worked with dangerous machines and where men plotted to revive the cities. Almost a continent away, Len Coulter heard whisperings that fired his imagination. Then one day he found a strange wooden box..."


"There's never been an act done since the beginning, from a kid stealing candy to a dictator committing genocide, that the person doing it didn't think he was fully justified. That's a mental trick called rationalizing, and it's done the human race more harm than anything else you can name. "