Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bite by Bite

Snacks : Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle is the logical culmination of Marcy Smothers' passion for food - buying it, cooking it, reading about it and sharing her knowledge with all who will listen. The origin of her book began on the radio with The Food Guy and Marcy Show - featuring Guy Fieri, restaurant owner and rising star of the Food Network, and Marcy bantering about all things culinary. As a promotion, Marcy recorded sixty second radio features and offered free copies to the show's affiliate stations. The spot was a quirky food-related question read by Marcy and answered by Guy  AFTER a commercial. Smart for the show - profitable for the sponsors. Curious about the questions? For example, "What do the numbers 128 and 350 have to do with milk?" The answer? "There are 128 ounces in a gallon of milk and that requires 350 squirts from the udder of a single cow." Mary dubbed these food tidbits "snacks" and, after encouragement from friends such as Academy-Award winning director John Lasseter and cookbook maven Molly Katzen, Snacks is now in print.

Smothers calls Snacks "my personal 'aha' moments combined with my take on familiar culinary themes." It is a cornucopia of food lore, trivia, and savvy and sage advice on shopping for and preparing food. The book is set as if the reader is strolling aisle by aisle through a grocery store; aisles containing a plentiful mix of recipes as well as the occasional literary reference. Check out Snacks to find out what James Bond knew about making sauces and Kay Scarpetta's connection with the clean plate club.

Practice portion control and enjoy slowly...


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Call Me Wild

Jessica James's life has taken a sharp turn for the worse. After losing her job as a sportswriter and her apt in New York City, she relocates to Boise to write a bestselling romance novel. Unfortunately, Jessie has never read a romance, doesn't believe in love and lacks any relatable personal experiences. While suffering from writer’s block she repeatedly runs into Fisher Kincaid, a local doctor, who offers himself up as test subject material for her book. The “research project” goes awry from the start due to the assistance of the hilarious Kincaid family (two brothers, one sister, and an entertaining grandfather) who "help" by meddling at every turn. Scheming by the younger sister puts Jessie and Fisher together for the weekend in an isolated cabin, where they are forced to acknowledge their mutual attraction. This working romance conveniently writes Jessie’s book for her as the fictional characters mirror the real life situation she has found herself in. Call Me Wild by Robin Kaye is an easy and enjoyable read that had me laughing out loud, over and over.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Secret History of Your House

After many years as renters, my husband and I recently decided that we’re finally ready to buy our first place, and I have houses on the brain. Now that a mind-boggling number of variables suddenly demand consideration (do we really need a separate dining room?), I find myself wondering—what makes a structure a home?

This is a highly subjective question with a different answer for every person, especially since the meaning of “home” has changed quite a bit over time. The social and cultural histories of home life give a fascinating glimpse into our own past through the evolution of domestic comforts. In At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson uses his own dwelling, a creaky old Victorian parsonage, as a lens to examine these hidden histories as they happened in Britain and the United States.

As the author points out, “the history of household life isn’t just a history of beds and sofas and kitchen stoves, as I had vaguely supposed it would be, but of scurvy and guano and the Eiffel Tower and bedbugs and body-snatching and just about everything that has ever happened”. Real history is in the details, in the things we touch and eat and keep in our closets, and Bryson leads the reader on a hilarious and revealing room-by-room ride through those details.

If you like smart, funny nonfiction that explains the mysteries of the mundane in a refreshing way, or if you like the idea of rummaging through the bathroom cabinets of history, I think you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Six Years

Summer is a great time to read a book. Every summer major newspapers and magazines publish lists of "beach reads."  (hint: internet search -- 2013 beach reads to find these lists)  There is a surprising variety of suggested books, including Always Looking: Essays on Art by John Updike and the far less serious Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen. In southern Arizona we have a lot of sand, but sadly no beach. It is much too hot, too windy, or too rainy to go outside, which makes it the perfect time to stay inside, crank up the air conditioning, get a glass of sun tea, and read a book.

My suggestion for a beach (make that monsoon) read is Harlan Coben's new stand-alone book, Six Years. Six years ago, Jake Fisher watched the love of his life marry someone else. He has tried to move on with his life. He finished his education and became a respected college professor. His academic life is a success, but his personal life is less than satisfying. He has never forgotten his true love, Natalie. Six years after the wedding, Jake sees an obituary for Natalie's husband in the college paper. He is surprised to learn that Natalie's husband, Todd Sanderson, was a highly respected alumnus of the college. Jake decides to go to the funeral in Savannah, Georgia. What he discovers completely unnerves him. Dr. Todd Sanderson and his wife Delia had been happily married for many years and had two teenage children. Todd Sanderson was murdered. No one has heard of Natalie. She has simply vanished. Jake makes the not so wise choice to look for her. He discovers that there are others who also want to find Natalie. They do not play nice. This book has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the end. Perfect for a summer read.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

Friends of mine are on a pilgrimage, walking across Spain. They maintain a daily blog about their trek, and the challenges and joys they've encountered along the way remind me of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the sleeper first novel by Rachel Joyce that quickly became the favorite of book clubs when it appeared in 2012.

Harold Fry is an aging retiree with a stale marriage and an aimless life in the southwest of England. One day is much the same as the next until he receives a letter from an old colleague, writing from a hospice in northern England to tell him goodbye. Harold struggles to write a reply, but produces an unsatisfactory response that doesn't begin to express what he wants to say. Setting out to mail it, he finds himself walking past the letter box--and the next one and the next one--and before he knows it he is traversing the length of England to see her in person, believing she will not die as long as he keeps walking. It's a lovely story about acceptance, coming to terms with the past, and discovering that you can always surprise yourself.

Like thousands of pilgrims every year, my friends in Spain are following the Way of St. James, beginning in the Pyrenees and ending in Santiago de Compostela. For a great movie about this centuries-old trek that also explores themes of understanding and acceptance, check out The Way, starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. In this film, a father travels to Spain to retrieve the body of his son who has died in the Pyrenees while on the pilgrimage. The father decides to complete the pilgrimage himself in his late son’s memory, and the experience impacts his life profoundly.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Cutting Season

Author Dennis Lehane started his own imprint with Harper Collins and he chose The Cutting Season by Attica Locke as the first title. Like some of Lehane's finest work, The Cutting Season is an excellent mix of mystery and suspense, with a little historical fiction and social commentary thrown in for good measure.

Caren Gray returned home to Belle Vie, an antebellum plantation in Louisiana. Instead of working on the land or in the kitchen as her ancestors once did, Caren manages the historic plantation, arranges tours and hosts lavish weddings. Caren's office is now located in the main house, where as a child, she was not allowed to go. One day, a female migrant worker from the adjacent farm is found murdered on the Belle Vie property. Developments in the case move forward and backward through time, bringing to light historical events and uncovering family secrets going back generations. This book could generate a lot of discussion about race, gender, and relationships. My advice is to read it with a friend.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Good for a Belly Laugh

I recently was home for an extended period of time and was able to listen to NPR's Fresh Air for a week - what a treat! Interviewer Terry Gross is known for her sharp insights and the depth of her interviews. One thing I have noticed over the years is that she has a soft spot for "lowbrow" comedy. Her recent interview of Seth Rogen shows that his movies really hit her funny bone - she does not need to pretend to enjoy his sense of humor.
Serendipity, one of my favorite methods of finding books, recently pointed me in the direction of two "lowbrow" comedy books - Damn You, Autocorrect! by Jillian Madison and When Parents Text by Lauren Kaelin and Sophia Fraioli.