Thursday, October 22, 2009

Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What a great little story! Having waited an extra year for it (it was announced for last year, before the unexpected hoopla over The Graveyard Book), I was disappointed that it was so short. It's the perfect length for the story it tells, in which a lame boy becomes a hero and saves the hide of the Norse gods Loki, Thor, and Odin One-eye himself--in addition to saving the entire planet from endless winter.
This is how much I liked it: having returned my library copy, I shall now buy it!

Perfect for read-alouds or middle-grade reading. And of course, for anyone already hooked on Neil through his other wonderful books. Would also make a great movie.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Women's Fiction"

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder: A Novel The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder: A Novel by Rebecca Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I kept reading until the end, laughing and crying and dreaming with Calla Lily Ponder. Somebody who likes reading in the first person might give it 5 stars, but to me it read like a wandering memoir (the transitions from chapter to chapter bothered me). But I love the Moon Lady and the river and the sweet magical realism that comes when living from the heart. I enjoyed it as much as "Divine Secrets..."

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Review of When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A fitting homage to Madeleine L'Engle and A Wrinkle In Time.
Miranda and her relationships feel real. Regular growing pains and school life until mysterious notes pop up and Miranda's world is changed forever.
A good book for those kids (and kids in adult bodies) who love to ponder different questions than their peers; but like L'Engle's work, providing a grounding, calming presence of love and daily life and concerns.

Very good explanation of how time does not exist. Or how time relates to "reality". Also a lovely devaluation of common sense. (See Mister God, This Is Anna "People have points of view, but Mister God has viewing points," for more physics for creative souls.)

Unusually for me, I am giving this book five stars, the fifth star for craftmanship. I usually reserve that star for evoked emotion and/or wonder and/or fresh take on old tropes. Until now, I believe that L'Engle was her own sub-genre (please enlighten me if this is not so, I'd love to read more). Anyway, there is never a false note in the relationships or explanations in the book. Pitch-perfect.

I am about to find the author's previous book, First Light, and devour it, as well.

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Review of The Magician's Elephant

The Magician's Elephant The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Once again, Kate does her own special brand of magic. Set in a quasi-European country, in a time before our own (1800s maybe?), it's a story about a boy, an elephant, a magician. About being trapped, displaced, and being free; of holding on and of letting go. Most of all, about love.

It's the kind of book--my favorite--that if you are a lonely, desperately unhappy child, will give you hope and a reason to grow up and outward into the world where the impossible, yes, the impossible, does--amazingly--happen after all.

Line that leapt out: "Magic is impossible," said the magician. "It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it is magic."

One might substitute the word life for the word magic, certainly the word love; indeed, any endeavor worth its while (such as writing, baking, gardening, or raising children). Then one might, like DiCamillo's character Bartok Whynn, discover laughter.

(Disclaimer: Miss M does not apologize for philosophizing or moralizing, for crying, laughing, or jumping up and down with glee: she believes that that is what writing is for.)

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Forking Fantastic Book Review

Forking Fantastic is forking fantastic!
When a book says, "Put the party back in dinner party," I expect great and funny things, and the authors do not disappoint.

Perhaps the book is best read with a glass of wine to hand (and mouth). I read the book in smorgasbord format, delving in here, diving in there, pausing in slight consternation (over the lamb, I don't do lamb--but hey, I might try it for a party. One could certainly use two meats at a big enough party!). I read the Intro, then jumped in; only now as I write this review did I discover the first chapter, "Pep Talk," in which the secret powers of cooking for others are revealed: Sex! Art! Power! But I am the cook in my household; I knew that.

Quotes: "Spatchcock: Another word we put in just because we like saying it." (It's Britspeak for butterflying.) "Raw chicken=napalm." From the recipe for Passion Fruit Curd: "Contrary to all cooking logic, more jam does not make it better--believe us, we've tried." "...give a few shakes, just to the point where you start getting embarrassed about the jiggling in your upper arms." Is this too many for reviews? "If only 'Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown' were just an awesome song by the Rolling Stones (re: entertaining.)" I have two favorites, one that is too long to retype but involves sausage gravy and a kindly farm wife--and: "... this is probably the secret of entertaining in a truly grand style: Jump in blindly. Julia would have approved. (Though be warned about the F-word, there's lots of it.)

The authors write both to cooking and entertaining novices and those with experience. They provide wine advice, definitions, and the lovely "learn from our mistakes" asides. There are lots of asides in this book, but I like that. There are also tips on "horde management" and kitchen equipment. I enjoy the relaxed style, as if one of your neighbors were there in your kitchen with you. The design of the book is great as well, allowing you to pay attention to the recipes only or to divert to other matters. Especially great is the fried chicken recipe, formatted for a few friends (1 chicken) or thirty (8 chickens) under the heading, ARE YOU INSANE?

My top recipes to try: Spanish Tortilla with Saffron (amazingly, this is not a flat substitute for bread, but a riff on a frittata!). Overnight Chuck Roast. Fish with pomegranate molasses (okay, the recipe's not in the book, but the suggestion is. I can wing it.). Baci di Ricotta. Step by step recipes, step by step party set-up, this book revives my dreams of the international cooking club I started with my friends in middle school.

Please, please please, Tamara & Zora, come over to my house & play! I, too, keep Jiffy Cornbread mix in my pantry. Behind the wine. And please bring Dapper Dan.

I have recommended the book to my local library system and friends, but I will not be loaning it to anyone. It's mine, all mine. Disclosure: I won the book on a giveaway. Thanks!