Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bookish: To Kill a Mockingbird

So, I finally got around to reading Harper Lee's classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. I was never assigned this in school and somehow never read it (or saw the movie) until now. I must say that its status as a classic is fully deserved. The story of two kids growing up in a small Southern town with no mother and an older father whom they don't always understand (and whom they call by his frst name). Their father becomes involved in representing a black defendant in an unfair rape trial, and reading about the trial and the town's and the children's reactions to it is compelling. The trial is important and a big part of the book, but the book is also just about growing up and trying to understand the world you were born into. It's about kindness and not judging others or fearing the unknown. I did wonder, after the trial and after the death, where Harper Lee was going with the remaining 7 chapters or so, but she wrapped things up quite nicely. There is some language in the book, but it is indicative of and appropriate to the time period.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bookish: Road Dogs

I have never read a book by Elmore Leonard before, but this one apparently uses characters from three of his other novels. I imagine that fans of those books will enjoy this one as well. I, however, did not. The book is about a couple of criminals who get out of jail and head to California. One is a bank robber and the other is a Cuban gangster. They are both involved with a psychic con artist who is trying to make big bucks off of both of them. The bank robber is also being watched by an FBI agent who is convinced he is going to rob another bank. There are smaller-time thugs involved as well. The problem was, I just didn't care...about any of the characters, about any of it. They seemed stupid, and they're all criminals--who really cares? I was also just not a fan of the writing style, jumping back and forth between characters. The whole thing was a yawn for me, but like I said, if you liked the characters before, I think you would like them again....I guess.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bookish: The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline is an Enola Holmes mystery. Enola is the 14-year-old sister of Sherlock Holmes, hiding from her brothers as they desire to send her to boarding school and take away her freedom. A master of disguise and deduction, much like her famous brother, in this book she is investigating the disappearance of her landlady, a deaf and dotty old bird that it seems no one would want to kidnap. The book is fun and well-written. It's a short, quick read with a feisty female lead. A good choice for young mystery fans.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bookish: Spandau Phoenix

Yet another Greg Iles novel. This is a different one, a historical conspiracy thriller involving a WWII mystery. I had some problems with this. First, I made the mistake of taking this book on my beach vacation. This is not a beach read, and I found it hard to concentrate on it. It's a little heavy. The second problem: I know the basics of WWII, but I am by no means an expert. I know Hitler, Himmler, the Holocaust, Auchwitz, etc., but I was not familiar with Spandau or Rudolph Hess, which is some pretty important information for understanding this book. So, I didn't really know how much was fact and how much was fiction. I found it very annoying that there was not even a historical note at the end elucidating this information. So, the book is well-written and interesting, based on the idea that Hess's flight to Great Britan had greater implications than perhaps first realized and that the prisoner locked up in Spandau Prison was never Rudolph Hess, but rather an imposter. The main meat of the book is set in Germany and South Africa long after WWII, but before the destruction on the Berlin Wall. It involves Nazis, atomic bombs, secret identities, and secret societies. I think WWII buffs would get more enjoyment out of it than I did, but not a bad read overall. I didn't enjoy it as much as Iles's modern-day Southern thrillers, though.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cookish: What's for dinner?

Chilaquiles are delicious, cheap, and easy. What more do you want? Note: I do not claim that these are in any way authentic. But, they are yummy.
veg oil
1/4-1/3 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 can crushed tomatoes
1-2 chipoltle peppers
1 bay leaf
tortilla chips
sour cream

Chop the onion finely. Saute in oil til translucent. Use your microplane to grate the garlic. (You do have a microplane, right? Get one, you'll love it.) Add the tomatoes. Chop up the chipoltle and add to your tomatoes. Add a sprinkle of oregano, a bay leaf, and some salt. Don't add too much salt; you'll be adding the tortilla chips to this, which are pretty salty. Let simmer for a bit, then taste. Up the seasoning as needed.

Fry or scramble an egg or eggs, depending upon how many you are feeding. I recommend a fried egg, sunny-side up, if you like eggs that way. The runny yolk will mix with the sauce--delicious. Scrambled eggs are good, too.

Add several handfuls of chips to sauce, crushing slightly as you add them. Let the chips soak up the sauce and soften a bit, but don't let them disintegrate completely. Spoon up some chips & sauce into a bowl.

Serve with egg on top & cheese. Sour cream optional. Yum!
I'm really sorry I don't have a finishing shot on this one, because it looked delicious. But, again, my camera battery failed me.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bookish: The Quiet Game

Another one from Greg Iles. This is more of his usual fare. Set in Natchez, MS (Iles's home turf), this follows lawyer Penn Cage, as he returns home after the death of his young wife, seeking some comfort for his distraught daughter. Life in Natchez isn't all sleepy and peaceful, though, and Penn must soon discover a way to extricate his father from a blackmail situation. On top of that, he soon finds himself drawn into a decades-old murder case that may or may not have civil rights ties. The famous white lawyer returning home to take up the case of a dead black man draws a lot of attention in Natchez, and not all of it is friendly. Soon, his life and his daughter's life are in danger and trying to get people to talk about what happened is like juicing an apple with your bare hands. As Penn digs deeper, he finds ties to a very powerful man in Natchez--one he'd like nothing more than to destroy.

Penn Cage is a recurring character for Iles, and this volume is a satisfying read. Some plot points scream "male author" (e.g. Penn's new, very young love interest, just months after his wife's death), but the book is quite good and not as disturbing as some of Iles's books.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bookish: The Shack

You have probably heard of The Shack. Or maybe you have been living under a rock. Initially self-published, it spread like wildfire and became a New York Times bestseller.

So, here's the thing: I knew it was about God, but I thought it would be more allegorical, with a deeper God meaning. That's not it. The guy goes to a shack and literally meets God the Father ("Papa"), Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

It also reads like a self-published piece. Not enough editing, stilted dialogue, reactions that don't exactly ring true.

So, it just didn't speak to me. The fact that God is love and loves us is not a big, crazy revelation for me.

But the book has touched a lot of people. I just can't recommend it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cookish: Simple Supper

Ready for a simply declicious supper? You need lettuce, roasted potatoes, and eggs. Ready?

1. Roast some potatoes.

New Potatoes
Olive oil
Garlic or garlic powder/granulated garlic (because I was somehow without fresh garlic in the house--a true sin)

Preheat oven to 425. Quarter your new potatoes and finely chop some onions. Toss in a bowl with olive oil, oregano, parsley, granulated garlic, salt and pepper. Be generous with the salt--potatoes need salt. Put on a rimmed cookie sheet or baking pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

2. Soft boil an egg or eggs (depending upon how many you're serving. One egg per person.)

Bring water to a boil. Add the egg and simmer for about 4 minutes for a runny yolk. You want a runny yolk--trust me. Put eggs under cool running water and then peel egg(s). Here's a hint: use old eggs. Not rotten, people! Just older. It means there's more space between the egg and the shell, which means they are easier to peel.

Soft-boiled eggs are not the easiest thing to peel, so I offer an alternative to soft-boiled egg: a poached egg. Just as good. Just remember the runny yolk. Trust me on this.

3. Make a salad. Toss some simple greens (I use just green-leaf lettuce, but romaine or bibb lettuce would be good too) with some white wine vinegar, a little olive oil, and some salt. Keep it simple.

Put it all together now:

Salad in a bowl. A few roasty-toasty potatoes on top. Egg on top of that. Break egg with fork and yolk spills out....mix it all around. Yum.

I apologize for the lack of pictures. My camera battery has betrayed me. I hope to have the situation remedied soon.