Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- My New Jersey

Jarvis Sound

Diamond Beach

A  Different View of Atlantic City always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bandit Tuesday...Where is The Bartender?

How about a nice cold, bowl of water Bandit? No?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Musing Monday...If Your Friends All Jumped Off a Bridge, Would You?

This week’s musing asks…
What do you think of books that receive a lot of hype? (think of the “Twilight” saga, or “Harry Potter”, or “The Da Vinci Code”).
Do you read them? Why, or why not?

Interesting question. Let's see...
Twilight books...didn't read them.
Harry Potter books...didn't read them.
Da Vinci Code...didn't read it.

So, what do I think of books that get a lot of hype, the huge book everyone, and by everyone I mean not just people that usually read a lot of books but even non-readers, is reading.
It would seem not much.
No, in fact those sort of extremely popular books, for some reason, just turn me off. I am not sure why. Maybe I am just contrary. Maybe I don't really want to be part of the crowd. Or maybe I think these books are sometimes more about the hype, the publicity, than quality.

Now, if you take those examples, I think I can make the case that the first two have a different target audience in mind than me. Twilight..well, I saw all those screaming teenage girls and decided maybe I would just skip those. I am happy they like them, but I didn't have that much in common with teenage girls when I was a teenage girl. Mr. Potter and his friends are a slightly different case. I actually read the first book in the series and for whatever reason, it just did not click for me. It was not bad but I had no desire to read the second book. I know many of you out there in BlogLand love the series but it just did not appeal to me. Again, I am thrilled the books did so well, especially with young people. Any book that might turn people, especially kids, on to the magic of reading, is a great thing. But maybe not my taste.

Now Da Vinci is a different matter. For the life of me, I can not understand the popularity of that book. I did not read the whole book, but I did read as much of the book as one can hanging around in a Border's bookstore for an hour or two. An hour or two that I will never get back, thank you very much Mr. Brown. I thought it was awful. It was, IMHO, poorly written, full of drivel and in terms of things like facts and history, a mess. I think it is possible that it is drivel and invented history that for their own reasons actually appeal to some people, but I hate stupid books. Even more, I hate poorly written, stupid books.

So no, for me, a book being 'huge' and all the rage, does not mean a lot.
I would much more quickly pick up a book that someone whose opinion I respect, be it a fellow blogger or a RL person, recommends. Take a book like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Yes, it has had a good bit of success but I read it because so many of you all recommended it...and of course I loved it. Or take a book like I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This. I read that book not because it is hugely popular but rather because several of you all recommended it...and I think it is a wonderful book. Now that is a book people should be reading instead of The Da Vinci Code. If several of my A-List, must-read-every-day book bloggers all agree about a book, yes, I will most likely get my hands on a copy, even add it to the towering TBR pile.

Watch Out Kitty!!

Musing Monday is hosted, as always, by MizB at Should Be Reading. Drop by and check out some other answers.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Weekend Cooking...Sandwich Saturday

When the weather turns hot, my mind does not turn to cooking. Turning on the oven for a tasty casserole, spending hours simmering a big pot of soup, standing over a saute pan, stirring and thanks.
No, when the weather turns hot, sometimes my mind turns to sandwiches!
But not just any old cold, dull sandwiches. So lets explore a few of my favorites.

Now, I admit, the first may have a few purist shaking their fists, running for the pitchforks. An authentic, slow smoked pull pork sandwich is a wonderful thing, but I don't have 8 hours to hover over a smoker. Ok, I don't actually have a smoker, so I offer a fast, easy, tasty alternative.
The "Pulled" Chicken Sandwich.
Go to the store and buy a rotisserie chicken.
My favorite are the ones from Sam's Club.
Theirs are cheaper than buying the chicken
and cooking it myself, and so juicy.
Take it home, pull all the meat off,
chopping some very fine, some less so.
Freeze the bones for stock we will make
when it get cold.
Add a bit of Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce
Pile the warn, saucy meat on a nice soft potato roll.
Top with additional sauce and cole slaw.

We will pause while I eat that. Yum.

Next we will move on to a Philly favorite. Now, Philadelphia is known for the cheesesteak, which is a fine sandwich, but I think even better is the lesser known Roast Pork sandwich. Perhaps the best is served at DiNic's in the Reading Terminal Market but you can made a pretty good one at home. A good roll is imperative and we in the Atlantic City area are lucky enough to have the best bakers of Italian bread in the world. Yes, the world. They say the secret is the water. Today, we will use a lovely Formica roll, chewy and substantial enough to hold up to a juicy sandwich because the proper roast pork is a juicy sandwich. Just a few ingredients...the lovely roll, a few slices of sharp provolone cheese, some warm, juicy, thinly sliced roast pork (a seasoned, cooked pork tenderloin I had in the frig, nuked 20-30 seconds to warm) with any juice the pork gave up and a nice topping of baby spinach sauteed in lots of garlic. Lots. Serve with a bib and a pile of napkins.

And finally, we will have my take on a Cuban sandwich, a wonderful excuse to use my beloved Cuisinart Griddler, which as well as a grill is a great sandwich press. In this case, we will start with a Portuguese roll. On one side we put some mayo, on the other, some mustard. Now, add some sliced pickles, some Swiss cheese, some ham, some roast pork, a bit more Swiss, and for good measure, a bit of diced piquant peppers. Now, into the Griddler it goes, the idea being to melt the cheese, form a crisp crust and press the sandwich down. If you don't have a Griller...and you can do it is a pan, weighting the sandwich down with a heavy pan or a brick wrapped in foil.

The Griddler is easier. And shiny. Crunch!

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, June 25, 2010

a review of "Flight of Shadows" [47]

Flight of Shadows: A Novel by Sigmund Brouwer
(WaterBrook Press, ISBN 978-1-4000-7033-6)

Again, we are sometimes in the not so distant future, and the America presented is very different from the world we live in today. As the result of the terrible Water Wars, the country is now divided into three areas. In the far west, supposedly there are still free, unregulated areas of land but in the east, things are quite different. In the Appalachian Mountains, there is a theocracy society, run by a group called Bar Elohim, where every aspect of life is regulated and few freedoms exist. Then, in what is called the Outside, there exists a series of city-states, walled communities where a very different, if no less restrictive society exists. In this world, there are four distinst groups..first there are the Influentials, with the power and money, enjoying  in the safety of their walled, heavily guarded and monitored communities. Then there are the Industrials, marked with the face tattoos that allow them entry into the cities during the day to provide a workforce to the privileged. Those that refuse the tattoos and lack the paperwork to find legal employment, fall into the group called the Illegals, who live outside the walls, eking out a very poor living in all sort of terrible, illegal ways. Finally, there are the Invisibles, those that live under the radar for a variety of reasons..and it is into that last group that our heroine Caitlyn falls.

Caitlyn was raised in Appalachia by her father, a father who helped to keep her secret from being known. Because Caitlyn is different...
"Caitlyn should have felt fear. Instead, she was defiant and cold inside. She was a freak. Alone against the world. No choice in how she existed the way she did. No choice even in the fact of her existence. Aloneness was all she knew and understood now."
To give her the only chance of being 'normal', of getting the surgery that will help keep hidden what she really is, her father helped her and two friends, Billy and Theo, escape to the Outside, hopefully the first step to some sort of real freedom further west.But her escape has not gone unnoticed. On the one hand, she is being persuaded by the government, in the person of Carson Pierce and the quite scary NI security force, on the other by the sadistic bounty hunter Mason Lee. These two men are very different in their ways and motives but both represent groups that realize the incredible value of Caitlyn's unique DNA and will go to great lengths to 'acquire' her.

This is a sequel to Brouwer's 2008 novel Broken Angel and while it is not necessary to have read the first, it does raise a few issues with how this book is written. No doubt, in the first book there was a fair bit of explanation of how this society was set up and we learned a lot about the history of virtually all the characters that again appear in this book. Now, the author is careful to explain to us what we need to know if we have not read the first, but this leads to some rather stilted, lecture like conversations to catch us up. I appreciate what he was trying to do, but I thing the reader would have been better served if we could have been led to discover that information in a more natural way throughout the story.

Secondly, I personally found it difficult to really connect with several of the characters, especially Billy and Theo, but even Caitlyn herself, who should be the center of the book. On the plus side, that leave even more room for the newly introduced character of Razor, who correctly describes himself as "fast, sharp and dangerous". He is a interesting and rather mysterious young man, with his own secrets, secrets that might make him Caitlyn's best ally...or her most dangerous enemy.He is by far the most interesting aspect of this book which is good for the reader but might not be what the author intended.

A rather interesting book, that creates a society that, sadly, does not seem that unbelievable and explores a number of subjects, like the danger of DNA experimentation, the cost of unregulated immigration and a resulting caste-like system and the cost in freedom people will pay for security, in an intriguing way. There are a number of good plot twists, some exciting and unusual chase scenes, a lot of fast paced action and while the book explores some interesting ideas, I do suggest if this one piques your interest, you may be better served starting with the first book in the series.

I received a copy of this book from Library Thing's Early Reviewer program.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

a review of "The Passage" [46]

The Passage by Justin Cronin
(Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0345504968)

No doubt, you may have already read a few reviews of this book, touted as a summer blockbuster. Bought for over 3 million dollars, two sequels in the works, movie rights already sold for $1.75 million, one of Oprah's "Must Reads" of the season...there is a fair amount of book buzz out there. And I would have weighted in a couple of weeks ago, when it was published, but I dropped the massive book on my toes and crushed them all. OK, that is not true. The part about my toes (they are just fine) is made up, but the massive part is true, with this book coming in at just a bit under 800 pages.
The question is, is it a really good, massive book, or a big ole' doorstop?

When the story begin, we are a couple of decades in the future, in an increasing hostile nation that has suffered large losses from terrorist attacks on civilian targets and a resulting increased military presence. In this environment, the government becomes aware of some research on a rare virus from the jungles of Bolivia that might have the ability to create a Super Soldier. This soldier would be aggressive, very hard to kill and would live for several 'normal' lifetimes..a great money saver on training. They bring the virus back, after most of the scientific and military expedition that went after it was very horribly killed, and decide to test it on a dozen death row inmates, with some quite dramatic results. The virus turns these men into something even more horrible than they already were and when, in a not terribly surprising move, the inmates, now "virals", escape, the future of the country will be forever, terribly changed in an instant.
"It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born."
We also meet in this section, a young girl named Amy, who will be a constant throughout the story. Abandoned at a convent, into the care of an African sister with her own horrible past, Amy seems like any ordinary, sad, little girl. But when the people in charge of testing the virus choose her as a test subject, for reason we do not at first understand, we suspect there may be more more to Amy than meets the eye. Much drama ensues.

So ends the first part of the story. Next, we are transported a hundred years into the future and a very different future it is. As we find out, the "vampire" virus raced across the country, killing most of the human race, leaving behind these horrible virals that hunt anything alive to kill and eat, usually in the dark of night. No, the virals do not like bright light. And we meet the residents of the First Colony, a small group still living in a protected compound built a hundred years ago, in what was then California. For their protection, they are dependent on an array of huge lights, powered by a system of wind turbines and batteries, that light the night and help keep the virals at bay. But as some in the colony know, batteries do not last forever.

There have always been rumors that they might not be the only humans still alive. It is a rumor that proves true when one night, a teenage girl, a Walker, comes to their gate and sets into motions a set of events that will make up the third and final part of the book, racing to a cliffhanger conclusion.

Some reviewers, like Swampa at S.Krishna's Book Reviews and Marie at The Boston Bibliophile have loved this book. Some, like Rhapsody In Books' and Jen at Devourer of Books have not been quite as enthusiastic. So the questions is, where do I fall?

I am afraid I must go with the second group. I liked it..I did not love it. It is good, not great.

So, the bad news first. As I may have mentioned, this book is BIG, my ARC edition coming in at 766 pages. That does not have to be a bad thing, but it always give me pause. Did this book have to be this long, is the story just that big, that epic? For me, the answer is No. The first section, where we learn how this virus got loose and first meet Amy is very good. We are introduced to some great characters, the plot is tight and thrilling. And then, just as we are racing along in the story, we hit the brick wall of section two, 120 mph to 20 in an instant..bam. I think I got whiplash.
Yes, without question, there is important information we need to find out in this second part, people we need to meet, relationships to understand. But without question, hundreds, yes hundreds, of pages could have been cut from this part and, to a lesser degree, from the third, with no bad effects on the story. It is in need of The Big Red Pen of Editing. Yes, once The Girl arrives and we move into the final part of the story, things pick up, but the author almost left me behind, taking a nap, in The Colony.

Now the good. While it may not be the most original story...others have commented on many similarities to Stephen King The Stand and Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic The is a good story. Not an epic story, not a great story, but a solidly good story. Mr. Cronin is a very good writer, without question, and his ability to create characters is excellent. There are many, maybe even too many, great, memorable characters in this book. And that is not even including the ones that get eaten! I stuck with this book because I wanted to know what happen to these people that I came to care about.

A good book, an entertaining book, a book I would recommend with some reservations. It will most likely make a good movie. But what of the next two in the series? Will I be awaiting them with bated breath, as I have before with some books in a series? Hmmm...well, I may well read them, because I an interested in what happens to these people...but there is no big rush.

My thanks to Ballantine Books for an ARC of this book.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- the Catskills, NY

Hudson River Valley

Olana always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

When You Wish Upon a Ball.....

As always, Bandit would love ya all to share the luv and tell him how cute he is... ;-)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Musing Monday...Favorite Genres

This weeks Musing Monday question, as always, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading...

This week’s musing asks:
Name your top 2-3 favorite genres (the ones you read most from).

This is an easy one.

Without question, my go-to-comfort read genre is mystery books. But that is a bit vague. The mystery genre is huge and not all of them appeal to me. I don't really like what is usually call 'cozies'.which you might define as a mystery set in a small town or some sort of defined place, usually where the central characters are non-crime professionals, ordinary people and which is usually light on the gore and violence.

No, I must admit I like the gore, the serial killers, the hardboiled PI or flawed cop. Suspense, thrillers, police procedurals..and for good measure, you know if you read my MM on a regular basis, if you have this all take place by the sea or in a really cold place, that would be appreciated. Tess Gerritsen, Cody McFadyen, Chelsea Cain, Ingrid Black, Denise Mina, Stieg Larsson and Arnaldur Indriðason are a few names that come to mind. It would also seem, looking at that list that a foreign setting is a plus too.

Now, that is not to say I have not read less gory mysteries, even sort of funny ones like the Evanovich books. At one time, I read a whole bunch of them. They are nice for a break, but I have sort of lost my taste for them as a main part of my reading diet.

Beside mysteries I am very fond of books that I think are represented by the books of Dean Koontz. Koontz is often listed as a horror writer, but I don't think that is true. Some of his books have a horror element, some a sci-fi element, some are thrillers...but I thing they all share a certain paranormal element. Not to mention those almost human golden retrievers that turn up so much. Sort of paranormal thrillers is what I would call them. I very much liked his Odd Thomas books.
Recently I have also been reading a fair bit of dystopia books. I would not consider myself a hard core fan, but I think some of them are very good and explore some interesting ideas and situations. Maybe that is what they have in common...the exploration of interesting ideas and themes, Good and Evil, the Big Issues.

Actually, it is easier to say what genres I don't like....but at the risk of starting a brawl, I don't think I will list them. :-)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Weekend Cooking...Zingerman's Guide To Good Eating [45]

Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating by Ari Weinzweig
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-0395926161)

In the subtitle, this book tells us that it is a guide to "How to choose the best bread, cheeses, olive oil, pasta, chocolate and much more" and that is exactly what it is. Oh, there are lots of great cookbooks out there, and while it includes a number of recipes, the focus of this book comes before you even start to preheat the oven. This book is about how to understand what is at the heart of a good ingredient and how to pick from the often dizzying array of choices available to us these days.

You know what I mean. You need, say, olive oil, and out you head to the store, whether it be the local supermarket or a fancy food shop. Now, how to pick? Imported from Italy..or Spain..or how about the domestic oil from California. Is that very expensive one really better, or can we save a buck and still get a quality product. What is with this 'extra virgin' and 'cold pressed' and why is some of it so expensive..and some not so much..and does it all really make a difference?

Well, have no fear! Mr. Weinzweig, one of the owners of what is considered one of the best deli's and food emporiums in the US, Zingerman's of Michigan, has volunteered in this book to be our guide to six different groups of ingredients- oils and vinegars, grains and rice, cheese, meat and fish, seasonings and wrapping it all up with honey, vanilla and, my personal favs, chocolate and tea.

For each ingredient, he takes us on a little travelogue, from a Parmigiano dairy to visit the cows that are key to a wonderful cheese and Valencia to see what sort of rice we need for a perfect paella. Needless to say, you will not look at that stuff in the green can or old Uncle Ben quite the same way again. As he says in the introduction, he wants each of us to become a 'mindful eater', to overcome our intimidation at the man behind the counter, to actually do our own taste tests and compare the differences, how they look and feel and smell. He helps us do this by giving us some knowledge, his opinion on the best brands and some great online sources to buy them too.

A fascinating, and fun, read, with cute illustrations, a ton of information, a perfect read for the foodie, the would be foodie..or just someone who wants to know their oolong from their assam.

Now, to entice you just a little more, I will pick a recipe to share from the book...and it is hard to pick just one. I confess, I have not made it, yet, but it sounds like a lovely summer dish. I need to go shopping...

Pugliese Orecchiette and Broccoli Rabe

Serves 4

Orecchiette is the prestigious pasta of Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot. The name means "little ears," and the indentations in the pasta catch the sauce. The rim of the orecchiette, a bit thicker than the depressed center, stays firm when you cook it, creating an interesting textural contrast as you eat.
The traditional Pugliese way to eat orecchiette is with broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, in a simple sauce seasoned with hot peppers and anchovies. It has become one of my favorite meals.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 serrano chile pepper, chopped, or hot red pepper flakes,
preferably Marash (see page 58 of book), to taste, plus more for serving
3 anchovy fillets
Coarse sea salt to taste
1 pound orecchiette
1 small bunch broccoli rabe or dandelion greens
(4 ounces without tough stems), coarsely chopped
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fresh ricotta cheese, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, in another large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the serrano pepper or pepper flakes and sauté, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of hot water from the other pot and the anchovy fillets to the onion mixture. (They'll melt into the sauce, so there's no need to chop them.)

When the water in the first pot boils, add 1 to 2 tablespoons salt and the orecchiette, stir well, and cook until the pasta is almost al dente.

Meanwhile, add the broccoli rabe or dandelion greens to the onion mixture. Stir, add a pinch of salt and another 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the pasta is done. Add more of the pasta cooking water, if necessary, to keep the greens "saucy."

Drain the pasta and add it to the greens. Stir and simmer for 2 minutes, or until well combined. Add a little more olive oil, some grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and black pepper. Serve in warm bowls with a dollop of ricotta cheese and additional hot pepper flakes on the side.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

a review of "Seaworthy" [44]

Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea by Linda Greenlaw
(Viking, ISBN 978-0-670-02192-5)

I make no secret of a certain fondness for things of the sea, and no secret that one of my favorite author about the sea is Linda Greenlaw.
She first became know to us when Sebastian Junger's, in his 1997 best-seller, "The Perfect Storm," called her "not only one of the only women in the business ... but one of the best captains, period, on the entire East Coast." For many of us, that book was the beginning of a certain fascination with long line swordfishing and several books since then by Ms. Greenlaw have fueled our interest. Happily, with the publication of Seaworthy, we have another installment in the story.

It has been ten years since Greenlaw last captained a swordfishing boat and her life has taken some different turns. She returned to Isle au Haut, Maine, took up lobster fishing, became the guardian of a teenage girl and wrote 3 non-fiction books about fishing, a delightful cookbook with her mother and two mystery novels. But still, when she got the call offering her a position as the caption of thw Seahawk, to undertake a 2 month fishing trip in the fall of 2008 for swordfish, it is not an exaggeration to say that she jumped at the chance.
"At sea—it's more a feeling than it is a place.
It was this feeling, the state of being at sea, that I hadn't experienced in ten years. This sensation is the result of living the total contradiction of burden and freedom. I am the captain, I thought. The freedom to make all decisions, unquestioned and without input, was something that I had missed during my sabbatical. To be held ultimately, although not solely, responsible for the lives and livelihoods of a loyal and capable crew was strangely exhilarating and empowering. But high hopes and expectations were weighty loads. It's the willingness, and not the ability, to bear that burden that separates captains from their crew. Right here and right now, as the Seahawk plodded along, I was fondly embracing the burden of that responsibility. Just being on the boat made me feel good."
She signed up a eager crew of four experienced men, several of them her good friends and set out to pick up their boat. And so began the problems.

The Seahawk turned out to be...
"the rustiest of buckets, with sprung, busted and ancient equipment guaranteed to fail at any critical moment."
..and it was pretty much downhill from there. An engine breakdown that require a tow to Nova Scotia, constant equipment problems, the electrocution of a crew member and the near drowning of, things are never dull on the Grand Banks. But perhaps the highlight of the story...and a great story it Greenlaw's arrest by Canadian authorities, complete with handcuffs and a cell and a fine that left her actually owing money after two months work.

And yet for all that, we have no doubt that if she gets that call again, she will be packing her bag. Greenlaw is one of those few that maybe feel more at home on the deck of a boat a 1000 miles from home, waves crashing over them, than anywhere else. And that is maybe the most interesting aspect of her books for me, what makes these people, again and again, return to the sea. For all her new commitments and changes in her life, she can not get it out her blood, the thrill, the challenge of it all.
"Every time I believed I had swordfish figured out, they threw me a curve. They're clever, and elusive, and mysterious. Swordfish and I first engaged in this game of hide and seek in 1979. And thirty years later we're both still in the game."
Greenlaw wonders, at the beginning of her journey, how she will fare, captaining a swordfishing boat after a decade away, whether she will be up to the challenge. She is changed, yes. She is older, more mellow, more introspective. But she is, happily for the reader, as humorous as ever, as good a proponent of this industry as there is, and an excellent storyteller, totally Seaworthy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Hudson, NY

Mural, Hudson, NY always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

a review of "A Fierce Radiance" [43]

A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer
(Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-125251-8)

Most of us alive today can not remember a time when a small cut, a simple fall could be a death sentence, when a soar throat could turn septic, a case of pneumonia would leave a classmate's desk empty forever.
A time before penicillin.

It is just after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Claire Shipley, a staff photographer for Life magazine, is sent to New York's Rockefeller Institute to document the trials of a new experimental drug. The trials, led by the handsome, brilliant Dr. Jamie Stanton, are of a drug that is being grown in small quantities, in milk bottles, from green mold, a drug that the researchers think may be able to cure infections. It is a great human interest story, as she photographs a man who is snatched back from the edge of death, only to succumb when they run out of the medicine. But Claire's interest is more than professional, having lost her own 3 year old daughter to blood poisoning eight years before. Her own daughter is gone but Clair knows how many more might be saved if only a way can be found to produce this penicillin in sufficient quantities.

Once the government realized the success of the trials, they also realize what the production of this drug to treat injured troops could mean to the war effort. Just as most of us do not remember a time before antibiotics, most of us also do not remember a time when many Americans though the Allies might lose the war and a time when the residents of NYC thought invasion was a real possibility. Penicillin could be a weapon that would change the outcome of the war, which at the moment was looking pretty grim.

Claire's story would not be published because the government took over the trials and set about to coordinate an effort by all the major pharmaceutical companies, in secrecy, to find a method for the massive production of penicillin. Of course, the Allies' enemies had their spies in place, hoping to steal the technology, while the pharmaceutical companies, while working on penicillin, were each also trying to produce another, non-government regulated "cousin", a related antibiotic that, if successful, would mean a fortune for them. The stakes are huge..power, money, the very outcome of the war. There is a suspicious death that strikes close to home, espionage and, on a more personal level, Claire's new romance with Dr. Stanton, to round out this epic story.

A Fierce Radiance is an historical novel, a thriller and a romance...and it succeeds in each to varying degrees.

I am not usually a fan of historical novels, but this book is an exception. I think Belfer is very successful in recreating the WWII era, the mood, the fears, the shortages, the life in new York in the midst of World war II. It is a city were raw sewage still flowed into the rivers, cattle were brought into stockyards to be slaughtered and the windows of the houses of Clair's Greenwich Village neighbors were increasing filled with the Gold Stars that showed it was the home of a now dead soldier. Having Claire, a Life magazine photographer with her various assignments, at the center of the book is a wonderful vehicle for exploring these happenings and she is a fascinating character. Surprising, the whole issue of the development of penicillin is by far the most interesting part of the book and without question the story is at it's strongest when that subject is at the center.

As a thriller, the book is fairly successful. I am a great fan of mysteries and this was a pretty good one, with an interesting police detective, enough red herrings, spies and corporate intrigue to keep me interested.

But for me, the weakest link of the book was the romance between Claire and the good Doctor Jamie. Part of the problem was that I just didn't like him, from the moment, in the earliest pages of the book, when he seems to be spending more time considering how he will get Claire into his bed than tending to the dying man in front of him. Add in a few moral lapses, a dose of amnesia and a number of unexplained stupid decisions and I was not very vested in this romance.

Overall, for me, A Fierce Radiance is good book than fell just short of being an excellent book by trying to keep just one too many plates in the air at the same time. It seems just a little confused about what kind of book it is and maybe, in trying to be too many things, falls just a little short. This book is at it's best when it zones in on the real history surrounding the development of penicillin and the changed world that discovery created. When that is at the heart of the story, it is a very entertaining book.

My thanks to Kelley and Hall for a review copy of this book.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Musing Monday..."We Are Family ..."

"We are family
I got all my family with me
We are family
Get up everybody and READ...

OK, maybe those are not the exact lyrics, but they should be.
Let's check out this weeks Musing Monday question, as always, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

This week’s question was inspired by an online book group I belong to…
Who in your family (both immediate & extended) are readers, and who are not?

Well, since I live alone, I guess I have no immediate family [wow, that sounds pitiful. ;-) ] Except, of course, for Kitty, my imaginary kitty, who does not read. But if we cast out nets a little further, we will catch us a whole big bunch of readers.
My brother is a big reader, although our tastes could not be more different. I read almost all fiction, he read almost all non-fiction. History, politics, the duller and more obscure the better for the Bro. I do remember him reading one fiction series, the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian, but those might be the only works of fiction he has read since he was in school...long, long ago.

The SIL is also a big reader, but her tastes in reading material is much closer to mine, fiction, leaning toward mystery and thrillers. If I like a book, I can be pretty sure she will like it too. Of course, since she bought that darn Evil Kindle, I don't get to actually see what she is reading anymore.
The Niece is a reader as well, happily. When she was younger, I am not sure that was as true as it is now but once she got into college her reading for pleasure seems to have taken off quite a bit. And of course Bandit is a reader...but only in Italian.

I wonder about the whole nature/nurture issue as it applies to something like reading. Do most people pick up the love of reading from seeing it the home when they are kids, or are we just born to love or not love books?
I have mentioned before that my mother was a huge reader. She would often have a paperback in her handbag, she would read for hours in bed every night, often into the wee hours, and she was without question the local branch library's best 'customer'. She came from a family of readers, both my maternal grandparents and I know several of her siblings, were/are readers.

On the other hand, my father was not a reader as I remember. He read the newspaper..and that was about it. But then I wonder how much of that was whether he had access to books as a child. He grew up on a farm in a very rural Ireland, without electricity in his home, and most likely his only access to books was in his small local village school. I'm not sure, but if you don't catch the reading bug when you are young, is there some sort of cut off age or can an adult, who has never been a reader, become someone who really loves books? If any of you have seen that, I would be curious to hear about it.

If you are not exposed to books, if they are not around you, especially when you are a child, is it just that much more unlikely that you will catch the bug? I have said this before, but I think one of the greatest gift you can give a child is a love for reading and one way to do that is to give them books. As much as I love public libraries, and they were a beloved part of my own childhood, I think for a child to actually own a book that they love and can read again and again, a book of their own, is priceless.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Weekend Cooking...Chocolate-Hazelnut Ravioli

Are you familiar with Nutella?

I must say, that in my opinion, it is one of the most tasty product out there. What is it? Well, according to their web site, it is a creamy spread made from a combination of toasted hazelnuts. skim milk and cocoa. In it's earliest form, it was created by Pietro Ferrero about 1940. At the time in Italy, there was a shortage of chocolate due to WWII rationing, so he made a spread with the very plentiful local nuts and a small amount of chocolate and so was born this wonderful substance.
I understand that it is much more popular in Europe than it is in the US and is often eaten there on bread or toast as a breakfast food. Personally, my favorite way of eating it, I must confess, is just with a spoon, out of the jar.

But if you are looking for something a little more elaborate, I will offer this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. If you have ever watched her TV show on the Food Network, you know that she too is a big Nutella fan, perhaps even more than I am.

This recipe is very easy, very quick, and makes a rather elegant, delicious dessert. She recommends a serving of two ravioli each and you can see from the recipe that she tops her with a fried mint leaf dredged in sugar. I had no mint, so I served mine with some lovely fresh berries from my garden, all dusted with a little powered sugar.
Now, she says you can keep them warm in the oven, or even make them the day before and reheat them. I can't testify to that, since mine have never lasted more than a minute or two after they were cooked. :-)

Chocolate-Hazelnut Ravioli
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis

16 wonton wrappers
1 egg, beaten to blend
1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)
Vegetable oil, for frying
16 fresh mint leaves
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Granulated sugar, for dredging
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Place 1 wonton wrapper on the work surface. Brush the edges of the wrapper lightly with egg. Spoon 1 teaspoon of chocolate-hazelnut spread into the center of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper diagonally in half over the filling and press the edges of the wrapper to seal. Place the ravioli on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining wonton wrappers, egg, and chocolate-hazelnut spread.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Add enough oil to a heavy large frying pan to reach a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to 350 degrees F.
Working in batches, carefully add the ravioli to the hot oil and cook until they are golden brown, about 45 seconds per side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ravioli to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Then, transfer the cooked ravioli to another baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven while frying the remaining ravioli. (The fried ravioli can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool them completely, then cover and refrigerate. Before serving, place them on a baking sheet and rewarm in a preheated 375 degrees F oven just until they are heated through, about 7 minutes.)
Spray the top side of the mint leaves very lightly with nonstick spray. Working with 1 leaf at a time, dredge the coated side of the leaves in sugar to coat lightly.
Arrange 2 fried ravioli on each plate. Dust the ravioli with powdered sugar. Garnish with the sugared mint leaves and serve.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Give me a Hand Pulling My Soapbox Over Here, Will Ya?

My feeling about the Evil E-readers is most likely known to many here, although it has been awhile since I pulled out my soapbox..
And yet..I will admit that on occasion, these Evil E-reader do tempts even me, if just a little bit.

Recently I was up in NY state for the weekend with my brother and sister-in-law and the SIL is the owner of an Evil Kindle. Yes, much about it is wrong, especially the Kindle's proprietary format. But having the choice of all those books on one thin little device, where as I was limited to the one bulky book I could fit in my suitcase...yes, I can see some advantage, at least for traveling.

But I will still wait. Wait for the industry to deal with some still huge issues.

Recently there was an article in the Wall Street Journal that discussed several of the issues that we hold outs have. Bottom line, I want to be able to control the “books” that I buy. But that is not yet the case.
“Reading devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook will come and go, but you'll likely want your e-book collection to stick around. Yet unlike music, commercial e-books from the leading online stores come with restrictions that complicate your ability to move your collection from one device to the next.”
Things seem to be getting a little better, be opening up a bit. Apple, using some free apps, allows you to open your Amazon purchased Kindle books on a number of different devices now, like the iPhone and a PC. Also books purchased from Sony's bookstore and Borders Kobo can be opened on some other devices using Adobe Digital Editions to transfer them. And I am sure there are also some less than fully legal methods out there to even open up the Amazon software...but why does it have to be so complicated? I want it simple. Buy what I want, where I want, read it with any device I like and do with it what I will. Is that too much to ask?

As I see it, there are two separate issues. First, you want to decide which device you want to buy. Which is easier, nicer to read, most versatile, what is the cost...just like any other devices you buy.
Second, you want to decide where, at what e-bookstore, you buy your “books”. Again, who has the best selection, are easiest to download, has the best prices. I want to buy my books and do with them what I want. Read them on any device I own, loan them out, give them away, just like I can with a “real” book.
Why should one decision have anything to do with the other?
Why, oh why, should it be so complicated, so restricted?

But perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel, as the WSJ says, a way that Google seem to be exploring in it's soon to be release commercial service.
“Google, which plans to launch an e-bookstore later this year, says customers will be able to access its books through apps on popular devices and through a Web browser on any device—including a phone or computer. Google's argument is that we shouldn't lock ourselves into one bookstore if it is going to offer titles that are dependent on special apps or devices.”
The simply answer is that all the e-bookstores except the industry standard of the e-Pub format, without adding their own restrictive DMR (digital rights management) software, just as the music industry finally had to except the m3p format. But...
“For now, the e-bookstore choice comes down to which compromises readers are willing to accept.”
How about none? So, in the meantime, I will still be waiting.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

a review of "Plainsong"[42]

Plainsong by Kent Haruf
(Knopf, ISBN 978-0375406188)

I know that I first heard about this book, which was published in 1999, by reading a review of it recently on some blog...but I can't remember where, and now, I can't find it. So whoever you are..thank you. Because this was a very enjoyable book and I thank you for pointing it out to me.

Holt, Colorado, the town Plainsong is set in, may seem on the surface to be a quiet, peaceful little town, but of course some issues are simmering below the surface. High school teacher Tom Guthrie is a solid, reliable man, raising his two young sons, Ike and Bobby, but these days he must do it without the assistance of his wife. In her depression, she has retreated to the guest room to spend her days in darkness. Soon she will move out of town, leaving behind her two confused young sons.
"Here was this man Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window in the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just coming up. When the sun reached the top of the windmill, for a while he watched what it was doing, that increased reddening of sunrise along the steel blade and the tail vane above the wooden platform. After a time he put out the cigarette and went upstairs and walked past the closed door behind which she lay in bed in the darkened guest room sleeping or not and went down the hall to the glassy room over the kitchen where the two boys were."
At work, Tom is in a confrontation with a star football player, refusing to follow the principal's suggestion to just pass him along even if he is failing. Tom will pay a price for trying to hold the boy to some standards.

Then there is 17 year old student Victoria Roubideaux, who finds herself pregnant, deserted by the child's father and locked out of her house by her mother. Desperate, with no place to go, she turns for help to teacher Maggie Jones, who while herself dealing with an aged father who suffers from dementia, is a calm, strong force in our story. Maggie makes what at seems a very strange suggestion for the girl. She arranged for Victoria to move in with two elderly rancher brothers, Harold and Raymond McPheron. Orphaned quite young, they have spent their entire lived working the family cattle ranch, a good distance from town, never marrying. At first we may think it is an odd choice, but it seems Maggie understand somehow that providing a home for the girl will fulfill some void in the brother's lives as well. I must say that the McPheron 'boys' were simply delightful characters, so rough on the exterior and yet so sincere, so funny and ultimately oddly insightful.

And finally we have Maggie. She cares for her father without complaint, is a teacher at the school and living a quiet life, yet it seems she has had her own unfulfilled dreams that may still come true. Her role in the book is not that big, but in a way she is the linchpin in the lives of all these folks.

When I write out a bit of the outline of the plot, it sounds a bit soap-operaish, but the reality could not be further from the truth. This is a rather slow, deliberate book, all these going-ons presented in a very straightforward and even at times, stark way, each characters presenting their own point of view in separate chapters. As all these lives begin to intersect, it never seems forced but rather just inevitable and very right. These are all people whose natural families have in ways been destroyed and yet come to form their own, new connections. This is a story about the day to day struggle of ordinary people to live their lives, to make a living and raise their families while trying to do what is right and deal with the trials life has given them with dignity.

Plainsong is described in the opening of the book as “the unisonous vocal music used in the Christian church from the earliest time; any simple and unadorned melody or air.” Yes, simple and unadorned, all the various notes coming together to form a harmonious song, describes this book as well. Haruf's clean, direct and often very funny style is a pleasure to read. To a reader who has tired of one too many overblown, over elaborate books, the restrained writing is so refreshing to read. Plainsong is a moving, quiet and, at times, quite amusing book, with some memorable characters, a refreshing style and a story that will sneak up on you.

Again, my thanks to my local library for use of this book.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Atlantic City in the distance...

Great Egret

Diamondback terrapin

Black Skimmers

Osprey always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bandit Tuesday...Settling In

"Ok, I think I am all set. I am in my bed...I have my blanket and my fuzzy toy and my squeaky toy and a snack...Did I forget anything? I hate to have to get up again."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Musing Monday

I am all confused today. I was away for the weekend, off for a little trip to the Catskills in NY and..I was totally without the Internet! Yes, barely three days and yet I have hundreds of e-mails and countless posts on my Google Reader.
So that is what I blame for the fact that I forgot it was Monday and that I need to Muse! Not too late, so off we go to check out this week's question at Should Be Reading...

Where is your most often used (favorite) reading spot? Do you have more than one? What makes your favorite spot just that?

Share pictures if you have them!

My very, very favorite place to read is...wherever I am with a book and a bit of time!

Which is why you should always have a book on hand. You never know when an opportunity may arise and you should be ready. Otherwise you may waste the time!

At home, I usually read either in my recliner or a living room chair. I rarely read in bed just because I tend to fall asleep and if I fall asleep, damage might occur to my book! If I am horizontal, I am soon asleep and the book might end up anywhere. If it is nice out, I sometimes read outside in my hammock, but there again there is a danger of book injury due to dropping after falling asleep. But at least the distance to the ground is small and the grass is soft.

I read at work. I have mentioned this before, but when I work nights and weekends I have a fair bit of 'free' time, as I monitor things, when I get get some reading in.
Honestly, I often get my best reading there because away from a lot of everyday distractions and tied to my desk, I can concentrate.

But then you have the many serendipitous reading opportunities, never to be missed. A doctor's appointment, an oil change, waiting for a prescription to be filled, even a long line if you can read while standing...

a book plus some free time is the best place to read!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Faith'n'Fiction Saturday Roundtable- Peace Like A River [41]

Today, we have something a little different here on the blog. In May, I was a participant in the Faith'n'Fiction Saturday Round Table, hosted on the last Saturday of the month by My Friend Amy. As you may notice, we are a bit late, being as it is actually June, but do not quibble, because, in my opinion at least, we had a very fine book to read and discuss. I thank Amy for asking me to be a part of this discussion because it introduced me to a very nice book, a book that I enjoyed a great deal and not necessarily a book I might have happened upon otherwise.

This month's book was Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, and I will give you the Amazon description of the book...

“Dead for 10 minutes before his father orders him to breathe in the name of the living God, Reuben Land is living proof that the world is full of miracles. But it's the impassioned honesty of his quiet, measured narrative voice that gives weight and truth to the fantastic elements of this engrossing tale. From the vantage point of adulthood, Reuben tells how his father rescued his brother Davy's girlfriend from two attackers, how that led to Davy being jailed for murder and how, once Davy escapes and heads south for the Badlands of North Dakota, 12-year-old Reuben, his younger sister Swede and their janitor father light out after him. But the FBI is following Davy as well, and Reuben has a part to play in the finale of that chase, just as he had a part to play in his brother's trial. It's the kind of story that used to be material for ballads, and Enger twines in numerous references to the Old West, chiefly through the rhymed poetry Swede writes about a hero called Sunny Sundown. That the story is set in the early '60s in Minnesota gives it an archetypal feel, evoking a time when the possibility of getting lost in the country still existed. Enger has created a world of signs, where dead crows fall in a snowstorm and vagrants lie curled up in fields, in which everything is significant, everything has weight and comprehension is always fleeting. This is a stunning debut novel, one that sneaks up on you like a whisper and warms you like a quilt in a North Dakota winter, a novel about faith, miracles and family that is, ultimately, miraculous.”

I was very surprised that several of our original participant did not really like this book, and that of the remaining, there was definitely a mixed opinion. For myself, I thought it was a very nice book, in a way a magical book. It is a book full of miracles and grace that touch the everyday lives of some everyday...and extraordinary...characters and in that way it reminding me a bit of the stories of Flannery O'Connor. Since I love the stories of Ms. O'Connor, from me that is high praise indeed.

I hope you will take a minutes to check out some of the e-mail discussion we participants had and that it may lead you to check out this charming book if you have not already read it. If you have read it, I would love to hear your own opinion on it.

My Friend Amy--Introduction
Devourer of Books--Expectations
Wordlily--General Impressions
A Lovely Shore Breeze--Davy Part 1
The Fiddler's Gun--Davy Part 2
Melanie's Musings--Other Characters

Melanie:  Often when reading a book where one of the character's is a murderer, the
murderer is portrayed as a completely dark and evil person.  While I was
reading this, though, I knew Davy wasn't, completely anyway, and there
were a few times when I honestly didn't want him to ever be caught even
though I knew what he did was wrong and by law he deserved to get caught
and imprisoned.

Hannah:  Melanie, you touched on something I'd been aiming at pinning down. In Peace Like a River Enger doesn't undermine moral absolutes, but he does clearly illustrate how some ambiguity can sneak in, how in a black and white world there's plenty of grey.

Amy:  Melanie, I think you bring up an excellent point about Davy.  I have to admit I was surprised when the book took that turn and in fact that's when it started to grab my interest.  I also sympathized with him and saw him entirely through Reuben's eyes, which is to say I never wanted him to be caught and "brought to justice" at all.  Of course, I also never really felt the humanity of his victims, either.  I think that's probably an accurate and true to life way that we see things, but at the same time, I do believe all life is sacred and while what they did was wrong, I'm not sure it warranted death.  I would love to hear other's thoughts on this, though.

Caite:  I am not a great Davy fan. Ok, yes, he wanted to protect his family and that is a noble thing, but he lost me when he fired that third shot. The man was no danger and he decided to execute him with that shot. That was not about protecting his family anymore. And then, when we find out who he taunted them to break into the house and was waiting to kill, I did not feel for him and would have had no problem with him being 'brought to justice'.

In my mind, he represents the other view of the world from his father. It is a world without faith, without miracles, without God. "Davy wanted life to be something you did on your own; the whole idea of a protective, fatherly God annoyed him." [p.56]
And that is what he got...a life on his own, on the edge of the margins.

Amy: Intellectually I knew what Davy did was wrong, and yes I got that he represented this other world view. But because I was inside Reuben's head, I couldn't help but feel that sort of sorrow when someone you love faces something very bad, whether or not they earned it.

Be sure to check out the full discussion on the other participants blogs, and my thanks again to Amy for asking me to be a part.

“Is there a single person on whom I can press belief?
No sir.
All I can do is say, Here's how it went. Here's what I saw.
I've been there and am going back.
Make of it what you will”
Peace Like a River p.311

Weekend Cooking...Caite's Chocolate Cake in a Cup

Sometimes, you know, it's going to happen. There you are, hanging around the house and you just need something chocolate...maybe a chocolate cake. But that is such a production. But what if you could make one in just 5 minutes, all in one cup? Well, supposedly you can, according to proponents of The Five Minute Chocolate Cake in a Coffee Mug.

Now, as I looked around the internet, I found any number of takes on this and comments on the results that range from the best thing they every tasted to a horrible, rubbery mess. So I set out to give it a try.
I read about a dozen recipes, took an idea here, an idea there and came up with...

Caite's Chocolate Cake in a Cup!

you will need-
  • a microwave
  • a large coffee mug, in which you mix...
  • 3 Tbs. cocoa
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking power
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbs. oil
  • 2 Tbs. egg (1 whole egg is too much, so scramble one up and just use 2 Tbs.)
  • 3 Tbs. milk
  • 3 Tbs. chocolate chips or chopped up chocolate bar

Mix it all well in the cup and pop it in the microwave.
Now the key, I think, is not to overcook. It should still be moist and a little gooey even. For most modern microwaves, that is not one your mother bought in 1980, I think you are looking at about 1 or 1 and a half minutes. Err on the side of undercooking or you will have a dry, brown rock.

The result? It was pretty good, moist and very chocolaty, perhaps best eaten while it is still warm. It is very cool to watch it rise up in the cup. A fast and fun little project, maybe something fun to do with a child.Or for those of us who are children at heart.
Or if you just need some cake...and you need it fast!

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.