Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Review of "The Secret Life of Lobsters" [63]

The Secret Life of Lobsters- How Fisherman and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean by Trevor Corson
Harper Perennial, ISBN978-0060555597
May 10, 2005, 320 pages

"Consider the humble lobster: an unsightly creature from the sea that tastes awfully good with melted butter. But it turns out that this aesthetically-challenged crustacean is so much more—a charming lover, a belligerent fighter, and a snoopy socializer with a nose that lets it track prey and paramour alike with the skill of a bloodhound. And, perhaps most important, these astonishing animals are a sustainable resource that has provided a livelihood for generations of Maine fisherman."

Lobsters are delicious, a choice item on many a restaurant menu, but they are also a big business, the topic of political wrangling and the subject of scientific investigation. They are also the creature that provides a livelihood for thousands and thousands of Maine families and have been for generations. And all of these subjects form a part of Mr. Corson's quite interesting book. Especially if you have a place in your heart..or tummy...for this rather prehistoric looking crustacean.

In many industries, the scientists and the 'farmers' often seem to be at odds. And for many years, this was no doubt the case in lobstering. But certainly in Maine, in more recent years, that has started to change. To learn more about the lobster, it's life cycle, it's reproduction, how to best manage the number caught to maintain the harvest, scientists needed the help of the lobstermen. For the lobstermen to have a future, they came to see that they could not let the lobster go the way of the cod, fished until it almost disappeared and the scientists could help with that. Over time, as Corson shows in this books, maybe they both came to have a grudging admiration for the knowledge of the other. Neither side is all good or all bad in their motives or actions, but hopefully, they are both learning some useful things for the future of this industry.

Corson does not just come by this knowledge academically. He actually worked two years on a lobster boat out of Little Cranberry Island, off the coast of Maine near Acadia National Park and the summer resort of Bar Harbor. Having driven through countless little towns along that area in the last few days, let me assure you that lobstering in an integral part of these communities. I was simply amazed at the number of lobster buoys in Frenchman's Bay off Mt. Desert Island and rarely do you pass a town harbor that is not full of lobster boats. And it is Corson's personal look into the lives of these fisherman and their families, as well as the rather quirky group of scientist involved in this work, that was the most fun part of this book.
Not to say the the star of the show, the lobster itself, is not quite the character. I now know perhaps just a bit more about the sex life of a lobster than I have ever wanted too. Happily, you will get your science, but mixed in with enough human drama to keep it interesting.

I can not say that I will ever look at the lobster on my plate in quite the same way in the future. But I will still be happy to see him there, a fine example of an industry that is trying, with all the ups and downs, to provide a sustainable food product for the future..and maintain a heritage that goes back for centuries in places like Maine.

If you are interested in Maine and in getting a glimpse of life on a small coastal island, in sustainable food production, in the science of the creatures that inhabit our coastlines...or you just love a nice steamed lobster with a side of butter, I think you will enjoy this book.

P.S. To celebrate the posting of this review..yes, I know it is a feeble excuse...I went out and had lobster for dinner last night.
Thank you, lobster fisher people of Maine and, most of all, thank you Lobster!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...A Few Pictures From Maine

I am off to Maine this come along.

Along Rt. 1 near Belfast

At the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath

The coast near Southwest Harbor always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Musing Monday...The End Is Near! Well, It Could Be...

Let's head over and check out this week's question from MizB at Should Be Reading...

This week’s musing asks…
What does it take for you to give up on a book you’re reading?

Golly, Monday is almost over and here I am, sitting in my motel room, writing it finally.

I meant to get up and write it this morning, but I was all excited about spending my day in Maine's lovely Acadia National Park and forgot all about it. Actually, I forgot it was Monday, because I am in vacation mode, where every day could be any day of the week!
Lobster...lobster boats...crashing waves and beautiful scenery. Tomorrow, after a 2 hr. sail on a four masted ship, I will be heading north again, up to the northern most coast of Maine, near Lubec and one of my favorite lighthouses, West Quoddy.
So cute with it's little red stripes...

Wait...what was the question??
Oh, what will make me give up on a book.
Again, as with so many things, it depends.
For a review copy, it takes a great deal.
A book I am just reading for myself, less.

If I have excepted a book from an author or publisher, it has top be really, really bad. It might be boring to the point of madness, vile, full of editing errors,,or as I has mentioned before, it might be really, really stupid. I hate a stupid plot...I really hate stupid characters. Characters that are more stupid than the people I would put up with in real life.

Now, it is not a review copy, I will put up with even less.
Sometimes I put it aside, with hopes of picking it up again in the future.
Which honestly, does not happen too often.
There is always another book on the horizon, something all new and shiny, at least new to me, that catches my attention.
I am sure you have heard the saying..Life is too short to spend it reading bad books.

Once, I took it as a point of pride, or maybe stubbornness, that I would finish a book no matter what.
The old I get, the bigger the TBR pile gets, the less time I figure that I have to waste.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weekend Cooking... "Chowda!"

Did I mention that I was heading to Maine this week?

No, I didn't.

Well I am in Maine.
I drove up on Tuesday, spent a few days in Portland and am now
in the mid-coast area. Camden, Rockport, Rockland. And of course the town of South Thomaston, where I was lucky enough to get a personalize tour of the library ( is pretty much one room, but a great one room!)from the person in charge, Tutu herself, of Tutu Two Cents. We dined on Maine's version of a cheesesteak and whoopie pie at a local establishment and a grand time was had by all.
But enough about that..for now.

This post is about food and the food in question if chowder, clam chowder! Hot and creamy, full of potatoes and clams.
So I have been doing a study. A small study granted, since I only have two samples so far. But they are reported to be excellent examples of the dish in question, so I think that is fair.

The first example was from Gilbert's Chowder in Portland, a place that has often won awards for the best clam chowder in Maine. And it was very, very good.
The second was from The Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth. Very good but different. Thinner, more milky broth, but with a great clam flavor.

How to to pick. Well, if i had to vote between the two, I think I would go with the first, pictured to the right here, from Gilbert's. Very thick and creamy, full of nice clams..delicious.
You might notice a small serving of fried clams that I  also had at Gilbert's. And a fry or two..and some cole slaw.
Maybe a beer.
But I did skip dessert and felt very noble about it

Not that I would ever turn down the second, from the Lobster Shack. Of course it might also help that it is perched on the edge of the water, with a wonderful view. At least when the fog clears.
There has been a lot of fog and drizzle on this trip. It makes for great atmosphere!!

Now, for the sad part of this post.
I was going to close with my sister in law's recipe for clam chowder.

It is an excellent recipe that makes an excellent chowder that rivals either of these.

But as I sit here in my motel, on my laptop, I find that for some reason, I do not have it in my recipe file. I must just have a paper copy at home.What was I thinking?

But I must get on with my day and don't have the time to write another post!
More chowder is out there waiting...and lobster rolls...not to mention whoopie pies!

But I will send each and every one of you a pint of chowder in the mail to make up for it.
Ok, not really. But I would if I could!

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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday..A Few From The Ship

One of the pools

towel animal

a teapot..really always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

SURPRISE!! Or not...

Ok, I usually like to keep this secret.
A lot of people get really upset when I admit this.
But it seems,at least according to one study, maybe I don't have anything to be ashamed of.

What is my secret?
I often read the last pages of a book first.

There, I said it, and I know many of you find that a terrible thing to admit or just totally beyond your understanding, especially for a mystery lover like myself.
"Doesn't that ruin the suspense? Don't you want to be surprised." Well, very often...not really.
And it seems I am not the only one according to an articled in Wired about a study done at UC San Diego that will be published in Psychological Science.

As the author of the article says,
"I’ve got a weak spot for pulp fiction, especially when it involves a mysterious twist. I like unironic thrillers and mediocre Agatha Christie imitations. Basically, I like any kind of fiction that lets me forget for vast stretches of time that I’m sitting in an airport terminal.

I read these books in an unusual way: I begin with the last five pages, seeking out the final twist first. The twist won’t make sense at this point, but that doesn’t matter — I enjoy reading the story with the grand finale in mind. (Hell, I even cheated with Harry Potter.)

I’ve always assumed that this reading style is a perverse personal habit, a symptom of a flawed literary intelligence. It turns out, though, that I was just ahead of the curve, because spoilers don’t spoil anything. In fact, a new study suggests that spoilers can actually increase our enjoyment of literature. Although we’ve long assumed that the suspense makes the story — we keep on reading because we don’t know what happens next — this new research suggests that the tension actually detracts from our enjoyment."

Check out the results. The numbers prove it. In three different genres, readers who read the ending first said they enjoyed the stories more than readers who did not.
Why might this be?
Well the author suggests that this fear of spoilers is a recent thing. The Greek tragedies and comedies up through the plays of Shakespeare and Hollywood movies were quite predicable and the audience often knew what the ending would be.

Also, just because we know the final twist does not know the story still does not contain surprises. In fact, to my mind, those are the best sort of books, that draw us along, surprising step by surprising step.
"Perhaps we’ve overvalued the pleasure of the shocking ending at the expense of those smaller astonishments along the way. It’s about the narrative journey, not the final destination..."
And latest, we often experience a surprise as our failure to see it coming rather than a pleasurable thing.
"The human mind is a prediction machine, which means that it registers most surprises as a cognitive failure, a mental mistake."
I guess no surprise parties for him!

Well, do any of you share my predilection...and are you willing to admit it?
Many will be upset if you do, but be brave and join me in the "not really wanting to be surprised group. It is lonely here.
Anyone else out there who turns to the back of the book first?

Come on, admit it... ;-)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Musing Monday...Life Is Short

This week’s musing, from Miz B at Should Be Reading, asks…

How often do you read a book, just because you’re in the mood to read it? (not because you’re obligated to for a book club, or a challenge, or for review)

The short answer...More and more all the time.

Once upon a time, I suffered from that all too common book blogger illness...excess requesticitis.

When you first start a blog, you see all those other bloggers getting all these great new books and you want them too! Part of it is that they are free, but even more than that it is getting books before they are released, before ordinary folks can go out and buy them. With a favorite author especially, that is really somehow, very exciting. I will not lie..

Not only do you get better at finding books to ask for, but you start getting offers to send you books. Sometimes you even get unrequested books surprising you, arriving in the mail in those nice brown envelopes.
Again, at first it is great. You feel recognized for your carefully written, delightful reviews. ;-)
It's fun.

But then, as with so many good things, it can get out of hand.
The pile gets taller, the dates closer together
You find that all you have time to read are books that you are committed to read. Not that they might not be great but what of the book you read about in some other bloggers great review and want to read? Or those old favorites that you have on your shelves or something you see at the library. You should not have to feel guilty about browsing at the library, should you?

So more and more, over time, I have made some changes.
I request only books that I am  pretty sure I will really enjoy, a book that I would want to buy with my own tightly gripped little hands. Many books that I am offered, I decide not to accept. I have just cut back on review books a fair bit. And I have never done challenges. The idea just does not appeal to me.
See, if I accept a book, I feel a HUGE obligation to finish it, in order to review it. If I buy a book, or take it from the library, I feel no such obligation.
Reading should be fun, not an obligation. Reading should not include a sense of pressure. I should not feel that I have to rush to finish a book just because I have more obligations waiting or a challenge to meet. I am not good with deadlines. And I don't think that under any circumstances should I feel that I must finish a book that I don't like. Reading is fun, it's not a job.

Life is too short to waste time reading books that you do not love!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

So-So Cute Sammy Sunday


It seems Sammy has been doing some bedtime reading.
Are you going to post a review Sammy?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Weekend Cooking...Let's Try a New Product!

Well, it is new to me!
And see, it says NEW right on the container!

As I was doing the SIL's grocery shopping, she of the neck surgery and brace, the other day, my thoughts turned to dinner.
Something easy and fast..and something with chicken because boneless breasts were on sale and I love me a sale!

As I wandered around, in the dairy section, while getting some cream cheese for her bagels, I saw this products here on the right. Sure, I have seen the commercials, but commercials do not usually sway me.
But this time I was swayed, especially since the Philly Cooking Cream was on sale too!

Creamy Italian Cheese and Herb Chicken

3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed.
1 large red pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 large bag frozen broccoli
1 tub Philly Italian Cheese and Herb Cooking Creme
12 oz. pasta (I used bowties) cooked

While the water is coming to a boil for the pasta, saute the chicken in a bit of oil until just starting to brown, about 5 minutes.
Add onion, garlic and peppers and saute until just getting soft. throw in that broccoli and stir and cook for another minute or two.
Add the Philly cooking cream, stir, reduce heat and cooked until combined and bubbly hot, 3-4 minutes.
Add the cooked pasta, stir in, taste for salt and pepper and serve!

Quick...easy...and really quite tasty. The Bro and SIL liked it. Quite a bit I believe.
Of course, you can add any veggies you like, but I liked the mix of green and red. With a nice side salad, a bit of warm Italian bread, maybe a glass of wine, not a bad dinner for 20 minutes work.
When I drained the pasta, I kept a bit of the pasta water to thin out the sauce if it was too thick, but I thought it was just right. I also used a greater ratio of meat and veggies to sauce than the basic recipe on the container and thought I might need part of a second tub, but no, it was enough
Not to mention, if you go to the Philly website, they have a lot more recipes, some more ambitious than this one.

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, September 15, 2011

Reviews of 'Tilt-a-Whirl' [61] and 'Mad Mouse' [62]

Tilt-a-Whirl by Chris Grabenstein
Carroll & Graf, ISBN 978-0786715848
August 31, 2005, 304 pages

Summer will soon be over...not just in real life but in the made-up town of Sea Haven, NJ..but things are still quite hot. Not just the temperature, but the crime rate in the charming little seaside town.
24-year-old Danny Boyle, a part time summer cop (yes, a real job at the Shore) and his partner, Iraq veteran, John Ceepak are having breakfast when they see a teenage girl, covered in blood, running down the street, screaming. She says that she and her father, a Donald Trump like millionaire, were sitting in one of the giant tortoise cars of the closed Tilt-a-Whirl, having an early morning chat, when a man shuck in and shot her father to death. Which is not not a huge surprise, since you don't reach that sort of place in business and make that much money without also making a lot of enemies.

But golly, thing like this just don't happen in Sea Haven, where traffic is the usual police concern. But that is just the start of a crime wave in Sea Haven! OK, it is a small wave, but maybe enough to swamp the rest of the season as tourist flee for their lives.

Mad Mouse: A John Ceepak Mystery by Chris Grabenstein
Carroll & Graf, ISBN  978-0786717606
April 24, 2006, 320 pages

In this, the second book in the Sea Haven series, our two favorites police officers are back, the oh so handsome Iraq war veteran, a man of principle who lives by a Code, police officer John Ceepak and his partner, new full time officer, young Danny Boyle. Danny may have finally gotten a real, grown up job that he can be proud of telling his parents about, but he is still young enough that he can not think of a better way to end the season than to have a beach party one night with his group of friends. They are friends that date back to when they were just teenagers, working summers jobs in the daytime and having fun at night on the Sea Haven boardwalk.

It's like old times. That is, until someone disrupts the party, shooting the group with paintballs, injuring one woman enough to send her to the hospital with an eye injury.
Is it just kids fooling around? Well, it soon become clear that it is not, when in the next attack they find a real bullet. They have to find out who would possibly want Danny or his friends dead?
But the town fathers have a huge beach blow out planned for Labor Day...hey, MTV will be there!...and they can't have a mad gunman making then cancel it. So Officer Ceepak is on a short deadline to find the shooter...and meanwhile, keep Danny and his friends from getting killed.

First of all, let me just thanks Beth Fish Reads for alerting me to this series with her recent review of Rolling Thunder, the sixth book in the series.
I mean, a mystery series that takes place at the Jersey Shore...what more could I want?
Well, add in that they are funny, well written, with two great charcaters in the persons of Officer John Ceepak and Danny Boyle and a story line that often has a more serious, darker side...well, I can't ask for much more.
OK, a few minor distractions.
There are no private beaches in NJ, unlike what the author says in Tilt-a-Whirl.
He says Sea Haven is, I think, off exit 15 on the Garden State Parkway yet someplace else says it is 50 miles north of Atlantic City..which would make it about exit 88. A couple of other such mistakes.
Sorry, such matters get my OCD all works up.

But I will forgive him because the books are so much fun.
Ceepak is a great character. Back from Iraq, where he was a part of some very disturbing incidents, at first to some of his fellow cops he is a bit of a joke. He seems to live and breathe for his job, like a boy scout, always prepared. He lives by a Code. He will not lie or put up with those who do. But as we find out more about his background and his fellow officers see the type of results he gets and the sort of man he is, he earns our and their respect. He is not quite the stereotype we think at first..and he is one clever detective.
He certainly earns the respect of Danny, who could not have a better mentor in his new career..or a better man to watch his back.

There is a danger at some points in the books of them going a little too far over to the cute side, but I think the author is successful at keeping that from happening. Murder, even fictional murder, is a serious matter and in both books we get a glimpse of that very dark underside that makes us realize that nasty truth. Then, of course, we are soon out on the bright boardwalk, eating sausage sandwiches and trying to win a stuffed animal at a seemingly rigged game. Awww...summertime at the shore!

Good stories, a fun setting, especially for any reader who has ever spent their summer at a Jersey shore town, and some great characters that will be great fun to get to know even better as I read through this fun series.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Our Trip is Almost Over

Our trip is just about complete.
We are back in Venice, our trip having gone full circle.

Something different for Wordless Wednesday...
Name the movie and the star of that movie that building on the right and the covered market was in.  
The first person to get it right will win a prize! A lovely book perhaps..

 always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Musing Monday...Stupid Is As Stupid Does.

This week’s musing asks…

What is the one (or maybe two) qualities a book must have for you to pass it along to your best friend as a “must-read”?

Well, it depends.

It depends on what you mean by ‘pass it along’.

Am I physically giving or loaning a book to someone or am I recommending that they go out and spend their hard earned dollars on it?
Because I would have a different standard for each.

For a book that I am loaning...which assumes it is good enough that I want it back…or giving to someone…so I assume I would never want to read it again…my standard is lower. In fact, very few books, a handful, would not reach it. It would just not have to be just awful. Unreadable.

I might love it, like it…or just thought it was OK. Because I do not assume that just because I did not think it was wonderful does not mean they might not like it. Maybe it was a not a genre I particularly like or some aspect of it might not appeal to me but it might be right up their alley.
And after all, if they are getting it for free, I don’t think they can complain. Noting venture, nothing gained…or something like that.

But now, if I am recommending they take their money..or charge their hot little hands and actually plock it down for a book, well I take that more seriously. That is the standard I use when I write a review of a book here, a higher standard. I am telling them what I liked..or did not…and yes, to a degree that is a matter of taste but I also try to give objective reasons, especially if I did not like a book.
Characters, plot, setting- writing, good, bad or indifferent, all are important.

But is there one characteristic that would always stop me from recommending a book?
Yes. It is stupid.
The book, not the one characteristic.
I have no time for a really stupid book.

Whether it is the characters or the plot, how they act or what they say or what happens to them, if the book has me yelling at it as I read things like “OMG, no one would do that.” or “Who in the world would say that?” or “What an idiot, who wouldn’t see that coming?” or ”I am suppose to actually believe that!?” ...well, I have a limited amount of patience for really stupid stuff and that is a book killer for me.

I can put up with a lot, but not really, really stupid.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Weekend Cooking....Beef Stroganoff

Fall is in the air!
Ok, not so much today when it is rather warm and humid, but the other day, it was cool and my mind went toward those hearty dishes that become more appealing.

I think I mentioned that the SIL recently had surgery on her neck and is home from work with a big old neck brace, so I took pity and decided to make her and the Bro dinner. I asked what she wanted and she suggested Hamburger Helper.

Well, I have never had Hamburger Helper and did not feel like starting right now, so I made a bit more upscale version, Beef Stroganoff. And off to the internet I went for a recipe!
The one I found that sounded appealing was one from that I made...with a number of changes. Ok, a lot of changes. They used a couple of shallots, I used a big, sliced onion. I deglazed the pan with red wine. They used cream, I used sour cream and Greek yogurt. I added a 'secret' ingredient for flavor and envelope of Knorr's Brown Gravy mix.
Also, whereas they used white white button mushrooms, I used a mix of baby portabellas and white. And finally, based on the reviews I  read of that original recipe, I doubled the recipe for the sauce. Totally necessary.

I  kept the beef tenderloin. Yes, you can make it with a cheaper cut of steak, or even ground beef, but I love tenderloin and the whole semi-trimmed loins were on sale. Trimmed it up and had enough for this dish and two lovely roasts in the freezer for another day.

Beef Stroganoff

  • 2 1/2-pound piece beef tenderloin, well trimmed, meat cut into 2x1x1/2 inch strips
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 pound  mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 2 cup beef broth
  • 1 envelope Knorr's Brown Gravy mix
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 4 tablespoons Cognac
  • 8 oz. Greek yogurt
  • 8 oz. sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 12 ounces wide egg noodles, cooked

Season sliced meat with salt and pepper. In a large saute pan, heat 1 Tbs. oil and 2 Tbs. butter. Brown meat, in batches, so as not to crowd. Do not overcook!
Remove the meat to a bowl to rest and deglaze pan with 1/2 cup red wine, pouring over meat hwn done.
In same pan, heat other TBS oil and remaining butter.
Saute sliced onions and mushrooms until browned and cook through, about 5-10 minutes. Add paprika and stir for a minute or two, then add beef broth and Knorr's mix, bring to boil and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add mustard, cognac and stir well. Bubble...bubble.
Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, boil noodles.

Just before serving, add meat back to just reheat, then add yogurt and sour cream and chopped dill, and simmer until hot but being careful not to boil.
Serve over hot noodles

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, September 9, 2011

A Review of "That Day in September" [60]

That Day in September by Artie Van Why, ISBN 978-1411683150
June 23, 2006, 108 pages.

As the 10th anniversary of the attacks of 9-11 comes close, we can not miss the stories on TV, in the press, in books. Those who survived, those who died, how the buildings were destroyed, how they are being rebuilt. This book by Mr. Van Why adds one more personal story to the mix and, while it is not unique, it is a story that is powerful and moving and most certainly worth reading.

Van Why was not injured, physically at least, in the World Trade Center attacks. He was not, by his own words, a hero. He did not lose someone he loved dearly. And perhaps that is why his story is so interesting. He is so many of us, the common man just on the edge of the disaster, and although his experience was a lot closer than most of ours, to share what he experienced during and after the attacks makes it all very real for us again.

Raised in Maryland, Van Why had come to NYC years before to pursue a career in acting but ended up giving up on his dream and working in a more secure, better paid job at a law firm. A law firm that moved into new offices very near to the World Trade Center not long before that fateful day.
He talks about hearing and feeling the first plane hit, running outside as everyone did, in confusion, not really believing what was happening. Until the horror became impossible to deny. He went into the World Trade Center plaza, a place that he says that had been such a happy place for so many at lunchtimes, a sunny oasis, to now find it covered with debris, paper falling like snow. And then the worst, seeing the bodies, people falling to their deaths rather than die in the fires...and knowing that he was helpless to do anything.

He ran, then walked, along with thousands, silently, back to his apartment, to find desperate messages from his parents, his friends, hoping he was alive. He talks about not being able to look at the newspapers or TV, his mind so full of his own images. He talks about the kindness of strangers, how the city came together and both figuratively and literally opened it's arms to those suffering.

No, it is not a unique story, but as Van Why tells it, it is a very good story. His empathy, his compassion, makes his story memorable. As he says, he wrote it as a tribute to those who died that day. He wrote to honor those who ran in to help when everyone else was running for their lives, like the volunteer fireman in his own office who ran to the towers to help and was never seen again. To the two young men who lived in his building, young guys, just out of collage, who names he did not even know, who died that day. To the woman I mention ever year, my teacher from my little high school in suburban NJ. She was at the World Trade center for a business meeting and died that day 10 years ago, Mrs. Susan Murray.
God rest her soul.

Many, especially those who lost loved ones that day, may ask how something like this could happen. They wonder where God was that day, and I will leave you will leave you with Mr. Van Why's answer to that question.
"What I had been a witness to when I looked up at those burning towers was the ultimate evil that man is capable of. The evidence of just how deep hatred could run, how far it could go.
But I had also been a witness to something else that day-down on the ground. I witnessed the ultimate goodness of man, the evidence of how strong courage could be, to what length it would go.
I believe God was in the hands of everyone who reached out to help someone else. He was in the arms of people on the streets as they embraced one another. He was in the tears of strangers who cried together. He was in all the lives that were given in the line of duty, in the acts of heroism. He was in the hearts of the people across the country who, as they watched the horror from afar, felt compassion."

A very good little book, that you might read in an hour or two, but which, I think, you may remember far longer.

My thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of this book.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Review of "Drama City" [59]

Drama City by George Pelecanos
Little, Brown and Company, ISBN 978-0316608213
March 22, 2005, 304 pages

Lorenzo Brown knows he has two choices.
He can go straight, stay clean or die on the streets on in prison.
And he is doing his best to make the first work.

After eight years in prison for deal drugging..and refusing to rat out his "boys"..he is now back in his old Washington D.C neighborhood, trying to turn things around. He has a job working as an investigator for the Humane Society, trying to save animals that are being mistreated, one of the "Dog Police" with a badge and a uniform. The neighborhood kids often mock him as he walks his dogs, picking up after her, and think that he has gone soft. But he has not. No, inside he is the same man, capable of anger and violence, one 12 step program and a lot of self control from acting that way again.

Rachel Lopez is Lorenzo's parole officer and she tries to do a good job in what is often a hopeless situation. She known many of her paroles will end up back in trouble, but for a few, like Lorenzo, she has hope. She is hard but fair and has earn some respect from most of her paroles and,  from some like Lorenzo, what almost might be considered a sort of friendship. But they don't know the other Rachel, the one that gets dressed up at night, goes to hotel bars, drinks way, way to much and picks up strangers to have sex with. But things are getting out of hand and her nightlife is starting to bleed over into her day life.
When a small mistake triggers a turf war between two rival drug gangs, one headed by Lorenzo's old friend Nigel, and Rachel finds herself accidentally in the middle, Lorenzo has a decision to make. How far is he willing to go, what is he willing to endanger, for retribution?

Drama City is a hard book to categorize. Not a great deal happens, the plot is pretty simple. It is not really a mystery, or a thriller, not a police procedural or even a crime novel. I like the term I saw somewhere..urban-noir. This is often a rather dark story, a character driven story with great characters. It is a quiet yet moving story.
Again, we are in the city Pelecanos knows very well, D.C. and it is not a pretty sight. It is an often violent place and an often hopeless place and as we grow to like Lorenzo and care about him, we can not help but fear that there is no way this is going to end well. We see him sitting with a friend on his porch at night, enjoying a beer, holding his dog or meeting a young single mother with an adorable child, a neighbor of his grandmother, and we are afraid one act will make it all, these simple pleasures, go away forever.
This Washington has, like the mask of drama, two faces,
"...them two faces they got hangin' over the stage in those theaters," Nigel says. "The smiling face and the sad."
"City got more than two sides," Lorenzo says.
"Whatever it got," Nigel answers, "you on the right side now. The side where people get up and go to work. Wash their cars out in the street, tend to their gardens. Watch their kids grow."
Is it possible that Lorenzo will be able stay on that right side? The strength of this book is that we come to care whether he does.

My second book by Mr. Pelecanos and my second strong recommendation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...A Quiet Day in Katakolon

A peaceful afternoon in Katakolon, the fishing village port to ancient Olympia.



A lovely lunch dockside, with our ship in the background. always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

A Review of "The Cut" [58]

The Cut By George Pelecanos
Arthur Regan Books, ISBN 978-0316078429
August 29, 2011, 304 pages

Spero Lucas, Pelecanos' newly introduced hero in The Cut, is not a troubled, aging detective as is so common in so many detective series. No, he is a bit different. He is just 29 years old, a newly returned Iraq war vet, fit and handsome and dare we say, sexy. Ok, he is a bit troubled, a bit at loose ends returning to a world that does not really understand what he has seen and done in close hand to hand combat. Like many of his returning friends, he is a bit adrift, “no duties, no mission, no cause.” Ans he also can't get over his need for a good dose of adrenaline from time to time.

He finds a job working as an investigator for a defense lawyer, which, since he seems to know all the ins and outs of Washington D.C, spending hours biking and walking every street and alley, seems a good fit. He is head smart and street smart and certainly able to handle himself in any sort of confrontation. But he also has a side business, finding 'lost' things for clients, taking 40% of the value as his payment. Which is how he comes to be doing business with the incarcerated drug king pin Anwan Hawkins.

It seems that Mr. Hawkins has been using FedX for the delivery of his packages of marijuana, having them delivered to houses that he know will be empty during the day, using computers to track the delivery and then taking them off the porches minutes after they are delivered. But someone is beating his men to the houses and stealing the packages, costing him $130,000 and looking like a great payday for Lucas if he can retrieve them. Yes, the marijuana is illegal, but since Lucas himself is not beyond lighting up, he does not have a real moral issue with it. But when Tavon and Edwin, Hawkins' two men who are helping Lucas figure out what is going on, end up shot to death, things start to turn violent. Lucas is not a violent man but he certainly has no problem doing what he has to defend himself and to earn his pay. BUt when big money is involved, things can get very nasty.

The plot of The Cut is very good, very fast moving with some great twists and turns.
And the setting in Washington D.C is perfect. Without a doubt, Pelecanos know the city and not just the part we tourists will likely see. He was a writer on The Wire, and if you have seen that series, you know that he knows how to do gritty. He know D.C. and the huge variety of people who live there, and he also has a real fondness for it and those people that comes across on every page. It is far from perfect, and so are many of the people in this book, but it is always interesting. One thing that makes it very real is that Lucas love food and he loves music, "reggae, ska, dub, and guitar-based rock and bar bands", (none of which I had ever heard of) and his tour of a number of restaurants and clubs is great fun.

But without question, the heart of this book is our hero, a character that I hope we will be seeing more of in the future. Lucas is a good man, but not without some moral ambiguity. He takes flowers to his father's grave and visits his mother several times a week, has a great relationship with his one brother and yet is saddened about the lost relationship with his two other siblings. He loves woman and they love him, and yet, as one of them says, he still has some things to learn about how to treat a woman the right way. He is not ready to settle down, yet he would love to be the sort of father figure for some needy young man like his dad was for him.
But also, there is no man your might rather have on your side going into a very dangerous situation.
What do they say? Women will want to be with him and men will want to be him. And he is so good to his mom!
I think I may be in

A good story, a great hero...hopefully the start of a great new series.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Musing Monday...Archie, You Have My Heart.

Happy Labor Day!
it may be a holiday, but not here at Musing Monday. So, let's head over and check out this week's question from MizB at Should Be Reading...

Who do you think is the hottest male/female character from a book?

Golly, so many of my literary crushes have been policemen and private detectives. Maybe because from such an early age I have been such a fan of mysteries and thrillers. There have been so many, some good guys and some bad boys, how can I pick just one?
So I will share my first.
Archie Goodwin.

Archie, if you do not remember, was the assistant of the famous detective, Nero Wolfe. Nero was a brillant man, but he rarely left his NYC brownstone, so when leg work was called for, Archie was the fellow.
But don't get it wrong. Archie was a pretty good detective in his own right. He was smart and good looking, desired by women, admired by men. He was a snappy dresser, who knews all the ins and outs of the Big Apple, with enough street smarts to take care of himself. Yet at heart he is a solid, midwest boy, someone you can always depend on, a loyal and hardworking employee.
And he had a great sense of you must if you were going to work for someone like Nero Wolfe.

"He also does Wolfe's bookkeeping and banking, types his correspondence, and keeps the germination and other records for the orchids Wolfe raises as a hobby. Archie's hobbies include dancing (usually at the Flamingo), poker, and baseball. He was a fan of the New York Giants until they relocated to San Francisco in 1957, then later became a fan of the New York Mets when that team was founded in 1962.

Unlike his employer, Archie has only one conspicuous eccentricity: his favorite drink is milk."
So long as he does not drink out of the carton!
I will even forgive him that thing about the Mets, because we all know that he should be a Yankees fan.

In my mind, Archie was the full package. Good looking, smart, funny, gainfully employed.
Ok, there  is the name thing. Archie. Really.
Is that short for something? Archibald? Ok, that might be a deal breaker.
It is already a nickname, so what will I call him. Arch? ChiChi?
I'm not sure, but I think we could have worked it out.

As we went to a Yankees game...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Boys Having a Sunday Snooze

Sammy and Bandit hanging out in their favorite place, the back of the sofa.
Bandit has gone back to school, he and his mom are only home on some weekends, so he and Sammy need to spend some quality time doing their favorite thing


Saturday, September 3, 2011

How To Judge a Storm by Your Waffles..or a Goose

I blame Irene.

The extent of my cooking this week was comfort food like spaghetti and sausage and Shake and Bake chicken with Stove Top stuffing. Comfort food that I do not think you need a recipe for. So what to write about for Weekend Cooking?

All in all, we here along the Jersey coast made out fine in Hurricane Irene. Some trees are down, yards a mess, covered in leaves and acorns and branches and some flooding inland, some collapsed houses. But nowhere near the flooding you see in North Jersey and NY State and Vermont. And we were only without electric for less than a day, from Saturday night to Sunday evening.

Still, to start the day without a nice cup of tea...or even a glass of milk...since we could not open the frig and let out that cold air, is shocking. Ok, shocking is a bit strong. But in times of trouble, a warm meal and a cup of Joe can be comforting. Something, it seems, from an article in the Wall Street Journal, the people at the Waffle House restaurants understand. They have a very strong emergency plan to get their restaurants up and running as soon as possible after natural disasters, even if they are without electric.
“When a hurricane makes landfall, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency relies on a couple of metrics to assess its destructive power. First, there is the well-known Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. Then there is what he calls the "Waffle House Index."
Green means the restaurant is serving a full menu, a signal that damage in an area is limited and the lights are on. Yellow means a limited menu, indicating power from a generator, at best, and low food supplies. Red means the restaurant is closed, a sign of severe damage in the area or unsafe conditions.
"If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?" FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has said. "That's really bad. That's where you go to work."”
A recent study found the Waffle House is one of the four companies in the US, along with Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s, with the best disaster plan, because when things go bad, what you need is a sausage biscuit and some coffee. Then off to Home Depot for plywood and a pump.
Sadly, we in NJ are not blessed with any Waffle Houses, the nearest being in PA and Delaware.

Here, I judge a natural disaster by the Wawa stores!
Wawa is a chain of convenience stores out of Wawa, Pennsylvania, that are open 24/7/365..except for some stores that close a few hours on Christmas Eve. Otherwise, they are always there, with coffee, made to order sandwiches, ATMs, gas, ice, cold beverages, ice cream...all the essentials of life.
And Sunday, after the storm, the Wawas were closed! Oh my, this must be serious!
If you look in the picture of the Wawa sign, you will see the sign for JoJo’s Italian Restaurant, which is next to my local Wawa and that had their electric back and were open by Sunday afternoon. And I was there, foraging for lunch and cold beverages, and watching people pull into the Wawa parking lot, hoping for a miracle, looking at a rare sight, a locked Wawa door, lights off.

Finally, by the time I got my food and was leaving JoJo’s, the Wawa next door was open and within minutes, their parking lot was filling up. Thank heavens, Wawa is open again and life is back to normal.

A 20oz. Earl Gray and a tuna hoagie with roasted peppers for me!
And maybe a bag of ice.

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.