Monday, November 27, 2006

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

This book is like a fairy tale. It's the story of Ruth Reichl, a woman who has landed her dream job. Reichl is the restaurant critic for the New York Times, and before she even starts the job she discovers she has stepped into a fairy tale world, where she has to be one step ahead of the New York City restauranteurs who are eager to spot her and give her the very best possible food and treatment their establishment can offer.

It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the privileged life of the restaurant critic. While it sounds incredibly cushy to get paid to eat free meals in the best restaurants of one of the world's biggest, most multicultural cities, it can have its down sides and they are discussed in a very entertaining way in Garlic and Sapphires. Reichl resorts to a series of clever disguises to fool the restaurant owners so she can have the "normal" dining experience of an average patron, and she finds that as she puts on the wigs, the makeup and the specially chosen clothing she seems to also don a new persona. Reading about her dining experiences both as herself and her various alter egos was quite fascinating; the writing is rich and evocative, and I found myself drooling as I read the descriptions of incredible meals I will probably never be able to afford to eat.

If you like to read a good memoir, love food or are just curious about what it's like to be a restaurant critic for one of the world's biggest newspapers, I recommend this book.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson

Here's a charming children's/young adult fantasy novel that I found out about from bookshelves of doom, one of the many book blogs I read (and haven't had time to add to the sidebar on this site).

The people in an Irish village called Kinvara have a problem. Everyone seems to be running out of time. No matter how frantically they rush around trying to get everything done, there's never enough time to do it all. And although this sounds like a typical problem for people all over the western world today, in this case it's a little bit more than that. JJ Liddy, a fifteen-year-old boy, finds himself in a whole new world (literally) when he asks his mother's friend Anne to help him find more time as a birthday gift to his mum. Suddenly he realizes that maybe all those crazy stories that Irish people have been telling each other for centuries - about fairies, magic, and music - might have a bit of truth to them.

JJ's adventure was a fun, light read that I think a lot of younger fantasy readers (and some of the older ones like me!) might enjoy. The author has added an interesting element to the story by inserting a relevent piece of Irish music in between each chapter. While this is a neat idea, in practice it turned out to mean lots of extra page turning - especially since the chapters tend to be really short, some only a page long. I think I'd rather have had the book come with a CD that I could listen to while I read the book, and the sheet music in an appendix. Regardless, the story was interesting enough to keep me turning those pages long past the point where the music stopped being a novelty and started being an obstacle I had to get past in between each small chunk of the book.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Grain-Free Gourmet by Jodie Bager and Jenny Lass

I was very excited to find this cookbook at my local library, since grains are pretty much off the menu for me. However, I haven't ended up trying any of the recipes. The cookbook is geared toward something called the "Specific Carbohydrate Diet" which I was not previously familiar with, and seems oddly named given that people on this diet are not really encouraged to eat any carbs at all aside from those found in fruit. The diet excludes grains, starches, sugar, and lactose. While there are many interesting recipes in here, most of them seem to depend on cheese (which is another food I can't eat - and doesn't really make a lot of sense to me in the context of a lactose-free diet, though the authors claim that cheese is "very low in lactose") and almond flour for baking (which is ludicrously expensive - the authors happen to sell it online for $7 a pound).

If I could buy almond flour in very small quantities, I might consider occasionally using some of these recipes on special occasions if I wanted to bake a pie or something, but given there are far cheaper alternatives to almond flour (such as a mixture of garbanzo and tapioca flour, which we used to make a very decent pie crust on my birthday) I don't really see the point.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Ten Big Ones by Janet Evanovich

In between fittings for her upcoming role as a bridesmaid, Stephanie is being pursued by a local gang who aren't too happy with her. Concerned about the safety of her family and friends, Stephanie seeks out a safe place to live while she continues being the clumsiest bounty hunter in New Jersey.

Another amusing episode in Stephanie's life, from the active imagination of Janet Evanovich.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

To the Nines by Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich continues her exploration of other "non-bail" types of bonds in this fluffy, enjoyable book. Stephanie Plum's cousin Vinnie is hoping she can rescue his reputation when an Indian man Vinnie bonded on a temporary work visa goes missing. It's Stephanie's job to track down Samuel Singh, making sure he leaves the country when his visa is up. Of course, nothing is ever simple in this series, so along the way Stephanie finds herself embroiled in the usual dark and sinister circumstances with nasty people, dead bodies and kidnappings - and of course, lots of sex, gunfire, and comic relief. There's even a bonus trip to Vegas!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hard Eight by Janet Evanovich

OK, I know it says that I'm reading The Sea in the sidebar. I'm just taking a little detour here because this Stephanie Plum series is the perfect antidote to midterm exam stress.

In Hard Eight, Stephanie is hired by Mabel, an elderly family friend, to track down a missing single mother and her young daughter. Mabel's house is on the line: she agreed that it could be used as collateral for a custody bond for her little great-granddaughter, never dreaming that the child's vindictive father would need to cash in on the bond. As Stephanie hunts down the missing people, she finds herself pursued by a really nasty guy called Eddie Abruzzi and his henchmen, who love to dress up in costumes while they're putting Stephanie's life in danger. Meanwhile, Stephanie's love life is heating up, and the explosive fun that I missed in Seven Up is back.

It might just be pre-exam delirium, but this book made me laugh so hard I could hardly take a breath. There's a scene in Hard Eight that was nearly as funny as the dildo scene in John Irving's A Son of the Circus (a scene which tempted me to put a paper bag over my head because I seriously thought I was going to hyperventilate if I laughed any harder).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen

I really like Tess's blog, and read it regularly, so I thought I'd give one of her books a try. I have to admit that I had limited success. Why? Well, to put it briefly, this book scared the crap out of me.

And I only read the prologue!

Sorry, Tess - your thriller-writing abilities are just too good for this scaredy-cat.