Monday, April 27, 2009

Are You Missing Harry Potter?

I know Harry Potter is supposed to be a children’s book, but I was just as engaged and enthralled as the most avid 10-year-old, and I really miss looking forward to the next installment of the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermoine. So I’ve done some checking around to see if there are other authors and titles that would at least come close to the reading fun that J.K. Rowling’s books brought to so many folks.

The Young Wizard series by Diane Duane is the closest I can come to books that might satisfy a Harry-o-phile and also appeal to adults as well as teens and children. The first title, So You Want to Be a Wizard (1982) introduces us to Juanita “Nita” Callahan and Kit Rodriguez. While running away from some bullies, Nita runs into her refuge, the public library and stumbles upon a book she’s never seen there before entitled So You Want to be a Wizard. As she begins to read, she discovers that she is, in fact, being asked to train and learn to become just that –a wizard. After some serious soul-searching, she takes the “wizard’s oath,” – and her life is never the same again. There are currently 8 books in this series, but the first is the best, and I highly recommend it.

Susan Cooper wrote a series of books steeped in Celtic legend and myth that drew my attention when I was a teacher. The best of this series is The Dark is Rising – the story of Will Stanton, the 7th son of a 7th son who, on his 11th birthday, becomes one of the Old Ones. As Will gradually learns about his powers and how to manage them, he and his friend, Merriman, are drawn into a mystical battle against the Dark. The Dark is Rising is actually book 2 in the series, but once again it is the best – and you do not have to have read book 1 for it to make sense. There are 5 books total: Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King, and The Silver on the Tree.

And finally, a series that I have just now begun - the Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer. Novelist describes Artemis Fowl as a “ twelve-year-old evil genius [who] tries to restore his family fortune by capturing a fairy and demanding a ransom in gold. The fairies fight back with magic, technology, and a particularly nasty troll. “ As in Harry Potter, the characters are unique and cleverly drawn. Captain Holly Stark, a LEPrecon Officer (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance) is a miniature police officer for the fairy folk who live underground; Mulch Diggums is a kleptomaniac dwarf with an ingenious (and rather gross) method of digging underground; Foaly is the LEP’s technological genius who just happens to be a centaur; and of course, Artemis, himself – a combination child prodigy and evil mastermind.

Quite frankly, none of these books created the anticipation or following that Rowling’s did, but each provides a good read and a trip to a land where wizards (or children) fight evil and succeed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Julia and Jacques - Being Passionate About Food

Julia Child once said, “I started cooking when I was 32; up until then I just ate.” Just eating is something you might never do again, if you take the time to peruse and use the cookbooks that this pair of famous and fabulous cooks have produced.

The French cooking bible has to be Mastering the Art of French Cooking, first written and produced by Julia Child and her partner, Simone Beck in 1961. Directions are detailed and very explicit but the food that results is beyond belief. (I remember carefully following her recipe for Navarin Printanier – lamb stew – a full 3 pages long. It took a while, but the taste of that stew, served to company , was more than worth the time.)

Jacques Pepin also has quite a few cookbooks to his credit, but most recently he seems to be catering to the modern predicament of “so much to do, so little time” and has come up with Fast Food My Way and More Fast Food My Way.

Both have written memoirs that recount interesting and unusual lives. During World War II Julia worked for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) in Washington DC, and married Paul Cushing Child shortly thereafter. He was posted to Paris, France in 1948 and it was in Rouen that Julia was introduced to French cooking. She later described this experience for the New York Times as “an opening up of the soul and spirit.” Julia Child’s kitchen is preserved and on display at the National Museum of American History. My Life in France recounts Julia’s introduction to French cooking.

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen introduces us to a young Jacques Pepin, who was born in France and grew up not only eating French food but cooking it as well, first in his father’s restaurant and then as an apprentice to famous chefs. He was once the personal chef for French President Charles DeGaulle.

Both had television shows, and DVDs are available that show us these cooks at work. The French Chef series with Julia Child not only demonstrates her fabulous cooking skills, but gives us a glimpse of the funny, astute and very practical women who was Julia Child. The Complete Pepin: Techniques and Recipes presents Chef Pepin’s unique style of cooking.

Their collaborative cookbook, Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home, brings these chefs together offering (in print and on DVD) a host of information on cooking techniques (they don’t always agree – and sometimes those disagreements are the most fun to read or hear about) and marvelous recipes for every home chef. Meg

Monday, April 13, 2009

Loving Frank - March's Book Discussion Title

The Thursday Evening Book Club met in March to discuss Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. Our discussion was lively as we both agreed and disagreed on different aspects of this book. In this, her debut as a novelist, Horan tackled the scandalous story of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah (pronounced “may-mah”) Borthwick Cheney. Focusing on this short chapter in the life of architect Wright, Horan does a deft job of capturing the mores of the times, which was media hungry for scandals involving famous people, not unlike today, but which was overly critical of women in such affairs, especially when children were abandoned, as was the case with Wright and Cheney.

Horan brings in issues of the restrictions on women, and the new ideas that were surfacing, using the character of Ellen Key, a Swedish philosopher. They met and Mamah ultimately became an American translator for Key’s books. An interesting point brought out in our discussion was the idea that Mamah might have found a way to fulfill her aspirations and passions without leaving her family for Frank Lloyd Wright. Edwin, her husband might have been boring to Mamah, but he was very supportive.

For those who are interested in learning more about Frank Lloyd Wright, there are several other biographies, books on his architecture, and an autobiography available through the library. For those who enjoyed the fictional presentation of his story, there is a new novel by T. Coraghessan Boyle, The Women, which broadens the story to talk about the other women in Wright’s life. PL

Monday, April 6, 2009

Greenway, Agatha Christie's Home, Opens

Agatha Christie is now "at home" and receiving visitors. On Saturday, March 2, 2009, Christie’s country home, Greenway, in Devon, England, opened to the public for the first time. The Georgian home had recently undergone a $7.8 million restoration. According to the Associated Press, “Craftsmen worked for two years to restore the 18th-century home, and the rooms are much as they were when Christie lived there, complete with books, papers, boxes of chocolates and bunches of flowers. Even the scratches on the bedroom door made by the family dog remain.”

It might be argued that Agatha Christie is the most famous of the Golden Age mystery writers. She is certainly the most prolific. During her long career, in addition to mystery stories, she wrote radio and television plays, nonfiction and short stories. She also wrote novels under the name of Mary Westmacott.

Christie’s most popular stories were mystery novels starring either Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple. Her career as a writer began in 1920 with the publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, starring M. Poirot (the Belgian with a propensity for consulting his “little grey cells”), his sidekick (much like Sherlock Holmes’ Watson) Arthur Hastings, and his official police connection, Chief Inspector Japp.

Miss Marple, an “elderly spinster” living a “quiet life” in the quaint little English village of St. Mary Mead, entered the picture in 1930 with Murder at the Vicarage. Miss Marple remained a bit more independent than Hercule Poirot, as she was assigned no sidekick, and only occasionally worked with the same police inspectors.

Christie wrote another series of mystery stories starring Tommy and Tuppence (Thomas Beresford and Prudence Cowley) who are quite the pair of bon vivants sleuthing their way through the 1920’s and 30s in London and its environs.

My favorite titles by Agatha Christie starring Hercule Poirot are:
Peril at End House
Death on the Nile
Evil Under the Sun
Murder on the Orient Express

My favorite titles by Agatha Christie starring Miss Jane Marple are:
A Murder is Announced
4:50 from Paddington
A Caribbean Mystery

I also highly recommend two mystery titles that do not involve either of these detectives: And Then There Were None and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Meg


blogger templates | Make Money Online