Thursday, June 30, 2011

Read "Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead" by Sara Gran. It's fresh, interesting and completely engaging.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is one of those rare and wonderful books that I hated to put down, and could not wait to resume reading.  It is a mystery, but anyone interested in good fiction will thoroughly enjoy this excellent story.

Author Sara Gran has invented a modern private eye, Claire DeWitt.  This Brooklyn-born P.I. follows the detecting methods set forth by a Frenchman, Jacques Silette, in his book D├ętection.  D├ętection is mystical in a number of ways, and some of the methods it calls for are a bit magical (dreams are important and there are no coincidences).  Certainly, unusual things happen to Claire.  Nonetheless, in many respects she is as hardboiled as Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe.

In the story, Claire is hired to come to New Orleans and find Vic Willing, an Assistant District Attorney.  Vic  was last seen when Katrina hit the city and has been missing for two years when Claire accepts the case.  Sara Gran is an elegant mystery writer and I appreciated the manner and pace in which the resolution of the case is revealed.   But in addition to the story of what happened to Vic Willing, the book has two more important elements.

First, while working on the case Claire DeWitt's background is revealed.  New Orleans is DeWitt's old stomping grounds; she lived there while studying the Silette-method of detection with her mentor Constance Darling.  Stories of her earlier life in New Orleans and in Brooklyn are woven around the mystery of the missing attorney.  Through these stories we learn how Claire was drawn to the life of a private investigator and how she became, in her words, the world's greatest detective.  

Second, New Orleans itself is a major part element of the book.  In a very compelling manner, the book's characters tell the story of this unique city before, during and after Hurricane Katrina and the flooding.

Sara Gran weaves all of these elements together to create an original and engrossing book.  Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is highly recommended reading.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

More Summer 2011 Reading: Crime Fiction and Mysteries.

Laura Miller over at Salon suggests two mystery books for summer reading, Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran and The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler.  Check out her reasoning at this link. Coincidentally, I just started reading Claire Dewitt last night; 40 pages into it and I'm hooked.

If you are looking for more mysteries to pack into your beach bag, check out Chris Knopf's series set in the Hamptons and featuring Sam Acquillo.  Over the weekend I finished Black Swan, in which Acquillo uses his engineering background and boxing skills to sort out skulduggery on an island in Long Island Sound.  I've greatly enjoyed reading all the books in this particular series.  Knopf created a unique and engaging character in Sam Acquillo and the books are entertaining and smart.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tom Cruise cast to play Jack Reacher? Yuck.

Reportedly, actor Tom Cruise is in line to play the part of Jack Reacher in a movie based upon Lee Child's book, One Shot.  Sorry, but this is a poor casting decision. Mr. Cruise is too stiff and plastic to play the movie version of the rugged, resourceful, sexy character of Jack Reacher.  Who would be better?  Someone like Josh Brolin.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Father's Day Gift Ideas, v. 2

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I'm adding The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush to my list of Father's Day gift ideas. I'm currently reading this book by Howard Blum, and enjoying it.  This just might be a good gift for your dad.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

NPR Summer Reads for 2011

Up-date June 26, 2011:

NPR asked three critics to recommend books for summer reading.  Check out the link here to see what Laura Miller, Ron Charles, and Rigoberto Gonzalez recommend.

Original post of June 8, 2011:

At, Maureen Corrigan recommends three books for summer reading, one of which I mentioned right here not long ago here.

One possible gem in Ms. Corrigan's recommendations: Nothing Daunted:  The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West.  In this book author Dorthy Wickenden writes about her grandmother and grandmother's best friend, two women who left New York in 1916 for teaching jobs in northwestern Colorado. The book is grounded upon letters the women wrote to their families.  This story sounds great!  Nothing Daunted is scheduled to be released June 21.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cookbook Look: "The Very Best of Recipes for Health" by Martha Rose Shulman.

I greatly enjoy Martha Rose Shulman's recipes when they appear in the New York Times.  However, I have mixed feelings about her new book, The Very Best of Recipes for Health.  Let's look at the positives first.

On the plus side, there are tasty dishes to make such as Red Chilaquiles with Chicken, Couscous with Black-Eyed Peas and Greens, and Cauliflower Gratin with Goat Cheese Topping.  Additionally, this lovely-looking book has great pictures and a fantastic index.  Actually there is more than one index:  The book has a general index and also a special dietary index which divides the recipes into categories such as gluten-free, high-protein, vegan, and more.  This special dietary index is genius - a fantastic method to organize the material.

However, some of the material in this book, that is some of the recipes, were disappointing, such as multiple smoothie recipes, a fried egg on corn tortilla (Huevos Rancheros), and baked sweet potatoes.  Recommending a baked sweet potato is just too close to recommending that I simply wash an organic carrot and eat it.  Even with Ms. Shulman's little flourishes and healthy gloss on these items, I expected a bit more from this book.

But as someone who cooks, owns many cookbooks, and who long ago memorized the caloric content of a zillion foods, maybe I am not the right audience for The Very Best of Recipes for Health.  I can definitely envision giving a copy of it to someone just learning to cook or learning to cook all over again because of new demands on their health.

In sum, for the right audience, The Very Best of Recipes for Health is a nice book with a wide-range of relatively simple, straightforward recipes that will taste good.  It could definitely be a nice gift for a graduation, wedding, or housewarming.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Where there are peonies, there are ants.

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While noodling around outside this a.m., I must have come too near to a nest:  a bird swooped so close to my head that I felt vibration from its wings and it made a noise that absolutely sounded like a Bronx cheer.  I apologized and moved on!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Father's Day: Gift Ideas for June 19, 2011.

Father's Day will soon be here, which means one thing:  the dilemma of the Father's Day gift.  I've always found it much more difficult to shop for my Dad than for Mom.  If that is also your problem, then here are some items that may either fit the bill, or inspire another idea for a great gift for your Dad.

Books and DVDs

Seal Team Six by Howard E. Wasdin

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo.

Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine:  109 Ingenious Shortcuts to Navigate the World of Wine with Confidence and Style by Mark Oldman.

The Broken Shore by Peter Temple.

Tom Watson Lessons of a Lifetime DVD

Twentieth Century Fox 75th Anniversary DVD Gift Set

The Greater Journey:  Americans in Paris by David McCullough

The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush (added 6/9/11)

Stuff Dads Like

Fuego Element EP01AMG Portable Gas Grill

Thermos Nissan Drink Green Insulated Hydration Bottle

Leather Tie Case


Last, but certainly not least, Amazon Gift Certificates always make awesome gifts.  You can buy actual gift cards, or have the certificate emailed to Dad or even sent via Facebook!  Hey, didn't you appreciate it when your dad slipped you some cash?  Now give Dad some mad money via an Amazon Gift Card.