Friday, April 27, 2012

Who won the 2012 Edgar Awards?

Yesterday the Mystery Writers of America announced the winners of the 2012 Edgar Allen Poe Awards.  Mo Hayder won the Best Novel category for his book Gone, and the Grand Master award was given to Martha Grimes.  Check out the full list of award winners at this link.

"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed: A compelling, honest, and inspiring memoir.

A view from my hike of Mt. Wrightson in Southern Arizona.

When Cheryl Strayed was 22-years old, her 45-year old mother died.  This loss is the tinder that fuels Wild, Strayed's memoir about hiking alone on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 1995, four years after her mother's death.  Wild is a wonderful book.  Strayed's story breaks your heart, inspires your ambition, informs, entertains, and captivates.

What is particularly elegant about Wild is how Ms. Strayed blends together the story of  her life with the story of her experiences on the trail.  She is a novice hiker setting out to walk a stretch of the PCT running from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State.  The trip is not merely an opportunity to see the PCT, but a challenge to meet, alone and on her own, despite the expected fears and unexpected difficulties along the way.

Meeting this challenge is important because Strayed is trying to re-group after getting a number of hard blows from life.  Some of these blows were unforeseen, such as her mom's illness and death, and some blows she walked right into.  Strayed is very honest about what I'll call her youthful 'rock-and-roll lifestyle':  her sex life, experiments with drugs, her early marriage and divorce.  She writes that at the time she decided to walk the PCT, "I was living alone in a studio apartment in Minneapolis, separated from my husband, and working as a waitress, as low and mixed-up as I'd ever been in my life."  Strayed's decision to hike the trail, when set in the context of the rest of her life, makes the trip a real journey. "I'd made the arguably unreasonable decision to take a long walk alone on the PCT in order to save myself," writes Strayed. 

Wild is a terrific memoir which I highly recommend.  In addition to being an great read, Wild is also a documentation of personal freedom.  In Ms. Strayed's book, she is making the choices and decisions, be they wise or not, about her own life.  The publication of her story is exhilarating to consider when, in other parts of the world, speech is censored; women must conceal their bodies in burka and are prohibited from merely driving a car or attending soccer matches.  And when here in the United States, right-wing extremist radio host Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student who testified before Congress about contraception a "prostitute" and a "slut".  When viewed in this broader context, Wild is heady reading, an inspiring account from one woman about her journey.  Wonderful!

Knopf 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Alternating reading "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed with browsing through a few new cookbooks.

I'm about half finished with Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild.  It's been enjoyable reading thus far.  Cheryl is often hungry in this book where she recounts hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail.  Maybe that's why I've been alternating reading Wild with looking over three inspiring cookbooks.

The first cookbook I've been looking at is Big Vegan by Robin Asbell.  I'm not vegan, but am always looking for new ways to incorporate more veggies into my diet and this book has fabulous ideas for doing so.  There are hundreds of recipes. I'm already planning to make Asparagus-Quinoa Risotto, Cream of Cremini Mushroom Soup, and Coconut Sorbet.  There are not a lot of pictures in Big Vegan, but the recipes are easy to read, each recipe comes with a brief introduction, and the instructions look comprehensive.  Of the three cookbooks under discussion here, this seems like the one I will use the most.

The second cookbook is Home Cooking with Jean-Georges.  This book has many gorgeous photos of food.  There are also many interesting flavor combinations I want to try, such as butternut squash with balsamic and chile panko crumbs.  Yesterday I made the chocolate cake recipe in the book.  The cake looks like a brownie, but has an extremely light texture.  Interesting, but not really what I want from chocolate cake.  I am looking forward to trying some of the main dishes.  Many of the recipes in this beautiful book look tempting and inspire a bit more creativity in the kitchen.

Finally, the third cookbook I'm been browsing through is Yvette Van Boven's Home Made.  It's a big book with lots of photos and a hip vibe.  This vibe is fun except where it makes a few recipes a bit difficult to read, often because of the choice of font.  Thus far I've made two items from this book: Risotto with Sausage and Bell Pepper and Goat Yogurt Hangop.  The risotto was interesting mostly because of the cooking technique; it was tasty to eat, but if you've ever had stuffed peppers, then you've essentially experienced the flavor profile.  On the other hand, the hangop didn't really suit our taste preferences.  The recipe called for goat yogurt, cream, olives, chile pepper and salt.  All of this sounds great to me, but when combined I found it  -- not great.  Perhaps I need to try again.  This book has quite a few recipes that I found fun to look at but know I am unlikely to try, however I will definitely test a few more, such as Potted Shrimp and  Chocolate-Ginger Fudge Cake.  (It never hurts to try yet another cake recipe.)  As far as which book has the most cha-cha-cha going on,  Home Made is definitely it.

 Now, with a piece of cake and a cup of coffee, it's back to Wild, where Cheryl is hiking and hungry.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

2012 Orange Prize Shortlist for Fiction.

No Pulitzer Prize for fiction yesterday.  But today fiction aficionados can enjoy looking over the shortlist for this year's Orange Prize.   The candidates in the running are:

Ann Patchett, nominated for State of Wonder, previously won the Orange Prize for Bel Canto, a book I loved and highly recommended.

Have you read any of the shortlisted books?  If so, let us know what your thoughts are on what you read!

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's the middle of April. What are you reading?

It's a blustery, partly-cloudy day where I am; April weather.  In keeping with this, I'm setting aside The Dovekeepers and picking up Wild, Cheryl Strayed's memoir.  Here is a link to Dwight Garner's review of Wild in the New York Times.  It sounds great.  Can't wait to start reading.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

North Korea in Books: "The Orphan Master's Son" and "Escape from Camp 14"

Although I've finished Adam Johnson's novel The Orphan Master's Son, I'm postponing publishing my review of it until I read Escape from Camp 14, Blaine Harden's nonfiction book about a man's journey out of one of North Korea's prison camps.   Here is a link to Janet Maslin's review in the New York Times of Escape from Camp 14.

Preview of my thoughts on The Orphan Master's Son:  A great read.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Vote in the Independent Book Blogger Awards Contest

Today, I am asking for a favor:  I would greatly appreciate your vote for this blog in the Goodreads Independent Book Blogger Awards (IBBA) contest.

To vote, just follow the IBBA link below, or over in the right column:

Independent Book Blogger Awards

Vote for this blog for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!


If you are not already a member of Goodreads, you'll be asked register, which is easy to do.  Goodreads is a cool book site; you'll like it.  And, of course, voting is always fun.

Thanks a bunch!  Send me an email if you have any questions about this.



View from the beach. Kauai.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Links for Mystery Lovers: From the LA Times Magazine: The Best of 2011 and New in 2012

Keep this list handy if you are looking to assemble a stack of books for vacation or summer reading:  Otto Penzler's selection of the best mysteries of last year, and five to check out in 2012, in the LA Times Magazine.

Of the five to watch for in 2012, I am particularly looking forward to reading Steve Hamilton's Die a Stranger.  The book is a continuation of Hamilton's private eye series set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and featuring former Detroit police detective Alex McKnight.  If you haven't read the Alex McKnight series, check it out.  You are in for a treat.  There are eight other books in this entertaining series:

A Cold Day in Paradise (1998)

Winter of the Wolf Moon (2000)

The Hunting Wind (2002)

North of Nowhere (2003)

Blood is the Sky (2004)

Ice Run (2005)

A Stolen Season (2006)

Misery Bay (2011)

The Alex McKnight series is set on the shores of Lake Superior, pictured below,
the greatest of the Great Lakes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Snapshots: "Truth Like the Sun" by Jim Lynch.

Helen Gulanos is an ambitious Seattle newspaper reporter.  Roger Morgan is running for mayor.  In Truth Like the Sun, Gulanos is investigating the 70-year old candidate who is famous in the city for being influential in civic matters and a leading force behind the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.

The novel alternates from Roger Morgan's activities back in '62 to 2001 and his campaign and Gulanos' investigation.  The chapters set in 2001 are exciting and author Jim Lynch makes great use of his journalism background.  Helen Gulanos has caught the sent of a good story, perhaps even an award winner, in Roger Morgan's campaign.  Under the pressure of deadlines, competition and her own personal life, she works to build something while managing the expectations of her editors and colleagues.  Also well done is Roger Morgan as candidate:  Knocking on doors, holding events, appearing at candidate forums.  Roger is lively, occasionally funny, and a sympathetic character.  It seems like he might be a good mayor, and we wonder what Gulanos might turn up in her exploration of the man.

The chapters set in 1962 show Roger running the fair.  Lynch vividly invokes the period through many details about that event and world news of the time.  Roger, already an important guy in the city, starts exploring and learning more about what is really going on in Seattle.  There is vice and corruption.  Will it stick to him?

Truth Like the Sun is an interesting read about what happens at the intersection of politics, influence and journalism.