Posts Tagged ‘Mary P.’s Picks’

Blood, Bones, and Butter; the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

August 22, 2011

Food is a universal need.  It is one of the three basic tenets of life.  Yet in the case of Gabrielle Hamilton, food is much more.  From childhood, food and cooking has served as a driving force in her life, although somewhat unintentionally. That is the idea that runs throughout Hamilton’s memoir; food is what anchors her to life, but she would never have chosen it to be that way.

Hamilton is the world renown and award-winning chef and owner at Prune in Manhattan, but her story starts many years before.  Starting in her childhood in bucolic Pennsylvania, the poignant moments of her life revolve around food and its creation, from her father’s lamb roasts to her mother’s apron and well-stocked pantry. From there food is, more often than not, the center of Hamilton’s life.  She jumps from restaurant job to job, slinging chili in a Manhattan bar, serving crepes in the south of France, making dinner for hundreds of campers in the woods of Connecticut. Then, while leading the frantic life of a freelance caterer, Hamilton stumbles upon the opportunity to start a restaurant of her own.

I can tell you one thing; if you weren’t hungry when you started read, you most certainly will be at the end.  Hamilton can write about a boiled potato with butter in a way that will make your mouth water.  But the more interesting aspects of the novel are her ideas of life and rebellion against the status quo.  Hamilton lives life how she cooks–with passion and on her own terms.  Blood, Bones, and Butter will leave you hungry; hungry for a good meal and certainly for a life as daring as the author’s.

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How we Decide by Jonah Lehrer

August 16, 2011

Jonah Lehrer was puzzling over which cereal to buy at the grocery store when the idea behind his newest book came to him.  He asked himself the question: Do I want Cheerios or Fruit Loops?  He wondered at how he could ever make this decision?  Literally, he started to wonder what processes were happening in his brain to make this and any decision possible.

This simple question over cereal resulted in hours of research and deep insight into how the human brain makes decisions.  Lehrer introduces the classical idea that humans are rational creatures that use reason to keep emotions in check.  Yet Lehrer challenges this viewpoint by telling true stories that reflect the changes in neuroscience thought about decision making over time.  We learn how important emotions are to making decisions when we hear about a man who lost the ability to feel emotions and cannot even pick a restaurant for dinner.  Or how the release of dopamine, or lack thereof, can cause a fatal missile strike. Lehrer uses a multitude of anecdotes to show how interrelated emotions and reason are in making decisions.

I have read Lehrer’s first book, Proust was a Neuroscientist, and loved how he melds science with real life stories in an understandable and relatable fashion.  If possible I like this book even more.  We all make hundreds of thousands decisions each day, so everyone can relate to Lehrer’s material.  The stories will make you gasp in amazement and the science will make you ponder over your decisions more carefully.

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Matched by Allyson Condie

July 27, 2011

Imagine a world where you never have to go on a single date; there are no disappointments, breakups, or horrible first dates.  Instead on your sixteenth birthday you are matched with your prefect match.  A person that statistically is perfect for you in every way. This is Cassia’s world.

On her sixteenth birthday Cassia anxiously awaits to be matched by the all-knowing Society that runs her world.  She is overjoyed to find that her match is none other than her best and oldest friend Xander.  It is a statistically odd match, but Cassia knows that Xander is perfect for her in everyway.  That is until she gets home that night and sees a flash of another boy’s face on her screen instead of Xander’s.  Did the Society make a mistake?  Is this some kind of cruel joke? And what about the boy, Ky, whose face she saw? Cassia has known him since her childhood also, but now she sees him in a different light.  Out of this confusion, Cassia grows to question everything she has ever known.   If Cassia doubts the Society’s choice for her match, how can she believe everything else they demand of her?

Teen dystopias are all the rage, and Matched does not disappoint.  It has less action than others, like The Hunger Games, but the work makes up for that in insight and uniqueness.  In a world of dating websites, we can all ponder over the belief of one person being exactly right for us based on statistics and our personalities on paper.  Cassia’s world is at the same time perfectly ideal and grotesquely appalling.  For anyone who has ever questioned authority, wondered at fate, or thought of how much they would risk for what they believe, this book is sure to please you.  If you have never even considered such a thing, this book is sure to challenge you.

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Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

July 18, 2011

What would you do if a strange man breaks into your house while you’re cooking dinner and tries to kidnap you dog?  If you are Agnes Crandall, you hit him with a frying pan, of course.  But this isn’t Agnes’ first rodeo either.This frying pan attack marks the beginning of a action-packed, hilarious romantic romp that includes the mafia, a hit-man, a missing 5 million dollars, an outrageous wedding and Agnes.

Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer (who have another website devoted to their writing partnership) gleefully mix her steamy knack for romance with his intense action scenes.  Agnes is a newspaper columnist and cook book author just purchased the house of her dreams with her fiance when the dog-napper appeared.  She’s already got her plate full with planning the upcoming wedding of her goddaughter. Agnes must host the wedding at her house or she will lose it to the former owner and grandmother of the bride, mob widow Brenda Fortunato.  Enter Shane, hit-man and nephew of old mobster, sent to watch out for Agnes.  These two hit it off and not only with a frying pan. Together they tackle the weddings, mobsters, two-bit hit-men, missing dead bodies, missing millions, 2 pink flamingos, and, eventually, each other.

Agnes and the Hitman was recommended to me by a good friend.  She claimed it was different than any other romance or action book.  And she was right.  Crusie and Mayer have a knack for mixing both of there writing styles and genres to create a fantastic book.  Its hilarious, sexy, exciting, and just plain fun to read.  I took it to the beach for a weekend, and it was perfect.  It has a bit of a slow start, but once you get into it you won’t be able to put it down.

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Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

July 12, 2011

I don’t understand neuroscience.  I’m willing to bet that quite a few people would agree.  But have you ever read something by Walt Whitman, looked at a painting by Paul Cezanne, or eaten some soy sauce or beef stock soup.  Then, as Jonah Lehrer explains in this book,  you may have some understanding of the newest developments in the field of neuroscience.

Lehrer, a Columbia graduate with a background is lab work, science writing, and the occasional restaurant kitchen, approaches the idea of neuroscience by looking at how writers, a painter, a composer and a chef were uncovering the mysteries of the human brain years before modern neuroscientists had even an inkling. Lehrer looks at the group of artists and delves into how their work was preemptive to the discoveries being made today in the realm of neuroscience.  We learn how Proust first revealed the mysteries of memory by ruminating on his childhood; how Gertrude Stein exposed the deep underlying structure of human language; how the French chef Escoffier discovered umami, the fifth taste of savory; how Cezanne was explore the limits of human sight.  These artist were not only revolutionizing their fields; they changed how we saw the workings of the human brain.

My dad recommended this book to me, lauding Lehrer’s accessible writing and the interesting subject.  Trusting my dad yet still wary about the idea of neuroscience, I read the book and was blown away. Lehrer is a firm believer that science and our everyday lives intersect and that there can be a place for writing that is both science and literature.  The results are a book that will fascinate you at every turn.

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Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

July 1, 2011

Bridget is an on-the-cusp-of-30 Londoner.  Single and stuck in dead-end job, she starts a journal on the first of the year with the goal of changing her life from everything to her weight to finding inner peace.  I know you’ve probably seen the movie and yes, it is funny and yes, Renee Zellwegger is quite good in it, but until you’ve read the book you’ve never really met Bridget Jones.

Written as diary entries, Bridget chronicles her weight, thigh circumference, calorie, alcohol and cigarette intake, and the trials and tribulations of being a almost-30 year old single in London searching for inner poise.  That inner poise is hard to come by when she’s busy flirting inappropriately with her boss or cooking a five course meal that ends up blue.  Yet, Bridget is able to meet every embarrassment with humor and wit.  And after a year where 74 pounds are gained yet 72 pounds are lost,we and Bridget have hope for the future with a new job and maybe, just maybe, a new, nice boyfriend.

I always enjoy a movie and book combination.  Both offer something the other cannot provide.  The movie is able to provide more of the visual comedy, yet the book version is much more attentive to the hilarious details of Bridget’s life, whether her everyday exasperation with her weight or the drunken ramblings from a night out on the town. These little things that get bypassed in an hour-and-half movie, but are what make the character and her life so realistic and funny.

So if you’ve seen the movie, or more importantly have not, check out the book and prepare yourself for a good laugh.

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Blackout by Connie Willis

June 27, 2011

Every single action you take changes the outcome of the future.  Not a big deal in your everyday life, but what it your actions could change the outcome of World War II?  That question is the premise behind Connie Willis’ Nebula Award winning novel, Blackout.  Willis sets the book near future of 2060; a world were time travel exists, and historian travel back in time to be first hand witnesses to historical events.

Blackout follows three historians that have traveled back to London in the early 1940s during the Blitz of World War II.  Merope Ward, Polly Churchill, and Michael Davies have traveled to the past as Eileen O’Reilly, Polly Sebastian, and Mike Davis to cover the events of the time.  Eileen is working as a maid studying London’s evacuated children; Polly finds work as a shop girl on London’s Oxford St; and Mike is posing as a reporter covering the retreat from Dunkirk.  Historians are not suppose to be able to alter events in the past, yet all three historians find themselves acting in situations that may have disastrous effects in the future.  When the three discover that their way back to the future doesn’t work, they struggle to find each other and a way back home.

For any fan of historical fiction or sci-fi, Willis is bound to please.  I loved the idea of historians traveling back in time.  Just think about where you would go and what might be the consequences.  Willis’ research into World War II England is extensive and very impressive.  Having visited London recently, it was amazing, almost shocking, to read about the destruction that occurred not to long ago. This book can appeal to sci-fi fans, historical fiction fans, and anyone looking for an exciting, fast-paced, and yet very touching and sincere story.

One downside is that Willis separated the story into two books.  Once you finish Blackout you better have the next book, All Clear, on your bedside table because you won’t be able to wait to know the end of the story.

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March by Geraldine Brooks

June 22, 2011

Since I first read it as a child, I was enraptured by Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  The story of four young women growing up during the American Civil War has been a much read classic for years.  Many of you have probably read it, but did you ever wonder about the man that left his “Little Women” behind?  Geraldine Brooks did.  Her novel, March, focuses on Mr. March, the father of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, who left his wife and daughters behind in Little Women to serve in the Civil War.

Alcott presents Mr. March as the benevolent, yet distant father, who sends letters home offer advice and love yet little information on the war that surrounds him.  In her novel, Brooks looks at the experiences of Mr. March away from home and at war.  Entering the war as a Union minister, March is a witness the horrors of war that he is unable to write home about.  Delving into the past and the present, Brooks gives readers a heart-wrenching view of one man’s struggle with his ideals and the war that challenges them.

After March is caught in a compromising positions with a woman from his past, he is assigned to work with contraband slaves at a plantation.  When the plantation is attacked, March falls ill and is transplanted to Washington to a hospital.  Here Brooks’ novel meets up again with Alcott’s.  Marmee takes over as the narrator as she travels from home to the hospital to nurse Mr. March back to health.

As a child reading Little Women it had never really crossed to consider the impact of the Civil War and the role that the March’s played in the struggle.  This novel is a moving, powerful piece that examines not only the horrific war, but also its tole on families and the men who fought.  Beyond his physical injuries, the emotional and mental toll the war takes on Mr. March can only be seen as similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome seen today.  Though the historical aspects of the novel are interesting, it is the shock look at both the horror and beauty of humanity during the war that make March such a powerful read.

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The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

June 20, 2011

We all know about the Pilgrims.  They’re those stuffy English folk with the funny hats and buckled shoes that came over on the Mayflower and ate some turkey with the Native Americans back in the day.  If that is still your idea of the Pilgrims, then Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates will certainly surprise you.

Vowell, a contributor for NPR, set out to find out more about those Pilgrims that founded Boston ten years after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. Vowell follows  those brave souls that travelled from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially John Winthrop, the eventually leader and governor of the colony.  These Pilgrims, Puritans, or Separatist (whatever you want to call them) were far from the up-tight, single dimension, buckle-wearing Pilgrims that we remember from grade school.  Vowell found these people to be highly literate, highly principled, and surprisingly feisty.  Along with discovering more about these Pilgrims, you’ll learn more about the very principles upon which America was founded, including religious freedom.

Having heard Vowell on NPR and appreciating her humor and tone, I was immediately interested in her books.  The Wordy Shipmates  was a delightful surprise.  The material is at first glance as dull and dry, but the presentation is what will surprise you.  I had remembered that Anne Hutchinson was outlawed from the colony and went to help found Rhode Island, but having Vowell compare her trial to a ping pong match and certain presidential candidate debate is not only relevant but hilarious.  The text is peppered throughout with funny insights and humours asides.  Vowell gives us an honest and funny look at the Pilgrims we thought we knew.

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The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

June 15, 2011

The gods walk amongst us. Or at least they do in Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid.  Following up on his success with his Percy Jackson series, Riordan offers a new look at the gods of old.  Carter and Sadie Kane are brother and sister that have grown up apart.  Carter traveled with his Egyptologist father while Sadie live with their grandparents in London.  But when their father blows up the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and releases the ancient gods of Egypt, the two of them must come together and save their father and the world.

That’s some heady stuff to deal with. Throw in some magicians that want to kill you, a trip to the underworld and it sounds like a fun time. Carter and Sadie discover that they are descendants of the Pharaohs and have a magical touch as well.  Its going to take all they have to find who has kidnapped their father and save him.  Along the way they discover secrets about themselves and their past that they can’t escape.

Honestly, Riordan has created a magical world that entices both kids and adults.  I first encountered this world that mixes magical elements of classic mythology with today’s life in his series about Percy Jackson and the Greek gods of old.  I loved the Percy Jackson series, which led me to pick of The Red Pyramid.  Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Riordan takes the idea that works well in his other works and adds depth.  There is more intrigue and action.  Characters have more depth and face greater struggles.  Riordan does a great job of creating characters that readers love and will want to follow through the next books.

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