Friday, May 27, 2016

Jeeves in the offing

Jeeves in the offing / P. G. Wodehouse 256 pgs.
read by Frederick Davidson

Jeeves tries to take a vacation but Bertie gets himself in a mess and has to call him back.  Bertie is visiting Aunt Dahlia at Brinkley Court and finds himself engaged via an announcement in the paper.  His intended is using his name to make way for her true love, a man who will look to the parents when compared to Bertie.  It is a brilliant plan until the lovers break up and Bertie has to find a way out of this mess.  Also in attendance is the American playboy Willie Cream who is suspected of pinching a favorite piece of Uncle Upjohn's extensive silver collection.  As always, the audio is a delight and I just LOVE the voice that Davidson has for Aunt Dahlia.

The Loney / Andrew Michael Hurley, 295 pp.

A man leading a strange and isolated London life reminisces about one Easter season from his adolescence.  He and his family, which includes younger brother Hanny, who has an unspecified deficit of some sort - perhaps autism or mutism - make an annual pilgrimage with others from their intense Catholic parish.  They travel to the Loney, a frankly dreadful-sounding place on the coast in Lancashire, where a holy well can be found.

Something truly horrible happens here, involving a mysterious local family as well as several menacing pub regulars.  Rituals are performed, both dark and light, although Hurley forces us to puzzle over whether the latter is much better than the former.  And our narrator's memory is called into question to strong effect.

I can't say I fully understood this story, but I turned every page never sure what was going to happen next, which I consider a reader's gift.  I hope someone else reads it to enlighten me.

Crisps, Custards, Custards, and Creams / Jean Anderson, 301 pp.

I confess that I kept this book at my house for too long in part because I liked looking at the cover photo.

This is a very comprehensive collection of the title desserts with an English slant, including things such as syllabub and Eton mess.  I may have overindulged recently in Icebox Cakes, which has some overlap with these recipes, so that I was less inspired to cook from this volume.  And Anderson's recipe style is a tad rigid for my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-saucepan technique, with very explicit, slightly over-explained instructions.

However, I had a rather triumphant success here: Rote Grutze, or red berry pudding, which the author translates as 'red glop.'  Deceptively simple, with raspberries, cranberries, cherries and strawberries, and a very easy mock Devonshire cream, but it made a group of people hum with happiness.

Dinner Pies: from Shepherd's Pies and Pot Pies to Turnovers, Quiches, Hand Pies, and More / Ken Haedrich, 271 pp.

There are books that make you cry because a cute puppy dies, or a war is lost, or the star-crossed lovers are finally united.  And then there are the really, really good books that make you cry because after you read them you can finally make a pie crust. Consistently.  And it doesn't look like it has hail damage, even.

I can't put my finger on the secret here, but whatever it is, I will never try anyone else's crust recipe.

As for fillings, I certainly didn't try them all, but several were quite nice: broccoli, mushroom and ham quiche hit the spot, and the Italian sausage and spinach polenta pie was a stunner.  The next time I check this out, I plan to try the baked reuben sandwich, which is basically a reuben inside turnover pastry.  Not a bad idea, huh?

100 Recipes: the Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials / America's Test Kitchen, 353 pp.

Since bringing home  Cook It in Cast Iron I have become a fan of America's Test Kitchen.  This volume contains very detailed explanations for mostly simple mainstays, although there is a decent sampling of international dishes as well.  I had great success with Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Peach Sauce.  Yes, it would be hard to make slow-roasted pig and peaches taste bad in any case, but the sauce contained some surprising seasonings that added great contrast.  And mashed sweet potatoes were presented in a way I'd never seen which worked perfectly.  An Indian-spiced rice pilaf with dates was also good, and very easy.  This would make a nice housewarming / college grad / wedding shower gift.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Where's my wand?

Where's my wand?: One boys magical triumph over alienation and shag carpeting / Eric Poole 263 pgs.

I found this book on Overdrive and thought it looked interesting. I was amazed to start reading and discovered that Eric Poole lived in North County and is a graduate of Hazelwood Central High.  This is a memoir of his younger years...a time when he considered magic a possible solution to his problems of alienation and mother with some severe OCD about cleaning house.  He and his sister stuck together as kids and managed to survive 36 hours of a planned week-long camping trip with Aunt Jinny.  Communing with nature was NOT in their nature.  The stories of school bullies and abuse seem very familiar and the family dynamic is priceless.

This is a funny account of growing up and not exactly fitting in.  

Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff  390 pp.

This novel was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award and winner of multiple other awards. I can understand why. It is beautifully written. It is the story of a marriage between Lancelot, aka Lotto, and Mathilde. Both suffered unpleasant and/or horrific childhoods. They enter into a marriage that is a true partnership with Mathilde doing what she can to support Lotto in his career in the theater, first as a failed actor then as a successful playwright. It is only after Lotto's untimely death that the secrets and the furies emerge. There is horrible and understandable anger in the last half of the story. many characters emerge as unlikable people. In spite of that, the depth and descriptiveness of the writing overshadows any dislike for the characters. Well worth reading.

American housewife, by Helen Ellis

Short, hilarious stories that always surprise.  Don’t accept an invitation to join her book club would be my advice.  The two-page “Southern Lady Code” alone is worth the price of admission:  “”She’s always been lovely to me,’ is code for: I don’t like her either.”  “’She’s a character,’ means drunk.” Enjoy!  185 pp.

When breath becomes air, by Paul Kalanithi

An exceptional young neurosurgeon, who is also by inclination and education deeply grounded in the humanities, wrote this book during his final days before dying of lung cancer.  At 36, the odds of his symptoms being lung cancer, with no known risk factors, were so minuscule that for months he ignored weight loss and chest pain, too busy with completing his residency in neurosurgery.  After his diagnosis, he struggles with various therapies, his full operating schedule, and his somewhat troubled marriage to a fellow doctor.  His painful choices are chronicled – what drugs to use; whether to continue to operate in the face of overwhelming fatigue, pain, and nausea; if he should leave medicine entirely and use his remaining time to follow his love of writing; whether to conceive a child, knowing that he will almost certainly not see it grow up.  Moving, sad, and beautifully written.  The world is richer for his memoir but far poorer for the loss of such a multiply gifted human being.  228 pp.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

That's not how you wash a squirrel

That's not how you wash a squirrel / David Thorne 202 pgs.

If you rescue a baby squirrel and he prefers your company to that of the great out of doors and other squirrels, it only makes sense that you build him a detailed house with several rooms and a Victorian bathtub...all before you build the wading pool out of tile.  David Thorne is as crazy as ever but in a way that I can relate a little too well.  Lucky I'm not as capable as he or my house would be unsuitable for people but perfect for cats.

Funny stuff.