Monday, September 24, 2012

Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Crow Planet
Crow Planet, Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, provides the reader with a message of environmental balance between greeting each day as a  pollyanna or being a "hand-ringing nihilist".  She provides helpful ecological bookmarks for those of us who vacillate between despair and hope.

When I ask a client the direction their home faces -- north, south, east or west -- and they don't know I feel despair.  Then, when I ask, "where does the sun come up?" and they still do not know, I'm certain we are doomed.  How can there be a thoughtful interaction with nature and humans when our human connectivity is so lacking, so damaged by our modern ways?  This is when I become one of those hand-ringing nihilists.  Then I look out my window and the world is so remarkable with the garden bursting in beauty, and I find myself singing my way into a Pollyanne state of mind.  Back-and-forth, up-and-down, hopeful one day and in despair the next.

Haupt seems to have a handle on this and can see the strengths of wild and wilderness that survive the human onslaught as she mourns urbanization.  She does so with a balance I strive to achieve.  She honors the adaptive survival of the abundant crow population as hope for the future.  She celebrates the crow's intelligence and adaptability.  She observes and learns, not just about crows but about her world.  She is alert.

The book is meditative and wise, fun and informative, sensitive and entertaining as Haupt's observations of crows blends their place in nature side-by-side with our human place in nature.  She doesn't allow us to be "other" as we often pretend we are and she urges us to connect with a more-than-human world.

Crow Planet is a quick and thoughtful read by a local author.   I recommend it.  But then, I've always loved crows!

Review by Fran

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mississippi Mud by Edward Humes

I just finished the unlikely read of Mississippi Mud.  My attention was drawn to this book because it took place in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Ed spent his Air Force days in Biloxi teaching electronics (teaching being highly desirable to being shipped off to Vietnam), teasing my curiosity.    

Mississippi Mud, A True Story from a Corner of the Deep South, is a tale of southern "justice" and the dixie mafia.  A horrifying read with the unfolding of crime, gambling, murders, prostitution, corruption, nasty deals, unsavory politicians, corrupt judges, dirty-dealing lawyers and bribed prison officials.  It includes prisoners making millions from their cell "offices" and the wonder that a US city could be so completely lawless.  The Biloxi Strip was a hub of sex, drugs, and sleaze. 

Are you ready to read this book yet?  Well, for you mystery lovers, it is also a mystery as a daughter tries to find out who violently killed her Judge father and politician mother.  She stubbornly pursues the answer from 1987 through 1993, with mixed success, while following a complex and fascinating trail. 

This is a true story with the Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Humes providing extensive footnotes.  It proves once again that the truth can be stranger than fiction and left me wondering about the health of our other innocent-appearing  cities.  Have I been living in a bubble?

Ed was definitely living in a bubble.  As a non gambling, non drinking, non carousing  military officer he had no idea, when I asked, that the strip was so famous for low life deals, even back in the 60's when he was there.  I, of course, wonder if it's been cleaned up since.   Biloxi still advertises night clubs, strip clubs and casinos, behind which any number of unsavory activities can still be taking place. 
Biloxi Stripper

I'm not sure I recommend this book; I'm not sure I don't.

Review by Fran

Monday, July 30, 2012

Goodbye Dorothy

Goodbye...there's just no sadder word to say


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Getting Those Green Veggies

I read about kale smoothies in that font of epicurean knowledge, Parade Magazine.  The recipes sounded really weird, but since leafy greens are not a strong point in my kitchen, I gave it a try.  Wow!  So good!

Here's a basic recipe, but you can use whatever you have on hand.  The banana gives the smoothies the underlying sweetness, so I always include banana.  I've used a peach, a large handful of strawberries, etc.

Banana-Kale Smoothie
Serves 2

1  banana
1/2 cup of blueberries (if frozen, nuke for 20 seconds)
1 large kale leaf, tough central stem removed
     (Can also use 3/4 - 1 cup of spinach leaves or chard)
1/2 to 3/4 cup of water, milk, yogurt or soy milk

Blend in a blender or food processor.  Kale requires a 30-45 seconds of blending, less for chard or spinach.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Dutchess of Windsor

I can’t believe I spent as much time reading That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, the Dutchess of Windsor, by Anne Sebba, as I did. Sort of like reading the People Magazine, or the online articles about celebrity breakups and marriages. . . I hope no one saw me reading it. . .

Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson Windsor was born in Baltimore in 1896 to precarious financial circumstances, and strove all her life to raise herself to a level of financial security. She finally reached her goal when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, later the Duke of Windsor, became totally, obsessively besotted with her and renounced his crown to be “with the woman I love.”

Anne Sebba, however, seems to imply in her biography that the widely reviled Wallis really didn’t want to marry the King, that Wallis suffered from a disorder of indeterminate sexual expression, and that the King suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome (even though he was notably charming and quite the womanizer in his pre-Wallis days). In addition, the King comes across as a total dolt, ignoring any and all work of state in favor of repeated phone calls with Wallis every day.

This book is weighed down by poor writing, too much unfounded arm-chair psychoanalysis, and the fact that Wallis was sort of a nasty bitch from the word go.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Things I've Been Silent About, Azar Nafisi

Things I've Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter
When one loves an Azar, how can one ignore a book written by an Azar?  That’s the dilemma I found myself embroiled in, within my head.  This book-by-Azar remained on my book group bookshelf, unread, for months.  It would jump out at me as I skimmed the shelf, yet I passed it by, over and over again.  It was both enticing and distasteful as it stared back at me.

It’s interesting about that bookshelf.  Here are the books I’ve toted home from book group, lined up on the shelf, waiting to be read.  Some have sat there for an embarrassingly long time.    Books that sounded enticing, worthwhile, interesting, exciting, or important for one reason or another.  But, when the time came to  select one, were passed by.

Things I’ve Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi sat and sat and sat on that shelf.  How many months ago did I bring it home?  I didn’t read it, but I couldn’t part with it. Azar, Azar, Azar stared at me.  I had to read it and when I finally did I greatly enjoyed it.  Thanks Betty Azar and thanks Azar Nafisi.

Much of my resistance to reading Things I’ve Been Silent About was that it was about Iran, a country both fascinating and distasteful to me. I didn’t want to read about ugly political turmoil, the suffering of people, or the control of women’s freedoms.  But that wasn’t what the book was about, although there was that too.

Instead it was about an exceptional woman, marriage, and a mother-father-daughter struggle.  It is an intimate look at Nafisi's family, the secrets she kept, and the price of political upheaval to a family.  One word I came across in the description of the book was dissection, and that fits.  Nafisi dissected her childhood experiences and relationships as she told her story.

Azar Nafisi is a good story teller, and the story, although difficult, was not depressing.
Another admirable woman and another wonderful memoir.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

I have not followed Molly Wizenberg’s food blog, Orangette—but reading this book, which arose from the blog, was very satisfying. It wasn’t just that the food parts are both tempting and entertaining. I found Wizenberg’s style forthright, funny, and reflective, with descriptive zingers that startled me and made me laugh. Easygoing, likeable… these are the kind of words that keep floating up. Even if you don’t care about the recipes, this book is fun to read.
I expected A Homemade Life to be enjoyable because I’d heard good things, but didn’t anticipate that I’d be in the bath with it until the water got cold—twice—because even after deciding to stop reading and get out (hence, not to add more hot water), a single sentence of the following chapter would draw me back in.
Wizenberg's syntax is admirable, something I notice and respect, and mention because one could be forgiven for not expecting such able writing from a blog-born book.
Her recipes are diverse, from the down-home (her father’s mayonnaise-heavy potato salad) to the sexy (tarte Tatin). In fact, I cherish her take on the latter:

…tarte Tatin is essentially a sexed-up apple pie—a housewife in stilettos, you could say. [Tantalizing vision of deep amber carmelized apples and puff pastry here.] Dolloped with crème fraîche, tarte Tatin doesn’t dally with small talk. It reaches for your leg under the table.
This is a gently meandering memoir organized around food. The happy Oklahoma childhood. The student years in Paris. The telling moment when, after her father dies of cancer, she plunges back into her studies—in Paris—but realizes that Foucault’s social theories no longer compel her. “My three years in graduate school, I now know, amounted to one big excuse to go back to Paris.” By the second week there, her research notes were being usurped by addresses for pastry shops and kitchen supply stores, and she knew she was quitting grad school to write about food. Now, as well as the blog, she writes regularly for Bon Appétit, and has been featured on and

Oh, and there’s a love story in there, too. And, FYI, Wizenberg and her husband own and run Delancey, a pizza place in Ballard. She’s local! Did everybody know this except me?
Recommended for everyone who enjoys eating.
~ Paula