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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Silk Umbrellas

silk umb

As I work on my novel for young readers, I thought Carolyn Marsden’s Silk Umbrellas would inspire me. Marsden introduces readers to traditional Thai culture through Noi, a young girl in about 5th grade, and her family. Noi’s grandmother paints silk umbrellas and Noi helps her. The family needs money since the father can’t get gainful employment. Her mother makes mosquito nets and Ting, Noi’s older sister must quit school to contribute to the family’s income.

The writing is very lyrical and romantic. I thought it was a little too dreamy and ideal as I can’t believe that Thai’s are so untouched by modernization and the outside world. Since the umbrellas are sold to foreign tourists, I think I’m right. Noi would be acquainted with things like T shirts, TV and cell phones, even if she learned about them from a friend’s family.

The story is lovely and shows different attitudes towards child labor. Noi pities her sister and hopes to stay in school, while Ting, the sister, is realistic and uncomplaining. She seems to

All in all, I wish there were some images in the book because children would need the visuals to better understand Thailand. The glossary that defines words like Kun Mere (mother) and faring (foreigner) is a help, though I prefer footnotes on the page where each term is used. I’d say Silk Umbrellas is a good book on Thailand, but most certainly shouldn’t be the only book a child reads about the country.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Children's Lit

 

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The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook

UnofficialDowntonAbbeyCookbook

The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Batnes beckoned me at the library. Consisting of recipes for the folks upstairs as well as downstairs, The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook not only offers recipes, but is full of insights and explanations about cuisine in Edwardian England. Recipes include crunchy fig and bleu cheese tarts, classic oysters Rockefeller, crispy roast duck with blackberry sauce, Mrs. Patmore’s downstairs pork pie, chicken, leek and caerphilly cheese pie for St. David’s Day, and treacle tart.

I made Sir Anthony’s Apple Charlotte last week and it’s a new favorite. Looking at photos of apple charlotte it seems that many recipes call for bread rather than bread crumbs. This recipe was so delicious that despite my curiosity I doubt I’d bother with a different version.

Sir Anthony’s Apple Charlotte

2 c. light brown sugar
2 T. cinnamon
2 t. nutmeg
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. allspice
5 large tart apples, pared, cored, sliced thin
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. fresh orange juice
½ c. butter, cold, chopped
½ c. butter, melted
1 loaf French bread, shredded into crumbles. 1 c. reserved
butter for topping

Preheat oven to 350.

Note: I just used Progresso plain bread crumbs

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Reserve 1 cups of the mixture to use as a topping.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together apple slices, lemon and orange juices.
  3. Cover the bottom of a medium-sized dutch oven with bread crumbs and bits of cold butter. Layer with sliced apples and brown sugar mix, then with another few tabs of butter. Repeat until the dutch oven is filled.
  4. For the top layer, combine the reserved bread crumbs, ½ c. melted butter and 1 c. reserved brown sugar mix. Top with more butter. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

I served it with vanilla ice cream, which might be an American touch.

Source

E. A. Baines, (2012) The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, Avon, MA, Adams Media.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2014 in book lovers, British Lit

 

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The Willoughbys

willoughbys

Lois Lowry’s The Willoughby’s is a a charming, cute book about three “old fashioned” children with big vocabularies who wish they were orphans like Pollyanna, Jane Eyre, James from James and the Giant Peach or such. Their parents are churlish much like Matilda’s. It’s an entertaining read that pokes fun at many children’s stories with tongue in cheek humor. I did wonder if many kids would get the jokes and if the story would satisfy those who didn’t.

I must say The Willoughby’s isn’t as good as the books it spoofs. As I read I was always aware of the author’s cleverness and I couldn’t get wrapped up in the story. I was entertained, but not wowed.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2014 in Children's Lit

 

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Sherlock Holmes: “The Empty House”

English: Second of the four illustrations incl...

English: Second of the four illustrations included in the edition of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by AC Doyle published in 1894 by A. L. Burt in New York. (Source: Wikipedia)

Sherlock, season 3 begins on PBS tonight. In anticipation, I’ve read “The Empty House,” the Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD) short story that the episode is based on. It’s been years since I’ve read a Sherlock story. When I was in high school, I was in the Sherlock Holmes Society and read several. Doyle knows how to tell a good story. His style is direct and compelling. His hero, Sherlock is brilliant yet flawed and he captures the friendship between Holmes and Watson very well. They’re able to speak frankly, though Watson sometimes refrains from commenting because he feels he won’t be listened to or in other cases, is in awe of his friend’s mental prowess.

“The Empty House” was the first story of Holmes’ return or resurrection. Fans will remember that Doyle grew tired of his popular character. Apparently, ACD suffered more than Watson from being overshadowed by Sherlock. Try as he might, he wanted Sherlock gone, but the public clamored for more and after 10 years, ACD relented and wrote, “The Empty House” in which Sherlock returns to solve the case of the murder of Ronald Adair.

Highlights include Sherlock explaining how and why he cheated death and fooled Moriarty and Watson holding what might be the first literary intervention when he voices disproval of Sherlock’s use of (the then legal) cocaine. Like the modern Sherlock played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the original Sherlock used stimulants to stave off the boredom of ordinary life.

I delighted in how often Sherlock quotes Shakespeare and recommend getting an annotated book like The Oxford Sherlock Holmes, which illuminates all the references and quotations.

Reading the story this time around, I was struck by how much screenwriters Moffat and Gatiss borrow from the original. I’m not complaining. In fact I applaud them for their faithful, clever adaptations.

Tonight American fans  see what the duo has done to explain Sherlock’s death. How could he fake his death so convincingly? The YouTube video above provides a thoughtful analysis. If it’s correct, Moffat and Gatiss would have closely followed what happened in the original story. Folks in the U.K. already know what happened. In North America we’ll soon find out.

Do read the originals. They’re well written and you’ll gain insight. For next week I’m finishing The Sign of Four.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in British Lit

 

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Chopsticks

chopsticks_01I saw a positive mention  of Chopsticks: a Novel on a list of notable Young Adult books. I sincerely wonder if I got the wrong Chopsticks. Perhaps there’s another book by the same name?

The Chopsticks I read, is an unusual novel as it’s told mostly through photos, IM messages, and improbable letters and brochures for performances. It’s the story of a teenage romance between a piano prodigy and an Argentinian exchange student who moves next door. Gloria, the prodigy, loses her ability to perform after her romance starts. She seems to have some sort of break down and she can only play “Chopsticks.”

The novel suffers for lack of prose, we never know more than the superficial. Frank, the love interest gets kicked out of school. Somehow he got into an elite private school that suffered a lot of bullying. His grades in most classes except art and ESL were low, which is hardly surprising given that he needed ESL. I know that’s a minor point, but why would anyone think someone from another country, who needs to take English as a Second Language would do well in American history in a class of elite native speakers. It was frustrating that so little of these conflicts was fully described. None of the characters seemed anything but cardboard. The only saving grace is that it reads fast as there’s so little to read.

The photos are okay, but nothing spectacular. Most graphic novels offer much more with their drawings.

The book may interest teens, but it’s not the sort of Young Adult work that appeals to older readers as well.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2014 in YA

 

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From Ralph Nader

Ten Books to Provoke Conversation in the New Year
Ralph Nader

December 31, 2013
1. Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons by David Bollier (New Society Publishers)
David Bollier is a leading writer and advocate for all those real-life commons – what we own, from the public lands, public airwaves, online information and local civic assets. He calls the commons a “parallel economy and social order that….affirms that another world is possible. And more: we can build it ourselves, now.”

2. All the President’s Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power by Nomi Prins (Nation Books)
All the President’s Bankers is about the hidden alliances between big bankers and the government leaders they have controlled for the past 100 years. A gripping history that reflects the words of the famed Louis B. Brandeis (later to become Supreme Court Justice Brandeis) who wrote: “We must break the Money Trust or the Money Trust will break us.” Prins was a former Goldman Sachs director. She knows this world.

3. How Can You Represent Those People? Edited by Abbe Smith and Monroe H. Freedman (Palgrave Macmillan)
How many times have criminal defense attorneys been asked this question when they represent unpopular, unsavory, or horrific accused defendants? Fifteen criminal defense lawyers write short but educational replies in both personal and professional terms. You’ll learn a lot about our legal system.

4. The Truth in Small Doses: Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer and How to Win It By Clifton Leaf (Simon & Schuster)
The Truth in Small Doses is a detailed, sober myth-busting report. Leaf concludes the “war on cancer” is a failure due to a dysfunctional “cancer culture” – “a groupthink that pushes tens of thousands of physicians and scientists toward the goal of finding the tiniest improvements in treatment rather than genuine breakthroughs; that fosters isolated and redundant problem-solving instead of cooperation; and rewards academic achievement and publication above all else.” He shows why “the public’s immense investment in research has been badly misspent.”

5. The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives by Sasha Abramsky (Nation Books)
The American Way of Poverty is a worthy successor to Michael Harrington’s The Other America which came out in 1962 and helped spark a war on poverty. Abramsky puts many faces of poverty into a broader context which sparks reader indignation that statistics alone can’t provoke.

6. The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Influence on American Business by Duff McDonald (Simon and Shuster)
The Firm portrays a finishing school for the plutocracy both as an early recruiter of future power brokers in business and government and as a “prestigious” provider of dated business management advice often of dubious value.

7. Censored 2014: Fearless Speech in Fateful Times by Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth with Project Censored (Seven Stories Press)
Censored 2014 is an annual open window to censorship of the big and routine kind. It is always a must read. This volume describes the top censored stories with media analysis of 2012-2013. What a shocking commentary on the so-called free press!

8. Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health by Nicholas Freudenberg (Oxford University Press)
Aggregation is a key strategy for justice movements. Author Freudenberg gives readers an absorbing aggregation of corporate crimes and abuses that destroy or damage every day the health, safety and economic well-being of the people. Then he aggregates the past civic/political victories over market fundamentalism and its corporate outlaws for framing future reform initiatives.

9. Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s by Michael Stewart Foley (Hill and Wang)
Decades are stereotyped and often exaggerated. Foley counters the conventional take that there was a sharp and sudden letdown in civic activism after the sixties. Maybe the impression was conveyed by the media’s lessened coverage. Good antidote for those still demoralized by decennial mythologies.

10. The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System by Jerry Mander (Counterpoint)
The Capitalism Papers is a fundamental critique of the intrinsic problems of the capitalist system that the author believes are inherent to its structure and unreformable. A former celebrated advertising executive, Mander goes deeper into the perverse incentives of corporate capitalism than almost anyone writing today. And man, can he write. Too bad top Wall Streeters won’t debate him.

Years ago books mattered more in provoking change. It is up to readers today not to be overwhelmed by information overload, to be selective and make books matter again.

I do plan to read a few of these once I get done with Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in non-fiction

 

The Art of Intelligence

art intelligenceHenry Crumpton’s The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service chronicles the author’s career with the CIA. Crumpton started in the CIA working in African countries recruiting in country sources and went on to lead the CIA’s work in Afghanistan. Although many specifics are left out, no doubt to protect people and our various missions, Crumpton gives readers a realistic picture of clandestine service how important trust is, how affiliates are recruited, how brave CIA operatives and those they recruit really are.

Crumption’s writing is solid and the book feels like the real deal. I was most interested in his stories of recruiting local people abroad and American business leaders, exchange students and others who would cooperate with the CIA when they traveled overseas. While Crumpton never names names, it did seem like either Steven Jobs or more likely, in my opinion, Bill Gates has collaborated with them. I also got a better sense of how important CIA spouses and families were. Not only do they sacrifice more than most, but the spouses can help out to a certain extent.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in non-fiction

 

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