Sweet Trouble

Rants, raves, book reviews and one girl's thoughts on life, the universe and everything.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

This debut novel from Cindy Pon has received a lot of buzz from a surprisingly diverse set of authors. I first heard about the book from Sherwood Smith, author of the Inda high fantasy series and then again from Meg Cabot, best known for The Princess Diaries. These women, whom I admire, both praised Pon for creating a wonderful new fantasy adventure that accurately Eastern myths and fairy tales instead of Western ones.

Silver Phoenix is the tale of Ai Ling a young woman who lives in a small town in the Kingdom of Xia. Her father is a scholar who once advised the Emperor before being exiled in disgrace. Ai Ling's mother was an orphan. Due to unusual circumstances her parents were able to marry for love in a society where marriages are usually arranged, often at a very young age. Raised in such a household our seventeen year old heroine is leery about entering an arranged marriage. She flees her household when an unscrupulous fellow tries to force her to become his fourth wife while her father is away on business.

It is once Ai Ling's adventures on the road begin that Pon's tale becomes more fantastic. Demons, monsters and other mythic creatures out of Chinese lore begin to appear as Ai Ling herself becomes aware that she has a special talent of her own. Allies and traveling companions enter the scene and Ai Ling's search for her father rapidly escalates into an epic quest to save her realm.

While there are times when the narrative seems a bit disjointed or things too convenient Silver Phoenix remains a fantastic debut novel. Cindy Pon paints a lush environment full of sights, smells, tastes and feelings. The descriptions of the food alone made my mouth water, and I always appreciate it when the characters on epic quests get tired, dirty and hungry. Colors are vividly described in terms of jade, celadon, cinnabar and ivory: terms that are more uncommon in the west and help root the tale even more so in it's Eastern heritage. I enjoyed this glimpse into another culture and think this book would appeal to fans of anime series such as Inu Yasha as well as to any reader who loves a good coming of age tale in a fantasy setting.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is a classic name of children's literature. Perhaps such gems as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach are the better known titles today, thanks to the movie adaptations. My favorite as a child was always the tale of Farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean (one fat, one short, one lean) and the Fox whom they face off against in a battle of the wits.

There was a time during my formative years where I read the whole book to myself each night before I went to bed. It's only 80 pages, an easy early chapter book. When my half brother reached an appropriate age he received a copy and audio tape of the book and it became HIS bedtime favorite. Now, my own son and I read aloud the adventures of Mr. Fox and his friends and it's like going back in time. Forget the likes of James Joyce and John Updike; in my book THIS is a real classic...its right up there with Good Night Moon!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Little Bitty Lies by Mary Kay Andrews

Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews was one of the best books I read last year. I just loved it and have been passing it around to all of my friends and family. While I enjoy sharing such a great book, I also miss having it in the house to reread. To help pass the time until the release of Mary Kay's latest offering The Fixer Upper (due June 23) I found myself hunting some of her older novels...

As far as I can tell Little Bitty Lies was the second book to be published under the Mary Kay Andrews name (a Booklist review on Amazon cites the author as also having titles - mostly mystery series - available as Kathy Trocheck) to see publication. Like all of her novel's thus far it is set in Georgia. There's something especially voyeuristic about reading a book that reflects one's own lifestyle, hometown, or social setting with such accuracy. While I am not quite at the stage of life for the protagonist Mary Bliss McGowan to resemble one of my immediate neighbors she definitely seems very much like someone I might know. The Atlanta social niceties, so much like those in my own home town, are skewered here with such love and humor that it is almost squirm inducing!

Mary Bliss is a hard working teacher, mother and wife. She's a dutiful daughter-in-law and a good friend. Prim and a wound a little too tightly in the first chapter, I found her almost nauseating in her perfection, the kind of woman who both intimidates and frustrates me in real life. Even as her life spirals rapidly out of control she seems like an automaton, a reincarnated Stepford wife in the Atlanta suburbs. It wasn't until Mary Bliss steps out to water her tomatoes during a drought that the character clicked with me and from that point on I couldn't put the book down.

Full of equal parts humor and pathos, Little Bitty Lies is probably best as a summer read if only because that's the best time of year to get the fresh tomatoes you'll soon be craving after reading it! As an extra bonus Mary Kay includes the chicken salad recipe that is featured in the novel as one of Mary Bliss's specialties.

Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham

Cookbooks aren't always good reading material, but Lori Longbotham's delightful Luscious Lemon Desserts treads the fine line between function and art to deliver the perfect combination of practicality and entertainment. The photographs by Alison Minsch are elegant in their simplicity and impart to the slim volume the feeling of a coffee table art book. Longbotham's recipe's really are luscious, but each recipe also comes complete with an anecdote or description that makes for pleasant casual reading.

If you need to make lemonade with your lemons this book will tell you how. From a quick tutorial on the history of lemons themselves to how to select the perfect fruit at the store, this cookbook is chock full of helpful tips. Intimidated by zesting? Fear not! Curious about the difference between Lemon extract and Lemon Oil? The answers are all here.

Luscious Lemon Desserts is a cookbook that will grow with any cook, no matter their skill level. There are simple recipes for beginners and elaborate time consuming dishes for more seasoned chefs. In one of my favorite sections, Longbotham includes a set of instructions designed to help inexperienced bakers graduate from simple shortbread (cookie like) crusts for tarts to more elaborate pastry style pie crusts. Containing a good 70 recipes there's something for every occasion, season and time of day! There are detailed instructions for creating lemony Biscotti, muffins, cakes, cookies, tarts, frozen desserts and even a diving looking souffle!

According to the author's website, this luscious volume was voted cookbook of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2001. I'm a bit behind the times in discovering it, but that doesn't make the taste any less sweet (or tart as the case may be.) I'll definitely be checking out the author's other offerings Luscious Chocolate Desserts and Luscious Creamy Desserts.