Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Cake Mix Doctor

A lot can go wrong with a cake made from scratch-falling, too crumbly, too hard. That's why cake mixes are popular despite not tasting as good as a scratch product. This cookbook teaches you how to add various ingredients to obtain the best of both worlds- the taste of homemade and the ease of a mix. I have personally made about ten of Anne Byrne's recipes and all but one (peanut butter frosting) have turned out amazingly well, especially the strawberry cake and turtle cake There are a million ways to take a cake mix and make it ten times better and once you've had homemade frosting, the can will never seem acceptable again. Each cake has a picture which is a nice touch. She also has a second volume focused on chocolate, a dinner cookbook and a cupcake book based o n the same principles.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Just Me and My Dad

I've bought a lot of books for my niece and nephews over the years and it always amazes me which ones seem to be the most popular with them. The Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer are probably the most read ones, especially by my niece. The books are told from a child's perspective and in many of these books the child character is allowed to take on grown-up roles and make decisions (and mistakes). This book is about the adventures of a boy and his dad on a camping trip. It is a nice bonding story between a dad and child that is appropriate for both boys and girls--my niece loves it.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet?

Do you know the difference between professional girls and amateur girls? According to Cynthia Heimel, "Professional girls are desperate for a boyfriend with a platinum Amex card. Amateur girls are desperate for a boyfriend who can deliver a good punchline". Unfortunately men love the professional girl with her perfect hair and eye shadow, while the hapless amateur girl struggles in the back of the room to dislodge the toilet paper stuck to her shoe. Then Men wonder why they are only valued for their wallet. This is only one of the many phenomena that Heimel skewers in this collection of essays. She also takes on the lack of good roles for women actors and modern dating, and talks about watching her son and his friends grow into men. Heimel is like a girlfriend you can always call at two in the morning who will make you laugh every time. She has several other collections, including When Your Phone Doesn't Ring, It'll Be Me.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

King Dork

Tom Henderson is a lovable high school loser. He and his best friend, Sam Hellerman, make up band names and album titles without ever really getting around to forming a band. (My favorite entry: Band name: the Nancy Wheelers, me on guitar, Sam Hellerman on bass and ouija board. first album: Margaret? It's God. Please Shut Up.) The plot contains two mysteries: Tom's attempts to track down a mysterious girl he makes out with at a party and his attempts to make sense of his father's death after finding his father's marked-up copy of The Catcher and the Rye. Several of the Amazon reviews compare King Dork to the TV show Freaks and Geeks, and I agree that the book's tone is a good match for that series. There isn't a whole lot of resolution, though, and I found the book lost some momentum in the last third, but it is a good portrait of the alienation of high school.

A Wrinkle in Time

I have been entering my kids books into blogger and I came across this book, I favorite of mine in the junior high era. Meg Murray and her little brother Charles Wallace don't fit in very well. They appear to the town as either idiots or genius and everyone thinks they are strange. Plus their father is mysteriously missing. One dark and stormy night they travel through time via tesseract (the wrinkle in time) as well as space to rescue their father from where he is being held. A popular boy from Meg's grade -Calvin O'Keefe joins them and find he fits in better with Meg's family than his own. The story it great, exciting and fun, but as a kid, Nerdy Meg finding a a person who likes her and feeling useful on the hunt for her father were the highlights of the book for me. This book is a Newberry award winner.

Friday, July 27, 2007

First Lines

This site allows you to receive emails or texts of a first line of a book twice a day. Or just check out the ones posted, if you aren't that high tech. Once again thank to Pop Candy for the link.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress

This memoir is a collection of humorous autobiographical essays loosely arranged in chronological sections--childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. While I enjoyed her high school encounter with Mick Jagger, on the whole, the later sections stood out for me. In particular, I was touched by her experience covering a teenage group trip to the Polish concentration camps for a Jewish newspaper. A cynical non observer, Gilman is forced to put away the jokes and look anew at her heritage. The highlight for me, though, is the title piece. The author is a committed feminist, but when she tries on a wedding dress in a bridal salon she is faced with the contradictions of the princess fantasy wedding and her previously held ideas of a less traditionally gender-proscribed marriage ideal. Although a few pieces are a little too self-absorbed, on the whole, this was a funny, fast read.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I first read this book about 6 years ago, but I remember liking it a lot and I wanted to give Daily Book Buddy readers a thorough report so, just for you, I reread the book. It's a fantasy/sci-fi book, but to be honest, to me it seems to fit just as neatly into the romance category. The book is set in a world where angels (yes with wings and stuff) walk among men. The land is divided into three territories and each has its own group of angels who live high in the mountains but come into human territory to assist them by praying on their behalf. Gabriel is about to become the Archangel, the highest ranking angel, who has authority over all three territories. Before he does so he must find the woman who is destined to be his wife as she must sing with him at the ceremony or their world will be destroyed by Jehovah. The oracle identifies Rachel as the woman, but he still must search her out. When he finds her she is a slave and while happy to be freed, she's not really keen on marrying him. Eventually both Gabriel and Rachel realized their paths are more intertwined than they knew, and they must work together to avert catastrophe. The book seemed a bit more of cliched upon rereading, but I don't know if that is just because it was familiar due to having read it before. It's well written, kind of fun and I think most of you can probably tell if it's the kind of book you'd like. This is the first in a trilogy, but I have not read the the third book.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

You Don't Love Me Yet

Lucinda, Matthew, Denise, and Bedwin are members of a fledgling indie rock band in LA. They don't even have a name or a full set list yet. Bassist Lucinda takes a job answering phones for a complaint line that is also part of a conceptual art piece conceived by one of her exes, Falmouth. An intriguing caller unknowingly supplies the lyrics to some new songs, and when the band plays them at Falmouth's art piece/party, the band's career trajectory changes in a hurry. A lot of critics seemed to think this was a slight book from Jonathan Lethem. While it definitely lacks the scope of Fortress of Solitude, which I loved, I do think the reviews don't quite give it enough credit. I enjoyed the inside look at the start-up band, the collision of the art and music worlds, and the questions of creativity and originality that the book poses.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The post that has been almost ten years in the making! Deathly Hallows is a worthwhile finale to the series. Many, many elements from the preceding six volumes reappear making the book very satisfying to a careful reader. The final battles with He-Who-Must-Not-Be Named are exciting, although maybe not as scary as some of the ones in Order of the Phoenix. Almost every character we've met joins the fight one side or the other which makes from some unexpected situations. I felt Rowling was a bit heavy handed comparing Voldemort to Hitler (the whole mudblood/pure blood thing) and the final chapter was a bit too cute. A great book, a great series, a few flaws, but what can you do?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Eyre Affair

Thursday Next is a detective in Jurisfiction who investigates literary crimes. When the evil Acheron Hades begins stealing characters from the original manuscripts of literary masterpieces, thus altering all copies of the books, Thursday sets out to stop him. She jumps into Jane Eyre to keep the novel intact. While the plots are kind of silly, the attraction of this series, for me anyway, are all the literary references. The book is set in an alternate version of 1985 England, where literature has a much greater prominence. Their version of Rocky Horror is Richard III which is performed with audience participation. Baconians go door to door to convince people that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's works. Thursday's interactions inside Jane Eyre are also fun to follow, as she sets out to keep the storyline intact and possibly improve it. Jasper Fforde also has a fun and interactive website for fans of the series.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Tenth Circle

Angstrat is not of a fan of Ms. Picoult (I look forward to a future bad books review from her on My Sister's Keeper) and what I've read by her has been ok, but not enough to make me join her fan club. This book was a fast interesting read, but I can't say it was amazing. The book is the story of the the Stone family (and may I just say that sentences such as "He followed the Stones to Anchorage" made me think of Mick Jagger and Co. every time?) Daniel is a comic book author, Laura is an English professor who specializes in Dante's Inferno and their 14 year old daughter Trixie is a girl who's heart has been broken at the beginning of the book. (Trixie is named after the Beatrice who was the love of Dante's life, not Trixie Belden, sadly). The story concerns the Trixie's rape and it's aftermath and it is paralleled by the comic book pages Daniel creates of his comic alter ego following his daughter through the circles of Dante's Hell. I think Picoult tried to hard to cram too many things into the plot, but she does write well and it held my attention sitting on the sidewalk outside Barnes and Noble waiting for Harry Potter.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Potter Mania!

Could there be any other possible subject for the bonus post today? Unless you're living under a rock, you probably already know that the seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be released at midnight. The title link goes to J. K. Rowling's official site. I was going to link to an article about the release but really, all you need to do is open up any newspaper or magazine or book website and you will find more information and speculation than you could possibly want to know. Confession: I've only read the first book (and seen the first movie). Shuttsie, on the other hand, is probably in line at a bookstore as we speak. I kind of wish I had gotten into the whole Potter craze because it would be fun to take part in all the mass excitement over a book. Sadly, I can't imagine this much build-up over a book again in a long, long time. As much as I would love it, I don't think Borders will be staying open until midnight on September 25 when Richard Russo's newest book comes out, even though I've been waiting SIX years for it. So time to hear from you (if you're not too busy reading Deathly Hallows, that is). What do you think of the Harry Potter books? If you're not a fan, whose books would you wait in line for?

At Large and at Small

I read Anne Fadiman's excellent collection of essays on books and reading, Ex Libris, several years ago after shuttsie recommended it. This book is a collection of what Fadiman calls familiar essays--more personal than a critical essay but more expansive than a personal, navel-gazing one. The scope of these essays range from the everyday subjects of coffee and ice cream to the more highbrow--Charles Lamb and Samuel Coleridge. The standout for me was probably the last essay about a canoing trip gone wrong. It is probably the shortest essay in the book, but for me the most resonant. They are all well-written and even the ones I had no interest in (Charles Lamb, say) have an insight or sentence that stands out. But while Ex Libris was the perfect marriage of an excellent writer and a subject I care passionately about (books!) this one was a bit more one-sided.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sweet and Low

What if your mother's family invented Sweet 'n' Low? And what if your entire branch of the family was cut out of the will? ("to Ellen and her issue I leave nothing"). The Answer is write a memoir and spill all of the family secrets. This book documents the invention first of the sugar packet (which, never having been patented is stolen from the author's grandfather) and then of Sweet 'n' Low, along with documenting the rise and fall of various artificial sweeteners and the federal investigator that sent several high ranking executives from the family business to prison. The family story is interesting but a bit repetitive and the author loves digression and some times throws in too much personal asides. Overall however, the book is engrossing and you will never look at the little pink packets the same way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

I haven't recommended many of my favorite books in this blog yet, mainly because any time I sit down and start to write about one I want to immediately reread it to be able to fully capture what makes the book so special. I resisted reading this book for quite awhile because I didn't really get the appeal of comic books. But this book is really about much more than that. Sammy and Joe are two cousins who unite as a formidable team in the superhero comics world. Flipping through this to refresh my memory, I almost forgot just how much more there is--Hitler and WWII, golems, Antarctica, and Houdini. Even though this book has a lot of action, I was moved forward by the complex inner struggles of both characters. Initially, I was mostly drawn to Josef's feelings for his family left behind and his muse, Rosa. But then Sammy reeled me in with his guilt. I hit a couple of rough patches along the way, but when I closed the book it ended up being one of my most favorite reading experiences. Michael Chabon also brought the cousins' creations to life in a line of Escapist comics.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Family Shoes

Noel Streatfield wrote lots of kids books, mostly with kids who had some sort of occupation, i.e. Ballet Shoes. This book is the story of a more ordinary family, the Bells- a family of four kids who's father is a minister. Along with the sequel, New Shoes, it was one of my favorite books growing up because of the relationship the family has with their grandparents and other extended family. Usually families in kids books are either cruel and heartless or wonderful every moment of the day. Here there is true tension in the family (grandfather disapproves of the father's decision to become a minister and to consequently have much less money than the rest of the family. Nobody is a bad guy, but everyone is constantly frustrated by each other. The book is very funny, as the younger daughter is constantly scheming to get things to go her way and the younger son is a dreamer and always saying something outrageous.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Falling Man

It's been six years since 9/11 and I still have mixed feelings reading or watching fictional works that deal with the subject. I've never read DeLillo but have read enough effusive praise of him that I was willing to give a novel of his about 9/11 a try. The main character is Keith, who survives the attacks. He walks from the falling towers to the home of his estranged wife, Lianne, and son, Justin and then stays. Other characters include Lianne's mother and her lover, Martin; another survivor named Florence, a performance artist who recreates the falling man jumping from the towers, and one of the hijackers, Hammad. For me, the book had a lot of great moments that really felt like authentic responses to that day. Justin and his neighbors' obsession with the planes and ''Bill Lawton" (bin Laden) was especially poignant for me. But many of these threads have frustratingly little resolution. I also found the dialogue to be jarringly unnatural in a few places. Overall, I found it to be a compelling, if somewhat incomplete, read.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Daily Book Buddy lives! Sorry for the missed posts, but we were moving and then had some Internet problems. This book is a pick of my library book club. It's the story of two women in 19Th century China who are "old sames" which is a sort of arranged best friendship. The book follows them from the time of the their foot binding to their lives as adults, focusing on the narrator, Lily and the shame she feels at not being true to Snow Flower, her old same. While the moment of betrayal doesn't have quite as much punch as I was expecting, the description of the the women's lives was very interesting, including the secret writing the women practiced unknown to men and of course, the depiction of foot binding.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Can I Keep My Jersey?

Can it be not recommended day? I tend to feature most of the books I finish reading upon completion. Usually if I make it to the end, there is at least something to recommend it, albeit sometimes with reservations that I usually try to note. It's much easier to profile a book while it's still fresh in my mind and I still remember what it is exactly I liked about it. Or in this case, didn't. I just finished Paul Shirley's memoir of the first four years of his professional basketball career--a career that includes stints (usually very brief) at a few NBA teams as well as ABA, CBA, and European ones. Shirley grew up in small town Kansas and I saw him play in high school once, as well as in college at Iowa State (on TV). Other than him being 6'10'', I don't think many people would have pegged him for a future NBA player. NBA general managers would seemingly agree. There are glimpses of an interesting book here--about the business of professional sports, about the itinerant nature of the not-quite-good-enough player, some musings on athletes and religion (apparently in the NBA, you're more likely to be invited to a Bible study than a strip joint). Unfortunately, those glimpses are too few and too completely focused on Paul Shirley himself. Really, this is the most narcissistic memoir I think I've ever read--you would think during a career in professional athletics and long stints in foreign countries you would bump up against some pretty interesting characters. But, though we are treated to frightening levels of detail concerning a catheter, none of Shirley's fellow players get more than a paragraph or so mention. It doesn't help that the book is told almost exclusively with a self-deprecating, sarcastic humor, which normally I like. But along about the 500th time Shirley says, "I'm such an ass!", I really found myself quite agreeing with him. Despite his small town origins and long odds, Paul Shirley is no "Rudy" like figure. If he possessed any love for the game or competitive desire whatsoever, it does not come across in this book. The book came about from a blog he wrote for the Suns and for ESPN that developed a following and I had read once or twice. Toned down and in much smaller doses, I'd probably like this a lot more. It's worth a glance at a bookstore to read a small section or two, but not very tolerable in large doses.

The Dark Tower

The link above takes you to a boxed set of the first four books in Stephen King's Dark Tower series. My husband has read all of these (mostly listening to them on audio) and enjoyed them but the intensity one of my friends from my old job has about these books is what made me decide to include them here. He once remarked that if he were to ever get a tattoo, it would be a symbol of the Dark Tower. Since not many people get tattoos to commemorate books, this got my attention. He recommends reading the first two books of the series before making up your mind about them, as he feels the first book is a prologue that sets up some of the action in the other books. These books are entries in "road books" such as Lord of the Rings (which he feels these books are modern equivalent too) where a disparate group of people meet up and begin traveling together to achieve a common goal --getting to the Dark Tower and defeating the Crimson King among other bad guys (including the Man in Black-- no, not Johnny Cash). Many characters are very easy to identify with and King makes them feel very real. For King fans, these books bring in several characters from his other works and King himself appears as a character.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Head Over Wheels

I remember reading this around junior high and being deeply affected by it. It is the story of twin brothers, Terry and Kerry. Terry is involved in a car accident and is paralyzed. The relationship between the brothers changes as Kerry struggles with the fact that his brother will never be able to walk again and he can. The book is mostly told through Kerry's point of view. The book went into pretty good detail for a YA book about the struggles of rehab for Terry and how his injury affected his family. I was a huge sucker growing up for books that made me cry (I kind of still am) and this one definitely fit the bill.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Paris to the Moon

Sorry this wasn't up yesterday. Paris to the Moon was a book club pick and in the spirit of full disclosure, some people found it boring, but I really enjoyed it. The book is memoir of the years the author, his wife, and preschool age son spent in Paris. The book does not try delve into the lives of the French, but merely recounts how the differences between French and American culture and society effected them. His essay about the crush his son develops on a little girl he meets in the Ritz swimming pool is very memorable as are his misadventures with French electronics, particularly Christmas tree lights. I am not sure why the reviews are so hostile on Amazon, but I disagree with the readers who find him self centered. To me it seemed like he was writing about what he knew, which was his own experience. This book inspired the author of Ella in Europe, who writes about taking his dog to many of the places Gopnik visits in the book.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Wife

This is one of the titles on the New York list I have read and I agree with its inclusion. In Meg Wolitzer's novel, Joan Castleman, the wife of famed novelist Joe, decides to end their 40+ year marriage on the plane flight to Finland, where he is set to receive a prestigious award, a step below the Nobel. The book bounces from present to past as the story of the Castleman's marriage unfolds. Joan was a student of his when they met, and she ends up abandoning her own literary promise to help prop up her husband's career. As his reputation increases, so does Joan's resentment for very good reasons. I really enjoyed Wolitzer's portrayal of the woman behind the supposed literary genius and the build-up of the story until the full reason for Joan's bitterness is eventually revealed. I loved the peek behind the curtains of the life of a famous couple in literary circles and the secrets they keep.

The Best Novels You've Never Read

New York magazine asked book critics to list "one that got away", a book that they loved but didn't seem to catch on with the public. The result is a very eclectic list of titles that makes for an interesting list. I've only read a few of the books on this list, have heard of several more, but the majority of the list are books and even authors that are mostly new to me. I have this list bookmarked and hope to try a few of the titles soon.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Tales of the City

This is the first in at least six books about the residents of 28 Barbary Land, a boarding house in San Francisco. This book is set in the 70s and the series follows the various characters through the next few decades. The books are a series of short pieces that alternate between the stories of the landlady Mrs. Madrigal, the wide eyed newcomer Mary Ann Singleton, openly gay and proud Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, among others. This is not deep literature, but the books are a bit soap opera like and are a fun quick read.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

America (the Book)

In honor of the Fourth of July, today's recommendation is American history and government the funny way. Jon Stewart and his Daily Show team brilliantly use the format of a fake civics textbook to provide their own humorous take on the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, the media, and the election process. The textbook format allows for charts and graphs that make up some of the book's funniest gags. One of my personal favorites is the voter registration form that asks you to check which shaded box best represents your skin color, your credit card and PIN, and to check whether you're just really doing it for the sticker. (I love the sticker!). Also included are discussion questions (What does bicameral mean? Are any of the girls in your class "bicameral?") and classroom activities (Disenfranchise a black student). Though The Daily Show may have taken a step back recently--I haven't warmed to the new correspondents and miss Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry, and Ed Helms--the book reminds me that when they are on top of their game, they are hard to beat. I also recommend the audio version of this book. Though you miss out on some of the great visual gags, you do get to hear all the words they bleep out of the TV show.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Good In Bed

This book is the ur text of so called chick lit. Unlike most chick lit, which is a dressed up romance, this book is really more about finding yourself rather than finding romance. The heroine, Cannie Shapiro, is recovering from a breakup when her ex-writes a thinly disguised column about her for a national magazine making reference to her plus sized body. Even though the column is not a put down but rather his attempt thoughtful look at how her weight affected their relationship, Cannie is still sent into a tailspin that ends up changing her whole life. The book is hilarious as Cannie's voice is sarcastic in the very best way and the whole book is inspiring, especially to anyone who's ever felt like the "fat girl."

Monday, July 2, 2007

Our Guys: the Glen Ridge rape and the secret life of the perfect suburb

The community of Glen Ridge, New Jersey is shocked by a rape scandal in Bernard Lefkowitz's book. Leslie, a 17 year old retarded girl, is lured by a group of football players into a basement where she is raped with a broomstick and baseball bat. Leftkowitz explores the aftermath of this shocking incident in the perfect suburban community. His sociological study of the community explores the town's affluence and white male jock culture and how the confluence of both contributed to the boys' actions and the community response. The same factors that created the sense of entitlement in these "golden boys" lead many in the community to defend them and condemn the victim. The result is a fascinating study of privilege, gender, and athletics that eclipses the story of the rape itself.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Devil in the White City

I know, I know, lots of people have read this already. In fact, (book snob alert) in December when reading this book on the train to Chicago I kind of felt self-conscious, as if the other people on the train would be thinking "Has she been reading that for a year or what, what's taking her so long?". But its a worthwhile read, the story of the 1893 World's Fair Colombian Exposition intertwined with the story of a serial killer who took advantage to the fair to find victims. In retrospect while I enjoyed both halves of book in some ways the fair was more interesting. It's almost impossible to envision the White City of the fair over the face of modern Chicago, whereas creepy serial killers are all over CourtTV. Right now, Chicago is trying to be selected to host an Olympic games and the debate parallels the debate over the fair. The book was interesting and quite well written and I'd like to read more by Erik Larson.