Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan

This is a young adult book for boys aged 12-15 years. Supposed to be action packed, I must say I was pretty bored with it. Well, I am not a boy and I am not aged 12-15, but still, I enjoy a YA-novel as much as the next person.

The Last Thing I Remember has an awfully good premise: Young Charlie West goes to sleep as a happy and cleancut young man and wakes up strapped to a chair, battered, bloody and bruised. And the last thing he remembers is the happy day at school, his success in karate, his deep love of his country and God.

Now he has no clue why he is being held captured, being tortured and being talked to like he is playing a major part in some warlike game, involving death, terrorism and definitely no love of his country or God. How did this happen to him? Charlie goody-goody West? Charlie who lived a healthy and wonderful and most of all normal teenage life!?

Right. That sounds much more intriguing that it really is. I grew absolutely mega tired of Charlie West. No, I don't need profanity, sex or drugs in my reading. And in fact I enjoy YA novels (or other novels as well) that does not have profanity, sex or drugs in them, and I do not necessarily think that those issues need to be in a good book. But I need som edges and Charlie and this book and the premise was too much. Not enough edge at all. Friends and enemies are laid out way to thick in this one, and it becomes boring to the extreme. It actually felt kind of like I was being indoctrinated.

All that said, during my reading I sort of detected that maybe it was laid on so thick in order to make the reader think a bit. Can you really put up things like that? Is the world really just black or white, depending on the eyes of the beholder? Was this what this book was all about? This did intrigue me, and I gave Charlie another chance in book # 2, The Long Way Home.

Both books are part of Andrew Klavans Homelander-series. I can't say that I was all that impressed, but as you can see, I am not finished with Charlie West yet. And if you read this series, you will also want to find out what on earth happened between the time Charlie went to bed a happy average and good teenageboy and woke up strapped and tortured.

Monday, August 15, 2011

White Trash Cooking by Ernest Matthew Mickler

Food is all around. Not just as something that we need to survive, but also in the form of books, supplements in papers, food blogs, super star chefs, Michelin starred restaurants, tv-programs, different "schools" and movements being the it-trend (like raw food is the big thing in Denmark right now), other movements going back. And os on.

Old news I hear you say, and you are right. Food blogging is so not my thing, as well as I know next to nothing about food anthropology. Nevertheless, I have a great interest in food, cooking, books about food and that kind of unscientific research you can do by just reading cook books from a certain place or period. I would've posted this Sunday and made it a part of Beth Fish's Weekend Cooking, but since I already made two posts this evening, I thought I would post this today insted.

Anyway. When I look at old magazines with recipies, I have to smile sometimes, thinking: can you believe we ate that in the 70'es. And check out the plates they are serving this dish on and the glass they are drinking from. On the other hand, at least in Denmark there are very classical cook books more than a 100 years old still being used and re-printed again and again. I have some of those old cook books myself. But mostly I have books about food in the Ramsey, Nigella and Jamie-category and books with certain culinary themes like Danish food, Thai food, Indian food, Jewish food, Greek, Moroccan, American...well, you get it. I enjoy reading them all as well as cooking a dish or two.

It is not like I cannot pass the cook book section in a book store without having to buy the latest book, because I can easily do that. But on my recent trip to USA I stumbled upon a cook book that I just knew instantly was a must have: White Trash Cooking. It was published for the first time in the 1980'es and is apparently considered a bit of a classic, re-printed several times since the first publication. And yes, it is written tongue in cheek, but it is nevertheless a real cook book with real recipes, and I find it a charming book. It is not just a funny joke on behalf of an unfortunate group of people. Let us have a look at how the author Ernest Matthew Mickler describes white trash in the intro:
[...] But the first thing you've got to understand is that there's white trash and there's White Trash. Manners and pride separate the two. Common white trash has very little in the way of pride, and no manners to speak of, and hardly any respect for anybody or anything. But where I come from in North Florida you never failed to say "yes ma'm" and "no sir" [...] never forgot to say "thank you" for the teeniest favor. That's the way the ones before us were raised and that's the way they raised us in the South.
In this funny and quirky book you will find recipes for fried and broiled squirrel, fried possum, barbecued alligator tail and swamp cabbage stew. But that is not all. You will also find the most delicious recipes on how to cook shrimp, crawfish, crabs and other kind of seafood that you find in abundance in the South plus lots of cakes and sweets.

The book also states that White Trash-food has less fat (but there is still plenty of calories, though) than  Soul Food and many other interesting facts you can read in the very well written intro.

No, I do not think that I would find fried squirrel a particularly delicious thing to eat. And I don't know what to say about the High Calorie Pick Me Up-drink, which is a bag of peanuts put into a cold coke, so that you can drink and eat at the same time.

But Tutti's Fruited Porkettes (pork chops with sweet potatoes, pineapple and bacon baked in the oven) sounds yummy, as well as Klebert's Cold Crawfish Soup (with onion and potatoes) could easily find its way into my kitchen. I am not here to offend anyone, I truly enjoyed reading this book and leafing through the recipes, and the whole book has been written with much love.

Have you ever cooked a squirrel? Or tasted swamp cabbage stew? I had an alligator sandwich in New Orleans and it was fab.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Working, reading, travelling...

I know I've said it before, but now I say it again. I haven't been around much this year. And I miss blogging here. One reason I haven't been around here much is work. Work does take up a good deal of my time. Another reason is that I am having a slow reading-year. So far so good. But I have also been travelling. Not that much, but I spent most of May this year travelling through the American South, and what a great tour we had!

We flew from Copenhagen into Atlanta and rented a car there. This car took us from Atlanta to Savannah to Charleston, then back into Georgia, to Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and then up to Tennessee from where we drove back to Atlanta.

We saw so much and had so much fun. I am not going to bore you with details or a lot of photos, just wanted to share and say that I am coming back and back and back. And of course I visited several book stores ;o)

The Garden of Good and Evil ;-) Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia.

We stayed a night in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi

Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Winter's Bone is taking place in the Ozark Mountains amongst poor and violent white trash families, cooking crank in their kitchens and outhoses and living in an almost clan-like society leaving absolutely no room for what they consider mistakes. You pay dearly if you make a wrong move or wrong decision

Ree Dolly is 16 and the main person in the book. She is a tough cookie, who doesn't seem to take no shit at all, at least not on the outside. She is taking care of her younger brothers, making sure they get fed and go to school, and she teaches them to shoot. She is also taking care of the mother who seems to suffer from an almost catatonic pshycosis. Her dad, who has been in prison numerous times, has disappeared. His disappearance is not something that is unusual, because it has happened before.

But this time it is more serious than Ree can imagine, he has jumped bail and used the house as security, and Ree is being told by the police that she, the mother and the two brothers need to get out of the house as soon as possible.

Ree can keep the house if she finds her fater - dead or alive, it doesn't matter - the court just need to know where he is, and if he is dead, they can keep the house. This leads Ree on a regular quest into her large family's darkest and most dirty corners, and while this might sound like a cosy and classic plot for a mystery, I can guarantee that there is absolutely nothing cosy about Winter's Bone.

It is an evil, violent and rough tale and the style in which it is written feels almost like social realism. Unfortunately it is not hard to imagine how life is out there in the middle of nowhere, in a place where poverty has been running through generation after generation. Ree's only bright spots in her life is her dream of joining the army, listening to stress-tapes with soothing sounds and maybe a cuddle with her girlfriend

Mean and icy and extremely well written, the reader will feel the cold and gritty atmosphere. Even thought eh novel is a short one it is a tough read and it is hard core. I liked it. And I am going to watch the movie soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Black Hole by Charles Burns

Black Hole is a weird grapic novel about teenage angst and alienation. We are in Seattle in the 1970's and high school kids do whatever it is highschool kids has always done and probably always will do: fall in and out of love, argue with their parents, drink, party, experiment with drugs and sex, skip school etc etc. There is a catch though, because some AIDS-like sexually transmitted disease is spreading among those kids. You do not die from it, but you mutate in different ways. Some mutate so much, that they have to hide from view and flee to the woods where they set up a camp, while others only develop certain things like a tail (!) or an extra mouth; things that can be hidden beneath clothes.

There are many layers in this horrorlike story, and I asked myself if those mutated kids had to flee because their parents could not be allowed to see that they had caught the disease, thus letting the parents know that they had had sex? Or was it something else that made them flee? Humiliation? A mix? Because no one seems very happy in this dark graphic novel, which also has some humor running beneath all the horrors though. Some of the mutated kids fall in love with each other, but even out in the woods away from people staring at them and pointing fingers, they are not safe at all, and there might be a killer among them.

They never really talk about the disease or where it came from, it is just something which is there and something that some catch to a greater or a milder degree. Very weird. We follow a handful of different people in this odd love story of sorts, and I was quite taken with the whole thing, although some of it was very nasty to read. But a very good graphic novel!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

Somewhere in the hilly country of East Tennessee, you can meet Lester Ballard, the main character in Cormac McCarthy's Child of God. And he is not a likeable type at all. He has been released from jail only to find that his place has been sold, and now he is homeless. This does not sit well with him, and frustration and hatred and rotten thoughts burn through him. Soon he finds a place in the woods, some abandoned shack where he holes up, lives his sorry and solitary life and falls more and more to pieces. Dirt, trash, violence, hatred, depravation flows through Lester's life,  and this is definitely not a comfortable read, although it is written in a poetic kind of prose, which I must say that I adored. The book is only 185 pages long, but it sat with me for a long time afterwards. Not as good as The Road, though, but definitely understandable that McCarthy is one of the most important American writers.

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

I do have a thing for Joshilyn Jackson's books. Or rather, it seems like I have a thing for every second book she writes. I loved her first one, Gods in Alabama, I did not really care for the second one Between Georgia, but when I read The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, her third book, I really liked her again. Now I have finished her fourth and newest one (published in 2010) Backseat Saints, and now I am back to not being too thrilled again.

Main chararcter in Backseat Saints is a minor character in Gods in Alabama, but since it was years ago I read that one, I didn't really remember her at all. She is Rose Mae Lolley of pure Alabama trash, complete with a missing mother and drunk ass daddy, but when we meet her she is Ro Grandee, married to Texan football hunk Thom Grandee. Book begins with Ro going into the woods to hide and kill her husband, shooting him on his daily run with her granddaddys little gun. A psychic has told her that she has to kill him or he will kill her. Because as pretty and sexy as Ro is, Thom has loose fists, and he beats her up, nearly killing her on several occasions.

But her husband's loose fists and the threat he poses to her isn't all that is bad in Ro's life. She can't stop thinking about her high school sweetheart, who went missing, and she can't get the psychic she met out of her head. And through some very twisted ways, Ro must face both her past, her present and her future on a long trip, bringing her from Texas to Alabama and California.

Joshilyn Jackson writes in a formidable style, the words flow easily and the characters are believable. She takes good care not to make Ro just a victim of other people's crimes and bad behaviour, and there is a good and chilling pace through the book, and you just want to shout out loud sometimes and hand out advice to Ro, making her take the right decisions, which she seems unable to do. Her quest to make her life whole is interesting, but there was still something that kept annoying me about this book, and I am not completely sure what it was. Perhaps I just didn't like Ro that much, but on the other hand I am not sure that liking her is one of Jackson's aims at all. I don't know. I can eaily recommend this one, but this was not her best. Looking forward to the next one though, which is bound to be good!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Swallow me Whole by Nate Powell

Swallow me Whole is scary. But in a completely different manner from Coraline (see below). And it deals with a whole other set of problems than gothic Coraline does. Swallow me Whole has characters, Ruth and Perrym who are some years older than Coraline. They are in highschool and they are stepsiblings.

And something is wrong with both of them. They are sick. Perhaps suffering from schizophrenia. One of the key words for this novel is actually "Schizophrenia", but this is never mentioned in the story itself. Actually, a lot of things is left unmentioned, even though we are also dealing with parents who are ordinary and doesn't seem at all to be having hidden agendas or strange behaviour. Another key word is "Family Drama", and since the parents seem fine and not prone to any form of drama, this key word must relate to the terrible drama of having two kids who are both very, very sick.

As parents you may not think much about it at first, but my gosh, Ruth and Perry are weird. Ruth collects insects and Perry has a pencil which can transform itself into a magician. Now, I know there is nothing especially weird by collecting stuff - I collect books, and I am not schitzophrene. And the reader doesn't REALLY know how much of this goes on inside the heads of Ruth and Perry and how much is actually true. Of course the pencil-magician must be inside Perry's head, but about the insects...I don't know. Maybe most of the jars in which Ruth keeps those insects are mostly in her head? One thing is for certain though: the stepsiblings talk to each other about the insects and the magician (long time since I met such a nasty character as this magician), and they never doubt each other's stories.

As time goes by, psychiatrists and medication come into the kid's lives, and the reader tries and tries to get into this strange, horrible and sick life those young people live. The parents worry. But maybe not enough?

Almost everything that can go wrong, goes wrong for Ruth and Perry, and this is a scary, scary story in all it's simple style. It is not funny or comic in any way. The drawings are strong in their black and while smudgy style. Sometimes the text is so small that it is alsmost impossible to read. This is not a mistake, but surely made like this on purpose from the writer's side. The ending is not left open, although it does leave room for a bit of guessing. It is not a happy ending no matter what. This was tough reading.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (graphic novel)

Do you still remember the land between being a child and a young adult? The year or so just before puberty? Yes, this one is for kids, Neil Gaiman's Coraline. And yes, you all read it, I know. But darn this was a scary read for this adult reader, and I felt like I was back in that land again, mentioned above. Originally this is a novel, I am aware of that, but I read the graphic edition of it, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russel. Oh was scary! I have to say that again.

Coraline and her slightly distanced mom and dad have just moved into an old house, which they share with other tenants. Coraline is bored, and her parents doesn't really help, only by suggesting boring things to do. They are not unloving, her parents, but seem more occupied with their own stuff. Just like I myself felt at that age (and maybe did at least until a year ago where my father died).  So when Coraline discovers a door leading nowhere, her curiosity is immediately on high alert. Finally something is happening.

Even though she is told not to bother with the door, she still goes on and opens it one evening. And she is suprised. Behind the door is a parallel apartment just like her own. With a set of parallel parents. Even the other people living in her "real" house are there in their parallel "edition". At first it seems like a more ideal place to be. But only at first. Because something is off in a very bad way, and Coraline is quick to discover that when her first surprise has settled.

This graphic novel was full of gothic mysticism, and even though I was not breathless over the drawings, I was chilled, literally chilled, reading this story. So in one way or the other the drawing did have an effect on me. Those drawings - and the magnificent story of course - must have an even greater effect on a kid. Or maybe not...?
Perhaps Coraline's story is way more chilling for adults than for children? I don't know. I haven't read the "real" book, so I have no idea how close the graphic novel is to the original, but is you like a gothic story as much as the next person, I definitely recommend this one.

What is the most pathetic...? And a review of The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux

Did you miss me? Probably not. Did I miss you? Yeah, a little bit. I did, it is true. But I really did not miss blogging and I couldn't seem to get anything read.

I don't know what is the most pathetic: a blog slowly dying with no new posts at all, a lot of unfinished challenges and an empty feeling to it all OR a reader not able to read at all. I have felt somewhat pathetic concerning my blogging and reading the past months - when I have had the time to think about it, that is. Because the reason I haven't really been around has nothing to do with juicy personal problems or just boring personal problems. On the contrary. I have simply just been utterly and completely mega-swamped at work.

Add to that my almost non-existant reading, and I could find no reason to blog at all, but I wish I had had the time to keep myself updated on what has been going on around the book blogger world. Have to make up for that now.

All that said, I also have managed to read some books. So let me begin 2011 (although we are almost 2 months into this new year) with a short review of one of the last reads of last year, The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux. I remeber this book as a fine read, but not so fine that I am going to rush out finding the other books this author has written.

The Clearing takes place in the years after World War I in a small sawmill town in the middle of nowhere deep in the swamps of Louisiana.
Byron, returning from Europe and the war as a broken man, is heir to a sawmill-empire, but decides to become a policeman in this small sawmill town instead of manager. Gambling, violence, drinking and genreal apathy is daily business out here in the swamps, and Byron has his plate full. He is far away from his younger brother and his father and their expectations, but trying to deal with rough sawmill workers and the Sicilian mafia (controlling bars, gambling and prostitutes) is also taking it's toll. But he does his job and he tries to forget what he did and what he saw in Europe during the war.

Hisu younger brother Randolp finds him, and he arrives to the sawmill town himself, setting up office as sawmill manager. Now begins a journey where the two brothers must begin to get to know each other again, not without certain trouble and hurting. It is especially the raw violence which Randolph sees unfolding weekend after weekend in the bar is a source of worry and fighting, because the brothers does not see eye to eye in how to handle it. Meanwhile the Sicilian mafia is getting closer, and the brothers are forced to make decisions which has dire consequences.

This might sound like The Clearing is a romantic tale about two brothers finding each other after hard times, but if you think that, then it is my fault for not being able to describe this book good enough. It is a deeply serious novel, and there is nothing romantic about it at all (not that there is anything wrong with romantic novels). It is beautifully and tightly written in a brilliant language, the tone is serious all the way through and there is not really anything to laugh about. This is about how life unfolded itself in it's most raw way about 100 years ago.

Thus I can easily recommend this book, but it was too serious and too "deep" for me at the time I read it. This is of course not the book's fault, especially since I often enjoy books with heavier themes. But it didn't really work out for me at the time I read it.

PS. I got an iPad for Christmas, and have downloaded several readers to it. I have also tried my first e-book and it worked like a charm. It was a Danish crime novel, so I will not be reviewing it here, but just wanted to say that I am now officially on the e-book band wagon ;o)