Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book Review: Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Interesting story about different cultures coming together.

At first I was unsure about this book. I was not really enthusiastic about the writing style. The author writes in present tense and while there is a lot of dialogue back and forth, there isn't any punctuation and sometimes I found it challenging to figure out who was saying what.

An example:

Fifteen pounds, three ounces, at her last doctor visit, Ziba told him.
Fifteen, he frowned.
And three ounces.
I guess she's going to be one of those petite little people he said.

The story was worth the challenging moments. After a while I found the cadence of the author and could look past it. Initially I thought this book was a story about adoption but learned it was so much more.

The story starts with two couples at the airport waiting anxiously for their baby girls to be delivered to them off the plan landing from Korea. The Donaldsons are a very American couple, with a lot of extended family and a video camera, waiting for their Jin-Ho to arrive. The Yazdans are of Iranian heritage and are standing to the side, more reserved, also waiting for their new daughter Sooki.

An unlikely friendship develops over the years as the two couple bond over the lives of their children but with marked differences in how they raise their families. The extended family members come along for the ride, uniting the shy and reserved Iranian family with the boisterous Americans.

The stories of the grandparents really becomes a larger theme in the book and the focus from the children does shift which makes this fascinating yet easy reading. How does a person who immigrated from Iran but does not feel she fits into the American world react to the society around her? I found this the most interesting part of the story and learned to love all of the characters.

An easy read (once you got past the dialogue) and very interesting.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Restaurant Review: The Wooden Spoon

A Gem in Brighton

Local flavors and interesting pairings.

With the end of summer looming near we took the last week in August off and stayed close for some local adventures. After a beach day at Kensington we decided to have an early dinner at the Wooden Spoon and it lived up the hype of the locals.

The restaurant has a really nice patio area to eat outside but the inside is very cute. Local artists are featured. While we were there, there was some amazing work by a fiber artist whose pieces looked like watercolor paintings of people and landscapes. The dining area also shares space with a market with fresh takeout foods and specialty groceries.

Coffee Coriander Charred Sirloin
Deciding what to order was the first challenge. For the kids, it was about all the different varieties of soda. We aren't talking about choosing between coke or cherry coke or perhaps an exotic Dr. Pepper. This menu boasted options from Towne Club and Stewarts to more unusual picks such as Bawls, Fentimans and Sprecher. We did taste the Sprecher Cream Soda and it was very good. And there was Coca Cola imported from Mexico with pure cane sugar and a glass bottle if you wanted the best of the usual.

We started with a bowl of mushroom and brie soup. Yes, brie. It was rich and full of minced mushrooms that gave it an earthy flavor with a little texture to the bisque.

The kids had macaroni and cheese and an order Chicken Tosca strips. I can tell you both were made from scratch, no frozen dishes or powdered cheese. The macaroni and cheese was more "adult" rather than creamy but as an adult, I enjoyed a sample. The chicken was a huge hit. Word on the street is that the grilled cheese is very very good - and that there are adult versions at lunchtime where you can build your own.

Now to the main events. Husband got the Coffee Coriander Charred Sirloin. He loved the sauce and the spicy overtones. The sides were what made it. It was paired with lobster mac and cheese (lots of lobster in it), blistered local beans, and charro sauce.

Seared Tuna and Crispy Veal Sweetbreads

I had the seared tuna (extra rare - I like it to be sushi) with fried veal sweetbreads and creamed collard greens. I cannot stop thinking about the collards. They were so delicious with a smoky flavor in the sauce that I am hoping to recreate. They were cooked but not overdone. The sweetbreads were something I have never tried before but after making tripe a staple in my Pho I was feeling adventurous and I'm glad I tried them. They were delicious. There was also a celery root puree that added a little more pizazz to the plate. This was an absolute delicious meal and I was fully stuffed with this offering!

Desserts were abundant at the restaurant as well with many cakes and pies to choose from, some of them from Zingerman's. While that was nice the main dishes were the stars.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Book Review: Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham

This one was worth the investment.

This could have easily been another example of reading until the very end and ending up disappointed but this book was worth it. The story follows Costantine Stassos, a Greek immigrant that comes to America with nothing. While he might not explain to his family about his background and humble beginnings that make him the way he is, it's a legacy that carries through this entire story that traces through the next generation.

Constantine marries and has three children who each receive attention in this plot throughout their challenging lives. Each personality and intertwining story is full of detail and realism that I found that I really got to know everyone, complete with their flaws, dreams and achievements.

And again, the end was really worth it. Recommend! It truly is an American story.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Review: Double Fault by Lionel Shriver

Sometimes I get sucked in and I keep waiting for the story to turn around. Alas, it didn't. Don't read this one.

I have really enjoyed other books by this author but this one left me disappointed. Willy is what some would describe as a child prodigy when it comes to Tennis but she's starting on the downside as she is now in her twenties. She continues to climb the ranks in hope of reaching the highest echelons but it's starting to unravel even if she doesn't know it yet.

While she is still cocky she meets Eric and begins a relationship with the aspiring tennis pro who only recently has joined the game and the rankings.

I think this story is to describe the conflict of both athletic competition and personal relationships but it left me finding them all really vapid and boring. The ending did not help me at all and I ended up disliking all of the characters.

Book Review: Illywhacker by Peter Carey

I'm going to save you a lot of time. Don't read this.

I really tried. . . 480 out of 816 pages, and then I gave up. 

The book had so much potential in the beginning as Herbert starts to narrate his life from the unique perspective of being over 130 years old. He introduces himself as a con man and I thought that this would lead to a very interesting recollection of his life.

However, once he got into his life I didn't find it all that interesting and I kept waiting. Apparently he was not enough of a charlatan as I wanted. He seemed to me like a desperate man just trying to keep two kids stable in the Depression in Australia.

Book Review: Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Let's start that this is by the author of Fight Club. 


While I haven't read it (yet) I did see the movie. This means I should have been prepared for the wild ride and all the twists right up to the end.


This book was very different in so many ways. Shannon was an attractive model with everything on the surface, much like a glossy fashion magazine. She had the looks and the perfect body, a career, a best friend and the faithful boy friend from vice.

But life isn't always that it seems if you peel back the layers. Fast forward (the book does this a lot by the way, it goes back and forth) to Shannon after the accident. She was shot while driving down the freeway and is disfigured. She lost half her face and can no longer communicate verbally.

So begins the wild ride (I know I keep saying that but it's true) as she travels across the county with a drag queen in the middle of her transformation to a woman and an accomplice behind her veils as she comes to terms of her new life.

That's all I'm going to say. I'm not going to ruin it for you! Recommend!