"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Monday, May 28, 2012

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

In nineteen minutes a world can be turned upside down, inside out, and transform into a hell on earth. That's what happens inside Sterling High School. It's like Columbine happening all over again, only I get to listen in and get acquainted with the shooter, families, and victims.

I love Jodi Picoult's writing technique----the reader is allowed to climb inside every character's psyche, perspective, opinion, and view of the world. And I get to meet the shooter in an intimate way.

Reading "Nineteen Minutes," I thought-- "Who gives a damn about Peter Houghton, he's a killer, a monster." But Picoult being the author she is, brought me on a journey of the past and present of Peter's childhood, the taunting, the bullying, and the terror of his every day existence.

On his first day of Kindergarten, his mom has packed a lovely lunch in his little tin box: sandwiches, Twinkies, an apple. Somebody throws the whole box out of the bus window and I'm left with an image of a large red apple rolling down the cement highway. And this is only the beginning of Peter's tormented school experience.

Alright, this is not a justification for Peter to murder ten high school classmates, which is ridiculous, it is a scenario of how one can be pushed to the edge. I felt empathy and even a little understanding for this poor, redheaded, freckle faced misfit.

The narrative weaves back and forth, each character getting his or her chance to speak, scream, cry, or analyze the tragedy: Peter's mom, the families of the victims, the students, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and teachers.

In the end, I can decide if I truly want to forgive Peter or understand him or sympathize with him.

One thing for sure, Picoult will brought me on a roller coaster ride of emotion and heartbreak and indecision. Nothing, absolutely nothing-- is ever only black or white or this way or that way.

"I never found who I really wanted to kill." Peter confesses to his attorney.

"Who was that?" He asks

"Myself." Peter says.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

In ZZ Packer's "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere", I was treated to a compilation of eight short stories. Each story depicts a young person in turmoil, learning a lesson or seeking an answer to life's questions.

In Speaking In Tongues, young Tia runs away from her overly strict aunt and church to search for her mother in Atlanta. As with most runaways, she is easily targeted by an area pimp. However her values forces her to fight her way out of his grasp, though there are close calls when it looked as if she would falter.

In Brownies, a group of young girl scouts, lead by bullies Arnetta and Octavia, seeks to fight a white Brownie troop who are also at camp due to trumped up charges that they called one of the girls the "N" word. Only they find out the group is made up of developmentally disabled Brownies.

The Ant of the Self is the only story featuring a male main character. Spurgeon can barely stand to be in the presence of his father, Ray Bivens, Jr. After bailing his father out of jail, Spur is attempting to drive him back to Indiana when Ray coerces him into driving to Washington, DC to the Million-Man March. Spur would rather be back at school participating in the debate team competition. Even after hearing the speeches at the March, Spur and his father still can not see eye to eye and can not improve their relationship.

Reading a collection of short stories is a rare experience for me, but this was an enjoyable one. Each offering is complete and as a reader I was satisfied with each story; not needing them to be any longer or wishing they were a complete book. Each short story offers a lesson and a different perspective on life. Though many of the characters are rural women with very strict religious backgrounds, the author does a wonderful job of developing them all with their own taste of individuality. This book is highly recommended.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Here We Go Again by Betty White

This book was hard to put down! Betty White is like the Energizer Bunny! I learned so much about early television and how the business grew. I realized how Betty White was such a trail blazer. Betty has had a career on television and radio that spans over 70 years! She has had not just one… but several television shows named after her. Early on, she was on TV 5 hours a day all week long! Comments about how they decided to tape talk shows so the host would be able to take time off and re-runs would be shown… and how game shows used to be filmed every day until the idea was that money could be saved by filming many in one day… just seemed fascinating… because, today, we take it for granted.

She seemed to know just about everyone in the industry. I love the way she was so honest and frank as she told her stories and also about her own life and loves. I still look forward to every chance to see her in front of the camera!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Derailed by James Siegel

This book takes the best bits of The Firm and throws in a smattering of Fatal Attraction to deliver a lightning-paced read with enough twists, turns and downright unexpected seismic shifts to keep you turning the pages late into the night.

Charles is a well-paid advertising executive who's living a treadmill-like existence until he meets a beautiful stranger on a train. Besotted by the green-eyed Lucinda, he embarks on an illicit affair, momentarily forgetting his wife of 18 years and their sick teenage daughter. But his moment of pleasure turns quite unexpectedly into a violent nightmare in which rape, blackmail and murder all play a part.

Derailed has been turned into a film, but this book does not read like a padded-out screenplay (hello, Mary Higgins Clark!) Siegel is an accomplished story-teller. His writing is taut and he knows how to deliver enough cliff hangers and shocks to keep even the most jaded reader turning the pages. The dialogue is believable and his characterisation is spot on too.

Despite the unlikely situation that the narrator finds himself caught up in, not once did I find myself suspending belief, not once did I think how ludicrous. And perhaps that's what makes this thriller such a rollicking good one: you know it could happen to you because it's a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or is it?

My only quibble with this book is its its too-neat ending. Still, it's an entertaining read and you'd be hard pressed to find a better thriller that pushes all the right buttons in all the right places. If you like that kind of thing.