Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Beauty by Sherri S. Tepper

Beauty has always been one of my favorite novels, dating back from when I first read it as a teen. About once a year, I pick it up and read it again. It is always like meeting up with an old friend, comforting and familiar. It was always like that, even the first time, because Beauty is a fairytale retelling. Primarily a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but interwoven with a myriad of other classic fairy tales, the story will always seem familiar and then it will go veering off into the strange. Beauty if one of the few books I have ever read where I feel both fantasy and sci-fi work together instead of against. Most of the time, when a novel tries to have elements of both genres, it works against the believability of the novel's world. In Tepper's Beauty, it is the one world that is destroying the other and so it makes sense that they would work against each other. As of my last reading, I am noticing that it wasn't quite as enthralling as I recall but I don't think most books from our youth stand up to our jaded adult minds. I still love this book. There are parts that still make me very sad and others that still surprise me. That's impressive with my line of work.

Book Description: Drawing on the wellspring of tales such as "Sleeping Beauty," Beauty is a moving novel of love and loss, hope and despair, magic and nature. Set against a backdrop both enchanted and frightening, the story begins with a wicked aunt's curse that will afflict a young woman named Beauty on her sixteenth birthday. Though Beauty is able to sidestep tragedy, she soon finds herself embarked on an adventure of vast consequences. For it becomes clear that the enchanted places of this fantastic world--a place not unlike our own--are in danger and must be saved before it is too late.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin & Nicole Kraus

Guilty pleasure or beach read in the middle of winter. I'm not sure what else I can say about the Nanny Diaries. It was a good book with a lot of disturbing issues buried under it's dark humor. I would place it in the same category of ChickLit that I would place "Devil Wears Prada" by Lauren Weisberger but I enjoyed this much more. Nanny is really highered as a replacement parent for her charge and that alone disturbs me on so many levels. Makes me wonder if my students have had this happen to them. If you like similar books than you should enjoy this - it differs enough to blow other ChickLit titles away.

Wanted:One young woman to take care of four-year-old boy. Must be cheerful, enthusiastic and selfless--bordering on masochistic. Must relish sixteen-hour shifts with a deliberately nap-deprived preschooler. Must love getting thrown up on, literally and figuratively, by everyone in his family. Must enjoy the delicious anticipation of ridiculously erratic pay. Mostly, must love being treated like fungus found growing out of employers Herm├Ęs bag. Those who take it personally need not apply. Who wouldn't want this job?

Struggling to graduate from NYU and afford her microscopic studio apartment, Nanny takes a position caring for the only son of the wealthy X family. She rapidly learns the insane amount of juggling involved to ensure that a Park Avenue wife who doesn't work, cook, clean, or raise her own child has a smooth day.When the Xs marriage begins to disintegrate, Nanny ends up involved way beyond the bounds of human decency or good taste. Her tenure with the X family becomes a nearly impossible mission to maintain the mental health of their four-year-old, her own integrity and, most importantly, her sense of humor. Over nine tense months, Mrs. X and Nanny perform the age-old dance of decorum and power as they test the limits of modern-day servitude.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ill Wind by Rachel Caine

Several years ago, L (the Caterpillar) discovered Mercedes Lackey's Diana Tregarde Series and introduced me to it. I loved the books, wishing there were more than three to the series. Then, L discovered Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series and shared it with me. I read them and enjoyed. However, after several books, I stopped enjoying them. I'm not a total prude, and maybe I have been working with teen books too long, the series became nothing more than a porno in a dust jacket. I don't even know where the plot ends anymore. Take than and all the books that have been ripping off Laurell K. Hamilton lately and I am crushed. I want a good action paced urban fantasy. I don't mind a little sex thrown in but if I wanted smut I would read romance. So what happened is that we managed to find 3 hopeful alternatives. L found Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison and Bitten by Kelley Armstrong look promising. I found Ill Wind by Rachel Caine and I loved it.
Book one of Caine's "Weather Warden" series drops the reader right into the middle of fast paced novel whose main character is a weather warden named Joanne Baldwin. The book has demons, wicked weather, Djinns, and gifted abilities that play out like "magic". I picked up the first three books in this series on a trip to Philadelphia and ended up reading most of the trip. I couldn't put them down. Now, I am not saying the ideas in this book haven't been done before. They have, many times. You have your smart mouthed, fast driving, magically talented heroine. There is the staple romantic male lead that happens to be supernatural in nature. The usual cast of characters are present and accounted for, I just feel Rachel Caine does it better. I cared about the characters, enjoyed the action, followed the plot, and felt the sex scenes fit the book without slowing down the story. I am up to book five in the series and still very happy with it. I actually crave the next book and that is saying a lot considering how many books I get to read for work. The series may change. It may go the way of so many others and disappoint me. I am hopeful that it won't. The writing is fast paced and fun to read. So if you are looking for an urban fantasy, liked the earlier books in similar series, or are attracted to more romantic action novels - pick this one up.

Book Description: First in the new Weather Warden series... Joanne Baldwin is a Weather Warden. Usually, all it takes is a wave of her hand to tame the most violent weather. But now, she's trying to outrun another kind of storm: accusations of corruption and murder. So, she's resorting to the very human tactic of running for her life... Her only hope is Lewis, the most powerful warden known. Unfortunately, he's stolen not one but three bottles of Djinn-making him the most wanted man on earth. Still, she's racing hard to find him-before the bad weather closes in fast...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Enemy of the Red King

So the New Year's bells have rung and not much has changed. There are a few things here and there but the biggest thing to hit our home has occurred to the Red King.

For years, 24 of them to be exact, my family has dealt with the Red King's illnesses in stride. He has never been what you would call healthy. Poor little brother has always been plagued by skin irritations, fevers, and stomach problems. He was sick so often, many family members accused him of being a hypochondriac. As 2006 came to a close we found out it wasn't in his head. The Red King has a severe allergy to soy. Now, many people who have heard about this have taken the stance that it should be easy to avoid these products. After all, just don't drink soy milk. Well after these last few weeks, these people can bite me. Soy is in everything! Take a look next time your in the store at the ingredients in your favorite foods. Crackers, breads, ketchup, even peanutbutter contain soy oil. Apparently 20% of the population has this allergy, which in many cases can be as serious as peanut or shellfish allergies. Yet, and here is the part that drives me nuts, NYC and many of the neighboring areas have passed a law to make restaurants stop using oils that contain transfats. So no more transfats in your fast food restaurants or you little romantic cafe. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is that we are acknowledging that there are more healthy ways to prepare our foods. The bad thing is that soy oil is cheap and is the oil of choice for many of these restaurants. What this means for our household is that we can no longer eat out if we wish to eat with the Red King. So what am I telling you? All restaurants are using soy in their food? No, not all restaurants are using soy, some assure us they are using vegetable oil. Read the label - contains soy. Worse yet, is that you can't be sure because even the restaurants aren't sure if their cooking oils, margarine, or breads contain soy. So we are assured it is safe to find out that it is not. One such item that lulled us into a false sense of security was ketchup. The red king has always loved his ketchup. Heck, as a kid, there would be night when all he ate was ketchup sandwiches. We figured ketchup was okay. Never said soy on the bottle so we good, right? Afraid not. At the bottom of the label was a sentence that said "contains natural flavoring". After some research we found out this sentence normally refers to some form of soy. I just never realized the extent of this problem. From talking with others, neither did they. It is not an extremely common allergy so people without it don't know or don't care. The "it doesn't affect me or mine" syndrome. Still 20% of the population is a fairly large group and studies show, that due to our over exposure to soy, that number is on the rise.

Don't worry. The Red King isn't starving. We have gone soy free in our house as much as we can and health food stores are a major help. K even found him a ranch dressing that doesn't contain soy, which is amazing. As for much of what is in a regular supermarket. . .Well there is Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and SPAM. Neither contain soy. SPAM?! Who knew?