Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy

Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy is the reason I became a writer. Well, not entirely, but she’s the fictional sister of my soul. With her ratty jeans and tool belt full of spy stuff, her endless number of notebooks, and her love of observation, she snuck into my life when I was eight or ten years old, and lingered thereafter.

I had occasion to re-read this book in late November, because I bought two copies of it, one to replace my own, lost years ago, and the other to send to a stranger as part of a book exchange. (Adults were to share their favorite children’s books).

Even though the book is short, and the language is juvenile, I still love the characters and the story. I credit Harriet for my recent habit of wearing belts again.

Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia : 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen Julie and Julia caught my attention when I saw it mentioned by Amy of Beauty Joy Food, who is one of my favorite food bloggers, because she often includes travel and social commentary among the recipes and food porn pictures.

The book, based on the author’s blog, is about a young married woman who has become a career temp, and decides, seemingly on a whim, to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cookery in a year. Described within these pages, with much wryness and just enough pathos to be interesting, are the details of the attempt, intertwined with vignettes that may or may not actually have occurred in Ms. Child’s life. If you’ve ever succumbed to tears when faced with the prospect of deboning a duck, or wondered what, exactly, one DOES with consomme, this book is for you – and even if your idea of cooking is pressing 3:00 START on the microwave, this is an entertaining read for it’s own sake.

A warning though – parts will make you hungry.
And parts will take your appetite completely away.

The Historian

The Historian

Elizabeth Kostova

Elizabeth Kostova is obviously a fan of both European history, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and both of these interests are thoroughly intertwined in her first novel The Historian.

Written from the point of view of the unnamed female narrator, who is sixteen during the bulk of the events in the novel, it is a tale of three parallel chases, one in 1972, in which she is involved, one just before her birth, and one before her father was even in school himself, and led by the man who would eventually become his mentor. Along the way, paths cross and deviate, love affairs end mostly tragically, and the reader is guided on an historical tour of Eastern Europe, that leaves one craving goulash and wishing for a pocket full of garlic.

The object of the chase, is, of course, Dracula, who is depicted as a blend of Stoker’s undead Count, and the real Vlad Tepes.

The author, like Stoker (though I suspect in his case it was unintentional) even leaves the way open for a sequel.

If you liked the original Victorian novel, this book will appeal. I warn, however, that while the story is compelling, the language is a bit stilted – it reads very much as if the author was a contemporary of Stoker’s, and not a 21st century Yale graduate, though, the somewhat stylized language does fit the tale rather well.

Consider The Historian a must-read for any real vampire fan.

The Hungry Ocean

The Hungry Ocean : A Swordboat Captain's Journey

Linda Greenlaw

Made famous by Sebastian Junger’s book The Perfect Storm, and the movie that followed, Linda Greenlaw was the captain of the Hannah Boden, a swordboat out of Gloucester, MA. In this book, her first, though I read her others long ago, and only just finished this one, she tells the story of a typical month aboard her ship, and explains how swordfishing really works.

As much a story of the sea, as it is a story about the people who work as commercial fishermen, this book is vivid and engaging, with equal amounts of action and humor, the latter most often represented by Greenlaw’s own dry wit. At times, I could feel the waves, and smell the salt air, so good was she and drawing her readers in.

I’m looking forward to re-reading her other work, just for more of her voice, and the flavor of her life, and I hope she continues to write.

Isabel’s Daughter

Isabel's Daughter : A Novel

Judith Ryan Hendricks

Hendricks’ second book is a departure from the cozy Seattle she wrote about in Bread Alone, and returned to in The Baker’s Apprentice. This time, the setting is New Mexico, primarily in and around Santa Fe, and instead of bread, the main themes are art, herbs, and family.

Avery James, raised in an orphanage with only an embroidered t-shirt as a memento of the family she never knew, comes face to face with a painting of her mother while working as a caterer for a prominent artist. He befriends her, and offers to tell her about her mother, who died several years before, and she grudgingly accepts the offer. Swirling around the pair are rumors, old lovers, and a collection of old Mexican women who took Avery off the streets, and gave her a home, and their knowledge of herbs.

Like Bread Alone, Isabel’s Daughter paints vivid pictures of both people and food, but unlike Hendrick’s first book, this one’s ending is somewhat more bitter than sweet.