Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Murderer’s Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

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The Murderer’s Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

Randy Susan Meyers. The Murderer’s Daughters. St. Martin’s, 2010. ISBN 978-0312576981 320 pp. $

**

10-year-old Lulu’s self-centered and neglectful mother is obsessed with movie magazines, boys, and booze, and quick with a slap when her children disobey. This doesn’t stop Lulu from breaking the rules, allowing her (banned) alcoholic father entry into their apartment, where he kills their mother, and stabs her 5-year old cute as a button sister Merry in the melee.

The two sisters are passed off to several Jewish relatives before being dumped in an orphanage, where they experience cruelty at the hands of other wards of the state. The narrative shifts from one sister to another, and the voices aren’t distinguishable, making for some confusing reading as the author jumps ahead in time as well to a new point of view.

I read through page 60 or so before putting this down. The first chapter is pretty tight–sensational and gripping–but then the story gets bogged down with too many new characters, several deaths in quick succession, and bleakness marred with unmemorable writing. At the risk of sounding callous, I didn’t develop empathy for the plight of the characters, at least not enough to compel me to continue reading.

It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser

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It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser

Smith, Larry and Rachel Fershleiser. It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure. Harper, 2010. ISBN 978-0061719431 256 pp. $

***

I love the concept of 6-word memoirs–unfortunately, this collection is uneven in quality and repetitive in theme. The inclusion of several illustrations in the form of captioned sketches or complete comic panels was a nice break; the black text on white pages was broken up with choice memoirs in white font on a black background. Submissions from the late author Frank McCourt and a number of celebrities may be a draw for some readers; Molly Ringwald and Neil Patrick Harris are notable and pithy. A very short section elaborates further on some stories behind selected 6-word entries.

The index is too incomplete to be of much use, with entries under a few broad categories like “laughter.” A fun browse, but mostly forgettable–may be useful for writing prompts in workshops.

Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories by Michael Sims

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Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories by Michael Sims

Sims, Michael. Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories. Walker & Company, 2010. ISBN pp. $

***

The very academic, 16-page introduction gives a detailed introduction to the vampire subgenre, setting the knowledgeable tone for this collection of Victorian era vampire-themed essays, excerpts and stories, including a previously unpublished (and cut) scene from Bram Stroker’s Dracula. Although complete in scope, with stories ranging
wide in style, content and country of origin, some of the impact is lessened by the content that precedes each tale–sometimes as long as the tale itself–that dissects the story, sets it in content and biographizes the writers.

One inclusion is a monk’s dissertation of ghosts/vampires in eastern Europe. Two of the stories are more draft than polished product, conceived alongside Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in Lord Byron’s challenge to his writer friends on a summer evening to “write a ghost story.” Another interesting contribution is an excerpt from Emily Giroud’s The Land Beyond the Forest (a travel memoir apparently utilized as a resource by Stoker) with a chapter on “Death and Burial: Vampires and Werewolves” concerning superstitions, rites and rituals of Romanian peasants regarding the deceased.

Certainly, vampires are hot, but this is so scholarly in nature–except where it’s filled with Victorian writing, in all it’s melodrama, formality, and subtlety–I didn’t even make it to the title story, but I bet my English Expo professor, Bob Smart, would love this book.

White House Cookbook, Revised and Updated Centennial Edition by Tami Ross, Patti B Geil, F. L Gillette, and Hugo Ziemann

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White House Cookbook, Revised and Updated Centennial Edition by Tami Ross, Patti B Geil, F. L Gillette, and Hugo Ziemann

Ross, Tami and Patti B Geil, F. L Gillette, and Hugo Ziemann. White House Cookbook, Revised and Updated Centennial Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006. ISBN 978-0471347521 336 pp. $18.95

****

I used to bring my (ex)hubby t-shirts from my travels, but often they didn’t fit right–he’s too muscled for a large, but an extra-large swims on him. Then I started collecting shot glasses from my destinations, but we are running out room. He really doesn’t need/want chotchkies. So, I’ve started bringing him home cookbooks as souvenirs.

I got the White House Cookbook on one of my last trips to DC, and have paged through it once or twice. This weekend we moved all the cookbooks to a new bookcase that is upstairs, near the kitchen, instead of on the 2nd floor landing, and I paged through this one again while eating my tea & toast birthday breakfast.

I love food, menus, etiquette, history of food, and this revised & expanded edition nicely covers all of the above, with Hilary’s chocolate chip cookie recipe (she uses shortening), an essay on table manners fit for a state dinner, and a diagram of where to play each wineglass from sherry to burgandy (hint: sort of a cross shape).

The cookbook is traditionally arranged from beverages to desserts, with no cross referencing. Several menu examples from actual White House events are included. The modern recipes are much more specific in amounts and instructions. Each chapter is prefaced with sketched portraits of various first ladies; there are no other pictures. All modern recipes and most classic ones contain complete nutritional information, including starch, fat and protein exchanges.

There is actually a disclaimer at the beginning, in case thinking about healthy eating changes again, and the book puts this revision into context with an explanation of the evolution from pioneer diets and making everything from scratch to modern families and convenience foods. Many unique and original recipes have an updated “healthier” version that substitutes butter with low fat margarine and “Butter Buds” and whole eggs with “Egg substitute.” I’m sorry–I know I’m fat, but you know what, I’d SO much rather eat food with real eggs and butter than ingest chemical crap. If I make anything from this book, it will be using the original recipes. Except, maybe, for the squirrel pie from Cleveland era: no modern day revision on this classic, which is just as well, by me.

Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival by Norman Ollestad

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Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival by Norman Ollestad

Ollestad, Norman. Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival. Ecco, 2009. ISBN 978-0061766725 288 pp. $

***

Norm grows up on the Los Angeles beach, with a lawyer dad who worked for the FBI for awhile under Hoover, and his mom, a second grade teacher, who seem to be into CA counterculture. His stepfather Nick is a mean drunk, and he dad pushes Norm to surf and ski and road trip and experience new things, often against his wishes. On a trip home from a ski competition, the propeller plane that seems to be lacking a flight plan, appropriate equipment and instruments, and a competent pilot crashes into a mountainside. The pilot and Norm Sr. are killed on impact, leaving 11-year-old Norm Jr. alone with his father’s girlfriend. The tough life lessons imparted by his (questionable) father figures are ultimately Norm’s salvation.

The construction of the narrative, with the juxtaposition of events leading up to and following the crash–Norm’s day to day survival–with the plane crash.

While I didn’t find the writing even remotely “Hemingwayesque” as promised by the blurb on the jacket (or even good enough to hold my attention unless it was really sensational), I had some trouble picturing the mountain landscape. I liked the conclusion, with the perfect storm of coincidental and unexplainable events that lead to Norm’s rescue. Overall, this didn’t hold my attention like some of the other memoirs I’ve read recently (namely, Tattoo Machine and Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks) and it seems like it should have been riveting.

I can sense some teen appeal for those who might be into surfing or skiing, but it’s a little too much about to consider recommending it as a survival fiction read alike to say, Hatchet.