Spies Like Them

It’s a new year, time for a clean start and all of that. 2014 was my year of the hard-boiled detective. And so I wonder what 2015 will bring.

One book I’m currently reading is The Saint and The Fiction Makers by Leslie Charteris. The Saint is a spy, sort of in the mold of James Bond, excepting that he predates Bond by some decades, which would actually make Bond a spy in the mold of The Saint. At any rate, Charteris introduced Simon Templar, also known as The Saint, in 1928 and thereafter wrote a series of books featuring his indestructible hero. In the 1960s a TV show based on the character (starring a soon-to-be-Bond Roger Moore) ran, and a variety of authors novelized some of the teleplays. Altogether there are nearly 100 books featuring this dynamic savior of the free world.

The Saint and The Fiction Makers is difficult to describe without giving a bit of the surprise away. It begins as a typical spy story: Super-villain attempting to kill Heroic Spy with ingenious killing devices, Spy narrowly escaping attempt after attempt, Scantily-Clad-Woman adding sex appeal. As events continue to unfold we discover that Simon Templar is actually watching this spy movie, seated next to the actress who was somewhat clothed in the movie. Thus begins a post-modern romp through the spy genre.

Further into the story, a crazy man takes on the persona of the movie’s super-villain and re-creates his hideout and gadgetry in exquisite detail. Then, thinking that Templar is the author who created this fictional genius, he kidnaps The Saint and his “assistant”, the woman who is the real author. What a convoluted and fantastical plot!

While EPL does not (yet) boast any of The Saint catalogue, we do provide ample opportunities to enter the undercover secret world of spies.

39 StepsThe 39 Steps by John Buchan
This book is an early spy story, written in 1915 and centered on The Great War. An “ordinary” person is caught up in an effort to thwart a plot against the British war machine. Alfred Hitchcock made a classic movie based on this book in 1935.

 

North by NorthwestNorth by Northwest
Speaking of Hitchcock and unwitting heroes, in North by Northwest, one of my favorite movies, Cary Grant becomes a pawn of uncaring government spies who sacrifice him in order to bring their plans to fruition. Oh, and there’s a beautiful woman and people climbing Mt. Rushmore’s presidential faces, as well as human crop dusting, so all bases are covered.

Secret AdversawryThe Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Tommy and Tuppence, two of Christie’s lesser known heroes, first see the light of day in The Secret Adversary (written in 1922), where the pair accidentally become entangled with post-WWI spies who are still looking to rearrange the European balance of power. In their second book, Partners in Crime, our heroes have married and now run a detective agency. So they see both sides of the coin, spy and detective.

George WashingtonGeorge Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade
One topic that has intrigued me since hearing about it in a documentary is the spy ring that George Washington put together during the Revolutionary War. Now I gotta say, when we learned history in high school they left out the good parts like this tidbit. I would’ve been all over a spy ring! These spies were very important to the war effort, and this book is firmly planted on my to-read shelf.

Harriet the SpyHarriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Finally, so as not to leave out the kids, we have Harriet. She is perhaps a different kind of spy, not in the overthrowing nations mold, but rather in spying on her friends and writing down what she observes. Here’s a lesson kids, which is a good one in this day and age of computers, cell phones and abacuses: Don’t write down stuff you don’t want other people to see. Harriet’s notebook falls into the wrong hands and her friends read what she has written about them. It’s then up to Harriet to repair the damage and rebuild her friendships.

Will it be a year of spies? I hate to speculate, but I think I can safely say they will at the very least turn up in my reading every now and again. Perhaps one is sitting next to me at this very moment, looking through the eyeholes cut in that newspaper, poisonous lipstick, bedazzling pouty lips, a sultry dress encasing curves in just the right places … Yes, a year of spies.

Spot-Lit for February 2015

Spot-Lit

The Notable New Fiction list for February is here.

Lots of advance praise for the new offerings by Anne Tyler, Kate Alcott, and Laura Lippman. And February is the month for short stories with stellar new collections by Charles Baxter, Katherine Heiny, Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, and Rose Tremain.

Among new authors, Tom Cooper presents a noir-ish post-Katrina comic thriller, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the first books by Jonas Karlsson, M.O. Walsh, Laura van den Berg and Lucy Atkins.

In addition to Lippman’s new standout, crime readers will want to check out the titles by Frances Brody, Colette McBeth, Helene Tursten, Michael Kardos, and Gold Dagger-winner Mick Herron.

Science fiction and fantasy readers can look forward to V.E. Schwab’s latest (after last year’s popular Vicious) along with new books by Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, and Marcus Sedgwick.

Click here to browse the list or place titles on hold.

Notable New Fiction 2014  |  Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date)  |  All On-Order Fiction

Everett Reads! 2015

everettreads

February means only one thing here at the Everett Public Library: It’s time for Everett Reads! At this time of year we encourage all of Everett to read a single book, discuss it, and come meet the author. This year we are very excited to be talking about the book The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.

boysintheboatThe Boys in the Boat is an inspiring story of a most remarkable band of brothers who upstaged Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. It is a tale of nine working class boys from our area who stormed the rowing world, transforming the sport and galvanizing the attention of millions of Americans.

A sentence or two doesn’t do the book justice, however. To go more in-depth, definitely check out Carol’s excellent review: When History Splashes off the Page. Don’t feel like reading a review you say? Well then listen to the Lone Reader’s excellent podcast review.

Whatever you do, don’t miss out on meeting Daniel James Brown when he comes to the Everett Performing Arts Center on Friday, February 13, starting at 7 pm.

But wait, there’s more. You will also have two great opportunities to discuss the book with fellow readers. The Southside Book Club will be having a book discussion on Tuesday, February 17 at the Evergreen Library and the folks in our Northwest Room will be discussing the book on Wednesday, February 18.

everettrowingAnd last, but definitely not least, on Saturday, February 21 the Everett Rowing Association and special guest speaker Al Erickson will discuss the sport of rowing and its deep connections to the State of Washington and the events described in The Boys in the Boat.

So many events, so little time. Don’t miss out on the February fun and grab your copy of The Boys in the Boat today.

Did You Know? (Pasta Edition)

That the difference between noodles and macaroni is eggs?

pastatheitalianwayNoodles are made with egg solids and a finely ground semolina flour called durum. Macaroni is made from only normal semolina and water. This information is from the entry on ‘Pasta’ in the 2015 World Book Encyclopedia.

Macaroni is just one type of pasta. There are hundreds of different shapes for pasta and thousands of names for those shapes. Each region of Italy has its own name for certain types of pasta. Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way by Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant has a nice section on pasta types and directions for making them as well as the best recipes for the types of dough you will need.

silverspoonAccording to The Silver Spoon for Children: Favorite Italian Recipes by Amanda Grant there are two main types of pasta: fresh and dried. Fresh is made with flour/egg and dried is flour/water. This book has wonderful recipes and easy directions for the future chef in your house. I think kids will really enjoy making the dishes in this book.

Pasta Modern by Francine Segan has some wonderful recipes for some nontraditional pasta uses. Examples include making mock pasta “pretzel” sticks or little pasta bird nests. They seem like fairly easy recipes that you can make with either your own homemade pasta, or start with store-bought.

meltWe cannot talk about pasta without mentioning macaroni and cheese! Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord has dozens of recipes for this comfort food and variations of it you probably would never have dreamed of!

Besides being a delicious food, macaroni was historically used as a definition for a young British man who had travelled abroad in the18th century and exaggeratedly imitated continental fashions. Everyone called them dandy’s. This leads us to Yankee Doodle sticking a feather in his hat and calling himself “macaroni”.

crankeedoodleWe have several books with the poem “Yankee Doodle”. The original poem was written in the mid 1750’s and can be found in the book American Poetry: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries but the version we have all heard and know so well is actually a parody. Crankee Doodle by Tom Angleberger is a very fun story version of the poem that parents will probably enjoy more than the kids!

macandcheeseLastly, Mac and Cheese are two characters in a series of kid’s books written by Sarah Weeks. Mac is fun and lovable while Cheese is grumpy. These are perfect beginner reader books.

Mexico: The Cookbook

Mexico the cookbookEvery once in a while a book comes along that you just fall in love with. Right now I have stars in my eyes, and they only shine for Mexico: The Cookbook by chef Margarita Carrillo Arronte. Here is a book that speaks to almost all of my interests. At the very base level, it’s a beautiful volume. The hot pink dust jacket is decorated in traditional Mexican papel picado style, with intricate cutouts of sugar skulls and cross-stitch-like patterns. The covers of the book are a vibrant, glossy, neon orange – peeking through the cut-away artwork. The book has heft; a silky blue ribbon book mark drapes from the middle of 700+ pages of good quality paper stock.

All book nerd rhapsodizing aside about the loveliness of this bible of Mexican cuisine, the contents inside are equally delightful. Arronte, a well-respected advocate of traditional Mexican cooking, has compiled a cookbook that is a delightful blend of ethnography, culinary history, recipes, photography, and dictionary. The first section of the book is devoted to talking about traditional ingredients found in Mexican cooking, their significance, and the different regional variations. From there the book is broken down into sections dealing with different kinds of dishes: street food, salads and snacks, eggs (yes, there does need to be a whole section on eggs), soups, seafood, meat, vegetables, sauces, baked goods, drinks and desserts, and recipes from guest chefs.

Each recipe is listed first by its Spanish name, and then an English translation. Before getting into the process of cooking the dish, cooks are provided with the region that the dish is from, the ingredients list, the prep time, the cooking time, and how many servings the recipe prepares (all that’s lacking is a calorie estimate, but nobody is perfect). Sprinkled in among the many pages of recipes are a collection of gorgeous full color photos of selected dishes; there are also some wonderful shots of street scenes, ingredients, and people throughout the book. The instructional writing is very easy to follow. Aside from the challenge of sourcing some of the more obscure ingredients listed for some of the dishes, this book doesn’t require the user to be a very adventurous cook. That being said, this cook book probably isn’t a good fit for someone looking for quick meal ideas – many traditional Mexican recipes involve a lot of simmering, marinading, and letting flavors develop.

Mexico: The Cookbook concludes with a couple sections that will be dear to the hearts of librarians, foodies, and seekers of knowledge out there. There is a bibliography that allows the reader to dig deeper into the sources that the author used to craft her volume. There is a fantastic glossary to help cooks learn more about ingredients that are unfamiliar to them. Finally, there is a large index to help you find yummy goodness more easily.

Needless to say it was hard for me to part with this book once I got my hands on it, but I had to set it free with the arrival of the assertive FIRST NOTICE email from the library. It may be that I’ll have to source my own copy to join my little niche of church-published Polish recipe books my grandma passed along to me. It seems like an appropriate mixing of traditions.

Best Blue Books

03ca60a16618b63e79a17c0fd3b2bd25Occasionally a library patron will be searching for a book and can only remember that it has a certain colored cover. It’s usually hard to find books just by color, but here’s a group of blue books that you’ll surely want to find. They obviously all have blue covers, but they are also about some sort of human frailty. I’ve read almost all of them in the last month. Mostly, they’re all excellent!

index (1)All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is the one that everyone is talking about and you’ll need to cue up for this New York Times best seller. It is a brilliantly beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied St. Malo, France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. That sounds like it’s been written before, doesn’t it? Yet, this book was amazing because of wonderfully complex characters, brilliant writing, a fast-paced tempo, a romantic setting and an interesting plot. I highly recommend it!

indexMoonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic by Nora Gallagher was recommended by a co-worker (Thanks, Julie!). It is a poignant memoir about a woman who is healthy and happy and competent but who all of a sudden has vision problems which lead to a spiral into a new life she calls “Oz”: a life full of doctors, medical appointments, and feelings of powerlessness. She also gains a deeper understanding of human frailty and questions her religion and her God. I enjoyed this introspective book about facing disease.

index (2)The Story of Land and Sea is by Katy Simpson Smith who in elegant, lyrical prose, confronts the stark cruelty and hypocrisy of Revolutionary-era slavery, as well as the pain and grief suffered by the powerless and powerful alike. At first, this slim historical novel seems to be this simple story of a Revolutionary-era family, a former sailor whose wife died in childbirth and who is now taking his young daughter to sea in hopes of curing her yellow fever. The story quickly opens up, however, jumping back in time to his wife Helen’s youth on her father’s plantation. There we meet Moll, a slave given to Helen when both were children, and see how uneasily their relationship, a disturbing blend of friendship and mistress-servant obligation, unfolds as they grow up.

index (3)Still Alice by Lisa Genova was also recommended by Julie (I make a habit of asking folks if they’ve read anything good lately). This novel reads like a memoir because Genova has used her own background in Neuroscience at Harvard to create a realistic portrait of 50 year-old Alice Howland who is also a professor of Linguistics at Harvard. When Alice begins to forget things -even words- she must face the horrific possibility that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This book is far from depressing as it clearly explains the testing, treatment options, and symptoms of the disease within the context of an absorbing family drama. It is a very readable primer for anyone touched by Alzheimer’s.

The Light Between Oceans index (4)by M. L. Stedman is the perennial New York Times bestseller soon to be a major motion picture from Spielberg that is “irresistible…seductive…with a high concept plot that keeps you riveted from the first page” (O, The Oprah Magazine). After four years in the Great War, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Australian island. His young wife, Isabel, who has suffered two miscarriages and a still-birth, finds a boat washed ashore with a dead man and a live baby. Tom wants to report it straightaway, but Isabel convinces him that Lucy is a ‘gift from God.’ They return to the mainland when Lucy is two and learn that their decision has greatly impacted others. To quote Julie: “Oh my goodness! That was a great book!”

indexindexIf you’ll humor me, I’ll add two more blue books to this list even though I haven’t read them yet: The Vacationers by Emma Straub and Crusoe’s Daughter by Jane Gardam. They’re on my to-be-read pile, they look like great novels and, hey, they’re blue! If you need help finding any of these blue books, just ask your friendly librarians (or Julie) at the Everett Public Library!

Pizza Evolution

pizzaMy early memories of making pizza consisted of splitting an English muffin in two, slathering it with ketchup sauce, sprinkling cheese and if we had any, adding sliced bologna.

Since those days my culinary skills have developed and my palette has become more discriminating.

Some of you may recall one of my posts: Confessions of a Cookbook Enthusiast. If so, you can empathize with my phobia of making pizza dough. Over the years I avoided making pizza dough from scratch by substituting a pizza in a box or purchasing premade dough. The mere thought of working with yeast made me anxious.

A couple of years later I was encouraged by my girlfriends who had successfully mastered the task and I got my courage up and gave it a shot. Here is what I have learned along the way:

Face your fear.

Dough is forgiving.

Use a seasoned pizza stone otherwise dough sticks… this happened one time!

Measurements need not be exact; honey can be substituted for sugar.

It’s messy; flour is untamable.

Confidence intact I now make pizza for others and that is my pizza evolution story!

delanceyDelancey: a Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by local author Molly Wizenberg is inspiring. The couple’s endeavor to create the perfect pie involved long road trips, jetting across the country and critiquing renowned artisans’ pizzas. This research and long hours developing their own signature recipe resulted in a perfect pie. Ms. Wizenberg also writes with honesty about the struggles of opening Delancey, a successful restaurant in Ballard.

There is an established community of restaurateurs who take making pizza pie to a whole new level. However, as I’ve discovered it is really not that difficult to make delicious pizza.  If you are an experienced baker or just getting started, Everett Public Library has several wonderful books on the art of making pizza.

pizza1

The Pizza Bible by Tony Gemignani

Revolutionary Pizza by Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau

Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg

Pizza on the Grill: 100+ Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes by Elizabeth Karmel