Thursday, December 15, 2011

Books I Want: A Little Bit of Everything

Yamuna’s Table by Yamuna Devi takes Indian cuisine and Westernizes it. There are some incredible recipes in here, like Blackberry-Filled Baked Apples with Saffron Pastry Cream – the main one that caught my eye. And amazingly, even that recipe looks like a simple task, despite the extravagant name.

At first, I didn’t really buy the book’s tagline, claiming that this is healthful vegetarian cuisine. Almost every other recipe seems to have some sort of cream sauce. But the saffron pastry cream is made with skim milk, skim ricotta cheese, and nonfat yogurt. There’s a watercress cream sauce, also made with skim milk and only 1 tablespoon of butter, and the avocado cream doesn’t even contain dairy: just avocado, lemon juice, and grape juice. So on second glance, it’s pretty healthy after all.

Devi has an interesting past – she’s sung backup for the Beatles and prepared food for John and Yoko (as mentioned in her recipe for Quinoa Mac and Cheese with Veggies), and also for Indira Gandhi. If nothing else, this cookbook makes for an interesting read.

Peef the Christmas Bear by Tom Hegg is an adorable Christmas story. The bear’s name made me say, “Huh?” which was half the reason I read it. Peef was stitched together by Santa and the elves, and he loves to help them prepare for the coming holiday every year, even riding in Santa’s sleigh to deliver gifts. But deep down, he just wants to belong to a little boy or girl who will love him and hold him and get candy cane slobber all over him. He knows the Christmas magic that keeps him in perfect condition wouldn't apply if he was loved by a child, but he wants it just the same.

This is a very well-written children’s story, told in metered verse. It always drives me slightly mad when a children’s book is supposed to be in metered rhyme, and the author didn’t bother to remove the five extra syllables in one line. (If the whole story is supposed to be slightly tilted, that’s one thing, but careless poetry is a crime. A crime, I tell you.) This book pays careful attention to rhyme and rhythm, and the pictures are bright and colorful. Peef is such an adorable little bear.

After Anne McCaffrey’s recent death, I came across a copy of The Ship Who Sang and started reading. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but it’s a wonderful read so far – I can see why many think of it as her best book.

Helva is born with birth defects that hinder her life as a human, but open her up to a world of possibilities as a spaceship. She is integrated with a ship’s systems and paired with a human officer – Helva is the brains, and the officer is the brawn. Officers and assignments come and go, but this will be Helva’s life for two or three hundred years.

After only a few short chapters, Helva’s character is astonishingly sympathetic, believable, and heartbreaking. One common criticism of science fiction is a lack of character development – a just critique, as writers often insert static characters just to give their ideas a method of being explained. McCaffrey certainly doesn’t have that problem.

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