August 25, 2012

Clockwork Angel

CLOCKWORK ANGEL: The Infernal Devices Trilogy, Book 1 by Cassandra Clare, (Simon & Schuster, 2010)
GENRE: Paranormal Romance / Historical Fantasy
AGE: 14 and up - though I can see adults gobbling this up too.

Though most definitely a YA title, Cassandra Clare's nod to the Victorian novel, Clockwork Angel, is a slightly flawed though undeniably compelling beach read, particularly if you enjoy foggy beaches on the English coast. It's hard to resist a writer who uses the word "ichor"more than once. Don't believe me? Check out my REVIEW at Twisby Hall....

August 20, 2012

A Feast of Ice and Fire

A FEAST OF ICE AND FIRE: The Official Companion Cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, with George R.R. Martin (Bantam, 2012)
GENRE: Cooking

Allow me to state up front that I'm not a fan of media tie-ins. Wookie Cookies is super cute, but not really my thing and if True Blood came out with a drinks guide, I probably wouldn't crack the spine. That said, A Feast of Fire and Ice, the official companion cookbook to A Game of Thrones is, suffice it to say, an exception.

There is so much about this cookbook that is exceptional, especially for a cooking geek (which I am), or a history geek (MA in medieval lit. here) or a fantasy geek (guilty as charged, though I'm embarrassed to admit that I have yet to read the series that inspired this culinary awesomeness, George R.R. Martin's Game of Fire and Ice). But there's a lot here for those who don't fall into one of these geekdoms too, though a love of food is pretty much required, otherwise what's the point?

Beautifully laid out with photography that begs for roaring fires and malt beer, the book is a visual treat, but it's the recipes that make A Feast and Ice a work of substance, rather than just another pretty face. Thoroughly modern and historically accurate, these dishes are deeply rooted in both the Westeros of Martin's books and the culinary traditions of medieval and Elizabethan Europe. Monroe-Cassel and Lehrer really know their stuff. While I expected the book to be filled with cutesy, Shepherds-pie-shaped nods to faux-Elizabethan cooking, what I found were recipes for everything from pease porridge (part of the "Breakfast on the Wall" menu) to "Dornish Snake with Fiery Sauce".  Every dish in this pristinely researched volume contains two recipes, one a historically accurate version for the cook with the time and resources to roast boar (yes, roast boar), the other a carefully constructed modern update that preserves the spirit of the original while incorporating modern ingredients and techniques. Sample menus are provided, organized by region, and suggestions for viable substitutions are helpfully given, just in case you can't source aurochs in time for your dinner party. An introduction by George R.R. Martin adds a charming touch, as do the quotes that pepper the chapters, which are likewise organized by region, from Winterfell and the Wall in the North to the lands across the Narrow Sea. Most helpfully, perhaps, is the succinct opening chapter on stocking a medieval kitchen and making certain basics, like the pastry dough and sauces that feature in various recipes.

Gorgeous, lush and tempting, A Feast of Ice and Fire really does inspire. It's heads and shoulders the best tie-in anything I've ever read and one of the best cookbooks of the year thus far. My only fear is that it will get overlooked by serious cooks for the same (admittedly snobby) reasons that nearly held me back. All I can do is say, please don't let it. This cookbook stands on it's own and I am officially a fan.

Incidentally, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer have a fantastic blog devoted to the cooking of Westeros called The Inn at the Crossroads. Check it out here.

August 15, 2012

Wolf Gift

THE WOLF GIFT by Anne Rice, (Knopf, 2012)
GENRE: Literary Horror / Existential Treatise

Anne Rice, the woman who turned the tide of how we perceive monsters with her tortured, sympathetic vampires and her tortured, sympathetic witches, went far afield in recent years, exploring the nature of good and evil in books populated by angels and demons and Jesus Christ. With The Wolf Gift, however, she returns to her old stomping grounds, giving us the existential musings of Ruben, a not-too-tortured but quite sympathetic werewolf.

At the start of the novel, Ruben Golding is a handsome and thoughtful, if somewhat wayward, young man, slouching successfully through the beginnings of a promising career in journalism while the women in his life rev forward in a blaze of professional ambition. But Ruben is destined for greater, stranger things. On a trip up the Mendocino coast to interview the mysterious and lovely Marchent Nideck, Ruben is attacked and bitten by a creature thought to be a wolf. Over the course of the following month, his senses sharpen and he grows physically even more impressive as his metabolism transforms and he becomes, yes, a werewolf. Driven by bloodlust and an instinctual urge to protect and avenge the innocent, Ruben rips through a nice collection of San Francisco's bad guys and, in the process, creates a public sensation in the form of the Man Wolf, a dark, avenging hero. What follows are Ruben's attempts to reconcile the two halves of his nature - the man's and the predator's - while learning about the true nature of lycanthropy, falling in love with a sexy older woman, and trying to uncover the mystery of the previous generation of werewolves before they kill him, all while dodging an Evil Eastern European Doctor (tm) hell bent of eradicating his kind. Needless to say, there's a lot going on.

Sprinkled in and among all of this are plenty of musings on religion, God and the nature of good and evil, (some at such interruptive length that they try the reader's patience). As with Lestat, Rice clearly loves Ruben. She has made him a nearly unbelievable idyll, with an MA at 20, a penchant for existential musings and religious philosophy, and the uncanny ability to quote obscure short stories without a second thought. This is not a bad thing, it's just that one must suspend a great deal of disbelief to buy into Ruben as a character. But, if you let go of the expectation that he could be a real person (lycanthropy or no) and is, rather, simply a construct of Rice's imagination, the entire thing is easier and much more pleasurable to read. Ultimately, The Wolf Gift contains many elements that fans will recognize from the Vampire Chronicles and the Mayfair Witches. For non-fans, the mannered language, tepid climax and mild, cliffhanger ending may fail to work, but for the legion of readers that have been waiting for her to return to her monsters, The Wolf Gift will be a welcome homecoming.

August 13, 2012

On the Abrupt and Sudden Need for Order

Up until now, this blog has pretty much functioned as a reader's catch-all. Most of the posts are informal reflections on whatever it is that I've read with plenty of gaps and non-posting in between. The most recent posts are reviews of picture books that I did as part of a project for a collection development class. The end result is that The Foggy Foot Review is a bit of a mess and the obsessive, organizational maniac in me cannot let this rest. So... I'm splitting things up into two blogs.

This blog will continue to be what it originally was - a mostly informal collection of mostly informal reviews (critical yes, with opinions and analysis aplenty, but with a fair bit of silliness and whatever else thrown in). I also reserve the right to post random stuff related to the written word here too. The other blog, Twisby Hall, (which I'm really pretty excited about), will focus entirely on material for young people, fans of young people and people who love young people and want them to read neat and exciting things. The occasional picture book might, on occasion, show up, but the focus will mostly be on materials for tweens and teens. The reviews are likely to be a little more serious (though scintillating and fascinating and never, ever stuffy), with a more professional focus, mostly because I'm trying to develop it as a professional resource for myself and for other librarians when the time comes.

And now I know return myself to the STACK of work that's gotten ignored in the name of blog clarity. I feel better now.