Food and friendship go together in Patricia Cornwell's book Scarpetta's Winter Table. In this story, we see Scarpetta with her friends and family as t...moreFood and friendship go together in Patricia Cornwell's book Scarpetta's Winter Table. In this story, we see Scarpetta with her friends and family as they come together for Christmas, but the events unfold in the context of food. We get into Scarpetta's head, for example, as she prepares a meal for her coworker and her niece. In another chapter, animosity disappears as a troubled child and a curmudgeony police officer bond over homemade chili. I've never another book that took this approach, and I think it's a fine idea, and well used here.
That said, I didn't really care for this book. For all its well-crafted prose and unique premise, I didn't like the main character, Kay Scarpetta, and it's very difficult to like a book when you don't like the main character. I understand that this book is part of a series, and I have never read the other books; I am sure that those books shed more light on Scarpetta's personality. Certainly many other people reading this book will begin it with a clear picture of her already in mind, and I'm sure that helps their enjoyment of this story. It may be that this book only doesn't function as a standalone.
But since this book is my only impression of Scarpetta, I don't really have anything else to go by. The result is a main character who comes off as cold, distant, fussy, judgmental, and vaguely hypocritical. In the first chapter, for example, when she is preparing food for two close friends, she doesn't seem happy, or even sad. She doesn't seem like she feels anything: neither pleasure (nor even annoyance) at the work she does preparing the food, not enjoyment when she eats it. She isn't even all that warm to her guests. She's very particularly about the way she makes the food, and she only uses high-quality ingredients, but she never seems to have a sense of pride in food well prepared. It was like she was just going through the motions.
In a different chapter, Scarpetta tries to convince her niece to come with her to visit the rest of the family. She tells Lucy that it's a good thing to do, that she might someday regret not coming. But after making such a big deal about the importance of family and holiday get-togethers, Scarpetta is irritable and rude to her mother. She gets very angry at her mother over something really trivial, and then she almost seems to blame her mother for putting her in a bad mood. She has good health habits (which is great), but she seems to look down on, even judge, her family for not being healthy. She inflicts her own dietary tastes onto them, going shopping by herself, buying only what she wants, even ignoring her mother's specific request for certain items. She's a guest, for the love of Pete. Who died and made her supreme dictator? And what really gets me is the borderline-hypocrisy of it all. After making such a big deal about family, she treats her own mother coldly. When congratulating herself on a healthy lifestyle, she conveniently forgets that she drinks a lot. She pours wine for herself, and the rest of the bottle goes into the soup. Then she gets another bottle, pours more for herself, more for the soup. The soup is specifically designed to use whatever ingredients are available, but Scarpetta's soup MUST have wine. I've no idea why. I have heard of some dishes that called for wine, but none of them was soup. And don't get me started on her well-stocked house. Or her friend, whom she invited to bring the spiked eggnog. I mean, I give her credit for not driving after so much alcohol consupmtion, and she doesn't let her guests drive either. But then, later on, to play the I'm-health-conscious-and-you're-not card? She was way out of line.
This book was very enjoyable in places, and it certainly had some very sweet moments. But my favorite chapters in the book were the ones without Scarpetta, and that makes me sad.(less)
From antiquity to the present day, from glaciers to politicians, this book shows Indiana history in all its glory: the good, the bad, and the just pla...moreFrom antiquity to the present day, from glaciers to politicians, this book shows Indiana history in all its glory: the good, the bad, and the just plain weird. Did you know of the Hoosier who declined Lincoln's invitation to come to theater? (Yes, THAT theater.) Or about the road that splits in two to avoid disturbing an old grave? Or about the river that disappears underground only to reemerge miles later? This book, crammed full of history and factoids, offers a unique view of a wonderful state.(less)
I have long had an interest in making paper flowers. I remember being about eight years old, fashioning a crude rose out of crepe paper, wire, and flo...moreI have long had an interest in making paper flowers. I remember being about eight years old, fashioning a crude rose out of crepe paper, wire, and florist tape; and even now, as a grown up, I still appreciate the wonder that comes from recreating something beautiful. This book provides color photographs of the finished flowers, as well as detailed instructions, complete with diagrams, and full-sized templates. But while all of that is nice, it isn't the best part. Rutherford explains quite a bit about technique, offering tips, for example, on shaping the petals by stretching the paper, or whether to cut with or against the grain. As she says in the introduction, we aren't limited to the 15 patterns provided -- the skills can be used to reproduce practically any flower. She also explains issues I never would have thought of, such as different types of paper to use for different needs, or the benefits (and drawbacks) of dipping the leaves in beeswax as opposed to paraffin. All in all, it was a very helpful guide.(less)
This book was funny! Not as funny as The Christmas Scrapbook, perhaps, but vastly amusing nonetheless. This book is a series of amusing anecdotes set...moreThis book was funny! Not as funny as The Christmas Scrapbook, perhaps, but vastly amusing nonetheless. This book is a series of amusing anecdotes set throughout the year, detailing the experiences of Sam, minister of a Quaker church in Harmony, Indiana. I enjoy books that make me laugh out loud, and this one did.
I think its biggest flaw, maybe its only flaw, was taking itself too seriously. Most novels have some central conflict that builds up until the climax, but this book, a series of funny vignettes, didn't necessarily need one. I didn't mind the central conflict that was introduced, but I felt that it was done in a very careless, hurried manner, as though it were only added in a later draft. About 80% of the way through, a schism threatens to divide the church, and many people want Sam fired. By this point in the story, however, it is too late for the book to be anything but a comedy, and the hasty resolution to the conflict seems far-fetched. The people pushing for him to lost his job suddenly, inexplicably, stop. The temporary lull is long enough for one character to draw everyone's attention elsewhere, and suddenly people are making up and inviting each other over for luncheon.
Still, improbabilities aside, this book is quite funny, a feel-good comedy about churchgoers. What makes them wonderful? What makes them terrible? What makes them so dreadfully annoying? And on top of it all, Gulley raises some profound questions about the role of theology in religious practice and the validity (and danger) of fundamentalism. Overall, a compelling book.(less)
This novel follows two different characters during a difficult Christmas season: A boy, Nathan, learns that his mother is dying of cancer, while a har...moreThis novel follows two different characters during a difficult Christmas season: A boy, Nathan, learns that his mother is dying of cancer, while a hard-working lawyer, Robert, realizes that he has become distanced from his wife and children. When a chance encounter brings the boy and the lawyer to the same department store check-out line, Robert learns something beautiful about the true meaning of Christmas.
I was not expecting this book to be the Great American Novel. I was expecting it to be sappy, saccharine even, and it was, and I don't have a problem with that. Sometimes I'm in the mood for something schmaltzy, and that's fine. If I hadn't wanted to read something sappy, I'd have quit after the first few pages. I was not expecting it to be Christian fiction, although that doesn't really surprise me. What did surprise me was this book's knack for making me angry.
First of all, the mom has been very sick for some time. She's tired and getting weaker. She's on hospice. She knew from the very beginning that she probably wouldn't make it. She's already done the chemotherapy, and she's got a hospital bed for her living room. She's come home to die. So I want to know why in the heck she and her husband wait until the day she dies to tell their eight-year-old son that the mother won't get better. Up until that day, he thought she wasn't seriously sick. I understand the parents wanting to protect the child, but they can't save the mother, so he's going to have to face this tragedy anyway. The least they could do was be honest with him. Moreover, during the mother's last hours of consciousness, the father and grandmother sit with her, read to her, talk to her. When she's safely dead, they decide it's okay for their son to come in and say goodbye. He's eight. He's not a baby. He's certainly old enough to understand what's going on, and they have robbed him of something he'll never regain. But Nathan is relieved, because apparently his father almost waited until the next day to tell the son. So hey, it could have been even worse.
Most of the cancer plot is done well enough. It's sappy and a little predictable, but that's okay for this style of book. There were even some things that I liked. For instance, I always thought shoes were a sort of strange gift to give to someone who could no longer walk, so I was wondering how VanLiere would introduce the idea. It turns out that Nathan heard his teacher saying that her favorite Christmas was the one on which she received, as a present, a new pair of shoes. So Nathan, who only just learned of his mother's impending death, dashes off to buy the only thing he knows of TO buy. It makes sense, and its both sweet and sad. That said, the teacher character isn't all that well-written: in 29 years of teaching, she's never had a student whose parent had died. Really? 29 years' worth of students all came from happy, two-parent homes? VanLiere did not have to make Nathan's surroundings artificially cheery in order to make his situation, which is intrinsically tragic, seem sad.
What really steamed me about this book is the other plot, the lawyer who has a chance encounter with the boy. He had a nice job. He bought a nice house. This, apparently, makes him a bad guy. His wife thinks that he works too many hours, and she wants a divorce, She doesn't suggest trying to reconnect, nor does she want counseling. No, the first indication that he has that she is in any way dissatisfied is when she says that she wants a divorce, which she then tries to justify with the flimsiest rationalization I can imagine: "Let's face it, you left this family a long time ago." Are we even supposed to like the wife? It's not that she's mean. In fact, outside this one scene (a page and a half), she doesn't really have any personality. What did he do that was so wrong? He embezzled! No, wait, that's not it. Maybe he had an affair? No? Did he just get drunk and make a pass at his mother-in-law? No? Really? You mean he only worked hard and lived honestly? Heck, I'd divorce him too.
But like I said, there isn't enough of the wife in the book to like or dislike her. She's just kind of there. Robert's mother, however, has a personality. Not a great one. She's nosy, arrogant, judgmental, mean-spirited, and she's one of the story's heroes because it was she (and not the wife) pointed out to Robert the error of his ways. She cornered him, and even though he did not want to discuss it with her, he listened to her sermonlecture conversation. But did it have to be so much like a catechism? What is the problem in your marriage? I'll tell you. You are the problem in your marriage. Why are you the problem in your marriage? And on. And on. The mother seems to have been endowed with the ability to know exactly what's troubling her daughter-in-law without ever having discussed anything with her, but is she psychic? No! Turns out she can speak for all women. Joy!
Meanwhile, the rich lawyer is contrasted with Nathan's family, where money is "tight," and they "can barely make ends meet." They bought a ranch house, put in a new roof, new floors, new carpeting, and new plumbing. And I don't mean they fixed a leak; they ripped out the pipes and put in new ones, and they made repairs to the foundation as well. They made it "the nicest" home on the block. Then, the wife went nuts buying all kinds of new plants for the garden. Meanwhile, her husband had a steady job, and she worked part-time. But, oh, by the way, they're so poor. The husband is kept awake nights feeling guilty for not being a better provider, and the wife consoles him by saying that there is a difference between wants and needs, and at least they have their needs. Heck, if a sprawling ranch house, remodel, and plants are needs, I'd hate to see their wants. Of course, by the end of the story, the lawyer learns how misguided he has has been. He says, "We all have questions in this life. It's taken me a long time to figure out what the really important question are. NotHow am I going to make enough money?[. . .]No, more like What are flowers thinking beneath the snow?" That about says it all, I think. Years from now, I can tell my own kids, "Aw, gee, Sport. I'm sorry you're having the seizures/chest pains/asthma attacks/allergies/near-sightedness/any-kind-of-ailment, but son, that's just not important. You should focus instead on the emotions of last summer's dead plants. That really matters." (I assume VanLiere meant "seeds" or "bulbs," not flowers, but it's a moot point anyway since neither dead flowers nor live bulbs possess an amygdala.)
That's most of what bothered me with this book. It was too shallow, the characters were unlikeable (except for the unlikable lawyer--him I understood). It tries too hard. It presents a moving scene, but then it spells out why it's moving, and then it has the characters narrate their own process of discovering the beauty/sorrow/love of the season. It's the kind of Christian book that gives Christian fiction a bad reputation, and I'm not even sure how Christian it is. I didn't appreciate VanLiere insulting Easter, the holiest of our festivals, just to make Christmas look better by comparison, nor did I enjoy her interpretation of the star that guided the magi as being the light at the end of the tunnel. Look at the light! Go into the star! It's a death star! Oh, please.
Life is too short to read bad books. Save yourself from this one.(less)
This was dreadful. I listened to the audio dramatization in 3D sound, and honestly, the sound effects were the best part. The first half of the story...moreThis was dreadful. I listened to the audio dramatization in 3D sound, and honestly, the sound effects were the best part. The first half of the story was boring. The second half was a marginal improvement, insofar as I became interested in the characters and wondered how, or even if, they would escape the mist. The ending was the clincher, for me. Nothing is explained: not the origin of the mist (What/who is it? Where does it come from? Why does it hunt people?), not the fate of the main characters (They're driving away, but do they make it? Is there even a safe destination?), not the flying monster (It's huge, but it just . . . what? Ignores them?!? Why?), not even the main character's weird decision NOT to drive home to check on his wife (Is she alive or dead? And why the heck does he not seem to care one way or the other?). This "ended" so abruptly that at first I thought there'd be one more disc that I had missed. But no. It just ends in the middle of nowhere with a nonending. I had come to expect more from Stephen King. This was such a disappointment. Of course, this being an abridged adaptation, it may very well be that other people's creative decisions are in play here. I may give the original a chance at some point in the future.(less)
This book is the Wimmer Lecture No. 3, given in 1949. This book, partially because of its very short length, works very well as an overview or even in...moreThis book is the Wimmer Lecture No. 3, given in 1949. This book, partially because of its very short length, works very well as an overview or even introduction to the philosophy of Saint Anselm. Specifically, Anselm was concerned with the connection between faith and reason. Interestingly, Anselm saw the two as working together, not separately. He felt that without first believing, he would never understand; but he also believed that, since humans are rational, nonbelievers could be reached through reason and logic. Moreover, he was always seeking the "Truth," which for him, was something more than fact. Anselm says, "If one does what he ought to do, he expresses truth." Phelan's lecture is a fine introduction to these concepts, but it really left me wishing to read more. Phelan touches on different philosophies from Anselm's time and after (being as existance and not essence), and he also briefly contrasts the truth of man (veritas hominis) with the truth of existance (veritas existendi). Each of these concepts could be a lecture by itself, and I would have liked to see them examined in slightly greater depth. Still, Phelan only had a short amount of time to deliver his lecture, and he does quite a lot with so little.(less)