Book Reviews

October 26, 2007 Comments Off on Book Reviews

Now time for that semi-regular feature: half-assed book reviews.

Gathering Blue
Lois Lowry; Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Nicely rendered sequel to The Giver, Lowry’s trilogy centers or three different visions of post-apocalyptic human society. The Giver focuses on Jonas’ village, where equality, convention, and respect for authority are valued above all. We read The Giver in our eighth grade Utopia unit— wherein the class came to the conclusion that Utopia is a naive fantasy. It was a sad day.

The village in Gathering Blue is much different. Kira’s society is much more primitive than Jonas’. While everyone works together for survival, there is no community spirit or goodwill, even within families, and while there is more personal freedom, there’s also much more violence and open hostility. Kira, born with a twisted leg, should have been exposed at birth, according to the community’s traditions. But Kira is gifted with needle and thread, and when her mother dies, she is taken into the government building to serve the Council with other gifted youth (whose parents also **SPOILER** died mysteriously).

I also liked the hints here about previous civilization, both in the the ceremonial song, and the clues in the landscape; the government building. Lowry subtly describes the people’s bewilderment at such lost knowledge, much like people in the Middle Ages must have marveled over aqueducts and Roman ruins.

A quick read, expertly executed. It brought me right back to eighth grade Humanities class.

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The Princess and Curdie
George MacDonald; Penguin Classics
George MacDonald was reportedly the favorite author of a very young JRR Tolkien, so perhaps he can be described as the grandfather of modern fantasy. First published in 1882, The Princess and Curdie is the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, a true fairy tale, complete with fairy grandmothers, goblins, and a young pure hero, in the form of Curdie, the son of a miner, and a miner himself, who rescues the innocent Princess Irene who’s been kidnapped and held hostage in the middle of a mountain by scheming goblins. The simple moral is to be open to believing without seeing.

In this book, set a year after the previous volume, Curdie has lost some of his purity, and the fairy grandmother, whom he couldn’t see in the first book, sets a shamed Curdie on a quest to save his king and kingdom. The message is more complex this time. While it’s still about faith and trust in something greater than oneself, it’s also about recognizing who is worthy of faith and trust.

Some of the language is archaic and there’s some religion here and there (MacDonald was an Anglican ministerbefore his superiors realized he wasn’t proclaiming their message with proper respect for convention), this is a largely unknown classic that deserves more attention. Of particular note is the goddess-like characterization of the great-great grandmother.

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More to come: At the Sign of the Sugared Plum, Becoming Rosemary, and Fairest! Maybe. I only seem to do these reviews once every eight months, so I won’t promise anything.

Review of Morris East

October 24, 2007 Comments Off on Review of Morris East

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5212 Morris Street, Halifax
phone: 902 444 7663

Morris East received a lot of press since it opened in early August at the intersection of Morris and Barrington. During the last week of September, the restaurant critics from both The Daily News and The Chronicle-Herald visited the spot in the same week, and both offered positive reviews. It’s fair to say Morris East is a hotspot.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, owner Jennie Dobbs is a restauranteur who takes pizza seriously, so of course she imported an Italian wood-burning pizza oven directly from the old country. And it makes all the difference.

Wood smoke lends the pizza crust a smoky flavor, obviously, but it also reveals fantastic sweet and savory notes hidden in the dough, proving that we sometimes sacrifice flavor when adopting modern conveniences. Wood loved wheat in a way that propane doesn’t— even in a brick oven.

But that marvelous oven is only part of what Morris East does right.

On the cool evening we stopped by, a weeknight, we were surprised to see that the place was packed. We were met at the door by a friendly waitress who took our outerwear and showed us to the only open table, along the side. A banquette runs along one side of the room. The space is cozy, maybe a dozen tables, and the walls show weathered, exposed brick. The kitchen is visible, and the oven’s back end pokes into the dining room like the hull of a battleship. If they keep that baby blazing, Morris East won’t have to use much heating oil this winter! The wine list and dessert menu are on chalkboards above the counter. The effect is a modern, minimalist European bistro.

We started by splitting the Artichoke Dip; their dip-of-the-day. I was expecting the usual hot, parmesan-y artichoke dip, but instead our waitress delivered a generous portion of a smooth, lemony celadon paste served cold. Rather than crackers or toasts, a fresh flatbread was the delivery method, giving us our first taste of that oven. The preparation was different and delicious; unlike any artichoke dip I’ve ever had.

While the menu offers some delightfully exotic choices (peach, proscuitto, and goat cheese; caramelized pineapple and Canadian bacon were two pizzas featured in September), we choose the more traditional The Pork Shop and Roasted Vegetable Pizzas.

The Pork Shop is topped with hot Italian Sausage from Denmark, Colchester County, as well as caramelized red onion and roasted red pepper. The combination is perfectly balanced, sweet onions and ripe peppers contrasting with the spicy sausage. Absolutely fantastic.

The Roasted Vegetable Pizza was a terrific rendition. Unlike so many waterlogged, pasty “roasted vegetables” at Halifax restaurants, the vegetables here— peppers, zucchini and tomatoes— were firm, distinct and flavorful. The pie was topped with a generous crumbling of goat cheese, and contrary to another reviewer’s complaint, we found no problem with the crust becoming soggy. Even twenty minutes after we’d been served, the crust remained crisp and chewy, with some tasty blackened bits.

And make no mistake. Morris East is all about the great crust. We fell in love with the sweet, smoky complexity imparted by that traditional oven, and only wish we could recreate those flavors at home. I also appreciate the restaurant’s focus. You won’t find a salmon special or a Thai chicken salad to start. They do one thing, pizza, and they do it very, very well.

Clearly, Dobbs cares about wines, too. Morris East offers its wines by the glass, half-liter, and bottle, and the short, smart list was carefully chosen by sommelier Jamie Urqhart. Urqhart has chosen some unusual bottlings here, like the Cuma Torrontes 2006, an organic Chilean wine with a bright floral nose and hints of peach and lemon. If you’re looking for something local, two bottlings from Jost are on offer, as well. We hope the wine list will continue to grow as the restaurant matures.

All desserts are made in-house, with homey choices like s’mores and chocolate hazelnut torte. They’re simple and rich, and all the better for it.

The pricing here is more than fair, and the service was fun and affable. We felt very well cared, and appreciated how everyone on the floor made us feel welcome and appreciated.

In fact, my only quibble is with the vegetarian options: a pizza margherita and the roasted vegetable were the vegetarian options for both September and October, surprising in a restaurant that changes its menu every month. Why should carnivores have all the fun? How about roasted garlic, potato, and Jerusalem artichoke pie with sage and ricotta; or roasted butternut squash, caramelized onion, thyme and goat cheese? Winter lends itself lots of hearty vegetarian options.

It’s a wonderful new neighborhood restaurant in a well-served neighborhood, but we’re sure Morris East will make a go of it. Honestly, we loved it.

“If I’d known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!”

October 22, 2007 § Leave a comment

Holy Mother of Pearl, how is it I didn’t know until this morning? There was a day when Mugglenet was my homepage… *sniff*

I can’t claim presience as some do, though. I’m a longtime Dumbledore/Pomfrey shipper. In fact, I may have been the only one in that boat.

Oh-so Literary

October 20, 2007 § 2 Comments

I’m going to write a short story about a charming couple who live in a first-floor apartment, whose upstairs neighbors erect a pumpkin-headed scarecrow and move it secretly in the night, arranging it so at first, its flat, unseeing eyes peep through this window, then that one, then another, so the couple never know when they’re being observed by the dread golem— until they suffer psychotic breaks and attack the dread thing with gardening tools.

It will be based on a true story.

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This poem by Babbette Deutsch is from the Everyman’s Library collection Pocket Poems collection, The Dance.

BALLET SCHOOL

Fawns in the winter wood
Who feel their horns, and leap,
Swans whom the bleakening mood
Of evening stirs from sleep,
Tall flowers that unfurl
As a moth, driven, flies,
Flowers with the breasts of a girl
And sea-cold eyes.
The bare bright mirrows glow
For their enchanted shapes.
Each is a flame, and so,
Like flame, escapes.

Warm and Safe

October 16, 2007 § 2 Comments

Autumn has arrived in full force here, and as we were at the beach gathering rocks this evening, I felt it was finally time to drag out my hat. Now I’m sitting in our drafty study wishing mightily for a fireplace, or at least a cubby in the wall where I could toss a few handfuls of crumpled red tissue paper for a cosy pretend.

We finally got around to listening to the Penguin Podcast from last November wherein they highlighted children’s audiobooks for Christmas 2006. One of the selections was Patricia Routledge reading Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Two Bad Mice who ruin the dolls’ house in a rage when they discover that all the food in the dollhouse is pretend. It prompted me to draw up (silently, you understand) a complex theory about the differences in how live animals who live in the wild— though not in a very harsh wild— and “live” toys, who are both manufactured and cared for by humans, perceive reality in Beatrix Potter.

…But none of that is what I meant to say today. What I meant to say was:

Here are two book orders that arrived in our mailbox today. Can you guess which belong to me and which are Richard’s? And who works harder to coordinate with the bedspread?

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Weekend Wrap-Up

October 15, 2007 § 4 Comments

So, oops, it’s been a week. And a half. Good thing NaBloPoMo doesn’t start for a few weeks. Incidentally, is anyone thinking of doing NaNoWriMo, too? That strikes me as impossible, but I suppose you’re not meant to start from nothing.

Anyway, when last we spoke, I had just secured tickets to the Sexsmith-Barber concert in Chester. It was fantastic. Lots of mid-fifties to mid-sixties people in the audience, but a few younger faces, too. Ron Sexsmith, of course, is a Canadian legend, beloved by the likes of Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, Elton John, blah blah blah. He’s never generated much of a fan base, it seems, because all the famous people have been hoarding him, so you should go download some stuff from iTunes right now, just so you can be in-the-know, too.

Back? OK.

Jill Barber is actually based in Halifax, but she’s toured all over the country in the past two years, and Thursday night she kicked off a new tour. Her voice is both old-timey, smoky French cafe and really fresh and new, and the performance was fun and light— there was an electric mandolin in evidence, which pretty much spells heaven to me.

Ron Sexsmith’s set was a bit more subdued. Apparently there wasn’t money in “the budget” (whose?) to pay his whole band for the gig, so it was an acoustic affair, with just him playing guitar and keyboard. Which was perfect for both me and Richard who was enjoying the start of a two-day migraine, but Sexsmith seemed a bit disappointed. It bothers me that a man who’s been playing his heart out for twenty years— to great critical acclaim— still has to compromise. But then, muddling through is what we all do, disappointments and all.

Anyway, great set, and he took requests, which was another sad moment; clearly most of the crowd just knew his name, not his work, so they didn’t have any requests. I’m too shy to yell, and there was a guy behind us who kept shouting during applause “How about Secret Heart?” I like to imagine Bob Dylan’s reaction to that kind of thing: in the face of my decades of work and four-inch-thick songbook, you want to hear that one song someone else made famous?

Though I imagine Dylan would be much more of an asshole about it than Sexsmith was. He played it eventually, and very graciously.

On Saturday we saw Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which, despite its mixed reviews, was exactly what it should have been. A fantastical, sweeping costume drama with a little bit of acting and an eensy smidge of history thrown in. My only quibble is that the sea battle wasn’t long enough. And although I couldn’t watch it, I appreciated the inclusion of a (brief) scene wherein a Protestant’s tongue was cut out before he was shot. It behooves us in the West to be reminded forcefully and often that we have a recent history of fundamentalism and fanatacism.

Yesterday we went to the Annapolis Valley to collect pumpkins for slaughter this Halloween. The weather was tempestuous and moody, which made great cloud formations for photos. Late in the afternoon we were on the Acadia campus Geocaching and looked up to discover the brightest, fullest rainbow I’ve ever seen. There was a double arc for a few minutes, too, the whole thing circling the campus. It was raining so hard though, no one else even noticed.

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Some Photoshop fiddling is required to correct the colors (to what they really were)> But you get the idea.

And finally, this optical illusion. Which way does it spin for you? After a bit of struggling, I can make her twirl clockwise at will, but counterclockwise is my natural state. If you’re having trouble, close your eyes and think either of a famous painting I use The Scream because it’s easy to keep in my head) or some rote memorization from history class, whilst simultaneously urging her to spin the way you want. Let me know how it turns out.

Finally following through on New Year’s Resolution #2: Get Out More

October 5, 2007 § 5 Comments

I just confirmed tickets for the Ron Sexsmith-Jill Barber concert on October 11. Three cheers! I believe this is my first real, indoor concert since I saw Raffi LIVE! in 1988. So. I’m excited.

Now to shake out the piggy bank and scrape together the funds for Garnet Rogers….

We went to the first movie of the season for the Lunenburg County Film Series— Waitress. It wasn’t at all what I expected. Quirky, of course, but some of the performances were perfect— the multi-dimensional abusive husband, for instance, and the asshole manager.

Last year we saw the episode of Law & Order based on the director’s murder, and I thought it was one of the most far-fetched L&Os ever (a high benchmark), so I was shocked to learn yesterday morning that Waitress’ writer-director-costar, Adrienne Shelly, was the inspiration. Ripped from the Headlines doesn’t seem so clear-eyed and take-no-prisoners in this light.

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I took a blog survey yesterday and it just kept going and going, so naturally (naturally!) I decided to it it to the bitter end, where I was presented with this.

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I wish I’d answered differently. I’d have loved to see ads for UFOs all over Federated Media.

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