Friday, January 20, 2017

Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken

I used to so community theater, often on stage and sometimes backstage. There is a certain tenseness that happens when the lights go out in the auditorium. If you're backstage, you can't see it happening, but you can here it. There's a hush that falls over the crowd, followed by a soft flurry of last minute comments, before the curtain rises and the crowd noises change and then silence falls again as the play begins.

The tension remains for a while - until the first spontaneous reaction from the audience. Sometimes it's a little giggle and sometimes an outright laugh. Sometimes it's a gasp.

It doesn't matter what the reaction is, just as long as there is a reaction. It shows that the audience is alive and paying attention and reacting to the actors in a positive way.

The tension evaporates with a long, collective exhale of held breath, and then the cast and crew kind of settle in to doing the jobs they've rehearsed for so long.

That sort of thing happens to me when I'm reading a book. There's a bit of unease as I begin, because I don't know the characters and I don't quite trust the author yet. I don't quite settle in until I read a phrase or a sentence that tells me that the author is taking me some place I want to go.

The terrible thing is that some books never bring that "settling in" moment when I know I'm headed somewhere good. I float along aimlessly with the story, but I don't actually snuggle into to it comfortably. The unease remains.

With Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken by Monica Bhid, that "settling in" moment came on the first page, when I read this sentence, at the beginning of the fourth paragraph:

He smiles as he realizes he may possibly be the only person ever to enter a cooking studio with a monk by his side.

That sentence has so much potential. Who is he? Why is he entering a cooking studio? Is he a cook or an audience member? Who is the monk and why is he there? We don't know any of these things yet, but now we want to know because it's such a compellingly peculiar sentence.

We also know is that this author has that gift of laying out words in a way that draws you in, makes you curious, and makes you smile a secret little grin, all at the same time. You buckle in and know that you're going on a good ride to ... well, somewhere.

While cooking plays a role in this book, it's not all about cooking. It's about love, hope, charity, goodwill, and humor. It's set in India, so the scenes and some of the words aren't entirely familiar, but that doesn't really matter. The story is freaking compelling. And heartwarming. And emotional.

Heck, I read this book weeks ago, and I'm tearing up thinking about it. If I ever need to water my eyeballs or collect tears for a magic potion, this book has the power. I think I cried through the last quarter of the book. In a good way. A very good way.

Unlike some books, this one ends just when it's supposed to. The end isn't telegraphed so far in advance that you slog through the rest of the book knowing what will happen. And doesn't conclude itself but then continue with tedious explanations. And the ending doesn't come crashing in too soon, so you feel like it all wrapped up on the last page because there was no more paper left, even though there was plenty of story that needed to be told.

Nope, this one ends at the end, and you don't know what actually happens until it does. Until then, it could go either way. Either ending could have been just as satisfying, too. Which makes it even better.

Yeah, go buy this book. If you're the teary sort, like me, make sure you've got some tissues nearby. And then settle down in a comfortable chair and spend an afternoon in India.

Monica Bhide is a food blogger and author. Go look for her on her blog, Monica Bhide.

I received an ebook version of this novel from the author, as well as a short ebook of recipes, both at no cost to me. Except, of course, puffy eyes.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The French Chef in America

"Is that rigor mortis?"

"No madame. That's a mackerel."

Those lines from The French Chef in America got a good chortle from me. I got the book, authored by Alex Prud’homme to review. Or actually, I got the audio book version. Which was completely different for me. I've never listened to an audio book before. I like to read.

It took me a while to settle in to listening to the book. Some folks listen to audio books while they drive, which makes sense. I wanted to do something else at the same time. I had nowhere to drive to. If I knitted, that might have been a good activity. Instead, I pulled out a coloring book. That worked well enough.

The good thing about listening to this book was that the author used a nice French accent when pronouncing French words.

The bad part was that the book was 11 hours long. I could have read it in less than half that time, and I probably would have skimmed over a lot of the lists the author was fond of. The other bad thing was that there was no way to search through the book after reading to find good quotes for this review. I wrote the one at the top of the review as soon as I heard it, or I never would have remembered it.

The story is basically the continuation of Julia Child's life, after she moved to America. But instead of being in first person, this was written in third person.

There are also some forays into the lives of people she knew. Like Jacques Pepin. I found out that he had worked for many years for Howard Johnson - and he liked that job. There was also quite a bit about Sara Moulton, who I'm quite fond of. And of course, there was quite a bit about other people in Julia's life, like husband, her co-author, and her editor.

The insight into her work on the televisions shows were interesting. I never realized she had to do her own fundraising to get the shows aired! And even better, she loved the Saturday Night Live skit about her, and even kept a tape of it that she occasionally played for friends who came to visit. I love that she was amused rather than annoyed.

If you're a fan of Julia Child, I'm sure you'll love the book.

I received this book from the publisher at no cost to me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Have you joined the adult coloring book craze yet?

It's fun. It's very relaxing and meditative when coloring sections. It can be a little challenging when picking the next color, if you want it to be. There's a little precision required when coloring small areas. And you can get creative by shading colors rather then keeping one solid color per section.

When a was offered a butterfly color-by-numbers book to try, I figured I might as well give it a go. I wondered whether I'd like that much instruction. But then I remember the paint-by-numbers pictures I did when I was a kid. Those were good.

Butterflies are a colorful subject, so that's good. And they don't need to be super-realistic to be pretty, so that's good too. I dove right in, using both pencils and gel pens.

The book is great for beginners. It explains the different types of media - pencils, gel pens, etc., and what sorts of results you can get, and what kinds of techniques can be used.

And of course you can use different colors than the ones suggested in the book - either completely different palettes, or swapping a few colors. I mean, it's a coloring book, so it's supposed to be fun an relaxing and not something to stress about not having the exact shade of blue required.

In the beginning of the book the pictures are mostly numbered. Here's one that I colored. There were just a few sections that didn't have numbers to follow.

In the middle of the book, the pictures have some numbers to follow, and you get to choose the rest of the colors. Here's what I colored according to the book's suggestions.

And here it is, finished.

At the end of the book, there are no numbers, so you choose whatever colors you like.

The one slight problem I had was matching the pens and pencils I had to the colors suggested in book, even though I have a couple sets of pencils and pens. But I wasn't too worried about it. I got close enough, and if my shade of green was a little too light or dark, I don't think the butterflies cared all that much.

The one thing that would have made this book a little easier to use would have been to have a color key on each page. Of course, that would have meant printing color on each page, which would have added to the cost of the book. So it's understandable they didn't do it.

This would be a good book for beginners who want a little instruction on materials and techniques, and who want a little guidance on colors Or anyone who's a big fan of butterflies. There are other color-by-numbers books as well as other art books available from the same publisher, if you're looking for a different subject, too.

I received this book from the publisher at no cost to me.