Circe, by Madeline Miller

circe brewing

Circe by John William Waterhouse

In the sixth grade, my beloved teacher Joan Davis assigned us our first research paper, long before the days of Google, the Internet, or Amazon.com. We ventured forth carrying index cards, different colors of ink, and stacks of books (well, three or four), from which to glean knowledge to distill in the prescribed format. I chose Greek Mythology and after quickly falling in rapture with the tales, created the I.II.III. a.b.c. etc outline and thereafter the research paper required. The paper was completed but my fascination for the subject is not.

Madeline Miller, author of the Orange Prize-winning novel The Song of Achilles and more recently Circe, developed a fascination around the same time in her life by visiting the

madeline-miller

Madeline Miller

Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ Ancient Greek Exhibit. “This absolutely helped to further my love of the ancient world, particularly its mythology. I used to love looking at the statues and trying to guess who they were. However, I think I would need to cite as a personal inspiration Vergil’s Aeneid. Homer’s work influenced me also, but there is something about Vergil—his care with language and imagery, his beautiful characterizations, and his passionate pleas for mercy and forgiveness.” https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2011/07/20/madeline-miller-author-of-the-song-of-achilles-answers-ten-terrifying-questions/”””

Likely against all practical advice, young Madeline went to Brown University and studied  Classics and Theatre. Despite that, she has become a teacher and wildly successful novelist.

Circe binds a spell woven of the well-known mythology and the unknown character of a woman. Circe has come through time as a witch, transformer of men into pigs, aunt of Medea, entwiner of Odysseus. Miller transforms the mythology by giving us the history of the little girl, most reviled daughter of Helios, the sun god, and his wife Perse; ignored by her parents and mocked by her siblings.

“The two of them were very clever and quickly saw how things stood. They loved to sneer at me behind their ermine paws. Her eyes are yellow as piss. Her voice is screechy as an owl. She is called Hawk, but she should be called Goat for her ugliness.”

In Miller’s novel, Circe’s life changes when her uncle Prometheus (he who gave fire to man) is brought to Helios’ hall for punishment. Alone of the witnesses, Circe feels compassion toward Prometheus and offers him a cup of nectar. After he drinks, Circe questions him as to why he would go to such effort for humans and then freely confess to Zeus what he had done. Prometheus answers: “Not every god need be the same.” In this, Circe finds her life’s ambition.

Many of the reviews of Circe dwell on Miller’s feminist re-characterizing of the Greek witch. Others have spent a great deal of time commenting on that aspect, so I will not, other than to say I read Circe as a female author’s take on a female character.

circe cup

Circe Offering the Cup to Odysses, J.W. Waterhouse

The central event of the novel is Odysseus’ year-long visit to Aiaia, the island to which Circe was banished for using witchcraft to turn a mortal into a god. She has been alone for centuries, defending herself against hostile men by turning them into pigs, when Odysseus and his crew land and seek shelter. After Circe almost automatically turns the crew into a herd of swine, Odysseus arrives.

“‘I think you are Odysseus,” I said. “Born from that same Trickster’s blood.’

“He did not start at the uncanny knowledge. He was a man used to gods. ‘And you are the goddess Circe, daughter of the sun.’

“My name in his mouth. It sparked a feeling in me, sharp and eager. He was like ocean tides indeed, I thought. You could look up, and the shore would be gone.”

What follows are encounters with gods, Hermes and Helios, goddesses, Athena, and monsters; travels to the underworld and the depths of earth; and the birth of Circe and Odysseus’ son, Telegonus.

Topics for book club discussion are rich. The nature of divinity, the Fates, choice, marriage, war. Circe may be nominally about a goddess, but we mortals will certainly enjoy reading and discussing her life.

FOOD

Well . . . Circe gives Prometheus nectar but I have no idea what kind or how to generate that. My menu will focus instead on more mundane dishes, and definitely no pork!

Red wine

Cheeses and berries (pomegranate if in season)

At one point, Circe makes a favorite dish of fish stuffed with herbs and cheese. Try this recipe:

6 (6 ounce) salmon fillets, skinless

1 lemon

5  ounces spreadable cheese with garlic and herbs

sea salt

1 cup soft breadcrumbs

1/3 cup parmesan cheese, freshly shredded

1/2  cup butter, melted

2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 425.

Finely shred enough peel from lemon to make 2 teaspoons; cut lemon in wedges and set aside. In small bowl combine semisoft cheese and lemon peel. In top of each fillet, from about 1/2 inch from one end, cut a pocket, taking care not to cut all the way through the fish. (If the fish is thin, cut into the fish at an angle). Spoon cheese mixture into pockets. Season fish with salt Place in baking pan and set aside.

In small bowl combine bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, butter and pine nuts; sprinkle over fillets, pressing lightly.

Bake, uncovered, about 14 minutes or until salmon flakes when tested with a fork. Serve with lemon wedges.

PLAYLIST

Monteverdi’s Opera The Return of Ulysses 

Josef Mysliveček’s opera La Circe

If you’re in the mood for something more modern, The Decemberists’ Hazards of Love sounds divine to me.

CASTING

According to Madeline Miller’s website, HBO is adapting Circe for a televised experience. I would anticipate a miniseries rather than a movie; there’s just too much here for a two hour event.circe book

Sean Bean (aka Ned Stark) played Odysseus in the film Troy. Joseph Mawle (aka Benjen Stark) played Odysseus in the 2018 miniseries Troy: Fall of a City. Let’s stick with Game of Thrones and give my favorite non-Stark the role. Arguably, you could easily cast the whole thing with GOT alums. Lena Headey as Circe, Gwendoline Christie as Athena, Aiden Gillen as Hermes? For fun, I’ll get out of the GOT box after casting Jamie.

Odysseus            Nicolaj Coster-Waldau

Circe                   Margot Robbie

Athena                Charlize Theron

Penelope            Rosamund Pike

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

daisy

With the first spoken words of the author’s note in the audible version of Daisy Jones and The Six, I wondered if I’d somehow never heard of this quintessential California band of the 1970s. But then Daisy herself began speaking, I recognized the actual voice of Jennifer Beals, and I congratulated the author on a job well-done. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has been fooled into thinking it might have been the real thing.

There are times when I love listening to a book and times when I loathe it: this was one of the times I loved it. Jennifer Beals, Pablo Schreiber, Ari Fliakos, Benjamin Bratt, Judy Greer. It’s a great cast and they do a wonderful job infusing the multiple point of view story with emotion, personality and pathos.

The book begins as a portrait of Daisy Jones, someone the reader is presumed to know.

You’ve got a rich white girl, growing up in L.A. She’s gorgeous—­even as a child. She has these stunning big blue eyes—­dark, cobalt blue. One of my favorite anecdotes about her is that in the eighties a colored-­contact company actually created a shade called Daisy Blue. She’s got copper-­red hair that is thick and wavy and . . . takes up so much space. And then her cheekbones almost seem swollen, that’s how defined they are. And she’s got an incredible voice that she doesn’t cultivate, never takes a lesson. She’s born with all the money in the world, access to whatever she wants—­artists, drugs, clubs—­anything and everything at her disposal.

But she has no one. No siblings, no extended family in Los Angeles. Two parents who are so into their own world that they are all but indifferent to her existence. Although, they never shy away from making her pose for their artist friends. That’s why there are so many paintings and photos of Daisy as a child—­the artists that came into that home saw Daisy Jones, saw how gorgeous she was, and wanted to capture her. It’s telling that there is no Frank Jones piece of Daisy. Her father is too busy with his male nudes to pay much attention to his daughter. And in general, Daisy spends her childhood rather alone. . . .

Whiskey A Go GO

We love broken, beautiful people. And it doesn’t get much more obviously broken and more classically beautiful than Daisy Jones.

 

So it makes sense that Daisy starts to find herself on the Sunset Strip. This glamorous, seedy place.

Then we meet a band called The Six: brothers Billy and Graham Dunne, brothers Pete and Eddie Loving, Karen Karen the keyboardist, and drummer Warren Rhodes. Billy Dunne has found his love of a lifetime, Camilla, and spends most of his days trying to make up for his alcoholic past by writing her love songs. Graham spends most of his time trying to convince Karen to live with him happily ever after. Pete has a long-distance girlfriend, Eddie hates Billy, and Warren just wants to meet chicks. I am a huge fan of Ari Fliakos and he reads Warren to hilarious perfection here.

After lots of backstory about poor little rich girl Daisy, and her drug-infused life at the Chateau Marmont; about Billy’s descent into and out of drugs, alcohol and women following his wife’s pronouncement that she’s pregnant; after Eddie throws a fit a day over Billy’s control of the band — the band and Daisy come together, as these things happen.

Billy and Daisy don’t like each other much. She’s wasting her talent; he’s limiting his to love songs for his wife. But Daisy is invited to open on tour for The Six. When circumstances offer Billy and Daisy an opening to sing together, the dynamic explodes. They are suddenly the most popular band in the world: top of the charts, sold out concerts, groupies, roadies, Rolling Stone covers, cocaine, bennies, champagne, girls-girls-girls.

Daisy-Jones-1-e1555085250551At the urging of no less than Rolling Stones’ cover, Daisy joins The Six as an official member of the band. And as writing partner of Billy Dunne.

Daisy Jones and The Six paints a livid scene of the music industry in the 1970s. As I listened, I felt this must have been based on someone — Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles maybe? — but in retrospect, I think it’s more likely based on everyone who ever had talent and tried to take it further. About every woman who ever faced the fact that “men often think they deserve a sticker for treating women like people.”

Reid says she was inspired to write the book by songwriting teams.

First, I was really taken with how often in culture there are these men and women who write incredible songs together, but also have somewhat complicated personal relationships. The most obvious example is Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac, but there’s a lot of them—The Civil Wars, who broke up in 2014, and other group bands who have had difficulty in their relationships and broke up very abruptly. Take Beyoncé and Jay-Z for example (even though it’s hip-hop and not rock), who have this incredible relationship. They take their personal life and make art from it. I’m fascinated by it, so I wanted to create a band to explore that further.

There are moments particularly striking in light of the Bradley Cooper-Lady GaGa are they-aren’t they discussions as well.

Reese Witherspoon liked the book enough to choose it for her book club and optioned the TV rights before publication, and Amazon has ordered a 13-episode run of the adaptation of the book, with writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Fault In Our Stars) penning the scripts. Plus, there’s a team crafting the original music for the show.

In the end, Daisy tells her own story, unvarnished and without remorse. Is it a cautionary tale? Is it a love story? Or is it all about the music? You decide. I think there’s lots and lots of fodder for your next book club discussion. And if you want to read what Rolling Stone itself has to say about Daisy Jones and The Six: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/daisy-jones-the-six-book-taylor-jenkins-reid-women-music-803045/

music“It is what I have always loved about music. Not the sounds of the crowds or the good times as much as the words – the emotions, and the stories, the truth- that you can let flow right out of your mouth. Music can dig, you know? It can take a shovel to your chest and just start digging until it hits something.”

MENU

As you might imagine, there was not a lot of food being consumed in this book. But Daisy did specifically request a hamburger for her one meal a day and there were copious amounts of champagne.

My menu would be California-inspired.

Guacamole with chips

California burgers: hamburgers wrapped in Bibb lettuce leaves instead of buns (no carbs!)

Sweet potato fries

Champagne

MUSIC

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours

The Eagles’ Hotel California

America

CASTING

Sounds like Amazon is already working on this but just in case they need some help.

Daisy —  Emma Stone certainly fits the bill.

Billy — I can’t see anybody but a young Johnny Depp

Camilla — Selena Gomez (give Camilla some songs)

Graham — James Marsden

Karen Karen — Miley Cyrus

Eddie Loving — Ben Foster

Pete Loving — Jon Foster

Warren — I really want John Krasinski to play this part. He would be hilarious.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

TescoFriday night is Eleanor Oliphant’s favorite night of the week. She  takes the bus home from her low-paying office job in a Glasgow ad agency, buys a Tesco pizza and two bottles of Vodka and then settles in at her apartment for a long weekend of public television, nature documentaries, and mental fuzziness.

And Eleanor is fine with that. Really fine. Really, she is.

“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that there’s something very liberating about it; once you realize that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself. That’s the thing: it’s best just to take care of yourself.”

Since she moved into her solo apartment nearly a decade ago, Eleanor has had few guests. A total of two in fact. The meter reader and a social worker who checks on her about once a month. That is fine with Eleanor as well . . . until the night she encounters rock star-wannabe Johnnie Lomond who immediately impresses her as the type of man her mother would find acceptable because he buttons the lower button of his vest while performing in a local music venue.2016-05-24-1464091272-8813709-bookbinderrockstar

I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor – I’m Eleanor Oliphant. I don’t need anyone else – there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I am a self-contained entity. That’s what l’ve always told myself, at any rate. But last night I’d found the love of my life. When I saw him walk on stage, I just knew…here, at long last, was a man who could be described with some degree of certainty as “husband material”.

I listened to the audible.com version of this book and enjoyed it immensely. Cathleen McCarron’s narration spooned the words and voice of author Gail Honeyman’s character. Hearing Honeyman’s words in McCarron’s voice I felt I knew Eleanor, even as she said once again exactly what she thought, leaving her colleagues speechless or collapsing in laughter,

Once Eleanor spies Johnnie Lomond she embarks on a no-holds barred makeover attempt. New haircut, new wardrobe, adding some make-up, and making a new friend: Raymond, from the ad company’s IT department. She found — to her surprise — these small changes reaped some rewards that she actually enjoyed.

“It turned out that if you saw the same person with some degree of regularity, then the conversation was immediately pleasant and comfortable—you could pick up where you left off, as it were, rather than having to start afresh each time. . . . Was this how it worked, then, successful social integration? Was it really that simple? Wear some lipstick, go to the hairdressers and alternate the clothes you wear?”

When Raymond and Eleanor encounter an older gentlemen in medical distress after one of their lunches, Raymond begins introducing Eleanor to lunches outside the office. Parties. Tea with his own mother. The internet becomes Eleanor’s tool to spy on Johnnie Lomond, read his tweets (hilariously narcissistic), see his Instagram posts all while plotting the first meeting that will lead inevitably to the couple’s long-term wedded bliss. It doesn’t, of course, work out that way which leads to Eleanor’s finding out she’s in fact not fine, not fine at all. Which is exactly when things become really interesting.

Gail HoneymanEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a debut novel by a post-40 year old author. Gail Honeyman worked in the British Civil Service and as a university administrator writing her debut novel during lunch and after work. She entered Eleanor in a fiction competition, didn’t win, but an agent signed her and the novel became the subject of a bidding war,  was named 2017 Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, and the film rights have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon.  Talk about a Cinderella story.Oliphant

 

So deserving.

Your book club will adore it.

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Eleanor’s preferred weekend meals are Tesco frozen pizzas and vodka. She prepares pesto pasta for dinner each night because it tastes good, it’s easy and it fulfills her nutritional requirements. At the pub she frequents with Raymond she becomes enamored of frothy coffee and cheese scones. She orders “Magner’s” frequently when she becomes more a part of social events, at the suggestion of a bartender. I’d never heard of Magner’s but it is an Irish hard cider. It looks to be available in the US so I would serve Magner’s with cheese scones.

Here’s a recipe for classic British cheese scones: https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-classic-british-cheese-scone-recipe-434867

I would also serve pizza. One of my favorite things to do with pizza is to buy pre-made pizza crusts, then place an array of toppings out for people to make their own favorite. Pepperoni, turkey pepperoni, mozzarella, fresh basil, shrimp, parmesan, artichokes, spinach, baked chicken, a jar of roasted red peppers. Your guests get to have exactly what they like and have fun making them together.

MUSIC

Definitely some Scottish bands. The Proclaimers, Simple Minds, Big Country.

The standard which our Johnnie Lomond will never meet. Alas.

MOVIE CASTING

Dear Reese: I really hope you don’t transfer this story to Rupert Grintthe U.S. The Glaswegian character of the novel should be preserved.

That being said, please cast British actors! My suggestions:

Eleanor: Sophie McShera, a Scottish

Sophie_McShera_May_2014_(cropped)actress, and fan favorite Daisy from Downton Abbey

Raymond: Rupert Grint, our man Ron Weasley of Harry Potter fame

Happy Reading!

 

 

The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne

Marsh book In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a violent murderer, known as the Marsh King for his ability to live undetected in the back marshes for years, has just escaped from the penitentiary by murdering two prison guards. In Karen Dionne’s superbly thrilling novel The Marsh King’s Daughter, there is only one possible destination for the man: the home of his adult daughter Helena, her husband and their two children.  Helena Pelletier knows her father well. She herself is the daughter of a woman he abducted, raped repeatedly, and held hostage for over a decade.

Now, Helena knows her father Jacob is coming to reestablish his marsh family and to take her and her girls with him.

I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Dionne at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat that she established while she was working on The Marsh King’s Daughter. I remember her glee when she reported how pleased her agent was with her progress on this book and now having read it, I can see why. It’s stunning in plot, character, and description.

marigoldI sit up and check my watch. It’s still difficult for me to be somewhere at an exact time. When a person is raised on the land as I was, the land dictates what you do and when. We never kept a clock. There was no reason to. We were as attuned to our environment as the birds, insects, and animals, driven by the same circadian rhythms. My memories are tied to the seasons. I can’t always remember how old I was when a particular event took place, but I know what time of year it happened.

I know now that for most people, the calendar year begins on January 1. But in the marsh there was nothing about January to distinguish it from December or February or March. Our year began in the spring, on the first day the marsh marigolds bloomed. Marsh marigolds are huge bushy plants two feet or more in diameter, each covered with hundreds of inch-wide bright yellow blossoms. Other flowers bloom in the spring, like the blue flag iris and the flowering heads of the grasses, but marsh marigolds are so prolific that nothing compares to that astonishing yellow carpet. Every year my father would pull on his waders and go out into the marsh and dig one up. He’d put it in an old galvanized tub half-filled with water and set it on our back porch, where it glowed like he’d brought us the sun.

I used to wish my name was Marigold. But I’m stuck with Helena, which I often have to explain is pronounced “Hel-LAY-nuh.” Like a lot of things, it was my father’s choice.

No less than Charles Finch, reviewing for the New York Times Book Review, agrees:

Two elements make Dionne’s book so superb. The first is its authenticity. There’s a strain in the contemporary American novel (“Maud’s Line,” by Margaret Verble, and “The Snow Child,” by Eowyn Ivey, are recent examples) defined by a knowledge of nature that feels intimate, real and longitudinal, connected to our country’s past. When Dionne describes the swamp maples that make a cabin invisible from the air, or the way one digs chicory taproots, then washes, dries and grinds them to make a coffee substitute, it seems effortless, plain that her fluency has a deeper source than Wikipedia.

The second is the corresponding authenticity of Helena’s emotions about her father, painfully revisited and refined as she tracks him. She has no doubt whatsoever that he belongs in prison, but she doesn’t hate him — or at least, part of her hatred is love. . . .

In its balance of emotional patience and chapter-by-chapter suspense, “The Marsh King’s Daughter” is about as good as a thriller can be, I think.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/31/books/review/summer-reading-thrillers.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

Karen’s authentic descriptions were formed in a way that Mr. Finch may not know, though Karen was kind enough to share the information with me in a series of questions and answers.

During the 1970s, my husband and I homesteaded in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with our infant daughter, living in a tent while we built our tiny cabin, carrying water from a nearby stream, and sampling wild foods, and I definitely bequeathed to my narrator, Helena, my love of wild places and my ease with nature.

My living situation wasn’t nearly as extreme as her family’s, so some of the skills she possesses, I do not. Though I can recognize many wild plants and know which parts are safe to eat and how to cook them, I’ve never hunted, or fished, or trapped—our meat came from the grocery store. That said, I can bake a mean batch of biscuits in an iron skillet on top of a wood stove, and I know how to get a lot of mileage out of a single bucket of water. (Step one: use the fresh, clean, hot water to rinse your dishes. Step two: use the still-warm soapy rinse water to wash the floor. Step three: use the dirty mop water to water your houseplants, or the garden.)

My husband I lived in the Upper Peninsula for 30 years. We came back to the Detroit area when our children were nearly grown so they could have better job and education opportunities, and also to be closer to our aging parents.

Throughout The Marsh King’s Daughter, Karen juxtaposes the ordinary chores of Helena’s current life — making and delivering the jams and jellies that help her family survive, parenting the children — with the more severe circumstances under which she was raised. In addition, Karen weaves the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale of the marsh king’s daughter with Helena’s own story to great effect.

SeneyI pick up a news alert: “—escaped prisoner . . . child abductor . . . Marquette . . .”

“Be quiet,” I yell, and turn the volume up.

“Seney National Wildlife Refuge . . . armed and dangerous . . . do not approach.” At first, that’s all I manage to catch.

I need to hear this. The refuge is less than thirty miles from our house. “Mari, stop!”

Mari blinks into silence. The report repeats:

“Once again, state police report that a prisoner serving life without parole for child abduction, rape, and murder has escaped from the maximum security prison in Marquette, Michigan. The prisoner is believed to have killed two guards during a prison transfer and escaped into the Seney National Wildlife Refuge south of M-28. Listeners should consider the prisoner armed and dangerous. Do NOT, repeat, DO NOT approach. If you see anything suspicious, call law enforcement immediately. The prisoner, Jacob Holbrook, was convicted of kidnapping a young girl and keeping her captive for a dozen years in a notorious case that received nationwide attention . . .”

My heart stops. I can’t see. Can’t breathe. Can’t hear anything over the blood rushing in my ears. I slow the truck and pull carefully onto the shoulder. My hand shakes as I reach to turn the radio off.

Jacob Holbrook has escaped from prison. The Marsh King. My father.

Karen’s website, http://www.karen-dionne.com/the-marsh-kings-daughter/, has a raft of great reviews. Here, I add mine. It’s a dynamite read and your book club will love it. Plus there’s some — shall we say very interesting — food.

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chokecherry1Helena makes jams and jellies from the natural abundance surrounding her in the Upper Peninsula. Some of the most interesting choices I found to be her cattail and blueberry jelly. I had no idea they were edible. Karen though shared with me her recipe for Chokecherry Apple Jelly. From Karen:

Blueberries grow profusely all over the Upper Peninsula; in fact, some of the old-timers tell stories of how, during the Great Depression, entire families went out into the plains and camped there for weeks picking blueberries to be sold to restaurants as far south as Chicago to supplement their income, so having my character make her living selling jelly and jam was a natural choice.how-to-draw-a-raccoon-9

I’ve made many kinds of jelly and jam over an open campfire (and had to defend the cooling jars against marauding raccoons!). My favorite was wild-apple chokecherry jelly. Chokecherries are far too sour to eat straight off the tree, but make delicious jelly. Because wild apples are a source of natural pectin, mixing the cherries and apples meant we didn’t have to buy pectin from the store.

Once when I was hiking toward the abandoned orchard behind our cabin, I came upon a pile of bear dung that was so fresh, it was practically steaming. I decided to abandon my apple-picking plans that day, since I couldn’t quite picture myself running from a bear and climbing a tree while carrying my infant daughter on my back!

Here’s my recipe for Chokecherry Apple Jelly

1 pint chokecherries
6 medium tart apples
2 cups water
2 tbsp. lemon juice (optional)
5 cups sugar

Cut up apples (seeds and all), wash and crush cherries, and put in saucepan with water and lemon juice. Bring to a slow boil and simmer about 5 minutes. Put in jelly bag; squeeze out juice. Measure 2 cups into kettle. If necessary, add water to make 2 cups. Put over high heat and stir until mixture comes to a hard boil. At once stir in sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil; then boil hard one minute, stirring. Remove from heat, skim off foam; pour into glasses. Top with 1/8″ paraffin. Makes 8 (6 oz.) glasses.

I had to ask about the cattails and here’s what I learned: “In his book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” Euell Gibbons calls the common cattail the “supermarket of the swamps,” and details how to gather and enjoy the new shoots, the starchy rhizomes, and even the unripe flower spikes and ripe spikes covered with rich yellow pollen, and we tried them all. Like Helena in my novel, I particularly like eating the young heads boiled in salted water and eaten like corn on the cob. We also enjoyed young milkweed pods.”

So if you’re truly adventurous, head on out and eat you some cattails and milkweed!

MUSIC

My first thought would be to simply find a nature soundtrack or if you live in a home with summertime insect noises (and screen windows), simply open the window. Karen told me that while writing, “I listen to movie soundtracks  – there are no words, but there is a narrative to the album, and the emotion comes through loud and clear. For The Marsh King’s Daughter, my first choice was the soundtrack for the movie “Inception.” I also listened to a couple tracks from “Jurassic Park” when I needed a particular mood.”

Many thanks to Karen Dionne for participating in my blog today! Karen

Happy Reading!

The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe

tomb raider       eartha kitt       Athina-Onassis-aristoteles-onassis-34494050-450-340

Thea Paris, the clever, action-packed protagonist of K.J. Howe’s thrill-a-minute debut novel The Freedom Broker, is sort of a cross between Tomb Raider, Catwoman, and Athina Onassis. Her father is a Greek oil magnate, she’s special ops trained and apparently, a vixen in high heels. Her only weakness: she’s diabetic and doesn’t want anyone to know, which can be problematic when you are one globe-trotting, kidnap-victim-rescuing, corporate-negotiating, rock-of-the-family babe.

KJSeriously, nearly every page of The Freedom Broker has some mortal danger on it. K.J.  Howe, a fabulous writer, world-traveler and adventurer in her own right, is the Executive Director of ThrillerFest, an annual gathering of several hundred international thriller writers. It’s not surprising K.J.’s first book is such a great read.

[Thea] tapped her smartphone to call up her glucose reading: 105. Monitor batteries fully charged. Perfect. Nothing could screw up a mission more than low blood sugar. She slipped her phone into her tactical vest beside her glucagon kit. Rif was still watching her as she adjusted her vest, and she wondered if he knew. She’d done her best to keep her condition a secret, but he didn’t miss much. It probably wouldn’t change anything, but she didn’t want anyone on the team thinking she wasn’t up to the job.

The pilot’s voice crackled in her earpiece: “Three minutes to touchdown.”

“Roger that. We’re green here.”

The stormy sky hid the second helicopter from view. Thea wiped her damp palms on her fatigues. Rain rattled on the chopper’s fuselage, and the turbulence unsettled her stomach. Flying had never been her strong suit. The poor visibility would allow them to fly in under the radar, but the cloying humidity and heat could degrade the chopper’s performance. They’d reduced its fuel load to stay as light as possible, but that left only a minimal buffer if they ran into problems.

Rif shifted to face Brown and Johansson. “Okay boys, let’s grab this Oil Eagle.”

Thea and Rif, childhood friends, are part of a private military-style organization that rescues kidnap/hostages when governments do not, cannot, or will not. But after rescuing the oilman in The Freedom Broker’s opening sequence, Thea and her team have to find the one hostage she can barely begin to think about: her father.

I met K.J. at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat a couple of years ago, and I was able to persuade her to answer a few questions for daeandwrite readers.

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There are some fabulous champagne-drenched parties detailed in The Freedom Broker. According to K.J. Howe, Thea Paris’ favorite food is “baklava, but she has to watch her carbs because of her type 1 diabetes.”

I’ve never made baklava, but I’ve tried making some dessert using phyllo dough and I’m going to go to the bakery on this one. I lack Thea’s courage.

MUSIC

From KJ: “I listened to Gavin DeGraw’s Soldier, as it reminded me of the relationship between Thea and Rif.  In the childhood scenes from Nikos point-of-view, I listened to K’Naan’s Waving Flag.  That song gives me chills.”
My Playlist
Soldier, Gavin DeGraw
Waving Flag, K’Naan
Akon, K’Naan
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Graceland, Paul Simon
freedom broker
MOVIE CASTING
K.J. shared her ideal cast — here’s hoping you get that sale of The Freedom Broker‘s movie rights, friend!
Mehgan Heaney-Grier is an incredible talent, and I see her as Thea.  Mehgan holds the world record for free diving, 165 feet.  Would love Phillip Winchester as Rif, Rupert Friend (plays Peter Quinn on Homeland, brilliant actor) as Nikos, and Selma Hayek for Gabrielle.
I predict The Freedom Broker will be one of summer’s hottest beach reads. Happy Reading!

Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich

Visit-Idaho-Logo-Blue

Books recommended by people who love books always seem to be among my favorite reads. Especially when the person who recommends is also a writer whose work I enjoy and appreciate. That happened with Idaho, Iowa Writers Workshop grad Emily Ruskovich’s debut novel.

Sarah Combs, author of Breakfast Served Anytime [https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/with-a-side-of-warm-southern-wit-please-breakfast-served-anytime-by-sarah-combs/]  and The Light Fantastic, raved about Idaho during a writing workshop. So I picked it up on audible.

Audible is great. It allows me to “read” novels while traveling between home and work and on those long distance rides to various cases across the state. But sometimes, and I suspect this is one of them, I don’t experience the fullness of the language as I would have in the written version.

Idaho begins in 2004. Ann and Wade live on a mountain in Idaho. They are alone and self-sufficient. Ann, a former music teacher, has her piano and Wade his work, crafting hand-hewn handles for knives. Ann worries about Wade’s hereditary and increasingly-apparent early-Alzheimers (he is only mid-50s). And she worries about the tragedy.

truckNine years ago, when Wade was still married to Jenny and both of his daughters were still alive, a mouse had crawled along the top of the truck’s exhaust pipe into the engine compartment and built its nest on the manifold. She thinks of how strange it is that Wade probably remembers that mouse, remembers the sound of it skittering under the hood, and yet he’s forgotten his first wife’s name. Or so it seems sometimes. But the mouse — the mouse is very much alive in his memory.

A few years after Ann and Wade married, Ann found a pair of deerskin gloves in a toolbox high on a shelf in a closet. They were much nicer than the work gloves Wade usually wore, and seemed to be brand new except for the odor of something burned. That was how she learned about the mouse in the first place. She asked why he kept the gloves in the closet instead of using them. Wade told her that he wanted to preserve the smell.

What smell is that?

The smell of a rodent’s nest that caught fire.

The last smell in his daughter’s hair.

According to her website, Ruskovich grew up on Hoodoo Mountain in the Idaho Panhandle. I think anyone who grows up on a mountain named Hoodoo would have to have a great imagination. She knows the territory of which she writes. The isolating, bitter winters of unremitting snow, the miraculous spring of flowers, flies, and sunshine.

With Idahoshe writes a story of one day and many decades. Her perspective moves from Ann to Jenny to Wade, to May and June — Jenny and Wade’s daughters, to Elliott — one of Ann’s students. We learn early on that Jenny, during a family outing to cut and clear timber, has killed her six-year old daughter May, striking her with an axe. June, then 11, runs away terrified and cannot be found. From this crucible, the novel moves forward with Jenny into prison, with Wade into dementia, with Ann who serves as surrogate for what the reader wants to know — why would Jenny do such a thing to her own child.

But, as multiple reviews have noted, that’s not what Idaho is about. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Idaho novelOstensibly it’s a novel about a tragedy — young mother Jenny inexplicably kills her daughter May with a hatchet, while older daughter June vanishes into the woods. Refusing to explain her actions, Jenny is charged with murder and sent to prison. Wade, her grief-stricken husband, is punishingly alone, struggling until he eventually marries Ann, the local piano teacher.

You might think that the primary focus of the book is going to be a business-as-usual exploration of why Jenny killed May, or where June is and how they find her. But this novel is much more interested in a deeper, more haunting meditation on love, loss, forgiveness, time and memory.

Ruskovich’s website includes some thoughtful questions should your book club choose to read Idaho. I’ll add this one, from Sarah and me: what do you think Ruskovich intended with the two short passages, opposing but parallel, where Wade and Jenny encounter help from a childless older couple and where Ann seeks help from a family but doesn’t receive it?

Here’s the link to Ruskovich’s questions: http://www.emilyruskovich.com/book-club-questions/.

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Another disadvantage of audible, I don’t have the opportunity to book mark passages with food. I do recall Wade, Jenny, May and June were drinking lemonade on the day of May’s death. Ann visited a farm specializing in ostrich products. Limited menu available from my memories, but I would serve:

Pink Lemonade Limoncello

Equal parts Vodka and Limoncello, splash of cranberry juice, sour mix and lemonade. Shake over ice.

Potatoes

Definitely something potato. I checked out the Idaho Potato Commission website and these Herb-Roasted Oven Fries look good: https://idahopotato.com/recipes/herb-roasted-idaho-potato-fries

Ostrich Steaks

I love ostrich meat. It’s lean, healthy and delicious.

Sautéed Ostrich Fillets with Green Peppercorn
Pre-heat pan to HOT. Add 2 TBS. of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of green peppercorns. Sear one side of the fillet for 2 minutes, turn fillet and cover the pan and turn off the heat and let rest for 4 minutes.

For dessert the best I can come up with is either black and white cookies from the store or these black and white cookie bars. For Jenny. In prison. http://www.bakeorbreak.com/2015/06/black-and-white-cookie-bars/

MUSIC

Ann is a piano teacher, in fact, she meets Wade when he comes to her for lessons. Music is at the crux of this novel, but it is not music that I can find reference to. As a substitute, I would find some folk songs on piano.

MOVIE CASTING

Ann           Rachel Weisz

Jenny        Jennifer Aniston

Wade        Dennis Quaid

Elizabeth Kristen Stewart

Happy Reading!

 

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

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When my mother tells me I have to read a book, it’s written in a way no other book she’s ever read is written, and then gives me the book, I read it. I was so impressed by this unprecedented move on her part, I read Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders in less than 24 hours.

Lincoln in the Bardo. Yes, that Lincoln. And his son, Willie. The one who died. And the Bardo, according to Saunders’ website, is what purgatory is known as in the Tibetan tradition.
Willie Lincoln

As you may remember, William Wallace Lincoln died of apparent typhoid at the age of 11 in 1872, during Lincoln’s second year in office. Specifically, he died at 5 p.m. on February 24, a few days after the Lincolns hosted an extravagant state dinner during which the President and First Lady traipsed upon and down the White House stairs any number of times to check on their beloved child. In Saunders’ novel, the two events — dinner and death — seem to occur simultaneously. Newspapers reported at the time that Lincoln returned to Willie’s crypt several times.

From this truth, Saunders launches a spectacularly innovative novel, a large portion of which is composed of a compilations of citations from actual historical novels. The rest of the narrative is composed of the voices of … well, of the residents of Oak Hill Cemetery, where Willie Lincoln was entombed.

Sad.

roger bevin iii

Very sad.

hans vollman

Especially given what we knew.

roger bevin iii

His boy was not “in some bright place, free of suffering.”

hans vollman

No.

roger bevin iii

Not “resplendent in a new mode of being.”

hans vollman

Au contraire.

roger bevin iii

As is their custom, several denizens of the cemetery greet young Willie moments after he arrives, expecting him to move on quickly, as most young people do, in the “matterlightblooming phenomenon” by which the cemetery dwellers leave the place. But Willie doesn’t move on. He’s waiting. Waiting to see what his father wants him to do.

In the course of Willie’s wait, we meet dozens, hundreds perhaps, of the cemetery folks,

Gorey

drawing by Edward Gorey

most of whom believe they are “sick,” having arrived there in a “sick-box,” and temporarily detained from their other, earth-bound life. In the cemetery, as in the country, there is dissension: all of the black residents must remain outside the iron fence with the criminals and low class whites. Each resident has his or her own distinct view of why they are in the bardo and how long they may have to wait, but none other than a reverend who ran away from his own judgment day seem to have any awareness of his or her own state; that is “dead.”

I found Saunders’ reach into the historical citations and commentary a fascinating tool. He compiles these quotations not as a means of bolstering his own story, but quite often to show the divergence of history reportage. In fact, perhaps he is making the commentary that fact is as fictional as fiction. A stimulating concept in these days of fake news.

A common feature of these narratives is the golden moon, hanging quaintly above the scene.

In “White House Soirees: An Anthology”

By Bernadette Evon.

There was no moon that night and the sky was heavy with clouds.

Wickett, op. cit.

A fat green crescent hung above the mad scene like a stolid judge, inured to human folly.

In “My Life,” by Delores P. Leventrop.

The full moon that night was yellow-red, as if reflecting the light of some earthly fire.

Sloane, op. cit.

If this reminds you of Our Town, you’re not alone. I’ve had the good fortune of performing in both Thornton Wilder’s beloved play and in Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters and it seems to me that Lincoln in the Bardo owes as much to these two dramas as it does to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Edward Gorey’s body of work.

I most enjoyed the sections of the novel that escorted me inside Abraham Lincoln’s mind, Saunders’ portrait of the turmoil of family and country roiling the President, the citations of historical criticism that speculated Lincoln would be the worst president in history.

In short, thanks Mom!

Lincoln Bardo bookMENU

The menu for the state dinner is given in a quotation from Epstein, as “tender pheasant, fat partridge, venison steaks, Virginia hams . . . canvasback ducks, fresh turkeys, and thousands of tidewater oysters shucked an hour since and iced, slurped raw, scalloped in butter and cracker meal, or stewed in milk.”

Additionally, there are descriptions of towering sugar confections, where chocolate fish swim in a pond of candy floss and hives swarming with lifelike sugar bees are filled with charlotte russe.

Charlotte Russe

According to Betty Crocker, a “russe” is a molded dessert. Charlotte Russe is made of lady fingers and Bavarian cream. I found a nice explanation and a recipe for a Victorian Charlotte Russe on the Great British Bake-Off web site: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/recipes/the-great-british-bake-off-how-to-make-a-charlotte-russe/.

My menu would include small muffins and rolls with turkey and Virginia ham. I would avoid the pheasant, partridge and venison, since I don’t have a source for those, but oysters depending on the time of year would be fun.

MUSIC

A few years ago, I was able to perform in the Lincoln Bicentennial celebration at Washington’s Kennedy Center as part of the Lexington Singers organization. Our performance was comprised of multiple Civil War songs including The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Dixie, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, the Battle Cry of Freedom, the Star-Spangled Banner. My favorite was a version of Shenandoah. This is a lovely version of that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1EG_4IBzbA.

Happy reading and eating!