Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book 72: The Ordinary Princess


TITLE: The Ordinary Princess
AUTHOR: M.M. Kaye
STARTED: September 7, 2009
FINISHED: September 7, 2009
PAGES: 112
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Long and long ago, when Oberon was king of the fairies, there reigned over the fair country of Phantasmorania a monarch who had six beautiful daughters.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she's so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there, much to everyone's surprise, she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is!

THOUGHTS: My roomie pestered me to read this book. And by "pestered" I mean "asked with puppy dog eyes while saying it was awesome." And it was. In fact, it was so awesome I read it in one sitting. Kaye is a genius for coming up with a story where a princess is ordinary. Plain and human. That's it. Said Princess, however, also has a brain and feelings. It's because she is so perfectly ordinary, that this book becomes one of my favorite reads of the year.

Kaye includes all the classics of a fairy tale princess story, but gives them all a new twist. An ornery fairy godmother, a feisty prince, and a princess whose willing to work. Throw in some cute animals and secondary characters and you have a gem of a book. Kaye also rights with a even hand - nothing is too flowery, but there is just enough description to make the story vivid. The illustrations (also by Kaye) are lively and utterly adorable.

This story is a must read for any young girl. The story is close enough to a Disney princess fairy tale to be in the comfort zone, but with a much better store. Every ordinary girl can be something special.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent!]

Book 71: French Women Don't Get Fat


TITLE: French Women Don't Get Fat
AUTHOR: Mireille Guiliano
STARTED: September 1, 2009
FINISHED: September 5, 2009
PAGES: 263
GENRE: Food

FIRST SENTENCE: Whatever the state of Franco-American relations - admittedly a bit frayed from time to time - we should not lose sight of the singular achievements of French civilization.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Stylish, convincing, wise, funny–and just in time: the ultimate non-diet book, which could radically change the way you think and live.

French women don’t get fat, but they do eat bread and pastry, drink wine, and regularly enjoy three-course meals. In her delightful tale, Mireille Guiliano unlocks the simple secrets of this “French paradox”–how to enjoy food and stay slim and healthy. Hers is a charming, sensible, and powerfully life-affirming view of health and eating for our times.

As a typically slender French girl, Mireille (Meer-ray) went to America as an exchange student and came back fat. That shock sent her into an adolescent tailspin, until her kindly family physician, “Dr. Miracle,” came to the rescue. Reintroducing her to classic principles of French gastronomy plus time-honored secrets of the local women, he helped her restore her shape and gave her a whole new understanding of food, drink, and life. The key? Not guilt or deprivation but learning to get the most from the things you most enjoy. Following her own version of this traditional wisdom, she has ever since relished a life of indulgence without bulge, satisfying yen without yo-yo on three meals a day.

Now in simple but potent strategies and dozens of recipes you’d swear were fattening, Mireille reveals the ingredients for a lifetime of weight control–from the emergency weekend remedy of Magical Leek Soup to everyday tricks like fooling yourself into contentment and painless new physical exertions to save you from the StairMaster. Emphasizing the virtues of freshness, variety, balance, and always pleasure, Mireille showshow virtually anyone can learn to eat, drink, and move like a French woman.

A natural raconteur, Mireille illustrates her philosophy through the experiences that have shaped her life–a six-year-old’s first taste of Champagne, treks in search of tiny blueberries (called myrtilles) in the woods near her grandmother’s house, a near-spiritual rendezvous with oysters at a seaside restaurant in Brittany, to name but a few. She also shows us other women discovering the wonders of “French in action,” drawing examples from dozens of friends and associates she has advised over the years to eat and drink smarter and more joyfully.

Here are a culture’s most cherished and time-honored secrets recast for the twenty-first century. For anyone who has slipped out of her zone, missed the flight to South Beach, or accidentally let a carb pass her lips, here is a buoyant, positive way to stay trim. A life of wine, bread–even chocolate–without girth or guilt? Pourquoi pas?

THOUGHTS: I did not know that this was a diet book until I started reading. If I had known that, I probably would not have read this. (Note: Blogger bragging about to ensue.) I recently lost a lot of weight (and have kept it off, woot!) and find the premise of most diet books to be sketchy. Thus, I eschew them. Boy am I glad I read this one. French Women Don't Get Fat is not so much a diet book but more a book on how to few and interact with food. All Guiliano's tips (save for the leek soup kick-off) I agree with, for they are common sense. Even if I did not agree with the book, I think I would still have enjoyed it. Guiliano's writing is thoughtful, friendly, and, most of all, realistic.

I'm not going to rehash Guiliano's tips, that's for her to do. What I will say is that every reader should walk away from this book with a new understanding of how a culture of women interacts with cuisine. This is a food book and it's a lifestyle book. In many ways, Guiliano comes across more like an anthropologist than a dietitian. It is incredibly interesting to see how a culture is born and raised to interact with food, walking, cooking, family, etc.

As for Guiliano's writing, it's friendly with a bit of sass thrown in. I want to sit down to dinner with Giuliano and just chat with her - she comes across as down to earth, intuitive, and respectful. It also helps that her descriptions of food cause me to smack my lips and desire croissants. I will certainly be trying several of the recipes she includes.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has always wondered why French women don't get fat. Sure you can follow the diet tips, but it's the interplay of culture and cuisine that makes this book soar.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Book 70: If You Give a Cat a Cupcake

TITLE: If You Give a Cat a Cupcake
AUTHOR: Laura Numeroff
STARTED: August 31, 2009
FINISHED: August 31, 2009
PAGES: 32
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: If you give a cat a cupcake, he'll ask for some sprinkles to go with it.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] If you give a cat a cupcake, he'll ask for some sprinkles to go with it. When you give him the sprinkles, he might spill some on the floor. Cleaning up will make him hot, so you'll give him a bathing suit . . . and that's just the beginning!

THOUGHTS: Victory! I actually read a book I said I would in a previous post. Numeroff's books are always adorable and this edition of her series is no exception. The illustrations are incredibly detailed and lively as well as being colorful and utterly adorable. Besides, cupcakes (with sprinkles!) make anything awesome.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Book 69: A Countess Below Stairs

TITLE: A Countess Below Stairs
AUTHOR: Eva Ibbotson
STARTED: August 26, 2009
FINISHED: August 31, 2009
PAGES: 383
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: In the fabled, glittering world that was St. Petersburg before the First World War there lived, in an ice-blue palace overlooking the river Neva, a family on whom the gods seemed to have lavished their gifts with an almost comical abundance.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian countess, has no choice but to flee to england. penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination. Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties—not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. to make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there's the small matter of Rupert's beautiful and nasty fiancĂ©e

THOUGHTS: This is a romance novel? For a book that is supposed to be about a couple falling in love, the two lead characters spend a remarkably small amount of time together - like 10 pages worth. I didn't see the romance, the spark, the lust. There was nothing there that actually portrayed Rupert and Anna falling in love, except for when she comforted him after a bad dream. Say wha? To me, a romance novel needs spark and this lacked that feeling entirely.

Also, stop making the lead characters perfect. I like my leads to be human - you know, flawed in some way. These people were too good for my taste.

The only reason I am not completely panning this book is for the following reasons:
   1. The secondary characters rock. They're not set pieces and the seem to have emotions, unlike the leads. I particularly enjoyed Olive. She was a hoot.
   2. The writing. The vivid descriptions, pacing, and tone were just right.
   3. The setting. I have not read a book set in this place and time, ever. That made the book a little bit more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]