Friday, October 29, 2010

Sprinkle With Murder

Sprinkle With Murder
Author: Jenn McKinley
Berkley, 2010
215 pages

I needed a quick read after my last book, so I grabbed this one off my shelf. I was missing my Foodie friends back in Indianapolis, especially my friend Lisa B. (Hey, Lisa!), who has a talent for and an interest in all things Cupcake.

Fairy Tale Cupcakes is a cupcakery (is that a word? If not, it should be) in a tourist area of Scottsdale, Arizona run by Melanie ("Mel") and Angie, who've been friends since grade school.  Mel was bound for a career in marketing, and Angie in education, but they decided to go for their dream of making people happy with cupcakes instead. They've got some simply amazing creations, and if you read the book, you'll actually find some recipes - what a nice bonus! (Unfortunately, I'm on a diet right now. Not quite sure how I managed to read Sprinkle With Murder under those circumstances, but I did.)

Unfortunately, they've also got a jealous rival (Olivia, who owns the other cupcakery in town) who's doing crazy things like driving past their store several times a day giving them dirty looks. But there's a bigger problem: best friend and investor Tate (who grew up to be a rich corporate executive) is about to marry Christie Stevens, a bee-yotch-y fashion designer who can't seem to get along with anyone. When Christie hires the ladies at Fairy Tale to make 500 cupcakes for the wedding, she can't just let them bake. She insists that they come up with five original recipes, which Christie (not Mel and Angie) will own.

Main character Mel isn't happy with this idea, but she accepts the challenge, and sets about creating some really yummy-sounding flavors - including a dark chocolate cake, cherry filling, dark chocolate ganache icing with dried cherries that sounds divine if you ask me. Mel sends the samples to Christie via Christie's assistants. When she goes to Christie's office the next morning to get her feedback on the samples, Mel finds Christie dead. Um, and there's a piece of a cupcake in one of her hands.

Of course, everyone thinks Mel did it. When business tapers off as a result of nasty rumors, Mel decided she has to find the real killer. She and Angie come up with some very clever investigative techniques and encounter some colorful individuals along the way. Whodunnit? The crazy cupcake rival? The dour, spooky assistant who looks a lot like a grown-up Wednesday from The Addams Family? The cross-dressing photographer who Christie constantly yelled at? Or perhaps Tate, the fiance and best friend of Mel and Angie? (And just why was he marrying Christie, anyway?!!!)

Unlike most cozy mysteries, I didn't guess the killer until that character was revealed. The murder technique was original, and all things considered, I really enjoyed the book. The only downside to me was what I considered an overuse of references to Mel's former weight issues and references to emotional eating. I really don't think it's necessary to get into that. After all, cozy mysteries are supposed to be fun. And darn it, if I can't eat the cupcakes, at least I can read about someone else eating them -- without guilt! :-)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cutting For Stone

Cutting For Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese
Vintage, 2009
560 pages

Have you missed me? I can't believe it's been over two months since my last book review. There are lots of reasons for that, but the bottom line is, due to personal issues I just haven't had much time to read lately. I want to be very clear that my slowness has nothing to do with the book itself, because Cutting For Stone is, quite simply, one of the best books I've ever read.

In "real" life, author Abraham Verghese is a surgeon. Born in Ethiopia to parents who were from India, he came to the USA during a period of civil unrest in his birth country. These facts of his life play very heavily in Cutting For Stone. Main character Marion Stone is a surgeon who was born in Ethiopia whose mother, adoptive mother, and adoptive father are from India. The book is the story of Marion's life; of before his life, really, since it also tells the story of how is mother got to Ethiopia and how she met his father. I won't give away too many details, but Marion also has a twin brother named Shiva, who is his mirror image not just in physical appearances but sometimes in personality as well.

The twins are raised in a Hospital near Addis Ababa. Their adoptive mother, Hema, is the hospital's gynecologist; adoptive father Ghosh is a surgeon. So the boys grow up learning about medicine. Their extended "family" includes a woman with Eritrean connections and her daughter, Genet. Genet is about the same age as Marion and Shiva, and although they are raised so close together as to be brother and sister, Marion falls in love with Genet when they are still young. The three of them go through all sorts of adventures together, and share many secrets, including some that they will never be able to tell anyone.

Unfortunately, something happens between Marion, Shiva, and Genet that will change all their lives forever. This sets a chain of events in motion that is both fascinating and agonizing to read. Verghese weaves in bits of Ethiopian history throughout the book, and his explanations really helped me to understand the complicated situations that contributed to so many people leaving that country for the USA, Canada, and elsewhere.

At times, things seem a little overly detailed. The descriptions of medical procedures are both interesting and tedious. I mean, really, did I need to know that much about fistulas or vasectomies or liver transplants? No. But that's one of the things about the book that makes it so real.

There are so many rich characters. Ghosh is my favorite. His humor, his passion for medicine, and the thoughts in his mind as he relentlessly pursued Hema to be his wife made this so. He wasn't perfect (and one of his mistakes - if it is a mistake - isn't revealed until very late in the book), but I admired him. There were characters that I disliked a great deal. And then there was Marion. Unforgettable Marion!

I can't say enough about this book. Yes, it took me a while to get through it, but if I'd had nothing else to do with my time, I would have finished it a lot sooner.

If you like good literary fiction that broadens your horizons, teaches you something, and provides an insight into other cultures, you'll like Cutting For Stone. If you only read one serious work of fiction all year, this should be it. Buy it now.

P.S. My next book is going to be a quick read. :-)