Monthly Archives: June 2010

It’s not easy being green

Back in the days when there was an iron curtain, it used to be that you could find unusual soft drinks behind it. A visit to then-Yugoslavia would see the limited-language traveler considering an innocuous looking purple beverage whose label she could not read, thinking, “hmm… grape maybe? Or some kind of berry flavor…” This would invariably turn out to be something like a plum shandy, leaving the drinker puzzled and dismayed.

It was as though Tito locked a bunch of collective farmers and all their harvest in a seltzer warehouse and said, “Don’t come out till you’ve put everything in bottles.”

With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, this unfettered creativity as regards drink recipes has slowly migrated to the west. Formerly predictable American refreshments are now just as weird. Today I ordered an iced green tea at a popular chain restaurant. It seemed simple: Green tea with ice. I was so wrong…

The liquid was actually green. Not the sort of pale, straw color that you expect from green tea; no, I mean something like light Kelly. And it was fruit-ish. I can’t identify the fruit. Its chemical bitterness led me to believe it was sweetened with some kind of fake sugar, but I can’t remember the zillion different kinds of fake-o-sweet we have now or what they taste like, so who knows?

Far from the same-old, same-old hegemonous culture that large corporate enterprise is said to produce, the North American soft drink industry has reached a truly Balkan level of ick . Soon I expect to be able to purchase at my corner store colas in a number of what I’ve come to think of as “astonished backpacker flavors.” These are inextricable from the mental image of other scruffy students with Canadian flag patches sewn to their rucksacks, gagging. Look for the following taste thrills in your next beverage:

Treacle with overtones of motor oil

Anise and… bouillon?

and the ever popular:

Dissolved mentholated cough drop.

It’s about time we got up to speed. Turn up the Euro Pop.

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My Summer Reading List: Something old, something new, some things fiction, some things true…

New Fiction

The Whole World, by Emily Winslow (New from Delacorte)

This smart, tightly plotted mystery will keep you guessing till the last. The characters are strange and engaging and very real. The setting leaps off the page. You feel like you might put this novel down and look up to find yourself there in Cambridge, England – cycling through the streets, surrounded by students from all over the world, in a strangely small-town-like city that thrives on the unusual and bristles with 800 years of architecture.

The Blind Contessa\’s New Machine, by Carey Wallace (Coming in July from Pamela Dorman Books)

I cannot shut up about this book. It’s lyrical and spare as a line drawing, but full of the kind of lush fancy I’d expect from Allende or Atwood. The contessa of the title grows up, marries and slowly grows blind – escaping into an interior world of stunning detail where few can follow and none, it seems, can stay.

Displaced Persons, by Ghita Schwarz (Coming in August from William Morrow & Company)

As we lose survivors of the Holocaust, this wise, tender novel brings us closer to an appreciation of what it is to go on, to create a new life out of whole cloth with little if any family, and fierce friendships grown on bitter ground. Schwarz considers what it costs to live in the present and allow the past in on one’s own terms. Her characters’ depth and strength are shocking.

New in Paperback:

The Blue Notebook, by James Levine (Coming in July from Spiegel & Grau)

Attention, readers who liked Little Bee:  The Blue Notebook is what you should read next. It’s even better.

New Non-Fiction:

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, by Jillian Lauren (New from Plume)

A great, guilty pleasure. Lauren takes the reader along on her unlikely-but-true trip from drop-out drama student to lover of the Sultan of Brunei. Unflinching and fascinating, this screams to be included in every beach bag.

Not so new, but so, so worth reading:

The Help, by Katherine Stockett (Amy Einhorn Books)

Ok, if you haven’t read this already, get with the program, will you? It’s important. The voices ring hypnotically true and the whole book is full of insight into a pivotal and often-neglected time and place in American history. Seriously, this is your homework: read it. Bonus? You won’t be able to put it down.

Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

Great for fans of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, the Twilight series and the smarter sort of paranormal set, Rosemary and Rue features a heroine who’s a PI and also? A fairy. Not your pink, glittery type fairy. No, October Daye is about as noir as they come, and so are her supernatural cohorts. There’s a lot for a reader to learn about the myth (and pronunciation) surrounding the fae, but a helpful list at the front of the book will quickly bring you up to speed (and give you a wicked advantage at scrabble).

R& R came out in 2009 and was followed this March by its sequel, A Local Habitation, which is even better. The third October Daye novel, An Artificial Night is due in September 2010. I’m looking forward to it.

On the Divinity of Second Chances, by Kaya McLaren (Penguin)

For me, this is the ultimate feel-good novel. A quirky western family with some serious issues discovers (each member in their own style) that second chances are out there waiting for us all, one way or another. Surprising and different and full of humor, I like this even more than McLaren’s first book, Church of the Dog  (which was no slouch either).

Fluke, by Christopher Moore (Harper)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I do love me some Christopher Moore novels. This one is perfect for summer. Self described “Action Nerd” and marine behavioral biologist Nathan Quinn records, photographs and generally pesters humpback whales off Maui. His crew includes Amy (research assistant and “goth geek of the Pacific”), diver and cameraman Clay Demodocus, and dude-of-all-work, Kona —  a white-boy Rastaman from New Jersey. Things just get weirder from there. I dare you not to laugh.

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