Wednesday, July 5, 2017

     Last night I said goodbye to a close friend, Vikram Seth's book A Suitable Boy.  I began reading the 1474 page tome on June 22, 2016, slightly more than a year ago.  During that time, other books have come and gone, books that I have loved, liked, or merely tolerated.  But none became a part of me the way that Seth's A Suitable Boy did.  Every night before closing my eyes, I picked up "the book" and was transported to the India of the nineteen fifties, to Brahmpur and Calcutta, to the banks of the Ganga, onto dusty trains, into shaded gardens and crowded alleys.  The last words I saw before sleep were Lata and Maan and Pran and Savita, Mrs. Rupa Mehra and Mahesh Kapoor, Kabir and Amit and Haresh.  They peopled my waking and sleeping dreams.
     Each day, I counted my reading progress in page numbers, willing the characters to move ahead, to bring me closer to the end of the book. I had to know.  Who was a suitable boy for Lata?  But then, when the final page was in sight, I hesitated.  I had been carrying the two and a half pound book around the house with me for a year, but now I put it down.  I didn't want to read that last page.  I didn't want to find out who Lata Mehra had chosen as her husband, her "Suitable Boy." For 1400 pages the suspence had been killing me and now, right at the finish line, my horse balked.  A suitable boy was chosen.
    "No, she can't choose him!" my mind wailed.  Maybe something terrible will happen, I thought in desperation.  Maybe the wedding will be called off.  Maybe no one is suitable for Lata Mehra...but I won't spoil the book or its ending.   You'll just have to read A Suitable Boy and find out for yourself if Lata's choice was suitable!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dining updates for Piccolo Spoleto

     Concerts, plays, art shows, performance art - Hoorah!  Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto have begun, with theater-goers and concert attendees working up an appetite for more than Charleston culture. So, while dashing between performances, plan to sample the culinary gold of the Lowcountry.  Most of the restaurants I have reviewed on my blog are still thriving and worth a visit but a few, alas, have closed or are no longer what they once were.  I've also added four new mini-reviews.

     Restaurants that have closed, and will be sadly missed:
P.I.E. Bake Shoppe
Brasserie Gigi
The Smith Street Bull Street Gourmet, but the King Street location of Bull Street Gourmet is thriving.  

New favorites to try:  
Poogan's Smokehouse - Located in the space vacated by Social, P's Smokehouse excels at Lowcountry comfort food: barbecue, cast iron skillet cornbread, and collards.  Their bar makes the best mint juleps in town.
Lewis Barbecue - Delightful atmosphere, with dining inside or out and a full bar with bar menu.  Their pulled pork and brisket is moist and flavorful, and especially good when paired with the creamy lemon slaw.
Carmella's Wine and Dessert Bar -  I have been eyeing this delightful dessert/wine/coffee bar for some time and was recently charmed down to my socks by their Italian Rum Cake.
Worth skipping dessert elsewhere and finishing your evening at Carmella's, or better still, skip dinner altogether and just eat dessert!
Twenty Six Devine - Full English tea.  Need I say more?  

Reservations required, as this lovely tea room prepares just enough to share with those who plan ahead.  

Restaurants that Charleston E. Diner can no longer recommend:
Poogan's Porch - (Hoped the quality would improve with the new chef in 2016, but sadly it did not.)
3 Matadors Taquileria - (same menu, poor quality)


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

There are only four days left until Christmas and if you're scrambling for some last minute gifts, books are the perfect choice.  Here are a few of my favorite reads from 2016, by category:
Summit: A Novel 
by Harry Farthing
A marvelous tale of adventure and murder at the top of the world, Summit is world traveler, explorer, and mountaineer Harry Farthing's first novel. Using Mt. Everest as his centerpiece, Mr. Farthing weaves a skillful plot around well-drawn characters and a fascinating setting.  Whether you are an experienced climber or just love adventure, you won't be able to put this book down.

The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
Follow Cora on her journey from slavery to freedom, traveling via a real train traveling underground through nineteenth century America. The fictional United States that Mr. Whitehead describes resembles the racially divided United States of the 1800's, then veers off the tracks into a world that requires the reader to suspend belief and accept Whitehead's alternate view.  Very skillfully written and thought provoking, The Underground Railroad is harsh and hopeful at the same time; a must read.

Classic Literature:
Moby Dick
by Herman Melville
Captain Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg, Stubb, Flask, Tashtego, the Pequod, and of course, Moby Dick.  What other cast of characters in 19th Century literature evokes the vibrant images, the harsh emotions, the colorful sense of place of Melville's Moby Dick?  Reading this book for the second time, I am struck by Melville's attention to detail, the brutality of whaling, the singlemindedness of New England seafarers, and the relentless power of the sea.  Truly the great American adventure novel.

A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life
by Pat Conroy
Our loss this year of the singular Southern writer, Pat Conroy, is mitigated by the vibrancy of his voice in this, his last collection of essays.  On every page you hear the bright tones of his speaking voice, feel the enthusiasm and excitement of his world view, and revel in his effusive language.  A feast for Conroy fans, and for readers who are fascinated by the joy and majesty of a grand story.

American Playrights - Drama:
by August Wilson
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, August Wilson's Fences is bold, raw and heartbreaking.  Wilson writes vehemently, dishing out truth while your mind screams NO! and your heart tears right down the middle.  Pick up this small and powerful volume and read it before you see the newly released movie.

Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson
A timely read for all, Just Mercy reveals the flaws in the Southern justice system, post segregation.  Concerned with imperfect justice, innocence convicted, and the indiscriminate imposition of the death penalty, attorney Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, which began its work in Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, and expanded nationwide.  Bravo Mr. Stevenson, the savior of the common man and the wrongly accused.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Marie Arana's memoir, American Chica - Two Worlds, One Childhood, guides the reader through two cultures, Peruvian and American, in the mid-twentieth century.  Seen through the eyes of five year old Marie, life in Peru is perplexing, comforting, and exciting, all at the same time.  Raised by her American mother and Peruvian father, young Marie is wrapped in what seems to outsiders as an intrusive South American familial culture.  Her American family seems cold in comparison.  Wise and powerful life lessons all seem to originate in Peru, while harsh realities come from the homogenized life of 1950's America.  
Ms. Arana's story is compelling, her settings rich and colorful.  The clash of ethnicity, belief systems, and social mores raise this memoir from a simple coming-of-age tale to an intricate tapestry, full of experiences that were woven into her very being.  The reader is drawn into Peruvian life and a bit repelled by American life, which helps explain Marie's difficulty straddling the two worlds she was raised in.  I highly recommend American Chica.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

It's Summer Reading Time!

My regular blog followers know that I choose a reading theme each summer.  Last year, I chose pairs of books that were related in some way: Middlemarch and My Life in Middlemarch, Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye and My Salinger Year, and Wiesel's Night, Dawn and Day.  One summer I chose Russian authors (Dear, cheerful Dostoevsky is my favorite.) and another summer I read the entire collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. (Ask my husband how much he enjoyed that summer, as I was so excited by Sir C. D. that I read The Adventure of the Speckled Band aloud to him!)
This year's summer theme is an unusual one for me.  I will read one, huge, glorious book, 
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth, all 1474 pages of it!  I wish you had a picture of my face when the mail carrier delivered it.  (I thought perhaps the package contained two or three books, not just one.)  
The idea for this summer's big read came from Stephen King, mentioned in his book On Writing.  On Writing is an interesting, informative page-turner which includes a list of books that King enjoyed during the three years prior to his book's publication.  King also mentioned two epic novels that he thought were worth a read: M.M. Kaye's The Far Paviliions, which I had read twice and absolutely loved, and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, which I had not read.  So here I go!  I'm on page 45 and I can't put the book down.  I will now happily spend my summer in India with Rupa and Lata and Savita...and a cast of characters yet to be introduced.  Check back with me in September for a final report!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

     The Uncommon Reader is a lovely, 120 page story by Alan Bennett, the author of The Lady in the Van.  Bennett’s novella is a quick, lively read, one that is especially entertaining for all who love both reading and writing.                
     This little gem tells the story of the British Queen, who follows her corgis into a bookmobile parked behind the palace,checks out a book, discovers a new interest in the people who work for her and ultimately learns to enjoy reading for reading’s sake.  The Queen has spent her life neither promoting nor advocating, but merely acknowledging, everything and everyone.  Now she finds that reading what she wants, when she wants, then telling anyone who will listen about her literary experiences, is an all-encompassing passion.  That is, until she decides that reading is a passive pastime, and she,The Queen, is not a passive person. 
     "Wouldn’t writing be a more active form of expression for her?" wonders the Queen.  Would it?  Read The Uncommon Reader to find out!
Christophe Artisan Chocolatier
West Ashley

     Hoorah!  We now have a French Patissier in West Ashley!  Stop by Christophe Artian Chocolatier in the Magnolia Plaza (by Crab Shack) at 1901 Ashley River Rd. for handcrafted chocolates, pastries and coffee.  
     Today's treats were Chocolate-almond Croissants and Sable Viennois.  The croissants were crisp and flaky on the outside and tender on the inside, just the way a true croissant should be.  Dusted with powdered sugar, these croissants were a perfect size to pair with a cup of coffee.  Christophe's coffee is French-pressed, a treat that I have yet to find in the To-Go format in West Ashley, but now am pleased to grab and go from Christophe.  I also tried the small and buttery Sable Viennois cookies, a shortbread dream dipped in dark chocolate.   I relectantly shared it, but could have eaten the entire cookie myself in three bites!     
     I look forward to trying all of Christophe's tempting sweets,  especially their famous macaroons, in all fourteen tempting flavors.  What could be better than a French-pressed coffee and a Lavender macaroon?