Archive for October, 2010

I’m Just Here for the Food: Islands

islands burger

"Unremarkable" doesn't mean "not delicious."

Some people may accuse Islands of being an unremarkable burger joint, but, for some reason, I always find myself coming back here whenever I can’t think of anything in particular that I’m craving.

This surf-themed burger joint boasts a menu of burgers featuring toppings including bacon, onion rings, sharp cheddar, mushrooms, and even pineapple (my favorite). In addition to chicken burgers, they also offer options such as veggie patties and wheat buns.

As I mentioned, I really love getting the Hula Burger (which has teriyaki sauce and pineapple) and the Toucan (the chicken version of the Hula Burger). The Yaki Tacos (chicken tacos with teriyaki sauce and pineapple) are also super-delish. But I also really love the Sandpiper, a savory burger topped with sautéed mushrooms and Swiss cheese.

They also offer Bottomless Fries, which are really unremarkable for the most part, but still a necessity when you get a burger. What are remarkable are the Cheddar Fries — skinnies fries covered in melted cheddar cheese and green onions. Yum.

All in all, there isn’t all that much that’s remarkable about Islands’ burgers, but you can bet I’ll be back.

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Cannonball 52: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I grew up Asian in a Caucasian neighborhood. It wasn’t just “predominantly Caucasian.” Until a Hispanic family moved in down the street ten years into our residence here on Senasac Avenue (where I still reside today), we were the only people in the neighborhood who weren’t… well, white.

Perhaps that was why the story of Calliope Stephanides resonated with me so much. I had suspected that Jeffrey Eugenides’ tale of a third-generation Greek hermaphrodite would be rife with shocking scenes and burgeoning sexuality and sanctimonious, soapboxy judgments of people who would get freaked out by someone who happened to have XY genes in an XX exterior.

Instead, I found a sympathetic immigration story about a Greek family with a shameful family secret. We follow the Stephanides’ through three generations, through good times and bad.

I was particularly surprised at how kind Eugenides was in his portrayal of the older generations. He showed the difficulty of immigrant life, of marriage, and of growing up. I expected Callie’s parents to kick her out once she decided that she was really a he (don’t worry, you find that out in the first line of the book, so it’s not a spoiler), but was surprised that, in Eugenides’ story, he chose instead to let familial love trump confusion and fear.

I thought this book would be about the journey from Callie to Cal, but it was so much more about the Stephanides navigating their way through life in a foreign land. Callie provides narration and is ultimately the main character, but the book says as much about her grandparents and parents as it does about her — it says it in the way that she talks about them and in the way that they react to her.

I thought the book was well-written overall, but I should have known that a book about a hermaphrodite would have a few unsavory scenes. It actually wasn’t as bad as I originally feared, but I had to do my share of hasty flipping through certain chapters. But I couldn’t help but to appreciate the way that the author effortlessly weaved history, mythology, and narrative together to form a seamless story. That takes madd skillz.

I so want to be the Koreans’ Eugenides.

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And that, my friends, means that I finished the Cannonball Read!!! YAY, ME!!! 😀

Cannonball 51: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My buddy David started the Cornerstone Bible Church Book Club, and things were going well… for a while. Then, he left for law school and left the club in the hands of a busy graphic arts student and a dork who’s hates administration as much as she loves books (i.e. me). And, now, the club seems to be foundering.

After nearly three months of postponements, I finally got a meeting of the David-less CBC Book Club together to discuss our last pick: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

Attendees: Me and my girl Bluemeday.

I suppose we could’ve postponed another week, but it’s been three months, and we needed to put this book out of its misery.

It’s really a shame that more people weren’t able to come and discuss. This book has so many levels, and all of those levels are heart-wrenching.

Our narrator, Kathy, is recounting the story of her schoolgirl days at Hailsham, an exclusive academy for “special” children. There is never any mention of parents, with good reason: (SPOILER!!) ethay idskay atyay Ailshamhay areyay onesclay edbray otay onateday italvay organsyay otay eoplepay.

The students’ purpose for existing makes them special, but it also makes their lives somewhat futile. Their ultimate purpose calls in to question the motivation behind everything they do: would Kathy be best friends with the manipulative Ruth if she knew that she could choose to live a normal life? Would Tommy have dated Ruth if he knew that he had to think about the future? Would Ruth be so conniving if she knew that changing her ways could change her life?

Ishiguro leaves those questions unanswered, which made for a lively, two-man discussion. And it also causes the readers to question what they would want if they were a special kid like Kathy: is ignorance bliss or is a fulfilling existence worth trading the rest of your life? Is that existence as fulfilling when you know that things can’t stay good for much longer?

The cruelest part of the book is that Ishiguro dangles the possibility of hope in front of Kathy and in front of the reader. You hope that love will change everything, but (SPOILER!!) ityay oesn’tday. That, in turn, raises further questions: is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Would Kathy have fallen in love if she had known that it would be doomed in this way?

My only nitpick about the book is that I found it irritating that every new scene is prefaced with Kathy mentioning a seemingly unrelated anecdote and then quipping, “Little did I know how much _____________ would mean to me in only a few short days.”

Come on, Ishiguro. You’re a better writer than that. Once or twice in a book, that convention is okay, but every single scene? Come on, man.

But that’s a tiny nitpick that I had with a stirring and thought-provoking book. All in all, I’d say that Ishiguro has my stamp of approval as a writer.

Because it means so much for famous authors to have my approval.

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Cannonball 50: The Rescue (Guardians of Ga’Hoole #3) by Kathryn Lasky

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: Guardians of Ga'Hoole Books One, Two, and ThreeLegend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole: Guardians of Ga’Hoole Books One, Two, and Three by Kathryn Lasky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Three: The Rescue

In some ways, the third installment of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series provided many of the same annoying tropes that plagued the first two books.

But, then, the ending of this volume, I must admit, threw me for a loop. I should have seen it coming, but, still, I must give credit where credit is due.

I wish Ms. Lasky has condensed Book Two into the beginning of Book Three. It would have made for one fun volume instead of two mediocre ones.

The Rescue picks up where The Journey left off. (SPOILER!!) Orensay’s istersay, Eglantineyay, ashay eenbay escuedray, utbay ishay entormay, Ezylrybyay, ashay onegay issingmay.

I can’t say much about this volume without spoiling the book, but we do get some vital background information about Soren’s mentor, Ezylryb, and more information about an evil plaguing the land that is even worse than the owls of St. Aegolius. And the book ends with a pretty exciting battle. It looks like the author is finally starting to warm up.

However, it still rankles me that she insists upon summarizing all of the major plot points in each of the books. This was especially irritating because I read all three books in the same volume, so there were certain parts of the book that I had to relive three times in a week.

I also don’t appreciate the obvious Hogwartsian quality of life in the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, complete with punishments for misbehavior, mean teachers, and even a prissy, know-it-all Hermione character whom the gang initially hates, but later comes to appreciate.

hermione granger

Nobody likes a know-it-all. Not even me, and I am one.

Finally, the only thing more annoying than all of the summarizing is all of the explanations of the owl jargon that Lasky has created for the owls. Okay, I get that giving the owls their own vocabulary and slang makes it seem like more of its own culture. But I think that Lasky overdoes it, as is evidenced by the fact that she has to explain all of those words every time she uses them in a new installment of her series. Used correctly, creating a unique and complete culture for your characters can ground the reader in your fantasy world (see: Tolkien, J.R.R.). But it needs to serve a purpose, and if you don’t know how to wield that weapon, you’ll end up hurting yourself.

That’s exactly what happens with Lasky’s owlspeak. It ends up becoming more tedious than it’s worth because it doesn’t add all that much to the story.

I do have to admire the author, though, for her thorough research of owls. She understands their physiology and habits. I know more about owls now than I ever did, and I think that’s valuable (what? You won’t be rolling your eyes when I win “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” with an owl question).

I still plan to read the rest of the books, as long as JN keeps lending them to me. But I hope that the plot starts developing a little faster.

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Cannonball 49: The Journey (Guardians of Ga’Hoole #2) by Kathryn Lasky

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: Guardians of Ga'Hoole Books One, Two, and ThreeLegend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole: Guardians of Ga’Hoole Books One, Two, and Three by Kathryn Lasky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Journey

The second book of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series fell rather flat for me. The book follows our quartet of heroes on their journey to the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, where they hope they will find a noble band of warrior owls to join.

My biggest problem with this volume is that there’s nothing here than couldn’t also be included in the next book. Yet, we still have to bear with all of the tedious summarizing that tends to happen at the beginning of serialized books (See: Babysitters Club, The and Sweet Valley High). First off, if you’re going to make me sit through all of that summarizing, then you’d better make it worth my while with something interesting. Second, if you want people to read your series, then you should stop assuming that people will start reading midway through. Once again, kids aren’t stupid; they’ll remember all the major plot points from the previous volume. Unnecessary summarizing was a big pet peeve of mine growing up. I hated having to read a whole chapter full of information I already knew.

Also, in this volume, Soren and his compatriots (notice that I didn’t list them or explain their backstories! That’s because I trust that you read my last review!) reach their destination, which turns out to be a cheap Hogwarts retread. I admit that I have issues with J.K. Rowling’s writing, but even I have to concede that the woman has an imagination that can’t be beat. If you can’t think of a setting for your fantasy novel other than a school for [insert subject of series here], then it might be time to keep thinking.

All in all, there wasn’t much in this volume that couldn’t have been deleted or compacted and tacked onto the beginning of the next book.

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I’m Just Here for the Food: The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove

beachcomber

This is what dining in California should be like.

If you’re ever looking for a special meal, the Beachcomber offers a unique atmosphere. Located at Crystal Cove State Park, the Beachcomber is right on the beach. Some friends and I came for lunch, and their kids had fun playing on the beach and making sandcastles while we waited to be seated.

It’s not a big place, so it can take a while to get seated, but there’s also a “To-Go” window, from which you can get some Beignets to tide you over. They’re served with maple syrup and whipped cream, and they’re fried bites of heaven.

Once we were seated, we took a look at the menus. We decided to split a few things, so we ordered the Green Goddess Calimari, the Tunisian Pizza, and the Grilled Ahi Steak Sandwich.

The food was pretty good (especially the Tunisian Pizza, which was absolutely scrumptious), but I did think it was a little overpriced.

Still, for the money you pay, it’s a pretty unique lunch experience. And the view is just amazing. I’d love the opportunity to come again.

The Beachcomber
15 Crystal Cove
Newport Coast, CA 92657
(949) 376-6900
TheBeachComberCafe.com

Cannonball 48: The Capture (Guardians of Ga’Hoole #1) by Kathryn Lasky

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: Guardians of Ga'Hoole Books One, Two, and ThreeLegend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole: Guardians of Ga’Hoole Books One, Two, and Three by Kathryn Lasky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My good buddy JN let me borrow this one. He said it was decent, and, since he has exquisite taste for an eleven-year-old boy, I decided to give it a shot.

The tales of the Owls of Ga’Hoole begins where every owl begins: a hatching. But Soren Alba, a Barn Owl from the Forest of Tyto (Tyto Alba is the scientific name for barn owls. Nice one, Ms. Lasky), is not the one hatching; he’s awaiting the birth of his sister, Eglantine. His older brother, Kludd, is a bully, but his parents, Noctus and Marella, are loving owl parents who patiently and gently teach their young owlets all about being an owl.

barn owl

Barn owls are scary, yo.

But when Soren is only a few months old, his life is changed forever when he falls out of his family’s tree and is abducted by the owls of St. Aegolius. St. Aggie’s is a mysterious institution: the owls here spend their days working and their nights sleep-marching — that is, they march around in the bright moonlight, trying to sleep, and are subsequently hypnotized by the moon’s rays. Soren is assigned a number to replace his name, but he is determined to remember his family and get back to them.

Along the way, he makes friends with Gylfie, a smart Elf Owl, who immediately sets to work trying to figure out a way to escape St. Aggie’s so that they can return to their families.

elf owl

Elf owls are kinda cute, on account of their big heads and naturally angry eyebrows.

As fantasy series go, this one’s not terrible. It’s fun enough to engage your attention, and I found myself wanting to know what would happen next. I do have a few nitpicks, but these are common problems that I have with children’s literature today.

First off, the characters tend to swing back and forth between extremes of emotion. Look, authors, kids aren’t as dumb as you think. They can pick up on subtlety, so you don’t have to have your characters constantly on the brink of despair in order to get kids to sympathize with your characters.

Also, the exposition is a little clunky. The way that Soren and Gylfie arrive at certain conclusions can be a little cheesy.

Finally, what’s with all the martyrdom? I don’t want to spoil those who haven’t read it yet, so I won’t elaborate, but I did find the martyrdom in the story to be a little over-the-top. So, yeah, St. Aggie’s is a dangerous place and these owls are ruthless. I get it.

Last week, JN came up to me at church and asked if I’d started reading the book yet. I replied that I had, and that it was good so far. He smiled, and then sighed a world-weary sigh. “I’m having trouble finding a good author,” he explained.

I feel you, JN. There’s a lot of dreck out there for kids, these days. I guess you could do a lot worse than Legend of the Guardians.

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I’m Just Here for the Food: Thai Thai Noodle

pad kee mow

Drunken noodles, or pad kee mow.

My sister and I were leaving San Francisco after visiting our brother there for a few days. On our way out of the city, we wanted to grab a quick bite, but couldn’t find a place that looked both promising and cheap.

After driving around the city for half an hour, we finally settled on Thai Thai Noodle.

Since Thai food can be unexpectedly expensive at some places, we were greatly relieved to find that the prices were quite affordable. We ordered the pad thai and the pad kee mow.

The prices reflected the quality of the food well, I’d say; it wasn’t spectacular, but it was still good. The portions were a good size; not humungo, but we didn’t feel cheated. It was still a decent value for the money we spent. Since we were eating lunch at three in the afternoon, the place was pretty dead, but it was clean.

I can’t say that I’m chomping at the bit to get back to SF so that I can go back to Thai Thai Noodle, but if I lived nearby, I’d probably find myself hitting it up when I needed a Thai food fix — unless there’s a better place nearby that I just don’t know about because I’m an out-of-towner.

Thai Thai Noodle
1400 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 441-5551
ThaiThaiNoodle.com

I’m Just Here for the Food: Krua Thai

green curry

Green=good. Especially when it comes to curry.

I came here for a quick dinner with friends and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food.

We had the pad see ew (wide noodles with beef, broccoli, and gravy), pad thai (skinny rice noodles with egg, tofu, chicken, and shrimp), yum nua (beef salad), and green curry.

All of the food was absolutely delicious, and the service was fast and friendly. The green curry was the real winner of the night for me; it was creamy and fragrant and it was easily sopped up in the rice without being too runny.

The interior décor was a little weird, but I have yet to find a good Thai place that wasn’t either plastered with pictures of Buddha or Victorian pastoral scenes.

If I’m ever craving Thai in North Hollywood again, I guess I know where I’m headed.

Krua Thai Restaurant
13130 Sherman Way
North Hollywood, CA 91605
(818) 759-7998

Cannonball 47: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t have too high a view of modern literature, mostly because I don’t have too high a view of the modern reader. When we’ve got fully-grown adults running around declaring that the Harry Potter series are the best books they’ve ever read, I think it’s only a matter of time before the premise of the movie Idiocracy actually happens.

But it’s authors like Michael Chabon that restore my hope in the future of literature. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is epic, and it left me reeling, in a good way.

The book is set in the 1930s and 40s, just before the U.S. involvement in World War II. We follow the stories of two cousins: Samuel Klayman, a young New York Jew, and his Czech cousin, Josef Kavalier. Chabon seamlessly works the nascent world of comic books into his tale, and the cousins’ rise and fall is mirrored in the success of their flagship character, The Escapist.

Chabon clearly researched the history of comics thoroughly, and his writing shows that it was a labor of love. Every step of The Escapist’s story, from his origin story to his eventually being sold out by the comic’s publisher, is fleshed out in minute detail. Only a true lover of comics could describe that process and make it interesting to a wider audience (in this case, readers of novels). And the origin story of the character, both the character’s conception and his motivation and origin as a superhero, is cleverly crafted by Chabon. I’d read The Escapist as a stand-alone story. It’s that compelling.

But The Escapist’s story is more than just a loving homage to comics by the author. It also reflects a lot of the character of its creators. Like Joe Kavalier, the character hates evil and oppression. Through The Escapist, Joe is able to land the right hook on Hitler’s jaw that he longs to throw, even as he waits in New York, virtually helpless to assist his own family.

And, like Sammy Clay, Tom Mayflower (The Escapist’s true identity) had a childhood history of physical weakness. But Sammy is able to give The Escapist a power and courage that he thinks he lacks.

The friendship and love between the cousins is just beautiful; one of the most moving friendships in literary history. Sammy doesn’t literally die to save Joe’s life, but he sacrifices his life for his friend all the same.

What makes The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay so amazing is not that their actual exploits are so incredible, although some of them do border on the fantastic. But it’s the fact that Chabon is able to weave the common threads of the human experience — life, love, loss — into his story that makes it truly remarkable.

And he does it all with a beautifully nuanced prose that puts hacks like Nicholas Sparks to shame. Michael Chabon is not just an author. He’s a writer.

I loved this book for all of its beauty and despair and ugliness and loneliness, but I have to warn my more conservative friends that it’s definitely rated R. There’s profanity and sex up in the hizzy. I didn’t find it to be crass or thrown in just for shock value, but it’s definitely there, so be forewarned.

This is a beautiful, beautiful book, and I absolutely loved it.

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