Skimmings

2013-03-17T00:00:00Z Skimmings Arizona Daily Star
March 17, 2013 12:00 am

"Breaking Point: A Joe Pickett Novel"

By C.J. Box

In "Breaking Point," C.J. Box's 13th thriller featuring Wyoming game warden C.J. Pickett, our hero is still willing to mix it up to protect the wild landscape he loves and the colorful characters who roam it. But Joe has finally had all he can take of the desk jockeys who make his job harder than it ought to be.

Joe's mood grows still darker when he learns that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has ordered one of his friends, Butch Roberson, to stop building his dream house on a little plot of land near the eastern border of a ruggedly mountainous national forest. The EPA has declared the site a wetland, but Joe knows that it's dry, without even so much as a creek running through it.

When two EPA officials are dispatched to enforce the order, someone shoots them down and buries them in a shallow grave on Butch's property. Butch, presumed to be the killer, goes on the run, and Joe is ordered to help tenderfoot federal agents track him down in one of the West's most remote and rugged landscapes.

The federal government owns vast tracks of land in the American West, including nearly half of the state of Wyoming, and there has long been tension between locals and federal officials over how the land should be managed. Box has touched on this often in his novels, but in "Breaking Point," he tackles the subject head on, leaving little doubt where his sympathies lie.

The story has everything one could ask for in a Western thriller: well-drawn local characters, soulless bureaucrats whose meddling does more harm than good, lots of guns and horses, plenty of danger and suspense, a spectacular setting and a forest fire thrown in for good measure. The military firepower that the story's chief villain, a regional EPA chief, musters in the hunt for Roberson will strain the credibility of some readers, however.

Box tells his story in the first-rate prose his fans have come to expect: tight, precise language peppered by occasional poetic descriptions of land that both he and Joe Picket call home.

Bruce Desilva, for The Associated Press

"The Storyteller"

By Jodi Picoult

Reading Jodi Picoult novels is sort of like watching episodes of "Law & Order." There's a fairly routine formula, a couple of twists, as well as a courtroom scene. And more often than not, it works.

In "The Storyteller," Picoult breaks the pattern to a degree, and fails, badly.

The novel is about Sage Singer, a young woman from a Jewish background who becomes friends with Josef, an older German man in town. Soon, Josef asks Sage to help him die, a fate he says he deserves because he was a Nazi officer.

Sage decides instead to report Josef to the authorities, who encourage her to find out more about him. In the process, Sage learns more about her grandmother Minka's own story of surviving the Holocaust, a tale that - in an unsurprising surprise - has links to that of Josef's.

In typical Picoult style, each chapter is told through the eyes of a different character. At the heart of the book is the tale of Minka - a captivating, haunting, gut-wrenching Holocaust story. It is the strongest part of the book, and a big chunk of it.

But the rest of "The Storyteller" is a mess. There are too many coincidences, too many unnecessary twists and too many quirky characters that distract more than anything else. Sage, for instance, is a baker. But did her boss really have to be an ex-nun? And what was the point of Sage being in a relationship with a married man? And he had to work at a funeral home? Seriously?

There's no standard Picoult courtroom drama at the end of "The Storyteller," but that's a relief - it's an overly busy novel that tries to do way too much as it is.

Nahal Toosi, The Associated Press

"Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us"

By Michael Moss

A can of Coke contains roughly nine teaspoons of sugar. Lunchables were created as a way to revive a flagging interest in bologna. People like chips that snap with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.

Those are just some of the nuggets of information Michael Moss feeds readers in his new book about the food industry, "Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us." But while the book is sprinkled with food facts, Moss doesn't just want to entertain. Instead, he systematically shows readers how processed food makers manipulate their goods to get consumers to buy, often at the expense of their health.

Moss takes readers on a grocery store tour through the lens of three key ingredients: salt, sugar and fat. By the time he's done, a host of iconic American products, from Oreos to Hot Pockets and spaghetti sauce to soda, don't look so appetizing.

Moss goes the distance, literally, in researching the tactics companies use to create craving for their products. In Libertyville, Ill., he inspects the cheese in the refrigerator of a former cheese expert with Kraft. In Hopkins, Minn., he visits the headquarters of one food industry supplier that sells 40 different types of processed salt, one that's perfect for popcorn to others used in soups and cheese. And at a noted food lab in Philadelphia, he watches a 6-year-old down a series of different vanilla puddings to determine her perfect sweetness level, something called her "bliss point."

Along the way, Moss meets tastemakers from former leaders at Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay to the creators of Cheez Whiz and instant pudding.

What he learns is enough to give readers serious indigestion. Companies often add salt to products rather than fresh herbs, which have the same effect, because it's cheaper. Coca-Cola says it won't market to kids under 12, but the company targets them anyway by advertising at amusement parks and sports venues. One ice cream maker cites scientific research that "ice cream makes you happy," but even the scientist who did the study sheepishly downplays the results.

Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, is at his best when he's acting like a journalist: talking to people, sifting through and explaining docu- ments, and writing with finger-licking flair. There are places, however, when he can feel like a lecturer repeating his salt, sugar, fat mantra until you want to scream: "I get it!"

Moss doesn't really offer solutions for getting companies to produce healthier products. The companies argue they're producing what Americans want, and Americans seem to agree by continuing to buy them. In the end, his message is about personal responsibility. We're the ones who decide what we put in our shopping carts - and in our mouths.

Jessica Gresko, The Associated Press

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