Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The House of the Scorpion

Title: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Themes: Cloning, freedom, growing up, friendship, sacrifice, drugs, family, humanity

Plot: Matteo Alarcran was not born; he was harvested. His DNA came from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium- a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt's first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster-except for El Patron. El Patron loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patron's power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacran Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn't even suspect.

My Thoughts: The House of the Scorpion is a long book for the YA section, but that didn't stop me from reading it in one sitting. The story is compelling, and the main character is intriguing-perhaps because Matt is so conflicted and oftentimes quite malicious despite his "good-guy-protagonist" status. I picked this book up from my mother, who doesn't often read YA, but she also really enjoyed it.

Issues of defining humanity, despite and because of how "inhumane" people can be, is the central driving force behind this novel. Matt's struggle to determine his own worth and position not only within the eccentric (to put it mildly) Alacran family, the country of Opium, and the grand scheme of things is played out through his adventures and trials from age six to age fourteen. His childhood is sheltered and full of love until he is drawn to the Alacran Estate, where is pampered and loathed by the family there as he eventually discovers the reason for his creation and education.

This book has adventure, friendship, trials, and twists that are sure to entertain most readers. The philosophical questions being posed may not be as obvious as it seems from this description-but if it was it would probably make boring reading. While some characterizations remained flat or erratic (or both in the case of the main love interest) Matt, his foster mother, and guardian all receive tender and thorough characterizations and have realized personalities and back-stories. Likewise, the plot and world-building are fun and well-explored, and are completely believable in almost every respect. I felt that the last segment of the book was largely unnecessary, but I still enjoyed The House of the Scorpion overall.

Recommendation: The House of the Scorpion has action, friendship, drama, and love aimed at a thoughtful and literate YA audience. The book raises questions on humanity and technology that may interest readers while still remaining a solid story with well-developed characters and environments. I would recommend this book to just about anyone.

Similar Reads: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau*

Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. New York: Simon Pulse, 2004.

*I haven't read this series, but it seems similar as far as themes and readership

Monday, December 20, 2010

Blood, Bones, and Butter

Title: Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Author: Gabrielle Hamilton
Themes: food, restaurants, growing up, family, drugs, marriage, Italy, New York, responsibility
Release: March 2011

Plot: Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty fierce, hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Above all she sought family, particularly the thrill and the magnificence of the one from her childhood that, in her adult years, eluded her. Hamilton’s ease and comfort in a kitchen were instilled in her at an early age when her parents hosted grand parties, often for more than one hundred friends and neighbors. The smells of spit-roasted lamb, apple wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade became as necessary to her as her own skin.

Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; the soulless catering factories that helped pay the rent; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a difficult and prickly marriage that nonetheless yields rich and lasting dividends.

Blood, Bones & Butter is an unflinching and lyrical work. Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion. By turns epic and intimate, it marks the debut of a tremendous literary talent.

My Thoughts: Hamilton is a writer of great talent; with a steady voice and an unflinching view of her sometimes difficult life. If she wasn't more attuned to physical work (i.e. the restaurant), I think I would be reading some excellent fiction from her instead of this memoir. From the title I had assumed that this book would be about Hamilton's experiences learning to cook and opening a restaurant in New York City. I was pleasantly surprised to find so much more. This is a full biography (up-to-the-present) of a hard working and dedicated individual with a variety of life experiences, both terrible and sublime.

Hamilton's childhood and family are covered in the first third of the book, titled "Blood." Her rather whimsical and unusual family dynamic are explored, and honestly a whole book could be written on her experiences up until age twelve. The radical changing of this family dynamic sets the foundation for the rest of the book, where Hamilton struggles for independence and adulthood through restaurant work, cocaine, several college stints, and eventually an MFA and a restaurant of her own.

"Bones" seems to be presented as an in-between period of her life. In this second third of the book Hamilton has pulled her life together and is now on the straight-and-narrow, exploring writing and cooking both. Of the entire book, all of which is very exciting to read, this is the most dry-simply because the reader knows something more must be coming up, and so much titillating things have already happened.

In the third and final section of the memoir, "Butter" describes Hamilton's more recent experiences, including a difficult marriage and two children, in addition to the running of a restaurant and the strained family relationships she faces from her own family as well as her Italian in-laws. This final segment is the most poignant, and it seems to be very heart-felt, leaving Hamilton's emotions and pains out in the open for all to read.

I heartily enjoyed this memoir of a chef, because it wasn't just about cooking and the restaurant business. Hamilton writes about life experiences and all of those things that lead to food and inspire food. Her life as a chef wasn't a given, this memoir shows the twisted path that led her there and examines incidents along the way. Her writing style is casual yet well-crafted prose, and her willingness to expose so many faults, mistakes, and current problems are bound to engender respect, at the very least.

Recommendation: Anyone who likes memoirs, food, tales of family troubles and triumphs, will enjoy Hamilton's well-crafted memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter. Be forewarned, there is rampant cursing, in addition to drugs, theft, and melodrama.

Similar Reads: Fannie's Last Supper by Chris Kimball, Julie & Julia by Julie Powell*, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain*, Heat by Bill Buford*, The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White*

Hamilton, Gabrielle. Blood, Bones, and Butter:The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. New York: Random House, 2011.

* I haven't read any of these, but similarities do seem to exist!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Busting the Newbie Blues!

When did you start your blog?
Just over a month ago! I am very much a newbie.

Why did you start your blog?
I started Rouquine Reads as a personal diary or journal o keep track of books I enjoyed (or didn't really enjoy) as sort of a distraction or outlet since I feel so overwhelmed with schoolwork. At first I just wrote my thoughts down on paper, but I really love the blog layout and metadata options so I figured....why not? I would love followers and discussion, but I would also be happy just to read and write for myself! Getting Early Reviewer books from LibraryThing also encouraged my to start a blog, to keep extended reviews of my fee books on.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Finding the time to consistently update, since I started at the end of the school semester, finals and final projects/papers have interrupted my pleasure reading and review-creating. I am also stumped as far as getting into more community or group events. I would love to meet new people online and get involved in larger projects and discussions. But, I'm a very shy person! Because of this, getting followers is also very difficult!

What do you find most discouraging about being a new blogger?
I feel so unprofessional, like I don't have a set system or brilliant ideas-and it feels like everyone else does! I read so many blogs about reading, and all types of reading, it's both inspiring and discouraging to see everyone's brilliant work :)

What do you find most encouraging?
Well I love reading, I love books, writing reviews or even just thinking about how I'm going to structure my blog is very relaxing and "fun" so it's definitely encouraging. I also think that seeing such a variety of reading blogs is encouraging, since there is no set model for success/popularity.

What do you like best about the blogs you read? Have you tried to replicate this in your blog?
My favorite blogs create very succinct yet personal and insightful reviews, as well as occasional "fun" posts like surveys, teasers, TBR, etc. which I try to incorporate because I think it's a fun way to break up the monotony of a stream of business-like reviews.

What do you dislike about blogs you’ve read? Do you try to avoid this?
Under-posting. I like frequent updates! I'm a neurotic blog checker. I will try to avoid this in the future, but schoolwork can be unpredictable. I am lucky enough that all the blogs I follow post very frequently.

Any advice for other new bloggers?
I don't think I'm really in a position to give advice, but, have fun? Give yourself time, don't feel pressured to have a thousand followers overnight?

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience?
Starting a reading blog has only made my wishlist longer, it's even worse than reading this type of blog!

Is there anything you’d like to tell us about your blog?

My blog is nothing fancy, and it's pretty inconsistent as far as what I read, but I try to have fun with it and share my love of reading within each review!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
My teaser:
"'Of course. He's my clone. Tell me, Mi Vida, do you like cookies?'"
"It was called Mexico when he was a boy, he said."

From page 57 of Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review in Brief: Women of the Night

Title: Women of the Night
Author: Edited by Martin H. Greenberg
Themes: vampires, demons, death, love, aging, friendship

Table of Contents: Introduction-John Helfers
One for the Road-Stephen King
Snow, Glass, Apples-Neil Gaiman
In Darkness, Angels-Eric Van Lustbader
The Cookie Lady-Philip K. Dick
Food Chain-Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Victims-Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Cafe Endless: Spring Rain-Nancy Holder
Bite-Me-Not Or, Fleur de Fur-Tanith Lee
Queen of the Night-Gene Wolf
Yrena-P. D. Cacek
Sister Death-Jane Yolen
The Carpetbagger-Susan Shwartz
This Town Ain't Big Enough-Tanya Huff
Claim-Jumpin' Woman, You Got a Stake in My Heart-Esther M. Friesner
Faith Like Wine-Roxanne Longstreet
Do Not Hasten to Bid Me Adieu-Norman Partridge

Plot: The story of the vampire is one that has been told and retold throughout the centuries, often undergoing radical changes along the way, until what once was a terrible, bestial creature of darkness has been transformed into a sensual, passionate creature that is often misunderstood by the world at large. Most often the realm of male authors writing about male vampires, the genre has seen a refreshing swing over the last century toward authors of both sexes exploring the other side of the vampiric gender-the women of the night.

Upon closer examination, it would seem that women are just as suited to become vampires as men are, since they can be just as cunning, ruthless, and predatory as any male. The sixteen stories collected within these pages are among the very best of their kind, from many of the best fantasy and horror authors writing today. From an encounter with a predatory spouse in a New England storm to a continuation of the Dracula story featuring a completely different tale of love, longing, and loss, these stories explore both what it is to be female, human-and vampire-often all at the same time.

My Thoughts: I actually purchased this book from the clearance shelf of Barnes & Noble two or so years ago, and I suppose I could use it for my Off the Shelf! or Into the Old World reading challenges...but I didn't want to wait until January to read it once I rediscovered it! Honestly, I think I may have read it before and just don't really remember it. I normally don't think reviewing a short story collection is a great idea, but thought I might as well give it a go. The plan is to see how a review goes if I just write a few sentences about my impressions of the overall book, and mention a few stories that stood out.

Vampires, blood sucking or youth stealing or otherwise, are naturally the main focus of Women of the Night. One would think that women would usually be said demons, but that isn't always the case in this eclectic collection of tales. Some stories last a few pages, some last several, but all had unusual twists or plots for vampire tales. Some even had romantic aspects that didn't remind me of Twilight, and so I was relieved. Others were pure adventure or horror. No stories are "gore-fests," and none are exercises in extremes/shocks. But Women of the Night is simply a solid collection of vampire/demon stories for adult readers (although older YA readers could probably enjoy it as well!) that provides a wide range of motifs, characters, and themes.

Some of my favorites were Tanith Lee's somewhat surreal story of a vampire and scullery maid in a besieged town, the backwoods vampire town found in Stephen King's "One for the Road," and Neil Gaiman's unsettling retelling of Snow White.

Recommendation: If you've a hankering for a mild horror anthology, some vampire stories, or just an entertaining read of supernatural creatures then this may be for you.

Similar Reads: Dark Dance by Tanith Lee, Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice

Greenberg, Martin H., ed. Women of the Night. New York: Fall River Press, 2007.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

End of 2010 Survey!

From The Perpetual-Page Turner comes this fun survey reflecting on a year in books!

1. Best book of 2010?
Um, tough one! I'm going to steal Jamie's idea and divide this into (a) Best YA book of 2010 and (b) Best adult book of 2010! It was still so hard to get just one...but I knew if I started listing it just wouldn't stop (no self-control!).

(a) Pegasus by Robin McKinley
(b) The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

2. Worst book of 2010?
I have been lucky this year, the worst reading I attempted in 2010 was only "meh" and not horrible. A few "just ok" books were: Flower Children by Maxine Swann, Tennyson by Lesley M. Blume. There were other books I read that were "just ok" but...I started them knowing they would be, so it wasn't disappointing (i.e. Charlaine Harris, Meg Cabot, etc.)

3. Most disappointing book of 2010?
Pricksongs & Descants, Fictions by Robert Coover. I really did want to love it. It's supposed to have fairy tale motifs, unique short stories; it was highly recommended to me. I'm just glad I didn't buy it, instead got it through Link + at the library. At first I thought my expectations were too high (I had been hearing about it for a few years before finally reading it), but then I decided no, it was just not at all what I wanted to read. I felt so dirty and uncomfortable reading it, even during the stories that weren't about pedophiles or sawing people in half. It wasn't necessarily the content that made me feel that way either...just the very sensual and gripping way it was written. I can see it's appeal, but it was not for me, big disappointment.

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010?
This one might be a two-way tie. The first is The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. I admit, it's the first Lowry I have ever read, but it was so biting and amusing and clever that I fell in love when I was expecting a "just ok" kid's book. The second was Battling the Inland Sea by David Igler. This is an environmental history monograph about Miller and Lux's influence in the environment of the West coast in the late nineteenth century. Intriguing, well written, and well...and interesting topic with lots of neat old photos. I read this for class (obviously no high hopes) but really got into it.

5. Book you recommended to people the most in 2010?
There were two books I recommended a lot this year. Not all of them I actually read this year. The first: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, which I read last year and LOVED. I also recommended Pegasus by Robin McKinley to all my immediate family once I read it (we all love YA).

6. Best series you discovered in 2010?
Well I started the Percy Jackson series, but it was just ok. I did read Patricia C. Wrede's The Thirteenth Child, which is the first in a planned series called Frontier Magic. I really enjoyed it, it was slightly steampunk, slightly swords and sorcery fantasy, all sorts of entertaining.
7. Favorite new (to me) authors you discovered in 2010?
Tanith Lee, first. But also fell in love with Jedediah Berry, Lois Lowry, Ellen Kushner, and Patricia C. Wrede.

8. Most hilarious read of 2010?
This one is a toughie too! Probably Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters. Just imagining the situations and characters...hilarious in a bizarre and contrary way.

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book of 2010?
The Man from Saigon by Marti Leimbach definitely had thrilling moments, and I believe I read it in one I couldn't put it down. The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee was also jam-packed with adventure, and after reading it I read about a million of her other books (starting with the other two in that trilogy)!

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010?
I love, love, love Robin McKinley's books. Pegasus was sort of a big deal for me, I was so looking forward to it, then I was lucky enough to win it on LibraryThing's Early Reviewers (um, pretty sure it was destiny!). Luckily, the book itself didn't let me down.

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010?

I am a sucker for good, or at least interesting, cover art. A few favorites from this year included Berry's The Manual of Detection, Wrede's The Thirteenth Child, and Stefan Brijs' The Angel Maker.

12. Most memorable character in 2010?
Zenia from Margaret Atwood's retelling of Bluebeard/The Robber Bridegroom, The Robber Bride. Zenia is a duplicitous vamp who steals her "friends'" men and son, and likes to play games over decades (apparently).

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010?
Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz, even in translation it is lyrical and poignant.

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010?
This would probably have to be The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee, since it so heavily influenced most of my pleasure reading in 2010. It also inspired me to read her entire collection of writings. I also read Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, and still find myself thinking about the world she created in that novel.

15. Book you can't believe you waited until 2010 to finally read?
Villette by Charlotte Bronte. Considering a read Jane Eyre in grade five, and was first introduced to Villette in the introduction, I feel that it's fair to say that I should have read this much sooner. I have read that Villette is the under-appreciated masterpiece from Charlotte Bronte, one over which she slaved and was immensely personal. The story is familiar enough, being of a destitute but intelligent young woman who seeks employment at a girls school and falls in love with an aloof and rude professor. But it was so well written and heart-felt, I wish I had read this sooner so that I could be re-reading it by now.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010-40

Recently NPR aired a Guilty Pleasures episode where writers talked about the books they loved but were embarrassed to be seen reading. It got me thinking about all those books I love but don't necessarily want other people to know I love them. Given that the holiday season is filled with eating the foods we love (but shouldn't eat), parties that last far into the evenings (way past our bedtimes), sipping those holiday drinks (fat with calories but oh so delicious), and curling up in front of our fireplaces with books that take us away from the holiday stresses...I thought it might be fun to share our guilty pleasures with other readers. So, for this week's Weekly Geek post share:
  • The Books that you Love but are Embarrassed to be Seen Reading
  • Tell us WHY you love them
  • And (just for fun) tell us your favorite guilty snack that goes perfectly with all that guilty reading
Don't forget to come back and give us a direct link to your post...then check out other Geeker's guilty pleasures!

Lovely topic! I don't really feel embarrassed to be seen reading anything, but sometimes I am painfully aware of the fact that I am reading something like genre fiction when I should be reading insightful monographs or some educational tract for school.

1. Books I Love but am Embarrassed to be Seen Reading
a. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee
It's YA, it's sci-fi, it's a romance. Despite appearances, I usually don't lean towards these categories. It's a bit cheesey and predictable and melodramatic. But that's probably why I love it. It's so melodramatic and "serious" despite the rather ridiculous premises...but it's so well written and well-imagined that it's hard not to get sucked into the strange romance and familial drama.
b. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Ugh, it's trashy romance that's "literary" because it's kinda old. No one likes it or takes it seriously. But I was sucked in. I cry every time Melanie dies when I read it. I dislike basically every character, I'm bored by Civil War stories, but I want Tara to be rebuilt and the two despicable main characters to end up together.
c. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
I debated adding this to the list. I don't actually like this book, or anything about this series actually. Yet...I read them all, it was like a train wreck. I had to see the final cataclysmic explosion. Ugh. It was even worse then I feared. I can see why some people like it. I think. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mindset when I tackled the series?

2. Guilty Snacks for Guilty Reading
Gingerbread men! Can't have just one, and they are so silly looking and seasonally specific! But also sables and M&M cookies, or maybe even donut holes...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Booking Through Thursday-Crappy

Do you ever crave reading crappy books?

Why yes, yes I do. I read crappy books all the time in order to maintain sanity when I am inundated with stuffy historical monographs for school. Why read theorists like Bhaba, Renan, or Foucault when I could be reading something with action, adventure, sometimes even a plot! Best of all, no dictionary or cross-referencing required. I love me some crappy books. I love this topic as well!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010-39

Do you plan on participating in any reading challenges in 2011? Are you planning on hosting any reading challenges? Perhaps you'd like to share an idea for a reading challenge--to see if there is any interest! Share with us which challenges look tempting to you! (You don't have to "officially" join any of the challenges for this weekly geek. Just let us know which ones you'd be most interested in.) You might want to spend some time browsing A Novel Challenge. Are there any challenges you are looking forward to that haven't been announced yet? Regardless of your challenge plans, are you starting to plan ahead for next year? Do you make lists or goals? Are you a person who enjoys reading more if it is structured? Or are you all about being free to read what you want, when you want?

Normally I am a "read what I want when I want" to kind of gal. However, this means I have a lot of books I never quite get around to-which is why I decided to jump on board with the Off the Shelf! challenge for 2011. The goal: read 30 books from my TBR pile in 2011. What I liked about this challenge was that you could choose your commitment, I just thought 30 books sounded like a good number! To help me, I created a list of my TBR pile and added it as a page to this blog. As I complete each one, I can cross it off the list and feel productive!

If you are a hoarder like me, I recommend trying this challenge out with me next year!

I had thought that that would be enough for me...but then I checked out A Novel Challenge as WG suggested...and I couldn't resist just one more! So I decided to dive into Into The Old World Reading Challenge hosted by Splash of Our Worlds and My Love Affair With Books. Basically, this challenge is all about reading older books in 2011. However, they really don't have to be that old...just published before 2009!

A Tanith Lee challenge, now that's another thing I could get behind. Might make one up for myself!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Booking Through Thursday-Thankful

It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S. of A. so …
What authors and books are you most thankful for?

I am most thankful for Robin McKinley, Tanith Lee, and Gregory Frost's Fitcher's Brides.

McKinley's Pegasus reignited my love for young adult fiction, and reminded me of just how much I loved Beauty and Deerskin.

Tanith Lee is a brilliant storyteller, and I really got into her novels this year, she is a "find" that I am very thankful for! Her characters haunt me. Her worlds nag at my subconscious.

Frost's Fitcher's Brides is something I actually read quite a while ago, but it is the first fairy tale retelling set in America that I actually liked. It was excellent. Great characters, great story, great writing.

All three of my authors/books that I am thankful for have settled ideas, characters, and settings deep within my psyche. Maybe that isn't a good thing, but it keeps my thoughts interesting, and for that I am thankful.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cookbook Review: Healthy Cooking for Two

Strangely enough, the cover image here is completely different then the copy I own. Also strange, I can find no images of the book-cover I have. Even stranger, the copy I have still lists Cornish Game Hens and Mango Salsa as the cover recipes even though my cover has a bean salad and crab cakes on it. Huh.

While weird, it doesn't deter my rather glowing review. Although I haven't tried every recipe in Healthy Cooking for Two (Or Just You) ...there are over 200. Most actually look appealing to me, but certainly not everything (I don't cook seafood this far inland...I just don't). I have tried five at this point, however, and have been extremely pleased with each. If I make more, and my opinion changes, I will certainly update this review!

Of course, I was too busy eating to take pictures of my pretty foodstuffs.

The recipes I did try out were:
  • Roasted Greek Potatoes (p. 247)
  • New Boston Baked Beans (p. 143)
  • New Potato Salad with White Wine Vinaigrette (p. 97)
  • Carrots in Lemon-Walnut Vinaigrette (p. 92)
  • Szechuan Chicken in Lettuce Bundles (p. 159)
Yes they are mostly side-dishes, but that's what I have the most trouble producing come meal time! It's easy to come up with a main dish that sounds good, but whatever should I serve with it?

The Roasted Greek Potatoes were delicious, although next time I would probably use less lemon and extend the cooking time (I must have cut my potatoes a bit thick because when I made this recipe I had to nearly double it's stay in the oven).

My husband and I thought the New Boston Baked Beans were just about the best thing ever. Especially nice and chilled. While it certainly doesn't look appetizing (it is baked beans after all) it is so satisfying and sweet and tangy. It certainly doesn't taste low-calorie but it is.

The New Potato Salad was also quite good, with a great consistency (not too mushy) but once again I think I would cut down on the lemon.

The Carrots in Lemon-Walnut Vinaiggrette were crunchy and refreshing, a basic shredded carrot salad that could accompany sandwiches, chicken, beans, or just about anything.

I admit that I skipped out on the lettuce bundles, and so Szechuan Chicken is probably a better name for what I whipped up the other day. To be honest, it had a bit of bite to it that the lettuce would have really complemented and I regret being too lazy to wrap the bundles! This stir-fry recipe includes chicken, fresh ginger, peanuts, green onions and peppers. It has a lot of flavor for very little work, just as the subtitle claims.

Price writes a very personal cookbook, with each recipe she shares an anecdote or origin story for its inspiration. However, it never gets "too personal" or weird, and I enjoyed sitting and reading through the recipes. Price provides two columns for each recipe, conveniently listing the amount of ingredients you will need depending on the amount of servings you wish to create (usually one person, two people, or four people). I highly recommend this for anyone who cooks for a small family (1-4 people), who is trying to eat healthier but still maintain a varied and exciting diet, or who just wants something dependable and easy to whip up.

New Boston Baked Beans (From Healthy Cooking for Two by Frances Price)
2 servings

1/2 small onion
16 oz canned Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup water
2 TBSP molasses
2 TBSP ketchup
1/2 tsp dry mustard
pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 300F.
Put the onion in a deep 3-cup casserole and cover it with the beans.
In a small saucepan, combine the water, molasses, ketchup, mustard, and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour the mixture over the beans.
Set the casserole on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 1 hour without stirring, until the beans are glazed on top and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Serve hot or lukewarm.

Per serving: 248 calories, 1 g. total fat, 0 g. saturated fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 171 mg. sodium, 11.8 g. protein, 49.6 g. carbohydrates, 7.4 g. dietary fiber.

Price, Frances. Healthy Cooking for Two (Or Just You): Low-Fat Recipes with Half the Fuss and Double the Taste. (location isn't listed!): Rodale, 1995.

Off the Shelf! Update

I feel the need to update my Off the Shelf! reading challenge. So far, I am quite slow putting together my TBR list! But I hope to have a review for one of my Off the Shelf! books soon after New Years.

I still have a year left however (January 1, 2011 to December 21, 2011), to finish at least thirty book that have been collecting dust on my shelf (well, stacked on the floor, on my desk, on the shelves, in the shelves, jammed in the closet...)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Review: Fannie's Last Supper

Title: Fannie's Last Supper: Two Years, Twelve Courses, and Creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook
Author: Chris Kimball
Themes: Food, Victoriana, Boston, Entertaining, Food History

Plot: In the mid-1990s, Chris Kimball moved into an 1859 Victorian townhouse on the South End of Boston and, as he became accustomed to the quirks and peculiarities of the house and neighborhood, he began to wonder what it was like to live and cook in that era. In particular, he became fascinated with Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Published in 1896, it was the best-selling cookbook of its age--full of odd, long-forgotten ingredients, fascinating details about how the recipes were concocted, and some truly amazing dishes (as well as some awful ones).

In Fannie's Last Supper, Kimball describes the experience of re-creating one of Fannie Farmer's amazing menus: a twelve-course Christmas dinner that she served at the end of the century. Kimball immersed himself in composing twenty different recipes--including rissoles, Lobster à l'Américaine, Roast Goose with Chestnut Stuffing and Jus, and Mandarin Cake--with all the inherent difficulties of sourcing unusual animal parts and mastering many now-forgotten techniques, including regulating the heat on a coal cookstove and boiling a calf's head without its turning to mush, all sans food processor or oven thermometer. Kimball's research leads to many hilarious scenes, bizarre tastings, and an incredible armchair experience for any reader interested in food and the Victorian era.

Fannie's Last Supper includes the dishes from the dinner and revised and updated recipes from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. A culinary thriller. it offers a fresh look at something that most of us take for granted--the American table.

My Thoughts: I received this book from Early Reviewers, but didn't really know what to expect-a memoir? A cookbook? Or something more akin to "Julie and Julia?" While I wasn't sure in the first few "courses" I decided I really enjoyed the style of Kimball's book by the time he discussed "brain balls" and making gelatin from boiled calves' feet. This is a combination food history, cookbook, as well as a brief telling of a very grand 12 course feast.

Kimball decides to prepare a 12 course Victorian (well, American circa 1880s) feast in his vintage Boston house on traditional coal/wood burning ovens. Naturally, such a feat required two years of prep in which recipes are tried, methods are discussed, a "cast" is assembled, and appropriate dinnerware/silverware is found. But this makes up only about a third of the book. Another third is entirely a history of food, etiquette, science, technology, and cooking patterns in American (mostly Boston) homes in the late nineteenth century. The final third is made up of a select few handpicked recipes. The book is divided into courses, beginning with the punch served pre-dinner and ending with wine and cheese. While it may sound disjointed and perhaps a little frivolous and self-indulgent I found this book very enjoyable, and Kimball reflects on some serious issues as well as the frivolous.

As a lover of history, of food, of cookbooks, and of making as much as possible from scratch-I found this to be an entertaining as well as educational book. I closed the book far more excited then when I cracked it open.

Recommendation: While I loved this book, I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. But, if you love food, cooking, the nineteenth century, entertaining, or just unusually memoirs I think Fannie's Last Supper worth checking out.

Similar Reads: While I haven't read either, Julie & Julia by Julie Powell and My Life in France by Julia Child both sound like similar reads. Surprisingly, I have not read anything similar to this before!

Kimball, Chris. Fannie's Last Supper: Two Years, Twelve Courses, and Creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook. New York: Hyperion, 2010.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010-38

This weeks topic: Antique Books.
This is not something I have a lot of.
In fact, this is something I only have one of. That is of course, only if you can include a rapidly deteriorating book of poetry that my mother took from my grandmother then eventually passed along to me. It's very pretty to look at, and that is probably why I have kept it, since the poetry itself doesn't really appeal to me. I've never really been able to "get" poetry, and this one is no exception.
This treasured tome is an 1884 hardcover edition of The Poetical Works of Jean Ingelow: Including the Shepard Lady and Other Poems.

I would love to expand my collection of antique books. The library I was interning in last Spring actually had a whole room of rare and antique books that had been donated, the oldest one was a series from the seventeenth century. This library was in a private high school. All they did was sit on the shelves (sad), and were not properly cared for since the librarian did not have the funding or permission to do anything with the collection. One of my jobs was to occasionally dust down the whole room and each volume. I admit I did some dilly-dallying so I could admire each one.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review: The Manual of Detection

On Reviews
They are harder than they at first seem.

: The Manual of Detection, a Novel
Author: Jedediah Berry
Themes: Routine, Mystery, Dreams, Carnies, Romance, Detectives
Plot: Armed with only an umbrella and a curious handbook, an unlikey detective must untangle a string of crimes committed in and through people's dreams.
In an unnamed city always slick with rain, Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency. But when the illustrious detective Travis Sivart turns up murdered, Unwin is suddenly promoted to detective and must solve the mystery himself, aided only by the Manual of Detection. Sivart's greatest cases-including The Three Deaths of Colonel Baker and The Man Who Stole November Twelfth-it turns out, were solved incorrectly, and Unwin must enter the dreams of a murdered man and face a criminal mastermind bent on total control of a slumbering city.

My Thoughts:
While I had read and (thought I) understood the plot summary provided on the back of this trade paperback, I was nevertheless surprised and delighted with the odd twists and turns in The Manual of Detection. I had thought I picked up some fanciful detective noir book (and was quite proud of myself for trying something new!) and instead read a delightful piece of modern fiction that happens to have a detective and a mystery.

Unwin was a lovable and proud bureaucrat in an ominously large detective agency in a dreary city that seemed to be London or San Francisco or Seattle...or anywhere really. There is a rather large cast of supporting characters that slip in and out of scenes. All of them are fleshed out, and probably merit more attention then they are given in this slim novel. While the plot is spelled out on the back of the book, it will take the reader by surprise as it unfolds. The cast of characters is delightful, and to be honest I love anything that features "old style carnies" of the shady and malevolent persuasion.

Wonderful characterization of flawed and three dimensional people, archetypal settings, and a delightfully unexpected story make this one of my favorite reads of the year. Perhaps even better sicne I was able to find it for $1.99 at Borders in a Buy-One-Get-One-Free (BOGO) bin (okay, I ended up getting six books!).

Random Passage:
"Mr. Lamech," Unwin said again, crossing the threshold, "I am sorry to have to bother you, sir. It's Charles Unwin, clerk, floor fourteen. I've come about the matter of the promotion. I believe there may have been some kind of error (p. 23)."

Recommendation: I would recommend this to basically anyone, unless they didn't like a bit of whimsy or "unreality" in their novels.

Similar Reads: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, White Noise by Don DeLillo

Berry, Jedediah. The Manual of Detection. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

Weekly Geeks 2010-37

Do you read for a few minutes here and there?

Do you put aside certain nights or times of the day to read?

How do you minimize family interruptions?

I have yet to figure out how to plan my reading well, to get reading time in at all!
It seems to happen in spurts. I won't read for weeks, then spend a week doing nothing at all but reading. Between school and family obligations it seems impossible to even get homework done, much less leisure reading. That said, I find it impossible to just read for a few minutes here and there-it just isn't enough! I try to get work done early enough to just dedicate an entire night to reading, but that rarely happens...I usually read then desperately try to catch up on everything else the next day instead!
Unfortunately, in my house, there is no way to minimize family interruptions. In fact, I would say that the only time I am consistently (and I mean every few minutes with asinine stuff) interrupted is when I am trying to read. I look forward to reading everyone else's posts this week for ideas on how to properly fit in time for reading!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Off the Shelf! Challenge

I love reading challenges. Sure, I don't always finish them as well as I would like. But I have high hopes for reading in 2011 and I am already honing in on the New Year optimism! One challenge that I could really benefit from is the Off the Shelf! Challenge which forces you to tackle that large TBR pile of books you have purchased and then neglected. Let's face it, I'm a hoarder, and I have LOTS of unread beauties laying about. Right now I'm aiming to "make a dint (30 books)" but I'll be content to "try (15 books)." All the books used in this challenge have to be purchased before you start the challenge! I can't just buy a new book and then use it for this (no being sneaky). If anyone else is interested in doing this with me, check it out here.


I decided to be more focused in my content and separate my reading from my other beauty obsessions and make a second blog! So here it is. All books, maybe even cookbooks. Just a heads up!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010-36

I wanted to talk this week about book recommendations. Where do you go for book recommendations? How often do you challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone? How often do you read outside your favorite genre? How often do you try a new-to-you author? How often do you take a chance? This week, I'd like to offer you a few opportunities.

So your assignment this week, if you choose to play along, is to ask your readers for recommendations. Choose a genre--any genre--and ask for recommendations. You can be as general or as specific as you like. Consider it as an "I'm looking for...."

The second part of the assignment is to write a list of recommendations and share them with your readers. Choose a genre--any genre--and share your list of favorites. I think of this as "If you're looking for...."

I have to admit that I usually just pick up books almost at random, and rarely use any type of resource for book recommendations! Just like everything else on the internet, I usually begin at one book review, and just click and click and click through a million different links until I stumble across something interesting. Of course, then I have to be able to find that book cheap or find it in my it's rare I actually read a book that I have heard of before I pick it up physically. Most of the time, I go to the bookstore or library and peruse the clearance bins or stacks until something catches my attention! I judge very much on cover and cover blurb I have to say.

I don't really have a favorite genre...just genres I don't really care for (i.e. westerns, hard core romances, detective/crime). I try to read a variety of books, fiction and nonfiction although I do tend to stick to history monographs and Young Adult or fantasy-ish type fiction. Besides Tanith Lee, I rarely stick to one author however, so I guess I read a variety on the author-front! But I am ready to "take a chance!"

So, readers, and my lovely first follower, what would you recommend from any of those three genres (Westerns, Romances, Detective/Crime fiction) for me? I would love to expand my reading horizons.

If you are looking for any good fairy tale books, I have several to recommend! These are all books I have personally read, and recommend for anyone.

If you are interested in the study of fairy tales I would recommend:
1. Anything and everything by Maria Tatar, especially The Classic Fairy Tales and Secrets Beyond the Door: The Story of Bluebeard and His Wives.
2. No Go the Bogeyman or From the Beast to the Blonde by Marina Warner

If you are interested in short story fairy tale retellings I would recommend:
1.The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
2. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's Fairy Tale series of books, with titles such as Black Heart, Ivory Bones each book is a collection of short stories and poems that reflect or retell fairy tales.
If you are interested in full novels that retell a fairy tale, take a look at:
1. Fitcher's Brides by Gregory Frost (Bluebeard/Fitcher's Birds)
2. Beauty by Robin McKinley (YA) (Beauty and the Beast)
3. Deerskin by Robin McKinley (Donkeyskin/Beerskin/Deerskin)
4. Arabian Nights and Days by Naquib Mahfouz (1001 Arabian Nights)
5. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (The Six Swans)
6. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (The Twelve Dancing Princesses)

Book Review: Thomas the Rhymer

Ellen Kushner has written fantasy novels, poetry, short stories, and plays, and has done some solo spoken word projects. Thomas the Rhymer (1990) was Kushner's second novel and won the World Fantasy Award and the Mythopoeic Award. (From Kushner's webpage here). (Cover image found here.)

Since it has been a few weeks since I finished this, and am just now getting around to reviewing it I at first that it would only be a "mini" review, but have found I have a lot to say about it! Perhaps stewing over it has helped? This is also sort of related to this week's Weekly Geeks topic!

I checked this out from my university library (well, actually I had it ordered from another library since mine did not carry it but those are just details!) and put off starting it for about a week. When I did eventually pick it up, it took me the first few chapters to really get involved in the story but by the end of the novel I wasn't ready to give up on the characters.

Title: Thomas the Rhymer
Author: Ellen Kushner
Themes: friendship, love, music, magic, fairies, quests
Plot: A minstrel lives by his words, his tunes, and sometimes by his lies. But when the bold and gifted young Thomas the Rhymer awakens the desire of the powerful Queen of Elfland, he finds that words are not enough to keep him from his fate. .As the Queen sweeps him far from the people he has known and loved into her realm of magic, opulence-and captivity-he learns at last what it is to be truly human. When he returns to his home with the Queen's parting gift, his great task will be to seek out the girl he loved and wronged, and offer her at last the tongue that cannot lie.

My Thoughts: First of all, I feel that the book's official plot overstates Thomas' "task" to "seek out the girl he loved and wronged..." When reading Thomas the Rhymer romance seems to come second to his new dedication to, and the role of, "the tongue that cannot lie." With that in mind, I would classify this book more of an adventure/fantasy than a romance, which seems to be a selling point in official plot descriptions. That aside, Kushner has taken the traditional ballad/tale of the captured minstrel of great beauty and skill (with the harp, singing, and the ladies) and turned it into living, breathing characters and a very real (vaguely medieval) Europe (I assume Scotland, since that is supposed to be where the ballad comes from?). While I had a hard time believing Thomas' change of heart, I felt that he was basically within his "character" throughout the novel, and instead found some of the supporting characters to be a bit flat.
The novel goes through four narrators, each with a slightly different voice, although I have to admit that Gavin's voice was my favorite because it seemed to be the most unique, and defined his character clearly.
I also found that there was some ambiguity around the Queen of Elfland's challenge that was never cleared up, and it certainly bothered me while I was reading Thomas. Perhaps I had not read carefully enough, but the challenge in which Thomas was a part, did not make sense to me. With that said, I enjoyed this book immensely and bored my family to death updating them on the plot as I continued through the chapters. Of course, I love fairy tales and any sort of retelling, so I was bound to love Kushner's Thomas despite the fact that I couldn't really relate to the characters. The story was well told, and Kushner brought all the people and places to life on the page.

Random Passage: "Since the story wouldn't leave me, I decided to play with it. It might make at least the first half of a ballad, with its sorry tale of jealousy and murder. And there were images that touched me: the young wife burying her dead husband and child alone at night; her weary walk to the king's door...Harp in hand, I began to pluck at the words and the tune (p. 129)."

Recommendation: I would recommend this novel if you like any of the following: Fantasy stories, Elfland stories, fairy-tale/ballad retellings. I don't want to say that everyone should read this book, but I think a great many people would enjoy it!

Similar Reads: Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip, Tam Lin by Pamela Dean*

Kusher, Ellen. Thomas the Rhymer. New York: Bantam Books, 2004.

* I haven't actually read Tam Lin, although I own a copy, but the story-lines have obvious similarities!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010-35

The books I waited too long to read...
As readers we all have our own way of deciding how fast or how slow we add books to our TBR pile and how fast we get through them.

We make list of books, we get recommendations, we drool over the cover art or just hang around in the book section reading excerpt all under the guise of making a decision about what we will delve into next.
If you are like me YOU WILL HAVE A TBR PILE, no if, and or but about it. My print pile is just about everywhere and my ebooks are taking up too much space on my hard drive.

That said…

Once in a while I read a book I have had for years and I think “How the hell did I miss this one? Why did I not read this one before?

Is there a book that has hang around your reading pile for far too long before you got to it, A book that probably got packed away until you accidentally got to it or a book that you read a few pages in and never got back to.

If so share or ask your readers about that book that really made an impression on them (good or bad) after having it or hearing about it for far too long?

Sadly most of the books I put off for too long are books I eventually regretted reading at all, maybe I shouldn't read books that I keep putting off!
Two examples:
Twilight (yes, I read all of them)
Harry Potter (yes, I read all of them...the first was good)

There have been a few books that I put off and put off that I eventually read and loved. That for some reason I kept returning to the TBR pile but loved once I read them.
Villette by Charlotte Brontë
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee (I had read the Four BEE books and The Silver Metal Lover before...but this book kicked off the Tanith Lee frenzy I am still on)

Villette was atmospheric and character-driven, slightly less gothic and paranormal than good old Jane Eyreand the better for it. I had expected this to be inferior to the more famous Jane but I would highly recommend this romance to anyone who enjoys the Brontës or Victorian romances.

The Bell Jar is always touted as the girl's verion of Catcher in the Rye which I read in elementary school and enjoyed. So this kept going back to the bottom of the pile. When I did rediscover it in my TBR, I found it superior to Salinger's and far more enjoyable (I don't think it's because I'm a girl either, I think it's just a better, more adult, book).

The Birthgrave is crappy fantasy/sci-fi from the 1970s at its best. Excellent (if chronologically inconsistent in just one case) worldbuilding and characterization; readers really get into the characters "heads." While it is just a "meh" book while you are reading it, fun and exciting but nothing to write home about, you realise its excellence when you can't stop thinking about the world and characters for days after finishing it. The book acts as a stand alone, although it is the first in a trilogy.
(image from here!)

This Weekly Geeks has inspired me to re-evaluate my TBR at least!

Book Review: Pegasus

Title: Pegasus
Author: Robin McKinley
Themes: friendship, responsibility, court intrigue, magic, language
Plot: Because of a thousand-year-old alliance between humans and pagasi, Princess Sylviianel is ceremonially bound to Ebon, her own Pegasus, on her twelfth birthday. The two species coexist peacefully, despite the language barriers separating them. Humans and pegasi both rely on specially-trained Speaker magicians as the only means of real communication.
But its different for Sylvi and Ebon. They can understand each other. They quickly grow close-so close that their bond becomes a threat to the status quo-and possibly to the future safety of their two nations.

My Thoughts: I have enjoyed all of McKinley's books that I have picked up (Sunshine, Deerskin, Beauty) and am prone to liking fairy-tale-ish books. McKinley always provides great world-building and convincing characters, and Pegasus was no exception. Every character introduced was its own living, breathing entity-not a flat character on the page. While the book is "light" reading, it is enjoyable and intriguing. The politics, history, and parallel societies of humans and pegasi are convincing and captivating-and the intrigue makes one eager to reach the conclusion of the book. While I don't want to spoil the book for anyone, the only slightly disappointing part I found was the lack of characterization for the books villain, but perhaps he was just supposed to be mysterious and angry, I don't know and expect I will find out in the next book.
Unfortunately, Pegasus ends in a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers! I literally said aloud "No! Why?" when I flipped the last page over and realized there was no more. I will probably pick up the next book just to find out what happens, since I was so "sucked into" the first, despite the fact that cliffhangers usually turn me off from a book/series.

Recommendation: Highly recommended to anyone who likes young adult fantasy or "court" stories.

Similar Reads: Deerskin by Robin McKinley, Chalice by Robin McKinley, Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, Black Unicorn by Tanith Lee

**I did receive this (uncorrect galley) for free through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.**