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.**