Friday, June 29, 2007


I think I'd like to take a look at the books I've acquired lately.

The first stack is all from mooches and swaps except for The Other Eden. I've been reading so much about Snowbooks lately and was thrilled to find this at Half Price Books. The top three books by Monica Dickens came from an American woman that spent time in the UK some years ago. I'd been hoping to come across a copy of One Pair of Hands for some time and the others are the icing on the cake. Nutmeg wrote so eloquently about Gift From the Sea, I just had to procure a copy for myself. I am already enjoying just opening it up and reading passages at random. The book on the bottom, Ordinary Lives, A Hundred Years Ago is a Virago. Published in 1982, it is filled with wonderful photographs and first hand accounts of life prior to 1900.

The second stack is made up mostly of birthday gifts. In a Sunburned Country was a recent impulse buy and I'm currently about halfway through it. The Allison Weir book Innocent Traitor is her latest release. I've read lots of her nonfiction books about Henry VIII. I was happy to see this book about Lady Jane Grey since she has been a sort of pet subject for me ever since the movie in the 80s starring Helena Bonham Carter. Real Cooking at the bottom was a birthday present to myself. I just cannot get enough of Nigel Slater's writing. His next book looks to be about English Cooking and I don't expect it to be published here. Book Depository, here I come.

This last photograph shows the titles here a bit better. I've been thumbing through How to Run Your Home Without Help and I'm exhausted just looking over it. I have a new appreciation lately for all my modern conveniences.

This will be a working weekend for me, so I will not be getting too much reading done. Bill Bryson's book is certain to keep me entertained during my meal breaks. I'll be eating that wheatberry salad again. Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On my mind today

I read about this amazing site called Better World on Book Chase. I'll be honest, I have not read their entire site but what I've gathered is this: they are collecting used books that might otherwise go into landfills and selling them at low prices. They have raised loads of money for literacy and educational organizations and have donated books to those who are lacking them. Do check them out. I found five used books I was looking for and placed my first order. One fantastic part I haven't mentioned - free shipping for US customers, and low shipping for international orders.

I'm really interested in a couple of books written up in the recent Book-of-the-Month Club insert. Mary Modern is written by a first time novelist Camille DeAngelis. The booklist description per amazon:

The Morrigan family mansion exudes the stuff of memory--of Lucy's childhood and families long gone--with its multigenerational artifacts and memorabilia adorning every shelf, wall, and drawer. After her parents' deaths, Lucy, who has always lived in the house, now takes in boarders in order to stay on and continue her father's work as a geneticist. His basement lab contains all the elements necessary to bring his dream--human cloning--to fruition, and she means to try. After years of study and preparation, Lucy sets legal and ethical considerations aside and decides to clone her beloved grandmother, Mary, and carry the fetus in her own womb. When the experiment goes horribly wrong, Lucy's mentor helps her use a mysterious contraption to finish incubating Grandma. But this is only the first problem. Once acclimated, the modern Mary yearns for her lover from another time and asks Lucy to clone him, too. This compelling and horrific debut novel applies modern science to Shelley's Frankenstein, revealing again the awful truth about the relationship of creator to creation. Lucy's story of love and ambition will appeal not only to fans of gothic romance but also to book groups, whose discussions of bioethics, social responsibility, personal freedom, and the biological nature of memory will last into the wee hours. Jennifer Baker

The Companion is by Ann Granger who looks to be an established mystery author who I've never read. Again, the booklist description from Amazon:

Seasoned mystery-author Granger introduces an atmospheric new series set in Victorian London. When Lizzie Martin accepts a position as a paid companion, she moves from rural Derbyshire to London. As she adapts to her new environment, she also finds herself being inextricably drawn into a murder investigation. The corpse, it seems, belongs to the girl Lizzie replaced as companion. Joining forces with an old friend from back home, Lizzie puts her own life in danger to unmask a murderer. Historical-mystery fans will appreciate the great attention Granger pays to period detail as she evokes a suitably gritty nineteenth-century London. Margaret Flanagan

Thanks to Lesley, who reminded me that I'd wanted to watch The 1900s House. I borrowed it from the library and it provided me with wonderful entertainment. I'm sure I often romanticize this period of time in my mind, but to see the reality (so to speak) of daily life is an eye opener. I loved the teenage daughter's honesty in admitting how bored she was, as I suspect many young ladies were. I highly recommend this, if you are interested in this time period.

And finally, I was in heaven this past Sunday at the farmer's market to find fresh locally grown garlic. So fresh it hasn't even dried yet, and you have to peel the juicy peel away from the cloves. So divine. I used some of it in a paste to marinade a flank steak the other night. It's the little things, isn't it?

Monday, June 25, 2007

I finally finished it.....and I'm so glad I did.

I've been feeling a bit quiet lately and one of the reasons, I think, is that I just needed to finish something. That something turned out to be Linda Lear's Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature. This biography is exceedingly thorough, and for me, the reading of it took a long time. I went slowly, absorbing bits at a time, not wanting to rush and skim over parts. Thus I'd been with this book for about a month, a long time for me. I will admit I was somewhat relieved to put this book aside and move on to something else.

Potter is a fascinating subject and the book feels very personal since the author uses Potter's journal entries and personal letters as primary sources. This book details her rigid Victorian upbringing and describes the contacts she had as an upper class child. The Reverend Gaskell was a good friend of the family. Yes, that Gaskell. Potter spend much of her youth alone or with her brother or other adults and was really able to focus on her interests during this time - animals and the observations of their habits, other wildlife, drawing and painting. Beatrix spent a lot of time as a young woman studying and painting fungi and the author discusses this part of her life at great length. The fact that Lear was able to make this section quite readable instead of tedious, I think is to her credit. A portion of the book deals with Potter's life as an author and the rest with her 'second career' as a wife, landowner, and farmer.

The last portion of the book, regarding farm life felt a bit long to me. The details about farm life are quite lengthy. There is discussion about Potter's relationship and qualms with the National Trust. As I am not a resident of the UK, I was unable to read this with the broader view of public knowledge. The last chapters deal with the end of Potter's life and the aftermath of her art and land holdings which was very interesting.

I found myself wondering at various times, what would her life have been like at a different time or if her family had a a different financial situation? Potter struggled, as probably many women did with personal desires and familial duty. It seemed her parents were particularly strict and demanding of her time, even as a 40-something woman making marriage plans. It probably didn't help that she was considered rather eccentric.

Would I recommend this book? If you are a big fan of Potter's work, definitely. I would recommend reading it alongside Potter's own works. I so enjoyed learning the 'story behind the story' and then reading her books and looking for certain details in the landscape, in interior scenes and in the animals and people themselves.

I suspect that when I am able to travel to the UK, a visit to Hill Top Farm will be on the agenda.

edited to add:
I almost forgot! Here is a passage that tells me Mrs Heelis (Beatrix) was not unlike myself in certain ways.

'At 70, Beatrix had given up, if indeed she had every seriously tried, keeping either a tidy house or her muddles of papers in order. .....the large table in the centre of the hearth room at Castle Cottage was primarily her working desk - though it was used for all sorts of other purposes as well. It was perpetually strewn with letters, maps,....etc.......waiting to be sorted. If a visitor called, a place was created by pushing the piles to another spot. Quite often supper was served on a cleared end.'

Now I fear you know too much about my own housekeeping.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Booking Through Thursday

1. Do you have any old school books? Did you keep yours from college? Old textbooks from garage sales? Old workbooks from classes gone by?

2. How about your old notes, exams, papers? Do you save them? Or have they long since gone to the great Locker-in-the-sky?

Great question! Just a few weeks ago I was looking for something and came across some heavy boxes on a high shelf in the basement that had not been opened since we moved in. I had to call in backup in the form of my husband. One box was full of his books that we knew we had and hadn't been able to locate - his Kurt Vonnegut collection, In Cold Blood, etc. The other box was filled with my college textbooks and papers. He was appalled, and I was told in no uncertain terms to 'get rid of them'! All the books and notebooks went to the trash. I was not able to part with my laboratory notebooks - it's hard to believe I ever wrote that neatly and especially that I had any idea what those labs were about. I also kept my 'mortar boards' which is the name of the university school calendar/planner that the school published yearly. I have a habit of keeping my planners and love to look back over them to see what I was doing so long ago or even last year.

I suspect there may be a box somewhere down there that contains old exams and papers I've been unable to part with, including that biochemistry exam I aced in 1993 after studying for 30 hours.

There is actually one box down there full of my textbooks. When we moved in here there was some sort of unused opening in the basement wall which our cat would not stay away from. That box of books fit perfectly and remains there. I'm certain all the books are ruined and the box will not be opened again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Facing the Light

I purchased this book some time ago. Any book with a picture of an English country house on the cover, a mention of Binchy and Pilcher on the back, and a description of an extended family gathering, well, I just cannot resist. It sat in the big stack of books to be read until one day I read this review and thought to myself, 'well that sounds like something I would enjoy'. I proceeded to see if the book was available on one of my swapping sites when I suddenly realized I might have this book upstairs. Lo and behold.

This is just the sort of comfort read I've come to love. A family comes together at Willow Court, the home of matriarch Leonora, to celebrate her 75th birthday. There are mysteries and revelations, an eccentric artist, an elderly nanny who remembers just enough, and a touch of romance. All come together to bring this novel to life and to its satisfying conclusion. A good read, indeed.

Over the weekend I purchased this.

It was really about time I was reading this alongside the biography which details the writing and production of each book. I rarely pay full price for a book such as this but it had to be done. The loveliest part of this purchase is sharing it with my daughter. She was a bit confused as to why I was making this purchase for myself.

I have also started The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. My bookclub will be discussing this in July. I hope that I find as much pleasure in it as I did the first time I read it a few years ago.

Friday, June 15, 2007

This weekend I am looking forward to:

Continuing to read this

and this. I'm really enjoying this Beatrix Potter biography but it's taking me awhile.

Going to a big outdoor party to celebrate the host's birthday and mine - same day, same year, 4 hours apart. I think that's such a great coincidence.

We are bringing this Tres Leches cake and a chocolate one too, from a great local bakery.

Making frozen margaritas with the new blender my husband wanted for Father's day.

Eating ribs and cole slaw on Sunday, my actual birthday. I use Sara Foster's rib recipe from Fresh Every Day, a great cookbook.

Place baby back ribs atop a sliced onion on a sheet pan with sides. Pour a beer over it and season with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours. Grill them and baste with barbecue sauce until caramelized and slightly charred. Yum!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Booking Through Thursday

1. Do you cheat and peek ahead at the end of your books? Or do you resolutely read in sequence, as the author intended?

2. And, if you don’t peek, do you ever feel tempted?

I used to do this quite a bit in my younger days. For me, it's sort of the same as peeking at your Christmas gifts - a little unsatisfying in the end. The only time I do this now is if I am not enjoying a book and not planning on finishing it at all. In that case, I'll sometimes skim the rest or just go straight for the last couple of pages.

I think I am tempted to look ahead! One thing I will admit to doing is looking a few pages ahead if I'm at a critical point in the storyline and I have to stop reading for some reason. Usually I am at work when I do this.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What's for lunch?

I always take my meals to work with me. I work at a hospital and the cafeteria is very bad. I used to bring salads most of the time until I read The Omnivore's Dilemma. Michael Pollan outlines how much energy is used to grow, prepare, and ship baby lettuces around the country for such a minuscule amount of food calories. I love baby greens, but haven't bought many since reading this. In the cooler months (well this is Minnesota, I should say freezing months) I make big pots of soup and freeze it in single use portions and this gets me through most days, being at work or at home.

Lately, being too warm for soup, I've been bringing mostly leftovers but knew I needed a new plan. I've been thinking about some sort of whole grain salad full of vegetables and some sort of dressing. One salad I've made in the past contained bulgar wheat, chickpeas, carrots, dried cranberries, mint and a cumin dressing.

I decided to try the Wheatberry Salad from Barefoot Contessa Family Style. I saw her make it on her show and it looked perfect. I used soft wheatberries and added a chopped zucchini and a yellow zucchini to the salad. It was very good and held up well over a few days.

The wheatberries are so nutty and contrast well with all the fresh vegetables. I would definitely recommend this recipe.

Monday, June 11, 2007

I Won! And I read some books, too.

I won a prize from the Non-Fiction Five Challenge! It is a flipklip which holds your book open so you don't need to use your hands. I was not the first to use it.

My little one said it was too hard to hold the book while she listened to her Frances CD. Thanks so much to Joy for the flipklip and for hosting this challenge.

I have finished two books in the past few days. The first is The Accomplice by Kathryn Heyman. This book is a fictional account of the wreck of the Batavia, a Dutch ship, off the coast of Australia in 1629. The story is told from the point of view of Judith Bastiaansz, daughter of the minister on the ship. The first half of the novel details how Judith and her family come to set sail on the Batavia and daily life on the ship. At this point in the novel, I was feeling a bit confused about some of the characters and their motivations so I did some research about the true story of this shipwreck. This was helpful in understanding the story better, but did take away a bit from the suspense of what the inside flap describes as 'one of the most shocking events of the seventeenth century'. Heyman describes what life was like at sea for months at a time; I particularly liked how Judith's mother was written, you could sense her misgivings about the trip and increasing depression as it went on. The story of what was so shocking can be found here. This part of the book was very difficult to read and quite horrific. Overall, I am glad I read this book as I had no prior knowledge of these events.

The second book I finished was Plan B by Emily Barr. This was an entertaining book and a good choice for me to read in between working all weekend. I enjoy Barr's writing and the bit of suspense she includes in each of her books.

In other news, I was browsing the library's list of what they have on order and realized Lisa See has a new book coming out. I loved her last novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. My girlfriend that I recommended it to described it as 'everything I was looking for in a book'. High praise indeed.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

And the rest.

I have had several events this week that have really cut into my reading time, so as I have not completed any books, I will share the rest of my ever growing stash.

This is the nonfiction stack. From top to bottom:

The Short and Long Times of Mrs Beeton - I've had my eye on this for awhile and like reading about this time period.

The Rare and the Beautiful- This is about the lives of the Garman sisters. I don't know anything about them, but I came across this and I am always up for biographies about sisters. I've also loved The Sisters:The Story of the Mitford Family and Victoria's Daughters.

The Seamstress - The holocaust survival story of a young woman. This is another favorite genre of mine.

Victorian London - I had been looking for a deal on this for some time.

Circle of Sisters - I have wanted to read this since I read another of Judith Flander's books Inside the Victorian Home which I loved. Again, this is another biography of sisters. This actually came from Half Price Book's recent sale.

The fiction stack:

The Moonstone - I've thought I would like this for some time.

The Singing Bird - Another book I've been looking for a good price on since the library doesn't have it. One of the only 'modern women's fiction' books here.

Pinkerton's Sister - Looks interesting, particularly for bibliophiles, but daunting in size.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - I've been hearing about this on some other blogs.

The Moonlit Cage - I really, really liked Linda Holeman's book The Linnet Bird and was happy to find another book by her. This is about a girl from Afghanistan traveling to 1850's England.

The Great Stink - I had been considering this when Nutmeg wrote a great review of it. Clare Clark's new book , The Nature of Monsters, looks great.

Hmmm. Notice any trends here? Women's fiction and historical fiction, women's history, books about the UK, specifically those set in Victorian times and early 20th century. Books about sisters, books about the holocaust. These books are a great snapshot of genres I love to read, and always seek out.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Virago Collection Expands

Here are some Viragos I've added to my collection lately, through the used bookstore, mooches, and swaps.

I don't know much about any of these. Until I received Rumour of Heaven by Beatrix Lehmann, I did not connect the fact that she is Rosamond Lehmann's sister.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I love the covers on these editions. Here are two of my favorites from this stack.

My Mother-in-law left Three Cups of Tea for us when she was here last week. She really enjoyed this book.

I have another stack here from Bookcloseouts which is so large I am embarrassed to show it. I would like to share one book in particular, Markham Thorpe, that I received from them. Karen reviewed this book a few weeks ago. It just sounds exactly like something I would enjoy. When it arrived I was pleased to discover that it will also come in handy as a decoration. You see, it matches my sofa perfectly.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Weekend Happenings

Not a very clever title but there it is.

We have had an enjoyable weekend here despite the rain and general gloomy weather. I have finally made the time to watch the most recent BBC/Masterpiece Theater production of Jane Eyre and I absolutely loved it. The actors playing the lead roles were so perfect in their parts and it was filmed so beautifully. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and I think it lends itself so well to these dramatizations. I watched the second half last night. There was a storm outside and I had the door open and the lights off and it was quite the perfect mood for the film. I found my heart beating a little faster and a few tears in my eyes and thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

I finished a book this weekend, Missing by Mary Stanley. I found her novel Retreat in Half Price Books a few years ago, enjoyed it, and was never able to find any more of her books here. My recent discovery of bookcloseouts provided me with this and another of her novels. Missing is the story of a family with three daughters that appears quite perfect on the outside, while there is turmoil and secrets on the inside. One of the sisters goes missing, and the story takes off from there detailing the lives of the rest of the family after this occurrence. I enjoyed this book, it was absorbing, and Stanley writes well. She has an interesting way of writing something shocking or horrible in a very matter of fact way, that you read a line, and say to yourself 'wait- did it really say that?' I think Maeve Binchey has an interesting way of doing that as well. I will not say more about the plot, only that I appreciated the ending.

In other weekend news, today was one of those days that you feel you have offered every opportunity to your child only to have them complain and ask "what's next?". We spent the morning at a neighborhood festival which included a parade, followed by the afternoon spent seeing a play and doing crafts at the Flint International Children's Festival. We have reached the point in the day in which we say "entertain yourself now, please" and it is not coming easily. Back to work tomorrow.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Yammering on about The Shuttle

I awoke today, without any house guests, and eager to return to the blogging world to visit my favorites blogs and write a bit about my experience with The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I began my time online by visiting Karen who has commented quite eloquently on the recent Persephone Books letter dated May 30. I think this line from the letter sums it up:

Hurrah for blogs, we say – but only if they are never mistaken for anything but yammering.

Pardon me? I cannot possibly say what Karen has any better but would like to add a few thoughts of my own. I'm not quite sure how Persephone thinks they have any sort of following in the US. I know for certain they have had a few mentions in Domino Magazine. Besides this, I am not sure where intelligent, literate Americans are supposed to hear about these books. Persephone suggests that what the critics and reviewers have to say is all important but they are not writing about Persephone books here. How else is one to learn of them? Let me tell you how. When I became interested in these books, naturally I googled them and what sites do you suppose came up? Book blogs, of course. Yarnstorm, Random Jottings, Cornflower, I could go on. Aside from Persephone's own site, these are the places to connect with other Persephone readers, to read reviews and 'talk' about these books. No one else in my everyday life is reading them. I believe Persephone has done their readers and their company a great disservice by publishing this condescending letter. As Elaine commented on Karen's post "talk about biting the hand that feeds you...". And all this comes just as my husband has offered to buy 3 more titles for my upcoming birthday.

So today I have chosen to share the above photograph of another copy of The Shuttle which I do own. I love the attached sticker on the cover. There is a full page illustration inside entitled "I am that unfortunate beggar, Mount Dunstan, myself."

I did love this book. For those who do not know, the plot entails Miss Betty Vanderpoel - a rich, beautiful charismatic New Yorker, traveling to England to find out whatever has become of her sister Rosalie. Rosalie, a sweet and simple young lady, married Sir Nigel Anstruthers some years earlier. He married her in the hopes of gaining access to her fortune. I was considering starting another post, in which I could discuss the plot more so as not to ruin it for others. I am not sure if that would be desirable or not.

This book is long and descriptive but quite readable. The first 100 pages or so is very positive towards Americans, in terms of their industry and work habits and general 'get it done' attitude that America has always been known for. Betty arrives in England and travels to her sister's home. At this point in the novel, it becomes somewhat of a love letter to the English countryside, describing the villages, great houses, and beauty of the land with great love. It is clear Burnett had respect and love for both countries she lived in. Nigel is both a wonderful and horrible bully of a man, wonderful in that he is written so well. It's hard to believe this character was written over 100 years ago and is so absolutely detestable. The book has the appropriate amount of melodrama and I was truly guessing how it would end, up until the very last moments. The only parts I found difficult were those in which the 'lower classes' were spoken to or of as lesser beings. I really had to remind myself of the period and move on. Having read this, I am certainly interested to know if there are other adult books by Burnett worth seeking out.

Edited to add: Persephone has changed the letter that appears on their site. The quote I have included above regarding 'yammering' is no longer there, but it was at one time, and there are others who can attest to it.