Friday, October 31, 2008

A Fatal Inversion

A Fatal Inversion is, I believe, the fifth book of Barbara Vine's that I have read. In this story, there is the classic Vine set-up - we know that two people have been killed but not who they are, we know the group of people from which the killer comes, basically we know the 'what' but not the 'who' or 'why'.

Around 10 years before the story takes place five young people come together one hot summer to live in an old estate, Wyvis Hall. Their behavior is rather bohemian, as they drink away the summer, sleep late, and sell items from the house to pay for alcohol and food. Something happens though, that causes them to all go back to their lives, school and work, and make a decision to never speak to each other again. 10 years later two skeletons are found. The story is told from the perspective of three of the original five people. All are terrified of this story being traced back to them and deal with this in different ways. We slowly come to learn what happened that summer and how everything went so wrong.

I liked this book, but not as much as the others by Vine that I've read. I can't really put my finger on why. The only thing I've come up with is that in this book, every chapter, every thought is about that one incident, and in Vine's other books, there is much more of a sense of everyday life that is suddenly affected by a fatal act. The reviews I've found of this are quite good so it may just be me that feels this way. Despite my issues with the story, I found the last chapter to be absolutely brilliant and capped the book off perfectly. I think this book would be generally enjoyed by Vine fans, but is not perhaps the best place to start reading her work. For that I would suggest Asta's/Anna's Book, A Dark Adapted Eye, or The House of Stairs.

I hadn't planned on writing about this book today, but it turns out to be perfect for Halloween. Boo!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Farmer's Market - Sunday October 29

This past Sunday was the official end of the 'Summer Market' for the Saint Paul Farmer's Market. After that, the 'Winter Market' begins on Saturdays. The market was vastly different than the last time I was there. Since we'd had our first frost all the summer vegetables were gone. There were probably only 15-20% of the number of usual vendors and the crowd was quite sparse, though it was only 8 am. It felt like I bought one of everything, knowing this might be the last time until Spring.

Look at all that goodness! Spinach, broccoli, onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, apples, cranberries, potatoes, raspberries, eggs, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, sage, baby gourds, buttercup squash, and that cauliflower - I wish you could see how gorgeous it is. How lucky we are to have so much good food here in Minnesota in October! But don't get too jealous - after the market it snowed most of the afternoon!

All this good food put me in the mood to cook.

I've made a wonderful roasted butternut squash and greens pasta dish from the How to Eat Supper book I posted about a while back. The ingredient list is a bit long, but this seriously took no time at all to put together.

The pasta recipe had half and half in it so I used the leftover to make a potato gratin according to Alice Waters' recipe in The Art of Simple Food.

She suggests the use of half and half as an option but mine separated in the oven, looking curdled but tasting fine. Does anyone have any experience with this?

Finally, I made Brussels Sprout hash with caramelized shallots from the November 2007 Bon Appetit magazine. Yum!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I meant to do this hours ago, but instead was re-introduced to my least favorite season....ear infection season. Ahhhhhh! All I can think is that my child did not have an uninfected ear last winter from December to I'm pretty upset that she has an infection so early in the season.

On to the giveaway.....I enjoyed your answers so much about favorite Shreve books and favorite women's lit authors...I'm not sure what I meant by women's literature and didn't mean to offend anyone by it. I guess I just think of books or authors that are primarily read by women or are of interest to women. I think The Pilot's Wife was the Anita Shreve book that was most often mentioned. The one I'd most like to read and haven't is Resistance.

The winners of Testimony by Anita Shreve are:




Congratulations! I'll be contacting the winners for addresses. Don't forget to sign up for the Heretic's Daughter giveaway!


I am pleased to be able to offer another copy of The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent compliments of Hachette Books.

Here's the opportunity part - this is part of an email I received yesterday from Miriam from Hachette:

As a fan of THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER by Kathleen Kent, I thought you might want to know that there is an opportunity to chat live with Kathleen this Wednesday at 1PM ET on Blog Talk Radio. If you want to be sure to ask your question to Kathleen (and are free at that time) please respond to this email with your question (readers of this blog can email ) and the area code that you will be calling from (so that our call screener can identify you). I will put you on the agenda for the call.

You can call into the show at just before 1PM ET on Wednesday at (646) 378-0040

If you just want to listen online, visit here.

The rules for the giveaway are simple. Just leave a comment on this post, one entry per person. You don't have to have a blog to enter, but please make sure I have a way to contact you if you've won. This giveaway is open to US and Canadian addresses only, sorry to those outside these areas. I will close the comments and draw the winner on November 4. If I can pull myself away from the election coverage! Good luck.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Booktour Stop for Capote in Kansas

I'm so pleased to be hosting Kim Powers, author of Capote in Kansas, on behalf of TLC Book Tours. In Capote in Kansas, Powers presents an alternate reality, in which a drugged and drunk Truman Capote contacts his estranged friend, recluse Harper Lee, towards the end of his life. As Capote and Lee revisit old memories of their friendship and working relationship, there exists an undercurrent of anxiety as both are haunted by the Clutter family and consider how their lives turned out.

Kim Powers was kind enough to answers a few questions I had for him and a good sport, too, as you'll see from my last question:

*One of the aspects of Capote in Kansas that I found most interesting were the snake boxes. How did you find out about those and have you ever seen one or a photograph of one?

I love the snake boxes – I’m glad you did too! Bizarrely, though, since they’re such an important part of the book, I didn't find out about them until I was some ways into it, after I had written about Capote and Lee’s childhood together, and their time in Kansas. Then I found several mentions of these art collage boxes that Truman began making, in George Plimpton’s oral biography of him called Truman Capote. Truman began working on them in the later years of his life, when (I think) he was having so much trouble writing. He had so much creativity in him, it had to find an outlet somewhere, even if it no longer could in his writing. He was such a visual writer, with such rich descriptive powers, I think it’s natural he moved toward visual art. He knew a lot about art, and supposedly tore pictures out of the coffee table books of friends! The “snake boxes,” as I call them, also had a great deal to do with his fascination with snakes. He had been bitten by one as a child, and almost died from it. After that, he was obsessed with them, almost as if focusing on the thing that scared him the most could take away its fear and power. (The snake image on the cover of Capote in Kansas is actually from a Richard Avedon photograph of a snake sculpture that Truman kept in his apartment.)

Truman would order snake bite kits by the dozens, and then decoupage these artsy clippings on to them, the same way he would make home-made kites, decorating plain white paper. He’d add on all sorts of odd bits, like photos of favorite authors like Emily Dickinson or Oscar Wilde, and then add more snake pictures, cigar bands (his stepfather manufactured the Capote brand of cigar), etc. Then he’d put the boxes down n plexi-glass shells for safekeeping. Near the end of his life, Truman went to a renowned book store owner in New York (Andreas Brown’s Gotham Book Mart, now defunct) and said he wanted to deliver a “top secret” project. Of course, Andreas thought it was the long-in-process novel Truman had been talking about forever. Instead, it was the snake boxes. There was an exhibit of them at the Gotham Book Mart. Many of them were left to various people in Truman’s will, and a number of them were recently sold at auction, and went for prices ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 (too rich for my blood!) I’ll send you photos of some of them.

Anyway, once I began reading of the boxes in Plimpton’s biography, I thought they would be a great device to add into my book, a Gothic element. I wanted the book to have a plot, not just be a series of flashback memories, and I came up with the idea of Truman sending something akin to the snake boxes to Harper, along with photographs inside them, to create a mystery Harper had to solve. So I’m not recreating the boxes literally, just using them (and dressing them up a lot) as a jumping off point for part of my plot.

*What are your favorite authors?

I really love so many writers, but there are certainly ones I’ll buy whenever they come out with a new book. I tend not to read reviews, because I don’t want anything to prejudice me. A favorite of the last few years, who makes me insanely jealous because she’s such a brilliant, imaginative writer, is Kate Atkinson, whose new book is called When Will There Be Good News? (Or something like that; I might be paraphrasing.) I also love her books Human Croquet and Case Histories. Early on, in my pretentious high school and college days, I began reading a lot of John Cheever, whose Waspy world was so different from my lower middle class Texas upbringing. Maybe that’s why I liked him so much. Then in college, I had a great Southern literature class, and started reading a lot of those writers: Eudora Welty, Carson McCullars, Flannery O’Connor. Her collection of letters called The Habit of Being is one of my favorite books, and taught me so much about what it means to be a thinking, feeling person in the world. And because I thought that I wanted to be an actor, and acted quite a bit in high school and college, the plays of Edward Albee and their exquisite language had a huge affect on me. I also love Pat Conroy, whom I once interviewed at Good Morning America. I literally started crying as I talked to him I was so moved. I also like a lot of comic writers like James Wilcox, Peter Lefcourt, Armistead Maupin. (I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve literally never read Jane Austen or Dickens…maybe when I retire!)

*What is on your nightstand right now?

Some finished books, some not so finished. I’ve developed a bad habit lately of buying books and then reading just a few pages, and no more if they don’t grab me. I jumped on the Oprah bandwagon and just read The Story of Edgar Satwalle, which is truly a work of genius. It will be one for the ages, it’s that good. Also a great new book that got a little lost in the Satwalle uproar is Hannah Tinti’s The Good Thief. Three other books are just sitting on my nightstand, which will probably head to the bookcase in my apartment basement: one is the Joseph O’Neill book Netherland that got such great reviews. I’m just a few pages into it, but I’ve already gotten so bogged down by all the writing on cricket I’m turned off. Another is the Swedish writer Peter Hoeg, who wrote the great Smilla’s Sense of Smell. But his new book that’s just come out in paperback, The Quiet Girl, is just so downright weird! And I hate to admit it, but I’ve been working away at Ann Patchett’s Run, which I know is a big book club favorite, but it’s just not enveloping me. I’ve always got to have an easy mystery or two on hand, to lull me to sleep (in a good way): right now it’s a Ruth Rendell, and the new Brad Meltzer book The Book of Lies. So my nightstand is quite crowded!

*Would you talk a bit about your physical writing process - where, when, on a computer or by hand, is it quiet or noisy, is there food involved?

It’s gotten much more relaxed over the years. When I started on my first book, a memoir about my twin brother’s disappearance called The History of Swimming, I could literally only write in the dark. This sounds like I’m making it up, but I’m not. I’d turn off the lights and do half hours of automatic, stream of consciousness writing, almost as if the material was too scary to see in the light of day. (As I said earlier, I had been an actor in college, and I think it had roots in that, “suffering” for my art and getting into character.) And I’d just hope my fingers were hitting the right keys! Then the rewrites involved copious amounts of iced coffee, with lots of cream and sugar. This was before I developed a late in life lactose intolerance – which I ignore (and pay the price of) when a bowl of coffee Haagen-Daz is staring me in the face.

When I started working on Capote in Kansas, I could look at the computer screen a little more directly. I found several photos of Truman and Harper at different points in their lives, and I taped them up on the walls around me. (That’s become a consistent thing – taping up these sensory pictures. I did it with the thing I just finished, a semi-autobiographical thing about my childhood. So I taped up lots of childhood pictures that had meaning to me.) And for Capote, I listed nonstop to the sound track of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’d keep playing the same most emotional cuts over and over. That was somewhat deliberate, that choice of music, but I’ve found that everything I write organically develops a sort of soundtrack. During The History of Swimming, I was listening a lot to a singer named Michael Holland and his album Darkness Falls, and it became sort of Pavlovian – I got to where I couldn't write without it.

I have to be pretty focused while I’m struggling through a first draft, more or less creating on the spot, with only a few big turning points already in mind. I don’t outline. And there’s so much agony about whether I’m going in the right direction and should I keep going to the bitter end, or do I stop midstream and go back to the first and start revising. But after that first real draft, which is actually a few drafts, and can take over a year to write, I can then write anywhere and during anything. I write on a laptop computer, and I say “my lap is my office.” I often write with the TV on, because I like the white noise. I’ll try to write about two hours in the morning, before I have to go into the job that pays the bills (as a writer for ABC’s Primetime and 20/20), and then I’ll keep writing a lot on the weekends. On a full day, I can go for about three hours at a stretch before I take a break. And lots of coffee – but now with coffeemate!

*What are you working on right now?

I just finished a new novel, with the lurid – and hopefully provocative title -- The Movies We Watched (The Year My Father Killed My Mother). That title pretty much sums it up! It’s about a little boy whose mother has died, and he begins to think his father killed her, so he can be with his new girlfriend. The little boy obsessively goes to see the movies every weekend, and keeps a scrapbook with the movie ads from the local paper pasted in it. Then based on the grown-up things he sees in the movies, he begins playing detective, to try and catch his father. It’s somewhat autobiographical, a sort of prequel and sequel to The History of Swimming. My own mother died when I was seven, and there’s always been a mystery to how she died: suicide, an accidental drug overdose, a brain aneurysm, even murder. So I’m chasing those family ghosts, once again. Because of the title, I came up with a fun way for my agent to submit it to editors. Most books these days are submitted to publishers via email, but this manuscript was too big, because of all the movie ads that are scanned into it. So I bought all these old-fashioned movie canisters from a film company in Hollywood, and taped the title of the book on the lids, and we had those messengered to editors. Certainly made the book stand out ! Now I’m just hoping editors like the book itself as much as the marketing. It’s a relief to have finished the book -- I went through about ten drafts of it – but now I’m feeling a little post-partum. But already, I have some rough elements of a new book in mind, something that’s not based on real people, but will require a lot of historical research.

*Is there a chance Truman Capote or Harper Lee might be subject matter for you in the future?

No! I’ve put them to bed.

*I write about what I cook as well as what I read. Do you do any cooking at home? If you could have Truman Capote and Harper Lee over for dinner, what would you serve them?

I love cooking, and like doing it when I have an easy day at work. It’s the shopping I hate, which is such a hassle in New York. A few years ago, my partner and I bought a weekend house an hour or so outside the city, in Asbury Park, NJ – Bruce Springsteen land! We finally had a decent, big open kitchen there, unlike the cramped little galley kitchen we had in the apartment. And it was sort of the social thing to do to cook on Saturday night, and have friends over. So we really started cooking there, instead of our endless parade of Chinese takeout. I like following recipes. I wish I could bake and make cakes and pies, but I haven’t much. Now that the weather’s turning colder, we cook at home a lot. In the summer, it’s nice to sit outside at a restaurant, and we like taking our dog Frankie (a Maltese/Yorkie) with us, to sit outside and drink margaritas!

What a wonderful question about cooking for Truman and Harper! It’s the one question nobody’s ever asked me! I was in Baton Rouge a few weekends ago at the Louisiana Book Festival, talking about Capote in Kansas, and I found a book I’d never seen before, called Sook’s Cookbook – after Truman’s old cousin Sook Faulk, who is memorialized in Truman’s short story “A Christmas Memory.” I want to start cooking my way through that, but until then, I’d like to dig up the recipe for a Coca Cola cake, which I remember having as a kid in Texas, and which I have Harper make in my book. And I’d make this jazzy baked chicken I made the other night, stuffed with goat cheese and apricots and almonds – that’s as fancy as I get. And I’d love to make biscuits. And since Truman is there, I’d have to have lots to drink!

Thanks to Kim Powers for answering these questions! If you would like to check out the rest of the booktour the full list of hosts can be found here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I love lentil soup!

And it's all mine! You may think I'm being greedy, but my husband is terrified that one of these days I'm going to serve this soup to him. I'm not sure why lentils have such a bad reputation, but there it is. This is the soup I make all Fall and Winter, freezing it in individual portions and eating it for lunch at home or at work. Besides freezing well, the other great things about this soup are how easy it is to make and the fact that I ususally have all the ingredients on hand. Here they are.

Those are French Du Puy lentils which I've had since last year. All the stores around here are OUT of them right now. Why is that? Is there an embargo problem with French lentils?

This is the sauteed bacon with carrots and onion added. You could leave the bacon out and use olive oil for a vegetarian soup.

By the way, the recipe for this soup comes from The New Best Recipe by the Cook's Illustrated folks. They'll have my head if I give you the recipe, but if you search around a bit, you can find variations of it.

Here I've added garlic, bay, thyme, and tomatoes.

Now the lentils have been added. The secret to this recipe is sweating the lentils before adding the liquid; they stay firm that way.

I added liquid - wine, broth, and water and simmered. Here is the final product, part of the soup has been pureed in the blender to thicken it.

I guess it's not that pretty, but is sure smells and tastes good.

Have a nice weekend!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chit-Chat and Catch Up

Or, I'm about to write about a bunch of things that have nothing to do with one another.

It was good to come home this past Monday and sleep in my own bed. Ahhh. I was happy to see that bloglines was fixed but not so happy that I had over 500 posts to catch up on. I'm still working on that.

Here's what I learned in Florida:

* It is a profound experience to take your child to the ocean for the first time. I will never forget the utter joy on her face as she played on the beach for hours with no toys except what washed up. I said "She's never been so content in her life as she is right now." My husband agreed.

* It really makes you feel as though you are on vacation when you eat lunch at a restaurant on the beach where you don't need shoes and your child can wear a bathing suit.

* The Magic Kingdom was fun but we never need to be there for a week. The best ride is Buzz Lightyear. Those Disney princesses work a lot harder than you might think. Seriously.

* I'm not as bad at canoeing as I was when I went to Girl Scout camp. Thank goodness.


Speaking of traveling, I love travel guides. I couldn't agree more with European travel guru Rick Steves (who I ran into in Amsterdam on my honeymoon) who said that when you're spending so much money on a trip, it's worth it to spend and extra 15 or 20 dollars to figure out what to do when you get there. Online publicist Lisa Roe offered some travel guides on her site and I requested one about the Wisconsin Dells by Dirk Vanderwilt for two reasons: 1. I have been to the Dells four times in the past 5 years so I figured I knew the subject and 2. I'll probably go back and I thought this guide might come in handy. It turns out I was right on both counts. This guide is part of the Tourist Town Guides series which seems to focus on destinations that might not necessarily have already had an entire book written about them. This guide offers a great history of the Wisconsin Dells area, extensive reviews of everything from accommodations to attractions and even a few photos. Overall, I agreed with the authors assessments though I wished the restaurant reviews were more detailed. I learned about some things to do that I hadn't known about and I look forward to trying when I go back. I would definitely recommend this guide to those visiting the Dells, and I would consider using the other Tourist Town Guides myself in the future.

I finally got around to reading something by Shirley Jackson besides The Lottery. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously creepy tale of the two Blackwood sisters and their Uncle who live in the big family home alone because the rest of the family are dead. Their rather bizzare life is quite insular as they have little contact with the outside world. Jackson slowly reveals why the Blackwoods live as they do and why they are ostracized by the people who live in the village. Cousin Charles arrives and things turn even more upside down. I find these sorts of books difficult to review because I don't want to give anything away! This book made me uncomfortable in a good way as I learned the horror of the Blackwood's life. Something that I noticed was a scene at the end of the book that reminded me of The Lottery. It made me think that Jackson must have a sort of fascination with the idea of an entire community turning against one person or family. Did anyone else notice this? In any case, I'll definitely be reading more of Jackson's work.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I'm so excited to be partnering with Hachette Books again to give away THREE copies of Anita Shreve's latest novel, Testimony which is being released today.

I really enjoyed Testimony and would rate it among my favorite of Shreve's books.

The rules are simple. Just leave a comment on this post - if you have a favorite Anita Shreve book please tell me what it is - if not, please tell me your favorite author of 'women's literature'. There is one entry per person. You do not have to have a blog to enter, but please make sure I have a way to contact you via email if you've won. This giveaway is open to US and Canadian addresses only, sorry to those outside these areas. I will close the comments and draw the 3 winners on October 28. Good luck!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

And They're Off......

See you next week!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Is there anyone out there that hasn't read Anita Shreve? Well, I'm certain that there is but this is one author that I keep coming back to for reliably solid and entertaining women's fiction. It doesn't hurt that I went to hear her speak once, and she seemed like a very nice person, too.

Anita Shreve's latest book, Testimony, will be released next week. Shreve's novel Fortune's Rocks has always been my favorite of her books, but Testimony is right up there. Testimony is the story of a scandal at a New England Boarding school, a sex scandal involving minors, adults, and a videotape that ultimately destroys lives and marriages. In Testimony the reader hears the points of view of everyone, from the headmaster to the participants, their parents and friends - every single person that is affected by what these young people have done. Shreve has the gift of making each of these many characters distinct individuals as she explores their innermost thoughts and motivations. We hear their stories in the context of a person who we never hear from but who is studying the case at the University of Vermont. The voice of the headmaster, Mike, is the one we hear most often and is in many ways the one with the most to hide. We hear from terrified and angry parents who do not understand how and when their children lost their innocence, and wonder what will become of their future. Shreve does an amazing job of making the people who might be seen as the perpetrators seem sympathetic, and the one who seems the victim to be complicit.

I found this intense novel to be an absorbing page turner. I found this to be not just about the ramifications of this particular incident. This is really a commentary on how one choice a person makes or how they spend one hour of their life can have drastic long lasting consequences that can be destructive to many people.

Great news: I will hosting a giveaway of Testimony next week. So come back!


Also, for those of you you have read my recent post which I later husband says we have to go or I'll regret it. He's probably right. Feel free to weigh in, though.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Farmer's Market - October 11

This was a lot heavier than it looks. I wasn't planning on buying much since we're going out of town later this week. This was the least crowded I've seen the market since early June. The regular market continues until the end of October, then the Saturday winter market begins. I've never been to the winter market but I plan to check it out. I understand there is meat, eggs, honey, breads - stuff like that.

What's new? Butternut squash - there's a great looking pasta and squash recipe I want to try from Lynne Rosetto Kasper's new book. This a great cookbook by the way, and would make a terrific gift. I'm a little wary of serving butternut as a main course. Afraid the natives will become restless and all that. I hope the sweetness of it will win my daughter over. There's some spinach and some ground pork there. I'm going to make a meatball soup with those, along with orzo and carrots based on a Nigel Slater meatball recipe and a soup recipe from Bon Appetit. By the time I'm done with it, it'll be a Tara original.

What else? I'm getting rather uncomfortable about the economic situation. I've heard of two co-workers whose husbands have lost their jobs....I'm pretty lucky to work in healthcare right now, but who knows what will happen. It makes me extra glad we've been eating less meat for many reasons, and now we have finances to think about. I make a great rice and black bean dinner from scratch, so I've got that to fall back on.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pomegranate Soup

I had grandiose plans yesterday for blogging and commenting, but wouldn't you know, I lost my internet connection for the day. Nuts. It's so hard for me to collect my thoughts when people (ie. my child) are in the house, but I'm going to give it a whirl.

I had an unexpectedly wonderful surprise this week when I picked up Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran. I was expecting (and hoping for) a light quick read, and while this was quick and light in parts, it was definitely deeper than I was expecting. This story opens when the three Aminpour sisters from Iran arrive in a small town in Ireland, Ballinacroagh, and begin to set up a cafe. The opening chapters were reminiscent of Maeve Binchey with their descriptions of small town Ireland and of people who are quirky, multi-faceted, and not always kind. I was reminded of Chocolat by Joanne Harris in the fabulous descriptions of cooking and food, the food sometimes seeming to intoxicate those who eat it. But Mehran makes this story all her own, because these sisters have come to Ireland for a reason, they have escaped from Iran during the revolution and each has their own memories and experiences to bear. Oldest sister Marjan is the mother-like cook, Bahar is the middle sister, tense and worried, and Layla is the youngest, still in high school, and lovely, with her whole life ahead of her. In Ballinacroagh, they meet the townspeople, some of whom are kind and supportive, others who wish to run them out of town. The Aminpour sisters are strong women and we learn of their struggles in Iran as they struggle to make a new life in Ireland.

I was really, really charmed by this book, I enjoyed the characters, the story, and the wonderful descriptions of food with accompanying recipes. It just so happens that there is a sequel, Rosewater and Soda Bread, and I am looking forward to the continuation of this story.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Lace Reader

All the book buzz this past summer seemed to be about The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry. I sure tried my best to get my hands on an advance copy. That was fruitless so I wound up buying a hardcover copy, something I rarely do. But the question here, is did The Lace Reader live up to those high expectations I had going in? Hmmm.

The Lace Reader opens with Towner (Sophya) Whitney, a self-professed liar, who returns to her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts because her Aunt Eva is missing. It becomes obvious right away that Towner has suffered from psychological illness in the past. We then meet a host of eccentric and unusual characters, family and friends alike. There are witches, people who read fortunes in lace, and religious zealots. Towner reminisces about the past, about her relationship with her twin sister, who is now dead, about old boyfriends, and family secrets. This leads to a quite dramatic ending, full of action and revealed secrets.

I really liked the first half of this book, the setting of the stage if you will. I've found it interesting that many of the reviews I've read cite the opening of the novel as their least favorite part. What does that say about me? The latter part of the book felt so frenetic to me, people running around, being chased and then hiding, there is a fire, and finally secrets are revealed. Now I like a good twist, one that turns the story on its head. But I have a problem with twists that make me feel as though I've been had, and that's how this twist felt to me. Yes, I know Towner said she was a liar. But still. Despite this, I liked this book. I thought it was a page-turner and I always looked forward to getting back to it. It just wasn't the book-of-the-year that I was expecting based on so many great reviews. Have you felt that way about any books lately?


In other may seem as though I haven't visited you lately. The reason may be twofold. 1. I have on and off problems with my right hand and since they're on right now, the only relief is to rest, so I'm trying to type less. 2. I really, REALLY rely on bloglines and I just noticed in the past few days that some blogs have not been updated by them since October 1 so I've been missing lots of posts. This is so frustrating and I cannot find any way to contact them to find out what is going on.

Also, how are you using bloggers new 'followers' feature? Is this meant to replace the blog roll?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Agnes Humbert's Resistance

It is summertime in 1940 when Germany takes Paris. Soon after, Agnes Humbert bands together with a group of like-minded friends to publish Resistance - a French resistance newsletter. By the Spring of 1941 Humbert has been arrested, spends time in a French prison, and is then deported to Germany to a work camp. She suffers there until the end of the war, and while awaiting transport back to France, assists the Americans with their work in Germany.

Humbert wrote Resistance in 1946 shortly after the war, the beginning and end parts taken directly from her diary, the middle portion, by necessity written from memory, yet still in a diary format. This gives the book a strong sense of immediacy. I was feeling a bit lost in the opening pages of the book, there were many names and locations that I found difficult to keep track of. The story becomes quite intense when Humbert is arrested, tried and imprisoned. What is most striking in Humbert's writing is her sense of humor, her bravery, and her feistiness. Humbert finds herself working (slaving) in a rayon factory. I didn't know a thing about the manufacturing of rayon, but have discovered that it is quite dangerous and toxic. Humbert and her fellow prisoners are not given protective gear as the paid workers are, and the prisoners are suffering from terrible wounds, temporary blindness, and clothing that is disintegrating instead of covering them. Humbert suffers so much but never loses her sense of self and compassion for others.

Not only is Resistance an intensely personal story, it is an informative one as well. It was fascinating to read about the French Resistance and especially how its members were treated once imprisoned and charged. Resistance was out of print for many years, until Barbara Mellor the translator of this book, came across it and knew it was a story that transcended time. We have her to thank for bringing this story to our attention.

I end with a quote from Agnes Humbert from 1943, when she is thinking about her inanimate objects waiting for her at home:

I think about my books, especially: which one shall I open first when I get back? I can see my bookshelves, and the rows of my beloved books. By the time I get back I shall have quite forgotten how to read, and I'll have to start all over again by looking at picture books like a child.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Farmer's Market - September 27

This is the most amazing time of year at the market - there's so much to choose from! It's too bad that it's only open one more month for vegetable sellers. (The meat, egg, and honey vendors come on Saturdays through the winter.)

I had a little helper with me this week which is why you see flowers, mini-pumpkins to draw faces on, and honey sticks. Those flowers are lovely - can anyone tell me what the cabbage-look-alike things are called? - but were wilting by Sunday so I wasn't too impressed.

Everything just looks so vibrant and gorgeous to me, especially the peppers and cauliflower - you won't find anything like that at the store. The green leafy stuff on the left is sold as Chinese broccoli, and I'm not sure if it's the same as broccoli rabe. It was a bit bitter so my family wasn't thrilled about it, though I liked it. If a person were really serious about buying good food for their family at low prices, the market is a great place. There is so much available for one dollar - the Chinese broccoli, bok choy, beets, green onions, kohlrabi, and lots of other greens as well. Certainly other items cost more, but you can do it on a budget. We've cut back on our meat consumption quite a bit, but I crave a good flank steak every month or so. The animals are grass fed and the meat is so tender you can cut it with a fork.


Thanks so much to everyone who entered this contest! Not only is it fun to 'meet' many of you and visit your blogs, but now I have a terrific reference for mystery books.

As determined by Random Number Generator, the winners of When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson are:




Congratulations! I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. I'll be in contact with you all. Many thanks to Hachette Books for sponsoring this giveaway.

Do come back later in October, as I'll be having another great giveaway.