Thursday, May 29, 2008

A New Author Meme

A Little Housekeeping....

First off, I have a new, public email address. You can find it when you click on About Me over on the right. I thought it would come in handy when authors or publishers wanted to contact me about reviewing books. My old personal address is still active for those of you who have used that.

Secondly, thanks for all you great comments about the cookbook! You are all seriously organized. It sounds as though plastic page protectors are the way to go.

Heather from Errant Thoughts came up with a cool new author meme. Let me give it a try!

Here are the guidelines:

-Answer the questions as you see fit. Although they’re all phrased to ask about a singular author, feel free to respond with multiples, or even a list.
-Where possible & convenient (you don’t have to go as crazy as I did!), include a link here or there to an author’s website, your review of one of their books, or a review that inspired you to try the author(s), so your readers can get more information on anyone that sounds interesting.
-Tag five people and drop by their blogs to let them know you tagged them, or open-tag your readers.
-It would be nice if you included a link back to your tagger.

1. Who’s your all-time favorite author, and why?

I think this is a hard question! I think I would have been better able to answer it when I was younger (see number 2). I do have some go-to authors but am more of a lover of individual books. I might love one book by an author and feel just so-so about another. And I don't want to say someone is my favorite author who has only written one book!

Having said that, the first names that come to mind are Jane Austen and Margaret Atwood. I haven't read all of the work of either of these authors, but have read quite a lot.

I also thought of Bill Bryson for nonfiction/travel writing, Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater for food writing.

Rosamunde Pilcher and Maeve Binchey's books have long been my favorite comfort reads, and Penny Vincenzi is my favorite author of 'trashy' fiction.

2. Who was your first favorite author, and why? Do you still consider him or her among your favorites?

Good question! I grew up loving Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Maud Hart Lovelace (author of the Betsy books), Russell Hoban (author of the Frances books), Laura Lee Hope (The Bobbsey Twins series), and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I haven't most (all?) of these in years but I remember them all with great fondness and hope to share them with my daughter and that she will find a connection with them as well.

3. Who’s the most recent addition to your list of favorite authors, and why?

Most (but not all) of these are going to be as a result of blogging!

Barabara Vine
Jacqueline Winspear
Helene Hanff
Rohinton Mistry
Sarah Waters

4. If someone asked you who your favorite authors were right now, which authors would first pop out of your mouth? Are there any you’d add on a moment of further reflection?

I'm guessing the first name that would pop out is Margaret Atwood. When people ask me what they should read, I'm much more likely to make a list of books rather than a list of authors.

5. Tagged:

Carrie K

I don't like to be pushy, so do this if you wish - no pressure! And if I didn't tag you, please do it anyway and let me know.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Feeling Slumpy

I've been in a reading slump here. I've begun four different books - one started well and though I lost interest I'm continuing with it, another from the library will go back after about 10 pages, two more that I tried and couldn't get on with. I don't know what it was, but finally I decided that perhaps I had too much on my mind to read fiction - which has happened to me in the past - does it ever happen to you? And I needed some nonfiction. Well, was I ever right, because I chose something I should have read years ago and is absolutely blowing my mind. More to come on that, but here are a few books I read before my slump:

Mothernight by Sarah Stovell - I knew I had to read this after Elaine and Karen's reviews a while back. The Book Depository finally had a copy and it became mine. Leila is seventeen years old and is returning to her father and stepmother's home for the first time since childhood. Leila was effectively banished after a terrible tragedy involving her infant brother. Leila returns home with Olivia, a boarding school friend with whom she has an intense relationship, and comes back in contact with Rosie, a childhood friend with whom she had a disturbing and uneven friendship with. Despite the setting of this novel, under the hot summer sun, I found this book to be wonderfully creepy, cold and disturbing. I loved reading the different character's points of view and how they manipulated one another. The tension in the story builds and secrets are uncovered slowly and carefully by the author. A terribly entertaining book and terrific cover as well.

The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell - I had been interested in this book since I'd been browsing at Barnes and Noble, but when Danielle reviewed it I knew it was a must-read. This book is full of all the ingredients that make a great read for me: the upstairs/downstairs servant issues, filthy, foggy Victorian London, a host of people who are not what they seem, and a little bit of history, in this case, the study of anthropometry, the science of identifying criminals by body measurements. I enjoyed learning about anthropometry and its comparison with fingerprinting. The supporters argued that it was too difficult to catalog all the fingerprints and much easier to look up things by precise measurement.

Jane Wilbred takes a position as a maid in the Bentley's home and is soon swept up in the unusual goings-on of the household. Her mistress, who would rather her own secrets not be found out, uses Jane as a spy and sends her on mysterious errands. Jane cannot tell who can trust and who she cannot - it seems at times there is no one. This was another entertaining book with a satisfying conclusion.

Something I've been thinking about for a while is putting together a cookbook for myself. Besides my cookbooks, I have lots of pages of recipes that I use regularly and that float around my kitchen trying to get lost. I had thought about using Tastebook, but I'd have to type out all my recipes and what if I made a mistake? Now I'm thinking about buying a pretty binder and plastic page protectors and setting a book up this way. Any better ideas? Just cataloging them on the computer is not going to work because the computer is not in the kitchen and I need a hard copy.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Farmer's Market Monday - Week 1

I was a little premature when I added my Fresh From the Farmer's Market sign over on the right. You can get yours here at A Veggie Venture. I've been eagerly anticipating fresh Minnesota produce for a while now, say, since December. Unfortunately, our late arriving Spring means that the growing season will be shorter. For example, our Peonies that usually bloom by mid-May don't look like they're anywhere near opening. I'm lowering my expectations, but I'm still planting a garden this year. I'll be planting grape, cherry, and yellow pear tomatoes, along with a larger tomato plant a friend gave me, zucchini, basil, thyme, and chives. Yesterday was my first trip to the Saint Paul Farmer's Market in 2008. Here is what I brought home:

The veggies are still pretty sparse. Some farmers only had green onions to sell, or lettuce. There was also rhubarb-which I've never cooked with, radishes and spinach which had already sold out. I was pretty thrilled to get lots of asparagus. I'm going to roast some and make a terrific asparagus pasta dish later this week. I'll be looking forward to peas in the coming weeks.

Want to join me? I'd love to know if you picked up anything at your farmer's market this week. Let me know.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

It must be that time of year

This is my first experience with the 'end of the school year' and it's a doozy. I can hardly keep track of everyplace we need to be let alone gather my thoughts and write an intelligent review of anything. I've watched my girl in 5 'performances' since last Thursday, not including t-ball or swimming, or the kindergarten art show or girl scouts...whew. So, since I haven't shown any book stacks in some time, I thought I'd share some recent acquisitions.

Lots of these books came from bookcloseouts. I was thrilled to find Dark Hearts of Chicago there - I'd read some great reviews of this a year or so ago and wouldn't you know it hasn't been published in the US. Similar story applies to A Hidden Life. The Louise Erdrich book was bought used since I enjoyed The Master Butcher's Singing Club so much.

The four books on the bottom of this stack were purchased at a book sale. I went to the same sale last year and had better luck. There were a lot of 'dealers' there - they had scanners and would scan the codes on the books to see if they matched what they were looking for. I found them irritating since they would block whole sections of shelves and the space was quite cramped. I was happy to snatch The Blood Doctor right out from under someones nose before he could scan it. Ha! This pile is heavy on suspense, including another mooched Barbara Vine and the Sophie Hannah book, an author I became aware of through other book bloggers and who is not published here as far as I can tell. Can you see that Agatha Christie? It's And Then There Were None - I've yet to read her but read a great review of this recently.

This third stack is quite a mishmash. Book Crush is Nancy Pearl's version of Book Lust for children and teens. I've found loads of great suggestions for my daughter and for friend's children as well. My daughter tends to go straight for the 'character' books (barbie, princesses, etc.) and I'm trying to steer her gently away. Karen wrote about Can Any Mother Help Me? some time ago and I've been waiting for the paperback to come out (bookdepository). The subject is fascinating - a group of women in England in the 1930's form a secret magazine which they write and pass around - and leave each other comments on! It sounds like blogging but without computers. Let's see, more nonfiction, A Fatal Waltz compliments of Harper Collins and finally a book I was excited to pick up this past weekend, The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook. It's filled with stories of restaurants, farms, and recipes using local ingredients. So far, I'm the only owner of it on LibraryThing! I just realized I forgot to photograph another book which seems timely - The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly - which is set in Burma. I read about it on a blog, I think, but cannot remember where.

As I look over these books, I am again astounded by how many have been purchased as a direct result of book bloggers. I never would have known about many of these or thought I would have been interested them. I thank you, as always, for letting me be a part of this amazing community.

Hopefully, regular programming to return soon.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sarah's Key

In July of 1942 the German army ordered the French police to round up Jewish citizens in Paris. The prisoners were brought to an indoor sporting arena called the Velodrome and the incident is now know as the Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv. The prisoners suffered for days in the Velodrome, eventually were removed and taken to a transit camp then on to Auschwitz.

This is the basis for the novel Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Sarah is 10 years old and is rounded up with her parents. She locks her younger brother in their secret hiding place promising to return soon. Julia is a journalist, an American married to a Frenchman, who is working on a story about the Vel' d'Hiv. Through her research Julia finds a disturbing link between her husband's family and that of Sarah's.

This book sounded so interesting to me and I was thrilled to get a copy from LibraryThings's Early Reviewer's program. The first half of the book is told from the alternating perspectives of Sarah and Julia. At first, it felt as though the author was going back and forth too quickly, but as Sarah's story became more intense the pace felt right, and Julia's story was a bit of a respite. During this part of the novel, I really couldn't put this book down. Sarah's voice was so authentic and she is a brave and heroic character. Halfway through the book, the story changes and is told only from Julia's perspective who is still researching what has occurred in the past. I didn't feel this part of the novel was as strong as the first. Even though Julia is respectful of the situation she had a self-centered way of approaching the story of Sarah - how it made her feel, how it affected her life - that bothered me. There is a climax about 30 pages before the end of the book and I felt that those last 30 pages were somewhat superfluous and didn't fit well with the rest of the story. I felt they would have been better condensed as a few page epilogue.

Despite my criticism, I found this book to be an absorbing and worthwhile read. I certainly was not aware of this event in French history and it remains a shameful memory because the French police assisted in the deportation.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tagged Times Two

I've been tagged for a couple of memes - I had been thinking it had been awhile - and since I'm sleep deprived they're the perfect thing for today.

Danielle tagged me for the Six Random Things Meme.

Here goes:

1. My husband and I moved (separately) to Chicago after college and met in 1997. We talk about retiring there someday. I miss the big city life.

2. I'm a terrible housekeeper. I mean, I do it (sometimes), but I don't like it. It is somewhat satisfying to get things clean, but when people come home and drop stuff everywhere - me included - I get so discouraged. I have a bad clutter habit too.

3. I like to sleep in a cold room. We keep our bedroom at 64 degrees in the winter and sleep under a down comforter. I think part of the reason I haven't been sleeping well lately is the higher temperature.

4. Confession: I can't wait to go see the Sex and the City movie. Sorry.

5. I really don't like alcohol in desserts. It just ruins it for me.

6. It seems like so many people that I work with in my department have had really horrible things happen to them or their families. For example, two people have died in unexpected and terrible circumstances. I live in fear that my turn is next. Seriously.

I've been tagged by Heather for the Meme of Fives. I did this one back in December but will answer the non-repeat questions.

What are five things on your to-do list for today? (not in any particular order)

Take child to school.
Do laundry.
Take child to swimming.
Make dinner.
Meet a guy to talk about a fence.

What are five snacks you enjoy?

Coffee ice cream
Snyder's honey mustard pretzel piece thingys
fruit- currently looking forward to plums and nectarines

What are five of your bad habits?

I can be very bossy.
I let things become very cluttered. On the other hand, I am good at not seeing this.
I have a short temper.
I hear snoring is one but I don't believe it.
I buy too many books. Or is that a good habit? I think so.

What are five places that you have lived?

Livingston, New Jersey
Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Centerville, Ohio
Chicago, Illinois
Saint Paul, Minnesota

What are five jobs you have had?

Busgirl at Mexican restaurant when I was 14. My clothes got so stinky my mother literally made me leave them at the front door.

Worked at the movie theater in high school, selling candy and tickets. Great job, great benefits (free movies!!!), fun coworkers.

Customer service at Toys-R-Us. Ugh.

Work study program in college at Computer Science Department.


I'm not going to tag anyone for anything! But if you'd like to, please play along and let me know where I can find your answers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Find

Lazy, lazy, lazy. That's how I'm feeling right now. I worked all weekend so I'm taking it easy right now, still in my pajamas. Except I need to get some housekeeping done. Sigh.

I read a really fantastic book last week, The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. This was a book club pick and though I've heard a lot about the author who lives here in town, I didn't know what to expect. This book was so good in fact, once I started this, I completely gave up on a book I was over 100 pages into that I wasn't really getting on with. The contrast between how well this was written and the other book was huge.

Fidelis Waldvogel returns to his small German village after serving in WWI. He marries and soon afterwards decides to try him luck in America. Alone, except for a suitcase full of sausage, Fidelis makes his way West, planning to go to Seattle, but winding up in Argus, North Dakota since that was as far as his money would take him. Fidelis sets up a business and brings his family over. Delphine Watzka, who grew up in Argus, is living on the road and performing in an act. She returns to Argus and her alcoholic father, and takes a job in Fidelis's shop forming a strong bond with Eva, Fidelis's wife. There the story takes off, all the way to post WWII, on the way there is life and death, love and animosity, murder and a bit of a mystery all woven together to tell this brilliant tale.

It's hard to put my finger on why I liked this book so very much. It's beautifully written but it's much more than that. The characters are so well drawn and complicated - they weren't just good or bad, but had many facets to their personalities. I felt as though I knew them and couldn't wait to get back to them. There are lots of bizarre situations but somehow Erdrich made them seem so possible, so real. It was just a really, really good read and one of the highlights this year. I hope my book club will have a good discussion about this one.

Erdrich is a member of the Ojibwe Indian tribe and apparently many of her books focus on these people and these small towns like Argus. She has written quite a few books and I'm trying to figure out what else would suit me. I have my eye on The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. I'm curious if you've read anything by her and if you have any recommendations.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Define - fieldwork
3. the gathering of anthropological or sociological data through the interviewing and observation of subjects in the field

I finished Mischa Berlinski's novel Fieldwork several weeks ago but I have been putting off writing a review of it. Not so much because I didn't like it, but because I don't know how to tell you about it. But, I agreed to review it for LibraryThing's Early Reviewer's program so I'm going to give it a whirl.

Fieldwork begins when its protagonist -also called Mischa Berlinski - learns about the suicide of an American anthropologist, Martiya van der Leun in a Thai prison. Berlinksi, also an American, is living in Thailand with his girlfriend and writing to earn money. He begins to investigate the story of Martiya and becomes consumed with it. The book then moves into a fairly extensive history of a family of American missionaries living in Thailand for several generations. Then we learn the story of Martiya's young life, education, and how she came to be doing fieldwork among the Dyalo people in Thailand. There are extremely detailed accounts of doing anthropological research and of the Dyalo. Mischa continues his research finally discovering how these stories come together and how Martiya came to be incarcerated.

It took me a a very long time to read this book. I enjoyed the writing, it was very conversational and there is a sort-of quirky humor in the book. The book felt very long and there are many characters. For example, I thought the story about the missionaries was going to be an aside, instead there were over 100 pages about their family history. The fieldwork section was similarly long. I have had a great interest in anthropology since taking some college classes on the subject which increased my appreciation of this part of the story. I don't feel that Amazon's description of this novel as a 'thriller' is terribly accurate. The mystery part of the story seems more like a vehicle for Berlinski to write about what he is interested in and knowledgeable about which happens to be missionaries and anthropology. It is obviously very well researched and Berlinski is a gifted writer. There was much that I liked about this book but I never felt very involved or invested in it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I'm a guest blogger!

Lisa from Books on the Brain kindly asked me to write a little something about my bookclub. You can read it here.

Friday, May 2, 2008


Maggie Again by John Husband is one of those books that just kept popping up on blogs a few months back. The premise of the story sounded so fascinating to me and I put it on my wish list several different times. Fast Forward to about a month ago when I heard about online book publicist Lisa Roe who makes books available to bloggers who are interested in reviewing them. (Go check her out!) Maggie Again was one she had on her list and happily Lisa agreed to send me a copy.

Maggie Again is the story of Maggie, a teenager living in a small farming community in Indiana, Cobbler's Eddy in 1926. Maggie's father decides to move the family to New York City and work in finance. Maggie is lonely and invites three of her friends - all boys - to visit her. They jump on a boxcar in 1926 and when they arrive in New York - the year is 1984 - and 74 year old Maggie's life did not turn out the way she had expected it to.

Maggie Again is an absolutely charming book and the word that kept coming to mind while I was reading it was nostalgia - even though this is a story about time travel it is told in an old fashioned way. I loved reading about the aspects of life in 1984 that surprised and confused the boys. I also loved reading about life in small town America. I think in order to enjoy books like this, one has to be willing to suspend their disbelief. The story is quite magical, and gave me a lot to think about. How does my life now compare to what I thought it would be like? What if I was given a second chance - would I change anything? Maggie Again is a sweet book about friendship - maybe because of this I kept thinking about Nan when I was reading it. I think she'd like this book.


Blogger must be having a problem because I don't seem to be getting comment notification. If I don't respond to comments on older posts I'm not ignoring you - I just don't know they're there!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

How do you like your chocolate chip cookies?

I like mine just like this. Go ahead, have one. Or two. I just did.

Large and thin. Crispy around the edges, leading into chewy caramelized goodness full of chocolate chips.

My secret?

Dark brown sugar. Two extra tablespoons of butter - it helps them spread. The bigger the better - I only get 30-35 cookies from a batch. do you like your chocolate chip cookies?

More book talk coming soon.....lots of stuff going on here. I'm off to have my eyes checked now. The better to read with!