Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reading Roundup

I've read lots of great books as we approach the end of the year. Here they are:

Q's Legacy by Helene Hanff is a memoir but felt a bit like a series of magazine articles. Hanff writes about her early life and how she came to write 84, Charing Cross Road and about her subsequent trips to London. She details the filming of the BBC TV production of 84 CCR in the 70's - I'd love to be able to watch this production now. She also writes about meeting with many of her fans and how 84 was brought to the stage in London. It was really a very remarkable book, dealing with extraordinary events in what Hanff felt was really a quite ordinary life. Hanff writes with her trademark humor and wit and I found myself charmed by her and rooting for her all over again. This was truly a wonderful read and my fourth Hanff book in 2007!

Identical Strangers - A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein was a terrific read. These twin sisters were adopted as infants and separated due to a secret study of identical twins being carried out by the adoption agency. The sisters never learned of it until adulthood - and only then by accident. The story is told from both women's points of view; it is in turn devastating, joyful, and mysterious. I was astonished by their brutal honesty in telling their story and their innermost feelings about one another. This story is not just a memoir - it is also a book about twins, separated and not, and gives a pretty good argument for nature winning the nature vs. nurture debate. The story also has at its center a mystery, that of the twins mother, and the book ends with a final stunning climactic chapter. This was a wonderful read; I think I would say it is my eleventh favorite of the year, having already listed my top ten.

Have You Found Her is a compulsively readable memoir by Janice Erlbaum, a teen runaway turned successful writer. Erlbaum decides as an adult to volunteer at the shelter in NYC she stayed at as a teen. She visits weekly and brings beads for the girls to work with. Erlbaum has a habit of becoming emotionally attached to certain girls - she really desires validation from these girls. Erlbaum meets a young woman named Sam who has been living on the streets for years and the two form an instant connection. This is a painfully honest memoir and I found myself judging the author at times due to her behavior with drugs (she was smoking pot regularly) and her intense relationship with Sam which left her emotionally on edge and neglectful of her own friends and boyfriend. She seems to really have a need to feel needed. The author is really brave, in my opinion, for sharing so much of herself with the reader. The description on the back of this book states "Sam was more troubled than anybody had known, in ways no one could have imagined" and it was this line that propelled me through this book - I read the last half in one sitting, neglecting my own family in the process. I thought this was a very good read and came to a satisfying conclusion. I received this book thanks to the Librarything Early Reviewers program and it will be available in March 2008 according to the back cover.

Finally, I read the second Maisie Dobbs book, Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear. I liked it, though not quite as much as the first book. I really fell in love with the middle section of that book that dealt with Maisie's youth and young adulthood. I will continue to read the books in this series. Since I'm not a big mystery reader I like that they are somewhat light on the mystery part and heavy on atmosphere.

I think this will be my last post of 2007! I am looking forward to starting the New Year and getting back into a routine. It seems that we are just at the beginning of what looks to be a very long winter so I must find ways to embrace that and reading is certainly my favorite way.

Happy New Year to all of you - you've enriched my life, particularly my reading life in so many ways and I thank you.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Best Books Read in 2007

I'm still working on writing about my end of the year reads, but with all three of us in the house, well, it's been difficult to find the time. Here I present my favorite reads of 2007. Most of the books on my list are there due to pure enjoyment - they were all great reads for me. Some made me laugh, many made me think, some I learned from, some I'm sure were just the right book at the right time and gave me pleasure. All of them have stayed with me.

In compiling my list, I've decided to leave off two books which were favorite books but were rereads for me. I considered them favorite books in their respective years. They are:

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

The following books, in no particular order except that in which I read them, are books 2 through 10, the last book is my Book of The Year.

Miss Mole by E.H. Young - A Virago Modern Classic and the first book I finished in 2007, here's what I wrote about it in my book journal: Very funny and witty, never 'met' a character like her before, enjoyed and could appreciate her unique point of view.

The Birth House by Ami McKay - A historical novel set in remote Canada looks at midwifery vs. the medical establishment. Enjoyed the unique way McKay told this story, prose alongside letters, articles, diary entries and old advertisements.

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee - Fascinating biography of arguably the most influential person in the US promoting sustainable eating and her world renowned restaurant. Does not gloss over the negative.

The Observations by Jane Harris - Loved this fun and bawdy historical novel that is reminiscent of Slammerkin and Sarah Waters.

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson - Bryson writes lovingly of Australia with his trademark humor.

The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn - Gorgeously written account of a man searching the world for information about his relatives lost in the Holocaust. The highlight for me was when the author's brother left me a comment about my review.

Asta's Book by Barbara Vine - Loved this historical psychological thriller.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - Wonderfully entertaining novel about a subject I'd never seen explored in fiction.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff - Delightful book of letters sent me looking for more of Hanff's writing.

Finally, my Book of the Year is:

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan - Farming, our food supply, our eating habits - this covers it all. I think about this book almost every day, have sung it's praises to many, and delight in how it's changed my life and my attitudes towards food. Pollan is not the first to write about this subject, but does it most engagingly.

My author Finds of the Year are Barbara Vine and Helene Hanff. Thanks to all the bloggers out there who inspired me the read these two, and many other authors this year. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Breakdown...and a Fun Meme

The breakdown first...I was looking at my list of books read and was curious about a few statistics, so here goes.

Fiction - 51
Nonfiction - 27

Fiction by a female author - 48
Fiction by a male author - 3

Nonfiction by a female author - 18
Nonfiction by a male author - 8
Fiction by 2 authors 1 male one female - 1

Well, I knew I favored women writers but I didn't realize quite how much. Most surprising to me was that I thought perhaps I'd read more nonfiction books by men which is obviously not the case. (These numbers will be edited to contain the rest of my 2007 reads.)

LisaMM at Books on the Brain tagged me for a fun meme. It's called Whatcha Reading?

1. Whatcha reading? Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

2. How much of it have you read so far? About a third

3. What’s it about? (in a nutshell! A sentence or two is enough)Maisie Dobbs is looking for someone. Billy has something mysterious going on.

4. What does the title refer to? I suppose the fact that several victims of crimes are connected.

5. Would you recommend it? Sure!

I'm not a tagger, but go ahead and do this -it's fun!

Due to time constraints and holiday travel, I'm planning on writing one big post about the rest of my 2007 reading. I'll also post separately about my top books of 2007.

Happy Holidays! And do let me know if you do the meme - I'd like to read your answers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Visit to a Bookshop

This past Sunday I had the good fortune to visit a wonderful book shop, Common Good Books, owned by Garrison Keillor. I wish I could tell you why I hadn't been there before, but I cannot. In any case, I walked down to this basement shop and feasted my eyes on the books, ignoring the freshly baked bread sitting on a table outside the shop. "Would you like to try our bread?" a voice said. "Yes, please." I replied and turned around. I suddenly realized that I recognized this man, Jeff Hertzberg. I read an article about him and him co-author Zoe Francois who have just published a book entitled Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. "I'm on the list at the library for your book" I told him and he laughed. Naturally, I had to buy a copy and have it signed 'To Tara'. What fun. I happened to look on Amazon last night to read the reviews of the book and not only are they wonderful, but this book has sold out and Amazon won't be shipping until it's been reprinted. Obviously, a wonderful success for these nice people.

The book looks wonderful and if you're interested in their method do go to their website. Jeff told me there are reviews posted there that include recipes.

My husband who suggested I go to this bookshop soon arrived - we were meant to go for dinner - naturally I told him 'I hope you don't think I'm leaving now, that I've arrived at this wonderful shop.' It's really a lovely place, full of familiar titles, but also unfamiliar ones, to me the primary reason for shopping at independent stores. I also purchased The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson which is about the 1854 London cholera epidemic. Another book the caught my eye was Golden Legacy, about the history of Golden Books and is full of wonderful illustrations.

As I was checking out, I noticed a card entitled 'Ode: On the First Anniversary' by G.K.

I leave you with a bit of it:

A bookstore is for people who love books and need to touch them, open them, browse for awhile,

And find some common good --- that's why we read.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Books Read in 2007

(I made this list so I could post a link to it on my sidebar. Thanks to Nan for the idea and instructions. I will continue adding to it until 2008.)

1. Miss Mole - E.H. Young
2. The World in My Kitchen - Colette Rossant
3. Toast - Nigel Slater
4. The Night Watch - Sarah Waters
5. Nigella Lawson - Gilly Smith
6. Where We Lived - Jack Larkin
7. Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
8. Arlington Park - Rachel Cusk
9. The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan
10. Heat - Bill Buford
11. The Gentlewoman - Laura Talbot
12. Daniel Isn't Talking - Marti Leimbach
13. A Midwife's Story - Penny Armstrong
14. Shopaholic & Baby - Sophie Kinsella
15. Secret Girl - Molly Bruce Jacobs
16. The Birth House - Ami McKay
17. Whitethorn Woods - Maeve Binchey
18. The Key - Jennifer Sturman
19. Fall on Your Knees - Ann Marie MacDonald
20. The Last Days of Dogtown - Anita Diamant
21. The Innocent Man - John Grisham
22. When She Was White - Judith Stone
23. The Woman in Black - Susan Hill
24. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse - Thomas McNamee
25. Alphabet Weekends - Elizabeth Noble
26. The Observations - Jane Harris
27. Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult
28. Julia Child - Laura Shapiro
29. Dusty Answer - Rosamond Lehmann
30. Sweet Ruin - Cathi Hanauer
31. Death at La Fenice - Donna Leon
32. The Shuttle - Frances Hodgson Burnett
33. Missing - Mary Stanley
34. The Accomplice - Kathryn Heyman
35. Plan B - Emily Barr
36. Facing the Light - Adele Geras
37. Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature - Linda Lear
38. In a Sunburned Country - Bill Bryson
39. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
40. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver
41. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling
42. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
43. Keeping the World Away - Margaret Forster
44. Markham Thorpe - Giles Waterfield
45. A Step in the Dark - Judith Lennox
46. Atonement - Ian McEwan
47. Plenty -Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon
48. Made in Heaven - Adele Geras
49. The Lost - Daniel Mendelsohn
50. The Nature of Monsters - Clare Clark
51. Road Song - Natalie Kusz
52. Singing Bird - Roisin McAuley
53. Excellent Women - Barbara Pym
54. Sister Carrie - Theodore Dreiser
55. Tarte Tatin - Susan Loomis
56. Asta's Book - Barbara Vine
57. A Childhood in Scotland - Christian Miller
58. Out of the Silence - Wendy James
59. Mephisto Club - Tess Geritsen
60. Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
61. Almost a Crime - Penny Vincenzi
62. The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold
63. This Time of Dying - Reina James
64. The Air we Breathe - Andrea Barrett
65. Case Histories - Kate Atkinson
66. 84, Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff
67. The Island - Victoria Hislop
68. Duchess of Bloomsbury Street - Helene Hanff
69. A Dark Adapted Eye - Barbara Vine
70. Apple of My Eye - Helene Hanff
71. Bad Blood - Lorna Sage
72. The Moonlit Cage - Linda Holeman
73. Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear
74. Q's Legacy - Helene Hanff
75. Chatterton Square - E.H. Young
76. Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited - Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein
77. Have You Found Her - Janice Erlbaum
78. Birds of a Feather - Jacqueline Winspear

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What I Love

a gingerbread house

I don't mind taking the credit for the pretzel 'logs'

the idea of making a tastebook

Check out this post from 101 cookbooks. You can create your very own beautiful cookbook from your own recipes. The only problem as I see it, is, that most of my recipes would be difficult to write down since I am fond the the 'eyeball it' and then taste method.

the original A Room With a View film

I have been rewatching it and confirm that it is perfect and marvelous in every possible way. Every character is perfectly casted, most of all the young and innocent Helena Bonham Carter. The music brings me joy and touches my soul every time I hear it. The new version doesn't hold a candle.

a nice juicy read

I recently enjoyed Linda Holeman's (author of The Linnet Bird) The Moonlit Cage. This is the story of a young woman growing up in a village in Afghanistan during Victorian times. She is the sort of girl that never quite feels as though she belongs, that she wants more than seems to be available to her. A series of events in which this young woman seeks to change her fate brings her to Victorian London. A few of the characters from The Linnet Bird appear in this book. This book had adventure, history, a foreign land and its culture, romance and a villain. What more could I want? This book may still be available from bookcloseouts. I am currently reading Maisie Dobbs and enjoying it immensely. I will certainly be reading more of this series.

a year with frog and toad

We saw this last night and it was really wonderful, certainly the best show I've seen yet at the Children's Theater (and I've liked them all). The music was so good, sort of a 30's big band sound.

I have entered the 'too much to do and not enough time to do it in' phase of December and find myself looking forward to the new year. (Be forewarned, a whine is coming.) Due to a variety of reasons, it is not practical to spend Christmas with my family and I will again be traveling to my in-laws to spend Christmas. Naturally, as the wife, I am responsible for all the holiday preparations and then do not even get to stay in my own home. I wish that we could start to have our own traditions and wonder if this will ever come. Thank you. I needed to get that off my chest. Blogging will be light in the coming weeks, though I am looking forward to a few end of the year wrap-up sort of posts. Take care!

Monday, December 10, 2007

I've Been Tagged - Five Things

It's amazing how balmy 18 degrees feels when you're used to 4 degrees!

I've been tagged by The Literate Kitten, so here you go:

5 things I was doing 10 years ago
1. Dating my husband
2. Working full-time
3. Living in Chicago in a studio apartment
4. Going to great restaurants and musicals regularly
5. Reading some, but not as much as now. We used to go on bookstore dates.

5 things on my to-do list today
1. Take my daughter to school
2. Go to the gym
3. Go to the dentist
4. Think about what I need to do for Christmas (a lot)
5. Go to work until 11pm
Sounds fun, no?

5 things I would do if I were a millionaire
1. Travel
2. Move to a warmer climate
3. I'd love to be able to work somehow to promote a better way of eating in this country. That encompasses a lot.
4. Invest
5. Help underprivileged children with reading programs

5 things I'll never wear again
1. A bikini
2. Very high heeled shoes
3. Miniskirts
4. Colored mascara (blue, for example)
5. A coat that's not warm enough (Remember, I'm in Minnesota)

5 favorite toys
1. Princess Monopoly
2. Card Games
3. Pink Ipod
4. Computer
5. My family! We love to get silly.

I won't tag anyone directly, but if you'd like to play, please do!

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Post in Two Parts

Part 1 - The Trouble With Christmas Shopping

I'm not a big shopper, that is, I don't do much browsing. Well, I do in bookstores, but you already knew that. I'm just saying that I go shopping when I need to buy something, I walk in, pick it up and pay for it and that's the end of it. When a new season arrives, I go to a bunch of stores/websites, buy my child's clothing for the next 6 months and I'm done. Thus, the necessity of shopping, of browsing, for gifts for people for whom I'm not sure what to get, well it gets tricky for me. Mostly because I'm really good at finding things I'd like for myself.

Take, for example, the cool local craft show I attended recently. Every few years I'll make handmade gifts (hand-stamped stationary, jewelery, chocolate truffles, embroidered items) but it's a little late for that now. I figured the next best thing was supporting local crafters. See that cool bag with the gray and blue and red ribbon around it? Yep, that's mine now. I can't wait to use it this Spring. These folks make some terrific smelling soaps and bath salts - I threw a bar in for me. Here are some cute gifts for babies - fortunately I didn't need one myself. Look at these crazy cute animals - my little one is getting a gingerbread girl tree ornament - they look to be all gone. Then there is my new pin bought alongside my daughters new hair clip, my new chocolate lip get the picture.

I went to my favorite local gift shop, full of things you never knew you needed, and found these fantastic mugs. There is a cute red bird on the other side. I thought these would be great for my sisters....but wouldn't it be fun if we each had the same one? Of course it would. And it sort of matches my new bag, no? The thing is, I always tell people 'don't get me anything!'. What they don't realize is, I've already done it for them.

Part 2 - Why I Love Nigel Slater (again)

The 30-Minute Cook by Nigel Slater arrived the other day. I bought it from Abebooks for about 5 dollars. I just cannot get enough of this man's writing. I have three of his books on my nightstand right now. Really. I wish I could have all of his food knowledge and ideas inside my head or at the very least eat at his table for the next month. Here are my favorite 'Nigelisms' from this book:

"Chinese cooking is a doddle. Unless, of course, you take it very seriously."

"Hooray for the salsa."

"..avoid any chilli sauce made in Vietnam. If you value your tastebuds and sinuses, that is."

On coconut milk:
"You can use fresh coconut. If you have all day. You can use desiccated coconut. If you're desperate."

On coriander (cilantro for those of us in the US):
"After initially thinking it tasted of washing-up liquid I became addicted to the stuff."

"I had become a bit bored with broccoli."

I love this man. I'd love to watch him cook but don't think he's ever been on US television.

Sorry for such a disjointed post, I've been reading but haven't finished anything. I spent most of yesterday sitting in a house with a broken furnace waiting for repair. It was 52 degrees in the house and about 8 degrees outside. The only good news is, it wasn't the house I live in. There will be lots of crafting here this weekend, tonight there is an event at my daughter's school and tomorrow we'll be building a gingerbread house at her old preschool. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A List

We have snow.

Plenty of it already - as far as I'm concerned - and more on the way. We might have a total of 20 inches by this weekend. I am so thankful for my new tires we bought last winter.

I have a habit of browsing my bookshelves as though they are a bookstore. Sometimes I do it when I'm looking for my next read, sometimes when I'm just waiting for someone to arrive. But what I always realize is, why haven't I read all these amazing looking books? I bought them, and now they're just sitting here. So I've decided to make a list. A list of books that I will make some sort of attempt to get to in 2008, and I hope that having this list will prompt me to go back and look at it. The books on this list are on it for a reason. Some have been on my shelves for years, some are newer but I made a big fuss about obtaining them. Some were obtained when I was on a kick about something that has now passed. In any case, all deserve a chance to be read and I hope to give it to them. I've chosen 24 books, 12 fiction and 12 nonfiction. Interestingly I had a much easier time choosing the nonfiction list. And for the record, this is not a challenge, just A List.


Maggie Now by Betty Smith
The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower
Cranford by Mrs Gaskell
The Real Charlotte by Somerville & Ross
Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes
Something by Shirley Jackson
Something by Elizabeth Taylor


Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
Hungering for America by Hasia R. Diner
Much Depends on Dinner by Margaret Visser
Consuming Passions by Judith Flanders
Period Piece by Gwen Raverat
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
Triangle by David Von Drehle
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Maximum City:Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta
Diane Moseley by Anne de Courcy
Nightingales by Gillian Gill
The Working Poor by David Shipler

What books do you want to read in 2008?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


I've had the pleasure of reading another book by Helene Hanff thanks to Cath who recommended it. Apple of My Eye is somewhat difficult to describe. It is subtitled A Personal Tour of New York which is, I suppose, what it is. Helene and her friend Patsy become tourists of their beloved city and experience life as tourists. I think this is an interesting perspective because no matter where you live, there are probably sights that you've never visited just because you figure "well, I live here, I can go anytime". The book is filled with wonderful photographs of NYC and even though this book was published in 1977, everything looks very modern - except for the automobiles. The book is written in the style of a journal and is similar to Duchess of Bloomsbury in that way. Naturally, Hanff's wonderful witticisms are all there, and the book is full of humor and fun. This book would not serve as a guidebook, not now or in 1977, but would be a wonderful read if you are visiting New York. It is full of eclectic bits of history. The only thing I didn't like about this book and I'm speaking of the exact library copy I hold in my hands, is that some horrible person has torn multiple pages out of it! They seem to be pages that had photographs on one side and text on the other and it is very disconcerting to be reading along and then not be able to finish the author's train of thought. This rude person actually tore out the last page of the book- text included! Grrr. I'm going to try to find an inexpensive used copy of Hanff's book Q's Legacy. This book looks like it ties all the bits of Hanff's life together.

I've also finished Bad Blood by Lorna Sage which has a very different tone from the above. I came across this memoir in one of my favorite used book stores - they tend to have a small selection of UK publications. Sage had a very dysfunctional and poor childhood, living with her grandparents and mother in a vicarage while her father was away fighting WWII. The main thing that struck me about this book was the treatment of children. I've mentioned this before in other books, but in these very child-centric times (I'm not saying this is the best way - only the way things seem to be right now) it's difficult to read about caregivers being so neglectful. All the instincts I have make me want my child to have the things she needs to be happy and healthy. Sage mentions several times that she had lice for years - her caregivers felt she'd just get it again so didn't treat her. She writes about her insomnia due to chronic sinusitis. The doctor recommended that Sage be allowed to stay up late and read but I can't help but wonder if penicillin or other treatments would have helped. Sage finds solace in books and education, both of which she knows will be her ticket out of her present life. Sage becomes pregnant in her teens and makes the decision to marry and take her exams after the baby is born. I liked this book. It was a fascinating portrait of a girlhood during a time that is forever gone, yet so many of the themes are the same today.