Saturday, December 31, 2011

Farewell and Good Riddance to 2011


To say that 2011 has been a year I would not want to relive is a real understatement. It has been a very hard year for my family (although I must admit that it brought us even closer and served to remind us of how much we love each other) and it has ended with a professional quarter of the year that has turned my life upside down. On the first score, we are expecting nothing but good news in 2012 and on the second score, I'm hoping to have changed my work life soon to get a balance back in my life that includes having time for my family and doing the things I love (including blogging!).

My reading numbers were down considerably in 2011; I don't think that I'll hit 75 books read this year. I did succeed, to some extent, with the goals I set for my reading for the year. I managed to complete about half of my challenges this year but I largely blame my lack of success here on my inability to find the time to read for the past three months so I can live with that. I did read a lot more non-fiction this year and definitely increased the number of books set outside of the U.S. or written by non-U.S. authors (the fairy tale and myth reading certainly helped with this one!).  Given that I had read almost no historical fiction in 2010, that was another goal I met in 2011 even though I only managed to read ten historical fiction novels.

I read a lot of books I liked a lot in 2011 but very few that I would say I truly loved. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the books I loved were written by men, certainly a change over previous years. My top books of 2011 were:

FICTION:
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Safe From The Sea by Peter Geye

The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Shaffert

The March by E.L. Doctorow

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

NON-FICTION:
The Man In The Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

Instant City by Steve Inskeep

This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

For 2012, I'm hoping to get things turned around, reading wise. Some of my goals will remain the same, fewer challenges will be undertaken but mostly I hope to find more time for reading again in 2012. It brings a sense of calm to my life that has been sorely missing of late. And I miss getting to talk to all of you, so more time for blogging must be made in the coming year!

What was your favorite book in 2011? What are you looking forward to in 2012?

Wishing you all a very happy new year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fairy Tale Fridays - 2012 Fairy Tale Movies

The number of websites devoted to fairy tales that I've found since starting Fairy Tale Fridays proves that I'm not alone in being fascinated with this particular form of story telling. The number of new books being published further confirms this. But, perhaps, the most telling indication that fairy tales are big right now are the movies based on fairy tales that have been released in the past couple of years with four new movies scheduled for release in 2012.

In June, JACK THE GIANT KILLER is scheduled for release. This take on the classic tale of the boy who climbed the beanstalk turns the tale into an action movie. There is not just one giant who must be confronted but an entire race of them who want to reclaim that land they claim was taken from them. Can't say that I'm looking forward to this one; it will likely appeal much more to young men than any other audience.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, also scheduled for release in June, sticks more closely to the original tale for much of the story but it, too, veers off into an action movie. When the huntsman sent to kill Snow White and bring her heart back to the wicked stepmother takes pity on her and spares her, in the movie version he then trains her to fight back against her stepmother with an army that includes eight dwarfs. Again, definitely a movie aimed more toward a younger audience, particularly those who have grown attached to actress Kristin Stewart (she of Twilight fame).

Hansel and Gretel will also come to the silver screen in 2012, this time fifteen years after their encounter with the crone in the candy house. In HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, Hansel and Gretel are now bounty hunters charged with killing witches who may have met their match when they are hired to kill an evil sorceress who's planning on killing all the children in a village. Sadly, this is another one I won't pay to see but I do appreciate that they have, at least, not messed with the original tale here.

THE BROTHERS GRIMM: SNOW WHITE will also be a new take on an old story, but one that I may just have to see. This one promises to include comedy (Nathan Lane is in the cast if that's any clue) and the costumes and settings look spectacular.

On the animated scene, look for BRAVE from Disney-Pixar (which draws from Scottish mythology more than fairy tales) and DOROTHY OF OZ. Although the Wizard of Oz stories aren't centuries-old tales, they are every bit fairy tales in their construction and this version may be just the thing to introduce younger audiences to the stories without being quite a scary as the Judy Garland movie version.

Grown up (and by this I mean very grown up) takes on fairy tales coming out in 2012 include Jane Campion's SLEEPING BEAUTY (only very loosely based on the fairy tale with the sleeping beauty being a prostitute) and PAN, a modern telling of the basic idea of J.M. Barrie's story where Hook is a detective in search of a serial killer who preys on children.

On the whole, I'm thrilled that these old stories continue to capture the imagination of the general public even if it means turning them into action films and I look forward to seeing what new ways fairy tales will be used in the coming year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Separate Country

A Separate Country by Robert Hicks
432 pages
Published September 2009 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: I won it in a drawing

Eli Griffin has been left a task by a dying man, a man he had tried to kill years earlier. Major General John Bell Hood, late of the Confederate army, knows that he can make Griffin feel obliged to discharge an obligation to make up for that attempt and in his dying hours sets Griffin to a task that will bring him into contact with characters that could not populate any city except New Orleans.

John Hood left the war with an arm he could not use and a leg that had been amputated yet the wounds that most profoundly marked him were the wounds that couldn't be seen. Hood was bitter and conflicted about what he had done in his years in the army and deeply disappointed with the legacy that he had left. He spent much of the rest of his life writing a book attempting to set the record straight. On his death bed, however, he tells Griffin that he wants that book destroyed and a more recent accounting of his life published. This is the story of his life with Anna Marie Hennen, a New Orleans beauty who was inexplicably drawn to the shattered man, who gave birth to his eleven children and who introduced him to people who could only have lived in New Orleans.

Griffin is left to deal with these people as he attempts to retrieve the original book from from Confederate General Beauregarde and to find a killer who Hood says must approve the publication of the second book. Along the way Griffin is drawn more deeply into the world that Hood has inhabited since he first met Anna Marie, a world that includes the dwarf, Rintrah, a priest without a church, Father Mike, and the memory of a beloved man whose legacy seems to contradict what Griffin learns about him.

Hicks moves the story of Griffin's task back and forth between the writings that both Hood and Anna Marie have left and Griffin's own search for the truth in a way that keeps the story moving along and never seems to become confusing (as can so often happen when authors choose this method of story telling). The story moves back and forth in time, slowly revealing new surprises along the way. Hicks does a marvelous job of creating multi-layered characters - in even the most hardened characters there is a soft place reserved for loved ones and old hurts. The city of New Orleans comes alive in Hicks' hands as does the time period immediately following the American Civil War.

Unfortunately, the book fell flat for me in the end. The story became too complex and implausible for me and a character that was introduced late in the story and seemed to be somewhat pivotal was never fully explained to my satisfaction. Still I enjoyed the book overall and I would recommend it for lovers of historical fiction, particularly those who enjoy stories revolving around the American Civil War.

I read this book for the War Through The Generations Challenge.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Because I Haven't Finished A Book In A Week....

I bring you bookish news instead. I am, finally finishing A Separate Country tonight and I have started April, 1865 all in an effort to reach my Civil War reading goal. But I will have to finish April, 1865 and another book still this month and, at the rate I'm going, that could be difficult. Although I do have the last week of the month off...maybe my family will give me the perfect gift of a week of uninterrupted reading for Chistmas!

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've probably noticed that I don't read a lot of mystery books (although I do enjoy them) and far fewer spy novels. I haven't read a single Bourne book nor any Tom Clancy. But years ago, I did pick up Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and recall liking it quite a lot. I have no idea why I never picked up the next book in LeCarre's trilogy. I am, however, looking forward to seeing what Hollywood has done with George Smiley. Gary Oldman is a terrific actor but he's certainly not the person I pictured as I was reading the book.

Rachel, of A Home Between The Pages, has written about her top five books of 2011 for bookriot.com. I was happy to see Timothy Schaffert's The Little Coffins of Hope, one of my favorite books of 2011, on her list as well. The Omaha Bookworms are looking forward to reading it this spring and I'm wondering if I might be able to talk Shaffert into joining us when we discuss his book.

With the year coming to an end soon, have you been giving any thought to which books were your favorites this year? I've been remiss about updating my tab of favorite books of the year so I'm going to have to give this a little more thought than I had planned.

Any books on your wish list for the holidays? I have several I would like to have asked for but my family is under the crazy impression that I don't need any more books so they won't give me any. Will your family indulge your addiction?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust
368 pages
Published January 2009 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought this one after hearing about it on NPR

I grew up with an unusual awareness of the American Civil War, particularly for someone who lives so far removed from the where the bulk of  the action occurred. But then I lived in an unusual household. My father, an American History teacher, had a particular fondness for the American Civil War. That fondness meant that many of our summer vacation trips included stops at Civil War battlefields. I even took my dad's Civil War course when I was in high school; the number of people that died in this war was not news to me. Yet, when I heard about this book on NPR, it made me stop and think about that number more closely. Just how did both the North and the South deal with numbers of dead that large? And how did this war change the war American felt about death and the way the country dealt with their military dead?

Gilpin Faust breaks This Republic of Suffering into nine chapters, each exploring a different aspect of what was learned about dying from 1861-1865: Dying, Killing, Burying, Naming, Realizing, Believing and Doubting, Accounting, Numbering, and Surviving. In "Dying" she wrote:
"Sudden death represented a profound threat to fundamental assumption about the correct way to die, and its frequency on the battlefield comprised one of the most important ways that Civil War death departed from the "ordinary death" of the prewar period."
Prior to the war, the mostly Christian people of the United States believed in the "good death," a death surrounded by family which giving the dying person time to show their faith in God. Letters to the family of the deceased often mentioned how the dying had accepted God in their final moments or died well. The war also brought up a conflict between duty to God and duty to country that had to be resolved.

Killing on that scale had never been seen before, particularly when the combatants were very much alike. As one soldier said the killing demanded "the harder courage."
"..Civil War killing...required work --intellectual and psychological effort to address religious and emotional constraints, as well as adaptation to the ways this particular war's technologies, tactics, and logistics shaped the experience of combat."
The killing was not the only thing that required work on a scale never before seen. Dealing with the dead on the battlefield, traditionally the duty of the victor, often had to be postponed and matter of who was responsible was never entirely clear. Thousands of bodies were buried without identification or in remote places, thousands more were buried in mass burial pits. Industries sprung up: business to help find loved ones (both the missing and the dead), services to bring bodies home, coffin makers and embalmers. Not only did these people show up in droves after a battle but family members of those involved also flocked to the sites, hoping to find their loved ones (barring that, to bring home their bodies).



Eventually the nation had to come to terms with the reality of so many dead and wounded and it weighed heavily and the faith of many. Finally the government began to step up and acknowledge that the dead now belonged to the nation. The long and difficult job of identifying the dead and reburying them in national cemeteries went on for decades after the war ended. And during all of this time, the counting continued. There will never be a definite count on the number of men, women and children killed in the war, in combat, through accidents and illness, and through the deprivations that were a part of the war.

Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University, as penned a work that even the most widely-read of Civil War buffs can learn from. It literally took me months to read this one, there was only so much new information I could digest at a time. This Republic of Suffering is one of the best researched book I've ever read, although I sometimes felt that there may have been too much information, too many examples and details. Never the less, I highly recommend it for those with a strong interest in the American Civil War and those who have an interest in how wars impact entire nations.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Conversations and Cosmopolitans by Robert Rave and Jane Rave and a Giveaway

Conversations and Cosmopolitans: Awkward Moments, Mixed Drinks, and How a Mother and Son Finally Shared Who They Really Are 
by Robert Rave and Jane Rave
304 pages
Published November 2011 by St. Martin's Press
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

At twenty one, Robert Rave had recently had some big changes in his life - he'd recently graduated from college and had just moved to New York City from a small town in Indiana. But Robert had, evidently, decided that wasn't enough change for him. So he sat down and wrote a letter to his sensible, Midwestern parents, a long letter telling them that their youngest son was gay. Nervous about their reaction, Robert tried to answer all of the questions they might have in that letter. When it arrived at their house, Jane Rave was, understandably a little upset and called her husband to come to discuss it with him. His reaction? "At then end of the day, does it really matter? He's our son. He was before the letter. Why should it change now?"

Which was, in the end, pretty much the way Jane handled it as well. She had no problem with the idea that her son was gay, she didn't care what other people thought of him. Her main worry was that Robert would end up alone. Otherwise, she made it her mission to try to educate people about what being gay means, that it's just a part of her son's life, it does not define him. Every gay or lesbian person should be so lucky to have parents like Robert's.

The book is a series of stories of how a small-town Midwestern boy learned to live as a "out" gay man in the big city. Robert tells his stories, then Jane gives her thoughts and perspective on what Robert has written. There are chapters about Robert teaching Jane the lingo of the gay culture, Internet dating, therapists, and finding love. These are things the two discussed in their at least weekly telephone conversations as they became closer than ever.

Robert's stories have a very conversational appeal, although I did occasionally feel that they went on a bit longer and into more detail than they needed to. Jane's responses felt more thought out, the kind of advice you get from your mom when she's had time to carefully consider how she's going to discuss something with you. Even given that I sometimes had a hard time believing that these were Jane's initial thoughts when certain situations presented themselves, this lady is full of good advice. Her son is clearly aware that his mom is one smart, sensible woman who helped him become the person he is by opening up and showing him the person she really is.

"The best way to meet people is to simply be authentic," she said. I didn't realize the truth of this advice until years later, while sipping cosmos in the basement of an ultra-trendy Manhattan restaurant. She wasn't impressed by the restaurant, the food, the waitstaff, or the semi-celebrities. She was just here being herself and enjoying a night out with her son."

Robert and Jane clearly have the kind of relationship most parents and children would like to have. I appreciate them sharing their story with a sense of candor and fun. For other opinions on the book, check out the full TLC Book Tour. Follow Robert on Facebook to learn more about his other books. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour!

Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of Conversations and Cosmopolitans to giveaway. To enter, you must be a U.S. resident; I'll draw the winner Sunday, December 4th. Please leave me the best advice your mom ever gave you and a way to get a hold of you. My favorite piece of advice will win!

Cat Thursday



How to make some fun from all of those awful medical procedures! Cat Thursday is hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

Having failed at completing challenges year after year (including an epic failure of my own Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge this year), you would think I'd have learned not to sign up for reading challenges at all. But I always have such high hopes for my future reading!

Bev of My Reader's Block is hosting Mount TBR Reading Challenge in 2012, a challenge that seems to be right up my alley since one of the things I've been trying to do lately is read more of my own books. There are six levels, starting at 12 books and working all of the way up to 100+ books. I understand that the idea of these things is to challenge yourself but I'm getting tired of failing! So, even though I'm confident that I can reach the Mt. Ararat level (40 books), I'm going to sign up for the Mt. Vancouver level (25 books). That still leaves me plenty of room for review books, other challenges and book club selections. I've had enough stress in my life this year...2012 is all about finding balance and removing as much stress from my life as possible!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Salon - November 27

For those of you who got to enjoy a long weekend, I hope you've enjoyed it. For those of you who had to work so that my family and I could shop for bargains (and, let's be honest, for the great fun we have when we all go off together to fight the crowds), thank you!

In Nebraska you never know what kind of weather to expect for Thanksgiving. There can be snow on the ground a bitter cold. That makes knowing how to dress for Black Friday a bit bothersome; you need a coat, hat and gloves outside but you certainly don't want them in the stores. Plus it puts a major damper on two of my family's annual Thanksgiving traditions. The field goal kicking competition never lasts as long and fewer of us are willing to go along just to be spectators. Also, the turkey trot (a treasure hunt for the grandchildren) must be done entirely inside.

But sometimes we get lucky and have one of those glorious fall days where there are enough spectators at the field goal competition to actually do the wave! One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is of just such a day when my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving. All four of my grandparents were still with us and my grandfathers sat out on my deck playing cards. As much as I love my family in its current form, I never get through Thanksgiving without missing my grandparents!

We got lucky again this year and had a marvelous day which meant that it was nice enough day to also work in a lesson on Australian rules football. We were blessed to have with us this year a dear friend from Australia and her family who gamely participated in all of our American and family customs, including the turkey trot and field goal kicking. Wisely, they did pass on Black Friday shopping!


My uncle sent me this link to an article in the Chicago Tribune about why some of us have such a hard time giving up our physical books. I'm not necessarily one for the moldy smell (my allergies aren't wild about it for one thing) but I do feel my book in my hands. Although, I must admit that I'm thinking I may need a Nook Tablet so that I never have to worry about finding myself without a book as I was for two hours the other day when the locks on my work building malfunctioned and I had to sit in my car and advise employees as they arrived to go home until it was fixed. Such a waste of precious reading time!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving *


Happy Thanksgiving to all of my readers and to the soldiers who, like those pictured above, are serving in the armed forces away from their families.

*In keeping with my current reading about the U.S. Civil War, I'm bringing you some Thanksgiving images from that war.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph Ellis

First Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph Ellis
320 pages
Published: 2010 by Vintage Books
Source: my mom's copy was a gift from my dad

Guest Review From My Mom:

For some time I have said that the woman I most admire, without a doubt, had to be Abigail Adams.  So it was with absolute delight that I opened my birthday present from my husband and found this small paperback book about my favorite lady and her family.

There have been many books written about the Adams.  Separate books have been written for each of them; but, of course, both play prominently in the other’s book.  My husband suggested that I might not find anything new in this book, but it was worth a try.  And I did find new things–and new ways of interpreting things I already knew.

The author sets out to relate the 1200 letters that John and Abigail shared through their lives to the events that were going on in the country and the world.  John could be a cantankerous man, but he had the foresight to realize how much history was being created, and he wanted to make sure others knew–perhaps because he was vain and wanted to be remembered most prominently.  Thus he made copies and asked Abigail to make copies of all of the letters they wrote.  In those days mail often was lost and stolen but the copies still exist.

    “The happiness of our family,” Abigail noted in 1788, “seems ever to have
    been so interwoven with the politics of our country as to be in a great degree
    dependent upon them.”

John and Abigail spent incredible amounts of time separated while John went off to forge independence, peace with England, treaties with the Dutch, and later to serve as both Vice President (a job he hated) and President of our young country.  And through almost all of this, Abigail stayed behind raising the four children and running the farm, making huge decisions including inoculation for small pox.  And they both wrote letters–lots and lots of letters.

Other Founding Fathers had good marriages and are well-remembered today.  But none of them left a legacy as rich as the Adams with all of their letters.  And Ellis does a masterful job of weaving the letters and history into delightful reading and understanding.

I came away even more fond of this “saucy” lady and her strength.  She was a woman well ahead of her time.  She was well read, educated, and extremely capable.  And how she had to suffer while her husband and young son traveled the Atlantic and lived in Europe with no quick means of communication.  She carried and lost a stillborn child alone while John did what he thought of as his duty in Philadelphia

Ellis, a Pulitzer prize-winning author, quotes freely from these letters and has documented his work very thoroughly.  At times you want to shake John and tell him to quit thinking of himself and then you see him through Abigail’s eyes and through what he is doing for the country.  The book is well crafted, an easy read, and you do not have to know a lot of history to enjoy this little book.  I believe you will come away as an Abigail fan after reading letters and notes from their courtship until they both have lived out their lives.

Thanks, Mom - another great review!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
272 pages
Published January 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: Bought this one

When Lillian was a little girl, her father left Lillian and her mother. Lillian's mother fell into books, spending day and night reading aloud, oblivious to everything around her. Lillian, in search of a way to bring her mother back, turned to food. She knew that if she made the right foods, she could bring her mother back to reality. When she discovered a little food shop operated by Abuelita, she discovered the true magic that the right kinds of food have.

Years later, Lillian owns her own restaurant. Once a month, on the nights that the restaurant is closed, Lillian opens her kitchen up for a cooking school, a place where she can show others what she has learned.

Tom has come to the lessons through a gift from his sister, a gift she gave him to help him deal with his grief. Antonia, a kitchen designer, is adjusting to life in America as she learns to show her customers how a kitchen can be much more than just a place to cook. Carl and Helen are a long-married couple working to rebuild their relationship. Young Chloe has lost what little confidence she had as her relationship with her boyfriend begins to fail. Claire is looking for something all her own, something that makes her more than just "the mom and wife." A computer wizard, Ian was sure he couldn't come to the class without knowing how to cook but learning how created more questions than answers. And Isabelle, who had years ago found an inner strength she had not known she had, is now dealing with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Lillian will teach them all so much more than just how to cook. She'll teach them not just the essential ingredients in the kitchen but the essential ingredients in life. Along the way, they will bond in a way none of them would ever have thought possible.

I recently read Bauermeister's Joy For Beginners. This one is structured in a similar way; each of the characters is allowed their own chapter where they may or may not eventually interact with the other characters as Bauermeister explores their backstory. I liked it in Joy. I liked it even better in School where Bauermeister has interspersed the individual stories with the evenings in the school, bringing all of the characters together.

Of all of the books I've read about food the past few weeks, this is the one that most impressed me with it's ability to make the food it described come alive. Who would ever have thought a description of making white sauce could make me leave a book to go to the kitchen? Bauermeister has a unique way with words, bringing all of the reader's senses and memories a part of the book.
"...Lillian looked at the sauce, an untouched snowfield, its smell the feeling of quiet at the end of an illness, when the world is starting to feel gentle and welcoming again."
As with Joy, Bauermeister's has created a wide range of characters, some of which I connected with much more than others. Lillian's story touched my heart; Tom's story broke it, in no small part because of things that have happened in my life recently. Which, of course, is part of what makes one book affect people in so many different ways.
"For Lillian's mother, every part of a book was magic, but what she delighted in most were the words themselves. Lillian's mother collected exquisite phrases and complicated rhythms, descriptions that undulated across a page like cake batter pouring into a pan, read aloud to put the words in the air, where she could hear as well as see them."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Salon - November 20

Yikes - what a week at work! I got almost nothing done at home all week and almost missed my book club meeting this month. I did make the decision early in the week that I would make time to read even if it meant nothing got done around the house so I managed to finish two books (you may notice that This Republic of Suffering is, at last, no longer on my sidebar). I'm so looking forward to the coming long weekend. Hope my family doesn't mind if I lock myself in my room with a pile of books and don't come out for a couple of days!

I steer clear of talking politics on the internet (doing so tends to cause problems!) but I did want to remark on the fact that a large number of writers have now lent their names to the Global Occupy Movement. So much of what we see of the movement on television might be called a "hippy" element. It's interesting to me to see so many educated, well-spoken people lending their "voices." I'm not sure what the end result will be of the movement but I do know that when Paris Hilton is more popular than Congress, it's probably time to take a hard look at the way our system operates, no matter what side you're on!

Utterly unrelated but I thought it was funny:


Ever felt like you were doing something equally as ridiculous? I'm thinking that I'll finally put up my Thanksgiving decorations today even though we're not having Thanksgiving here. With all I need to do, it seems kind of pointless but I just can't make myself put up Christmas decorations unless I've decorated for Thanksgiving first!

This week I've got my final Fall Feasting review. Trish of Love, Laughter and A Touch of Insanity asked if I was planning on doing Fall Feasting again next year and said she'd join me if I did. I was thinking of doing it again (I just have to remember that a year from now!) and I'd love to have people join me. There are still so many foody books left for me to read!

I've got a guest review from my mom up this week as well. Grateful for that - it's hard to fill a blog on a regular basis when you hardly have time to read a book, let alone write the review! This week I'll continue to read books related to the U.S. Civil War for the War Through The Generations challenge. Since a couple of them will also work for the Historical Fiction Challenge, I may well be able to complete two challenges soon.

Are you going to be able to fit any reading into this busy week or will your focus be on food, family, football and shopping? I'm going to try to make time for all five!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fairy Tale Fridays - The Food Edition!

There are almost as many fairy tales centered around food as there are fairy tales centered around magical creatures or horrible stepmothers. I recently read several tales related to food - just as with all other fairy tales, they run the gamut from obscure to beloved, very short to long, obvious moral to "what the heck was the point of that story?"

In The Sweet Porridge, once again a child is proven to be smarter than all of the adults around. A little girl and her mother are poor and hungry until a crone in the forest gives the girl a pot that will make sweet porridge just for asking. The girl and her mother never have to go hungry again. Then one day, when the girl is gone, the mother asks the pot to make porridge. Unfortunately, she doesn't know how to "turn it off." It keeps making porridge until all of the village is swimming in the stuff. Only one house remains. Thanks heavens there's a child in it that thinks to say "stop pot." Really, this didn't occur to any of the adults?!

A number of the tales had obvious religious overtones. In The Ear of Corn, there was once a time, when "God himself still walked the earth," where corn stalks bore ten times the number of ears of corn and the ears grew the full length of the stalk. Then one day, as a mother and daughter walked through a field, the daughter fell in the mud. The mother used a handful of the corn to clean the dress. God, seeing the woman using his gift in such an ungrateful way, vowed to allow no more corn to grow. Giving into prayers, though, he allowed enough corn to grow on the stalks to feed the birds.

Perhaps the most famous of all foody fairy tales is Hansel and Gretel, the story of two hungry children lured deep into the forest in search of food. Finding a house entirely made of candies. Lured in by the woman who lived there, the children soon found themselves held by the woman who planned to fatten them up to eat. Once again, the children outsmarted the adult, throwing her into her own oven. No mean stepmother in this one, though. This time it's the children's own mother who tries to rid herself of them. Sadly, Hansel and Gretel weren't able to push her in the oven as well. But at least they were able to return home with their arms filled with jewels and the family never went hungry again.

I'm wondering if my family would like me to read them a foody fairy tale as a Thanksgiving entertainment? Maybe after a few glasses of wine, we'll enjoy them as high comedy!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mythology Mondays

I've been reading all fall about food and I thought it was only fitting that when Mythology Mondays finally returned it would be to help wrap up Fall Feasting.


One can hardly talk about mythology and food without first talking about their apparent favorites: ambrosia and nectar. One can hardly imagine that the ambrosia referenced in mythology has any similarity to the salad pictured above. How in the world did a food that supposedly conferred immortality come to mean a fruit salad? I'm all for fruit, chopping it up and throwing different kinds together, and maybe even some kind of dressing. But I can hardly look at it and imagine it to be the food that Hera used to cleanse defilement from her body. Clearly this was not your ordinary ambrosia of grapes, apples and mandarin oranges!


Now nectar is, evidently, something we should all be having more of. The very roots of the word mean overcoming death. I'm not sure the Greeks had any idea how true that might be. Only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey, which is made from nectar, been discovered. Bacchus, god of wine, was probably your go-to guy if you were looking for the best nectar and in Norse mythology you'd find Odin and Saga enjoying the drink of immortality in golden cups.


There are rarely gods or goddesses that appear in mythology strictly as being in charge of food. More often there is a break down of the various parts of getting food to the table. For instance, the Greeks have Ceres, how is the goddess of the harvest. Ceres had several lessor gods who helped her get the harvest from the fields to those who would ready it for the table (Lactanus made the crops prosper and Insitor invoked at the sowing of the crops). Fornax was in charge of the food once it got to the oven, Molae was in charge of overseeing the grinding of the grain and Pomona was the goddess of fruit trees, gardens and orchards. In Latin mythology, the food was the charge of matrones who always appear in images in groups of three with one almost always holding a bowl of fruit.

I suppose it says a great deal about the state of the world that there are far more gods and godesses related to war, love and procreation than there are to food. Apparently, if they got the gods or goddesses to take care of the weather issues, they must have felt they were capable of handling the rest on their own. Perhaps they weren't so different from us after all.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Salon - November 13

I do not know how some of you do it - how do you work 50-60 hours a week and still get anything accomplished outside of work? I just gave up this week and decided I deserved to spend what free time I had largely reading. The Big Guy has been great for the past month with having dinner on the table when I get home from work and I have managed to stay on top of the laundry. But I seriously need a self-cleaning house!


Attention to those of you in the New York City area:

What: November 17th - Unique PEN Reading and Reception

Who: PEN American Center/Westbeth - featuring Lev Grossman, Henry Chang, Michael Greenberg, Lev Grossman, Sabina Murray, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, Stephen Stark, Kevin Holohan and Hal Foster

When: Thursday, November 17, 2011. 7 p.m.

Where: Westbeth, 155 Bank Street, NY, NY

Details: PEN American Center in conjunction with Westbeth will host a one-of-a-kind literary adventure. Guests are invited to hear from two of New York City’s hippest and most experienced book sellers about the runaway hits, the beloved secrets, and the must-reads of the 2011 fall season; then wander the halls of Westbeth to attend live readings by PEN World Voices Festival authors in the homes of Westbeth residents. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to explore the oldest and largest artist community located in the heart of bohemian West Village, at 155 Bank Street, repurposed by renowned architect Richard Meier into 383 living and working lofts. Tickets may be purchased at ovationtix.com.

What fun it would be to attend!

New books I've been thinking about:

Stephen King's 11/22/63 - This one does intrigue me but I'm wondering if King is able to pull it off. Will probably hold off on this one until I hear what other people think.

Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetary - I'm not sure any number of great reviews could convince me to read this one. Eco's The Name of the Rose is one of my all-time least favorite books ever. But the story does sound interesting...

Up This Week:

Fall Feasting is wrapping up. I didn't finish as many books as I wanted to and could certainly continue to read books about food through Thanksgiving but I'm ready for something different. This week I'm going to tie Mythology Monday and Fairy Tale Fridays into Fall Feasting and finish the Feast with my review of The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.

I'm going to spend the rest of the year working on books that I'd hoped to get to this year for challenges. First up is Robert Hick's A Separate Country and I'm also hoping to finish This Republic of Suffering at last. It's fascinating but I can only absorb so much at a time.

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Life In France by Julia Child

My Life In France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
352 pgs
Published: my edition published June 2009
Source: I bought this one

Julia McWilliams was over thirty years old when she met and fell in love with Paul Childs. She couldn't cook, she couldn't speak French and she wasn't much of a foodie. Yet two years after the couple married in 1946, Julia found herself moving to France. She quickly set out to remedy both her language and cooking shortcomings. She roamed the streets of Paris, learning the language, local customs, and, mostly importantly, the food.
"This is the kind of food I had fallen in love with; not trendy, souped-up fantasies, just something very good to eat. It was classic French cooking, where the ingredients have been carefully selected and beautifully and knowingly prepared."
Paul was a gourmand and Julia, now in love with the food of France herself, enrolled herself in Le Cordon Bleu cooking school so that she could learn to prepare the kind of foods they loved. Although she found herself out of place at the school, she learned quickly and soon became lifelong friends with her teacher. In 1951 Julia met Madame Simone Beck Fischbacher (Simca as she would forever after be known). Simca was every bit as enthusiastic about food as Julia. Simca and Louisette Bertholle had been working on a cookbook. The three began working together, operating a cooking school out of Julia's kitchen. Soon Louisette and Simca invited Julia to help them with their cookbook, particularly once they decided that the book needed to be written in such a way so that it appealed to the American audience. The rest, as they say, is history. The first cookbook took years to write and have published. Julia was a a perfectionist when it came to making sure that the recipes were correct, that they would produce good results every time and that they were written in such a way as to make them doable for any cook. It was that first book, Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, the caught the attention of a public television producer in Boston and earned Julia her own cooking show. Soon Julia found herself every bit as well known as her cookbook.
Julia and Simca would remain friends for the rest of their days and compile a second volume of Mastering. But the two had vastly different methods of choosing and testing recipes for the books and Julia's fame was a thorn in the side of Simca who, no doubt, felt that she deserved equal attention. Despite the fact that the Childs spent their time in France in a house on land the Fischbachers owned, the relationship was often strained.

Paul and Julia spent the last years of their lives in the U.S. where Julia filmed her television shows in her own kitchen, a kitchen that became so famous itself that, when Childs moved to California, it was moved to the Smithsonian.

I picked this one up as a companion to Julie and Julia after seeing the movie of the same name. One of the things I loved about the movie was the back and forth between the two women's lives. I was surprised, then, to find that a lot of what was shown in the movie in the Julia parts did not actually happen. Julia didn't try her hand at hatmaking before she took cooking lessons, she didn't stumble across Simca and Louisette in the dressing room at a party, and she and her sister weren't close. I found myself repeatedly distracted by comparing the book and the movie.

Paul and Julia Childs certainly led an interesting life and the book portrays a fascinating look at Europe post-World War II. I can understand why so many people have enjoyed this book but I had some problems with it. Childs seems to have been under the belief that her readers also know French, frequently referring to things only by their French name or including sentences in French. How do I grasp how wonderful your meal was if I have no idea what the name of the dish means? I sometimes felt the book grew repetitious and often more detailed than was necessary. I can't say that I liked Julia very much. She was quick to point out the flaws of friends and family alike but never seemed willing to acknowledge her own faults. Still, I admire her tenacity, her passion and her deep love for her husband.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer
198 pages
Published The University of Arkansas Press October 2011
Source: TLC Book Tours and the publisher

Twelve-year-old Chess Morton lives in Rook, Arkansas, a speck of a town in the Black Bayou, with her widowed mother. Despite living deep in the south in the early 1940's, Chess lives her life largely oblivious to the world around her. Until her grandfather sells a piece of land that Chess inherited from her father to the U.S. Government. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the government relocated thousands of Japanese Americans to camp throughout the U.S. Camp Nine, one of these camps, sprang from the land that had been Chess' and would serve to change her life.

Chess' mother offers to teach art lessons to the prisoners of Camp Nine, befriending many of the families, particularly the Matsuis. Although reluctant to have anything to do with the camp at first, Chess is soon fast friends with both of the Matsui boys. Her relationship with each of them will enrich and enlighten her but it will be many years later before David Matsui finally teaches Chess exactly what it was that she was protected from as she was growing up in the bayou.

This is one of those books that made me glad that I've always been willing to take a chance with books I've never heard of; thanks to TLC Book Tours for always bringing them to my attention. Schiffer's debut is lovely and charming in a way that is utterly unexpected given the very tough subjects that it tackles. She immerses her reader deep into the Mississippi delta and an area of open racism and brings to life the divide between black and white, rich and poor. Chess brings to mind an older Scout Finch as she comes to terms with the reality of the relationships between herself and those around her. Just as Scout came to view her father as a complete person, Chess comes to see her mother as someone more than just a mother.
"She never voiced her frustration about it to me, but I realize she could have picked up and left with me then, gone to another state, and fought him [Chess' grandfather]. But she understood that my place was on the plantation, whatever it might mean to her personal freedom. I wish I'd understood then all of the choices she made to preserve my interests over her own."

 Readers will undoubtedly recall Jamie Ford's The Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet when reading Camp Nine, as both deal with the Japanese interment camps. But where Hotel dealt strictly with the situation from the Japanese point of view, Camp Nine details how the impact the camps may have had on the areas surrounding them as well as bringing to light life in these "camps."

Camp Nine would make a wonderful book club selection with much to discuss and a book to enjoy. For more opinions on this book, check out the full tour at TLC Book Tours.

Vivienne Schiffer

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Salon - November 6

November, already? How did that happen while I wasn't looking? It's been such an unusual and busy year for me and my reading time has really taken a hit. Heading into the holiday season, I'm going to have to accept that it's not going to get any better the rest of the year. That being said, I'm tossing in the towel on all challenges. I'm going to try to read some of the books that I'd planned for them but I'm giving myself permission to "fail" without guilt.


Now for that promised picture from last month's Omaha Bookworms meeting. Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Cailiffs of Baghdad, GA is third from the left. What fun we had talking with Mary Helen about her books, her family and even baseball. Hmm, now that we've seen how great it is to have an author in our midst, I wonder how Timothy Schaffert (also from Omaha) would feel about joining us to talk about The Little Coffins of Hope?

Added to my wish list this week: Catherine The Great by Robert K. Massie, Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, The Wandering Falcon by Ahmad Jamil, The Boy In The Suitcase by Lena Kaaberol and Agnete Friis, and James Madison by Richard Brookhiser. It's probably bad to add this many books at a time given how little I've been reading lately!

Fans of Sarah Jio's, The Violets of March, will be happy to know that she's got a new book, The Bungalow, coming out this December. Here's a little teaser for you:



 I'm finishing Vivienne Schiffer's Camp Nine for a TLC Book Tour this week. Then I'm back to reading The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin, the Omaha Bookworms December selection. What are you reading this week? What books did you add to your wish list?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How A Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn
304 pages
Published September 2011 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher

When Kathleen Flinn returned to Seattle from studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, the premier cooking school in the world, she had no idea what she was going to do with that education. Then a chance encounter in the grocery store set her on a mission to teach every day women how to cook for themselves and their families. Thus was born the Kitchen Counter Cooking School.

Flinn invited a group of volunteers to weekly cooking lessons, learning everything from how to properly use a knife to how to cook all kinds of meet. Along the way the women learned to hone their taste buds, experiment with spices, and even to make bread. They gained confidence in their skills in the kitchen, learned how easy and fast it can be to make meals from scratch and discovered how much healthier it is to avoid prepackaged foods.

Following on the heels of Four Kitchens and Julie and Julia, I was pleasantly surprised by how much this book reinforced the ideas I had learned in those books. Even more surprising for me, was how much this book made me rethink the way I cook. I may not quite packaged foods altogether (c'mon, some of them taste so good!), but I'm certainly thinking about how I can do more from scratch using fewer canned and boxed goods. The book has wonderful recipes but the reason it will stay in my kitchen, where it will be handy, is for all of the helpful hints. I had no idea I should be cooking down my cream in my cream sauces.There were some industry-related revelations (for me, at least) in the book as well. Did you know that Hershey's used to the biggest manufacturer of pasta in the U.S.?

This is one of those books that I won't be lending, just recommending!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Instant City by Steve Inskeep

Instant City: Life and Death In Karachi by Steve Inskeep
304 pages
Published October 2011 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

On December 28, 2009 a bomb blew up on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan as Shia Muslims marched in their annual Ashura procession marking the death long ago of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, Hussein.  Who placed the bomb? Who set the fires that destroyed blocks of nearby buildings the same day? In most cities, this would be a day that would long be remembered for its violence. For Karachi, it has almost become par for the course.

Inskeep uses the events of this day to look at the larger problem that is the instability in the country of Pakistan, most visibly in Karachi, which Inskeep calls an "instant city." He defines "instant city" as "a metropolitan area that's grown since 1945 at a substantially higher rate than the population of the country in which it belongs." According to conservative estimates, Karachi has grown at least 30 times larger than it was in 1945, most of the grow occurring in the weeks following the partition of India into two countries, India and Pakistan.

Using December 28, 2009 as a way of exploring the greater problems plaguing Karachi and Pakistant, Inskeep introduces his readers to a number of people, past and present, those who influenced Pakistan as it grew following Partition and those who were present the day of the bombing. Historically Inskeep looks at the divide between the sects of Islam, the friction between India's majority Hindu population and Pakistan's majority Muslim population, and the rifts between ethnicities and classes.

When I was approached about this book, I jumped at the chance primarily because I so enjoy listening to Steve Inskeep on NPR. The fact that it deals with a part of the world that fascinates me and that it fits with my goal of reading more non-fiction this year sealed the deal. Inskeep does not disappoint. By using the one event to tie all of issues that plague Karachi together and by introducing so many people involved that day, Inskeep has developed this work of non-fiction into something resembling a mystery that pulls the reader through the book in search of answers. In his debut novel, Inskeep exhibits the same mix of journalism and storytelling that I appreciate in this radio work. In his skilled hands, Karachi comes alive.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour! For more thoughts on this book, check out the full tour.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Salon - October 30


Happy 29th anniversary to my beloved Big Guy! This year has really served to remind us both of those vows we said before our family and friends all of those years ago. And how did we celebrate, you may ask? Last night we enjoyed dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant but today we have spent most of the day going our own ways - he to enjoy the beautiful fall colors and me to have Miss H's senior pictures taken. Here's what he saw today:


Thursday evening The Omaha Bookworms enjoyed a wonderful evening with Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Cailiffs of Baghdad, GA. Ms. Stefaniak stepped in and immediately became one of the gang, particularly when she mentioned to group that she was interested in the World Series game. When you let on to a group of women, half of whom have spent some time in St. Louis, that you're cheering for the Cardinals, you have made yourself a group of friends! We started by picking her brain about her writing process and ended by talking about the Ku Klux Klan--what a fantastic conversation! Pictures to come!

I've mentioned before that the Omaha Bookworms is a diverse group of women; we count among our members our own political activist. You have probably not heard of the Trans-Canada effort to build a pipeline through Nebraska but it really is something that everyone should be concerned about given that its planned route takes it directly over the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world's largest aquifers. That's gotten our former President of the League of Women Voters so riled up that she appeared in front of the state legislature in her Susan B. Anthony outfit, something she may regret having told a blogger! Here she is in action:



This evening we're enjoying some literary television. First we watched "Once Upon A Time" which I'm thoroughly enjoying (but The Big Guy says it feels like "Desperate Housewives" goes goth to him). Now we're watching "Case Histories" on PBS, a series based on Kate Atkinson's books about Jackson Brodie with this episode based on her book "When Will There Be Good News." We both quite liking this and wish we would have caught the first two episodes.

I'm finishing up Steve Inskeep's Instant City for a TLC Book Tour this week. I'll also have reviews of Julia Child's My Life In France and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. What's on your reading agenda this week?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Salon and Dewey's Readathon Wrap Up

I've been reading and reading these food related books this month and it's starting to look like I'm going to end this month with a pile of food books still to be read - it has not been a good month for reading! I had hoped to really crank out some reading during the readathon but, well, I didn't. Still hoping to get a couple more read this week and then I'm going to focus on reads for challenges the rest of the year. It would be nice to get a couple of those completed!

Once again, despite my attempts to be more realistic, I didn't get nearly as much reading done during Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon as I had hoped to. Got up early to read for an hour before the official start but then I had to work, take Miss H in for her senior yearbook pic, and The Big Guy decided we really did need to go out to dinner. But, if I'm being honest, the thing that really kept me from getting any reading done was college sports. I had to cheer on my Huskers in both football and volleyball, of course, but then there were also Big 10 and Big 12 games that required my attention as well. Oh yeah, and a baseball game--go Cards!


To wrap up the readathon, it's time for the ending meme:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? That would be Hour 18. I got more reading done after that but I almost called it a night at that point.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I always think mysteries would make the best choices, even though that's never what I've lined up!
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? No - it was great!
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I liked that some of the mini-challenges were shorter and easier to complete quickly without taking too much time away from reading.
  5. How many books did you read? finished one and had started and read all of another one.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? The Kitchen Counter Cooking School and My Life in France
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? I enjoyed both of them.
  8. Which did you enjoy least?
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? Have some "canned" cheers prepared. Trish said to do it but I didn't get around to it. I liked leaving personal comments but I could have visited more often if I prepared some cheers.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'll definitely participate again and I'll certainly cheer again. I know how great it is to get those comments!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dewey's Read-A-Thon Mini-Challenge: Hodge Podge

Erin of Erin Reads has devised a mini-challenge for readathon participants called the Hodge Podge Challenge:

Here’s what you must do to participate in the Hodge-Podge Proposals Mini-Challenge. First, grab a pen and paper, open up a text file, or fire up your memory and list:
  1. The first name of any character in the book you’re currently reading (or just finished)
  2. The make or model of your current car, whichever you like better (if you don’t have a car, use one you’ve had or would like to have)
  3. A job you think would be especially fascinating
For me that would be 1) Julia, 2) Honda Odyssey and 3) research assistant for historical works.

Now for the second part:
Numbers 1 and 2 become the first and last name of your new character, and 3 is his or her occupation. Now briefly pitch me a new series in the genre of your choice based on this hodge-podge character!

Here goes:

Julia Odyssey, research fellow for famed historical fiction author E.M. Kemble, loves her work, not just because she loves history but because she loves the routine of it all. But there's nothing routine about the day she discovers that her mentor and boss has gone missing. Has he met with an accident or is there something more sinister going on? While the police go about their search using their usual methods, Julia begins her search the only way she knows how...research into the past.

FINALLY - I actually made time for a mini-challenge!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Woo Hoo - It's Readathon Time Again!

It's that time again - time for the fall edition of Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon. As usual, I've got my stack of books ready and I'll stop and pick up some snacks after work in the morning but this year I'm going into the event with a much more realistic attitude. I will not read 1000 pages or more, I will not finish 6 books, I will not read for 24 hours. But I will take advantage of the day as an excuse to read as much as I want. To avoid overloading bladers and emails, I'll add updates to this post throughout the readathon.


In my pile of books:
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn (to finish)
My Life In France by Julia Child
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Five Quarters of an Orange by Joanne Harris
Instant City by Steve Inskeep (for a TLC Book Tour)
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


HOUR ONE: Got a jump start to I could read before I go to work for a few hours. Working to finish KITCHEN COUNTER COOKING SCHOOL.

HOUR EIGHT: I've gotten another hour of actual reading done and an hour of cheerleading done (my first time as a cheerleader - boy are there a lot of readers signed up to cheer for!).

HOUR TEN: Finished a book! THE KITCHEN COUNTER COOKING SCHOOL is one that was the perfect followup to FOUR KITCHENS and JULIE AND JULIA - it made a lot of references to things I learned about in the first two books. Next up: MY LIFE IN FRANCE...I think. Should get more reading done once the Husker game is over. I've made a pot of coffee so I'm golden for staying awake for at least 9 or 10 more hours.

HOUR 13: Lost some time when my hubby decided we absolutely had to go out to dinner. But I've picked up MY LIFE IN FRANCE now and am really enjoying it (although I am getting tired of all of the names!).

HOUR 17:  Completely distracted by college sports this evening - my biggest problem every fall readathon! Did get a couple of hours worth of reading in and I'm heading off to do some cheerleading now. Still working on MY LIFE IN FRANCE.

HOURS READ:7
PAGES READ: 224 pages
BOOKS FINISHED: 1
TIME SPENT CHEERING: 2
MINI-CHALLENGES: 1

Monday, October 17, 2011

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
359 pages
Published July 2009 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: the publisher - in fact, this was one of the first books ever offered to me for review

Julie Powell was pushing thirty, just moving into an even crappier apartment than the one she and her husband were living in and suffering through a series of temp jobs which are sucking her soul away. Enter Julia Childs - specifically Child's masterwork "Mastering The Art of French Cooking"  (MtAoFC).

As a teenager, Powell (when she wasn't sneaking a peek at her parents' copy of The Joy of Sex) could frequently be found reading recipes from her mother's copy of MtAoFC so it was only logical that she would turn to it again for a source of inspiration when she found herself desperately in need of something to do to make herself not feel like a failure. With her husband's encouragement, Powell started a blog and the Julie/Julia Project was born. Powell set a goal to cook all 524 recipes in the book in 365 days. Along the way Powell had many great successes but just as many disasters. Her husband should probably be nominated for sainthood - the woman didn't get meals on the table until most people are headed for bed, her housekeeping (what there was of it to begin with) became so non-existent that she once discovered maggots in her kitchen, and she subjected her friends to all manner of food they would never have chosen to eat if they didn't love her.

After reading about the source of my copy of this book, you may have asked yourself why it took me so long to finally read this book. When I was offered this book, I was thrilled and had every intention of reading it immediately. Maybe I was put off by some reviews. Maybe because it was already everywhere. I'm not sure. Then when the movie came out, I was determined to read it first. Then after I'd seen the movie, I was determined to read it while the story was still fresh in my mind. Still I didn't get to it. It took a couple of new books sitting in my to-review pile to remind me that this one was still waiting for me.

I liked it, despite its flaws. Powell has a biting sense of humor and is just as willing to poke fun at herself as she is to poke fun at others. A complaint some have voiced is that Powell has a bit of a dirty mouth. I didn't notice it much (sounds like it's definitely more prominent in the blog). She does get a bit distracted at the end dropping names about the people who came to interview and film her and often got off topic in describing her friend's lives. I could have done without reading so often, too, about what a terrible housekeeper Powell was. Seriously, I don't care how busy working and cooking you are, there should never be maggots in your kitchen! Republicans be warned - Powell does not like you, a point she made repeatedly. But she is something of a voice for all of those who toil away in jobs where they are unappreciated, overworked, and underpaid. Maybe she could have whined a bit less about it but aren't we really all longing to find something to do with our lives that will fulfill us?

I loved the movie adaptation of this book which is also based on Julia Child's book, My Life In France, which is coming up soon for me. Powell may not have been able to end her book this way, but after all of this talk about wonderful food, I have to say it - bon appetit!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Salon - October 16


Another week with very little reading done. So frustrating - not just because it means I'm not reading but also because it means I'm not finding enough time to relax. Got a promotion at work recently and it's going to mean more work hours, particularly for the next few weeks so I'm not sure when I'm going to find good chunks of reading time again. I'm going to have to get more organized so I have some "me" time every day. Everyone around me will be safer if I do!

Lucinda Riley's The Girl On The Cliff arrived in my mailbox this week unannounced. I'm never sure quite how to feel about books that arrive without my having requested them. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the ones I buy, read for book club, request, and do tours for as it is. But still...free books? Hard to argue with that. This one is historical fiction so that appeals to me. The blurb on the back makes it sound a bit reminiscent of Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden which I had mixed feelings about. I withhold judgement until I read it; who knows when that might be, though!

The Omaha Lit Fest was held this weekend. It's something I've been looking forward to since last year. Unfortunately, it's also something that was impacted by my increased work hours. I was only able to attend two sessions yesterday afternoon. Not surprisingly, they were both great - wonderful panel discussions by both authors I love and authors that are new to me. I was disappointed to learn that Rainbow Rowell's (Attachments) next book won't be released in the U.S. until next fall, despite that fact that she had in her possession a bound, uncorrected copy of it. It will come out in England in April. Wonder if I can get someone there to send me a copy? Got to introduce myself to Mary Helen Stefaniak (The Cailiffs of Baghdad, GA) and talk about her upcoming visit with the Omaha Book Worms. Can't wait for that! Came away with three books: Timothy Shaffert's Devils In The Sugar Shop, Carolyn Turgeon's Mermaid and Jo Ann Mapes' Solomon's Way.

This week I'll finish Julie Powell's Julie and Julia and start Kathleen Flinn's Kitchen Counter Cooking School. Hopefully I'll also have time to get to Julia Child's My Life In France as well. What are you reading this week?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Table of Contents by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp

Table of Contents: From Breakfast with Anita Diamant to Dessert with James Patterson - a Generous Helping of Recipes, Writings, and Insights from Today's Bestselling Authors by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp

304 pages
Published November 2010 by Adams Media
Source: the publisher

I like to think that I'm an alert reader, particularly since I began blogging, but I was surprised, when I picked up this book, by how often food appears in books. Perhaps, if you've read Lisa Genova's Still Alice, you'll recall the white chocolate challah pudding that Alice forgot how to make on Christmas Eve. Or maybe the crab and corn chowder that Lily makes in Barbara Delinsky's Not My Daugher or Dinah Kimble's green salad with salmon in Jennifer Haigh's Mrs. Kimble. 

For Table of Contents, Gelman and Krupp spoke with fifty authors who have included food in some one in their writings and included recipes for more than 100 dishes found the author's books. This is not, however, just a cookbook. Each of the authors has also speaks about what inspires them, who and what has influenced them, what readers should know about them and answer the questions readers most often ask.

Doesn't that sound like just the thing for someone who loves to read and loves to cook? I read this book in one sitting, something that's rare for me (granted, it's not exactly heavy reading and there's a lot of white space!). I always enjoy learning what inspires authors; it's one of the things I most enjoy when the Omaha Bookworms get the chance to speak with authors. For example, Anita Diamont (The Red Tent) uses modern dance as an incentive to sit down and write, Amy Greene (Bloodroot) draws her inspiration from the Appalachian landscape, and when Garth Stein (The Art of Racing In The Rain) knows that when he starts hearing voices, it means that he's listening to a character that will appear in his next book.

Unlike Four Kitchens which I reviewed earlier this week, most of the recipes in Table of Contents use ingredients that are easy to find, perhaps already in your own kitchen, so this book will find a place in my recipe book collection. I am, in fact, making Jacquelyn Mitchard's Next Day Rice Pudding as I write this review.

 If you'd like to get your hands on some of the recipes, or you're someone who gets all of their recipes from the internet, the authors have kindly written a blog that includes a lot of the recipes from the book. Gelman and Krupp are also the authors of The Book Club Cookbook and host a website by the same name. Here book clubs can recommend books to one another, find a list of authors who will meet with book clubs, and get some pairing ideas for food and books. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes

Waiting For Robert Capa by Susana Fortes
208 pages
Published September 2011 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Gerta Pohorylle and AndrĂ© Friedmann and are young Jewish refugees who arrive in Paris in 1935. Caught up in the scene that is Paris on the cusp of World War II,  the two were first friends, then business partners and finally lovers. Friedmann taught Pohorylle the art of photography and she, in turn, remade him into Robert Capa, launching his career, and remade herself into Gerda Taro. She became one of the first female combat photographers and he became internationally known for his photograph, The Fallen Soldier. taken early during the Spanish Civil War.


Capa and Taro found themselves caught up in political movements in Paris as much because of what they stood against as because of what they stood for - they were both fiercely opposed to Facism. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, it was only logical that the pair would find themselves drawn to the country, throwing themselves as close to danger as was possible.


 In her author notes, Fortes who is Spanish, stated that she's been drawn to the work of Capa for years. It was in 2008, when 127 undeveloped rolls of film that Capa, Taro, and their friend David Seymour had taken during the war, that Fortes decided it was time to write the story. Interestingly, I found the book to be much more Gerda's story.

Waiting For Robert Capa struggles to find it's voice. Sometimes, it's almost overly poetic as Fortes writes about the environment of Paris. Other times it reads much more as if it were a work of non-fiction, detailing movements in battles and dropping names of other well-known participants in the Paris and/or Spanish settings. For me, I far preferred when Fortes cut back on the descriptiveness and got to the meat of the story. It's a story I've been interested in for a couple of years and it felt as if Fortes and written fully-developed characters who may very well be much like the people on which they are based. I find myself even more interested in this pair whose relationship seems as if it truly were one with origins in the pages of a novel.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read this one. For more opinions, please see the full list of reviews.