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

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.