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January 31, 2010

Home Cooking



Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin
Nonfiction - Culinary Essays/Memoir
1988 Perennial (HarperCollins)
Finished on 1/24/10
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)






Publisher's Blurb

Share the unsurpassed pleasures of discovering, cooking, and eating good, simple food with this beloved book. Equal parts cookbook and memoir, Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking combines her insightful, good-humored writing style with her lifelong passion for wonderful cuisine in essays such as "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant," "Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir," and "Stuffed Breast of Veal: A Bad Idea." Home Cooking is truly a feast for body and soul.

I love everything about cooking: Perusing the glossy pages of culinary magazines; browsing through gorgeous cookbooks with their tantalizing recipes and mouthwatering photographs; following food blogs such as Dine & Dish, Gluten-Free Girl, Orangette, and Tasty Kitchen; fantasizing about remodeling our ancient kitchen; experimenting with new ingredients or with recipes I'd previously considered too intimidating to try; and, of course, preparing my favorite dishes for my family and friends. Over the years, I've also found a passion for culinary writing (fiction & nonfiction). The School of Essential Ingredients, In Defense of Food, Julie & Julia, and The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry were among my favorites in recent years. And now, thanks to Nan and Marcia, I've discovered another great book about cooking. Beginning with the cheerful cover art, I fell in love with Laurie Colwin's collection of essays! My book is overflowing with sticky notes, many of which will remain until I've had a chance to sample the tempting recipes; many will remain forever, marking a favorite passage, such as this, from the Foreword:

One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends. People who like to cook like to talk about food. Plain old cooks (as opposed to the geniuses in fancy restaurants) tend to be friendly. After all, without one cook giving another cook a tip or two, human life might have died out a long time ago.

Isn't this the truth! My husband and I belong to a progressive dinner party group and it's always great fun to see what everyone has prepared for their contribution to the evening's menu. It's not just about getting together and sharing a good meal and fine wine, but discovering new favorites such as bison steaks or pistachio-encrusted sea bass.

I don't consider myself a very craftsy person. I don't like to sew and never really learned how to knit or crochet. I've completed one cross-stitch project in my lifetime (years ago, before my eyesight was ever an issue) and while I'd love to learn to quilt, I know I don't have the time or patience to start in on something like that right now. Maybe when I'm not working. However, I do consider my passion for cooking a form of creativity. I can remember the first time I actually read a recipe and was able to visualize the process, how the ingredients would blend together and whether it would turn out to be something delicious or simply edible. As I became more experienced in the kitchen, I found myself substituting ingredients and seasonings with an instinctive knowledge of what might improve the recipe.

Home Cooking is a blend of anecdotes and recipes, sprinkled with Colwin's wry humor. I savored each and every essay and as the final pages drew near, I knew I wanted to buy a copy of More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen. I also know I'd like to read her novels, which I hear are very good, too.

On eating alone:

Dinner alone is one of life's pleasures. Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.

As long as I have something to read, I don't usually mind eating alone. However, I can't say that I've ever eaten anything quite as strange as Colwin describes. I usually opt for the quick and easy: mashed avocado and mayo on toast or fried eggs and toast or if I'm in the mood for pasta, I'll fix a batch of Chicken Parmesan.

On frying chicken:

...You have now made perfect fried chicken.

And you have suffered. There are many disagreeable things about frying chicken. No matter how careful you are, flour gets all over everything and oil splatters far beyond the stove. It is impossible to fry chicken without burning yourself at least once. For about twenty-four hours your house smells like fried chicken. This is nice only during dinner and then begins to pall. Waking up to the smell of cooking fat is not wonderful.

Furthermore, frying chicken is just about the most boring thing you can do. You can't read while you do it. Music is drowned out by constant sizzling. Finally, as you fry you are consumed with the realization that fried food is terrible for you, even if you serve it only four times a year.

But the rewards are many, and when you appear with your platter your family and friends greet you with cries of happiness. Soon your table is full of ecstatic eaters, including, if you are lucky, some delirious Europeans—the British are especially impressed by fried chicken. As the cook you get to take the pieces you like best. As for me, I snag the backs, those most neglected and delectable bits, and I do it without a trace of remorse. After all, I did the cooking.

Not only have you mastered a true American folk tradition, but you know that next time will be even better.

Like Colwin, I initially lacked confidence when it came to baking bread:

It took me a long time to get around to baking a loaf of bread, and when I finally did, I stayed home all day to do it. It seemed such a mysterious and intimidating process. What was "kneading" and how did you do it? What happened if the bread didn't rise? If it rose too much? Suppose it got in the way of a draft? The recipes I read assumed a familiarity I did not possess, but I figured it couldn't be all that difficult since people had been baking bread since man began. But to put me at ease, I called in a more experienced friend to help me.

On grilling:

Everywhere in America people are lighting their grills. They begin in spring, on the first balmy evening. I happen to live across the street from a theological seminary whose students come from all over. I know it is spring not by the first robin but by the first barbecue across the street on the seminary lawn. That first whiff of lighter fluid and smoke is my herald, and led one of my friends to ask: "What is it about Episcopalians, do you think? Is it in their genes to barbecue?"

On experimentation:

Of course there is a motto here: always try everything even if it turns out to be a dud. We learn by doing. If you never stuff a chicken with pate, you will never know that it is an unwise thing to do, and if you never buy zucchini flowers you will never know that you are missing one of the glories of life.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen is a charming collection of essays (and quaint illustrations by Anna Shapiro) that would appeal to any lover of food and domesticity. Colwin's voice is like that of a close friend, full of warmth and humor, chatting about topics ranging from Feeding the Fussy and Kitchen Horrors to Friday Night Supper and Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir. What a shame this talented author is no longer with us. She died unexpectedly of heart failure in 1992 at the age of 48.

See what other bloggers have to say about Home Cooking:

As I began reading Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin, I could feel an ache in my heart. This is a particular form of ache, one that happens only when I read an author for the first time, an author whose work I love and to whom I feel a deep affinity, and this author is dead. I want Laurie Colwin to be alive. I want to email her or call her up and tell her that I think we could be friends. I also want to tell her that things have changed since 1988, and so many thoughts she had about food have now become the norm, popular, even fashionable. (Nan of Letters From a Hill Farm)

With so many new books waiting patiently to be read, it's easy to forget the great reading pleasures of an author read and enjoyed many years ago. My first introduction to Laurie Colwin was her book Home Cooking. A couple of years ago, I read and posted my thoughts on Happy All the Time, which I repeat here. If you're at all enamoured of what I call "interior" books--books rich with descriptions of rooms, dishes, and pleasant vignettes--I urge you to pick up one of Ms. Colwin's reading escapes. (Marcia of Owl's Feathers)

Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen is an absolutely delightful food memoir. She's funny, she's sarcastic, she knows what she likes and she's not afraid to eat it. I don't even know that I so much plan to cook any of her recipes - the writing here is what appealed to me. (Tara of Books and Cooks)


January 23, 2010

Sworn to Silence


Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
Mystery/Thriller
2009 Minotaur Books
Finished on 1/16/09
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
ARC



Publisher's Blurb:

Sixteen years ago, a series of brutal murders shattered the peaceful farming community of Painters Mill, Ohio. A young Amish girl, Katie Burkholder, survived the terror of the Slaughterhouse Murders. In the aftermath of the killings, the town was left with a sense of fragility, a loss of innocence, and for Katie, the realization that she no longer belonged with the Amish.

Now, a wealth of experience later, Kate Burkholder is back. Her Amish roots and big city law enforcement background make her the perfect candidate for Chief of Police. She's certain she's come to terms with her past--until the first body is discovered in a snowy field.

Kate vows to stop the killer before he strikes again. But to name him, she would betray both her family and her Amish past—and expose a dark secret that could destroy her.

Sworn to Silence was my book club's selection for January. My husband read it last summer and said it was very good, so I was excited to finally have a reason to give it a read.

I'm beginning to wonder if I'm cut out for thrillers. Like Cody McFadyen, Castillo taps into the psyche of a serial killer and creates brutally intense scenes involving the victims. I'm talking a 10 on the cringe meter! By the time I got to the third murder, I found myself putting the book down well before bedtime, as I had started to have dreams involving the characters. (And it wasn't just me. Other book club members mentioned that they did, too!) I originally felt that the visceral details were a bit gratuitous, but one of the women in my book club said she thought the killer was losing control, resulting in an acceleration of brutality, and that the violence was not at all a contrivance on the part of the author. This is what I love about my book group! It's great to get other readers' insights (and clarification) to the books I read. And, yes, I had to agree with her. It made complete sense once it was pointed out to me.

But knowing that doesn't change my view toward books about serial killers. I can only take so much graphic detail of the crimes. I think the main reason I continue to read Cody McFadyen (and, for that matter, John Sandford) is the incredible development of the main character. With Sandford, it's less about the murder and more about Lucas Davenport and his pals. With McFadyen, it's more about Smokey and her friends and family than the violent killings. That said, I like Kate Burkholder and am curious to see what Castillo has in store for her and her team in this new Amish crime series. And it looks like I won't have a long wait. The next in the series, Pray for Silence, is due out in June. I may have to learn to skim the gory details.

Final thoughts: Beach read! This is one to borrow from the library. I'm not compelled to read it a second time, so no reason to own it.

Oh, and I never figured out who the killer was. As always, I suspected everyone! :) If you're curious to know which actor I envision as the killer, let me know and I'll email you. I'm afraid if I name him here, I'll spoil the mystery for those of you who haven't had a chance to read the book.

See what other bloggers have said about the book:

In general, the plot follows a typical formula for thrillers, but does a great job in setting up the series. I'm thrilled to have found this new-to-me author at the beginning of it. I'm interested in the Amish culture, so the contrast with police encounters is intriguing to me. (Joy of Thoughts of Joy)

This is the first in a planned series and I can say I’m definitely going to be watching for the next book. I liked the character of Kate despite her flaws and issues. The other characters were interesting and it will be interesting to see how they’re developed in the next book. (SuziQ of Whimpulsive)

If you can go way back in your memory to James Patterson's early Alex Cross books, you will understand the pleasure of reading Linda Castillo's debut thriller, Sworn to Silence. The excitement, the fast pace, and the serial killer reminds me of the best of early Patterson. (Lesa of Lesa's Book Critiques)

January 21, 2010

Top Reads of 2009



I've been working on this Top Ten list for the past few days and needed to look at last year's list for some additional information. I thought I was terribly far behind getting this posted, but I see that my list for 2008 was also posted on January 21st. Now how weird is that?! At least I'm consistently late! ;)

I've been keeping track of how many books I read each year since 1999. I don't know if those early records included the books I quit on or just the ones I finished, but this year's total is pretty small compared to previous year's. Take a look:

1999 42 books
2000 60 books
2001 63 books
2002 72 books
2003 88 books (includes books I quit on)
2004 82 books (doesn't include the books I quit on)
2005 57 books (quit on 12)
2006 73 books (quit on 17 more)
2007 58 books (quit on 9 more)
2008 46 books (quit on 6 more)

and this year...

45 books (quit on 7 more)

Sheesh. The best years were when I was a nanny to my two nieces. Nothing like those long afternoon naps to squeeze in a few hours of reading! Oh, well. I love my job at B&N and won't worry about the numbers. A book a week average isn't terrible. I figure as long as I'm reading and I'm happy with what I've chosen, the numbers don't matter.

2009 Stats:

Male Authors 13
Female Authors 31 (same as last year!)
New-To-Me Authors 27 (same as last year!)
Fiction 34
Nonfiction 10
Epistolary 4
Current Affairs 0
Cultural Studies 1
Audio 1
Historical Fiction 5
Classics 0
Graphic Novels 1
Poetry 1
Teen 2
Kids 2
Science Fiction 2
Fantasy 1
Horror 2
Romance 0
Culinary 3
Humor 0
Travel 0
Memoir 7
Mystery/Thriller 6
Re-read 1
Did Not Finish 7
Advanced Reader Copies 11
Borrowed from Library 15
From my stacks (including ARCs) 29


And now for my Top Ten for 2009 (listed in the order read) ...

1. In the Woods by Tana French

2. The Likeness by Tana French

3. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

4. Still Alice by Lisa Genova

5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

7. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

8. Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg

9. Abandoned by Cody McFadyen

10. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley


Click on the titles to read my reviews


Honorable Mentions

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

The Laws of Harmony by Judith Ryan Hendricks

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriquez

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Finn

Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Havah: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee

These Is My Words by Nancy Turner

The Mongoose Diaries by Erin Noteboom

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama

You can find links to my reviews on my list of books read in 2009.


And, finally, if I had to pick my favorite book of the year, I'd have to say it's Kathryn Stockett's outstanding novel, The Help. I read it early on in 2009 and am now listening to the audio version, which is just as good, if not better! The four readers are absolutely amazing and I've fallen in love with the characters all over again. Superb book!

Books Read in 2009

Just a little housekeeping here.

1. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

2. In the Woods by Tana French

3. The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted by Elizabeth Berg

4. The Laws of Harmony by Judith Ryan Hendricks

5. Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriquez

6. Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

7. The Likeness by Tana French

8. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

9. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

10. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

11. Still Alice by Lisa Genova

12. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

13. Mortal Prey by John Sandford

14. Little Bee by Chris Cleeve

15. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

16. The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

17. The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Finn

18. The Wildwater Walking Club by Claire Cook

19. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

20. Maus I: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman

21. Still Life With Chickens by Catherine Goldhammer

22. Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg

23. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

24. Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay

25. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson

26. South of Broad by Pat Conroy

27. House and Home by Kathleen McCleary

28. Resilence by Elizabeth Edwards

29. Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

30. Havah: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee

31. Abandoned by Cody McFadyen

32. The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel

33. The Birthing House by Christopher Ranson

34. Growing Girls by Jeanne Laskas

35. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

36. These Is My Words by Nancy Turner

37. The Mongoose Diaries by Erin Noteboom

38. Ghost Maps: Poems for Carl Hruska by Erin Noteboom

39. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

40. 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

41. Holly's Inbox by Holly Denham

42. Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman

43. Torch by Cheryl Strayed

44. The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama

45. The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg (audio)

All links will take you to my reviews.

January 16, 2010

Water for Elephants



Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Fiction
2006 Harper Perennial
Finished on 1/5/10
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)




Publisher's Description

Orphaned and penniless at the height of the Depression, Jacob Jankowski escapes everything he knows by jumping on a passing train—and inadvertently runs away with the circus. Thrown into the chaos of a second-rate traveling show, Jacob is adrift in a world of freaks, swindlers, and misfits.

Jacob uses his veterinary skills in the circus menagerie and becomes a savior for the animals he so loves, including a baffling elephant named Rosie. He also comes to know Marlena, the enchanting star of the equestrian act—and wife of August, a charismatic but cruel animal trainer. Caught between his love for Marlena and his need for belonging, Jacob is freed only by a murderous secret that will bring the big top down.

Water for Elephants is a dark and beautiful portrait of a crumbling circus. With warmth and whimsy, Gruen depicts an unforgettable world where love is a luxury few can afford.

I bought Water for Elephants at Tanner's Books in Sidney, British Columbia while vacationing in the San Juan Islands in 2007. I had heard great things about the book and, seeing how the author is a fellow Canadian, I was excited to get one from a Canadian bookstore.

I returned from our trip, added the book to a pile on my nightstand and, as usual, it wound up getting shuffled from stack to stack, book shelf to book shelf. This went on for well over two years. The reason was not a lack of interest, but rather a little niggling worry that perhaps the book had been over-hyped. In spite of all the enthusiastic comments from bloggers and co-workers, I still found myself gravitating toward other books. Finally, I decided to give it a chance, hoping to end 2009 with a bang. Being the slow reader that I am, I was a bit too optimistic and didn't finish until the first week in January. But, I wasn't disappointed and my first book of 2010 is most definitely a winner!

Told in flashbacks, we are drawn into Jacob Jankowski's story, both as a young orphan and that of an aging man living out the remaining days of his life in a nursing home. I fell in love with the older Jacob. He reminded me so much of Patrick Delaney, Jonathan Hull's central character in Losing Julia. Like Patrick, Jacob is much more likely to remember the days of his youth rather than his current age or, for that matter, simple words.

I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.

When you're five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties you know how old you are. I'm twenty-three, you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties something strange starts to happen. It's a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I'm—you start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you're not. You're thirty-five. And then you're bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it's decades before you admit it.

You start to forget words: they're on the tip of your tongue, but instead of eventually, dislodging, they stay there. You go upstairs to fetch something, and by the time you get there you can't remember what it was you were after. You call your child by the names of all your other children and finally the dog before you get to his. Sometimes you forget what day it is. And finally you forget the year.

Actually, it's not so much that I've forgotten. It's more like I've stopped keeping track. We're past the millennium, that much I know—such a fuss and bother over nothing, all those young folks clucking with worry and buying canned food because somebody was too lazy to leave space for four digits instead of two—but that could have been last month or three years ago. And besides, what does it really matter? What's the difference between three weeks or three years or even three decades of mushy peas, tapioca, and Depends undergarments?

I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.

I love narratives told in alternating time frames and I especially love reading the wise and honest insights of the elderly. Jacob is a tender soul whose only desire is to be treated like a human being and not like a horse (or elephant!) put out to pasture.

Age is a terrible thief. Just when you're getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. It makes you ache and muddies your head and silently spreads cancer throughout your spouse.

Metastatic, the doctor said. A matter of weeks or months. But my darling was as frail as a bird. She died nine days later. After sixty-one years together, she simply clutched my hand and exhaled.

Although there are times I'd give anything to have her back, I'm glad she went first. Losing her was like being cleft down the middle. It was the moment it all ended for me, and I wouldn't have wanted her to go through that. Being the survivor stinks.

I used to think I preferred getting old to the alternative, but now I'm not sure. Sometimes the monotony of bingo and sing-alongs and ancient dusty people parked in the hallway in wheelchairs makes me long for death. Particularly when I remember I'm one of the ancient dusty people, filed away like some worthless tchotchke.

I have never been to a circus, but thanks to the HBO series, Carnivale, I had no trouble envisioning Jacob's experience with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. If anything, I pictured most of the book's characters as those in the HBO show. Gruen's meticulous research and attention to detail resulted in an outstanding tale of the hardship endured by not only the animals, but by their caretakers and by Depression-era circus performers. Personally, I can't imagine ever dreaming of running away with the circus. And, after reading this book, I can say with absolute certainty that I have no desire to even see a circus. Not on my bucket list!

I haven't heard much about the author's other novels (Riding Lessons and Flying Changes), but I'm willing to take a chance and at least give the first a try. I'm also curious about her upcoming release of Ape House (September 2010). For those of you who haven't read Water for Elephants, wait no longer! I can assure you that the hype is well-deserved. This one's a winner!

January 10, 2010

The Language of Threads



The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama
Fiction (Historical)
1999 St. Martin's Press
Finished on 12/21/09
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)



Publisher's Description

In her acclaimed debut novel, Women of the Silk, Gail Tsukiyama told the moving story of Pei, brought to work in the silk house as a girl, grown into a quiet but determined young woman whose life is subject to cruel twists of fate, including the loss of her closest friend, Lin. Now we finally learn what happened to Pei, as she leaves the silk house for Hong Kong in the 1930s, arriving with a young orphan, Ji Shen, in her care. Her first job, in the home of a wealthy family, ends in disgrace, but soon Pei and Ji Shen find a new life in the home of Mrs. Finch, a British expatriate who welcomes them as the daughters she never had. Their new family is torn apart, however, by war and the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. As Mrs. Finch is forced into a prison camp and Ji Shen tries to navigate the perilous waters of the gang-run black market, Pei is once again forced to make her own way, struggling to survive and to keep her extended family alive as well.

In this dramatic story of hardship and survival, Tsukiyama brings her trademark grace and storytelling flair to paint a moving, unforgettable portrait of women fighting the forces of war and time to make a life for themselves.

Well no wonder I was a bit hazy on the details of Women of the Silk. As I was reading this sequel, I couldn't understand why I wasn't remembering as much of Tsukiyama's debut novel as I should've been. I thought I had read it earlier in the year, but, no. It's been almost 3 years! Seriously, where does the time go? I really should have paid heed to the following, which I wrote in my review for Women of the Silk:

...But it wasn’t such a bad experience that I won’t go on and read the sequel, The Language of Threads, especially since I already own a copy. And, I doubt I’ll wait too long to get to it; I don’t want to forget too many of the details from Women of the Silk.

As it turns out, in spite of forgetting several details of the previous book, I thoroughly enjoyed this richly textured story of Pei and Ji Shen's experience in Hong Kong during World War II. The narrative voice alternates between Pei, Ji Shen and Mrs. Finch, bringing to life Tsukiyama's well-drawn characters with their steadfast determination, loyalty, love and friendship. As with Tsukiyama's later work (and one of my all-time favorite books ever), The Samurai's Garden, this earlier novel is a subtle and contemplative evocation of loss and survival.

For those who enjoy historical fiction, particularly novels that offer strong female characters, The Language of Threads won't disappoint. I enjoy reading about World War II, and especially liked learning more about the situation in Hong Kong and how it affected the expatriates and Chinese.

While I didn't intend to re-read Women of the Silk (and, therefore, gave away my copy), I do plan to keep The Language of Threads. When I'm ready to read it again, I'll see about getting the audio version of Women of the Silk to listen to in advance. Until then, I can keep reading about Hong Kong and Japan (again, focusing around WWII), as Tsukiyama continues with this subject in her subsequent novels, Night of Many Dreams and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.

If you're interested in learning more about the author, I recommend visiting Bookreporter.com. Click here to go directly to her bio, article and two past interviews.

January 8, 2010

One Dog Night


Well, it could've been worse. I was expecting to wake-up to negative twenty or so. While negative five is cold, it's not too awful, especially since there's not much wind.

Having said that, I'm taking the day off! I just finished my breakfast, which I ate while perusing a beautiful cookbook (Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again). Except for the hum of the refrigerator, the house was perfectly quiet . I sat quietly, sipping my coffee, gazing out the French doors to our backyard, so beautiful with all the fresh white snow.

I could really get used to this.

January 7, 2010

First Line Meme (2009)

I heard about this meme from Nan, who got it from Kate, who got it from Melanie. The details are as follows:

Once again, this fun meme is great for the end of the year. Take the first line of each month's post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year.

Let's see where it takes us, shall we?

January: Health enough to make work a pleasure, (from a poem)

February: I recently learned that Elizabeth Berg has just completed another novel, due out on April 28th. (book review for The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted)

March:


My 2004 MiniCooper (with only 30K miles!) (from Wordless Wednesday, although you'll note I wasn't at a loss for words!)


April: I've heard very good things about Morton's debut novel, The House at Riverton, but haven't yet had a chance to give it a read. (book review for The Forgotten Garden)

May: I generally don't read a lot of nonfiction, but I sure do love memoirs, so I was happy to accept a review copy of The Midwife. (book review for The Midwife)

June: Yes, I'm still here!

July: My dear friend Nan wrote about this book two years ago and I was immediately intrigued. (book review for Still Life with Chickens)

August: Mailbox Monday is the place for bloggers to share the books that arrived in their homes last week. (weekly meme)

September: I set a new endcap at work this week. (Post-Apocalyptic books)

October: I sure don't hear much about Joyce Maynard in the blogging world. (book review for Labor Day)

November: March 14, 1882 We have the beginning of a house put up. (Teaser Tuesday meme)

December: Have I really been listening to this album for 20 years? (album "review" for George Winston's December)

I think Nan's results were much more interesting, as her blog is not just about books, but cooking, gardening, her animals, music, poetry and quotes. Mine tends to focus mostly on books.

I took the liberty to modify the rules a bit. Since I usually start my blog entries with the book details and a publisher's blurb, I chose my first sentence for this meme.


January 3, 2010

Good Intentions



I had good, no, great intentions of spending the weekend writing my final book review for 2009. I wanted to begin putting together my year-end summary of the books I read and loved. And those I loathed. I planned to spend several hours on the the couch, huddled beneath a warm quilt, lost in Jacob's story in Water For Elephants. But as it goes, my weekend To Do list was a mile long.

There was laundry. Lots of laundry.

And two hours of ironing. (Thank goodness I can iron and watch a dvd at the same time.)

And three weeks of recycling to dispose of.

And two bathrooms to clean.

And menu planning. (Yes. A New Year's resolution.)

And vacuuming. I love my Annie-Dog, but the hair. Oh, the hair.


But, I made time to do the things I love.

I bought flowers.


When it's cold and gray and gloomy, there's just nothing quite like a bouquet of yellow daisies. They make me smile. Thank you, Pam, for the inspiration.


I picked up my camera and took a stroll around my house. I miss taking pictures and am toying with the idea of getting back into Aminus3.

The sun was shining.

:: Inside







:: And out




I danced to Pink Martini... and James Taylor... and Mary Chapin Carpenter, while baking bread.

I called my mom and wrote to my dad and thought of my girls.

I walked for an hour on the treadmill, laughing as I read through several months' of Pioneer Woman's archives. (That woman is a hilarious writer and one helluva photographer!)

I fed my Annie-dog chicken scraps and a piece of bacon. (Shhh, don't tell Rod.)

I fed my husband stew and homemade bread.




And, I realized this is what's important.

Living in the moment. Finding time to do the things I love. Letting go of the desire to do it all now.

It doesn't all have to be written down Right. This. Minute. Publishers Weekly isn't waiting for my reviews. Bookmarks magazine isn't calling for my opinion on the latest best seller.

But, my family is here. Right now.

Balance.

Simplify.

Laugh.

Relax.



To the New Year.

Cheers.

A Year in Review (in Photos)

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January 2, 2010

Baby, It's cold Outside (Elf)



I know Christmas is over, but I love this clip!

Current temp: Negative 4

Today's high: 2
More snow on the way.

I may spend the entire day reading on the couch!

January 1, 2010

Books Read in 2010

You may click on highlighted titles to read a review:

1. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen


2. Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

3. Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

4. Mudbound by Hilary Jordan

5. Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish

6. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

7. Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories by Simon Van Booy

8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (audio)

9. Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton

10. The Delights of Reading: Quotes, Notes & Anecdotes by Otto L. Bettmann

11. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

12. Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

13 & 14. Lift by Kelly Corrigan

15. The Empty House by Rosamunde Pilcher

16. Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt

17. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

18. Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy

19. Faithful Place by Tana French

20. Every Last One by Anna Quindlen


21. Ashes by Kathryn Lasky


22. The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

23. Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

24. Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

25. Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

26. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

27. The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (not reviewed)

28. Horns by Joe Hill

29. Traveling With Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Anne Kidd Taylor

30. Damaged by Alex Kava

31. Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler

32. World Without End by Ken Follett

33. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

34. Messenger of Truth by Jaqueline Winspear

35. La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith

36. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

37. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future by Michael J. Fox

38. Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons

39. Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner

40. I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

41. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson

42. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

43. Room by Emma Donoghue

44. Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

45. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

46. Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

47. Plain Kate by Erin Bow

48. Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

49. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

50. I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron

51. Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

52. Still Missing by Chevy Stevens