Thursday, October 14, 2010

Second Annual Fall Festival Recipe Exchange: Butternut & Chicken Soup with Orzo

All right, so yeah, I'm still taking a break from book blogging, but the cooking and baking around here only stops when my stomach and nose can't get along. (That hasn't been a problem since first trimester.)

Last year, I posted two recipes for My Friend Amy's fall recipe exchange: Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes and Cheese Ravioli with Pumpkin Sauce.

This year, I've decided to post one of the soups I've most looked forward to since I planted my butternut squash in the spring.

Butternut & Chicken Soup with Orzo

  • 1 medium-large butternut squash, peeled & cubed
  • 8 cups water
  • 1-1.5 lb chicken breast, cubed or shredded
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1.5 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced green chili pepper
  • 1/2 cup orzo pasta
  • 1/2-1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

  1. Cook butternut in water till it's soft; optional: drain some (a cup or two) of the water.
  2. Purée using immersion blender or food processor--or just smash up with spoon.
  3. In skillet, melt butter on medium heat. Add garlic, peppers and spices; stir until fragrant. Add chicken cubes and cook with the lid on till done, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add cooked chicken to butternut.
  5. Add uncooked pasta to butternut.
  6. Adjust salt, pepper and water depending on taste and consistency of soup required.
  7. Allow to boil on medium heat until pasta is cooked, stirring occasionally.
  8. Add cream and cilantro; simmer 10-15 minutes before serving.
Just a few notes: This is a very forgiving recipe--very hard to mess up, very easy to adjust to taste. I think that you can roast the butternut instead of cubing and peeling (which is very time consuming), but I haven't tried it (and if you do, don't forget to add water--or chicken broth--to the soup to thin it out a bit). I'll be adding G. Washington's Golden Broth seasoning when I make it this fall; that stuff makes everything taste better. The above is my variation of this soup recipe at

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Yes, I've been taking an unannounced hiatus

I haven't quit my book blog, but I'm up to my eyeballs in stuff (baby planning, traveling, etc.), and so while I have been reading, I haven't been blogging about it. Looking forward to commenting on some other people's Mockingjay posts, though--maybe tomorrow. I think I may have to re-read it before I get around to finally reviewing it here. And the rest of what I've read... eventually.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake & Abby Epstein

Your Best Birth is about knowing your birthing options and not feeling pushed around by doctors who often seem to disregard maternity patients' wishes. Or at least, that's what the book says. I don't know what it's like to have a baby in a hospital in the US; I probably never will. But I know my own mom's experience (at least, when she had me) was less than satisfactory, and she's still a little bitter, I think, about the treatment of OB-GYN gave her. If she'd felt there had been other options, she might have tried them.

So, here's breaking the news: I am pregnant; I'm at the beginning of my second trimester. And I remember two people singing the praises of this book: Jenn at Devourer of Books, who had a baby last year, and Dooce, who also had a baby last year.

Now, of all my generation in my family--several cousins, a sister--only one of them hasn't had a C-section. I don't know the particulars about why all of them had C-sections (except my sister--my niece was floating around in her placenta, basically swimming laps, and wouldn't stay heads-down), but I don't want surgery. And I certainly don't want to be pushed into it because of hospital protocols, which is often, apparently, what happens. I am also in love with the idea of a birthing pool, ever since I read on Pacing the Panic Room about the birth of Tessa Tangerine. (I started following Pacing the Panic Room because I loved the pictures he was taking of his wife every week of the pregnancy.)

My sister says she hates books like Your Best Birth because their goal is that everyone has a totally natural birth and they make you feel guilty if you want pain meds or if you have a C-section--which is how her prenatal classes made her feel. My response was that, yes, Your Best Birth is really heavy on supporting the decision to have a drug-free labor, home birth, midwives, doulas, and all of that. But mostly, they just don't want you to feel pushed into having a less-than-joyous birth experience you didn't need to have; they want you to have more facts than you're likely to get from hospitals and doctors. They acknowledge that C-sections are sometimes necessary (though there are an alarming number of elective C-sections) and that after 24 hours of labor, you really might need an epidural to keep going. And that's FINE. What you need, you get. But they don't want you to be pushed into having an epidural by the nurses who pop in every half hour or forty-five minutes to ask if you're ready to have an epidural yet, or get jacked full of Pitocin on Tuesday by the doctor who really wants to go away Thursday night to start a long weekend instead of waiting for your labor to start/progress naturally.

Also, Lake & Epstein provide lists of questions for doctors, midwives, doulas, etc., as well as a history of widwifery (really interesting) and a general (if a little biased) overview of the birthing industry in the US. They also made a documentary, which I haven't seen but would like to, called The Business of Being Born.

Now, unfortunately, I don't think BC's health care--or the health care from my husband's employer--would pay for a midwife and doula for a home birth. In fact, I am pretty sure there aren't any truly qualified midwives in my town, and to get a midwife to deliver my baby, I'd likely have to go to Vancouver Island. So I think the homebirth in a tub is out.

Fortunately, my doctor says that here in BC, they approach pregnancy and labor a little differently, with as few interventions as possible. There are showers and tubs for laboring moms at the hospital and they won't hook me up to an IV--or even put a needle in, in case I need one later--unless it becomes absolutely necessary. And I can feel free to walk, squat, whatever positions I want. I feel much better knowing that.

Of course, I have yet to take a look at the maternity ward here. There's only one hospital in town, so I have pretty limited hospital options (again, unless I want to take ferry to Vancouver Island while I'm in labor). But I've heard nothing but good things about its maternity ward, and I find it pretty comforting that most women in town receive their prenatal care from their general practitioners rather than an OB-GYN. There's only one OB-GYN and he's the prenatal care for high risk pregnancies and otherwise, expectant moms only see him for emergency C-sections (though I'm told he's also skilled with forceps and can be called in for that as well).

I'm really glad I read this book, because I don't think I would have considered that there are options other than hospitalization to have a baby, or that doctors could have ulterior motives for offering epidurals or kick-starting labor, or that there are so many options even if you choose to go to a hospital. I strongly encourage other pregnant women to read this book--even if you've already had children. It's fascinating.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Blue Cotton Gown by Patricia Harman

Patsy Harman is not an unusual woman. She worries about finances. She gets irritated with her husband's ability to sleep no matter what their current crisis is. She feels the need to listen to her patients and colleagues, and is just as sensitive as any other woman you're likely to meet (even if she doesn't cry as much).

What makes Patsy Harman a bit of an anomaly is that she's a midwife in Appalachia, and she and her OB-GYN husband operate their own medical practice, even though they don't deliver babies anymore (obstetric malpractice insurance got ridiculously high). They've had a bit of bad luck with accountants, and Patsy finds it difficult to balance the problems of her patients and friends with those of her own life.

One of the early reviewers said that The Blue Cotton Gown (a memoir) reads like a novel--and it really does. I didn't want to put it down. I had to know how Patsy was going to handle the accountants, whether she was ever going to get to sleep on her own, whether her teenage patient who lost twins was going to see the light about the loser she was sleeping with--or her friend's daughter, who was having a similar problem in her love life.

I cheered her victories and good decisions and commiserated in her frustrations and worries (seriously, how many inept accountants are there?). She introduced me to the business side of medical practice, which I hadn't really considered before. As with all businesses, there's a fine line between solvency and bankruptcy, and the Harmans are walking it. But even the financial worries--they got a letter from a legal firm; are they getting sued? or how do they get the IRS to quit taking the money they no longer owe them?--are nothing like worrying about whether or not you have cancer, whether or not you'll have to have a hysterectomy, whether that kid's overdose was an accident or suicide. And Harman balances them all beautifully in this memoir, with a generous splash of humor and other bits of light-heartedness to keep you from losing sleep over her problems.

If there's one thing that didn't quite sit comfortably with me, it's that most of the time, I had no idea this book was taking place in Appalachia, which has its own distinct character. Harman's practice could have been in Idaho or Maine or Texas if it weren't for the occasional references to local geography or the very rare mention of an Appalachian trait of the locals. Maybe it's because Harman isn't from the area, but I think I would've appreciated a little more local color.

All in all, highly recommended. I really wish I could remember whose blog I read a review of this book on--whoever you are, thank you!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dewey: The Small Town Library Can Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

I'm a cat person. You must know this by now. I mean, our cat made international news last December (and we're still introduced to new people as "the people who's cat waited at the side of the road for them for two days after their accident in Wyoming--you saw it on the news, right?") and though I think our Wavey is every bit as remarkable as Dewey, I must admit, Dewey's story is pretty amazing. And he is one handsome cat.

I cried when I read about Myron taking him out of the book drop after the coldest night of the year, with his paws frostbitten and him so cold there was no heat coming from him. And I cried at a lot of other things in the book too. I, however, skimmed most of the bits about life in Spencer, Iowa (I come from an even smaller town in Ohio and highly doubt life is all that much different there) and rolled my eyes several times at Myron's insistence that Dewey's behavior was unusual for a cat (I often disagreed)--but there is no denying he was a remarkably well-suited cat for a library.

I loved the stories of specific library patrons and the statistics of how their patronage increased after Dewey became a fixture there, and the way stories of Dewey spread until people from all over the world were coming to Spencer, Iowa, just to see him. (I would've been one of those people who detoured a road trip to go meet Dewey.)

I would give this book to any cat person to read.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (HP #7, re-read)

Do not read this if you haven't read
or have forgotten a lot of what
happened in Harry Potter
and the Deathly Hallows.

When the rest of my family reached the end of this book after its release in 2007, they all immediately read it again. I didn't, so I've only read The Deathly Hallows once prior to the Harry Potter Reading Challenge, and I'd forgotten a lot. What I did remember: leaving the Durselys'; the loss of Hedwig; some scandal around Dumbledore; breaking into Gringott's; Neville and the Sword of Gryffindor; the result of the final battle between Harry and Voldemort and why it happened like that.

But I forgot so many of the details that it was almost like reading The Deathly Hallows again for the first time. Almost. I forgot the role Kreacher played. I forgot what happened to Dobby. I forgot that Delores Umbridge reappears; what's waiting for them at Godric's Hollow; how they get the sword of Gryffindor; and The Tale of the Three Brothers. How I forgot that last one, I don't know. I forgot that Harry is a kind of horcrux himself, even though when I finished reading #6 all those years ago (before the release of #7), I had a theory that he was.

And I kinda want to read it again. Right now. (But I promised my husband I wouldn't. Apparently, I get really wrapped up in Harry Potter world.) Maybe next time I undertake re-reading the whole series (probably reading it aloud with kids), I'll have forgotten most of this again. I'm hoping so, anyway.

This reading challenge was a most satisfying experience. Thanks, Galleysmith!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (HP #6, re-read)

***I do not regret including spoilers; if you haven't read it yet--WHY NOT?

"I enjoyed the meetings, too," said Luna serenly. "It was like having friends."

I, too, wish they'd continued the DA. It was just so much fun, and I would've felt more confident when they're battling Death Eaters at the end if they'd continued on with the DA.

So, Slughorn creeps me out, but I love how Harry uses Aragog to get the memory out of him. (I also forgot that he continues to teach at Hogwarts in book #7, which I'm currently almost through.)

I totally forgot where the "Prince" of the Half-Blood Prince came from, so that was a small surprise all over again. I wish we'd learned more about Dumbledore in this one, even though I know we learn a ton in the final book, it still doesn't seem like enough.

I love how Snape prevents Harry's performing the Unforgiveable Curses in the end; that was when I suspected that he hadn't really gone back to the Death Eaters in the first reading. And I love that Draco can't do the task he's been assigned. He's a complete git, but at least he couldn't kill Dumbledore.

And I cried harder, I think, this time than either of the previous two readings. Seriously, through about 30 pages, I had to keep tissues on hand to keep from getting pages wet.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (HP#5, re-read)

Do I need to mention that this contains spoilers? (Haven't you read Harry Potter yet?)

I like The Order of the Phoenix a lot more now than I did the first time I read it; it definitely lacks the levity of the preceding books, but even knowing that going in didn't prepare me for how serious this book is. Now, a few reads later, I appreciate the plot development, the preparation of the readers for the sixth and seventh books.

Delores Umbridge has always been hard for me to read; she's a wretched character and though she gets what's coming to her, knowing that in advance doesn't make it much easier to read everything she does during Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts. (And she reminds me of a character or two from my own teaching days.)

But I love the D.A. It's my favorite part of the book, the scenes in which Harry's teaching his schoolmates makes me so happy, and I wish there had been more D.A. scenes.

And somehow, I can never quite picture all the weird things in the Department of Mysteries in the battle scene at the end. It's a huge, monumental scene and I always feel that I'm not quite picturing it as huge as it needs to be. But I'm getting there. Maybe a couple more reads will let me feel that I've paid the scene its due diligence. Am I the only one who feels that way?

I don't cry when Sirius dies, but I do when Harry finds that two-way mirror in his trunk afterward. I forgot about that mirror, and boy, I lost it. And I lost it again when Dumbledore, after explaining a million other things, says to Harry, "'You may, perhaps, wonder why I never chose you as a prefect? I must confess . . . that I rather thought . . . you had enough responsibility to be going on with.'" (And Dumbledore's crying.)

All right--what parts made you cry?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (HP#4, re-read)

I must confess: I've already read #4, #5 & #6 without blogging about any of them, which makes writing about them as though I've just read them rather difficult. (Well, I just finished #6, so that one should be pretty easy.)

However, The Goblet of Fire was pretty familiar to me; I've probably read it half a dozen times before, so not a lot jumped out at me or surprised me, except the mention of a few names that would become important in future books--like The Lovegoods. (When the Weasleys & company show up for the Quidditch World Cup, Mr. Weasley is told that the Lovegoods had arrived a week in advance.)

Every time I read this book, when I get the part where Harry's name comes out of the Goblet, I remember my first reaction--I was so excited (and, somehow, surprised), that I slammed the book shut and yipped. That's right--I yipped.

And can I just say that I really expected that, after my first reading(s) of The Goblet of Fire, Krum would be a more important character in the rest of the series than he turned out to be? (I really expected to see a lot more of Krum than Fleur.) I'm still rather disappointed that he didn't.

What about you--were there characters you expected to have a bigger role in the series than they turned out to have?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Essay Contest--for kids!

Anyone familiar with The Magic Tree House? If you know or have kids in the ages 7-12 bracket, you might want to look into this essay contest. Open to US & Canada residents. Winner receives a $5000 tree house from Kids Crooked House (and must have a place to put it). Deadline: October 31, 2010.

The essay question: Jack and Annie travel through space and time in the Magic Tree House to complete the missions for Merlin or Morgan. Write about an adventure you would like to have in the Magic Tree House. Where would you go and what would you do?

Rules and Forms can be downloaded at the Magic Tree House Passport to Adventure page (PDF reader required).

I found out about this contest from The Well-Read Child, which posted the full press release from Random House.

Unforgettable: Into the Dream by William Sleator

I read Into the Dream three or four times when I was in 5th-7th grade. Loved it. But for the life of me, I could never remember the title, even then. The cover I remember was different, too--it had a Ferris wheel in the background, and there's a picture of it on GoodReads, but it's tiny. Anyway, maybe now that I've learned the title (again) and posted it here, I'll be able to remember it.

Premise of the story: Two friends discover they're having the same dream about a little boy in danger and, on the understanding that it's not just a dream, feel compelled to help him. And somehow, there's a psychic dog involved. I only remember bits and pieces, but I don't think I'd want to reread it as an adult because I'm pretty sure that as an adult reader, I'd be a little disappointed.

Nonetheless, I'm excited to have re-discovered the title and would recommend this book heartily to kids in grades 4-6. (I think I read it for reading class in 7th grade, but it was way below reading level then.)

Monday, May 03, 2010

I'd give up Ben & Jerry's in favor of this

I have a few distinct categories in my Google Reader--book blogs, foodie sites, design sites. I know my blog's very basic and not at all pretty, but I have dreams of making a fantastic one sometime soon. (But then, I read most blogs through the reader and seldom visit the sites, so I don't see their designs, and it becomes less important. Still, I'd like to design my own. Soon.)

But my design folder also includes interior decorating ideas, DIY projects, and packaging designs ('cause I love product packaging).

One of the packaging blogs I follow is The Dieline, which recently featured this student project:

There's a whole line of literary ice cream packaging. And if it were a real brand, I imagine it'd be the only ice cream in my freezer.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

This is just to say...

I pre-ordered my copy of Mockingjay today. Now, I just need to make sure I get my copy of The Hunger Games back so I can re-read the first two before August 24.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (HP#3, re-read)

I can't say I had any new revelations while I was re-reading HP#3. Again, I noticed that I remember the series of events in the movie better than the book's, but I like (of course) the book better. I wish we'd seen more of Lupin's classes. Knowing what comes next, I have a few character qualms, but re-reading #4 might resolve those. And (SPOILER AHEAD!) I'm getting a bit misty whenever Hedwig gives Harry an affectionate nip. I really like Hedwig, and I hate knowing her fate. I try not to think about it, but going LA LA LA LA while I'm reading doesn't exactly help.

But thinking about Hedwig brings me to a bit of a tangent. Every year at Thanksgiving, to kick of the Christmas season, my hometown of Pemberville, Ohio, has a festival of trees, and every year the theme changes. About five years ago, the theme was books, and my mom and sister immediately claimed Harry Potter.

And it was a rockin' tree. They made a lot of the ornaments and they borrowed my snowy owl to put underneath it, along with a bunch of HP-related things like magical-looking books, a broomstick and potion bottles, and the whole series (however many had been published at the time).* And of course, people come in to see the trees and vote for favorites, and there was one kid who was super excited about the Harry Potter tree. He told me he was voting for it because he wanted to win it because of that snowy owl underneath the tree. He really wanted that owl. My owl. My Hedwig.

I explained to the kid that the trees people vote on don't go home with "winners"--the ornaments and everything underneath the trees belong to the people who designed them and they were just sharing with the town for a while. It didn't occur to me at the time that he didn't need to be disillusioned--he'd probably just have assumed later that he hadn't won--that it was kind of mean of me to wreck his hope.

But it probably doesn't matter. I don't think he believed me.

I asked my mom to keep an eye on my owl anyway, just in case.

*I'll post pictures if I can get Mom to send me a few.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Unforgettable: Southern Ladies & Gentlemen by Florence King

I was breezing through my Google Reader today to prepare for the onslaught of the reading marathon posts I expect this weekend. (I'm not participating because my garden beckons, but I hope everyone else has fun!) Anyway, I came across a post at Bluestalking titled "Good writing vs. bad, southern and otherwise." Any mention of Southern writing makes me think of Southern Ladies & Gentlemen. I know I've recommended it to several of you for challenges that have you reading Southern books, but it's really a book that anyone who's ever read Gone with the Wind or To Kill a Mockingbird or any of the other classic Southern books (or plays) should read.

King presents a study of Southern culture which is not only fun to read, but just about everything in it is applicable to any truly Southern story. It's a mix of essays (pop culture/sociology/history/etc.) that turns into something that suddenly makes Southern texts a lot more interesting and/or understandable and/or shed a new light on a story.

This is the first reading assignment I had for my Southern Women Writers class in grad school, and I am so glad Dr. Dukes had us read this. Enlightening and hilarious and highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Hamlet & Ophelia by John Marsden

After reading Hamlet and Ophelia (which is titled just Hamlet in the US), I'm still not certain whether Hamlet loved Ophelia or whether he actually went mad or just pretended to. And I still don't have a really clear idea of Ophelia as a character. Since these matters have been the subject of academic debates since forever, I'm of two minds whether it means that Marsden did a really good job, and whether this modern narrative version's ambiguities are more frustrating than the play's.

Aside from some anachronisms, mostly character habits and language (example: one of the characters mentions hormones, which is a 20th century word), very little of this book doesn't come directly from the play. The former teacher in me was finding ways to incorporate it into a Hamlet unit, which would probably work well for a lower-level lit classes. The re-adaption lacks quite a bit of the wit of the original play (though some scenes incorporate it well--like the cemetery scene. "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well."). Mostly, I really like the idea of the debates that could stem from the interpretations Marsden makes in contrast to how others read the play. Like Ophelia.

Ophelia's presence is a mystery. Supposedly she's a possible love interest for Hamlet, so Marsden takes a few liberties in trying to flesh out her character, but I found that to be even more confusing. He paints her as a little unbalanced from the beginning, which I don't recall any hint of in the play (but it has been a few years since I read it), and she lusts wildly after Hamlet, though she is mostly discreet about it. I've personally tended to infer from the play that Ophelia and Hamlet had a sexual relationship before his father's death, but in Marsden's interpretation, it's all lust. Descriptive lust.

I wonder how anyone who's never experienced the play before would feel about this book. Loving the play, I'm not totally crazy about it, but I certainly think it has its merits.
One perk is that I'm totally in the mood to go re-read the play.

I would without hesitation recommend it to high school lit teachers and it definitely belongs in high school libraries everywhere (assuming your local school library is still operational), though you can expect a few challenges from parents who take exception to Ophelia's allowing her fingers in close proximity to her thighs while she thinks about Hamlet.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (HP #2, reread)

I've reread HP#2 several times, and at this point, I assume that you all have too. If you haven't read it (and WHY not?!), beware forthcoming spoilers.

I love that Ginny joins the ranks of Hogwarts students and that though she doesn't pop up very often in the course of the book--till the end, of course--she develops a very distinct presence in the bigger picture. And who can't sympathize with a crush that huge? I look forward to seeing more of her character in the next books; I don't remember much about Ginny's role between this and the last couple books, except that she's present and that I think we'd notice if she weren't making regular appearances in the story.

Has anyone else found themselves rereading #2 and a little voice in the back of your mind screams, "Horcrux!"??? I'd almost forgotten that word.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (HP #1, reread)

I've re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone probably more than any of the others. Mostly this stemmed from an intent to reread the whole series before the next book came out, but sometimes it was just because. That might not seem strange to you, but frankly, this book is my least favorite of the whole series.

I'm looking forward to seeing, as I reread the rest of the series, how Rowling's writing improved, matured. I'm also remembering my first reactions to the movies, and I'm a little ashamed to say that I was surprised that I'd forgotten how different events actually happened in the book. Like the Devil's Snare after they get past Fluffy. I totally forgot how that all went down.

And more than ever, now that I'm rereading the series, I love (and want) these Harry Potter tattoos.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Interesting tidbit for Lisa Snelling and/or Peter S. Beagle fans

Amongst Lisa Snelling's Ebay listings is a chapbook by Peter S. Beagle (art by Snelling). Fans of Beagle and/or Snelling will want to check it out (if they haven't already).

Listed at $15 + $7 (UPS) shipping to Canada or $3.50 (USPS) to the US.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

"You are pure-hearted, Branza, and lovely, and you have never done a moment's wrong. But you are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart."

Tender Morsels is one of those books that makes you breathe, "Wow. . ." every now and then while you flip a page.

Liga is a young woman who finds herself in horrible situations which lead to her getting pregnant. The book opens with a miscarriage, which she doesn't identify as such because her father keeps her in sight and uneducated. (Yes, you probably just figured out horrible situation #1.) After the second horrible incident, she is desperate to escape the totally cruel world she has become subject to the whims of, and her escape turns out to be another world. She enters her own dreamscape, her heart's desire, which is as simple as a safe place to raise her daughters and to feel unthreatened by anyone or anything.

Liga and her daughters Branza and Urdda would have spent their whole lives in that haven, untouched by the true world, if a mud-wife (a witch) in Liga's hometown hadn't decided to fiddle with things and try to send a cruel little man to his own dream-space. Her meddling interferes with the boundaries (and internal clocks) of the two places and strange Bears find themselves in Liga's world, as well as the little man, both possibly posing threats to Liga's family. Eventually, Liga finds herself compelled to return to the cruel world of her youth with her girls.

Lanagan employs a folksy dialect for her characters--some of them say "babby" for "baby" and "leddy" for "lady," for example--which manages to add to the richness of both the characters and setting instead of being distracting to the reader. (In fact, it took me a while to catch on to what "leddy" meant--I was reading it as something like "goody" or "goodwife" for the first half of the book. It worked.)

Lanagan also plays, mostly successfully, with point of view. When the story is following any of the males, they are allowed to tell their own story in first person point of view, which is a little confusing at first when the reader realizes that the "I" isn't necessarily the same person the last "I" was, but once that becomes obvious, the narrators are easy enough to keep track of. When the story is following Liga, Branza or Urdda, however, the narrator is omniscient, which mostly serves to provide a little bit of distance between Liga and the reader; the narrator gets to choose how detailed Liga's story is. (Readers will be just fine with certain parts of Liga's story being glossed over or summarily mentioned after the fact.)

Highly recommended for anyone (grade 8 & older) who has ever appreciated the darker side of fairy tales. If you liked Deerskin by Robin McKinley, you'll want to read this.

I purchased Tender Morsels at Powells in Portland, Oregon. It's going to become part of my mostly-permanent collection.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

I finished reading Angelology with a distinct impression that Trussoni would like to be the next Dan Brown. And you know how I felt about The Davinci Code.

Despite my misgivings from early on (starting with the patronizing marketing letter), I did read the book cover to cover, and I enjoyed many bits of the story. However, overall, I felt the plot and characters were still very rough around the edges and that the manuscript could have used a few more thorough revisions. The puerile naming of the characters--Evangeline, Angelina, Seraphina, Celestine--was over the top and like Dan Brown, Trussoni has a tendency to spell things out for readers just in case they missed it the light veiling of facts the first two or three times.

What troubles me most has to do with Evangeline, who lacks depth and credibility. We are told she had an amazing relationship with her father, but it wasn't shown. She's unconvincing as a young woman in general, but I also can't buy that she's a nun. She lacks a certain conviction, which may have been sacrificed (if it existed in the first place) in trying to make this book appeal to a more secular audience.

Last, I was completely disappointed by the ending, which was too abrupt and resolved nothing (a sequel seems inevitable, but I won't be reading it), and seemed in direct opposition to the characterization of Evangeline and Verlaine (the academic romantic interest) up to that point.

I admire all the work that Trussoni must have done to piece such a promising premise together, but in the end Angelology falls far short of its potential.

This ARC was won in a contest through And yes, I was drawn to this book because of its wonderful cover.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Live from Portland, Oregon: A frustrating week. . .

So I should be done with Angelology by now, but I'm only about 2/3 of the way through it. My husband and I are down in the US after buying a new VW Westfalia in Chico, California, last week. Yes, we bought it last week and WE'RE STILL HERE.

We spent four days keeping our new van in the driveway of a Vanagon-list friend in Chico while he and my wonderfully patient husband worked on fixing the issues with the van. We'd expected needing to make one or two fixes--hoses needing to be replaced, etc.--but when one was fixed, another cropped up. We'd pre-ordered some hoses and other bits in anticipation of needing to fix them right away or along the way, but we had to go in search of other things or find machinists to fix broken but practically irreplaceable parts. It's actually been a pretty educational experience.

After we finally left Chico, we discovered another problem--air in the coolant hose. Every 15-30 minutes, the engine would start to overheat and we'd have to stop and try to bleed the air out. We had this problem after we replaced the engine in our old van (I miss that van ever so much), but it cleared itself up after driving through a particularly hilly town. No such luck with this; no matter how much air we bled, somehow it managed to suck up more. In a start-and-stop manner, we made our way to Medford, Oregon, where another Vanagon-list friend lives; this guy is one of the go-to guys when van owners encounter a problem with their vehicles. After working on the problem in his yard for a few hours, they took it for a test run and declared it ready to continue homeward.

While they were tinkering and tweaking, I sat in the car, reading and playing poker on Facebook and petting the cat whenever she felt like she needed some cuddling. I was asked to get food from a local Mexican restaurant, but my GPS device led me astray and to a restaurant by the same name in the next town north. And then, although I knew the GPS was wrong on the way back and managed to recognize the exit I did need, I couldn't find my way back to the yard where they had expected me with food quite a bit earlier. And there was a root beer explosion on the way--and you know root beer spilled all over a front seat (endangering a borrowed laptop, our CD player, our Fountainhead discs, and drenching the last of my clean clothes) did not help me to stay calm and patient.

I looked forward to a night at an area hotel I had enjoyed before, The Rogue Regency Inn. Whenever we pass through the area, we at least stop to grab a bite in the restaurant. We were concerned a couple years ago that recent roadwork that made the hotel difficult to get to would force its closure, because we knew they were struggling. In fact, last week on our way down to pick up the new van, we'd stopped and enjoyed a night in one of their rooms, which now supply cute spa-style robes.

But when I asked for a room, I was told that we could not have our cat with us. The hotel has a policy against cats. I pointed out that it wasn't a problem the week before, and they said that it was a fluke that we'd been allowed to have the cat with us. I returned to the vehicles (I was driving the car we'd driven down from Canada) and promptly burst into tears.

We decided instead to try the nearby (well, technically--the strange roadways made it harder to get to) Quality Inn, and from now on, that is where we'll be staying when we pass through Medford. It was as nice as the Rogue Regency Inn (albeit without the robes) and managed to cost less, even with the pet fee, plus it provided a free breakfast with some of the best yogurt I've ever had. And it's less complicated to get to when you get off the highway. Bonus: I was able to wash some of my sticky clothes in the guest laundry facility.

So things were looking up when we managed to drive the next morning for a while before the engine overheated. And after a few more stops, about 200 miles south of Portland, there was suddenly a lot more steam pouring out the back of the van. Coolant hose busted. We called for a tow (I love AAA--or as we have in British Columbia, BCAA) and made it the rest of the way to Portland, where we parked both the van and the car at the Rodeway we'd booked while waiting for the tow truck, and the next morning when my beloved husband was replacing the coolant hose, he found a problem with the head gasket, which, as I understand it, shouldn't have been a problem at all considering that the engine was rebuilt a couple years ago and has less than 1000 miles on it. So we had it hauled to a local Westy repair shop that was highly recommended by our knowledgeable Westy-driving friends, and the verdict came in today: the engine is fried. And it sounds to me as though it was a sloppy rebuild job to begin with.

So we've rented a truck and tomorrow we're driving down to Sacramento to get another engine from another highly respected Westfalia repair place and we're bringing it back. It's going to be a long day. Sound crazy to go get it ourselves? Well, to ship it same-day would cost $1500. The rental is less than $400. Besides, we'd just be driving around Portland, which though fun would also be inevitably expensive. And it will take the shop three days to install the new-to-us engine, so we'll have at least a couple more days here.

And of course the obvious perk of being kinda stuck in Portland for a few days? I know some people here we might have dinner with. And Powell's. We were there today. $300 later, we have 27 more books for our shelves and a new calendar for my mother-in-law. Amongst the books we bought for me:

I guess I'll have something to read while we wait.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

Johanna Moran's father brought home an abstract he found in a law journal about a man in the early 1900's who was tried three times for bigamy, and Moran has spun the details of the abstract into a fast-paced novel that's very hard to put down.

Really, The Wives of Henry Oades is a strange, heart-wrenching tale (though if there were laws and precedents, maybe it wasn't so very strange at the time) about a man whose family is kidnapped by the Maori of New Zealand and he's compelled to presume them dead, so he moves to San Francisco and slowly starts a new life--which eventually includes a new wife. Except that his family isn't dead, just captive, and when the escape, they come to find him.

You can imagine the circumstances of his being charged with bigamy. In Moran's telling, Henry is a dairy farmer and when his first wife and their children show up, the self-righteous Bible-thumpers in town take up arms. And though I know of zealots of the time who would have persisted in their persecution of Henry and his wives with the same fervor with which they preached temperance, after all was said and done with the story, I did feel that something was missing. Henry was too likeable.

When I explained the premise of the story and the not-one-but-three bigamy charges and ensuing harassment of and threats against the family, he said, "Who do you suppose he pissed off?" Which totally makes sense to me--it's hard to believe that kind of relentlessness being pitched against the kind soul Moran describes.

I really enjoyed this book, but in the end it feels a bit sugar-coated. Things just couldn't have been that simple, and I wouldn't have minded a more complex book that detailed more of the setting and gave perhaps a less rosy presentation of the characters.

Many thanks to HarperCollins for this ARC.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

A weapon does not decide whether or not to kill. A weapon is a manifestation of a decision that has already been made.

You'd think The Cellist of Sarajevo, being set during the siege of the city back in the 1990's, would be a hard book to enjoy, but it's really not. The pages of the story pass easily into a few hours and the war setting is bearable because it's creating the characters, who are so easy to care about, so easy to empathize with.

One day a shell kills 22 people who were waiting in line to, they hoped, buy bread. The cellist from the Sarajevo Symphony was practicing by his apartment window and saw neighbors and friends killed, and determined that he would play in the crater the explosion made one day for each of the people killed.

This, of course, makes him a target for the forces holding the city, and so the city's defenders position a sniper of their own to protect him from the snipers their attackers would certainly send. Arrow is a young woman who is practically a legend in besieged Sarajevo. She questions, constantly, her motives for killing the enemy; one of her biggest fears is becoming like them.

But the story also follows a man fetching water for his family and his neighbor; he makes this dangerous trek every four or five days. And there is also a man who works in a bakery; he's one o the few men still employed in the city. He sent his wife and son to safety in Italy before escape was impossible.

I see why this book has received so much acclaim. Galloway takes great care to make readers feel as if they are there, describing the sections of Sarajevo and positions of buildings and bridges and frequented roads but managing not to overwhelm readers with the unfamiliarity of the place or irrelevant details .

Though in Galloway's afterword, he says that he "compressed three years into under a month" in his book, it didn't feel that way. Rather, it felt like was a few snapshots of sometime in the middle of the siege. Nothing about the beginning and end of the book indicate that the beginning or end of the siege is represented.

The Cellist of Sarajevo explores, above all, the identities of its characters. Are they victims? To what extent do their choices re-create who they are in this new, besieged city that no longer resembles the city they once loved? And to whom does it matter?

Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fire by Kristen Cashore

I know everyone said they liked Fire as much as Graceling, but I was a little skeptical. I adored Graceling's characters and I wanted to read more about them, not other characters (well, one character overlaps the two stories) set in the same world (though a few decades earlier).

Fire, a monster human who can control people's minds--as can most monster creatures--is a young woman whose main goal in life is to not become like her monster father (monster in the traditional sense as well), and when she's called upon to help the king protect his kingdom from traitors, she consents--with many, many reservations.

Kristen Cashore, I eagerly await all of your forthcoming books; just let me know when to expect them. I'll make sure my bookstore gets them in for me on their release dates.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers

Unless she was positively unwell, Kit liked to rush down this staircase one step at a time as fast as possible, giving her a buzz akin to riffling her thumb through a 900-page paperback.

In a book, she thought, her decision not to go back to the dance club would be the hilarious prelude to her going back to the dance club. But not even in her worst nightmares did she behave like a girl from a hilarious book.

The Twisted Heart
happened to me at a most opportune time; I quite liked this quirky story of Kit, a reclusive English doctoral student at Oxford and her relationship with Joe, a man she meets at a dance club on a night that she decides to do something out of the ordinary.

If I had been reading this last week or maybe next week, certain elements might not have settled well with me--the lack of details about Joe and precisely what's wrong with his brother Humpty, or even Kit's background. This is a story that takes place almost exclusively in the present, and very little about pasts--or futures--is considered.

The dialogue in The Twisted Heart was similar to the dialogue that drove me so batty in The Truth About Love (and caused me to quit it). There was enough narrative to keep the dialogue from causing that level of irritation. I do feel I missed out on quite a bit of the humor because the book is so solidly British; it might have been easier to appreciate what I suspected were funny parts if I'd had this as an audio book.

Still, I enjoyed Kit's funny attempts at protecting her heart and stepping outside her shell. Like the heroines' of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Kit's embrasure of the academic endeared her to me. I expected her obsession with Dickens and Sikes's murder of Nancy in Oliver Twist would spin into something more insightful about her character, but neither hers nor Joe's character developed in leaps in bounds--just in ways subtle enough to keep my interest.

There was plenty of material left undeveloped to make me interested in a sequel, if Gowers were to write one.

Thanks to HarperCollins for sending me this one.

Now I'm being whisked off to a romantic Valentine's Day evening with my amazing husband, and tomorrow I'm leaving for Vancouver to take in some Olympic events.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Truth About Love by Josephine Hart

I'm sure there are people who will think The Truth About Love is wonderful. However, even at 80 pages in (about 1/3 of the way through), I had to do some heavy-duty self-convincing to pick it up (every time!) and while the German neighbor proves a little interesting, I can't say that he's interesting enough to make me want to keep reading.

The Truth About Love promises to be sad (it follows three people deeply affected by the death of a teenaged boy in the first chapter); Hart's story follows the boy's neighbor (The German), the boy's mother and the boy's sister. I didn't manage to get as far as the parts following his family.

I find the dialogue (not dialect) difficult to read, and though it may or may not be true to an Irish manner of speaking, the frustration of trying to follow it along--and how much of the book is dialogue--was the foremost reason for calling it quits.

Thank you to HarperCollins for sending me this ARC.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

I can't say that I expected to love Sacred Hearts. And I don't. I'm not sure I could ever love a book set in a 16th century Italian convent, but I certainly wasn't expecting to find the setting or a few nuns so interesting.

It's no page-turner--I doubt anyone will want to read it in one sitting---but it is the story of a determined, love-struck young woman from Milan whose noble family compels her to take novice vows in a convent in Ferrara. It's also the story of the convent's dispensary mistress, who has been in the convent since her father, a renowned physician, died 16 years earlier.

Prior to reading this book, I'd had no idea that so many nobles' daughters were pushed into convents because dowries were too extravagant for even the rich to afford. Nor had I ever considered all the politicking that would go on inside a convent, almost more vicious than any modern campaign for office because they had to live, day in and day out, with each other.

I read one blogger's review (I forget whose) in which she insisted that nothing happened. It was a funny review--I liked it. I was only a few pages in at the time and wondered if I was going to be quitting the book in the next hundred pages. But I must disagree that nothing happened. Subtle things happened, and a few not so subtle things. If the setting had been anywhere else but a convent, the book wouldn't have been interesting in the slightest.

I haven't read Dunant's other books, so I can't express an opinion about how Sacred Hearts stacks up. Though it's not a book that I'm going to run around pushing into people's hands, it's not one I'd discourage them from reading, either.

Thanks to Random House for sending me an ARC!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I think I want an iPad...

I feel that I should preface this post: I haven't been through my book blog feeds to see what anyone else thinks of the iPad.

I'm an Apple fan. My 17" Macbook Pro survived for a month and a half after being thrown through our windshield (when we slid off the road in Wyoming and the van rolled twice). And though the motherboard did die earlier this week, everyone is shocked that it turned on at all after the trauma it sustained and then sitting in the snow for hours. Besides, I like Mac things' interfaces. I have an iPhone and adore it. My husband has two G5's for his video work.

So though we all knew what was coming next from Apple, I didn't expect to want one. I mean, on one hand, it's just a giant iPod Touch. On the other hand, it's a giant iPod Touch; I love those things.

I want one to read books on more than I'd want it for pictures or videos. I think. I'm a huge fan of the feel of a book in my hands, and I don't think reading books on an iPad would override my preference for traditional books, but as has been said before, for traveling, it would be a wonderful thing.

My first and foremost qualm though is this: I want to be able to buy e-books for whatever reader I've chosen from whatever source I want--so mostly, I'd want to buy them from Powells or another indie store. I have no idea what iBooks is going to be like, but from the scant bits I've read, it sounds like Apple will be running its own e-books store. No thanks.

And yes, I think the people who chose the name and decided to overlook the word associations people would make with maxipads in favor of choosing a name that looks and sounds like the beloved iPod may have made a bad call.

I also want to get one for my Grandma, who currently has an e-mail printer, but who I think would occasionally like to respond to e-mails, too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan

Midnight Never Come is another book set in Queen Elizabeth's court--but not just Elizabeth's court. There is another queen in London, a kind of mirror court, the London Faerie court. Her name is Invidiana, and she's quite likely the most ruthless creature in London.

The characters we follow are Lune, a faerie courtier who has fallen out of favor with Invidiana and is desperate to find a way back the queens good graces. The opportunity becomes to gain access to Walsingham and his intelligence by pretending to be one of the ladies of one of Elizabeth's courtiers. Deven is one of the Elizabeth's guardsmen, working intelligence for Walsingham. He has ambitions--promotions and patrons--that eventually fall by the wayside (mostly) in favor of devoted service--and his love for Anne Montrose (Lune).

It's quite an undertaking, a book this ambitious. Trying to meld two political worlds--one historical and one fantastical--must have taken quite a bit of organization and imagination. The book was well-researched, but for all the gossip and politicking that we know was happening at the time, the two worlds simply didn't seem as enmeshed as they were supposed to be, and so in the end the book seemed a bit lighter in substance than it maybe should have been.

Still, for the most part I enjoyed the book and what it tried to do. It took me a month to read, with all the holidaying and road tripping (I could read while driving but I feel the compulsive need to be a second driver when I'm in the passenger seat--and my husband is always interrupting me when I try to read in the car, anyway) and all that, but in other circumstances I'm sure I would have breezed through it in a week or so.

Recommended for those who enjoy faerie stories and light historical fiction.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Back home...

We're home!

We've actually been home for a week. My leg is still healing, and I couldn't get a doctor's appointment before Jan 26, but if the ligaments have waited this long, I guess they can wait a little longer. The receptionist at my medical clinic was unconcerned when I explained my situation and that I'd been told to see my doctor as soon as I got home.

Our cat is truly a wonder cat. Even after she was thrown out of our rolling van, she had no qualms about being put in a vehicle again, as long as there was at least one lap to cuddle on.

And in all that time of being laid up, can you believe I didn't get a single book read? I did get several for Christmas--including the Steamy Kitchen and Top Chef cookbooks and two I bought for myself: Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan (which I just finished this morning) and Fire by Kristen Cashore. I bought my sister The Hunger Games trilogy--I even preordered the third one for her, and to my amazement, she's already read the first one, and I imagine she's nearly done with the second one. (Sometimes she resists my suggestions, simply based on pecking order.)

I should have my first 2010 review up by Monday morning.

It's so nice to be back.

But we miss our van. *sniff sniff*

The first night of our first road trip in our Westy, back in November 2006. We got stuck in an Esso parking lot during a freak snowstorm.

Our beloved Westy after our rollover just outside of Wamsutter, Wyoming, on December 14, 2009.