Monday, December 29, 2008

not a good bedtime book!

Last night, I snuggled into bed with Jon Scieszka's Knucklehead: tall tales & mostly true stories of growing up Scieszka. It is definitely not the book you want be reading to help you relax into sleep--I laughed and laughed and laughed. Jon is the second of six boys, sons of a principal and a nurse (who used only anatomically correct language--her dinnertime jokes are hilarious, and not for the squeamish). He says he's the smartest, handsomest and friendliest of the lot...nothing like a little confidence, eh?

Jon Scieszka (pronounced shesk-ah) knows boys. He wrote The Stinky Cheese Man and other fairly stupid tales, Time Warp Trio series and, my personal favorite for reading aloud (if you have any drama/ham in you at all), The true story of the three pigs by A. Wolf (brilliantly illustrated by Lane Smith, his frequent cohort...they are definitely soulmates!). He has the right mixture of humor and 2nd grade crassness that boys seem to love (and quite a few girls, too!)

Being the youngest child in my family, with brothers who were 15 and 16 when I was born, reading about growing up with brothers is endlessly fascinating. There is something about boys growing up together: my grown-up and staid brothers set the house on fire, both fell out of the car and suffered many injuries during their formative years...something I've always found hard to believe since they've always seemed so conventional to me.

Any way, I can hardly wait to crawl into bed tonight to see what the next adventure of the Scieszka crew will be. After a busy day at the library, I need another good laugh!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

modern girls

I read two children's novels yesterday, very similar but very different as well. Both are for 2nd-4th graders and were highly illustrated. I really liked one and really enjoyed the setting (my old neighborhood in south Minneapolis) of the other.

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell was delightful. Ottoline is an eight year old girl who lives in an apartment building shaped like a pepperpot. Her parents are professors and travel the world looking for odd and interesting things to collect. When they are on the road, Ottoline is left in the care of Mister Munroe, a hairy creature born in the bogs of Norway (think Cousin Itt from the Addams Family). Alice is certified in wearing disguises which comes in very handy as she solves the mystery of a ring of cat burglars. I chuckled often, pored over the pictures (an integral part of the story) and was truly disappointed when I came to the last page. I sincerely hope there will be more books about Ottoline and the devoted Mister Munroe.

Julia Gillian (and the art of knowing) by Alison McGhee was a mixed bag. Julia is nine years old, the only child of two teachers who are spending the summer in school, working to become the best teachers ever. Consequently, Julia, in the company of her devoted Saint Bernard Bigfoot, is on her own much of the time. She is allowed independence as long as she stays within a nine-square-block area surrounding her home in south Minneapolis. She has a close friend/babysitter in her apartment building, an understanding and sympathetic soul in the owner of the neighborhood hardware store and a new friendship with a little girl worrying about starting kindergarten in the fall. All of the elements are there but Julia is too self-aware and precocious--I found it really hard to empathize with her. I really enjoyed knowing all of the places mentioned in the book and want to eat at Quang, the Vietnamese restaurant at 28th and Nicollet (yes, it really exists) but the book deserves a shrug of the shoulders rather than a thumb to the sky.

Next on my reading list is a pile of juvenile nonfiction. I can't wait to stretch out on my daybed and read and read and read.

final report on the romance

I finished Romancing Mister Bridgerton at 2:30 a.m. on Christmas morning. I really enjoyed it and may even read another one since there was an intriguing teaser for the next in the series at the end of the book. My only quibble was a highly unrealistic love scene (semi-undressed in a carriage in Regency England? I don't think so!) but the characters were likeable and the writing humor-filled so a thumbs up from this reader. And nobody is more amazed at that review than yours truly!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

reporting back on the romance novel

Okay, I admit it, I am loving Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn. How can I not love a romance where the heroine is 27 years old, has a small weight problem and is considered boring and unattractive by the ton. Set in Regency London and owing a large debt to Jane Austen, this is really a fun read and I look forward to crawling into bed with it every night!

I love this time of year!

Christmas is wonderful (as attested to by the three Christmas trees decorating my little condo!) but the best thing about the end of the year is the bonanza of cookbooks available to real addicts like yours truly!

In the last few months, my well-loved and well-thumbed cookbook library has grown. Thanks to the frequent extra 15% off coupons I get from B&N, I have been a cookbook-buying fiend. What better way to spend a cold winter's evening than wrapped in a Rudolph blanket with my nose in a cookbook?

I subscribe to Cook's Country magazine, a less intimidating, more realistic version of the America's Test Kitchen magazine. This year, The Cook's Country cookbook: regional and heirloom favorites tested and reimagined for today's home cooks came out. The only recipe I've tried is Blueberry Boy Bait (a buttery cake with blueberry topping) and it is a keeper, though I still haven't caught a boy....

Nick Malgieri (a chef who looks like he actually eats and enjoys what he prepares) is one of my culinary heroes. This year's book is The modern baker: time-saving techniques for breads, tarts, pies, cakes and cookies, a beautifully illustrated volume with background information on each and every recipe--great reading. I haven't tried anything from this cookbook yet but I will forever be in Nick's debt because of the cornmeal cake which is dense and chewy and heavenly with raspberries!

America's Test Kitchen family baking book brought Caramel cashew Rice Krispy bars into my life--who knew you could improve the perfection of a Rice Krispy bar? There are also Macademia and white chocolate Rice Krispy bars and Almond Joy Rice Krispy bars yet to try!

Southern Living homestyle cookbook (the 2008 edition) provided Cardamom Crunch snack mix which is to be devoured by the handful. Being a proud Swede, I love cardamom (especially in cinnamon bread) and grind my own when needed for a recipe. Yum-o (to quote Rachael Ray).

I've been a follower of Taste of Home magazine since the beginning and have a huge collection of their cookbooks. This year's selection was Taste of Home Christmas Cookies & Candy, full of recipes from real cooks--I've never had a failure with any recipe I've ever tried. I made the coconut macaroons for my Christmas open house and they were delicious. Instead of the usual egg whites (a no-no for a dear friend of mine who loves coconut), these are made with sweetened condensed milk. Chewy and delicious and easy to make, next time I'm going to add a little chocolate to the recipe.

My most recent purchase was Heirloom cooking with the Brass Sisters: recipes you remember and love by Marilynn and Sheila Brass. The Brass Sisters are antique dealers who often found handwritten recipes in the wares they were selling and grew ever more fascinated by what they were finding. Another career was born--they have two cookbooks out and do a PBS cooking show. Their books are fabulous for snuggling under a blanket and reading, with a steaming mug of hot chocolate near at hand. The lemon chicken recipe in this book is really tempting....

Go out and buy a cookbook for someone you love (or for yourself)--they make great presents!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

second chances and strange requests

I'm at the point in my reading life where I give up on a book if it doesn't interest me. I'll give it 25 pages before tossing the book aside.

I've been feeling very guilty because I did that to Tamora Pierce's book The will of the Empress. The characters that I've known and loved through the Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens series are so annoyingly teenaged in this book (like Harry Potter is extremely annoying in HP and the Order of the Phoenix) that I couldn't abide reading about them. Time, and the fact that the next book has come out, has mellowed me and I'm trying again. This time, the book is great fun and I'm enjoying every word. Lesson learned: second chances should be given to authors you know and trust.

This week, I went to my first Minnesota Library Association convention. One of the sessions I attended was about romance novels. Being one of those people who sticks my nose up in the air when romances are asked for/discussed, you can imagine my shock when the presenter (Jennifer Brannen from St. Paul Public Library) of When love hurts: taking the pain out of romance RA (reader's advisory--you know, when you ask the librarian to recommend a good book) actually grabbed my interest and piqued my curiosity with, oh horror, a romance! She read the opening of Julia Quinn's Romancing Mister Bridgerton and it was funny, well-written and made me want to read the book!!!!! This morning, for the first time ever, I requested a romance...and I lived to tell about it. I'll keep you posted.

I also heard Will Weaver speak at a breakfast meeting and, from what I remember (I'm barely coherent at 7:00 a.m. after waking at 5: 40 a.m.), he was very enjoyable. I checked out Saturday night dirt, his new young adult novel about stock car racing. He managed to talk his publishers (Farrar Strauss & Giroux) into sponsoring a race car which is parked in front of the schools/stores where he is appearing. How cool is that?

I'm looking ahead to a week of vacation with lots of sewing time (a new winter coat!), furniture building (a trundle for my daybed) and reading. Does it get any better than that?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Spirited girls (or is it naughty?)

There is a trio of young girls, original thinkers and independent in their actions, who are (or should be) popular with young readers.

First is Junie B. Jones, created by Barbara Park. Junie starts off as a kindergartner who ages to a first grader after many kindergarten adventures. Junie is full of enthusiasm, doesn't always use proper grammar and is, sometimes, a powerful advertisement for birth control but she is also entertaining and very appealing to young readers. I laughed until the tears were rolling down my cheeks when I read her first adventure, Junie B. Jones and the stupid smelly bus. Her experience with the crutches during her first visit to the nurse's office was priceless. Her first day was so horrendous that it is a wonder she ever went back....

Next is Clementine, created by Sara Pennypacker. Clementine is a third grader, a regular visitor to the principal's office because of a small problem with paying attention. She lives in an apartment building, her father is the caretaker, with her parents and her younger brother who is always referred by a vegetable name. Clementine is full of brilliant ideas which often include her neighbor Margaret, a fourth grader who often pays the price for Clementine's brilliance. Clementine always means well and is blessed with a good heart, even if her judgment is a little questionable.

Last, is Moxy Maxwell, ten year old twin sister of Mark, an aspiring photographer. Moxy is a championship procrastinator with very funny results. In Moxy Maxwell does not love Stuart Little, Moxy spends the entire summer avoiding her summer reading assignment. On the last day of her vacation, Moxy has to face the book she is sure she will hate (she doesn't). In Moxy Maxwell does not love writing thank-you notes, Moxy's mother gives her one day (the day before she leaves for Los Angeles to visit her father, the first time she's seen him in three years) which Moxy fills with packing, using her stepfather's new (and forbidden) printer/copier and a fair share of ten-year-old drama.

All three girls are wonderful companions and great fun to read. And spirited girls are a rarity in this world and they should be encouraged!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

at long last...

I checked my request list this morning and, hurrah! hurrah!, Lorna Landvik's new book, Tis the season, will be arriving today! Suddenly, all my plans for sewing and cleaning and baking have evaporated and I will be spending the next several evenings stretched out on my new daybed (thanks to JAN and FAF for assembling it for me--the best friends anyone could ever have!) with my nose in a book!

I first "met" Lorna when I read Patty Jane's House of Curl. Patty Jane was the reincarnation of my Aunt Verlie so I loved spending time in her company. It is such fun to read a book and know the neighborhoods, the stores, the restaurants, the clothes, the music and on and on.

If you have a chance to hear Lorna Landvik speak, just get in the car and go. She is gorgeous, warm and extremely funny...and she gives out chocolate kisses to anyone who asks a question or makes a comment on her books.

So don't call me, don't send an email, I'm going to be busy for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The great American pastime

With the World Series suspended because of rain (I heard that on the Today show this morning), I've been remembering my baseball past. As a teenager, I lived and died with the Minnesota Twins. My best friend and I were passionate followers of the game--my poor parents had to listen to games late into the night during the summer because I hated to close my bedroom door at night...they learned to sleep through a lot of things. When I went off to college, I discovered basketball and hockey, baseball became a part of my past.

I've always enjoyed reading about baseball. Starting in high school with the naughty Ball Four by Jim Bouton which made me look at the New York Yankees with new and somewhat suspicious eyes. My favorite baseball books are all about one team: the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s. I wish I could have seen them play.

The first book was The boys of summer by Roger Kahn, a sportswriter of some repute. He wrote so lovingly of his Dodgers: Jackie Robinson, Duke Snyder, Gil Hodges, PeeWee Reese and, my favorite, Roy Campanella. They became so real to me and I could almost taste the popcorn, feel the breeze blowing across the field, sense the excitement of the crowd as they cheered for "dem bums" every frustrating year without a World Series pennant.

Many years later, Kahn wrote Memories of summer: when baseball was an art and writing about it a game: a memoir. The book is about his lifetime involvement with baseball as a fan, a copyboy and, eventually, a sportswriter. I most remember the fond description of his dad who introduced him to baseball and took him to see many games over the years.

Finally, there is Wait until next year by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the noted historian. She grew up fanatically devoted to the Dodgers, as was every other child and adult in her world. I laughed until I cried when she wrote of going to confession and asking the priest for forgiveness for wishing bodily harm on the opposing team (I think it was a Yankee pitcher she wished a broken arm on). She is still a devoted baseball fan but has switched her allegiance to the Boston Red Sox.

Now, I'm a fair weather baseball fan, only cheering on the Twins when they are pennant- or World Series-bound but I still love to curl up with a good baseball book.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

a touch of history

I absolutely love historical fiction. Sometimes I get so tired of my own times (who wouldn't?) that I take refuge in times gone by. These are a few of my favorites...

Catherine, called Birdy by Karen Cushman

In medieval England, 14 year old Catherine, nicknamed Birdy, has reached the age where she should be married. In her extremely honest (and very witty) diary, Birdy describes all of the less-than-desirable suitors as well as her daily life.
I felt that my best friend had gone away when I finished this book. It inspired me to make a medieval costume for Halloween (I was too shy to trick-or-treat as a child and very rarely dressed up so it's quite fun to do it as a grown up), complete with a ribbon adorned donut headpiece and tie-on sleeves.

The ornament tree by Jean Thesman

In 1918, Bonnie's mother has died and she is sent to live with elderly cousins who run a boardinghouse for gentlemen in Seattle. The war has just ended, a labor strike threatens the city and the flu epidemic is threatening.
Eccentric yet very appealing characters and a warmly told story. Very appealing.

A long way from Chicago by Richard Peck

Joey and Mary Alice live in the Chicago of Al Capone but every summer, they visit their Grandma Dowdel in a small village in the country.
Grandma Dowdel is my grandma--tough as nails and a little larger than life. Very funny.

Shades of grey by Carolyn Reeder

Orphaned Will, used to living in luxury, is sent to live with his aunt and uncle, who labor on a small farm during the Civil War. Will's uncle won't choose sides in the war which make Will think that he is a coward. Grudgingly, he comes to respect the man who teaches him that labor is honorable and so is fairness.
The Civil War has always fascinated me and this story of the average man provides a different viewpoint than the end of the southern belle and plantation life.

A murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner

In the England of Elizabeth I, Alice witnesses the murder of her father. To protect her from the murderers who soon come looking for her, Alice's friends disguise her as a boy attending a choir school at York Minster.
My favorite place in the whole world is a black tile square under the arch in front of the Five Sisters, a grisaille-glass window in York Minster! And Elizabeth's England--it doesn't get any better than that.

A proud taste for scarlet and miniver by E.L. Konigsburg

For 800 years, Eleanor of Aquitaine has been in heaven, waiting for the arrival of her husband, King Henry II of England. At long last, the day has arrived when he will be judged worthy (or unworthy?) to enter heaven.
Eleanor is one of my favorite historical figures: outspoken, opinionated and intelligent. She and Henry spent most of their married life disagreeing with each other.

Linnets and valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

The Linnets, four orphaned children, live with their mean and nasty grandmother. They run away, eventually coming to rest with the eccentric Lady Alicia who has "lost" her family. The children decide it is their job to find them to repay Lady Alicia for her kindness.
England early in the 20th century, a warm cozy story and resourceful children who are charming and endearing. Again, I felt like my best friends had left me behind when I finished this book.

The Ramsay Scallop by Frances Temple.

Eleanor of Ramsay is 14 and soon to be married. She and her fiance Thomas, who has just returned from the Crusades, set out on a pilgrimage to Spain. They endure hardships, meet a host of people from all parts of Europe and learn a lot about themselves and each other.
Frances Temple was destined to become a staple in my reading but died after writing a very few books. Thank goodness, this book is one of them.

Spend a little time in the past. A cozy blanket and a mug of hot chocolate and a good book...sounds like the perfect evening to me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I just have to tell you about this book!

Every once in a great while, a book comes along that is so new, so creative, so different and so much fun to read. Middle School is worse than meatloaf: a year through stuff by Jennifer L. Holm, pictures by Elicia Castaldi is told entirely through stuff. Ginny is in her first year of middle school, trying to adjust to her mother remarrying, baby sitting to earn money (it never happens!) and suffering through bad hair days (naturally on school picture day), losing the lead in a ballet and just living each day. The story has no narrative but is told through notes, bank deposit slips, newspaper clippings, hall passes and all the other little things that figure in the life of a seventh grade student.
Warm, funny, painful and all-too-true and completely enjoyable. It should be required reading for every girl heading off to middle school in the fall!

Let's hear it for the girls (encore)

The boys have had their turn, now it is time for the girls! These books have a strong female main character. Some are just plain feisty and original, some are physically strong, some are clever but they all will provide hours of reading entertainment. (Note: it was really hard to find contemporary fiction with strong girl characters since many of the books set in modern times are concerned with clothes, boys, shopping...chick lit (to use a term I really hate).)

I, Coriander by Sally Gardner

In 17th century London, Coriander lives with her father since her mother died. One day, a pair of beautiful silver shoes appear which give Coriander the power to travel to another land which is quite magical.

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison

Gilda, attired in vintage clothes and fiercely attached to an old manual typewriter, is convinced that she has special psychic abilities which help her to communicate with the dead and solve deep mysteries. Things aren't quite the way Gilda thinks they are. (two sequels, so far)

Pirate curse by Kay Meyer

Raised by a much-adored pirate captain, Jolly is a pollywog: she can walk on water. When the pirate's ship is attacked and destroyed, Jolly sets out to find the captain but is waylaid by a budding friendship with another pollywog, pirates, strange creatures from the deep and a mysterious trader. (first of The Wave Walkers trilogy)

The true confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

"Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty."
Proper schoolgirl Charlotte is sailing to America to join her family when the ship's crew mutinies.

Alanna: the first adventure by Tamora Pierce

Disguised as a boy, Alanna is off to school to learn to be a knight, a very unladylike and unexpected thing to do...but Alanna is determined and clever and more than a bit stubborn.
(first of the Song of the Lioness quarter)
(Just a note, anything and everything by Tamora Pierce is filled with strong and interesting girls in adventurous, often dangerous situations. Great reading!)

The case of the missing marquess by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes, the much younger sister of the great Sherlock Holmes, is determined to prove her skills as a perditorian (a finder of lost things) and remain independent of her brother. (There are 3 sequels, so far.)

Theodesia and the serpents of chaos by R.L. Lafevers

Theodesia's father is the curator of a museum of antiquities filled with artifacts found by her archeologist mother. One of the artifacts, an Eyptian amulet, is particularly fascinating especially since its presence at the museum is supposed to be secret. (one sequel coming soon)

The water mirror by Kai Meyers

In a Venice threated by an Egyptian enemy, where stone lions walk the streets and mermaids live in the canals, two young girls, Merl and Junipa, join the struggle to save the beautiful city.
(first in Dark Reflections trilogy)

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

"Spectacular ideas are always sproinging up in my brain." Unfortunately, third grader Clementine's ideas aren't always conventional, logical or at all cool with her parents!
(one sequel, so far)

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Tired of being a run-of-the-mill princess, Cimorene runs away to become the King of the Dragons' (who is a female dragon) special princess. She is clever, strong and carries a lethal weapon: lemon-scented soap in hot water! (first of Enchanted Forest Chronicles quartet).

Happy reading!

let's hear it for the girls (girl reads)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Boy reads (the sequel)

Thanks to Cleery, ever helpful and cheerful, I made the fancy thingy-ma-bob with the books I have had great success with for boys who love to read and, more importantly, boys who do not. The pictures are great but descriptions are more useful. So here goes....

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
Skulduggery Pleasant is a great detective. The fact that he is a skeleton is beside the point. He takes on 13 year old Stephanie as a trainee/sidekick and together they battle gods, legends, her crazy relatives and bad guys of every kind.
Tongue in cheek humor, action galore and a skeleton as a leading man...what more do you need? (The first in a series of nine planned books.)

The extraordinary adventures of Ordinary Boy: the hero revealed by William Boniface
In a town where everyone has a super power, some of them quite disgusting (a big appeal to the boy reader!), Ordinary Boy has no talents...or so he believes.
Bathroom humor, comic book characters, tons of action. Tons of fun. (The first in a series.)

Knights of the Kitchen Table by Jon Scieszka
Thanks to a magical blue book, Joe, Fred and Sam find themselves back in King Arthur's time where they are in a lot of trouble.
Time travel, humor, an edge of danger until the blue book (which gets lost in every book) is found and the boys are back in their own time. (The first in the Time Warp Trio series.)

The teacher's funeral: a comedy in three acts by Richard Peck
Russell thinks his school days are over when his teacher dies during summer vacation. Imagine his horror when his sister is hired as the new teacher.
Slapstick humor, situations that boys seem to dread and understand at the same time--Peck is the perfect writer for boys.

The squire's tale by Gerald Morris
Fourteen-year-old Terence is off to a life of adventure as the squire to Sir Gawain, one of the greatest knights at King Arthur's Round Table.
Knights, damsels in distress, evil villains and a wicked sense of humor. Belly-laughing funny at times. (The first in a series.)

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Milo is bored with everything. Until the day he finds a small box and two coins on the shelf in his bedroom.
My favorite book in the whole wild world. Clever wordplay, unexpected situations, strange and wonderful characters. (I wish I had written this book!)

7 professors of the far north by John Fardell
Three adventurous kids, a group of eccentric professors (who never question what the kids are doing...very realistic situation there) and mad scientists in the frozen North Pole.
No parental supervision, nonstop adventure, unrealistic but oh-so-exciting situations...the perfect world for a child. (sequel: The flight of the Silver Turtle.)

The lost years of Merlin by T.A. Barron
A young boy washes up on the coast of an island with no memory of his past. Through many adventures, he is transformed into Merlin, the wizard of legend.
Exotic location, no adults to impose reason on the world, creatures of legend, trying to solve the mystery of who he is and what he is to become. (First of a quintet of books.)

Eye of the crow by Shane Peacock
Young Sherlock Holmes, poor and not fitting in anywhere, becomes the suspect in the stabbing death of a woman. With the help of Irene, a young woman he has befriended, Sherlock tries to solve the mystery and save himself.
Mystery, danger, adventure, a clever hero. (The first in a series.)

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
Gregor jumps through a grate in the wall of the laundry room in his apartment building to rescue his sister. They end up in a world of giant cockroaches, bats who have special bonds with humans, rats and mysterious prophecies.
No parental supervision, a clever hero, loads of action, wars, explosions and cockroaches, bats and rats. (The first of a quintet of books.)

Even if you're not a boy, try these books--you'll not have a dull moment of reading with any of them!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

an unexpected pleasure

Sometimes the cover of a book catches the eye and that book must be read! I noticed Storyteller by Edward Myers when I was checking in new books at my library. I had to read it. The cover is warm, dark colors of a male storyteller facing the audience he is enchanting with his tales--their faces make up the cover. The story is of 17 year old Jack, son of a poor and struggling family in a kingdom ruled by a king who seems to be without a heart. Jack lives to tell stories and wants storytelling to be his life's work. He sets off to make his fortune, gaining the companionship of Loquasto, a black mynah who is in love with a fish. He ends up in the royal city and is, after telling a story that the kings does not want to hear, named royal storyteller. He falls in love with the Princess Stelinda, insults her arrogant brother Prince Yoss and befriends Zephyrio, a powerful illusionist. Then the adventure begins.

Books set in a vaguely medieval time period with a royal attachment of some kind get me every time (I really love Karen Cushman's Catherine, called Birdy to the point of making a Halloween costume, complete with donut headpiece, to celebrate the book). Jack is a warmhearted and thoughtful hero, Loquasto's love situation adds an interesting and fantastic touch to the story and the villains are properly hate-able.

I'm so glad that the cover caught my attention...

Monday, October 6, 2008

who would you choose?

I'm terribly excited because Cornelia Funke's Inkdeath landed on my desk today. Hours of happy reading ahead (it is just under 700 pages!) for this sequel to Inkheart and Inkspell. Anticipation is part of the joy of reading, don't you think?

The basic premise (spoiler alert) of these books involves the talent of reading book characters to life and out of the book. So I've been thinking about which book characters I would want to read to life. Unfortunately, years of movie watching is clouding my judgment because Rhett Butler would be Clark Gable, Mr. Darcy would be Colin Firth, Colonel Brandon would be Alan Rickman and on and on. As a child, I would have wanted to read myself into Little Women and The Secret Garden. As a teen, I wanted to be in any book that would give me a great wardrobe, especially the hooped skirts and broad-brimmed hats of Gone with the Wind but reading a character out of a book...hmmm.

My first thought was to read Mrs. Bennet out of Pride and Prejudice and Emma's father out of Emma since I find both characters loathsome but I soon realized that the books would suffer because of my prejudices. I adore Hagrid in all of the Harry Potter books but, due to his generous size, where would I put him? I would love to know and spend time with Dickon from The Secret Garden because of his exoticness (hey, I'm from Minnesota--the Yorkshire moors are quite exotic in comparison), his love of animals and his sunny disposition. I would like to spend an evening in conversation with Matthew Shardlake (from the C.J. Sansom mysteries) because of his keen mind...maybe Sherlock Holmes could join us so I could be the happy (and silently appreciative) audience while they performed a duel of wits.

Are there any characters you would want to read into your life?

Monday, September 29, 2008

One of those books you can't put down

Every once in a while, a reader finds a book that fills every ounce of one's being and is simply impossible to put down. I just finished one of those books: Sun and moon, snow and ice by Jessica Day George. It is a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon. The main character, Pika (this drove me crazy because the author said pika meant girl in old Norse but in current Swedish, pojke (said poy-ka, just close enough in pronunciation) means boy but I don't think it would bother any other reader than this one) is the last child of a poor family, so despised by her mother that she didn't even name the child, hence her being called Pika. The girl is warm and compassionate, also very curious and determined to help solve everyone's problems. Pika is especially close to her oldest brother, recently returned from time as a merchant marine, who has become a loner, unwilling to communicate with others save for his sister, whom he calls Lass. Pika is taken from her family by a polar bear who says she must stay with him for a year and a day but is unwilling to explain why. Pika goes with him to the ice palace where he lives and is served by a variety of servants--a faun, a gargoyle, a selkie, lizards and more. In her own "helpful" way, Pika tries to help all inhabitants of the castle to gain their freedom with unhappy results. The rest of the story will be told to you when you read the book.

I really enjoyed the minor characters: the cheerful lizards who cook the exquisite meals served to Pika, the faun who waits on Pika at her meals, the wolf/dog devoted to Pika, the vain and silly dwarf princess--all added so much to the story. I enjoyed every moment in their company.

Another delightful retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon is East by Edith Pattou. It has fewer magical elements but a very compelling storyline. You won't feel like you're reading the same book over again if you read both books.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pure bliss

Devoted Anglophile that I am, you can imagine my joy when The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory showed up on my desk this week. It is about Mary, Queen of Scots imprisonment (though, of course, Queen Elizabeth I and her advisors never referred to it as that) under the care and supervision of Bess of Hardwicke and her husband George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. Mary, Bess and George share the narration and each narrator is distinct and easily identifiable. It is my by-the-bed book so I love crawling into bed at the end of the day.

I've had a very soft spot in my heart for Mary, Queen of Scots since reading Antonia Fraser's book back in the 1980s. I had chills running down my back when I got to visit the room, at Holyroodhouse (the royal palace in Edinburgh), where David Riccio was murdered. And I was very impressed by Mary's tomb (funded by her son James I) in Westminster Abbey which is far grander than Elizabeth I's (she has to share her final resting place with her sister Mary...I'm sure they are eternally happy together).

My favorite historical period is Tudor England and I've read a ton of novels about Henry and his various and sundry wives as well as Mary (aka Bloody Mary) and Elizabeth. Philippa Gregory's are absolutely the best. Rich in period detail and full of gossip and intrigue, they grab your attention and your emotions from the first page to the last. My favorite is The other Boleyn Girl
(which last year's absolutely dreadful movie was supposed to be based on...ugh). It is about Mary Boleyn who was Henry VIII's mistress and bore him a son and a daughter during their time together. I also enjoyed The Boleyn inheritance, the story of Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, wives number 4 and 5 of the horrible Henry (last time I was in England, I stood by Henry's effigy in the chapel at Windsor Castle and whispered, "I spit on you" in his ear!).

It fascinates me and appalls me that daughters were so poorly treated by the upper classes in England (all of Europe, actually). They were strictly to be used as political and social pawns, meant to advance the cause of their families. And they bore the blame for every daughter born (those poor wives of Henry VIII who lost their lives when it was, genetically all his fault) and had no rights to property or expressing themselves. Outspoken and independent soul that I am, why am I so taken by that kind of life?

If you love historical fiction, please try Philippa Gregory...and let me know if you like her.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

yum yum, baking books

Yesterday, after dutifully doing a load of laundry, I treated myself to a trip to the Mall of America. With coupons in purse, I was a woman with a mission. First, I bought (oh, the shock of it all!) athletic shoes (with a $10 off coupon) in preparation for joining the workout crowd at Snap Fitness. To recover from the experience, I headed for Barnes & Noble and, again with a coupon (an extra 15% off), I bought Nick Malgieri's The Modern Baker: time-saving techniques for breads, tarts, pies, cakes and cookies. Nick Malgieri's books are always fun, beautifully illustrated with color pictures and, best of all, each recipe has an explanation of the recipe's history and more. I look forward to many happy hours reading and baking with Nick.

I'm going to try my first recipe (Caramel Cashew Rice Krispie Bars) from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book for a work party on Monday (library people are notorious party people and enjoy eating everything but especially sweets). I devotedly watch America's Test Kitchen programs on PBS and subscribe to their magazine Cook's Country (the everyday cooking version of their magazine) so I trust their recipes. How can you not trust a kitchen under the supervision of a man in a bowtie?

I love, love, love to curl up with a cookbook, happily rocking in my glider. My favorite reading cookbook (for now) is Heirloom baking with the Brass Sisters: more than 100 years of recipes deiscovered from family cookbooks, original journals, scraps of paper, and grandmother's kitchen. This is full of the recipes my mom (an amazing baker) used to make and is a real stroll down memory lane. The layout is gorgeous (looking like something from the 1920s - 1940s) and each recipe includes its history. Grab a mug of hot chocolate (with marshmallows), grab an afghan and curl up with this book--I promise you'll enjoy it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

a surprise mystery recommendation

Normally, I don't like books that take beloved characters on from their original literary home. There are exceptions. I have just started The matters at Mansfield, or, the Crawford Affair by Carrie Bebris, a continuation of the married life of Elizabeth and her beloved Darcy (who in my mind looks exactly like Colin Firth). The Darcys have a rich and varied social life, paying extended visits to friends and relatives all over England (the custom in the early 1800s--can you imagine having 10 or more friends descend on your home for se'nnight or a fortnight? Worse yet, imagine being a servant in that house.) Wherever they go, murder follows (I ask myself, "Why would anyone want to invite company into their home when death is sure to follow?"). Elizabeth is the prime crimesolver but Darcy is always there to support her and do the legwork.

Ms. Bebris has each chapter start with a quote from one of Jane Austen's books, used to set one's expectations for what is to come. Her characters are a combination of well-known and well-loved character from Miss Austen's books and characters from her own imagination. The odious Lady Catherine de Bourgh is prominently featured in The Matters at Mansfield and she is just as obnoxious in this incarnation.

I'm not a huge fan of mysteries (I really love the chase but am very rarely satisfied with the solution, often asking, "Is that all I get?") but these are great fun since they include so much period detail and a wonderful use of language. And spending more time with the handsome Darcy is a very welcome diversion.

The other titles in the series (all variations on an actual Austen title) are: Pride and Prescience, or, a truth universally acknowledged; Suspense and Sensibility, or , First impressions, revisited; and North by Northanger, or, the shades of Pemberley.

As the old Alka Seltzer commercials said, "Try it, you'll like it."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

he's a keeper

I was snuggled up on the sofa last night with a pile of children's nonfiction, ready to lose myself for an hour when, of course, the phone rang. I was sociable and conversational but I really wanted to get back on the sofa and read, after all I was in the middle of Steve Jenkins' newest book Sisters & Brothers: sibling relationships in the animal world.

Steve Jenkins is my children's nonfiction author hero. His books are full of odd little bits and pieces of information, are beautifully illustrated with torn paper illustrations and kids love them!
I can always get the curious child to take a Steve Jenkins book once they're seen the cover. His artwork is very simple but has a lifelike feel--his animals have expression and vigor, you want to get to know them.

I was first introduced to him with What do you do with a tail like this? I loved the book so I thought I would try it in 4*5*6 storytime. I had a group of 4 and 5 year olds hanging on every word and not letting me turn the page until each picture had been examined in minute detail. A winner for sure.

My other favorites are:
Dogs and cats
Living color (colorful illustrations set my little quilting heart aflutter)
Actual Size
Prehistoric Actual Size (T. rex's claw in real life is more than a bit intimidating)

Check out his website and check out his books, too.

Monday, September 8, 2008

all quiet on the blogging front

I've been playing catch-up at the library after a 12 day vacation. While I was away, I had my sewing room painted (it is hibiscus pink and the room of my dreams: all of my fabrics, quilting supplies, magazines, etc. are neatly stored on shelves and easily found. I just stand in the door and grin, it makes me so happy.) and spent several days trying to get it sorted out. Sad to say, I didn't spend a lot of time reading...until I got the flu and couldn't move my body off of the sofa.

I read children's nonfiction for two days and these are the books that really got to me:

Black and white airmen: their true history by John Fleischman. Herb Heilbrun and John Leahr were in the same 3rd grade class, a rarity in the 1920s since Herb was white and John black. They both dreamed of flying and they both worked in an airplane factory with Herb testing equipment and John on the production line. With World War II being fought, Herb enlisted in the new Air Force division of the Army and John was, after much persuasion and a little "help" on his medical tests, taken into the Tuskegee Airmen. They were both assigned to air bases in Italy and even flew a mission together--Herb as a bomber pilot, John flying the escort plane. They did not know (or remember) each other at any point of their parallel careers. Fast forward to a Tuskegee Airmen reunion where Herb crashed the party in order to thank the black pilots who had protected him and his plane on so many missions during the war. He and John met and became friends and now do presentations about their flying days throughout the country.

We are the ship: the story of Negro League baseball by Kadir Nelson (has stunning illustrations). Told in nine innings (chapters) with an extra innings (epilogue), Nelson talks bluntly about the professional baseball (American and National leagues) feeling that Negroes were not smart enough or physically talented enough to play ball. Well, the black players and owners thought differently so they started their own baseball leagues and barnstormed across the country, picking up games wherever they could. The Negro Leagues were where Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Henry Aaron, Satchel Paige (one of the most colorful characters in all of baseball) and so many other players got their start, many of them now enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Both of these books just knocked me between the eyes. From the vantagepoint of my lifetime, it just shocks me that segregation ever existed or was allowed to exist. That the color of a person's skin was more important that their mind, heart, talent, etc. angers me and makes me very embarrassed. A big thumbs up on both of these books.

On a slightly less intense note, Independent Dames: what you never knew about the women and girls of the American Revolution by Laurie Halse Anderson was great fun. It is filled with brightly colored and highly detailed illustrations with lots of side bars and personal stories and a time line across the bottom. It talks about women who helped the cause on the American side and on the British side as well as telling the stories of some women who did some nasty and underhanded things that helped nobody. I learned a lot, laughed a little and thoroughly enjoyed the book. But I've always liked Ms. Anderson's young adult fiction so I trust her as an author.

I'm looking ahead to a few more nonfiction days since I have a great stack of books waiting for me by the reading chair in my living room. I'll snuggle up under my Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer blanket (a gift from my niece Julie) and be absolutely content. Sounds like heaven, doesn't it?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Patricia Wrede's World Builder

For the fantasy reader, check out Patricia Wrede's guide to writing fantasy at

She outlines all of the different things (clothing, education, housing, reproduction, transportation, etc.) that must be thought through when creating a new world. The list is meant for fantasy writing but could be very useful to any writer. I'll think you'll find it very interesting.

Diana Wynne Jones

I've just started Diana Wynne Jones' House of Many Ways (a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle and Castle in the Air). It is off to a grand start, lots of unexpected twists and turns, lots of humor. The story so far: Charmain, clueless about life (and magic) since she always has her nose in a book (does that sound like anybody writing this blog?), is asked to watch over her Great-uncle William's house while the elves are treating him for an illness. He has very inconsiderately left piles of dirty dishes, bags of dirty laundry and a terribly nervous dog for her to care for. To complicate manners, an attractive young wizard-apprentice has arrived for his training. I'm curious to see how Howl fits into the picture.

I was introduced to Diana Wynne Jones back in the mid-1980s. On a vacation to New York, my traveling friend JN and I happened upon a small annex to Books of Wonder just around the corner from Christopher Street. The woman running the store was named Becca and was a fabulous recommender of books. I wasn't yet in the library biz so I wasn't terribly familiar with different authors. Becca recommended, in spite of its ghastly cover art, Howl's Moving Castle. JN and I read it and were immediate fans of Ms. Jones. We visited Becca every time we were in New York (back then, it was a yearly occurence) and she introduced us to Tamora Pierce and many other authors. It was a very sad day when JN and I arrived in New York to find the annex closed and Becca living in northern New York. Sigh...we both owe her for many hours of reading pleasure.

I highly recommend Dark Lord of Derkholm (once a year the magical world opens its doors to Pilgrim Parties from our world. Derk and his family are in charge of this year's tour and anything that could go wrong does go wrong, wreaking havoc on the magical world) and its companion book Year of the Griffin (Derk's adopted griffin daughter Elda goes off to Wizard's University with disastrous results). They are complicated, unexpected and very funny books that will grab your attention and not let go.

I must say that not every book by Diana Wynne Jones is a keeper (Aunt Maria comes to mind) but when she is on, there is no other author like her. Give her a try...please.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

has this ever happened to you?

Maybe this is a librarian thing, but have you ever been to the doctor or dentist and, just when you are in the most unfortunate position, the doctor/nurse/dentist/technician asks, "Can you recommend a good book?" It happened to me today and, to be honest, in the position I was in, I could barely remember that I know how to read!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

happy memories of books past

Lying awake in the middle of the night is my best thinking time. I got to thinking about the books that I remember from my childhood.

First were the Little Golden Books: Saggy Baggy Elephant (thank you LBC&M for sending me the flair), Little Black Sambo (how different the world was) and Toot the Tugboat. My mother and I sat next to the radiator in our living room, me in a little red chair with a straw seat, and read and read and read. I owe my love of reading to my mom. (Not too long before she died, and out of the clear blue sky, she said, "I always hated reading Dr. Seuss but you loved him." Wonder how long that had been on her mind....)

My favorite book was Little Women. I had a cheap hardcover book which I read until it fell apart (literally). My sister and her husband gave me a Tasha Tudor illustrated copy when I was confirmed...I still have it.

I read The Secret Garden which lead to a lifelong fascination with India. (I went to India in 1999 and loved it...thinking that I've actually seen the Taj Mahal still sends a shiver down my spine). It was one of my mom's favorite books when she was growing up, too.

Then there were the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. How could I not love all of Betsy's friends, her clothes, her boy worries? Plus she was from Minnesota. And Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery which I wanted desperately for my own library but they were Canadian, for heaven sakes and unavailable at the B. Dalton Booksellers at Brookdale. I just about did back flips when I discovered them for sale at the Windsor (Ontario) Public Library in their Friends' store! (This was the 70s and the publishing world wasn't as international as it is Amazon then either.)

In sixth grade I read Gone with the Wind and I remember rushing up to my friends, breathlessly exclaiming, "Scarlett married Rhett!" and being so surprised that none of them cared. Hmph.

I remember discovering the Whiteoaks of Jalna books by Mazo DeLaRoche and reading obsessively until I'd finished every one of them.

In Junior High, I waited endlessly for my chance to read this wonderful little book about Peggy Shippen's Quaker seamstress. I've been trying to remember the name of it for lo, these many years. Anybody else read it back in the late 60s? I'd be eternally grateful if someone could refresh my memory.

I only wish I'd had all the fabulous choices young readers have now. I would have had even more fights with my mother about getting fresh air and moving around a bit. My answer to her demands was to lie in the hammock in the backyard, reading my eyes out and breathing deeply!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

an embarrassment of riches

I can request books over a period of months and all of those requests invariably show up at my library on one day. I am in the midst of one of these situations right now. The book I'm carrying in my purse is The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart. My bedside book is Pirate Wars by Kai Meyer (the last of his Wave Walker trilogy). Waiting to be read are Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire by Derek Landy; House of Many Ways by the fabulous Diana Wynne Jones (it is another sequel to Howl's Moving Castle); Darkside by Tom Becker (a recommendation from Librarian D.O.A.); The Seer of Shadows by Avi; The Redheaded Princess by Ann Rinaldi. I'm looking ahead to many happy hours stretched out on the sofa (my bed, the floor...) with a book in my hand. Sigh.

As a librarian, I think one of the perks of the job should be a reading week. Since book recommendations are often asked for, we should have a regular block of time when we can just read, read, read. My library manager liked the idea but how to get the powers that be to agree to it. Suggestions, anyone?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Welcome to my world!

I love to read and I love to share what I read. If you are looking for a good book, I hope I can help you.

I am a children's librarian. I read a lot of children's nonfiction (I write a nonfiction reading list for my library system) but I also truly enjoy fantasy, historical fiction and bright, colorful, silly picture books.

As far as grown-up reading goes, my favorite author is Elizabeth Berg (I really like the warmth of her characters and the wonderful way she describes the little things in life). I read a lot of historical fiction, especially about Henry VIII/Elizabeth I and the turmoil surrounding them. I'm not a big mystery reader but I do enjoy C.J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake mysteries and Carris Bebris' Mr. & Mrs. Darcy mysteries. I prefer memoirs to biographies. Cookbooks and quilting books make up a huge portion of my personal library.

Let me know what you're reading, too. It only seems fair....