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!