Monday, December 21, 2009

shake my sillies, er, sequels out

At this time of year, when every hour of the day is filled with something that must be done, when the world is looking back at the wonders of the year (!) with nostalgia, when the sun is out such a pitiably short time of the day (week, month...), I just need to be reading light and frothy books. Last week, I laughed my way through three of them--what a good week!

Moxy Maxwell does not love practicing the piano (but she does love being in recitals) by Peggy Gifford find the intrepid Moxy making a few plans of her own for her first piano recital. Moxy and her sister Pansy will be playing "Heart and Soul" (other interesting musical selections include "Chopsticks" and, played by Moxy's twin brother Mark, "Flight of the Bumblebee"--I guess the students are either talentless dolts or prodigies). While Moxy cannot be bothered with actually practicing her recital piece, she has been very busy supervising the making of a gold crown and a red-lined black velvet cape for her to wear for the event. As usual, chaos reigns wherever Moxy goes, and the laughs flow thick and fast.

Oggie Cooder, Party Animal by Sarah Weeks finds Oggie, the talented charver (he can charve the shape of every state into a piece of American cheese--chew and carve make charve), invited to his neighbor Donnica Perfecto's birthday party. Donnica would rather do anything than have Oggie at her party, but her mother needs Oggie's mother's help to whip her lawn into shape before inspection by the local gardening club as they decide if she is membership-worthy--a happy Oggie means a happy, and helpful, Mrs. Cooder. To discourage Oggie, Donnica makes a list of things he cannot do at the party: wear a red bathing suit, making his funny "prr-rip" noise (it is a result of happiness and excitement and quite unconscious on his part), wear crocheted shoelaces, and so on, over 100 things in all. Oh, he must have the list memorized, too, since she will quiz him. Will Mrs. Perfecto get in the garden club? Will Oggie memorize the list? Will Donnica get the one things she wants for her birthday? Will there be another book about Oggie? Please, say yes to that one.

Then came book number two in the 43 Cemetery Road series: Over my dead body by Kate Klise with illustrations by M. Sarah Klise. I.B. Grumply (Iggy) the 60+ year old author, Seymour Hope the young boy he acquired through his rental agreement and Olive C. Spence the ghost in the cupola have settled into happy home life, writing mystery books together and seeing to Seymour's education. One day, the horrible Dick Tator, leader of the International Movement for the Safety & Protection Of Our Kids & Youth (IMSPOOKY), shows up at the door, threatening to remove Seymour from the home he loves because ghosts do not exist. Tator also cancels Halloween and convinces the public that there are no ghosts...and these people have known, and dealt with, Olive for years. Harumph. More giggles and much delight--such an enjoyable read.

On the more serious side, my in-my-purse book is Half broke horses by Jeannette Walls of The glass castle fame. This is a fictionalized version of her grandmother's life. Chapters are short and they read like memories being shared by the teller. Lily Casey is the oldest daughter of an opinionated and well-read rancher and his frail and fainting wife. Lily is the strong, organized, take charge type. She wants to learn and make something of herself but her parents think education would make her unattractive to marriagable men. At 15, Lily strikes out on her own, working as a teacher and later a maid and attending school during her leisure hours. Life has some hard lessons for Lily but she is indomitable, and very likable. A big thumbs up on this book.

Monday, November 30, 2009

jumping on the bandwagon

Over the last several months, I have placed requests on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer for hundreds of people. As a matter of principle, I avoid the really popular books like the plague. Then one evening, CW (one of my favorite library customers ever) talked me into listening to the book on CD because of the delightful narrators (which includes Juliet Mills, elder sister of the adored Hayley). I listened to the first disk as I was sewing and knew immediately that this was a book I needed to hold in my hands and read myself. I returned the CDs and, with great determination and devotion, checked the "Lucky U" shelf for a copy of the book. Just before Thanksgiving, a copy was returned and I grabbed it.

I loved this book! I want to be friends with every single character! I want to move to Guernsey and live in a cottage by the sea!

Juliet Ashton is 32 years old and on a book tour through England and Scotland, promoting her book--a collection of newspaper columns she wrote during World War II. She spends her free moments writing letters to her publisher, her best friend and, eventually, many members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. At the end of her tour, she is casting around for a subject for her next book while also working on an article about the effects of reading during the war--she is writing about the Guernsey Literary.... Of course, their letters pique her interest and a trip to the island is arranged where an odd and varied welcoming committee awaits her arrival.

Each character has a distinct voice and personality and each is definitely quirky. Run, do not walk, to your library and check out this book--I guarantee you will enjoy it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

good reading

After a rather lengthy famine in the reading area, I have been enjoying the bounty of new fall releases.

First up, was Derek Landy's third Skulduggery Pleasant book The faceless ones. I had forgotten how funny (sarcastic? biting? witty?) Skulduggery can be and he had ample opportunity to let the sarcasm fly in this book. Skulduggery is a well-dressed, well-spoken, intelligent detective who just happens to be a skeleton. He and his teen-aged sidekick, Valkyrie Cain, are fighting the of forces of evil (often in the guise of the gods and goddesses of Irish mythology) and this time, the results are not in their favor. The long-feared Faceless Ones are threatening to invade our dimension and the only thing standing between them and the invasion of the world as we know it is an idiotic, egotistical teleporter who doesn't want to play by the rules. I must admit I let out a loud gasp and an anguished "oh, no" at the end of this book. How many days must I wait for the sequel? (Even if the next book came out tomorrow, the wait would be too long!)

Next was Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society and the prisoner's dilemma where Reynie, Sticky, Katie and the ever-so-aggravating (in an endearing way) Constance Contraire again aid Mr. Benedict in saving the world as we know it (are you noticing a theme here?). Mr. Benedict's evil twin brother, Mr. Curtain, is once again trying to steal the Whisperer (a mind-controlling computer application) for his own nefarious reasons. Again, the incredibly intelligent, resourceful and contrary (dear Constance, of course) children use all the resources (and when they act as a group, that is a formidable amount of brain power) available to foil his plans. This is the last in a trilogy, though I sense a tiny ray of light that may mean another volume in the future, and the least satisfying of the three volumes. A bit too violent, a bit too long in getting to the point but a necessary read, nonetheless.

In a completely different vein, I am currently reading Born round: the secret history of a full-time eater by Frank Bruni. Bruni is the restaurant critic for the New York Times and has spent a lifetime enjoying food...and regretting the physical effects of his enjoyment. His descriptions of holiday meals with his family (turkey, ham (in case someone does not like turkey), lasagne, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, baked sweet potatoes, 3 kinds of pies, cannolis (in case someone does not feel like eating pie) and on and on) made by jaw drop in awe. Bruni ate it all and struggled with yo-yoing wait throughout his teens and twenties. He was just starting to gain control of his food obsession when he was offered the restaurant critic's column. What to do, what to do.

I just started a new by-the-bed book last night, a birthday present from cherished friend FF, and it has revved by feelings of longing to travel in England into high gear! It is Bill Bryson's Notes from a small island and is off to a delightful start. He starts with a visit to a pub where he innocently asks one of the local for directions to an area landmark. The conversation is off...and I was laughing and laughing, wishing I were there (instead of reading about it while snuggled up in my bed). I can't wait for tonight's installment!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

unrelenting gloom

I try to be an eclectic reader, often requesting books after a review piques my interest. The last book I read was so completely, totally and absolutely devoid of any happiness that I am thinking I need to revise my strategy!

The book was small (only 119 pages) with a lovely photograph of a Chinese opera singer's face, made up with the traditional white and red make-up. Physically, it was a beautiful book. But the story....

The moon opera by Bi Feiyu was translated from Chinese and the translator did a lovely job with the poetry and rhythm of the author's writing. Xiao Yanqui is an opera singer, singing the lead female part in a new opera. Though she insists she felt no jealousy, in a moment of anger she disfigured the face of her understudy by throwing hot/boiling water at her. Her career ruined, Xiao Yanqui went on to teach music, marry a man she did not love and have a child for whom she feels little or no affection. Twenty years pass and a wealthy businessman offers to fund a production of The Moon Opera with the stipulation that Xiao Yanqui, now in her 40s and past her prime in looks, sing the lead. Since her voice is still lovely and supple, Xiao Yanqui agrees to sing, taking one of her students as an understudy (doesn't that girl know about Xiao Yanqui's past problems with understudies?). Severe weight loss, an unwise and unprotected affair with the businessman, an abortion all lead to Xiao Yanqui's downfall and her failure in the opera.

By the end of the book, I was as limp as a wet handkerchief. There was not one moment of real happiness or contentment in this book. It was beautifully written and an emotional wasteland. Sad, sad, sad.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

a great grandmother

The past week my bedside book has been Richard Peck's A season of gifts, a companion book to A long way from Chicago and A year down yonder. I was delighted to have the chance to spend more time with the larger-than-life Grandma Dowdel (who, in my mind's eye, looks just like my dad's mother--a woman of rustic means).

12-year-old Bob Barnhart and his family (his father is a minister assigned to start a Methodist congregation in town, his mother who will direct the church choir, his 14-year-old sister Phyllis who writes a letter to Elvis every week now that is in the army and 6-year-old Ruth Ann with her one-eyed doll companion Grachel (she couldn't decide on Grace or Rachel as the doll's name)) have moved into the second-t0-the-last house in town--the last house looks haunted and deserted. Bob suffers the usual trying-to-fit-in blues, suffering the tortures of being kidnapped by the local boys (many repeating grades for yet another year in the small town school) and being left trussed (and naked) in the outhouse of the house next door where he is found by the ancient Grandma Dowdel. In her not-quite-legal way, Grandma makes a big impression on the entire Barnhart family, indeed on the entire town.

I laughed, I had a tear in my eye, I enjoyed the richness of Richard Peck's use of the language. I live with the hope that another volume about Grandma Dowdel (who is now well into her 90s) will come out soon. Keep your fingers crossed, please.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

a pleasant surprise

A few weeks back, a book was returned to the library with a handwritten note attached. It said the book contained filthy things and should be disposed of. It also stated that the book should not be available to children. Of course, I had to read that book since nothing piques a librarian's interest like a little whiff of censorship.

The book was Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis, originally written in German and translated (quite beautifully) by Anthea Bell. It is a series of stories told by Safia, a young woman awaiting her wedding night with a brutish merchant who is too ill to consummate their marriage, to a young eunuch who works in the merchant's harem. The stories are about Farhad, a young street rat and thief, who has been asked to save the daughter of Lord Krishna, one of the many deities in the Hindu religion. His daughter has been kidnapped by the Demon King who will force her to marry him at the next full moon. Farhad's only help, and clue, is a pendant with a picture of Lord Krishna's daughter and instructions to bring the legendary Bloodstone to the city in the desert by the next full moon. Along the way, Farhad gains a companion in Nitish, a sacred white tiger who will turn to stone if he is touched by the "water of life" and makes an enemy--a Frenchman who is searching for the same Bloodstone for his own personal gain. Farhad and Nitish travel throughout India, gaining an uneasy alliance with each other (Farhad is used to fending for himself against all odds and Nitish has been living in exile on an island in a Hindu holy place) that blooms into great fondness and friendship, a novel experience for both of them.

I loved this book. I could feel the bustle of daily life in India and the crowds of people, smell the fires burning and the food cooking, see the colors of the saris worn by Indian women. I cared about Farhad and Nitish, wanting them to succeed in spite of all the problems they faced and the mistakes that they made. The people who moved in and out of their adventures were likeable and interesting and real.

India has been a source of fascination for me since I was 10 years old and read The Secret Garden for the first time. I was the first to sign up for a mission trip with my church that took me to New Delhi, Shahjahanpur, Agra (I burst into tears when I saw the Taj Mahal--a dream come true that was more lovely than I had ever imagined) and Jaipur. The noise, crowds, smells and colors have remained in my head (and my heart) and this book brought my memories back to dazzling life.

Back to the note attached to the book, there were three brief scenes of sensuality/sexuality that were discretely handled (most young readers wouldn't have noticed them at all) but they were necessary to the story and only a part of the story. I will definitely recommend this book to young readers.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I love this time of the year!

As holiday shopping looms on the horizon, the big chain bookstores start sending out coupons to their loyal buyers. Since I now have "memberships" with the big chain bookstore and the next biggest chain bookstore, I'm getting lots of coupons...and I feel obligated to use every one of them!

With the same holiday buying in mind, the publishers put out oodles of great cookbooks in the fall months...and I feel obligated to buy as many of them as I can. This is a sampling of recent buys:

Taste of Home: Cookies is truly wonderful. I've been scouring my baking books looking for cookie recipes for my Christmas open house (I try not to repeat cookies because there are so many new recipes I want to try). I brought a pan of the almond truffle brownies to work today--an almond-tinged brownie base with a chocolate/cream cheese layer followed by chocolate icing and a sprinkling of almonds. Yummy.

Pillsbury's Best of the Bake-off Cookbook: recipes from America's favorite cooking contest includes some old favorites and some soon-to-become favorites, like the Chocolate Buttersweets, a sugar cookie with a coconut topping and chocolate frosting. These have made the final list for my open house!

Southern Living Complete Quick & Easy Cookbook is gorgeous! I'm in a rut with my meals so I've been looking for speedy recipes that will be edible over a few days (not too many single-serving recipes out there which is why so many single people live on packaged food). SL's cookbooks are full of beautifully photographed food...very inspiring.

Taste of Home: Dinner on a Dime: 403 budget-friendly family recipes. See above with the advantage of using more every-day ingredients. Also full of great photographs.

Colorado Classique is put out by the Junior League of Chicago. It is their 4th or 5th book, all of them fabulous. Gorgeous photographs of the Rocky Mountains are interspersed with glorious pictures of the food. Great reading when snuggled up with a blanket and a mug of marshmallow-topped hot chocolate.

I saw Good Housekeeping Best-loved Desserts: more than 250 scrumptious recipes at the library and coveted it immediately. I looked in bookstores but never found it. Sigh.... A week ago, it showed up on the remainder tables at biggest chain bookstore and it was the fastest sale they had that day! I can't wait to try almost every recipe in the book!

There are more new books on my cookbook shelves but, to make room, I did a huge weed and donated those books to the winter reading program for adults at my library--they will all go to a good home where they are wanted and used!

Monday, October 5, 2009

she ruined me!

After gulping down Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, I tried (oh, how I tried) to start a new book (well, several of them, actually) but nothing grabbed my interest. I started The memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots by Carolly Erickson and thought, ho hum, another book about the Elizabethan era...(You know how addicted I am to anything about Henry/Elizabeth and their historical cohorts so not reading a book about that time period is not typical behavior.). Then I tried Once on a moonless night by Dai Sijie who wrote the fabulous Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress but after 4 days of reading less than 30 pages (word of advice: don't start a book with an incredibly long "lecture" about history--more action is required to pique the reader's interest) I gave up. What was I going to read?

I really truly enjoyed An uncommon reader, a novella by playwright Alan Bennett but it is short, short, short and it was my bedside book. In it, Queen Elizabeth stumbles upon a mobile library (bookmobile in America) parked near Buckingham Palace. Because she doesn't want to appear uninterested, she checks out a book and reads it. Not the best book, but somewhat enjoyable nonetheless. Better than checking out a book, she meets Norman in the mobile library--a kitchenworker and devoted reader who takes her under his literary wing. He introduces her to new writers and old writers and is such an inspiration she hires him on as an assistant. Needless to say, her newfound love of reading puts a kink in the everyday running of the palace. The queen starts wearing outfits more than once to public appearances, she runs late after years of complete punctuality and, horrors, she starts asking her subjects what they read! (Harry Potter is not a good answer because the queen does not enjoy fantasy. Harumph.)

I was getting desparate--what was I going to read?

A couple weeks ago, I was listening to NPR in my car, an interview with author Michael Rubens about his novel The sheriff of Yrnameer. Bingo! The book for me. It is science fiction, set in a universe following the destruction of Earth. Planets, satellites, space stations are all sponsored by companies, various and sundry. The lone exception is Yrnameer (or Your Name Here) which has managed to escape the notice of corporate sponsors. It is wickedly funny, full of unexpected characters (many of them alien or stranger in nature) and wildly occurring plot twists. Lots of fun--especially since it is way off the beaten track of my reading choices.

My new bedside book is Going bovine by Libba Bray, author of the Gemma Doyle series about the Spence Academy. I loved those books. Well, I'm in for a completely different reading experience with the new book! The first clue: the cover picture of a cow with a yard gnome under her arm! I read the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book and was out and out guffawing! Laughter was definitely not part of the books about Gemma. I've only read a few pages and cannot wait to crawl into my warm and cozy bed tonight to read a few (hopefully a greater number) more!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I didn't see that one coming!

I've been up to my earlobes in Harry Potter and the world at Hogwarts, enjoying the books back to back--great fun since I actually remember the little details and how things tie together. I've started the last book and know I will soon be going through Harry Potter mourning again soon. Sigh.

My carry-around books have been fun but nothing spectacular (why you haven't heard from me in such a long time). But, last week, the long-awaited sequel to The Hunger Games arrived on my desk. Wahoo! I quickly finished the book I was reading and, during my lunch hour on Saturday, dove into the book.

Catching fire by Suzanne Collins follows Katniss Everdeen through the victory tour after the Hunger Games. She and Peeta travel throughout Panem, seeing many things that the Capitol wishes they hadn't seen. That is as far as I'm going with the story because there are so many twists, turns and unexpected happenings that really need to be a surprise to be enjoyed. I have been surprised again and again and again and I'm loving it! I have 120 pages left and gulping down the rest of this wonderful book is my only plan for the evening.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

the best part

Today is my last day at work before 11 glorious days of vacation. I'm driving (now that I have a new and reliable car--the fair Minerva) up to Duluth for a few days to rest, read and watch the waves on Lake Superior roll by. I haven't even thought of the clothes I'm going to pack but I have picked out my books! I'm taking a little cozy romance by Eva Ibbotson (purchased in London in 2000 and still unread!), AdaItalicm of the Road (a long-ago Newbery winner) and E.L. Konigsburg's The second Mrs. Gioconda (guess what that one is about...). I'm taking a bright and cheerful picnic basket (good old Target comes through again) full of books, magazines and crossword puzzles. Also, the long unfinished counted cross-stitch of the New York skyline which will include the World Trade Center because it still existed when the kit was new oh so many years ago. I'll think about what else I need when I am packing on Sunday night.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm so excited!!!!

The "Lucky U" copy of Philippa Gregory's The White Queen arrived at the library today and it is going home with me tonight! In spite of my obsessive checking for new titles by my favorite authors, this one slipped under my radar and I ended up #72 on the hold list. Pout, pout. But now it is in my hot little hands and will be read as soon as I get my comfortable clothes on when I get home! Yippee skippy!

I can't wait to go to bed with my book

Because there are no more books to come, I've spent the summer rereading Harry Potter. I'm just starting to read about the third task in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I've enjoyed all of the books immensely though I must admit the first two seem pretty slim and unremarkable compared to the later books--what was all of the fuss about? It is such fun to read them back to back, while my memory is still fresh. Knowing how the series ends, I can now see clues in the earlier books. J.K. Rowling really did do something amazing with these books.

Last night, I read about the madness of Bartimeus Crouch, something I had completely forgotten. The movie changed that part of the story substantially and it, unfortunately, had a bigger part of my remembrances than the book which was first read oh so long ago. I also glorified Snape in my mind because he is played by the glorious Alan Rickman whose snear is so endearing (and attractive). And Dumbledore is ditzier, more like Michael Gambon's portrayal than the grave and ancient Dumbledore of Richard Harris (remember, I've had a crush on him since I was 12 years old).

All in all, a delightful reading experience.

Monday, July 27, 2009

after a long wait, a wonderful book

A friend at church recommended that I read "The latehomecomer: a Hmong family memoir" by Kao Kalia Yang, a Minnesota Book Award winner which she had really enjoyed reading. I requested the book once I got back to the library and, after a long, long wait, I finally got the book last week. I had to finish "Backstage with Julia: my years with Julia Child" by Nancy Verde Barr (I was doing my background reading before seeing the movie with the glorious Meryl Streep) so I finally got to start it over the weekend.

I was a little unsure if I would like it after reading the prologue (I was very put off by the writing style used), but once I started the actual story, I was hooked. Ms. Yang's parents were born in Laos and were newly married when the Laotian government decided to kill all of the Hmong people. They lived in the jungle with her father's family, running from the soldiers, constantly hungry and fearing for their lives. Under gunfire, the family, excluding one uncle and his family, escaped to Thailand and a U.N.-operated refuge camp. The story continues through their stay in the camp and their move to the United States.

Ms. Yang's writing is beautiful--I feel like I am there, a part of the story. Again, I am so grateful for my life of ease and plenty. I am also thankful that Ms. Yang has chosen to share her story for it is definitely worth reading.

Monday, July 6, 2009

huge crush (I mean HUGE)

I love cooking programs. If I had cable TV, I'd be nose to the screen with Food-TV all day long. Mercifully, TPT has a station that show cooking programs every evening from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. I allow myself complete slugdom on Tuesday evening and watch all of the programs. Heaven. My absolute favorite is the glorious Jacques Pepin. I wouldn't eat anything he prepares (when you look up "fussy eater," it says Carol the Reader) but I love to watch him cook, look at him and listen to that lovely French accent. Sigh....

I have now read several chapters of Katherine Darling's Under the table: saucy tales from culinary school, Ms. Darling's memoir/expose/whine about attending Jacques Pepin's French Culinary Institute in New York City. I am living her adventures from the comfort of my newly-mattressed bed (I feel like I'm staying in a hotel since the bed just doesn't feel like it's mine yet), happy to not be swathed in a polyester uniform (you know, the checked pants, long-sleeved and high-collared jacket and the neckerchief) in an un-air-conditioned kitchen. I've read about poaching eggs, making omelets and all things egg--each student is given 3 dozen eggs at the beginning of the session and must produce a perfect example of each cooked form of egg (imperfect samples are gulped down before the teacher notices and comments on the failure). I would imagine that learning to perfect a recipe would put you off eating it for a long, long time.

So far, she hasn't said anything to burst my bubble about Monsieur Pepin--heaven help her if she does!

(This weekend (I was under the weather so reading was the perfect activity) was a bonanza of wonderful reading: I finished The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, the companion book to Shadow of the Wind which is one of my all-time favorites. A fabulous read. I'm also well along in Home Safe written by Elizabeth Berg, my favorite grown-up author. She hooks me from the first word and I love and care for her characters and her words--there are always little phrases to savor and remember. Plus I read an entire issue of Vanity Fair magazine!)

Monday, June 22, 2009

at long last

One of my favorite books ever is Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, a magical and mysterious book that is not to be put down until finished. In Franco's Spain, Daniel is eleven years old when his father takes him to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and tells him to choose a book. Daniel chooses a book: Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. He reads and rereads the book and then asks his friend the bookseller for more books by the same author. The bookseller tells him that someone else is also asking for books by Julian Carax and is destroying them. Daniel is determined to find out why the books are being destroyed as well as find more books before they can be destroyed. Several years of his life are spent unraveling the mysteries of Julian Carax.

I was captivated from the first page and absolutely devoured this book. I wanted everyone I know to read the book, I recommended it to everyone who came to me for a recommendation, even if it didn't fit their reading interests at all! Imagine my delight (joy! elation! anticipation!) when my library cohort the Floating Lust, er, Lush (sorry!) told me there was a companion book coming soon. I checked the library's catalog and there was the book. I requested it and waited and waited and waited. Last week the book arrived! I raced to finish the two books I was reading and, at last, this morning started reading the new book.

The Angel's Game is about David Martin, the unwanted son of a mother who deserted her family and a father who abused him. His father is murdered in front of David's eyes and, with no other family and nowhere to go, David is hired by his father's employer and becomes the office boy at a newspaper. When he is in his late teens, the editor of the newspaper offers David the chance to write a serial fiction column to fill the last page of the newspaper. David writes a lurid murder series that becomes very popular with customers but makes David very unpopular with his coworkers, who envy his success. Soon, the editor bows to pressure and fires David. Jobless, he turns to a wealthy friend who has made arrangements with two seedy publishers to give him a chance to write cheap thrillers and crime books. David jumps at the chance since the money they offer him is beyond his hopes and dreams.

I've read about six chapters and, just like The Shadow of the Wind, I've been hooked since the first word. I can't wait to go home tonight and stretch out on the daybed with book in hand and lose myself in the Barcelona of the 1920s. Doesn't that sound perfect?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

back to enjoying a book

I've been reading The forgotten garden by Kate Morton. It has a gorgeous cover of a little cottage in a flower-filled garden. Its endpapers are an illustration by the legendary Arthur Rackham. Both are clues that a reading adventure lies between the covers. I read and read and read and I was still on page 78 after a week. Since there is a long waiting list for the book, I could only check it out for two week and the end of the second week was fast approaching. So what did I do? I gave up. Too many storylines, too many character viewpoints, too slow, too slow, too slow. (I'm at the point in my reading life where I don't feel obligated to read everything that I start--there are plenty of books waiting that I will enjoy. Try it, it's very liberating!)

So, yesterday I started two new books--one in my purse, one on my bedside table--and they both look to be winners!

My bedside book is Silver Phoenix: beyond the kingdom by Cindy Pon. I've read three chapters about Ai Ling, a seventeen-year-old girl who is approached by several young men, but can't get a betrothal from any of them. This is fine with her but her parents are unhappy that none of the young men see the value and beauty of their beloved daughter. Her father, a former servant to the Emperor, returns to the Imperial palace on a mysterious, but, he hopes, short trip which stretches into a year's time. Ai Ling, to avoid the unwanted attentions of a lecherous merchant, decides to go to the Imperial city to find her father. I can't wait to see what happens next.

My purse book is Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. Set in the early 1940s, Pearl Harbor has just been bombed and America is at war. Young Ida Mae, an African American girl in her late teens, longs to be a pilot. She knows how to fly but, due to her race and her sex, she cannot be licensed for solo flight. Her goal is to go to Chicago where there is a flight school run by and intended for African Americans but doesn't know how to accomplish her dream without her mother's support and approval which are not forthcoming. Ida Mae is fairskinned and could pass as white--what will she decide to do?

So the question is, why do some book grab your interest at the first word and you read effortlessly and happily while others slog along and you never get anywhere?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

oops, she did it again!

My day off was yesterday so where did I go? The bookstore, of course! And what did I buy there? A travel guide to Chicago (at the end of the summer, maybe?) and Martha Stewart's Cupcakes by you know who. The Book Besotted Librarian and I have been discussing this book for months. It's pub date was June 2 so I headed for B&N after work on the 2nd and they did not have it!!!!! I had to wait 3 whole days before getting my frosting-encrusted hands on this book. Harumph.
I am hopelessly devoted to her cookie cookbook and I foresee a similar devotion to Cupcakes. The salted caramel chocolate cupcakes are eating away at my baking curiousity at this very moment! I did a quick flip through the book and was pleased with what I saw. Floating Lush (my reference desk cohort today) is encouraging me to try many recipes and bring them to work. I just may have to do that!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

another quirky kid

I just finished Anything but typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin, a children's novel about autism. It was really good. Baskin worked with several autism groups to get her facts right and she does a fantastic job showing how the mind of an autistic boy works.

Jason Blake is 12 years old. He has loving, and sometimes frustrated, parents who really go to bat for him. He has an adoring and caring younger brother, Jeremy, who is 8. Jason sees an occupational therapist and a talk therapist and has graduated from needing a one-on-one aide during the school day. He doesn't talk much but is in love with words--he is an enthusiastic writer, posting his stories on an website called Storyboard. Another writer, a girl whose screen name is Phoenixbird, comments on Jason's stories. He responds to her comments to the point of telling her his real name and signing one of his emails to her "love." Jason thinks he now has a girlfriend. As a reward for his imroved control over his behavior, Jason' parents make arrangements for him to go to a national convention of Storyboard writers. Something Jason greets with mixed feelings--as a writer, he is excited but he is also very nervous that Phoenixbird/Rebecca may be at the convention and see him only as an autistic child, nervously flailing his arms about and spouting inappropriate things since the connection between what he should/wants to say and what he actually says is not reliable. I'll draw a veil over the story right there.

Jason is an awkward (isn't that typical of a 12 year old?) boy but he is also very bright and very communicative. He is often confused between what he knows he should do and what he does, often not realizing that he has reacted physically to a situation (for example, kicking his cousin who is taunting him about his disabilities). The wiring in his head frequently goes awry. But he is also very endearing and, as a reader, I really cared for him.

I hope I look at the autistic children who come into my library with new eyes...and more patience.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

a plethora of choices

I'm in the middle of a reading bounty and I'm loving every minute of it!

On Sunday, I finished The smile by Donna Jo Napoli, a novel about Mona Lisa. People have been speculating on the woman in da Vinci's painting, wondering who she is and why she smiles so mysteriously. In the book, Elisabetta is the daughter of a silk merchant, a girl of immense practicality and a head full of dreams at the same time. She is of the age to be married but the unexpected death of her mother and the remarriage of her father put a kink in those plans. Elisabetta falls in love with Giulano, the youngest son of the powerful de Medici family. He calls her "Monna Lisa" (the equivalent of Miss Lisa) and is enamored of her beautiful smile. The fall of the de Medici family, thanks to the mad priest Savonarola, drives the young lovers apart. Elisabetta ends up marrying another man and raising a family before she poses for da Vinci. Is her failed romance the reason for the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile?

Thanks to MC, who was number one on a long waiting list and didn't cancel her request even though she had already bought and read the book, I ended up checking out Tamora Pierce's Bloodhound, the second volume in the Beka Cooper series. Wow! Beka is a second year Dog (aka police officer), working with an incompetent partner who soon asks to part ways with her. She is then reassigned to work with a veteran pair of Dogs until a new partner can be found. She is soon involved with an investigation into coin counterfeiting. I'm about 200 pages into the book and resent any time that is not spent reading!

MC also told me that Patricia C. Wrede has a new book out--The Thirteenth child--how did I ever miss a book from her? As it happened, the Wentworth copy was sitting on the Book Besotted Librarian's desk awaiting check in so, thanks to a quickly placed request, I got to take that one home, too! It is my bedside book (Bloodhound is my in-the-purse book). I just started it last night and it is off to a great start...and is very different from Bloodhound so confusion should not be a problem! Eff is the thirteenth child of a seventh son of a seventh son and the twin of the seventh son of a seventh son. Her position in the world is very unlucky since the thirteenth child often goes bad...something that Eff is reminded of at every opportunity by her relatives. I'm looking forward to learning more about her!

I love having so many wonderful choices, don't you?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

let's hear it for the boy!

Normally, I intensely dislike teenage angst-y books about dating, clothes, looks, friends and all the other anguish-inducing facts of teenage life. But, periodically, I read another one, hoping this one will be different. I finally found one that is different and I really, truly, madly enjoyed it.

Brent Crawford is a first-time novelist and he really got it right with Carter finally gets it.

Will Carter is 14 years old and getting ready to start his first year of high school. He is friendly, funny and has a big circle of friends which includes lifelong pal EJ and a pack of other guys, including Bag (short for Scumbag) and Hormone (remember, he is 14). Carter (never call him Will) has an older sister, Lynn, who is worried that his arrival at the high school will sully her reputation and ruin her popularity. Why is she concerned? Carter has ADD and doesn't always have good control over what comes out of his mouth and how he reacts to stressful situations.
Carter is most concerned about losing his virginity as soon as possible, preferably with Amber Lee, the girl he fell in love with at the beginning of sixth grade.

The book takes Carter through his freshman year: playing football, first date, first teenage party with beer, shaving, being bullied by older students and more. Carter gets himself into some truly painful situations because of his ADD and his general cluelessness. He is a most endearing hero and I was cheering for him at every turn, even when I wanted to shake his shoulders and say, "What in the world were you thinking?" I laughed, got teary-eyed and completely enjoyed every page of this book and I can't wait to see what young Mr. Crawford comes up with next. I hope it is very soon!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

eating crow

I spoke too soon about The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Over the weekend I had some extended reading time and I spent it devouring the book. I raced home last night, plopped down in my rocking chair and did not move until I had finished the book. It was wonderful! I cannot wait to recommend it to some of my devoted readers. A big thumbs up. The Newbery Committee chose very well this year.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

weighing in on the Newbery winner

Now that everyone on the waiting list has read Neil Gaiman's The graveyard book, it is my turn. I was pleased that Gaiman won the Newbery Medal but a scary/eerie story is not my sort, at all. But I like Gaiman (I absolutely love Neverwhere which is partially set in the tubes of London) so I decided to check it out.
I started the book and am enjoying it but I am not consumed with the desire to read (the sign of a really good book)--if the book had to be returned tomorrow, I could leave it unfinished and be perfectly happy.
The book starts with a murder (or two or three) which leaves a toddler homeless and parentless. A long-dead couple, buried in the local cemetery but now in ghostly form, agree to raise the child. They name him Nobody, which is shortened to Bod. Bod grows, thanks to the help of a semihuman being who can leave the cemetery to get food for him, and makes friends, goes on adventures, is educated by various spectral figures buried in the cemetery. There is a lot of adventure, a bit of humor, interesting characters of the otherworldly sort--all positive things but the book just isn't grabbing me. (I hope to have a block of time this weekend to stretch out on the daybed and read, read, read so that may change...I hope.)
I haven't been thrilled by the last several Newbery winners so I am disappointed that a book by an author I like is inspiring the same blah feeling in me. It is so hard to sell a book to a reader when you feel wishy-washy about it yourself. Oh, well, maybe next year.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

have you ever wondered?

Have you ever read a book about some everyday person who, in harrowing circumstances, steps forward and sacrifices his/her life for the benefit of others? Have you ever wondered if you could/would do the same thing? Do you have the strength of character to choose death so someone else can live?

Last night, stretched out on my daybed, I finished The boy who dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, a fictionalized version of the live of Helmuth Huebner, a German teenager of the Mormon faith who, after many years in the Hitler youth, realizes the Nazis are doing terrible things to the German people and decides to fight back. With two young friends, he begins distributing pamphlets condemning the Nazis. In secret, the three boys are listening to the BBC radio broadcasts (something outlawed by Hitler and the Nazis) and learning the true story of the battles in the war and the actions of the German government--the pamphlets are based on the information the boys are hearing through the BBC news reports. When the boys are captured, Helmuth steps forward and takes full responsibility for the pamphlet writing and distribution, knowing that it could lead to his execution. Helmuth's friends are sentenced to years of labor in prison but Helmuth is indeed, at 16, condemned to execution by guillotine.

Bartoletti also wrote Hitler Youth: growing up in Hitler's shadow, a Newbery honor book which is a fascinating look at the propoganda/indoctrination techniques used by the Nazis to ensure that German children grow up to be "good" Germans. It is always so disturbing to me what the Nazis did and how they managed to sell their actions to the German people as beneficial to the Fatherland. I simply do not understand the fear and hatred felt towards Jews, gays, gypsies and all of the other targeted groups.

So, I have been pondering my character and wondering if I would be noble or selfish. My gut feeling is self preservation would win out but who knows. I hope I'm never in a position to find out.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

reliving a memory

Back in 1983, I traveled to England with my family. One of our stops was Coventry, best known for Lady Godiva to those outside of England. Coventry was heavily bombed by the Germans during World War II because it was the home of many industries affecting the war. The cathedral was completely destroyed. Shortly after the bombing, a rough cross was made out of burnt timbers and the words "Father forgive" were scrawled on the charred walls behind the altar. After the war, many German youth groups came to Coventry to help with the clean-up of the city. Fast forward to the early 1960s when a new cathedral was built on the land next to the destroyed cathedral. The new cathedral is very modern. The back wall is completely made of glass, etched with angels, and looks out on the charred remains of the old cathedral which have been preserved and turned into a park of sorts: benches, pots of flowers and trees open to the brilliant blue skies over England. It is a very touching sight, one which my mother was particularly taken with.

Why this trip down memory lane? Last night, I finished Helen Humphreys' Coventry, a novel about the bombing. The novel tells the story of two women: Harriet, made a widow by World War I, and Maeve, an artist with a son in his early 20s. The two women had met as young women and had spent a happy, carefree day together, enjoying each other's company but never exchanging names. As the years passed, Harriet just lived, worked at a dull job, managed the apartment building where she lived. Maeve had an affair which resulted in her son, Jeremy, and drifted from place to place, job to job. Jeremy and Harriet meet on the night of the bombing because they are both fire watchers on the roof of the Coventry Cathedral. The novel is the story of the bombing, the search for loved ones and the pain and destruction caused on November 14, 1940.
I read the book on the recommendation of my cohort in crime, the Book Besotted Librarian (aka Cleery) because Helen Humphreys is her favorite author. I really enjoyed the book and have requested another by Ms. Humphreys--The lost garden--which is about the land girls who helped keep farming alive during World War II. So, thank you, Cleery for introducing me to a new author. I hope I can return the favor sometime soon.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

not just maps and beautiful pictures any more

I've been on a nonfiction reading binge, adding to the nonfiction reading list on my library's website. I've read some wonderful books but last's night selection really knocked me between the eyes. It was published by National Geographic, which has been putting out incredible children's fiction, on a huge variety of subjects, over the last ten years or so.

Stretched out on my daybed, I devoured Ain't nothing but a man: my quest to find the real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson. Nelson was fascinated by the folk song about John Henry and decided to get to the bottom of it, hoping to discover a kernel of truth in its verses. The book takes you through his research process and, you soon discover, how much happenstance and just plain luck is involved in historical research. First, there are so many different versions of the song that need to be sifted through for clues, then there are problems gaining access to historical materials (archivists and librarians can be very protective/possessive of their treasures). Being of the library persuasion, the steps he took were fascinating to me--it is stunning what is available on the internet and beyond. When he actually discovered a "John William Henry" on a microfiche of prison records, my heart started beating faster. Please, read this book--it is fabulous!

A few of my other National Geographic favorites are:

Curse of the Pharaohs: my adventures with mummies by Zahi Hawass. Dr. Hawass if the director of antiquities in Egypt and is responsible for current excavations in the country as well as studying/protecting the artifacts--he is a bit like Indiana Jones (but handsomer, sorry Harrison Ford!). He writes about his experiences in excavation sites that are infested with cobras, scorpions and other creatures that don't experience universal love and popularity. His description of a dig when he pounded a hole in a wall only to see two big dark eyes staring back at his is unnerving, to say the least.

African critters by Robert B. Haas. Haas is a wildlife photographer writing of his experiences, including long periods of waiting for the animal, the light, the pose to be just right. His pictures are full of life--the pictures of a cavorting baby elephant are funny and delightful.

Genius: a photobiography of Albert Einstein by Marfe Ferguson Delano. This book almost made me understand the theory of relativity!

I've also read about African-American polar explorer Matthew Henson, Ben Franklin, Elizabeth I, Washington Irving, poetic tributes to the monuments (the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, etc.) of this world, King Tut, Annie Sullivan who served as Helen Keller's eyes, a young Dutch girl interned in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. I'm awaiting Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker, the story of Mary Todd Lincoln's friendship with her African-American seamstress (anything to do with Lincoln fascinates me).

Aren't you glad that National Geographic is more than the magazine with a yellow border that nobody seems able to throw away?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

pass me a tissue (or ten), please

I read a lot of reviews for children's books and request a lot of books because of those reviews (and sometimes wonder why in the world I requested a book when it finally comes in...but that is another story). One of the frequently starred books this year is Ways to live forever by Sally Nicholls. My, oh my, what a heart-wrenching book.

The books starts with a list of things you need to know about 11-year-old Sam. One thing: he has leukemia. Another: he will be dead by the time you read this book. Ouch.

Sam is home schooled because of his health problems and one of his assignments is to write about himself. His autobiography includes a list of his life dreams, including having a girlfriend and riding in an airship. He asks a lot of questions about death, natural for someone facing that big unknown. He complains about relatives who come to visit him, bearing fancy gifts and then ignoring him. He feels restricted by his in-denial father and his overprotective mother. He is an endearing narrator.

I could not put this book down. I completely fell apart--sobs and buckets of tears--at the end, more because of the way his death was handled (no, I'm not telling you anything about the book) than because of his death.

I noticed that my library's copy has 15 checkouts which means the kids are reading it. I'm so glad that they've found such an intelligent and sensitive book. I hope they keep a box of tissues at hand when reading it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

the once and future king

Over dinner at Noodles, I finished Stephanie Spinner's Damosel: in which the Lady of the Lake renders a frank and often startling account of her wondrous life and times. It was wonderful. It starts with Merlin asking the Lady of the Lake to make a sword for the young Arthur, a sword to help him become king. It tells Damosel's story and the story of Twixt, a dwarf who becomes an important part of the court at Camelot.

My fascination with Camelot began in junior high when my parents and I, on a very cold Saturday night, saw the movie, starring Richard Harris (the start of my admiration/crush on him), on an extremely cold winter night. The romance of it all really captivated my teenage heart, though I never could understand why Guinevere would choose Lancelot when she could have Richard Harris!!!! I soon was driving my parents insane with my incessant playing of the soundtrack, loudly and dramatically singing along. Next came the obsessive reading of T.H. White's The once and future king which I accepted as gospel truth about King Arthur. In ninth grade English, I made a speech about the book starting with, "Imagine Mr. Williams (my poor long-suffering English teacher whose father had been my father's best friend growing up) as Lancelot. Most think of Lancelot as handsome (Mr. Williams was positively preening) but, in truth, he was as ugly as a monster (Mr. Williams, who was not a handsome man, had the good grace to laugh) in the king's menagerie." My enthusiasm earned me an A on the project.

Next was toting around the massive volume of Marian Zimmer Bradley's The mists of Avalon. I carried it with me everywhere and, whenever I had a spare minute, I read, instantly transporting myself to that enchanted world.

As a children's librarian, I was thrilled to learn that kids are still fascinated by King Arthur. A few of the children's/young adult books about Camelot are:

The squire's tales by Gerald Morris, a multi-volume series of knights tales, told with great humor.

The young Merlin trilogy by Jane Yolen, Merlin's life told through a series of bird-like developments in his character.

The lost years of Merlin by T.A. Barron, a five volume telling of Merlin's progression from orphaned boy to wizard.

Knights of the Kitchen Table by Jon Scieszka, the Time Warp Trio visits Camelot, leaving chaos in their wake.

I know there are many more books about Camelot in my reading history, and, with luck, there will be many more. I never get tired of the well-loved story.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

you can go home again

With a free half hour on my hands last night, I settled down in my comfortable chair and started the long-remembered and long-awaited A touch of magic by Betty Cavanna. I was hooked from the first pages and it is just as enjoyable as it was in my junior high years! But, my goodness, how the world has changed! Would you ever see a female character described as "gay and capricious" in a modern book? There is such an air of innocence in the book and the language is just delicious. I can't wait to spend another part of the evening with Hannah Trent and the Shippen girls.

After so many years and so many memories, I am absolutely delighted (and more than a little relieved) that this book is so much fun to read. I wonder what else I can dredge up from my memory that will bring so much pleasure. I think it will have to be a book because watching the TV shows of my youth (I'm thinking of Here come the brides with Robert Brown, David Soul and the much-adored (by other girls...I was strictly a Robert Brown fan) Bobby Sherman) makes me cringe now. Some things are better left as happy memories.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What am I going to do with all of that fabric?

I've written of my obsessive love of fabric. Lately, I've been on a buying binge (for me, that is) for books with ideas for what to do with all my glorious fabric. After looking through these books, my head is so full of ideas that I don't know where to begin!

Even though I know that my little condo is too small for all of the quilts I would like to make, I did buy two books that are strictly quilts: Lots of scraps, it's time to quilt by Jeanne Stauffer and Diane Schmidt and Not your grandmother's log cabin by Sara Nephew and Marci Baker. Both are full of bright and unconventional quilt ideas, involving lots of color. Lots of new ideas for the boxes of polka dot fabric I've been hoarding.

Since I can't make all the quilts whirling around in my head (and I don't know enough people to give all of those quilts to as gifts), I also bought books for other projects: The perfect apron by Robert Merrett; Quilting in no time by Emma Hardy (this includes pillows, table runners and cloths, bags and more); Sew What! bags: 18 pattern-free projects you can customize to fit your needs by Lexie Barnes. Again, my mind is awhirl with all of the new possibilities.

So, if you are in the position to receive a gift from me, be warned: it will be homemade! (I'm way ahead of the curve on the other books--they don't have pictures posted on either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

oh, joy! oh, rapture!

Back when I was a young lass in the 9th grade at Osseo Junior High, all of the 9th grade girls were in a swoon over a young adult novel, a little romance about a young Quaker girl who was seamstress to the notorious Peggy Shippen (she later married Benedict Arnold, equally notorious). There was a waiting list, strictly enforced by Miss van Rissighum (probably incorrectly spelled since we all referred to her as Miss Van, which she thoroughly enjoyed) which allowed each reader only one week to read the book as many times as possible.

Fast forward to my librarian years and that book just wouldn't leave my memory. I asked all of the other librarians if they remembered it and, alas, nary a one did. I resigned myself to never knowing what the book was, never being able to request it and read it again to see if the magic was still there. Sigh.

Tonight, during a quiet moment at the reference desk, I did a google search for "Peggy Shippen young adult novel" and, buried, many pages from the beginning, there it was: A touch of magic by Betty Cavanna!!!!! I did a quick search of MNLink and, glory be!, Minneapolis Public Library still has a copy! Unfortunately, my card isn't registered with MNLink and I can't request it. I'll make a quick trip to a St. Paul Public Library and update my card and, at long last, the book will be mine!

Lesson learned: never give up.

I'll let you know if it is as wonderful in reality as it is in my memory.

Monday, March 2, 2009

a most glorious book

I was checking in a cart of brand new juvenile nonfiction books, grabbing the books that looked especially interesting for my nonfiction list on the library's web site. I saw a book on swords but decided not to take it, it looked blah. Later in the day, I read a review for the book and ran to the shelf to check it out.

Swords: an artist's devotion by Ben Boos is the most beautifully illustrated book I have ever seen. The text is divided by the people who use the swords: warriors, raiders, war maidens, villagers, soldiers and so on. Each "chapter" includes historical information about the user, drawings of the swords in use, drawings of the different parts of the sword, etc. Between each section is a two-page spread, in warm, rich colors, of different aspects of a sword: hilt, blade, scabbard and more. The pictures look so real, you can almost feel the chill of the metal, the weight of the sword in your hand. Check out the author/illustrator's blog page at -- you won't be disappointed.

I showed the book to an artist friend of mine (yes, BP, you are an artist!) and he was entranced. I know he will go to the library and check the book out just to carefully examine each drawing, marveling at the detail. I hope you will do the same!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

You're batting .750, Floating Lush!

One of the fun things about working in the library is talking to people about books. My fellow librarians are an interesting (!!!) lot and we recommend books to each other quite freely. The Floating Lush has done quite well with her recommendations. I've loved 3 of them and the 4th, well, we just won't talk about that one too much (in case you're curious, it is Tam Lin by Pamela Dean).

My first Lush book was The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Thursday Next (I've always loved that phrasing in British books) is a special operative in the Literary Division of the Special Operatives Network in an England transformed by fighting the Crimean War for well over 100 years. Her job is to prevent literary vandalism such as stealing characters from well-known and well-loved books. I gobbled this book up, couldn't stand being away from it. Please, read it. It is fresh, funny and inventive.

Next came War for the Oaks by Emma Bull. A fantasy set in Minneapolis with the climactic scenes set near Minnehaha Falls and the surrounding park. There was a wonderful feeling of involvement and intimacy in knowing the setting of every scene. Eddi McCandry is trying to start a new band when she is approached by the emissary of the Queen of Faerie with the message that the saving of the world is on her shoulders. As if auditioning band members wasn't enough to keep her busy. I couldn't wait to crawl into bed with this book, often crawling between the covers an hour or more before my usual bedtime....

The latest successful recommendation (via was Graceling by Kristin Cashore. A first novel of lovely proportions! Thankfully, to be followed by two companion novels, the next coming out in the fall. Katsa is a Graceling, the holder of a special gift (some Gracelings can predict weather, some can swim without fail, some are physicially strong beyond what is normal) which is shown by her eyes being different colors. At eight, Katsa killed a man because she was afraid he would hurt her, thereby establishing her grace as killing. She becomes the unwilling hitwoman for her uncle the king. She meets another Graceling, Prince Po of Lienid who makes her see the world quite differently and gets her involved in a mystery concerning the kidnapping of his grandfather. This book is getting a lot of attention in the library world and deservedly so for it is a fabulous read: great characters, wicked villains, dire circumstances, satisfying outcomes.

So, Lush, you've done very well by this reader and I thank you for it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

best nonfiction writer (for kids) ever!

I spent part of last evening, stretched out on my daybed, reading children's nonfiction. I read about collecting baseball memorabilia, Alexander Calder (who got his start making a complete circus using wire with all parts movable) and something which has completely escaped my mind. Earlier in the day, I had finished Washington at Valley Forge by Russell Freedman. I learned so much: Valley Forge started as an absolute disaster--no lodgings, food rations in miniscule amounts, soldiers dressed in rags and less--but ended up as a huge success, with the troops building wooden cabins for shelter, a Quartermaster who actually requisitioned food and supplies for the men, the troops receiving training that turned them into an efficient and effective army. Did you know that Martha Washington (indeed, many of the wives and families) was at Valley Forge, staying in a small cabin with her husband?

Russell Freedman is an amazing author: intelligent, curious, entertaining with the ability to bring characters (and situations) to life in your mind. I first encountered him in Eleanor Roosevelt: a life of discovery where he made me fall in love with Eleanor, the shy, clumsy child who became the First Lady of the World, the eyes of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency. Then came The life and death of Crazy Horse; the Newbery Award-winning Lincoln: a photobiography; the story of a German aristocrat and a Swiss artist traveling throughout the Dakota territories with a Native American guide in An Indian Winter. More recent books include The adventures of Marco Polo and The voice that changed a nation: Marian Anderson and the struggle for equal rights.

I looked Mr. Freedman up on the Internet and first, let me say he looks exactly as he should: curly gray hair and beard, intelligent and warm in appearance. He says he writes books about subjects he is curious about and you can feel the sense of understanding and learning
he brings to his writing. I would read about any subject he cared to write about--he makes history come alive!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

endlessly fascinating

The older I get, the more I feel the need to be creative (leaving my legacy to the world?) and creating. Therefore, I am endlessly fascinated by creative people and their creations. Now that I have a beautiful sewing/craft room in my little condo, I am interested in the creative spaces that other people have.

Last week, I bought the second issue (I have the first, as well) of a fabulous magazine called Where Women Create. Wow! It is a little pricey ($14.95) but packed full of great stories and glorious advertisements for everything creative: quilting fabric, stamping supplies, artisans of every stripe and more. I can spend hours looking at the pictures, checking the websites of artists and businesses alike, getting ideas for my hibiscus pink craft room and on and on.

Check out their website at or ask me if you can look over my shoulder while I'm reading the latest issue!

(Fabric update: I found the Brown Bear, Brown Bear fabric at Treadle Yard Goods ( on Grand Avenue. I bought the panel, the striped border fabric and the animal fabric--the quickest and happiest sale Treadle had that day! The colors are beautiful and my imagination is perking away at how I can use the fabric. I also received the fabric I mail ordered: The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Lucy at the Chocolate Factory--all bright and cheerful and reeking of nostalgia. I do love fabric!)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

oh, no, not my magazines!

The faltering economy has hit my magazine addiction: Cottage Living (I've been a subscriber since the first issue) and Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion (also a subscriber since the first issue) have both ceased publication. Sigh. Since my subscriptions still had time, I am now a subscriber to Southern Living and Martha Stewart Living. Sigh again.

Unhappy magazine addict here. Nothing better happen to all of my quilting magazines....

Monday, January 26, 2009

the reader as quilter

One of my manias is collecting fabric (I have over 40 neatly labeled and sorted boxes of fabric in my quilting stash). Imagine my joy, when the world of children's books invaded the world of fabric design! I have a box of "The Wizard of Oz" prints; have just ordered prints inspired by The Jetsons, The Flintstones and the chocolate factory episode from "I Love Lucy"; I've cut out a jacket using 7-8 different Winnie the Pooh prints; have several Olivia (from the imagination of Ian Falconer) prints as well as a panel of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (courtesy of Eric Carle and Bill Martin, Jr.) for a wall hanging.

Two days ago, I was spending a little quality time at (fabric for quilters) when I discovered the latest: Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? by Eric Carle and Bill Martin, Jr. The chase is now on and I will be visiting every quilt shop I know looking for it. I can't wait!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

the joy of memoirs

I was talking to a friend in church about what he was reading (a biography of Lincoln) which made me think about memoirs, my chosen biographical reading. I love the quirkiness of memory and the intimacy of someone sharing such a private part of themselves (something I have great difficulty in doing...).

My first experiences with memoirs were Tracy and Hepburn: an intimate memoir by Garson Kanin and By myself by Lauren Bacall. Being a movie-besotted teenager (and woman of a certain age), I loved reading about Kate and Spence and their friendship with Garson and his wife, the fabulous Ruth Gordon (die-hard Harold and Maude fan here). And Lauren Bacall's can-you-believe-this-happened-to-me tales of Bogey and Jason Robards...sigh, sigh.

As a children's librarian, I really and truly enjoyed The moon and I by Betsy Byars, a combination of a treatise on writing and a memoir of her writing experiences. The Moon is a black snake that hung in the rafters of her writing studio which was rather like a playhouse in her backyard. I laughed until I cried when she wrote of finding a black snake dead by the road and, convinced it was her Moon, decided to take the body home for a proper burial. (It was not her Moon, by the way).

In my past, I was a season ticket holder for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. At one of the concert previews, violist Evelina Chao read a chapter from her memoir of her first trip to China to meet her family: Yeh Yeh's house. It was funny and touching and made me run to the library and request the book as soon as I could. The wonder that she felt in meeting the family that remained in China was palpable, as well as her feeling of being so different because of her American upbringing. A wonderful book.

Since my first viewing of The Sound of Music as a kid, I've worshipped and idolized Julie Andrews. While snowed in at a hotel in Park Rapids (at the end of April, no less!), I spent many a happy hour reading her Home: a memoir of my early years and falling even more in love with her. Can she really be so warm and wonderful and perfect? (In 2004, I spent a week in New York City celebrating a landmark birthday (50) and got to be in the same theatre as my idol when she hosted a gala concert honoring Kitty Carlisle and the memory of her husband Moss Hart--the thought that I've breathed the same air as Julie Andrews just makes me shiver!)

While I appreciate a well-crafted and well-researched biography, give me a memoir every time!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

what would have happened if...?

Because I always have so many books I want to read, I have reluctantly started reading two books at once--one book I carry in my purse, the other book is on my bedside table. The two books I'm reading now are turning out to be very similar: they are both a revision of history as we know it. Both books are really gripping, very enjoyable reads and very intense.

The explosionist by Jenny Davidson is set in Edinburgh, Scotland in the late 1930s. Europe is completely reorganized due to the fact that Napoleon won at Waterloo. England is a dangerous wasteland, to be avoided at all costs. The Scandinavian countries have formed a Hanseatic League which is currently allied with Scotland. The heroine is Sophie, a fifteen year old student living with her great-aunt, the founder of a program called IRYLNS (pronounced "irons") which produces the perfect secretary/assistant. Training with IRYLNS is considered to be a high status future for a young woman. Sophie has become involved in the murder of a medium who warned Sophie of a frightening event in her future. There are so many convolutions and secrets in this book--I'm worn out trying to keep up! A big thumbs up on the first 200 pages of the book though.

I absolutely loved, loved, loved the Gregor the Overlander books by Suzanne Collins and have had huge success recommending them to reluctant boy readers. Her new series has just begun and it couldn't be more different! The Hunger Games is set in a future America, completely changed since the South won the Civil War, lost their power and destroyed the states completely. The country (now known as Panem) is now organized into 12 districts, ruled by the Capitol. The Hunger Games is a fight to the death, with a male and female representative from each district, televised to inspire the people. I've only read 25 pages or so but I am liking it (though I am a little concerned about all the 3rd and 4th grade boys who loved Gregor who will want to read this intense and, I think, disturbing novel).

A past read of the same genre is The year of the hangman by Gary Blackwood, the story of what happened to America when they lost the American Revolution. Read it, it is really good.

Monday, January 5, 2009

ah, the creative life

Yesterday was Sunday and, lucky me, I got to spend most of the day in my lovely new hibiscus pink sewing room. I hemmed an ABC wallhanging (to add to the literacy-rich environment of storytime) and made a rainbow: bright blue fabric with red/orange/yellow/green/blue/violet grosgrain ribbons and rickrack hanging down (think of a very colorful grass skirt!). I had seen a picture in a decorating book and decided I could make something similar...and I did! It is such fun to experiment with my sewing machine. This morning I made the binding for a Laurel Burch Christmas cat table runner which is waiting to be quilted...I need to make the "sandwich" (backing-batting-pieced top) and quilt it before adding the binding, the last step in the making of a quilt.

So what does this have to do with books? Whenever I quilt, I feel like I'm moving ever closer to making the quilt of my dreams: polka dots in many colors, sizes and patterns held together with lots of black and white. My inspiration is Freddy Moran, a quilter whose mantra is "red is a neutral." She has a wonderful book, heavily illustrated, written with Gwen Marston (another quilter who sews to her own drummer) called Collaborative Quilting. Just thinking about the book makes me smile...and want to run home to my sewing machine and create! The interplay of color and pattern in Freddy's quilts make me happy (I can hear my mother from the next world talking about my gypsy taste...which I inherited from her, the woman who mixed plaids and florals) and I can't wait to make my own brightly colored and patterned quilt.

Now, honestly, looking at Freddy's quilt, isn't it absolutely gorgeous? (The image is taken from by the way.)