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!