Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Cooking for Mr. Latte...and Me

I have just finished reading Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover's Courtship, With Recipes by Amanda Hesser. I was in my local gourmet shop a couple of months ago and bought it because it looked fun. Then I forgot about it and only picked it up again this week. I originally thought it was going to be a foodie novel sort of thing, but found instead that is a collection of autobiographical diary entries Amanda Hesser wrote for the New York Times.

The book is completely delightful; fun, light, tender, and chock full of terrific recipes. The writing tells the story of Amanda's romance with Mr. Latte and trying to refine his palate. She tells stories from the kitchens of friends, family, and some restaurants. She talks about food and its place in peoples' lives. She is honest about her annoyance with other peoples' techniques and the trials of sharing kitchen space. For any reader, cook or not, this book is honest, thought-provoking, and laugh out loud funny sometimes.

As each chapter is based on a weekly article, the chapters are best enjoyed individually, to be savored.

I went back and Googled Amanda Hesser after finishing the book and learned more about her writing experience, critics, and that this is truly a non-fiction work, though it reads almost like a novel.

Next I want to go back and try some of the recipes she so generously includes in each chapter.

Grade: A

Get cooking!

This read reminded me of another one I've loved by another New York Times writer, Alex Witchel, who in Girls Only writes of her grown-up New York City life compared to growing up in a suburban Jewish family. While my life could not be more different, her relationships with her mother and sister really struck a chord. As did the honesty in her hotel reviews, glee at Clinique bonus time, and snarky shopping observations. I've re-read this one, so obviously I give it an A.

Your Friendly Librarian

Sunday, December 04, 2005

For Jane Austen Lovers

The newest film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has brought her books back into the limelight. I'm not going to give any critique of the film (I haven't seen it), but I always appreciate it when adaptations bring people back to the books. Today my blog entry is actually to celebrate the wonderful list of Pride and Prejudice editions, films, and sequels that has been put together by the Denver Public Library.

I happened across this list on the entry portal to their website (which is wonderful) and was thrilled. I especially enjoy the list of movie adaptations and sequel or inspired bys...I've even read a few of these myself.

The guilty-pleasure sequel that I enjoyed most is Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues. This novel has been slammed by critics and Austen-purists, and I'd slam it myself if it wasn't so fun and satisfying. It's a very sexy follow-up to Pride and Prejudice that examines the class issues that face Lizzie as she becomes the mistress of Pemberly. Mostly, though, it examines how "hot" Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are for each other. If you love these characters and feel like you know them, it's fun to be a fly on the wall as Mr. Darcy loosens his cravat and Lizzie lets down her hair. Are the characters true to those in Austen's novel? Hmmm...decide for yourself.

More information about the film and critiques of the film can be found at:
Rotten Tomatoes (despite the name, Rotten Tomatoes is a round-up of both good and bad reviews)

A great gallery of stills from the film can be found at keiraknightley.com (she's the actress who plays Lizzie Bennett).

There's a nice commentary, including critique of costumes, direction, etc., from those with a moral bent at Christian Spotlight on the Movies.

I had a favorite review from the Washington Post in which the author goes to the movie with his two daughters, both of whom have read the novel, and they discuss and critique elements that vary in the two works. I can't seem to find a link to the article, though! If anyone else has found this online, please let me know! (It was sometime in mid-November, I believe.)

Go out and read your Austen!
Your Friendly Librarian

Monday, November 14, 2005

Holiday Recommendations for the Kids in Your Life

I recently needed to write up some reviews of my favorite new books for gift giving, so I'm going to share some with you. Of course there are many, many more books I enjoyed and could recommend. Just ask!


Children's Miscellany: Useless Information That's Essential to Know, by Matthew Morgan and Samantha Barnes (Chronicle, 8/05). Need to know how to pop a wheelie, or how to identify the ten deadliest snakes, or the many ways to make a wish? Just consult this handy and fun reference guide! Miscellany books have been popular among adults lately and this children's version is a great introduction to the genre.

Picture Books

The Dog Who Cried Wolf, written and illustrated by Keiko Kasza (Putnam, 9/05). When Michelle reads a book about wolves to her dog, Moka, he is inspired to run away and live a wild life in the great outdoors. After an afternoon of living like a wild dog, Moka discovers that the comforts of home and someone to love outweigh the perks of rebellious freedom. Funny text and illustrations make this a story-time favorite.

He's Got the Whole World In His Hands, adapted and illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Dial, 9/05). Gorgeous illustrations make this adaptation of the popular spiritual into a joyous romp through our beautiful world.

Fancy Nancy, by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (Harper Collins, 12/05). Nancy likes things fancy and doesn't understand why her family is so plain. When Nancy decides to give "fancy lessons" her family cooperates in a way that is fun and wonderful to behold. The illustrations and text are paired brilliantly to create a book that is fancy and fun for everyone.

8 and Up Fiction

Akimbo and the Elephants and Akimbo and the Lions, by Alexander McCall Smith (Bloomsbury, 9/05). Set in an African wild-life preserve, these companion stories about Akimbo, a young African boy, are fast-paced and full of adventures as well as superbly written by the popular adult author. These are sure to be a hit with voracious and reluctant readers alike!

10 and Up Fiction

The Misadventures of Maude March, by Audrey Coulumbis (Random House, 9/05). Finally, a great Western for kids! This is a fast-paced, action-packed adventure story set in the Wild West featuring two sisters who inadvertantly find themselves sucked into events that make the oldest one of the "most-wanted" criminals in the West!

The King of Mulberry Street, by Donna Jo Napoli (Wendy Lamb Books, a division of Random House, 10/05). Loosely based on the events of her own grandfather's life, Napoli has crafted a nearly magical story of a 9-year-old boy who is sent from Italy to America as an immigrant, all alone. Dom manages to carve a niche for himself in the ghettos of 19th century New York and accepts his new identity as an American. It's a truly powerful story.

12 and Up Fiction

13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson (Harper Collins, 9/05). Ginny's aunt has left her 13 little blue envelopes to lead her on an amazing scavenger hunt style journey through Europe to help her deal with the aunt's death. Poignant, funny, and tart at times, this one has it all!

And there it is, folks! A quick round-up of children's literature for you and yours this holiday season.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Fun and Frothy Reading for Adults

Last month the newest installment in one of my favorite series became available and I was excited to jump right in! Perfect, by Marne Davis Kellogg (St. Martins, 8/05), is the third installment in a series about the Shamrock Burgler, Kick Keswick, an internationally reknowned, and retired, jewel thief.

This installment follows Kick to the inner sanctum of the world's rich and elite at an ultra-private ski resort in the Swiss Alps. A former prima ballerina, Italian tenor, and Greek billionaire who shamelessly resembles George Soros, round out the colorful cast. Fun and exciting as always!

Grade: A-

I also picked up a copy of The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella (Dial, 7/05), that had been lying around my house all summer. The Undomestic Goddess is a top lawyer at a London firm who suffers a nervous breakdown after a multi-million pound mistake costs her her job. She flees to the country and is hired as a housekeeper in a case of mistaken identity. A hilarious and poignant series of events ensue.

Grade: B+

Reading The Undomestic Goddess inspired me to get in the kitchen over the weekend and I cooked up a really wonderful apple brown betty. It was especially easy to make and would be a snap for any undomestic goddesses out there. I should have taken a photo to post like my idol over at 101cookbooks, but I'm still a novice blogger so I will just list the recipe. Trust me, it's great and looks tasty too!

4 c. 1/2 inch bread cubes (preferably from French bread)
1/3 c. butter
4 c. rough cut sliced and peeled cooking apples
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnaomn
2 TAB lemon juice
1/4 c. water
Heavy cream or vanilla ice cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 2 quart casserole dish.
In a medium bowl combine bread cubes and butter; mix well.
In another bowl, toss together apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
Sprinkle with lemon juice.

Layer 1/3 of the bread cubes in the prepared cassrole, then 1/2 apple mixture.
Repeat layers, ending with bread cubes.
Sprinkle with water.
Bake 1 hour or until golden.

Serve warm with heavy cream or ice cream.

Bon appetit and happy reading!
Your Friendly Librarian

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Wright 3

Yesterday, I opened the mail and found an advance readers' copy of The Wright 3, by Blue Balliett (Scholastic, 04/06), a sequel to one of my very favorite books, Chasing Vermeer. I was so excited I sat down and read the whole thing today! Sorry there's no link, but it's just too early to find you any more information. Trust me, it will be worth the wait!

Balliett's latest takes us into the brilliant mind and architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Our friends Calder and Petra are at the end of the school year when Calder's friend Tommy returns to the class from New York City. One of Wright's buildings, Robie House, sits on the property of the University of Chicago where the three attend day school and where their parents all work. The Robie House is slated to be broken up and disbursed to four museums. Ms. Hussey, the kids' teacher, is appalled and puts the questions to her class: Can a home be art? Does cutting up art destroy it or preserve it? She calls it "Plunder...or murder...in the name of salvation."

While tensions run high between Calder's two friends, they manage to find some common ground as the group, the "Wright 3", get involved in solving the various mysteries that have surrounded the house over the decades and try to save it at the same time. The new group dynamic makes for some interesting twists and perspectives in the story. It's fun to get to know the new character, Tommy.

This is a terrific follow-up for fans of Chasing Vermeer. Keep an eye out for it in April.

Grade: A

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Part-way through I, Coriander

I'm working my way through a children's fantasy novel titled I, Coriander by Sally Gardner (Dial, 9/05). The writing is exquisite, yet the story is not really capturing me.

The novel is set in Oliver Cromwell's England and surrounds a young girl whose life takes place between this very harsh real-world setting and fairyland. The tone of the novel reminds me very much of the highly acclaimed adult novel of last year, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, 9/04), which I found fascinating. I want to keep giving Coriander a chance, but some other books have wedged their way in. I'll keep you posted.

Your Friendly Librarian

Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives

After a leisurely vacation, it's time to catch you up on what I've been reading. Earlier this week I read a new children's mystery novel called Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives, book 1 in a new series by Michael Buckley (Abrams, 10/05).

The story follows two young "orphaned" sisters, Daphne and Sabrina Grimm, as they enter into the care of yet another foster family. This time their new guardian claims to be their Grandmother Grimm, but the girls' father told them their grandmother had died. Already suspicious, the girls are whisked into some unbelievable circumstances as their granny takes them to investigate a house smashed by a giant, to meet Mayor Charming, and to deal with police who look an awful lot like pigs. After too many odd incidents to be a hoax, the girls come to accept their detective grandmother and her story that their parents have been taken by evil forces and that fairy tale creatures really do exist in the charmed town of Ferryport Landing.

All fairy tale, nursery rhyme, and other mythical creatures come into a story that explains the history of creatures who immigrated to the United States to avoid persecution in the Old Country. One of the Grimm ancestors placed a charm on their village to insure that no fairy tale creatures, or Everafters, escaped to wreak havoc on regular people. The Everafters are doomed live as prisoners - though with eternal youth - in the charmed village until the last of the Grimm family dies out, so they are less than thrilled to meet the Grimm granddaughters.

This all sounds complicated but is actually pretty interesting as a premise. The action moves quickly after the story is set up and the girls are forced to use their wits after their granny is carried off by a giant. Other main characters include Mr. Canis (granny's mysterious companion), Jack the Giant Killer, and Puck the Prince of Misrule. The series ought to go over well with the princess/fairy crowd as well as mystery lovers. It's pretty well written and funny.

Books 1 and 2 are being released at the same time. Book 2 is titled Sisters Grimm: The Unusual Suspects.

Grade: B+

Monday, August 22, 2005

Last Shot

It's been an unusually long time between posts...mostly because I started two books that took me no where and I have been getting ready for a trip and a house guest. Once we were on the plane, I was able to get some solid reading time with a good book.

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery by John Feinstein (Knopf, 2/05), is another case of an adult writer who has given children's writing a try, this time with much success. Last Shot is the story of two thirteen-year-olds who win a sports writing contest and get to attend the NCAA Final Four basketball tourament as student journalists. While enjoying great seats, schmoozing with coaches and ESPN personalities, and other perks, the kids come across a plot in which a player is being blackmailed in order to throw the championship game. This is a believable mystery written with style in a young person's voice. It was just suspenseful enough without some of the ridiculous scenerios some teenage sleuths face. I loved it!

Feinstein is a terrific writer. This novel would definitely appeal to both readers and reluctant readers alike, especially that elusive teenage audience. I would even say an adult audience could enjoy this one (but then that's what I usually think, being an adult who reads mostly children's lit). The two main characters are a boy and a girl, so it captures a little of both perspectives. There is wit, humor, not overly much basketball trivia, and a fast-moving plot. The book is supposed to be the first in a series and I am looking forward to seeing more of them. Though I am not a sports fan, I always enjoy Feinstein's commentary on NPR's Morning Edition and may look for some of his other non-fiction titles.

Grade: A

In case you were wondering, my non-starters were Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch by Dai Sijie (author of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress) and Enna Burning by Shannon Hale. I don't know if it was a lack of patience on my part, but I wasn't willing to give Sijie more than an hour of my time. The premise sounded interesting, but the book was hard work so I dropped it. With Enna, I had read Goose Girl, its prequel, and loved it, but I just wasn't sympathetic enough with Enna's plight and didn't feel the story moving quickly enough for my taste. Hale's newest novel, Princess Academy, flew off my shelves, so I'm going to hunt that one down later this fall and give it a read. Again, this week may not have been the best for reading, so I'm not going to completely discount these novels, some others may really enjoy them; I may go back to Sijie again later.

Your Friendly Librarian

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Fine Art of Reading

A reader of the blog sent me an email suggesting that I comment on how long it takes me to read a book. Generally, this is difficult to determine since for me it is based purely on the time available to read. In general, I read about 60-70 pages an hour, so if I have a lot of time on my hands, I will whip right through the book; where if my husband is bugging me or I am only reading on the subway or at lunch, it may take me two weeks to get through a book.

Also, the sophistication of the text will determine the speed of the read. Juvenile novels go quicker than adult; diversion reading goes faster than non-fiction or "literature"; re-reading goes faster than everything else because you can skim a little more.

Those are my thoughts on the time it takes me to read. Thanks for asking! :) What do you all think?

Your Friendly Librarian

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator

Over the course of the week, I have been reading Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison (Sleuth/Dutton, 7/05). I had the opportunity to host a reading and discussion with the author on Thursday, but wasn't quite able to finish reading before meeting with her! The book is a lot of fun, and is a perfect read for 11 to 14-year-old girls.

Gilda Joyce is a 13-year-old with a vivid imagination who involves herself in a number of "careers", one of which is "psychic investigator". As summer vacation approaches, Gilda finds herself with nothing much to do except spy on Plaid Pants, a suspicious convenience store clerk, until she has the brilliant brain-wave of inviting herself to stay with some distant relatives in glamorous San Francisco.

Thus begins a summer full of adventure, mystery, ghosts, and friendship. Gilda's distant cousin, Juliet, is the same age and has been suffering depression after the mysterious suicide of her aunt. Gilda herself has not been able to heal for the two years since her father's death and the girls find solace with each other and are able to bring resolution to their feelings of abandonment after solving the mystery behind the aunt's death. While this may sound somewhat morbid, the subject is treated with a good combination of sensitivity and light humor.

Each of the girls learns a bit more about herself and her talents through a series of embarrassing and exciting adventures with ghosts, mysterious noises, and a creey tower. What starts out as an awkward relationship ends with warm friendship.

The novel is written in the constraints of a small circle of characters and a fairly limited setting, giving the reader an opportunity to really know the characters and their quirks. It's a solid first novel for Ms. Allison.

Overall: B

Ms. Allison led a discussion of the book with a group of about ten 9 to 14-year-olds. They discussed the idea of psychic abililty and vibrations as well as the writing process and a future sequel to the book. They also took part in a writing exercise in which Ms. Allison gave each child a picture of a person and the child then wrote their observations and things they sensed about the person in the image, in a variation on the psychic technique of automatic writing. All in all, a fun and successful event.

Happy reading,
Your Friendly Librarian

Upcoming Children's Fiction

I've had a very busy weekend and have not had time to finish reading anything, but I feel inclined to write anyway. I've decided to do a quick round-up of terrific upcoming fall titles in children's fiction. Here is a list of my favorites:

Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth by J.V. Hart, with illustrations by Brett Helquist. (Aug. 23, Laura Geringer Books, an imprint of Harper Collins) - I was sucked in to this dark biography of the young Captain Hook; reminiscent of Gregory Maguire's tales such as Wicked, about the youth of the Wicked Witch of the West. I found myself deeply sympathetic to the roots of this misanthropic character.

Flush by Carl Hiaasen. (Sept. 13, Knopf) - Hiaasen's first novel for children, Hoot, was received with high acclaim and was awarded a Newbery honor medal by the American Library Association. This success led readers to wonder, which books are better, Hiaasen's adult books or children's books? More popular? With a second novel for children, we will have a chance to really put his skills to the test. While I didn't find this one quite as fun as Hoot, it has Hiaasen's regular Florida setting, quirky characters, and again, as in Hoot, an environmentally friendly theme. It's definitely a fun read.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. (Aug. 23, Harper Collins) I just saw the final cover art for this one and I have to say I liked the advance readers' copy better, but anyway, this is a great teen read about a girl on an European adventure and dealing with the loss of a loved one. Poignant, funny, and tart at some times, this one has it all.

Oops! Time to go, not quite the long list I had been envisioning. More later.

Your Friendly Librarian

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Deadly Slipper

I just finished the thriller Deadly Slipper by Michelle Wan (Doubleday, 7/05). Half the time I couldn't decide if the writing was terrific or blase, but in the end I've decided the sheer terror and movement made it terrific. From about page 3, I was suspicious, nervous and terrified while reading the entire novel. In a murder mystery set in rural France, Wan brings together highly eccentric characters - all of whom could be either guilty or delusional! I was on edge each time I turned the page, eager yet scared to find what was around each corner. Bravo!

The events of the novel concern Mara, a Canadian expatriate decorator living in the Dordogne region of France. Her twin sister, Bedie, disappeared on a hiking trip in the region nineteen years earlier and Mara is convinced that she can solve the mystery of her sister's disappearance and possible murder based on a series of photographs of orchids she found in a moldy camera she believes belonged to her sister. The local police direct her to contact the local orchid expert, Julian, a British expatriate landscaper and author, who eventually becomes both a confidante and a suspect.

A half-dozen different theories to solve the mystery emerge along with new suspicious characters in a twisting plot that kept me guessing until the end. Even when the mystery may seem solved, it's not. A series of local aristocracy, villagers, outcasts, and expatriots round out the characters.

In addition to the suspense, there are the usual florid descriptions of French cuisine and landscape as well as orchid lore throughout the book. That's fine with me, as I am usually reading that kind of stuff anyway. I did find, however, that the bits between the very suspenseful action didn't seem to help the plot along and I was sometimes a little bored. The "romantic" interests in the book left me cold. Where was the French passion? Maybe lost because everyone's a suspect? Creepy!

Overall: B

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Welcome to the blog!

This is my first experience with blogging and I've decided it might be worthwhile. I am going to try to create a forum for readers, librarians, and book lovers in general and see how it evolves. Maybe it will be me all by my lonesome, or maybe it will go worldwide! Maybe it will be a place for me to chat about what I'm reading or a safe place for others to ask questions or a meeting place for information lovers. We'll see. At the very least I'm playing with this "HOT" technology and that's what librarians are supposed to do, right?

My favorite blog inspired me to do it myself. When I was voting for the Webby Awards this spring I came upon www.101cookbooks.com, a terrific blog that's so well done I didn't even realize that's what it was until after visiting a few times. Besides the cursory information in my information technologies class, I hadn't really explored the genre at all and this great blog made me curious to see what I could do.

Okay, world, here goes!

Love, Your Friendly Librarian