Monday, October 30, 2006

Sweet Treats to Read

Halloween is only a day away and in-laws are coming to stay so I know I won't get a chance to get on-line for a while. Let me leave you with a list some of my all-time favorite novels. I hope you like them too!

Possession – A.S. Byatt
My Antonia – Willa Cather
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon
Fifth Business - Roberston Davies
Peace Like a River - Leif Enger
The Master Butcher’s Singing Club – Louise Erdrich
The Forsyte Saga – John Galsworthy
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
The Jump Off Creek – Molly Gloss
Brilliant - Marne Davis Kellogg
Homestead – Rosina Lippi
Chasing Cezanne - Peter Mayle
Queen of the South – Arturo Perez Reverte
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood – Rebecca Wells

Friday, October 27, 2006

New & Notable for Kids

The big fall pile-up of wonderful children's books is underway. I think these are some of the most notable I've seen so far. But I don't feel like writing full-blown reviews right now, so how about you read what the critics have to say instead?

Alabama Moon, by Watt Key - powerful and entertaining writing by a new voice (To read more of my comments on this book, you can go back to the June 9, 2006, entry where I wrote about hearing the author speak.)

“A winningly fresh look at life and culture almost never seen in children’s books.” —The Horn Book

"Key writes honestly about hunting, trapping and the hardships of survival in this rather unusual coming-of-age story." —Kirkus Reviews

"Well written with a flowing style, plenty of dialogue, and lots of action." --The Horn Book

Peter Pan in Scarlet, by Geraldine McCaughrean - the first-ever authorized Peter Pan sequel (for review, follow link)

Not Another Tea Party, by Mark Shulman - simply wonderful, snide, and humorous (for review, follow link)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

1001 Books To Read Before You Die

Earlier this year, a book was released that set out an ambitious list, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, compiled by Peter Boxall, a professor of English Literature at the University of Sussex.

Is it fun to go through the list and count up how many you have read - or not read? Is the glass half empty or half full? Mine is pretty darn empty! I am a regretter. As I counted up my tally, I was thinking, "But what if I own this one and haven't read it yet?" "Oh, I always meant to read this one!" "Why haven't I read that?" "Why aren't the other books I've read by Faulkner, Melville, whomever, on the list?" It was fun and tortuous.

Apparantly the book itself is well written and argues out why books are included on the list. I haven't actually looked at it! I was pretty surprised to see things missing. What was I reading if they aren't on the list? What was I reading in all those English classes? Oh well. has numerous copies of the list. Here's a link to one of them so you can make the count yourself.

My total is a miserable 79 titles. I have a long way to go! (Maybe if I hadn't been reading so much kid lit...)

National Book Award Finalists

The finalists for the National Book Awards were announced on October 11 and the winners will be announced November 15. Now would be a good time to check some of these books out to cast your own mental vote.

Mark Z. Danielewski, Only Revolutions

Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

Richard Powers, The Echo Maker

Dana Spiotta, Eat the Document

Jess Walter, The Zero

Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone

Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust

Peter Hessler, Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present

Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

Louise Gl├╝ck, Averno

H.L. Hix, Chromatic

Ben Lerner, Angle of Yaw

Nathaniel Mackey, Splay Anthem

James McMichael, Capacity

Young People's Literature:
M.T. Anderson, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party

Martine Leavitt, Keturah and Lord Death

Patricia McCormick, Sold

Nancy Werlin, The Rules of Survival

Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese

Horn Book Blog

The other day I stumbled across a blog kept by the editor of the Horn Book magazine, the premier children's book reviewing journal. What a great find! I love having a daily dose of a voice I enjoy so much - and maybe I can keep up with children's book news a little better.

The photographs on the blog from the Boston Globe/Horn Book Awards were taken in the Boston Athenaeum, a very special library where I worked in grad school. It's so fun to see these! And the speeches are fun to listen to too.

Check out the blog and check out the Horn Book magazine, possibly available at your local library, maybe behind the children's desk.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tales of the Otori

Over the last couple of years, I have been reading a wonderful series of novels set in a fictional feudal Japan. The Tales of the Otori, by Lian Hearn, are some of the most captivating novels I have ever read. I am not normally a fan of samurais, nor have I studied ancient Asian cultures since undergrad, yet I have found this series to be one of the most fascinating ever.

The series reads as follows:
Across the Nightengale Floor
Grass for His Pillow
The Brilliance of the Moon
The Harsh Cry of the Heron

Looking at Powell's website, it appears that these novels are categorized as "fantasy" and in that respect, they are similar to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I often think the series would make incredible film. Anyway, the stories follow the fate of an orphaned boy, Takeo, with amazing powers who is rescued when his village is massacred and is adopted by a lord, Otori Shigeru. His new life with Lord Otori leads to the revelation that Takeo has the powers of the Tribe, a network of spies with invisibility, flight, and extraordinary senses.

As the novels progress Takeo is used as a spy, fights in battles,rises in power, and finds epic love with an extraordinary heiress. The inner lives of the characters are beautifully written. The landscapes are gorgeous, the plots are full of intrigue and adventure, the women are powerful - the whole series is just an exceptional treat.

The newest book, The Harsh Cry of the Heron, was just released and was a surprise for me because I thought the end of the third book was a tidy ending for the series. In the fourth novel, we re-join the story after about fifteen years, and watch the unraveling of all that Takeo has built. It is skillfully written and completes the examination of power cycles and the hazards of both war and peace.

Penguin has re-packaged these novels for the young adult audience in a split novel format - making the first three books into six "episodes" - clever marketing!

Try the first novel in the series soon. You won't regret it!

Friday, October 20, 2006

One Book, One Denver

On Tuesday morning, I attended a press conference in the Burnham-Hoyt Reading Room of the Denver Public Library. Mayor John Hickenlooper and officials from the library and the Denver public schools were on hand to announce this year's One Book, One Denver, The Milagro Beanfield War, by John Nichols.

One City, One Book movements have swept the nation since Seattle's Washington Center for the Book came up with the idea in 1998. It's pretty simple - the city will pick one book to focus on for a year and all the reading agencies in the city get behind the title and encourage everyone in the city to read and discuss the book.

This is my first time in a city with this kind of program and I'm excited to see how it works. I'll be leading a discussion group at my library branch and look forward to the varied opinions and points of view that will come out when an entire city reads together.

This is Denver's third year. Past books were:
2005 - Caramelo, by Sandra Cisneros
2004 - Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger

Additional links:

The Center for the Book at the Library of Congress has a list of all the areas in the country that sponser programs of this type.

One Book, One Denver activities sponsered by the Denver Public Library.

Activities and events sponsered by Denver's famous independent Tattered Cover Bookstore.

Let's read together!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cookbook Confidential

If you're into cooking and cookbooks, my favorite blogger, Heidi at, recently reviewed a number of new books out this season (that would be on her October 16th entry).

This week I read one the most exciting non-fiction books I have read in a long time. The United States of Arugula, by David Kamp, explores the rise of gourmet food in America and traces the history of American food over the course of the last century. Following the rise of French cookery, star chefs from Julia Child to Emeril Lagasse, and the roots of the organic food movement, the author engagingly describes how our national palate has changed. Every chapter was a marvel to me and I found myself discussing each new thing I learned with anyone who would listen. I even find myself contemplating raising my own organic approved cows!!! Maybe this book was especially fascinating to me because while I enjoy cooking and trying new foods, I am certainly not a "foodie" - yet. Sometimes I even want to learn French just so I will know how to pronounce chef terms.

Enough with the confessions! If you're interested in how it seems like there has been a sudden explosion of chain gourment restaurants or how the Food Network got so popular, this is the book for you!

Since I'm discussing food books, let me mention a few things I've been using regularly...

I was already a big fan of Cook's Illustrated magazine, but this summer I started subscribing to Cook's Country, their more down-home version. While Cook's Illustrated was fascinating and informative, I actually try cooking most of the recipes in Cook's Country! I especially love the column where people write in looking for a lost recipe they remember from the past and want to re-create. Then other readers write in with their suggestions, and the editors weigh in with a recipe they create. It's great and unlike with some magazines, the recipes have always turned out.

My husband and I try lots of recipes from James McNair's New Pizza cookbook. We love his cornmeal crust and even experiment with different types of flours as we use his basic crust recipe. We try to make a regular activity of making pizza at home.

I was recently at a bookstore and saw the mammoth Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America and Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame (his restaurant has a cookbook too). It looks amazing and is so detailed. Definitely one for the Christmas list!

Are there any cookbooks you find invaluable?


Here is what is on my bookshelf right now:

The Innocent Man, by John Grisham

The United States of Arugula, by David Kamp

The Medici Giraffe: And Other Tales of Exotic Animals and Power, by Marin Berlozerskaya

The Harsh Cry of the Heron: The Last Tale of the Otori, by Lian Hearn

The Right Attitude to Rain, by Alexander McCall Smith

Lucy Rose: Busy Like You Can't Believe, by Katy Kelly