30 December 2004

Reads & Listens, December 2004

Reads:

Good Grief by Lolly Winston
I wasn't prepared to like this book (the idea of widowlit just turned my stomach), but it turned out to be quite a charming read.

The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Book One) by Jonathan Stroud
Wow. It's as if Terry Pratchett wrote an alternative to Harry Potter, but better. Can't wait to read the second book.

Susannah Morrow by Megan Chance
Charity's mother dies in child birth on the same day her beautiful and worldly aunt arrives from England ... Set in Salem at the very start of the witch trails, this is a weirdly flat and underdeveloped book. The sex scenes seemed like they belonged in a different story altogether and the narrator switch was just plain annoying.

Miracle Fruit by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Poems so gorgeous and smart, you just want to eat them up!

Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke (trans. by Anthea Bell) & illus. by Kerstin Meyer
Violetta wants to be as good a knight as her brothers, but they make fun of her for being very bad at it. She practices and practices until she is just as good and earns their respect. Then her dad (who has encouraged her to behave like her brothers) tells her to get gussied up because all the brave knights are going to compete for her hand in marriage. Of course, she fights under an assumed name, beats the other knights, and makes her own choice about who'll she marry. On the one hand, an empowering book. On the other, disappointing. Mom is dead, the other adult female character is weak, dad doesn't come off well, and the whole "princess got married and lived happily ever after" shtick seems like a weird tack-on. The story could just as easily have ended with the princess winning her right to chose. We didn't need to see her make a choice, but maybe that's just me grinding my axe.

Yum Yum Dim Sum by Amy Wilson Sanger
Another tasty selection from the World Snacks series by Tricycle Press. Same style as First Book of Sushi -- adorable little board book with heavily textured paper collage illustrations. Chinese names are used for most of the dishes and there is a glossary on the back cover.

We Are Americans: Voices of the Immigrant Experience by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler
Very moving look at immigration in America from ancient times to the modern. Includes many letter and diary excerpts to provide a first person point of view. The use of graphics is very good -- I was particularly taken with the use of before and after shots of the Native American youth who was "Americanized." This is not the sort of book to read if you're looking for blithe patriotism and it is disturbing in that so little in our attitude toward immigrants has changed.

If Not For the Cat by Jack Prelutsky (illus. by Ted Rand)
"If not for the cat, / And the scarcity of cheese, / I could be content." Seventeen beautifully illustrated haiku express the thoughts of seventeen different animals. Excellent introduction to haiku and just plain fun.

Inventing Beauty by Teresa Riordan
Fascinating and rather funny look at beauty innovations in America from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

The Runes of the Earth by Stephen R. Donaldson
It was with mixed feelings that I picked up this novel. When I read the first series in high school, I developed a stupid teenage geek girl crush on the Bloodguard (don't ask) from which I am apparently not fully recovered as hearing they were "Masters of the Land" in the new series creeped me out a bit. Also, while I liked Linden Avery a lot, I did not like the second series all that much. On the other hand, I really disliked Thomas Covenant (yet loved the first series) and he was supposed to be dead ...

Happily, this novel turned out to be a pretty ripping story and I look forward to reading the next two even if they do feature Covenant the Annoying.

The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup by Terry Farish (illus. by Barry Root)
Beautifully illustrated story about two old curmudgeons -- a good'ol Texas boy and "his" cat. Brilliant.

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas
First book in the Wallflowers series. Annabelle is a wallflower desperate to marry well in order support her family. Simon is the butcher's son turned millionaire. She despises him. He pursues her doggedly. Yes, much of this novel is predictable, but Kleypas does a good job of telling what happens after the wedding. She also covers the economic and class shifts of the period pretty well.

Listens:

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie (read by David Suchet)
Collection of short stories starring that famous Belgian Detective. Always fun.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (read by David Suchet)
Read this book years ago, so I knew everyone had done it, but not how or why. Suchet is, as always, an excellent reader.

30 November 2004

Reads & Listens, November 2004

Reads:

Duck for President by Doreen Cron (illus by Betsy Lewin)
Tired of doing farm chores, Duck decides there should be an election. Of course, Duck wins ... the story is rather witty and the illustrations are highly amusing.

The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men: Every Man I Love is Either Married, Gay, or Dead by Jill Conner Browne
Pretty good. I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much as the Big-Ass Cookbook, but I still laughed my way through most of it. The bit about Man Ears? So true. You say "Can you get me that bowl?" and he hears "I want to give you a blow job right now."

Book! Book! Book! by Deborah Russ (illus. by Tiphanie Beeke)
The farm animals go to the library and try to check out books, but the librarian can't understand them. The illustrative style is very warm and simple, but never boring. The story is so much fun -- funny, cute, pro-library, and full of animal noises.

Kitten's First Full Moon written & illus. by Kevin Henkes
"It was Kitten's first full moon. When she saw it, she thought, There's a bowl of milk in the sky. And she wanted it." Ah, silly kitten. A very charming story and the rather clever black and white illustrations are so luminous they give the perfect sense of a moonlit evening.

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis
Very dark, but also quite funny.

30 October 2004

Reads & Listens, October 2004

Reads:

Wonder When You'll Miss Me by Amanda Davis
Faith, a victim of gang rape, runs away to join the circus. I loved this book so much (a definite re-read) and looked forward to reading more of Davis's work only to find out she died last year. Aside from a short story collection, this is it (and yet Danielle Steel continues to churn them on out).

The Fandom of the Operator by Robert Rankin Better than a kick in the pants, but that's not saying much. If you've never read any Rankin, I wouldn't recommend starting with this book.

Listens:

Lake Wobegon Days & More News From Lake Wobegon written & performed by Garrison Keillor Nice light listen for the too long and too often repeated commute.

Emma by Jane Austen (read by Mrs. Elton Juliet Stevenson) Is it me or does Emma come across as a real bitch more often than not? And Mr. Frank Churchill is horrible! How could Jane Fairfax still love him? Grr. Regardless, this is a nice reading of an old favorite and kept me happily distracted while sitting in stopped traffic for ages at a go. Stevenson does a particularly good job with Miss Bates -- a little odd, because she played Mrs. Elton in the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma so I was expecting her Mrs. Elton to be excellent and not to sound so very much like Miss Bingley in the BBC version of P&P, but what do I know??

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (read by Captain Hastings Hugh Fraser)
Ten strangers lured to a mysterious island under false pretenses and slowly murdered in accordance with an old nursery rhyme ... Brilliant reading of an old favorite.

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie (read by Hugh Fraser)
Poirot receives a rather interesting letter from "ABC," then Mrs. Ascher's found murdered in Andover and an ABC Railroad Guide is left at the scene ... what does it all mean? Can Poirot get to the root of the murders before ABC gets through the whole alphabet? Well, yes, obviously Poirot will win, but the figuring out of who and how and why is still quite fun.

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding (read by Josephine Bailey)
Tried reading the book, but had a hard time suspending my disbelief. Also, kept finding references to 9/11 and Al-Queda a little jarring in what might otherwise have passed as a fluffy little chick lit novel with techno accessories. Happily, the audiobook was quite fun. Obviously, some stories are just better read aloud.

28 October 2004

Soup, Glorious Soup

Roasted the much lusted over turkey breast last Sunday and, oh, it was so good. Happily ate turkey sandwiches for two days -- thick slices of turkey with whole fat mayonnaise, fresh ground salt and pepper, and whole fruit cranberry sauce on some nice seeded "Italian" bread. Double yum with nobs on.

Made soup yesterday between class meetings, because turkey soup is nice and forgiving about time. Take all day or a couple of hours -- it doesn't seem to matter much.

How I made soup: threw the turkey carcass, carrots, onion, bouquet garni (parsley, cloves, bay, allspice, peppercorns), slightly crushed peppercorns, and kosher salt in a big pot. Topped the whole thing off with water and a liberal squeeze of lemon and then let it simmer for six hours or so while I ran about doing assignments.

Eventually, I drained the pot's contents through a cheesecloth-lined colander into a big basin and let it cool enough to handle. Picked the carrots and onion bits out and set aside. Separated edible turkey bits from inedible and was leg-humped by many lustful cats who believe there's no such thing as inedible anything. Skimmed the fat off the top of the broth and poured back in the pot. Mashed the carrots and onions a bit and also put back in the pot. Ditto the turkey, some diced potatoes, egg noodles, crushed garlic, a double fistful of parsley, and some leftover corn. Let cook for while and then taste-tested. Added a few bouillon cubes and a couple dashes of hot pepper sauce to round it out.

Ended up with 2 64-oz containers of glorious, scrumptious, turkey-licious soup -- a most productive and gratifying way to end the day, I tell you.

15 October 2004

Sippin' Cider Through A Straw

It's fall, you know. The drive to/from university is actually quite pretty now. All the trees are turning orange or red or that really nice greeny-gold. Little farm stands have sprung up everywhere selling pumpkins, apples, cornstalks, gourds, and mums. The cider mill is open and producing great gallon jugs of sweet cider for my consumption. Sweet, sweet unpasteurized cider in gallon jugs ... I love you. Fresh from the press, you go so well with gingerbread donuts and meatloaf sandwiches and if I pace myself and do not drink you down in a matter of hours, you eventually develop that perky tang suggesting there's a bit of fermentation going on. Mmmm. A perpetual supply of sweet cider just on the edge of hardness ... I'd give up chocolate for it.

Anyway, it's fall and finally it's nice weather for cooking. Roasted a chicken last week -- stuffed it with a quartered onion and then rubbed all the chicky's nooks and crannies with a paste made from olive oil, crushed garlic, fresh milled salt and pepper, and generous handfuls of thyme. Yummy. Then, of course, I made soup. Honestly, I made the chicken because I wanted the soup and you can't have the soup without the chicken carcass. Well, you could, but it wouldn't be real chicken soup, but some unloved cousin. Might as well just go open a can of something, instead.

There is a turkey breast in the freezer I've been dreaming about turning into soup for months now. Turkey soup takes a little more planning than chicken -- the bird takes so long to thaw, I have to make sure it will be ready for roasting on a day I have time to cook and then I also have to make sure I will have time to make the soup a few days afterward. Oh, I know, I could freeze the carcass and make soup later, but that isn't really any fun. I want to make the soup while the whole roasted turkey experience is still fresh in my mind.

Food geek.

30 September 2004

Reads & Listens, September 2004

Reads:

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
Originally published in France as Persepolis 3 and 4. More brutal than the first collection and extremely moving.

Wall Around Eden by Joan Slonczewski
I enjoyed Door into Ocean and Daughter of Elysium so I purchased this book with high expectations. Ah well, it wasn't awful, but it also wasn't good. Fair to middling, perhaps. Post-apocalyptic Quaker teen angst with strange geography (where's Africa and the Middle East?) and unappealing attitudes toward homosexuality?

Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes
Found this in the catalog under "sushi -- fiction" (along with Rosemary Wells's Yoko) and just had to try it. Sushi for Beginners would probably make a good travel read in that bits of it are repetitive enough you're not likely to forget who is who or what is what and, while the story is familiar enough that you know there won't be any nasty surprises, it's also nice enough (or funny enough) you don't care how predictable everything is. My only real complaint is that, despite the title, sushi barely factors into this book.

First Book of Sushi by Amy Wilson Sanger
Part of the World Snacks series from Tricycle Press, this is a most adorable little board book about sushi. Each page describes a particular kind of Japanese food in bouncy rhyme -- "I see take-out tekka maki, kappa maki packed to go. Temaki-style hand roll with uni urchin roll. Miso in my sippy cup, tofu in my bowl. Crab and avocado fill my California roll." The heavily textured paper collage illustrations work well with the text. Japanese names are used for most of the dishes and there is a glossary on the back cover.

Everday Low-Carb Slowcooker Cookbook by Kitty Broihier & Kimberly Mayone
I'm not a great fan of the low-carb trend, but I am a sucker for slow cooker recipes so it was with mixed feelings that I borrowed this book. Well, it's probably one of the best slow cooker books I've ever used -- the recipes use readily available "real" ingredients and have very simple, straight forward directions. Even better, the results all tasted good (I copied so many recipes down, I might as well have bought the book).

The Autumn Equinox: Celebrating the Harvest by Ellen Jackson & illus. by Jan Devy Ellis Discusses the importance of harvest festivals among various peoples. Includes coverage of the August Moon Festival, the American Thanksgiving of 1621, the Green Corn Dance of the Iroquois as well as Pongal and Sukkot. Also, there is a section of recipes and crafts in the back. Book isn't very detailed, but it does act as a good introduction.

The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln written by Mike Reiss & illus. by David Catrow I picked this book up mostly because of Reiss's op-ed in the Los Angeles Times about how dirty-minded people don't like his book. Generally speaking, this is a pretty innocuous story with an interesting illustrative style. Okay, well, Brother Dickie's head does look a lot like a scrotum/penis combo, but most caricatures of Nixon do. My only really concern is that I don't know if most kids will get the reference. On the other hand, is this book really meant for children or is it just another picture book marketed to their parents?

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip written by George Saunders & illus. by Lane Smith The gappers love the goats, you see, but the gappers make the goats rather nervous and they stop producing milk so the children of Frip spend their days collecting gappers in their gapper-sacks and throwing them into the sea. Of course, it can't go on this way forever, and one day the least stupid gapper realizes something brilliant ... well, brilliant for gappers, anyway. Marvelously strange and slyly instructive with lyrical prose that's perfect for reading aloud. Must buy.

06 September 2004

Good Company & Good Food

The Best Friend came down from the wilds of New Hampshire over Labor Day weekend and we had a grand old time. Lots of talk and mass consumption of good food including lots of sushi. As she pointed out, the drive is not that bad and there's no reason we shouldn't see each other more often. I can't see getting up there more often this year, but there's hope for next year. Just another thing to look forward to once I finish the bloody degree.

As I mentioned, we ate a lot of sushi while she was here. We both like sushi, but neither of our significant others do. The Husband wouldn't care if I ate sushi in front of him, but I find I need a co-conspirator to bolster my courage when it comes to actually ordering the lovely stuff. Thank god for The Best Friend, eh? Friday night we had a really nice "New York" style maki sushi at Nanami -- salmon, apple, and avocado. Yumm. Had been a little worried about re-visiting this restaurant as it was supposed to be under new management, but everything was just excellent. The miso soup, was some of the best I've had anywhere -- rich and smoky with generous amounts of tofu and seaweed. Happily, while not a chopsticking master, I managed not to throw most of supper down my front.

Sunday, we visited Singapore's Grill. Didn't know it existed at all until I saw its booth at the garlic festival -- then realized the restaurant was all of five minutes from my house. Service was almost overwhelmingly friendly and, based on staff recommendation, we tried the dynamite roll -- salmon, carrot, scallion, and veg. rolled with the seaweed and the rice and then dipped in tempura, deep fried, and topped with a spicy sauce. Really incredible. The outside was just a little crispy and warm while the insides where all crunchy and cool. Someday soon I will go back and try the other sushi the staff recommended, because they all sounded really scrumptious.

Lest it sound like we did nothing but eat, we did visit the Lyman Allen Museum -- beautiful building that must have had a fantastic view before industrialization and the highway intruded. Not a bad collection of art, either, and good company to be viewing it with. Some of the colonial era portraiture was very dour, but the landscapes and historical themes (more my thing) were very interesting. The Nut Museum exhibit was just obscene. I know I have very juvenile sensibilities, but I dare you to tell me there was nothing naughty about those nuts. Less giggle fit inducing was the traveling Centennial Tree Exhibit -- some really wonderful pieces highlighting the diversity of artwork that be created from a single oak tree.

Yup. A pretty great holiday weekend.

30 August 2004

Reads & Listens, August 2004

Reads:

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass & illus. Debbie Harter
Doesn't cover the whys and wherefores of vegetarianism, but is more a story about tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Text is, maybe, too complicated, but that shouldn't be such a problem if it's read aloud with lots of side conversation about the pictures, vegetarianism, and whatnot. Anyway, it's not like there are a lot of picture books covering vegetarianism out there. Illustrations are very bright and amusing.

Goddesses: A World of Myth and Magic by Burleigh Mutén & illus. by Rebecca Guay
The illustrations are gorgeous, but the goddesses all lean toward the classic Western definition of beauty and the brief descriptions of each goddess are really shallow (or just plain wrong).

A Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman
Excellent historical fiction about a young Puritan woman in pre-Revolutionary Boston who rescues some drowning English git and ends up losing her livelihood because of it. I picked this book up a couple times before I finally decided to read it -- the back blurb made the story sound rather more fluffy and romantic than it turned out to be. I was really pleased that Makepeace was such a strong and interesting character who lived life on her own terms.

Brown Bear Gets in Shape by Alan Durant & illus. by Annabel Hudson
Easy reader consisting of two stories: Brown Bear in the Dark and Brown Bear Gets in Shape. First story is fairly forgettable tale about not jumping to conclusions or thinking the worst of things. Second story covers body image -- we all have our own shape, love your body, blah, blah, blah. Illustrations are soft and complement the story.

Black Bird House by Alice Hoffman
Series of twelve interconnected stories all centered around a white farm house on Cape Cod. Haunting, lyrical, mystical standard Hoffman. I read it all in one go and perhaps that was a mistake as, by the time I got to the end, I felt bludgeoned by symbolism and metaphor. Whack! The white crow! Whack! The sweet peas! Whack! Tangled, bittersweet love! Whack! Whack! Whack!

The Cat's Vacation written & illus. by Irene Schoch
From the reviews I read, this sounded like a very cute story. Who hasn't wondered what kind of mischief their cat gets up to when the humans are away? (And anything that involves penguins is bound to be pleasing). However, the story seemed rather flat and lacking the silliness suggested in several reviews. The illustrations were unappealing and even a little nauseating -- although that may have less to do with the colors used and more to do with my copy smelling like acetone.

The Village Bride of Beverly Hills by Kavita Daswani
Better than For Matrimonial Purposes, but still a bit of a let down. Too much seemed contrived and many of the characters where just broad stereotypes and the ending! WTF?

Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh
Forced to attend a house party, the Widow Derrick is introduced to Wulfric, Duke of Bewcastle. She's not his type and he's not hers, but they're both fascinated by each other. Much verbal fencing and sexual tension later, everyone lives happily ever after. While much of the dialogue (and some of the plot) owes a great deal to Pride and Prejudice this novel is not some pale Austen-wannabee. The characters are, for the most part, well drawn and quite compelling. I like that the protagonists' familial relationships were all made much of in this novel, but I fear that will amount to a bunch of spin off novels. For a romance novel, there wasn't all that much sex and what there was was very good -- just two similarly minded adults having a really nice time. No weird hang-ups or seductions, thank you very much.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Gemma is sixteen and wants nothing more than to get the hell out of India and experience the England of her grandmother's letters. After her mother is murdered by some mysterious evil being and her father breaks down, Gemma is sent to a finishing school in London where things are not as they appear. Lots of detail about Victorian class structure, a bit of romance, oodles of mystery and supernatural oddness make this an excellent (if unsatisfying) read. It seems obvious there will be a sequel or two, but that seems to be the way they write books these days. Goshdarnit.

Listens:


On the Bright Side, I'm now the Girlfriend of a Sex God by Louise Rennison (read by Stina Nielsen)
Pretty much the same plot as the first, but not very funny, and Georgia is a complete bitch.


Feed by M. T. Anderson (read by David Aaron Baker)
Set in a dying America where 75% of the population is physically hardwired into the "Feed" (the Internet meets the Home Shopping Network meets Fox News on steroids) which is controlled by a few select corporations. We've pretty much destroyed the world, but seem oblivious to what that means. As long as there's stuff to buy and the Feed is telling us it's all okay, we're a happy bunch. All the reviews bandied around words like "chilling satire" and "dystopian" and "Orwellian." Well, I guess it was rather creepy and chilling if you don't already have paranoid fantasies about the probable future of a nation driven by consumption. Listening to Feed was much easier than reading it (couldn't get through the language barrier) and came with bonus ads which gave me a good feel for the Feed.

30 July 2004

Reads & Listens, July 2004

Reads:

Yossel: April 19, 1943 by Joe Kubert
In this compelling graphic novel, Kubert explores what might have happened if his family hadn't migrated from Poland in 1926. The rough penciled illustrations and the overall sketchbook feel of this book make reading it a very intimate experience. While I knew very well there could be no happy ever after, the ending hurt, anyway.

Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed
In Reed's near future America Beauty is God and if you don't fit the accepted mold then there are ways of making you fit. For your own good, of course. Supposedly, a chilling satire, but the novel just seemed kind-of sucky to me. I know, not very erudite, but I'm not Booklist or Publisher's Weekly, now am I?

War of the Flowers by Tad Williams
Failed rock star wannabee is sucked into Fairy Land ... too long and pretty unspectacular. I don't know ... it seemed like Stephenson's Diamond Age crossed with Gaiman's Stardust and then extra bits whacked on to thicken it up.

Kill Your Boyfriend by Grant Morrison, Philip Bond, D'Israeli, and Daniel Vozzo.
Girl, seeing the dead-end life she's headed for, meets an unsuitable lad and goes on a crime spree which culminates in a showdown at Blackpool Tower (I mean, who hasn't fantasized about blowing that sucker up?). A fast paced, funny, and deliciously twisted read. My only real disappoint was the end -- it came too soon and left me with too many questions.

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
A witty and intelligent response to those claims that Austen's life was one of little incident. Full of deliciously gossipy details about Austen's family and neighbors. Wonderful.

The Singer of All Songs (Book One of the Chanters of Tremaris Trilogy) by Kate Constable
Priestess runs off with mysterious wounded stranger after evil dude comes to her land to kill him and master her group's particular kind of magic. Most of the story centers around trying to outwit and destroy the evil dude (he wants to become the "Singer of All Songs" and rule the world). Although the world building was pretty good, the people in it seemed like stock characters and it was hard to muster up any real concern for them. I'm guessing that the priestess will be revealed as the real Singer in later books and save the world. Or something.

Inventing Elliot by Graham Gardner
After having the crap beat out of him at his old school, Elliott is desperate to fit in at his new one. Ironically, he does such a good job of "standing out in the right way" that he attracts the interest of The Guardians -- 1984 inspired student organization that runs the school ... Creepy little book well worth reading by any adult who thinks school's all sweetness and light. The plot does take a while to get going (Elliot's crisis of conscious doesn't come for ages and when it does, it's not as compelling as I expected) and sometimes it is too heavy handed in its usage of elements from 1984, but then the YA audience this book is targeted at may never have ready Orwell. If you read The Chocolate War, you might like reading this.

Listens:

Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison (read by Stina Nielsen)
Double plus good with knobs on. Story is extremely funny, but also extremely "young Bridget Jones." Nielson does an excellent job narrating this novel -- she has just the right tone.

The Paid Companion by Amanda Quick (read by Michael Page) 
Ruined by her stepfather's failed investments, Elenora Lodge sets out to experience the world on her own terms. Along the way, she meets an Earl looking for a paid companion to act as his fiance while he hunts down his great-uncle's murderer (trust me, it sounds more complicated than it is). A pretty good story overall with none of the annoying Vanza rubbish found in other Quick books. Page does a good job handling descriptions, but his dialoging isn't brilliant. The voice for the Earl, in particular, is very nasal and unattractive.

30 June 2004

Reads & Listens, June 2004

Reads:

The Fattening Hut by Pat Lowry Collins
Prose poem. Painful.

Meridian: Flying Solo by Barbara Kesel (illus. by Steve McNiven, et al)
First seven issues of the Cross Gen series, Meridian. Nicely illustrated story about a gifted girl trying to get home to save her people. I haven't read a lot of comics since the Sandman and Death series, but this was just stunning. Can't wait to read the other volumes -- I borrowed the first volume from the library and it just tickles me to know we're finally buying comics. Or manga. Or graphic novels. Or whatever you call it.

Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders
Takes you room by room through a Victorian household and explains the whys and wherefores of housekeeping in that era. Includes excerpts from guides, diaries, novels, and poems of the day. Excellent companion book when watching 1900 House or reading a period novel.

The Peppered Moth by Margaret Drabble
Odd and rather bitter, but quite readable. Skipped the afterword in which Drabble talks about her mother, because I like the characters as they are now in my head and any hint of reality will wreck that.

Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the Country by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
Think Austen with wizards and you're not far off. Now, I like period novels, particularly with lots of cunning conversation and while this book has that in spades, it also has a strong sense of ... joy? The novel reads as if the authors had a grand time writing it (and, from the afterword, I guess they did). I look forward to reading the sequel, The Grand Tour, whenever it comes out.

A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
Edwardian Europe with witches. It's not jam packed with magic, so readers looking for alternate Harry Potters may be disappointed and the romantic subplot isn't very swoony so other readers may be put off, but if you're looking for something familiar yet strange and don't mind disorderly prose, then read this book. I'm not damning with faint praise -- I liked this book, but I understand it may not appeal to many. Their loss.

Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II by Emily Yellin
Fascinating. Using a wide range of sources, including personal interviews,letters and diaries, this book offers a look at what really went on with American women during WWII. Covers everything from Julia Child's work with the OSS ... to daily life at Topaz ... to the witch hunt for lesbians in the WACs ... to the dubious existence of Tokyo Rose ... and all points between.

Daughter of the Blood: Book One of the Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop
Bizarre, but I don't usually go for the whole demons and vampires thing. The evasive language ("broken on his spear") used to describe the heavily eroticized violence is rather sickening, too.

Linux for Non-Geeks: A Hands-On, Project-Based, Take-It-Slow Guidebook by Rickford Grant
Easier to get into and seemingly more usable than other guides on the market which either make me feel dumber than dirt or irritate the bejeesus out of me by reading like geekboy pr0n. Mmmm ... pr0n ...

And, golly, what flavor of Linux is it promoting? Why, it's Fedora Core One! Let's just hope the stock keeps going up, m'kay?

The Corset Diairies by Katie MacAlister
While story sounded rather entertaining -- a plump thirty-nine year old American genealogist plays the role of an American duchess in a British reality program and falls for the leading man -- the book was really quite dumb. So dumb and annoying, in fact, I gave up trying to read it and just skimmed the last half.

Deal With the Devil by Liz Carlyle
Aubrey "Montford," a widow with a young son, is the housekeeper at Cardow which is property of Giles Lorimer, Earl of Walrafen, who avoids Cardow because of its painful memories. When there is a murder, these two are thrown together and long buried secrets come to light ... Gah. Pretty okay if you're looking for something fluffy and immemorable. Maybe, I'm in the wrong mood for reading romance. Maybe, I should be reading some Irvine Welsh, instead. Mmmm ... Trainspotting for the fourth time ...

Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
Nac Mac Feegle! Tiffany Aching! Granny Weatherwax! Woo-hoo! While not the best Discworld novel ever, still pretty great.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen & Bahija Lovejoy
Based on a folktale from Iraq. A strong-willed young woman disguises herself as a man and travels by caravan to a distant city where she sets up shop to help her impoverished family. Good plot, excellent use of language, and sweetly romantic.

Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller
Also published as A Place for Us (1967). Classic lesbian fiction about two young women in early 19th century Connecticut who fall in love. Really good romance told from both points of view. Funny and loving, but not all cutesy pie. There's an interview with Miller here.

Megatokyo, Volume 1 by Fred Gallagher & Rodney Gaston
Adventures of two Americans in Tokyo. I'm not l33t enough to appreciate this comic, because it didn't seem all that amusing to me (but, I love the t-shirts)? The Husband liked this collection a lot, and I'm guessin' he's representative of the key demographic. All l33t hax0r an' shit.

Back Home by Michelle Magorian
At age seven, Rusty was evacuated to America. Now that the War's over, she's returned home to find everything is more strange than familiar. Lots of conflict between American and English social norms -- after reading this book, I could really hate the English middle class. There are no surprises in this book (you can see everything coming a mile off), but it's still a good read and a nice YA introduction to English life post WW2.

The Forestwife by Theresa Tomlinson
Mary doesn't want to marry the old dude her uncle's picked for her so she hies herself off to the woods where she befriends the Forestwife and falls in love with some ne'er-do-well named Robin. Pretty interesting story and Mary is a strong female protagonist. However, there are some pretty heavy topics -- rape, miscarriages, and postpartum depression, as well as religious and familial skulduggery -- which may make this book a little mature for the juvenile collection (which is where my library files it).

Listens:

Wicked Widow by Amanda Quick (ready be Barbara Rosenblat)
A widow rumored to have murdered her husband seeks the aid of a mysterious Vanza master to free her from her husband's ghost who is out to destroy what is left of her family. More fun than Slightly Shady -- the dialog is quite amusing in places -- and the quasi-Eastern mysticism/martial arts rubbish isn't as annoying as in I Thee Wed. Rosenblat reads well, as always. Book is followed by an interview with Krentz (an ex-librarian) covering everything from how she writes to how romance literature is viewed.

17 June 2004

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Oh My!

I made pies for my Dad -- strawberry-rhubarb and lemon meringue! Who needs cake? I love strawberry rhubarb pie since this is the perfect time of year for it. Sure, you could use frozen rhubarb and out of season strawberries to make it in October, but that would be utterly disgusting. Proper strawberry rhubarb pie is made in June with local berries and fresh rhubarb out of the backyard. I cheat and use a ready-made refrigerated crust, but I dust it pretty liberally with ginger and cinnamon and then glaze it with egg or milk to give it a faux homemade look.

The filling recipe is straight out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, but I'm a bit more liberal with the spices and a bit more conservative with the sugar. The filling should not be a sugary gelatinous pink ooze, but moderately firm and chunky with the perfect mingling of rhubarb and strawberry flavors. The crust should be buttery (with just a whiff of ginger) and flaky -- not soggy and bland. Soggy and bland is always a no, dahlings.

Until Sunday, I had never made a meringue before. It always seemed really complicated and scary. Egg whites! Cream of tarter! All that sugar! And the whipping! So much whipping! And then it all collapses into a rubbery heap, anyway! Surprisingly, meringue making turned out pretty easy. I used the meringue recipe in the red-and-white Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook and it was all very straight forward. Oh, there was a lot of whipping to be sure, but that's what the KitchenAid is for.

Bless the KitchenAid.

30 May 2004

Reads & Listens, May 2004

Reads:

The Stone Fey by Robin McKinley (illus. by John Clapp)
Stand-alone novella set in Damar long after Aerin (The Hero and the Crown). Beautifully illustrated and well told story full of passion and longing. Romantics may be disappointed with the ending, but I loved it.

Truer Than True Romance: Classic Love Comics Retold by Jeanne Martinet
Slyly silly re-write of those horrible romance comics. I think my favorite was "My Heart Said Yes, But My Therapist Said No," but the advise column ran a close second.

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
While not quite as excellent as all the hype suggests, it's still a fascinating look at a very impressive woman. Similes and metaphors occasionally get a bit overwrought and the overall style is uneven -- sometimes very descriptive and moving, but frequently flat and dry as textbook. Still worth borrowing from the library.

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip
What's not to like? Marauding time-traveling kings, librarians, mages, illusion, love ... yummy.

Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French (illus. by Bruce Whatley)
Wonderfully funny tongue-in-cheek look at a week in the life of a wombat. Illustrations, while very cuddly, are realistic -- the wombat is not anthropomorphized into something foolish.

Madras on Rainy Days by Samina Ali
While I am getting a little tired of the recurring gay Indian bridegroom theme, this novel is still well worth reading.

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer (read by Scott Brick)
Mormon Fundamentalists, the history of the LDS church, and the Lafferty brothers. Scary. Repelling. And yet, strangely compelling.

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
I'm sure it's all very clever and a true Austenphile would have great fun with it, but I found it rather disappointing. Snobbish and plotless, but hasn't Austen been accused of the same?

Everything I Know About Pirates written & illus. by Tom Lichtenheld
Arrr, me hearties, it's all about pirates, you know. But is it true? You'd have to go find a pirate and ask, I guess. This book is extremely detailed, witty, and filled with hidden jokes. Great fun.

How Smudge Came by Nan Gregory (illus. by Ron Lightburn)
Cindy finds a puppy (Smudge) and smuggles him into her group home only to be found out and told she can't keep him. Deeply touching without being mawkish. Illustrations are really quite lovely. In 1996, this picture book won the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Book Prize and Mr. Christie's Book Award.

Dr. Ernest Drake's Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons by Dugald Steer & illus. by Helen Ward & Wayne Anderson
This is one of the niftiest books I have ever lusted to own. The cover art, the foldout map, cutouts, dragon scale samples, note cards and whatnot are all very clever and amusing. It's the sort of book you expect they read at Hogwarts. A brilliant birthday present for an eleven year old (or a favorite librarian -- all my co-workers are in love with it, too).

Molly's Family by Nancy Garden (illus. by Sharon Wooding)
One of Molly's classmates tells her she can't have two mommies and Molly is very bewildered by that. The treatment of the subject is quite sensible and the illustrations are very soft and friendly looking. The library I borrowed this book from shelves it separately in the "Parents Collection" rather than intermingled with the other picture books. I can see why, but it still annoys me, because it would do more good out in the general collection (but what do I know?).

The Ordinary by Jim Grimsley
Set in the same universe as Kirith Kirin, but you don't have to have read one to enjoy the other. Interesting look at the fine line between magic and technology with a fairly unique treatment of language and mathematics. Contains same sex relationships and religious attitudes which might turn off some readers, but that's their loss. Worth buying? Oh, yes.

Something Rich and Strange (from Brian Froud's Faerielands series) by Patricia McKillip
Pretty good ... a lot of the story's rhythm and description reminded me of The Changeling Sea. Wasn't keen on Froud's illustrations as many didn't seem to fit (more forest than sea).

22 May 2004

Champagne & Churning Juices

Excerpts from love letters addressed to "Lovely One," "Darling Judy," and "Lovely, Delightful, Charming, Beautiful, Sexy, Fascinating, Entrancing, and Beloved One" all postmarked 1975 and found in a cookbook donated to the library:

[Note that the owner of the cookbook was not the person the letters were addressed to.]
"The weather today has been vile, the stock market has re-drooped, and the mildew is settling ever more heavily on this ghastly suburb -- yet withal, I'm in a better mood than usual ... because of you. Falling in love with you is the loveliest thing that ever happened to me (loveliest, that is), and tonight I wanted to tell you so. I wanted to tell you so last night, though I wouldn't have, since I was speaking in public, but I trust that you got the message, which is the same whenever I call: to wit, that I love you, and that I'm calling solely to hear the sound of your voice, and that I can hardly wait to see you again. Anyway, I was disappointed when you didn't answer the phone. There is something about your voice that makes my juices churn, and I miss it when I don't hear it. 
Of course, there are also many other things about you that make my juices churn. I won't enumerate them, there being far too little space remaining on this sheet, nor do I wish to scandalize the postman, the school secretary, the principal, the members of the board of education, your colleagues on the teaching staff, your pupils, or any others whose prying eyes might see this letter in violation of the postal laws and under penalty of TWENTY (20) YEARS IMPRISONMENT. Suffice it to say that the list of juice-churning attributes is lengthy. Very lengthy. Lengthy enough, in fact, to include every lovely hair on your head, every beautiful curve, every gentle look in your eyes, every soft sound that comes from your lips, every one of your fragrances, and every one of your movements. Indeed, I can think of nothing in you that fails to provoke an erotic response in me." 
-- from a letter dated Monday 1/13/1975 
"I've had erotic thoughts of you almost hourly since our last private meeting. One such occurs to me now, perhaps suggested by yesterday's activities: to wit, that I'd love to drink champagne from your navel. And lick it from your breasts. And, as I started to write before the phone rang, from that delightful hollow in the small of your back (giving you, between sips, a leisurely rub with my tongue). 
In the afterglow of your most welcome call, other thoughts now occur to me. Chief among them is that my every contact with you delights and refreshes me: a fact that strikes me anew each time we talk. The sound of your voice, and the things you say, please me like no music I ever heard. Your touch is invariably delicious, and your smiles always thrilling. The moments I've spent with you are the most precious of my life. 
When we were first alone together, and spoke of love, it was, for me, like being a teenager again and discovering love for the first time. That feeling has never faded -- and in fact, is heightened each time I see or hear you. I marvel at it, and at myself (for I'm not a sentimental type), and particularly do I marvel at the joy it gives me." 
-- from a letter dated Monday 12/2/1975
And, because it couldn't be all champagne and churning juices:
"I'm sorry our plans for the weekend didn't develop -- but perhaps it was just as well, though that remains to be seen. When I got home on Friday, my wife announced that she was going to divorce me. It wasn't her first such announcement over the years, but her resolve was firmer by far than I'd ever seen it ... so much so, in fact, that she had already broken the news to my parents and hers and to a few friends as well. 
She changed her mind over the weekend (which she mightn't have done if I hadn't been there), and indeed seemed reasonably well pleased with me when we parted Tuesday morning. But I was and am somewhat puzzled as to why it all came about. On the previous weekend, as I told you, we had argued about many matters, one of them being you and my "trying to make you," as she put it -- and she declared that she would no longer assist me in that effort, would no longer play hostess or otherwise "pimp" for me. Well, I had told her that since you and your husband are among our small circle of very close friends, she would damn well have to accept that we continue to see you frequently. 
That remark apparently kept her at a boil all week. I assumed as we began talking Friday that the content of the remark was the objectionable thing. Maybe my secret knowledge led me to that assumption, or my conscience, or my insensitivity. But before the weekend was half over, we were talking not about you and my desire to "make" you -- but rather, about my dictatorial ways and my manner of delivering the by-then-famous remark. Well, I conceded that point -- and the upshot was, on Monday evening she decided it would be fun to see you and your husband ... and she called to invite you to dinner. Anyway, the crisis seems to be over, and I'll try to avert another. 
-- from a letter dated Monday 9/4/1975

28 April 2004

Reads & Listens, April 2004

Reads:

The Story of Mrs. Lovewright and Her Purrless Cat by Lore Segal (illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky)
Beautifully illustrated and so very funny. Unfortunately, out of print, but you can probably get a copy through your library.

Pigs, Pigs, Pigs! by Lesléa Newman (illus. by Erika Oller)
Really cute rhymes and illustrations -- if you liked Cats, Cats, Cats! you'll like this one, too.

Dogs, Dogs, Dogs! by Lesléa Newman (illus. by Erika Oller)
As usual, the illustrations have lots of detail to keep the little ones fascinated and the rhymes are good for those just learning to count.

Angelica by Sharon Shinn
Set way before the other Samaria books, this is the story of Susannah the Edori and Gaaron the Archangel Elect and loads of other people. Like the last few Samaria books, the endings just ... happen. Things are moving along and everything is all so very interesting and then it's all very hurry up and tidy up for the ending we're done. I am left thinking "But wait! What about x and y and how ..." Still, very enjoyable. I look forward to reading Angelseeker.

On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill
Eh. Novel tried to be too many things and none of them well. Probably, okay as a two episode teevee drama.

Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger 
You know, I'd been waiting to get my hands on this book for a while and when it finally showed up at the library with my name on it I was damned chipper. While I was still pretty bemused when I started the first story, the feeling didn't last. India is just a backdrop, most of the characters are unsympathetic, and the stories are completely unengaging. I don't know ... maybe, it was just all too subtle for me.

Emma Brown by Clare Boylan (based on a manuscript by Charlotte Bronte)
Only the first 20 pages and some random bits are Bronte's. The rest are pure Boylan and, you know, if you want to read about the seamy side of Victorian England, I'd stick with Sarah Waters.

Listens:

Marrying the Mistress by Joanna Trollope (read by Lindsay Duncan)
Hmmm. Not a bad listen. The ending is a bit weak and I never really got a "feel" for some of the characters, but there are some really beautifully worked scenes which more than make up for the book's faults.

I Thee Wed by Amanda Quick (read by Barbara Rosenblat)
Pretty formula driven (if you've read other Quicks you pretty well know how this one will work out), but some of the dialogue is quite charming and it is all nicely read by Rosenblat.

29 March 2004

Reads & Listens, March 2004

Reads:

Pemberley or Pride and Prejudice Continued by Emma Tennant
While this book bills itself as a continuation of Pride and Prejudice it would be cruel to judge it against that brilliant novel. Few of the characters resemble their P&P counterparts in anything more than superficial ways and anyone expecting "real literature" will be disappointed. However if you pretend it's just a coincidence the characters have the same names as Austen characters, Pemberley is okay as a light romance read.

In Full Bloom by Caroline Hwang
Ginger is a twenty something Korean-American whose life isn't going anywhere much and whose mother is anxious to get her married off. Multicultural chick lit. Good, but not fantastic.

Dewey Decimal System of Love by Josephine Carr
Bad. Even for a mindlessly fluffy little romance.

The Librarian's Passionate Knight by Cindy Gerard
Surprisingly sweet and the library shtick didn't annoy me as much as it could have. This book is part of a series and characters/stories from the other books do intrude on this one -- unfortunately "too much tell me" and not enough "show me." If I had read the other books I'd know who the characters were and wouldn't need so much background information. If I had not read the other books, the amount of background information might turn me off.

Listens:

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (read by Barbara Rosenblat)
Found listening to the book to be immensely more enjoyable than reading it. When reading the novel, Bridget's self loathing I-need-a-man whinging set my teeth on edge and I found so much of the book to be hard to swallow (?), but then I'm a smug married and (fingers crossed) will never be an undesirable thirties retread. Or whatever. Rosenblat does a great job with the voices and the characters really come to life. Wouldn't mind owning a copy of the audiobook, really.


Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding (read by Barbara Rosenblat)
Oh my god, I have to own this. Even better than Bridget Jones's Diary! Funnier, sharper, better developed. Sometimes, it was completely impossible to get out of the car until I came to a break, because I had to know what was going to happen. Found myself at odd moments wondering what would happen next and very excited to get back in the car to find out. Quite sad now that it's all finished. Will have to listen to it, again.

Only real problem I had with this novel, is the disappearance of Bridget's brother. While, in the first book, he was seldom mentioned and even more seldom seen, he doesn't appear at all this time round. Not that he was a necessary character -- he could have be edited out of the first book just fine, but he wasn't so he should be mentioned in the sequel, shouldn't he?

Prodigal Summer written and read by Barbara Kingsolver
I loved this book and I'm pretty damned happy with the audiobook. Initially, I was worried that Kingsolver's voice was too quiet and flat, but she did a bang up job. I laughed, I cried, I wanted a sequel. 

Pretty Good Jokes [abridged] by Garrison Keillor
Funny. Every thing from "roll your eyes" stupid to "stop laughing before you hit a tree."

Birth of Venus [abridged] by Sarah Dunant (read by Jenny Sterlin)
Tried to read the novel, but kept getting distracted by life. Abridgment is very suspicious as first two CDs covered everything I read (I didn't read that much) which suggests the rest of the novel had to be squeezed onto the remaining three disks. Know, from the bit I had read, that some significant bits where dropped. Also, Sterlin's voice made me crazy. Would have prefered someone who sounded like the character -- strong, feisty, Italian. Less nasal. And (am I not full of complaints?) there was no real break at the end of each CD. The reading just stopped and cycled back to the beginning. A "This is the end of disc three" or "The Birth of Venus disc one" would have been nice.

27 February 2004

Reads & Listens, February 2004

Reads:

One Kiss from You by Christina Dodd
Pretty good for an impulse pick off the shelving cart. Some of it's a bit trite and some of it's a bit silly, but it made a nice change from Information Literacy and Instruction: Theory & Practice.

Pirates! by Celia Rees
Brilliant. Strong female protagonists, a truly creepy antagonist, lots of historical detail ... perfect. Must own.

The Companions by Sherri S. Tepper
I loved it, of course, but that was a given. As with a lot of Tepper's books, this novel is very dense with ideas and I'm going to need to read it a second or third time in order to "get everything out of it."

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (trans. by Anthea Bell)
Pretty nifty cover art and an interesting premise, but the story drags a bit in places (tho' the end felt rushed) and the characters are a little ... bland. Capricorn, I expect, is supposed to scare the bejesus out of me and I just found him mean and ... campy. Never quite understood what was going on with Dustfinger and Farid, either. This book is a translation and perhaps it reads better in German?

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Picked this up, because it reminded me a bit of Irma Walker's Portal to E'ewere (or what I remembered of that book from having read it fifteen years ago, anyway). Turned out to be nothing like, but that was fine as City is quite brilliant all on its own. Cover art is pretty interesting, too. Ending was a bit of a disappointment as I expected more to happen, but maybe there will be a sequel. Or, maybe, I'm just supposed to use my imagination.

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
Sexy, cute, fun ... pretty much just like the others. I mean, it was good, but I won't go buy a copy, because I don't think I'll be reading it again as it was also annoyingly repetitive and full of undeveloped ideas. It is as if someone had said, "Write a story using Krispy Kreme donuts, chicken marsala, and the following stock characters: the dippy blonde, the tempestuous redhead, the chubby girl, the controlling mother ..." Very sad, because this novel could have worked.

30 January 2004

Reads & Listens, January 2004

Reads:

Sunshine by Robin McKinley
What a great book to start the new year with! If only the rest of the books I read turn out to be so good. Sunshine is very different from any other McKinley book I have read -- darker, harsher, richer. Because it was so different from what I expect from McKinley, I was a bit discombobulated for the first twenty or so pages. Once I let go of preconceptions and just went along with the book, I was completely smitten. Couldn't put it down. You should read it. Yes. Even you who don't read vampire stories, because the Rice books left a bad taste in your mouth.

I have to go buy a copy and I ain't loanin' it to anyone, you hear? Get your own copy.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus written & illus. by Mo Willems
Gah. I keep hearing good words about this book, but I don't see the fascination. On the other hand, I'm not three. Or a pigeon.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Maybe, I'm just Potter-ed out, but this book seemed neither as surprising nor as exciting as I had been given to believe. It was good, yes, but I don't think I'll be re-reading it.

I've just been utterly spoilt by Sunshine, you know.

Time to Pee! written & illus. by Mo Willems
Educational and fun book about, well, how to go pee "properly" with an easy to read page-by-page explanation of the whole process. The mice parading around with their celebratory signage are particularly amusing. (My copy belongs to the library so I didn't see the success chart or stickers that are supposed to be included, but I bet they're fun, too).

Burnt Bread and Chutney: Growing Up Between Cultures -- A Memoir of an Indian Jewish Girl by Carmit Delman
Story of growing up in a rather complicated lifestyle as an Indian and a Jew in America. While the narrator's feelings of isolation are described quite well, the book suffers from under editing. On the other hand, the excepts from Nana-Bai's diary where quite interesting and, while it sounds terribly nosy, I should have liked to have read the whole thing.

Firebirds: An Anthology of Original Fantasy and Science Fiction ed. by Sharyn November
Sixteen entirely new and never before published stories by some pretty renowned fantasy writers. The book's cover art was pretty nifty and what first encouraged me to pick it up. Seeing McKillip, Nix, Alexander, and Pierce (Meredith not Tamora) listed among the contributing authors made me bring it home. However, the collection turned out to be only good at best with many stories of middling appeal. 

Maybe, I expected too much?

Beyond Dolls & Guns: 101 Ways to Help Children Avoid Gender Bias by Susan Hoy Crawford
Nice little book full of simple steps to counter bias at home or school. Includes several informative appendixes ("Nonbiased, Inclusive Language," "Research Summaries," and "Famous Women in History") as well as a bibliography of nonsexist reference books.

Sextoys 101: A Playfully Uninhibited Guide by Rachel Venning & Claire Cavanah
Everything a beginner would want to know about choosing and using a sex toy. Also covers basic anatomy and physiology, oral sex, bondage, lube, and condoms. Nicely designed and chock full of beautiful photographs (I want a Wondrous Vulva Puppet from a House O'Chicks if only because of its photograph).

The Pretender (Book One in the Liar's Club) by Celeste Bradley
An extremely amusing little romance. Lots of witty banter and plot with just a smidgen of pretty well written sex. Even though the book does include the ol' "oops, she's a virgin" sex scene and the incredibly annoying "she's increasing" epilogue, Pretender is one of the better romances I've read.

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of American Women Told Through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances by Laura Schenone
Like many American women living at the beginning of the twenty-first century, I can hear an array of voices speak to me about food. Voices that tell me not to cook so I can have freedom. Voices that tell me I should cook so I can be a better mother. Voices that tell me to eat because it is sensual. Voices that tell me not to eat because I will get fat. Voices that tell me to measure vitamins and calories and to avoid pesticides. Voices that tell me to think about the lives of people who pick and package my food. Voices that tell me to cook because it will please my man. Voices that call out from my own distant ethnic heritage one hundred years after immigration. Voices that lure me to dreams of leisurely taken meals in beautiful restaurants. And a voice somewhere amidst all these telling me to create something beautiful on the table for the people I care about so I can help us enjoy life and one another just a little bit more during our brief time here on earth.

Where do these voices come from? And how did so many conflicts get to be wrapped up in a simple dinner?
(315-316)

She's Not All There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Don't know what to say about this book. From reviews I'd read, I expected a deeply touching and thought provoking book, but in the end it just seemed superficial and yet I still cried my way through it. Hrm. Maybe, I had expected a factual version of Bohjalian's Trans-Sister Radio?

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Quite a nice little book with an approachable "ordinary" storyline and some really gorgeous descriptions. A good distraction from the January blahs.

For Matrimonial Purposes by Kavita Daswani
Stylistically uneven -- the flashback method was a little confusing (sometimes I wasn't sure "when" I was in the book) and while the ending felt rushed some middle bits seemed to take forever. Overall, the book is worth borrowing from the library if you're in the mood for chick lit with a foreign flavor.