Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mini reviews - The Four Seasons, The Faithful Gardener, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever & The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas

I need to knock out reviews even faster and all four of the following books are from my personal library.  There's really not all that much I have to say about them, so it makes sense to keep them brief. Mini time!

The Four Seasons: Japanese Haiku Second Series is just what it sounds and looks like - a slim volume of carefully-selected and translated Haiku poetry.  There's a nice little 2-page "Note on Japanese Haiku" which talks about the poetic form and describes the known masters whose poetry are most frequently quoted in the book.  At 61 pages, The Four Seasons is the kind of book that you can gobble down in 30 minutes, if you so desire.  But, I prefer to read poetry slowly and let it roll around in my head.

The Four Seasons was published in 1958 by Peter Pauper Press.  My copy is definitely showing it's age, but it's the kind of book you want to hold onto to reread.  Some of the haiku verses are funny, some sad, some thoughtful.  It's a nice selection.  This is one of my favorites:

I particularly love Haiku that makes me smile.  If you love Haiku and can find a copy, this is a great little book.

The Faithful Gardener by Clarissa Pinkola Estes is another quick read, only 81 pages long, published by HarperCollins in 1995.  When I finished the book and set it down, I remember thinking it was going to be hard to describe but I'll do my best.  The author says The Faithful Gardener is a book of stories within stories, much like Russian Matryoshka dolls and, yes, it is definitely that.  But, the basic framework is the tale of her family's storytelling tradition and her education in storytelling at the knees of her family members blended with their terrifying history and how they emigrated to start a new life.

An uncle was among one of the people who were closest to the author and who helped teach her the importance of stories to understanding life.  Many of the author's family members were killed by the Nazis; her uncle was among those who survived and fled to the U.S.

At one point, the U.S. Government takes over some of the family's land by eminent domain, which sends Uncle into despair because the taking of everything he owned was the beginning of horror at the hands of the Nazis.  What Pinkola Estes' uncle does to restore the land and his soul is deeply moving.  Highly recommended to lovers of stories (which pretty much covers everyone reading this, right?) and those who are interested in WWII.

I bought The Four Seasons and The Faithful Gardener at the Mississippi College Library's awesome book sale, a few weeks ago.  My check was written out to "M C Library" but I wrote the "c" smaller than the "M" and "L", so it looks like I made the check out to "McLibrary".  Haha.  There's a concept.

I have almost nothing to say about The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, a reread and another short one, originally published in 1972 (and there's a movie, but I haven't seen it).  My copy was published by HarperCollins. You've probably read it.  If you haven't, you should.  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is one of the cutest Christmas stories I've ever read.  A family of wild children takes over all the major roles in an annual church Christmas pageant when one of the children hears that doughnuts are served at church.  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a riot, but at the same time it manages to be sweet and touching without landing in "totally sappy" territory.  I love it and will continue to reread it at Christmas, when the mood strikes me.  Also, I discovered I cannot spell "pageant" without really focusing.

Last, but not least, is a book that looks Christmasy but really isn't:

The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas by Julia Romp was an impulse purchase.  I tell myself I'm not impulsive when it comes to books (I don't pre-order and almost never go running out to buy a book on its release date) but I lie to myself.  Sam's Wholesale Club is my downfall.  I should never walk down the book aisles.

More suitably titled "A Friend Like Ben" in Great Britain, The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas is as much about the author's experience raising an autistic child as it is about how the cat, Ben (nicknamed "Baboo"), broke through young George's shell and helped him learn to socialize.  It is also about the cat's disappearance, although that happens toward the end of the book.  When author Julia Romp and her son George went to Egypt with a friend on their very first vacation ever, the cat disappeared.  The author details her search and how George regressed during the cat's absence.  Fortunately, as the title indicates, The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas does have a happy ending.

I love cat stories, of course, so I really enjoyed The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas, but do be aware that it's more of a memoir than a Christmas story.  If you're an animal lover, you won't care.  I definitely recommend the book, although it's not one I'll hang onto for a reread.  I would happily frame that kitten cover, though.  That is not actually Ben on the cover, incidentally. If you google an image search of the author, you'll get to see the real Ben.  The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas was published in the U.K. in 2010 but was just released in the US in October of 2012, published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin.

Woot!  4 down!  Are we having fun, or what?

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Being Frank by Donna Earnhardt & Andrea Castellani

Being Frank is the story of what happens when a person blurts out whatever is on his or her mind, for better or worse.  

Frank's motto is, "Honesty is the best policy." But, he's a little too frank when he speaks.  He tells people exactly what he thinks -- and his honesty is getting him into trouble.  He tells his mother she's wrinkled, describes a friend's freckles in a way that offends her and tells another girl her singing voice is screechy.

Pretty soon, Frank has made nearly everyone around him angry (except for the police officers, with whom he's shared the fact that his mother was driving too fast).  Frank asks his grandfather for help and learns how to be honest in a positive way.

You can actually see the entire book online: Being Frank at the Flashlight Press website. Just click on the image of Being Frank (or the words "Look Inside") and a PDF version will pop up.  

I love this story.  It is colorful, funny and provides a nice object lesson.  I found myself smiling as I read the book, which is pretty much a guarantee that a book is going to be a favorite.  The quality of books published by Flashlight Press is always consistently top-notch, as well.  There's a nice, shiny cover that exactly matches the slipcover.  With children's books, I prefer to remove the cover while reading and then replace it when I put the book back on the shelf.  And, they do often get torn to pieces, so you have to appreciate it when a wrecked jacket won't mean a less attractive book.  Highly recommended.

In other news:

Our sofa arrives tomorrow!!  Excitement!

Book news:

I received a package of 4 Christmas books from Sterling Kids and The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 2  from Harper It on Monday evening.  Since I promptly sat down and read them all, I've just thrown myself even further behind on reviews.  I'll keep on cranking them out, as fast as I can!

Both of my current reads ended up getting ditched, last night.  How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard is funny at times, but it's a bit dry.  Still, I thought I'd read it because it's a F2F group selection.  Unfortunately, the book contains spoilers.  I have not yet read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, but I have a copy and I also have a pretty decent memory so I wasn't thrilled when Bayard went into great gasping detail, explaining the entire plot and how the main character managed to deduce the content of a mysterious book and solve a murder without having read the book in question.  But, I kept going . . . until it seemed he was about to do the same thing to Graham Greene's The Third Man.  Well, that did it.  I've been planning to read The Third Man soon (assuming I can find my copy) and I really am not a skimmer, so I wasn't willing to keep going and just tossed the book aside.

Unfortunately, I also managed to miss my F2F meeting.  I was too tired to drive the 30 miles.  Bummer.  But, I had a fun evening photographing cats in Christmas bows.

The White Forest by Adam McOmber also went on the DNF pile, although I'll give it a second shot.  I have read only a single chapter per night and it's a book that demands fuller attention than I'm able to give it at the moment.  What little I read (about 6 chapters) was interesting, though.  Weird, but interesting.

I'm now reading Outside In by Maria V. Snyder and Underground by Haruki Murakami.

That's all for now!  Happy middle-of-the-week!  Wahoo!

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Puff the Magic Dragon - board book by P. Yarrow, L. Lipton & E. Puybaret

Puff the Magic Dragon is 50 years old!  Wow, that makes me feel kind of ancient and creaky.  Somewhere around here, I probably still have my album (as in "vinyl") of children's music and "Puff the Magic Dragon" was one of my childhood favorites.  

Oh.  Ahem.  Yes, in fact, I do have that album.  Anyway, you know how I love children's books.  Puff the Magic Dragon, published by Sterling Children's Books is basically a board book with the words from the song.  Since I haven't heard it in eons, I can't tell you if all of the lyrics are there, but the illustrations in this board book are freaking gorgeous and Puff looks very friendly, which I think is important in illustrations directed at small children.  

My favorite board books are usually the ones that have a nice rhythm and, of course, if you know the song you'll want to sing the story rather than just reading it aloud.  That Puff began as a song makes it perfect for reading to little ones.  I'd forgotten Puff the Magic Dragon is a sad story, though.  Poor Puff can't live without little Jackie when Jackie grows up and goes away.  I guess it's such an upbeat song that I never noticed.  I still love the story, love board books, adore the rhyme and rhythm and definitely highly recommend this little book.  It's a beauty.

It's also important to note that Puff the Magic Dragon has earned the Fiona Kitty Seal of Approval.  Well . . . what are you waiting for?  :)

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Who's Looking at You? and Tushes and Tails by Stephane Frattini

My copies of . . . 

Who's Looking at You? by Stephane Frattini and . . . 

Tushes and Tails by Stephane Frattini both arrived from Sterling Kids in August and both my husband and I were completely besotted.  Usually, the spouse just ignores the children's books but he actually sat and looked through these with a smile on his face.  Who's Looking at You? and Tushes and Tails! are large flap books.  I took a couple inside photos to show you the size and quality.  The first is a photo of a spread before the flaps have been opened.  I placed a ball point pen on one page as a reference to size.  

The second photo shows the flap of the above left photo, opened.  The snail image was one of my favorites.  I had never seen a snail up close and personal and actually said, "Oh.  That is so cool!" aloud, when I opened it.  The flaps are pretty sturdy and you can see by looking above that there's a good 1/2" of glued margin.  From our experience, flap books tend not to last too long.  So, I'd try to keep little hands from tugging on the pages, but the text is brief and informative so both books are super for on-the-lap reading time.  The recommended age range is 2-5.

Tushes and Tails! and Who's Looking at You? are both highly recommended.  Beautiful, often surprising photographs, just the right amount of information in a nice, bold print that's easy to read and a nice sturdy feel to the flaps make both books winners.  And, actually, they'd make excellent gifts if you're looking for books for preschoolers.  

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday Malarkey

Happy Monday!  I can't remember the last time I did a Monday Malarkey post (and I'm too weary to go look) but it's definitely time.  I actually received some books in the mail, this week!

Just walked in, this week:

Small Wars by Sadie Jones and
Copper Star by Suzanne Woods Fisher - both sent by my lovely friend, Paula
Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick - via Paperback Swap
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - from Splinter (a Sterling imprint)
Emma by Jane Austen - from Splinter 

Great Expectations and Emma are from the series with covers by artist Sara Singh.  I wrote about four other Splinter classics, here.  I absolutely love these covers in a gushy, ridiculous, want-to-cuddle-them way.  They are paperbacks-with-flap.  I compared them to Persephone books in quality, in my previous post, and I still believe the comparison is apt.  Also, on a side note, I'm calling these two books my "brat pack".  I've read them both and they are favorites.  Pip and Emma are just a tiny bit full of themselves, though, aren't they?  It's my opinion that Emma at least meant well, while Pip's motivations were more selfish.  Joe Gargery was by far my favorite character in Great Expectations

Speaking of Persephone books, my Persephone Biannually catalog just arrived.  We were actually going to be in London, this week, but the trip had to be canceled because Huzzybuns had an important meeting he could not miss.  I'm okay with that, since we went to London in March (I will never pass up an opportunity to go to the UK) but I was looking forward to a visit to Persephone Books.  Instead, I've perused my Persephone shelf and made little checkmarks and notations and circles in the catalog. Next up: a cup of tea and some time reading the articles in a fat, comfy chair.  Might as well have fun dreaming, even if I can't go to the store, right?  

Brace yourself:

If you've looked at my sidebar, lately, you know I am well and truly behind on reviews.  I just added a couple books to my 2012 Books Read list and will add them to my sidebar, shortly (I always leave my current year's Books Read list in draft form till the year ends) and realized I actually have two books from August that I've yet to review.  Oh. My. Gosh.  

I've had trouble finding the time to sit down to type and for a while I couldn't even get myself to read, I was so weary at the end of the day, but I think I'm up to snuff, now.  That means I'm going to have to start hitting those reviews hard.  I apologize in advance for the potential review avalanche.  As always, I don't expect anyone to comment on every post.  If you feel like commenting, great.  If you can't bear to read all those posts, no worries.  I will do a few posts with mini reviews but not all will be done that way, so there should be quite a few posts by the end of the week, if I succeed.  

The only hindrance will likely be the arrival of our sofa on Thursday. Excitement! 

Cat news:

Fiona is irritated with me because I've misplaced her laser.  Sorry, Fi.  Isabel decided to climb in with the wet laundry as I tossed it into the dryer and curled herself up at the back like she owned the place.  You should have heard the howl when I pulled her out.  

That's about all the malarkey I've got, for now.  Happy Monday!

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fiona Friday - Helpful Kitties

Helpful kitty #1 held down the Christmas ornament basket lid and periodically tried to eat the ornaments. 

Helpful kitty #2 tried to remove ornaments from the bowl because obviously they belong on a tree (which we haven't yet acquired).  #stupidhuman

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy

The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down
By Andrew McCarthy
Copyright 2012
Free Press - Travel Memoir
273 pp.

A few more vestiges of Iquitos's glory days line Prospero Street, but there is little else to point toward any immediate appeal.  Despite this, the hanging heat and dense folds of humidity, there's a shaggy-dog charm to Iquitos.  There is nothing here that is remotely reminiscent of my life back home--none of the threadbare shops, or primitive advertising, or restaurants have a familiar or even recognizable feeling about them.  Such an alien sensation is increasingly rare in a world heading toward homogenization.  The only thing familiar in this environment is me; consequently, I am acutely aware of my own thoughts, which in moments like this run toward a feeling of possibility.  I wish I were staying in town for longer, possibly much longer.

~ p. 71 of The Longest Way Home ("The Amazon" chapter)

I almost passed up the opportunity to read and review The Longest Way Home, but I kept returning to the email about it, reading the description until I wore myself down with longing . . . thank goodness.  The best of any memoirs are written with a blend of wide-eyed wonder and humility, with stories about interaction between traveler and locals as well as description that makes the reader want to jump up and start packing.  Andrew McCarthy's memoir is all that and much more. 

From the publisher's description:

"Unable to commit to his fiancee of nearly four years--and with no clear understanding of what's holding him back--Andrew McCarthy finds himself at a crossroads, plagued by doubts that have clung to him for a lifetime.  Something in his character has kept him always at a distance, preventing him from giving himself wholeheartedly to the woman he loves and from becoming the father that he knows his children deserve.  So before he loses everything he cares about, Andrew sets out to look for answers.
Hobbling up the treacherous slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, dodging gregarious passengers aboard an Amazonian riverboat, and trudging through dense Costa Rican rain forests--Andrew takes us on exotic trips to some of the world's most beautiful places, but his real journey is one of the spirit."

I'm not going to copy the entire jacket description . . . 

. . . but, in a nutshell, The Longest Way Home is the story of how one man chose to seek the answer to why he was having difficulty committing and attempt to conquer his fears by escaping to his favorite comfort zone: travel.  Probably the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of traveling in order to develop courage is, "Isn't that called running away from your problems?" But, the author makes a strong case for travel as a way to get in touch with one's feelings.

Later, I sit by the estancia in the afternoon sun, and take pictures down by the river, and watch birds picking at the grass.  I can imagine myself staying here for a long time, alone and content, at the end of the world.  

I have found several places in my travels where I've experienced a similar sensation--the bare and rocky Burren in the rural west of Ireland, on a remote northern coast of Brazil, in central Wyoming, and at an unlikely spot in Hawaii.  Places where I felt received by the land, where my perception of the world and of my place in it fell into sync.  I recognize that sense of belonging instantly.  

~p. 59  (the "Patagonia" chapter)

Why I loved The Longest Way Home:

Andrew McCarthy's writing is strong, evocative and emotional. But, I think part of the reason I truly loved his book is the fact that not only was I entertained but I also deeply related on more that one level. I understand that feeling of connecting to the land and the people of another place more than one's own home, for one thing.

And, I just happened to be married to a fellow who has a very similar personality to that of the author: introverted and solitary, more at home traveling than sitting still, heedless of potential danger in a way that allows him to experience new places fully, driven and successful.  McCarthy explains how he can be both a solitary person and completely devoted to family -- something that's really tough to get across to friends to whom I explain the frustrations of being an extrovert married to a man of few words and with practically no need for human contact.

Apart from all that, I simply loved experiencing new places through Andrew McCarthy's eyes.  While he isn't a person who thrives in a group situation, that doesn't mean he's socially inept -- just more of a one-on-one/small group person. He often connects with people in unexpected, sometimes uplifting, often surprising ways.  Even when he describes being irritated with someone, his reasons tend toward the rational rather than the self-indulgent.

As I was reading The Longest Way Home, I enjoyed my armchair travels so much that as I settled in to read, each night, I told my husband, "I'm in Patagonia, right now," or "I'm off to the Amazon, next," etc.  Each time I opened the book, I knew I was going to be happily immersed.  And, that's really saying something.  Since our move, I've been so weary at the end of the day that it's a rare book that captures me.  I've only managed to read 3 books, so far, in November [muffled scream].

The bottom line:

Excellent travel writing with a nice, personal theme, Highly Recommended.  I absolutely loved The Longest Way Home.  A likable author, funny and tolerant fiancee and two sweet children make the author's story of putting his past into perspective and facing his fear of commitment one that makes the reader feel truly invested in a happy ending.  Admittedly, I was a little teary when I closed the book. The places he visited were often off the beaten path -- not the touristy parts of Costa Rica, for example. Andrew McCarthy now holds the distinction of being the first travel writer to successfully convince me that Patagonia is worth looking into.  I've always thought of Patagonia as a place for single guys in North Face jackets and Teva shoes -- you know, Ivy League college guys looking for adventure. Somehow, he managed to make Patagonia sound accessible.

Side note:  

Some may know Andrew McCarthy as the "Brat Pack" heartthrob of Eighties fame who appeared in Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo's Fire and Weekend at Bernie's.  He is still acting and does talk about his career; it's a part of his life story and relevant to the book.  So, if you're a fan, you might be interested in the book for that reason alone.  But, more importantly, he knows both how to tell a story and how to write.  Don't be put off if you tend to avoid books by actors.

About that connection to the land:

One of the places I feel almost bizarrely at home is the site of an iron-age fortress called Barbary Castle in Wiltshire, UK.  I love everything about it: the earthworks that still clearly outline the fortress, the incredible 360-degree view, the sheep, the brisk wind -- even the cranky farmer who made us wait for him to feed his geese before springing us when we got locked into the parking lot.  Is there a place you feel at home away from home?

Some interesting links:

Usually, I'm not fond of book trailers but I do love the book trailer for The Longest Way Home.

And, I enjoyed this interview:  Alec Baldwin interviewing Andrew McCarthy on Here's the Thing.

In other news:

Fiona Friday #Fail.  Can I just claim another busy weekend?  Here's a very belated photo of Isabel playing with the drawstring of my new fleece pajamas (which I purchased because our heater has been out for nearly a week -- not all that big a problem here, although pajamas made of blanket material are definitely helpful on the coldest nights).

Sorry about the unfinished version of this review that I accidentally posted.  One of my twitter friends suggested I just call it a "preview".  :)

Absolutely no books at all entered my house for another week . . . and then today three of them walked in the door:

Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Charles Santore - a surprise from Sterling Kids
Surviving Paradise by Peter Rudiak-Gould - from Paperback Swap
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White - from Paperback Swap

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tuesday Twaddle - Of cats and decorations but not many books, unfortunately

Happy Tuesday!  I've been a busy chick. We've been ripping up carpet and painting in the old house to prepare it for sale (although we do still have a renter and have to do our updates when he's away on business).  We finally got that job finished and a new carpet installed, today. 

On Saturday, my husband came home from a trip to New Hampshire and he was determined to decorate for Thanksgiving.  I kid you not.  He went to the home of a fellow he works with, saw the family's beautiful table display and came home ready to shop.  You could have knocked me over with a feather when he walked to the entertainment center (where I'd placed the silver bowl, below), pulled the bowl down and said, "This is perfect for what I want to do!"  Uh . . . not sure how to respond to a thing like that, I just stood there with my jaw hanging.  

So, we went shopping for candles (we already had the candlesticks), fake leaves, fake acorns and pinecones and two fat candles.  We already had some decorative squash that Daughter-In-Law kindly brought along from Nashville.  I set everything up while husband was sleeping and completely forgot to move the wing-it placemat I made from shelf liner.  I've since removed it, but naturally Fiona promptly jumped on the table and tried to eat the decorations before I realized my mistake, so the most interesting photos are also the worst.  I am so classy.

In reading news . . . argh.  I have finished exactly two books, this month.  One was only 81 pages long.  The other was a quick and snappy read, Moranthology by Caitlin Moran.  I got bogged down reading two fat books at once: The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas and Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.  The Count is an old favorite of mine but halfway into it I just got worn out.  I have so little time to read. The timing is unfortunate.  Flight Behavior is wonderful, so far, and the book I plan to focus on, now that I've finished Moranthology.  

In the mail:

Nothing.  Nada.  Zippo.  Zilch.  Seriously.

So, this is pretty much all I've got:  

A cat trying to eat fake leaves and sticking her nose in a nut bowl.  Some weeks are like that.

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Fiona Friday - It's official

Cuddle season has opened.

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Jamie Oliver's Great Britain by Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver's Great Britain:  130 of My Favorite British Recipes, From Comfort Food to New Classics by Jamie Oliver
Copyright 2011/2012
Hyperion Books - Cookbook
407 pp.

Jamie Oliver is by far my favorite television cooking personality for two reasons: 1) Everything we've ever attempted from his cookbooks has been delicious -- everything!  2) I love his focus on eating healthy and buying local foods.  In fact, I wish he would fly down here and write a book on using local ingredients from my area.

When I found out Jamie Oliver's Great Britain was going to be available for tour with TLC Book Tours, I signed up as fast as my little fingers could type.  And, I was not disappointed.  The first recipe we tried (with husband doing the cooking) was "Heavenly Salmon Salad".

"Heavenly Salmon Salad" is so packed with flavor I couldn't shut up about it.  I talked about it on Facebook and I tweeted about it on Twitter.  The recipe is too long to copy or I would share it -- and here is where we get into a couple things I love about Jamie's cookbooks.  Instead of just writing the old-fashioned kind of recipe with limited instructions to fit on a recipe card, he goes into great detail about the entire cooking process, including how quickly your potatoes will cook depending upon their freshness, the exact order in which to cook the separate parts and how to put them together.  Here's a peek at the page spread for "Heavenly Salmon Salad".

We had no trouble locating any of the ingredients for "Heavenly Salmon Salad" although we have tried several recipes and one contained a "bottle of something-something that I'd never heard of" according to the spouse.  However, in most cases, the author does mention items that can be substituted and my husband is so crazy about this cookbook that when I asked him to tell me his thoughts about the book he said, "Don't say anything negative," not once but twice.  Given the number of recipes he's tried, the fact that I haven't yet been able to pull the book away long enough to read it, myself, and that repetitive remark about keeping my review positive, I'm pretty sure Jamie Oliver's Great Britain is his new favorite cookbook. If it's not in the cookbook holder, it's in his hands.

The photos and added text in Jamie Oliver's books are always a treat.  I can't wait to actually read the book from cover to cover.  I've flipped through and read some random bits.  "My Nan's St. Clement's Cake" begins with a paragraph about older folks coming into his parents' pub, the man always asking for a pint of bitter for himself and a St. Clement's ("a simple orange juice and lemonade combo") for the wife, how the name of the drink came from a nursery rhyme and then a bit about texture of the cake and the fact that it's great in cupcake form.  Then, he dives into the recipe.

The book is crammed full of photos; it is absolutely gorgeous! Even if you have no interest in British recipes, if you're an Anglophile you'll want to grab it to sit and read.  It's every bit as good as a travel memoir, perhaps even better because Jamie's Great Britain is written with affection about his own country and people.

Back to the recipes.  There are thirteen chapters: Breakfasts, Soups, Salads, Pub Grub, New British Classics, Afternoon Tea, Seaside, Pies and Puddings, Sunday Lunch, Wild Food, Vegetables, Puddings and Condiments.  Nice variety, beautifully laid-out with at least one photo of each finished item -- usually a full-page photo.

One of the other recipes we tried was "Pale Ale Fondue".  If you've ever made a Welsh rarebit (a beer cheese on toast), this is similar but the ingredients are a little more upscale than what we've used in the past and, again, the flavor was perfect.  There's a list of twelve suggested items to use for dipping, "but really the sky's the limit".

The bottom line:

Highly recommended.  My husband did the cooking and it's been nearly impossible to wrestle the book out of his hands, but it's so beautiful that I'm anxious to read the book from cover to cover.  Detailed recipes with excellent results, tons of gorgeous photos and lots of extra material about Great Britain (text and photos) make for a fantastic cookbook that is gorgeous enough to set out on a coffee table.

Cover thoughts:  Perfect, perfect.  You can't miss the Union Jack's statement, "Here is a British book", can you?


I don't usually do giveaways because they're a bit too much work but in this case I'll make an exception because my husband and I are so crazy about Jamie Oliver's Great Britain.

The rules (you must do *everything* on this list to qualify):

1.  Tell me the title and author of your favorite cookbook
2.  Leave a contact email address that works!!!
3.  US/Canada only, no P.O. boxes.

Giveaway closes at midnight on 11/14/12.  The winner will be contacted on 11/15.

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney

Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney
Copyright 2012
Ballantine Books - Fiction/Christmas
352 pp. 
Previously published in Australia

If you've been hanging around my blog lately, you know I recently went on a Christmas-book binge after being tasked with the job of making suggestions for my face-to-face book group's December read.  Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney is one of the books I ended up reading, thanks to TLC Book Tours, and it's an unusual one.  Set in Australia with an 84-year-old heroine, the story is neither the sappy romance I occasionally let myself get sucked into during the Christmas season (although there is a touch of romance) nor the magical variety that I much prefer.

Lola used to run a small hotel but has long since passed the reigns on to her son and daughter-in-law.  She lives in the hotel and owns little, moving from one room to another when the mood strikes her.  As Christmas approaches, Lola decides she wants a change of pace.  Her son and daughter-in-law want to take a vacation and Lola is happy to shoo them away so that she can have a little fun creating a special Christmas for a small number of guests.

But, things don't work out quite the way Lola intended. And, there is where I'll stop describing the book because it's very plot-heavy and I don't want to ruin a thing, but you can count on reading about a headstrong, likable character facing her past and living in the present with admirable gusto. Lola is a terrific character.

It wasn't till I finished the book that I read about Monica McInerney and discovered that Lola originally appeared in a book called The Alphabet Sisters.  If you haven't read The Alphabet Sisters, you are definitely going to come out of Lola's Secret knowing what became of them in the novel, so I advise reading the two books in order if that concerns you.  But, in my case, I found McInerney's writing so engaging that I do plan to look for a copy of The Alphabet Sisters.

As I was gathering information about the book for my review, I noticed the author is often compared to Maeve Binchy.  Shockingly, I have only read short stories by Maeve Binchy and I was disappointed with them.  You can read my thoughts in "London Transports by Maeve Binchy or Please Hit These Characters Upside the Head" (which was written in the Dark Ages of book blogging). But even regular readers of Binchy disliked that particular collection, so I don't think I've gotten a good feel for her writing and certainly cannot compare the two.

As I was reading, I was reminded of Debbie Macomber's writing: lighthearted, sometimes funny, occasionally sad and, most importantly, things keep happening.  I thought the book was consistently surprising. The big difference between Macomber and McInerney lies in the focus on an older woman and her family, rather than a young couple or two.  I only found the two authors' writing similar stylistically, in other words.  Lola's Secret is really a family story, not a romance.  And, of course, it's hot in Australia at Christmas so Lola's Secret is unique in that way. Snow is pretty much a given in a Macomber Christmas book.

Recommended - Lola is a terrific character; wise, witty, spirited, flawed, wacky, upbeat . . . what a treat to read a story with such a well-rounded character. I guess you could call Lola's Secret a seasonal type of "women's fiction" and in that way it was a slightly unusual read for me because I have a tendency to avoid books that are specifically about women and their friends and family.  I have no idea why.  At any rate, I enjoyed it and will definitely look for more books by Monica McInerney.

Other reviews:

The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader - I happened across Marg's review, just after I finished reading my copy.  Her post is excellent.  Go read it, even if you're not interested in the book; there's much more to the post than just a review.

Cover thoughts:

The cover is beautiful but it doesn't look very Christmasy, does it?

Interesting side notes:

  • I'm pretty sure London Transports by Maeve Binchy was the first book I reviewed on this blog.  
  • Lola's Secret is the first book I've gotten from Net Galley.  I'm still not a fan of e-books, but they're growing on me slo-o-o-wly.

And, in other news:

Kiddo had car trouble so we had to zip up to Oxford to help him out, this weekend.  Fortunately, it turned out to be a quick fix.  We ate breakfast at home, had lunch with Kiddo in Oxford, shopped a little in Memphis and made it home in time for supper.  What a whirlwind day, but fun!  On the road to Memphis we saw this flock of birds:

Egrets!  They're hard to see because I didn't have a telephoto lens on my camera, but I'm happy that I was at least able to capture an image of them (through the windshield - fortunately, before it became so bug-splattered that photography became impossible).  It was a beautiful day and the trees are turning in northern Mississippi, so the drive was just about perfect.

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Fiona Friday - Just watching TV . . . and another update

Just FYI, Isabel was watching Downton Abbey.  She has excellent taste.

I don't know where the time is going, really I don't.  Last weekend, we had the entire family here, as I mentioned over the weekend.  Fiona actually seemed to enjoy having a house full of people and even acted a little bit sad after everyone left, although she did occasionally hide when the dog came in from the backyard.  Fi is gradually becoming my lap cat.  I'm very thrilled about that.

Isabel really disliked feeling obligated to retreat to the closet and occasionally emerged as far as the master bedroom long enough to bat a jingle ball around.  At night, she contentedly slept beside my feet. The moment everyone left, she was out and about.  She's a skittish girl -- probably for good reason.  She was a rescue and judging from where she was found, Izzy was likely dumped from a vehicle.  But, she's slowly gaining trust and now lets me pick her up and pet her without squealing.  She's just wary of strangers.  

We spent a lot of time on the patio/deck of our new house, went out to eat once, ate buffet style another time, and went for a walk in the Cypress Swamp on the Natchez Trace.  It was a great weekend.  This is one of my shots of the Cypress Swamp, where the leaves are just beginning to turn:

On Wednesday, Kiddo's girlfriend, C, came over to "help" hand out the Halloween candy (she really did the work while I kept her company).  C's going to be a teacher and it shows on Halloween.  She asked almost everyone, "Who do we have here?" and then said, "What do you say?" It's absolutely amazing how few of the kids we've had the past two years knew the words "trick or treat".  C often had to prompt them and even then most of the kids, when asked what to say, replied, "Thank you?"  One said, "Um . . . pleaaaase?"

Unfortunately, we had several hundred trick-or-treaters but we stocked up too much and ended up with one super-sized bag of candy left over at the house and another that C took off our hands.  Usually, I just throw the candy away.  I hate to do that, but we certainly don't need to eat it.  I suppose it's just a matter of pep-talking myself about throwing away something I don't need, which feels just a bit like burning money.

In reading news:

I finished reading The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy and absolutely loved it.  The end even made me a bit teary.  If you are a fan of travel memoirs, jump on this one.  It's excellent.  I hope to get around to reviewing The Longest Way Home, soon.

Speaking of reviews:

I honestly have not felt like writing at all, hence my absence.  Sometimes I just have to step away for a while.  I'm not going to go on hiatus.  I'll just write when I feel like it.  In the meantime, I have joined National Novel Writing Month.  So, at least I'm writing fiction, if nothing else.

Back to reading:

I'm currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo for The Estella Society's read-along.  The Count of Monte Cristo has long been one of my favorite books and I've read it repeatedly.  So, I was a little stunned when I opened the book, last night, and realized it had the word "abridged" on the cover in tiny print.  WHAT?  I've been reading an abridged version, all these years?  My copy is so old and battered that I've actually covered it with clear Contact paper to help preserve it.  I suppose it won't hurt to replace the book with an unabridged version, but I'm still shocked that I never even noticed the word "abridged" on the cover.  In my defense, the print is tiny and the color is close to that of the Count's coat, so it's easy to overlook that one little word.

Recent arrivals:

I think it's been nearly 3 weeks since I mentioned arrivals other than the purchases I made at last week's book sale.  Books are not arriving as regularly as they used to.  I'm so far behind on reading the books off my ARC stacks that I can't remember the last time I requested a book.  One review book arrived, last week, but it's been a while since I requested it.  Recently walked in:

The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas by Julia Romp - an impulse purchase
Miss Buncle Married by D. E. Stevenson - for review from Sourcebooks (the single request book that has arrived)
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller - purchased used at a store that specializes in old vinyl record albums
Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis - from Paperback Swap
Spot the Animals and
1-2-3 Dinosaur's Bite - both illustrated by Steve Jenkins and unsolicited arrivals from Sterling Kids (they're great -- will review them as soon as I can get myself to sit down long enough to write a string of review posts)
The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd - Accidentally pre-ordered while in an Ambien haze.  Ambien should be outlawed (but, darn it, sometimes I need help sleeping!)
How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard - purchased for F2F Book Club and the day it showed up, I realized I won't be able to make it to the November meeting (but it looks fun, so I'll read the book)
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton - sent by my delightful and generous friend, Tammy

In other news:

We joined a gym.  It's huge -- three stories including two swimming pools (one for laps; one a "therapy" pool, as it's associated with a hospital), a cold bath and jacuzzi, an indoor track, tons of plated and free weights, a spinning room, two basketball courts, two racquetball courts, a class room (for Zumba, yoga, etc.), one pool table and one ping-pong table.  I actually prefer the smaller gym in our former town.  Unfortunately, it's just too far to drive on a daily basis and I desperately need some kind of routine.  I miss the ladies and it will take some time to get used to our new gym, but there's no denying it's one rocking fine facility.

This week's Haiku:

And, the reason I chose this week's Haiku (which I hear people didn't appreciate during Hurricane Sandy, since the full moon only made tidal issues worse):

Enough for now!  Happy Weekend to all!  And, wishes for quick restoration of power and delivery of supplies to those who are having a rough post-hurricane experience.

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.