Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Knit

'The Friday Night Knitting Club'
By Kate Jacobs

Format: Audio CD
Published: Blackstone Audiobooks; Aug. 2007
Narrator: Carrington MacDuffi

Synopsis: Between running her Manhattan yarn shop, Walker & Daughter, and raising her 12-year-old biracial daughter, Dakota, Georgia Walker has plenty on her plate in Jacobs's debut novel. But when Dakota's father reappears and a former friend contacts Georgia, Georgia's orderly existence begins to unravel. Her support system is her staff and the knitting club that meets at her store every Friday night, though each person has dramas of her own brewing. Jacobs surveys the knitters' histories, and the novel's pace crawls as the novel lurches between past and present, the latter largely occupied by munching on baked goods, sipping coffee and watching the knitters size each other up. Club members' troubles don't intersect so much as build on common themes of domestic woes and betrayal. 

My Take: A while back you may remember I asked for everyone's advice on where to get my audiobooks! I had downloaded one that I loved from iTunes, which was easy but expensive and needed to look into some alternates. Many people suggested I check out what my library had for at home download. While the San Francisco Public Library has a ton of downloads available for at home consumption (yeah!), they have very few that are equipped for downloads on a Mac (boo!), which is what we own. This surprised me with how close we are from the home of all things Apple. Maybe someday the SFPL will get their act together. I scoured their fiction and non-fiction titles and put all 12, yes seriously 12, that I hadn't a. read, b. was interested in reading in my wishlist and here we are. So I may just have to switch over to audible eventually after all! 

At any rate the first one available to me was this, 'The Friday Night Knitting Club'. It was one of those books that I had picked up multiple times and thought it looks cute and up my alley but, well, I don't knit so I probably won't be able to relate to it a lot. But when it's free...why not give it a try. I popped in my earbuds and flew through it. The story was sweet and and charming and I loved the narration style of Carrington MacDuffie. She did a great job of switching voices (although she may not have nailed all of the accents but I can forgive her for that). I think, bottom line, this story works well as an audio book, because while there are a lot of characters it's not overly complicated so you can follow along and root for the characters from the comfort of your home or office.

The story centers around Georgia and her knitting store. Georgia is a wonderful heroine. She is plucky and has made a great life for herself and her only daughter. She got pregnant unexpectedly as a young woman and had to figure out what to do with her life in order to survive with very little support. Not knowing what to do but knowing she loved to knit, and finding a mentor in an older woman Anita, she decided to develop her skills and eventually opened her store Walker and Daughter. From this, women came into the store and learned to knit and stayed to chat, hanging around long after the store would close sometimes. Then the Friday Night Knitting Club was born.

The people who attend the club are varied and you can easily relate to at least someone in the club. They are comical and maddening but it's pretty relateable. Georgia is the glue to the group. Her twelve year old daughter Dakota is a great cook and loves to try out her new recipes on the club. I won't get into all of the different characters in the book because there are quite a few and they all provide depth to the story but suffice it to say that they all make for a fun read.

Also, just when you think you know where the story is going and it's going to wrap up neatly there is a little twist at the end so be sure to stay tuned throughout the story. I won't give anything away though! I think I'll eventually check out the sequel.

(I got this audiobook from the library)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

For the Person Who Has Everything

When I saw these book themed clutches I, of course, instantly fell in love with them...and then I saw the price tag! However, I still had to share them with you all because it makes me smile that books have made their way into high fashion. Now that it's fall, maybe you've got some extra money floating around for Christmas and need to buy something for that person (you) who already has everything. Well this would be it, because it's a pretty penny but it sure is fun to look! Click here to have a peek at Kate Spade's 'Book of the Month Clutch' and why did they have to go and make it in one of my favorite books? Tell me what you think of these!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lonesome Dove Read Along: Week 4

As we've made it to chapters 30-40 of Wild West Wednesday things are really heating up around here! If you've been reading along with us then you will know that we've hit upon some serious action now. We've hit the trail, death has come to our fair cowboys, and there are multiple women with choices presented to them that we can compare and contrast their lives with. Lots of things to chat about! Below are the questions that Amy came up and Melissa and I also answered. If you are reading along, let us know what you think in the comments or link to your own post.

1)  Gus starts off this section, saying, "Here is where we all find out if we was meant to be cowboys." when Deets predicts a storm.  Newt later observes that the only person who hadn't performed well in the storm was Sean.  Did you predict at this point Sean would be the first casualty?  How did his death impact you?  What did you think of the way Gus and Call handled it?

Leah: I knew that they wouldn't make it through the whole journey without a death, of course there would be deaths, but two days in, and in such a violent manner, this was pretty sad to take in. Sean was so young and I think, I am not sure who it was Call or Gus, that said that is was just poor luck because it could have been anyone, it didn't matter how well trained you were. I think it would be hard to have to accept a death like that on the trail because it would really bring your morality into focus. It's especially poignant since Sean didn't seem to want to be in America in the first place.

Amy:  I also thought it was really tragic!  I thought the singing at the grave was kind of beautiful and I cried a little bit.  It sounded like such a horrible way to go and the whole thing happened so quickly. 

Melissa:  This one shocked me! The visual of him being swarmed by water moccasins was awful!  But the writing was so effective, I re-read it so I could immerse in the tragedy.   I know the brothers played a minor role in this whole drama, but I loved the nuance their characters added  – true “Irish Tenors!”  I feel really sorry for the remaining one.  I thought Gus and Call handled the best way they could:  acknowledge it, remembered him, had a proper burial, and moved on.

2)  Elmira and Loraine are both traveling on their own in the company of men.  What do you think about the differences in their two situations?  Which situation would your rather be in?

Leah: I love this question! Personally I would rather be on Lorrie's situation because I think the men she is travelling with probably care about her more as a person (yes she is a whore but at least they know her and like her!). They don't want anything bad to happen to her. If she gets fedup with Jake, you know Gus will take care of her and she has a bunch of money. Whereas Elmira, she's on that boat with a bunch of men she doesn't know. No thank you! Dreaming up some story, chasing after some man that left her. 

Amy:  Elmira's situation sounds terrible to me as well, I thought that part about how the men thought she belonged to them and in their eyes she didn't belong to herself to speak volumes.  I also think Lorrie's in a much better situation! 

Melissa:  Well one thing Lorena has going for her – she is on land – she’s got the freedom (barely) to leave on a horse if she wants too.  Elmira is stuck on a boat – nowhere to move --  so she doesn’t have a lot of options.  And it has to smell (even worse than a bunch of dirty cowboys!).  Honestly, both women’s situations stink (literally and figuratively).  I still think I would rather be with Xavier on my way to San Francisco. So sad that women had so few choices.

3)  Roscoe is a bit pathetic out looking for July on his own when he runs across Louisa  Brooks who proposes marriage in no time.  What did you think of this unique character of Louisa and Roscoe's reaction to her?  

Leah: FUNNIEST CHAPTER EVER! Louisa was a hoot. She was in charge of her own life. She clearly was a great farmer who doesn't need a man but wants a man. This is in stark contrast to the previous women we've met so far. Whereas, Roscoe doesn't know what's hit him! As far as I can gather he's barely interacted with women before, which I think Louisa might even like about him. As far as she's concerned he can come back and be her companion. Love it!

Amy:  I laughed SO MUCH during this chapter! Roscoe was so so so funny, when she proposed and laid out all the logic of it and he's like, well I don't want to.  And then he starts to come around...ha! 

Melissa: Seriously – laugh out loud funny!  I love how McMurtry is weaving these vignettes throughout the book:  This serious/dangerous cattle drive, juxtaposed with this comical, clown-like journey of Roscoe’s. A perfect example of “comic relief.”  Leah, I must say, I’m almost jealous that you know what is around the corner!  I secretly want to ask you, “so, what happens next??!!”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Coal Miner's Daughter

'Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires'
By: Molly Roe

Format: ARC
Published: Tribute Books; Nov. 2008
Pages: 168

Synopsis: Coming of age amidst the seething unrest of the Civil War era, feisty fourteen-year-old Katie McCafferty infiltrates the Molly Maguires, a secret Irish organization, to rescue a lifelong friend. Under the guise of "Dominick," a draft resister, Katie volunteers for a dangerous mission in hopes of preventing bloodshed. Katie risks job, family, and ultimately her very life to intervene. A series of tragedies challenge Katie's strength and ingenuity, and she faces a crisis of conscience. Can she balance her sense of justice with the law? Call Me Kate is suitable for readers from eleven to adult. The story is dramatic and adventuresome, yet expressive of daily life in the patches of the hard coal region during the Civil War era. 

My Take: The synopsis of this book intrigued me. I've been offered a lot of young adult books to read, even though that's not my forte but they've all been set in modern times. Yet, as a young adult once, the books I preferred to read were always set in the past. That's how I became the historical fiction addict you see glimpses of today. So when this book popped up I thought it might be a good one. The Civil War era was one of my favorites to read about and I haven't read much set in coal mining towns. 

Our heroine is Kate McCafferty who, when the book opens, is 14 and is living a life that while sitting on my couch while I was under a warm blankie sipping some tea I was not envious of. She lives in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. Her family is poor, heck the whole town is poor. However the family does love each other fiercely but when Kate's dad gets in the inevitable mining accident and can no longer go to work Kate must stop going to school and must start working, and it seems like really hard work at that. First she is a maid for a nearby widow but eventually she has to leave her family and move to the big city. Her life was not unusual for those of her time, and coming from her perspective it was told well if however predictable the storyline might have been.

Once in the big city Kate becomes a lot more aware of the goings on with War, the unrest of miners and what may come of these two things. See you could get out of fighting if you could find a replacement or $300 but obviously if you were poor these were not an option so the people fighting the war at first were all poor and clearly this was unbalanced and there was unrest. Hence in the Irish communities organizations formed to fight back and one such group was named the Molly Maguires. Without giving away the plot, Kate does some bold moves because our heroine is plucky.

Young girls might be envious of her and her pluck or they might, like me, know exactly where the story was going. However Mom's thought enough of this one to make it a Silver Recipient of the Moms Choice Awards so that probably counts for something!

(Thank you to Tribute Books for sending me this book)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mailbox Monday: October 18th - 23rd, 2010

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and October is being hosted by She Reads and Reads! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks and audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Anther Monday, ahhh! Well this was our first really rainy weekend of the fall season and I loved it! Maybe it's because I'm orginally from Seattle but I love hunkering down with books and movies and just not feeling guilty about not wanting to go outside for a whole weekend. It's very recuperating. How was your weekend?

Did everyone get some good stuff in their mailboxes this week? Here's what I got:

From Crazy Book Tours:
1. 'Simply from Scratch' by Alicia Bessette

2. 'Trust' by Kate Veitch

From PBS:
3. '97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement' by Jane Ziegelman

4. 'Up for Renewal: What Magazines Taught Me About Love, Sex, and Starting Over' by Cathy Alter

What did you get?!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

We Have A Winner for the Green Eggs and Ham Giveaway!

Woohoo! We have two lucky winners of Dr. Seuss' famous book 'Green Eggs and Ham'! Using I picked Barbara from South Carolina and Danielle from Michigan! I will be emailing you both. Stay tuned because I have another great giveaway in the works that will come in a few weeks.

Friday, October 22, 2010

For Those Too Full Bookshelves

Photo: ThinkStock
I came across a couple of articles recently that I thought might come in handy for me and I then I thought I should probably share them with you all as well! I don't know about you, but my bookshelves are so full that I've had to expand and cleaning them can become an issue. Both of these articles help with that.

The first one, published by O, The Oprah Magazine talks about how to 'Tame Your Overstuffed Bookshelves'. I needed this, especially after I went crazy at a recent library book sale. I went through this article and used the tips to really decide what unread, yes unread books, it was time for me to finally part with. Basically if they've been sitting on my shelf for more than a couple of years I'm probably never going to read them. Also this helped my boyfriend to finally get rid of many of his textbooks and copies of books from highschool, however it does justify keeping many of those treasured books as well. So click on that link there; it's a brief little article that may help you save your sanity!

The second one I read that I also found incredibly useful was from Real Simple and it's about how to get 'A Big Bookcase Decluttered and Dusted in 15 Minuted or Less'. I don't know how you clean your bookcase but I basically spray some Pledge on a rag and rub it around aimlessly and assume we're good to go! Alas, apparently I can do a much more thorough job if I wanted to spend just a few more minutes, say once a month. This doesn't seem that difficult and I could definitely clean my bookshelves this way and it even throws in ways to help keep your books from getting moldy and musty. Well worth giving it a shot.

So what do you think?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fragments of She

'The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder'
By: Erin Blakemore

Format: ARC
Published: Harper; Oct. 2010
Pages: 224

Synopsis: An inspiring look at literature's greatest and most enduring female characters --such as Jo March, Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet, Laura Ingalls and others --and their authors, who have helped shape the inner lives of generations of women, teasing out universal tenets of strength and survival, and gleaning the wisdom and solace they offer to help women navigate these challenging times and find their inner heroine. 

My Take: When I read non-fiction I am not someone who leans towards biographies. I tend to go for memoirs or maybe something on a topic that I am interested in that I want to delve into deeper. When I won this book recently I was excited because it presented itself as summarizing multiple female authors that I love into many mini-bios and coupling them with their lead characters and matching those traits to show how the authors formed the characters they created. This seemed like a book that was right up my alley. And it's true; I devoured it quickly and loved every minute of it!

It's a tiny; little book with a sweet cover but don't let the cover make you think that what is inside is just some demure non-fiction book with some sprinkling throughout history of our favorite female authors. Whatever key facts you wanted to know about your favorites are in here. Well, at least I think they are because I haven't really read any other biographies to know if something was missing! All I know is this is the most digestible compact read I've been introduced to in a long time. Normally, in the past when a biography was given to me I'd get about half way into and just not care any more. These chapters are quick with all of the exciting bits presented to you. Just what I want. You can find the authors you know and love and learn everything you want to know about them. 

The great thing about these chapters is that Blakemore ties the authors into their lead characters that made the authors the writers we love. Jane Austen is tied into Elizabeth Bennett, Margaret Mitchell is tied into Scarlett O'Hara and Lee Harper is wrapped up in Scout. She's not saying they are autobiographical, per se, but she is making a case that the traits that made them such wonderful authors and trendsetters as people is what shaped the characters they wrote about and resonated with us. And I am inclined to agree! I found the book chock full of fascinating information and I loved learning more about many of my favorites. Talk about girl power!

The other thing that was wonderful was that at the end of each section, Blakemore let us know that a particular book was good for when you were feeling certain things and also suggested other titles and authors that were complimentary. The only thing in my mind that was missing a photo of each of the authors because I am visual like that but otherwise it was just great. Would make a perfect stocking stuffer for all of the readers in your life!

(This book was a win from BBAW. Thank you to the author for sending it to me!)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last Day to Enter to Win a Copy of Green Eggs and Ham!

Just a quick reminder that my giveaway for 2 copies up for grabs of the famous childhood book: 'Green Eggs and Ham' by Dr. Seuss is open until 12 midnight PST tonight! Click here for full details! Good luck!

Lonesome Dove Read Along: Week 3

We've made it to Week 3 of Wild West Wednesday! This week we read chapter's 20-30 and made it Section II of the book. We even left famed Lonesome Dove, TX on the cowboys epic journey north towards Montana. How did the men (and Lorena) feel about leaving their hometown? Many of them didn't really seem to care, even though lots of them knew they'd probably never return! Melissa came up with the discussion questions for the reading for the Amy and I this week. Let us know what you think on your blog or in the comments!

1)      Xavier issues an impassioned plea to Lorena to stay in Lonesome Dove and marry him.  Do you think his motives are sincere?  Or is he doing it for business?  Also, here is another chance for Lorena to bypass the cattle drive and go directly to San Francisco (which we are to believe is her goal), but yet she turns it down.  Why?

Amy:   I think Xavier was sincere based on Gus's observation that some men fall hard and have a hard time getting over it.  Yet part of me thinks, why not just marry her before she threatened to leave?  I think Lorena also wants to prove it to herself that she can do this and do it on her own.  Sure she's somewhat dependent on Jake, but she's coming to realize how much more dependent he is on her and that he's kind of worthless.

Leah: Yeah part of me wonders why Xavier waited so long to ask her to marry him if his motives are 'sincere'. I guess maybe it's that old adage of not knowing what you've got till it's gone but it makes me think he liked have her around and it was good for business and all and now that she's going to uproot herself and leave this is just kind of a last ditch effort. As for Lorena not taking his money, I am inclined to agree with Amy. I feel like Lorena wants to go on this journey and see what's out there in the world and I don't think she's that nervous about this group of men for some reason. I also sense that she didn't quite believe Xavier when he told her that she could just get to SF by boat. However, Jake is her ticket out of town. She's made already made her bargain with the devil so to speak as to that being her way out so she was going to keep it.

Melissa:  As sappy as this sounds, I thought this was one of the most emotional passages I’ve read in a long time!  The writing gave me hope for the rest of the book! I could honestly feel Xavier’s anguish at the thought to Lorena leaving.  But, I couldn’t quite tell if it was a selfish anguish, a lusting anguish, or a true love anguish.  My first reaction was, “of course he wants to marry her, he is losing his cash cow!”  But later on in our reading, he revisits his thoughts with Gus (or was it Call?), and I really think he loves her.  But like you all said, why didn’t he proclaim his feelings earlier?  I still can’t figure Lorena out, or her intentions…I would have bypassed the cattle drive, taken Xavier’s money and his offer and headed to San Francisco. Obviously Jake has something to do with it, but I wonder if she has second thoughts now that she’s stuck caring for his infected finger, his drunken stupor and the impending storm!  Can you imagine how smelly they must be at this point?! Blech!

2)      We are shown Newt’s inexperience and youth when he asks, “how far is it, up north?” To which Captain Call responds, “it’s a ways farther than you’ve been.”  But the reader is privy to Call’s internal thoughts that reflect more directly on Gus:

It struck Call that they should have educated the boy a little better.  He seemed to think north was a place, not just a direction.  It was another of Gus’s failings – he considered himself a great educator, but yet he rarely told anyone anything they needed to know.

What do think about Call’s assessment of Gus?  Any thoughts?

Amy:  That's pretty interesting and I think it's a great demonstration of the difference between these two men.  Gus is all ideals and high thought and Call is about practicality and knowing what you need to survive.  Call seems to have little patience for anything that's not strictly needed whereas Gus DOES have a fondness for classical education, like including Latin on the sign.

Leah: I also think that the reality of the situation is the fact that life out in the West at the time was they just plain didn't have time to teach Newt as much as Gus probably would have liked to. Sure, Gus was sitting around drinking all day but that was because he'd paid his dues as a Ranger so to speak. Newt was still a young man and needed to learn how to be a cowboy which would be far more useful in life than Latin and, well maybe not geography but you get my drift.

Melissa:  When I read this statement, I knew I wanted this to be a question – as it struck me as profound – but I wasn’t sure how to answer it myself!  I love Gus’s “pontification” on life and his lofty thoughts and ideas, but, in their situation, what good does it do out in the Texas desert?  And obviously, as important as he thinks his “education” is, he isn’t doing very well at passing it along to those who need it most.

3)      We finally see the flip side of Jake’s story– Ft. Smith, Arkansas – what do you think of July? Roscoe?  Elmira? Peach?

Amy:  I had no idea we were going to get this glimpse!  I feel sorry for July to be honest, thought Roscoe was kind of funny, Elmira a bit annoying--though she gives us a glimpse of a different kind of woman, and Peach...well no clear feelings about her yet!

Leah: I loved this part of the book - another angle! I too felt bad for poor heartsick July! Is there going to be a fun run in with our fair travelers to the North and July will really shoot 'em up? Roscoe was a crack up. Elmira made me sad. She really had no control over her life. She thought she could make herself better by being married but really it didn't do much for her. Loneliness was rampant no matter what kind of life she led. Peach was the town gossip clearly. Every town has to have one of those!

Melissa:  Oh Leah, me too!  When I flipped to Part II and started reading I thought, “Ok, I can keep going with this!”  Poor, pathetic July, how did he get himself in this mess?  And Elmira – to bring this full circle, I now know why Lorena didn’t go with Xavier, because she would have ended up just like Elmira.  I can’t wait to see if Roscoe finds July and Joe – and I know Elmira will turn up at some point, and I can’t wait to see how McMurty takes these story lines and works them all together. And it’s like a comedy sketch…can you imagine losing someone you’re are supposed to be keeping an eye on? On a personal note, trust me, next time I’m driving thru Ft. Smith – I’m stopping in the historic district and taking a look around!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Excess of Riches

By Tanya Egan Gibson

Format: Paperback
Published: Plume; July 2010
Pages: 400

Synopsis: Recognizing that their dullard daughter, Carley, needs an academic boost, Gretchen and Francis Wells hire author Bree McEnroy to write a book to Carley's specifications. Though Carley's love for reality television and Bree's fondness for self-conscious literary tropes should, in theory, unite to make a delightful story-within-a-story, it is often neglected or underwritten. Meanwhile, the cardboard secondary cast floats around Bree and Carley: there's Hunter, Carley's crush, whose alcoholic rakishness, we are assured, masks a poet's interior; Carley's social-climbing mother and philandering father; and Justin, Bree's college chum, who has become, on dubious merit, a literary star. Carley and Hunter's friendship is jeopardized by both his addictions and her unrequited adoration, and Bree and Justin reconcile. Copyright © Reed Business Information

My Take: I had a hard time with this one. I had a hard time even wrapping my head around what my thoughts should be about this one. And I really wanted to like it. The title was snappy and catchy. Sometimes that’s enough for the book to carry me for quite some time. Also, the author Tanya Egan Gibson, is from the Bay Area, and I think we have a great literary hotbed of talent here and having a blog is one way to really showcase that talent but alas, finding the point of this book was rather difficult for me.

From the start there were a lot of characters. Possibly too many to grasp why we shouldn’t just have the main characters so we can get to them and their development. See, the book is set in upper crust East Coast and this set of people moves from one party to the next and so obviously, at parties you have a lot of people and my goodness it was hard for me to keep all these people straight, they all were described to look and sound the same. They were all catty and had more money than they knew what to do with and cheated on their husbands and wives and were bad parents and well it wasn’t exactly like it made me want to invest more time getting to know them.

Then there were the children, or high school age teenagers. Carley is the one whom her parents hoped to buy her a love of reading. She is overweight and underachieving and merely seems to be incredibly bored with her life. Her parents are appalled that she doesn’t love to read. In fact Carley, when asked, says she has yet to meet a book that she likes. Her parents hope to fix this. Then there is Hunter, Carley’s love. Hunter likes Carley but also loves others. He is a drunk and a pill popper but everyone thinks he is just the greatest thing since sliced bread. He acts way older than his age. 

It’s all a little too ‘Gossip Girl’ for me and I think the problem with this book for me is probably timing. The reality today is that most of us, even those who appear to have a lot of money, are actually struggling with money, and reading books where people have a lot of money is a little insipid and ridiculous. It would be one thing if it made you yearn for a better life but this one made you glad for your own but I am not sure that was the point the author was trying to make.

As always, opinions about books are up to the reader and their are others out there. Here are some others who liked this book more than me: Devourer of Books, The Book Lady's Blog, and Frenetic Reader.

(Thank you to the Publisher and Author for sending me a copy of this book.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mailbox Monday: Oct. 11th - 16th, 2010

It's Mailbox Monday time! Mailbox Monday is going on tour and October is being hosted by She Reads and Reads! Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks and audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

I love Mailbox Monday but I am not such a fan of Monday's in general because it means another weekend has come and gone and those are my favorite bits! Did everyone have a good one? Mine was pretty busy but fun filled.

Here's what I got in my mailbox this week:

From CrazyBookTours:
1. 'Room' by Emma Donoghue

A win from My Friend Amy:
2. 'The Hundred Foot Journey' by Richard C. Morais

3. From the Publisher:
'How to Unbreak your Health: Your Map to the World of Complementary and Alternative Therapies' by Alan E. Smith

From PBS:
4. 'Kitchen Chinese' by Ann Mah

5. 'The English American' by Alison Larkin

6. 'Notes from the Underwire: Adventures from My Awkward and Lovely Life' by Quinn Cummings

What did you get?!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My First Incomplete Challenge

I was afraid this might happen. As the year was starting to draw to a close it was time for me to evaluate how many books I needed to read to complete the challenges I hadn't yet finished. For the most part the ones that I have running, I am either really close to finishing or just racking up books beyond my goal...but then there is this one. Books and Movies Ireland Reading Challenge sounded so fabulous. I love books set in Ireland and it ran from February to November and I set a goal of reading four books. I haven't read a single one. With the amount of review copies and other commitments I have going on, I figured it was better to focus on finishing the challenges I have a fighting chance of completing. If it starts up next year, I'll give it a try again. 

How are you all doing with the rest of your challenges as the year is drawing to a close?

Friday, October 15, 2010


By Isabel Wolff

Format: ARC
Published: Bantam; June 2010
Pages: 368

Synopsis:When vintage clothing expert Phoebe Swift decides to abandon her career as a Sotheby’s auctioneer, she opens London’s Village Vintage, selling only the best recycled designer duds. However, it isn’t long before we discover that the cupcake dresses and alligator clutches that populate her quaint neighborhood shop aren’t Phoebe’s only baggage. Reeling from the death of a close friend and the subsequent collapse of her wedding engagement, Phoebe is in need of a change. She certainly loves the clothing she sells for its history, but it takes a new and profound friendship with the elderly client Mrs. Bell to show Phoebe to care for herself in the same way. Although the novel is sometimes predictable, UK best-seller Wolff keeps us entertained by sending a few courtiers Phoebe’s way and threading intriguing wartime historical fiction into Mrs. Bell’s backstory. Readers with a passion for couture fashion will appreciate (and feel vindicated by!) Wolff’s well-researched and intricate descriptions of beautiful, significant vintage pieces. While the dialogue is occasionally a bit bloated, this book is a smooth read with enough flair and fun for the beach or the pool. 

My Take:  There was a phase in my life where I read a ton of Isabel Wolff's books. I think it must have been early in her writing career and it was early in my chick-lit reading career. Her books were perfect for my high-school, early college days. 'The Trials of Tiffany Trott' and 'The Making of Minty Malone' were fun, fluffy reads and I devoured them quickly but then, somehow, as a writer she fell of my radar. I don't know if as a Brit she wasn't marketed much to the US market or what but she just wasn't seen by me as well. And then, lo and behold, ten years later, I started seeing this book everywhere and well, it looked a lot more grownup and it looked exactly like something I would want to read and I thought, why did I ever stop reading Isabel Wolff? As I was reading this novel I kept thinking that as well because this book was absolutely wonderful.

First and foremost, if you care absolutely nothing about clothes, then let me say right now, this book will bore the crap out of you but as I really love to shop I didn't have this problem. It wasn't that this book was trite and just about clothes but our heroine here, Phoebe, opens a vintage clothing boutique and the clothes within are discussed in detail and many women come in and find something about themselves in these clothes so if clothes aren't your thing then it might bore you. Because that's the thing, for many women, our memories are tied up in what we wore. We might look back on an old photograph and instantly be brought back to a time and a place because of what we are wearing in that photograph. We know instantly when it must have been taken. Clothes hold a special meaning to us. Wolff, and therefore Phoebe, gets that. Her clientele in her new vintage store get to experience it as well and wow, I wish I could shop there because I think it would be wonderful.

There is obviously a lot more to this story though then just clothes. Phoebe decides to open this store because she needs a change in her life. Previous to this she was working for famed auction house Sotheby's as a vintage clothes auction dealer and living the life with her best friend Emma and her fiance Guy. Then it all falls apart. Her best friend commits suicide and Phoebe feels as if her relationship with Guy is at fault. So she leaves her old life behind and starts anew with the vintage boutique. However, the guilt continues to haunt her.

Through the shop, we come to meet Phoebe's new suitors and how she might learn to get over her previous grief. Phoebe is an easy character to relate to and you really want to root for her and wish for her to get over her pain. She also meets an elderly woman, Mrs. Bell. This friendship proves to be one of the most meaningful of all. With this, I will just tell you that you really should read it because it will have you hooked!

(Thank you to Crazy Book Tours for sending me this book.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fall Recipe Exchange: Sausage with Smashed Potatoes and Cornichons

When Amy at My Friend Amy said she would be doing a Fall Recipe Exchange today I knew I wanted to participate! I love to cook and I love to share delicious recipes with others and see what everyone else just loves too. There is something about Fall that just screams comfort food, and well that is my favorite kind of food of all! Recently I was flipping through one of my favorite magazines, Real Simple, when I came across a recipe I just had to try Sausage with Smashed Potatoes and Cornichons, and oh my goodness it is every bit as delicious as it sounds! We were a little suspicious of the pickles at first, but really they just add a little crunch. Seriously, we devoured this up in seconds! Even better, it's super easy to make!

Sausage with Smashed Potatoes and Cornichons

Copyright Quentin Bacon

Serves 4Hands-On Time: 25m Total Time: 25m


  • 1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes (about 18), halved
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Italian sausage links (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
  • 1/2 cup cornichons, chopped, plus 3 tablespoons of the brine
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 small sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


  1. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil.
  2. Add 2 teaspoons salt. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Drain.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the sausages to the skillet and cook, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornichon brine, mustard, remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  6. Add the potatoes, cornichons, onion, and parsley to the bowl and mix, mashing gently. Cut the sausages into large pieces and serve with the potatoes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lonesome Dove Read Along: Week 2

It's Wild West Wednesday Week 2 and we are in it to win it now with our cowboys out on Lonesome Dove. This week we read chapters 10 - 20. Amy and I are in the 'lovin' it!' camp and Melissa is on the fence. How are you all feeling about the book so far? I came up with the discussion questions for the reading for the three of us this week. Let us know what you think on your blog or in the comments!

1) Obviously Texas and Mexico border each other and we've learned that Call and Gus used to be Rangers. Their job was to control the borders. Any Mexican caught stealing horses or cattle on the Texas side was hung or shot, yet they are going down to Mexico to gather their horses and cattle for the drive to Mexico. Newt observes this juxtaposition and so do we? Thoughts?

Leah: I thought it was interesting that this lawlessness was not tolerated in Texas by Call and Gus but they deemed it perfectly acceptable to do the very same thing across the border. Granted, they were getting back some horses and cattle stolen from someone else but they were also getting back others that they didn't know where they came from. How can they deem this so unlawful, yet have no qualms doing it themselves? Granted, I don't know the history behind it and I am not trying to pick some sort of chicken and egg battle between Mexico and Texas because there is way more history there than I can even delve into but I just thought it was interesting that this was touched on in this book.

Melissa:  Honestly, I didn’t have any thoughts about this one way or the other while I read it.  But, in modern context, it doesn’t seem much different than our current border relations. We aren’t “hanging” what are now “illegal immigrants” as opposed to “Mexicans,” but we want their services (in the book’s case, horses or Bol, the cook) as long as they serve our needs, but are willing to run them back across the border or hang them if they don’t serve our purpose. Not to mention, I think a border “wall” would really cramp Call & Gus’s horse thieving activities!

Amy:  I think it's the interesting two sides of the same coin that always goes with lawmen and criminals, it's all just a bit more obvious here.  Also, protecting one's own property can be a role in one place but they don't have the responsibility or obligation elsewhere.  It's what makes it the Wild West right? :)

2) Call has to go gather men to work on his cattle drive. We get a glimpse into home life in Texas. Some families are eager to give up their eldest sons to have less mouths to feed and some are doing much better. What did you think of these glimpses?

Leah: There were two homes that we saw, one where the father had died and the family didn't even have shoes and only a dirt floor and the other where they had a ton of children yet bountiful amounts of food. I found these glimpses to be fascinating that in the same land some families could be so successful and others could struggle so hard to survive. Is it luck, sheer force of will, or something else that allowed people to prosper?

Melissa:  What I found poignant about these scenes, is once again, when there the male figure in the house is absent (in this case, dead), the woman is stereotypically destitute.  But at the other household, even though the man is in the home, he is a drunk (not much better than alive!), but this woman is thriving.  What is it about a man, in literature, that determines the viability of a woman/family?  The first family (sorry, I can’t remember their name and my book is in the car!), she has a brood of kids – and two grown boys that she is willing to send off with Gus and Call – couldn’t they be filling the proverbial shoes the missing father?  But it also speaks to life on the frontier where families are miles and miles apart; land and it’s productive value is vastly different; and the inability to look after “one another’s neighbor.”

Amy:  Fascinating observations!  I didn't really think much about these scenes to be honest as I was reading, but I was amused by the line when the mom looked at the boys as if wondering why she'd born them.  I also thought it curious they'd be eager to be rid of the older boys when it seemed they could do more work.  But I guess by going off on the drive they are.

3) Lorena will do anything to get out of Lonesome Dove, even if means being the sole woman on the cattle drive to Montana. Would you have done the same? Thoughts on what might be up ahead for Lorena?

Leah: Bold move, Lorena that's what first comes to mind. I mean, no matter where and when, a bunch of dudes out in the middle of nowhere, things get rough and smelly. You overhear things you should never here, I don't care if you are a whore but yeah, I don't blame her. She's never seen Montana but trust me, I'd rather live there than the way Lonesome Dove sounds. Besides, she's stuck regardless so at least this way, she's doing something about her situation. You gotta respect that.

Melissa:  Before I get to Lorena, I must say, all this “guy talk” of “pokes, roots, grunts” whatever adjectives McMurtry uses to designate sex it getting tiring. It’s what we call in our family “potty talk.”  I’m just weary of it.  At one point, he used the word “poke” 3-4 times on a page! Ugh!  And the scene where Jake “pokes” Lorena after cutting horses, and the description of how dirty he is and the dirt/sand in the sheets – it grossed me out so I wanted to take a shower!

Now, to the question:  I would do whatever it took to get out of the situation I was in.  Period. And traveling with this group, isn’t that far off from the tales of Gen. Hooker’s band of women that followed him and his troops during the Civil War. I’m just wondering if she has to give services to all of her customers? Jake? Gus? Dish?

A final thought…although I am liking the book, it is much more of a chore to read than I thought it would be.  I thought I would be swept away with the “grandeur” of it, but McMurtry, to this point, seems to write the same scenes over and over again. I used the word weary earlier, and that’s how I feel, weary.

Amy:  I think Lorena is ready for her situation to change.  She's been courageous throughout.  She was already the only whore in town so she's a bit used to it.  I find the sections about Lorena the most interesting, perhaps because she is the lone female character, and the way men feel about her interesting as well, like when Jake compares her to a mountain.  

I'm actually enjoying the book much more than I thought I would.  Admittedly, I was surprised we read another ten chapters with little action but it's much more amusing that I thought it would be and I'm hoping this careful characterization (such as that long section on how Deets likes the moon) will pay off.

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