Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Every year at Christmastime, we carry this book in our Kid's Department, and it's always on the big display of Christmas books for kids.  And every year, I stop, stare, pick it up, and glance through it.  I have always loved the story of the young couple who are so poor that she cuts off her locks to buy him a present, and he sells his watch to buy her combs for her hair.  The illustrations by Lisbeth Zwerger for this particular edition are just breathtaking:

They are simply done, but so elegant in their simplicity, that the story shines through.  This book sells every Christmas, as a testament to the tale of true love, and the stunning illustrations.  If you have not seen this classic Christmas tale as a picture book, look for it in your local library, or at your local bookstore.  It's a keeper.  Fortunately for me, I cut my hair off years ago, and Bud doesn't wear a pocket watch.  But I know I would sell my last book if it was all I had to buy a gift for him.  And I suspect he would do the same for me.  That's the magic of this tale and a reminder of the wonder of Christmas.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One Amazing Book! A Reminder To Read This One

I read an ARC of this book way back in November, and I've been babbling on about it since.  Yesterday, it finally went on sale at bookstores across the US.  I'm reposting my review from November to remind you to read it!

Here's my review from BarnesandNoble.com.  I can't wait for this to be released  in February, so I can tell everyone about it!  Go to Deborah's website for more information on  Discovery of Witches.

Posted 11/23/10: This book is just flat out awesome. Sometimes when you pick up a book, within the first few pages you know you're holding something special in your hands. This is one of those books. It is unlike any paranormal novel I've ever read. It's a smart, sophisticated tale of Diana Bishop, the last in a long line of powerful Bishop witches, and Matthew Clairmont, a vampire who has lived 1500 years. It takes place in Oxford, England. Diana is an American professor who's in Oxford researching ancient alchemy books when she calls up Ashmole 782, a manuscript that possibly holds the secrets to the origins of four species: humans, daemons, vampires, and witches. Diana's magical abilities unlock the spell keeping Ashmole 782 from all of those who desperately want it. She quickly sends it away, and the race is on between witches, daemons, and vampires to control Diana and find the manuscript again. Matthew is also after the manuscript, but his growing feelings for Diana soon begin to eclipse his need for the ancient manuscript. And he is the only one who can protect Diana. This book is written for an adult audience--wine, alchemy, genetics, and the world of the supernatural all combine to put you on the edge of your seat. The novel is long--almost 600 pages, but the story flows along quite nicely, building into an incredible ending. Can Diana tap into her powerful magical abilities in time to save herself and Matthew? Can a vampire and witch break an ancient taboo and be together? Will Ashmole 782 give the answers everyone has been waiting centuries to find? You must grab this, sit down, and begin reading this immediately when it comes out in February 2011. It is amazing! And, best of all, it's the first in a trilogy.

Here's a review from NPR.  I have to say, I didn't find Diana quite as annoying as this review did, but I agree wholeheartedly on the rest of it:

The Surprising Charms Of 'A Discovery Of Witches'
February 9, 2011 ShareShare
View and comment on NPR.org
"Not enough cackling."
That's what I tweeted about 25 pages into A Discovery of Witches, the fantasy romance that became the number one bestseller in hardcover fiction yesterday before it was even officially released, thanks to terrific buzz and humongous presales.
Not only did the cackle shortage suggest a certain humorlessness, but something about A Discovery of Witches seemed contrived. Even cynical. For Pete's sake, it's a book about a witch who falls in love with a vampire ... while uncovering radical secrets that a small, conservative cabal is determined to protect. What, other than cynicism, could draw such a book out of a respected academic who studies the history of science and medicine?
I darkly suspected author Deborah Harkness of just following through on the dinner-party game of ginning up ideas for zeitgeist-button pushing bestsellers. "Let's see ... a unicorn in a Depression-era traveling circus run by a vampire!" "Oooh, how about a vampire who's chased by members of a secret Catholic cult through Italy, India and Bali, learning valuable life lessons along the way?" "Nooo, a politically incorrect vampire who was horribly abused as a child rescues a lovable vegan Labrador from Swedish Nazi sympathizers!") This book seemed like that.
That the witch and vampire are really into doing yoga? Did not help.
A Discovery Of Witches is certainly annoying at the beginning. "What got me away from Madison was my intellect," heroine Diana Bishop smugly pronounces. Her amazing intellect is aided by "a prodigious, photographic memory." That's not all she has going for her, either: Bishop is a Yale professor spending a year at Oxford. She's described as an "extraordinary" actress and a disciplined athlete, and she's constantly rowing or jogging.
You sort of want to kick her.
But against all odds, A Discovery of Witches becomes increasingly charming as it goes along. There's a fine story here, centered on Bishop's discovery of a manuscript that promises to unleash all sorts of magical mayhem. Harkness tucks in bright plot twists and details based on her studies of the history of science and of really, really good wine. It's a shrewdly written romp and a satisfying snow-day read for those of us who heartily enjoyed the likes of Anne Rice and Marion Zimmer Bradley. By the book's rousing end, I didn't even miss the cackling. In fact, I was impatient for the sequel. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A War Time Christmas

David McCullough is a well known historian who has written a very simple, yet touching book about the Christmas Eve visit of Winston Churchill to Washington, D.C. in 1941, just a short time after Pearl Harbor.  In the Dark Streets Shineth tells the tale of how  Churchill traveled under very dangerous conditions to meet with Roosevelt during the dark beginnings of World War 2 in the United States.  He left his family and country to share a  message with Roosevelt during the National Tree Lighting Service, which took place on Christmas Eve at the White House.  No one knew he was coming to the United States until he was introduced by Roosevelt and gave a heartfelt speech about each home being a place of light and peace for this one night while the war waged on around the world.

This book is a slim little hardcover, but perfect for gift giving.  It contains photos of Churchill's visit, pictures of Christmas in the United States during the 1940's, and of soldiers fighting the war during Christmastime.  It also includes the full texts of Roosevelt's and Churchill's speeches on Christmas Eve.

And one final gift:  The stories of how "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" and "I'll be Home for Christmas" became famous songs we still love to hear today.

There is a DVD included of David McCullough narrating  and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing during a televised holiday event courtesy of PBS.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger is about Sally, an English maid to Lady Duff Gordon, who suffers from consumption.  Lady Duff Gordon's health is rapidly failing in the damp weather of England, and after years of traveling around the world in hopes of a cure, it soon becomes clear living for an extended period of time in a warm, dry climate is the only way Lady Duff Gordon will survive.  Off to Egypt the two travel, and Sally's life as a lady's maid slowly changes under the hot sun of Egypt.

Settling in Luxor, in the "French House", Lady Duff Gordon hires Omar to teach them Arabic and help them navigate the foreign world of Egypt.  He cooks, negotiates with locals,  and takes care of the household.  Soon Sally and Omar fall in love, and Sally finds herself pregnant.  What she chooses to do about her pregnancy sets the tone for the majority of the novel, and changes her life forever.  

Let's just say Lady Duff Gordon is a woman who is very conscious of the fact that she is a middle aged woman who has had to leave her husband and children in order to regain her health.  She expects those who work for her to live for her, and they can't have any kind of life that doesn't revolve around her.  You understand her frustrations and sorrow, being so far away from her family, but at the same time, she's not very nice.  Very demanding and oblivious to those who serve her--they have feelings, hopes, and desires, too. 

Lady Duff Gordon was an actual person; you can download her letters home from Egypt as an e-book for free.  
The story of Sally actually happened, too.  It's pretty interesting to read a novel about actual people, and Kate Pullinger does a great job of describing the beauty and harshness of Egypt in the 1860's.  The slow paced life of those with money in Egypt lulls you, much like swinging in a hammock; then the story explodes, and you're shaken awake and rooting for Sally.  

This book is available in paperback in January.  It's an interesting read about the choices women have to make  in a restricted society; in this book, Victorian England is much more restrictive than Egypt.  Brew up a pot of mint tea, shut off the phone, and settle in for Sally's story.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Present From Bud-Yippee!~

My sweetie got me a great birthday present that I had to wait about a week to get:  The NOOKcolor.  Woohoo!  We just got some into our store today, and by golly, my name was in first batch of reservations.  I finally got smart and reserved mine right away, after Bud surprised me with the news that was my birthday gift.  

What a lucky lucky woman I am.  But, here's the rub, of course:  I'm too damn tired to play with it tonight! Yep, that's right.  It was a very busy day at work--Newt Gingrich is at our store tonight, promoting his latest historical fiction novel  Valley Forge   and as you can imagine, the phones were a'ringing all day with the usual questions.  Plus, it was just plain busy--people are holiday shopping now.  Getting home was a welcome relief.

So, I managed to get home, make a pizza, sip a beer, and plugged in my NOOKcolor to charge.  I got it registered, which synced all my books from my ebook library on my BN Account, and my other NOOK.  It comes with Pandora, which I had never heard of, so I played with that awhile.  Now I'm tired.  I just want to drink  some  chamomile tea and fall asleep.   Tomorrow I will attempt to play with it again and get comfortable with it.  But can I say it's neater than sh*t!!  Wow!  

I don't know how this will interfere with my: 1)NaNoWriMo writing extravaganza, and 2) Reading!  I'm in the middle of two books that are taking their sweet time speeding along.  They're both great reads, I just can't read for long before I journey to the Land of Nod.  

I'll post more information about the NOOKcolor when I get more of a chance to play with mine.  I've named it Hazel, just because that's what it feels like--Hazel.  My cover is on it's way, and then I'll have my complete NOOK experience.  Can't wait to show Bud all the gizmos and whatnots on it.  

My new toy/bookcase/radio/internet thingy

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Christmas Cookie Club

The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman is about a group of women who get together in early December every year for one night of cookie swaps, food, drink, and talking about the past year.  The main character, Marnie, is a middle-aged woman who has two daughters--both pregnant.  One is 18, the other is in a high-risk pregnancy and is awaiting test results that could determine the health of her baby.  The party takes place at Marnie's house every year, and each woman brings 13 dozen cookies--one dozen for each woman, and one dozen for a hospice.

As each chapter begins, there is a short history about a main ingredient in cookies:  chocolate, flour, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, butter.  It's a great little history lesson and a nice way to break up the stories of each character.  There is also a cookie recipe included in each chapter, too.

I have to say, this is not really my kind of book.  I usually avoid novels where a group of women gather together to talk.  It seems like no one can have a "normal" life; someone is ill, someone is having an affair ( or their husband is), someone has lost their job or home, and someone desperately wants a child.  Now I understand that these things happen every day, sometimes many things to one person, and no one has a "normal" life.  We all have garbage happen to us.  But at the same time, we have a lot of good times  and sometimes major life issues just aren't happening.  Marriages are great, people are all employed, cupboards are full, and no one is sick.  I'm blessed to have friends where none are experiencing any of those issues.  Maybe some day one or more of us will, but for now, if we had a cookie club, it would be full of food, drinking, and laughing about absurd things.

This is definitely a book group book, and it would make a wonderful discussion/book party around this time of year.  And the cookies all sound marvelous.  Fans of Kate Jacobs and Kristin Hannah should grab this one.  It's now in paperback.  I got my copy at Barnes and Noble in the bargain department for $5.98.  I will pass it onto someone else.  Maybe it will inspire you to start your own  holiday tradition with your girlfriends.

It's not a bad story--don't get me wrong on this.  The characters are all likeable, I just got a bit tired of the undertone of unhappiness amidst the cookies.  I read some reviews online, and I'm definitely in the minority on this one; people raved about it.  I spent yesterday afternoon at my friend's house, making cookie dough, eating soup, and drinking wine.  We had our own little cookie party and enjoyed ourselves (and her new stove) tremendously. Not a tear was shed, even by little Turtle, and she was coasting on apple cider and no afternoon nap!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Few Months Of Reading Material

Just a few books

Wow.  I know I've said before that I have a lot of books piled up at home for my "to read" list, but I decided to gather some of them together and see just what I was up against for the next few months.  I was also curious as to my reading choices.  I've noticed that I'm reading much more historical fiction and paranormal that I used to. My non-fiction reading has been noticeably missing, and I can only figure out that it's because I've been focusing so  darn much on  fiction and teen reads!  But I am eyeing the new history book on Cleopatra, and a few biographies that look like fun.  We'll see where the whims of my reading appetite take me.

Right now, I've started A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness:  

This will be out in a few months, and it promises to be a huge hit.  I can say I am completely intrigued by the story of a modern witch, a vampire scientist, and an ancient manuscript that has secrets only the witch can decipher.  It's completely different than the usual paranormal book and I am eagerly turning the pages!  I'll post a review as soon as I've finished.  I have a very good feeling about this one!  And curiously enough, it's categorized as fiction to appeal to a broad range of people who like a good adventure with mystery thrown in.

As far as Christmas titles; well, I must admit I love to read romances at this time of year.  There's something to be said for the lure of  a love story that revolves around the holidays.  Not only is there a happy ending, but Christmas as a bonus, too.  If you're feeling a bit blue, check out the rather large selection of Christmas themed books at your local bookstore or library today.  And if you want to laugh hysterically, then read David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice:

Just don't drink anything while you're reading, cause you'll probably spit it out when you laugh.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

This is not your usual "foodie" novel.  Most of the novels I've read involving food usually revolve around Italian, Greek , or the world of desserts.  This was very different for me, and was a very charming book.  Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran takes place in the sleepy little town of Ballinacroagh in Ireland.  The three Aminpour sisters, Marjan, Bahar and Layla arrive and after renting a shop from Estelle Delmonico, they open The Babylon Cafe, serving Middle Eastern cuisine made by hand.  After a slow start, a visit from the local priest spurs the interest of the townspeople, and their business takes off.  It also helps that Marjan has a bit of magic in her fingertips, and creates dishes that will soothe the customer's appetite and their problems.  

There is trouble, of course, in the shape of Thomas McGuire, who's the unofficial town bully and a successful  businessman.  He owns three pubs and a hotel and dreams of opening a disco--his hidden passion.  He is fiercely angry that someone, especially a foreigner, has dared to buck the system and become a success.  He has half the town against the Aminpour sisters, and they are oblivious to it.  The sisters  fled Iran during the Revolution, and after many years of struggling in England, they hoped to make Ireland their home.  Each sister has a gift of her own, and haunting memories that have followed them to Ballinacroagh.  

Can they keep their cafe open and win over the town?  Will they find happiness in a sleepy little Irish village?  
Well, there's a sequel:  Rosewater and Soda Bread continues the story one year after the sisters arrive and open their cafe.  A mysterious woman washes up on shore, and she may be a link to their past in Iran.  

I throughly enjoyed Pomegranate Soup and have started on Rosewater and Soda Bread.  Marjan is captivating as the cook who works out her problems through her dishes;  Layla's forbidden romance with a local boy, and Bahar's struggle to overcome her past are all what make this novel a treat.  Each chapter has a recipe included, and a book discussion guide at the back of the book makes this ideal for a book club.  Or, just for your enjoyment.

Can I say how happy I am that pomegranate season is upon us?  I've been waiting for months, and now can enjoy those little bursts of flavor through the chilly months ahead.  If you're ambitious, you can try some of the recipes in the book that use pomegranates.  I prefer a pomegranate martini!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rediscover Magic with Faery Tale

I loved this book.  Signe Pike is feeling disconnected from the world, and still deeply grieving the death of her father.  She decides to take a three month trip to England, Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man to find out if faeries really do exist.  Starting out with wanting to believe, but feeling skeptical and blocked by fear, she connects with people along her journey who, with the guidance of faeries, help her  slowly begin to experience the joy and magic of believing, and trusting her intuition to guide her where she needs to be.  If you're feeling a bit lost, and out of touch with nature, read this book. 

Signe visits with Brian and Wendy Froud; it is one of many eye-opening experiences she has during her journey.  Brian is world famous, of course, for his faery paintings.  One book that's mentioned is Brian Froud's World of Faery.  Signe asks him, does he see faeries when he paints?  And he says, he can picture them in his mind, but whenever he tries to focus on what they really look like, their images remain slightly out of view.  It's like seeing something out of the corner of your eye, but when you turn to look at it, it's not there.  I am certainly going to take a look at his paintings and illustrations with a closer eye. 

If you remember, as a child, being fascinated with faeries and the magical realm, rediscover that fascination.  I myself feel lighter and happier after reading this book.  I can't wait to revisit my flower gardens next spring; if I'm lucky enough, maybe I'll experience some magic!  I admit--I'm hooked.  I went to bed last night reading this book, and fell asleep thinking about Signe's journey.  I woke up in the middle of the night, and for a brief moment, felt complete and utter stillness in my house that felt "otherworldly".  I promptly went back to sleep.  Strange occurance?  Maybe.  I'll take it as I felt it.  

Signe has a blog, Faery Tale that you should check out.  Her experiences haven't stopped, which is what we can all hope for--wherever you go, you see magic in the world.  Be still, be quiet, and listen.  Respect Mother Nature, and take care of her, and connect with her.  Faeries like chocolate, so stock up!

Jean Baptiste Faery

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Trying Not To Hyperventilate

19 Librarians.  Not 5, not 10, but 19.  That was the magical number I heard yesterday from our CRM, Judy.  She's organizing the Librarian Tea we are having next Wednesday.  Kirk and I swallowed heavily, then met in a huddle.  "I haven't read enough books!  Panic, Panic!"  After a few minutes, we both calmed down.  Yes, we have read enough books. We've read tons of teen books.  We're still reading teen books, and have a week to go.  

I still cringe whenever I have to speak in front of people.  My job has required me to do this, and I can't wait til the other kids in class all give their speeches, before I finally head to the front of the class. But--gulp-- I am the only kid that has to get up and speak!  But I have learned to do it, and I have also learned that it can be a bit of a nerve shaker when you look out at a crowd, and they're all sitting quietly, staring at you.  No reaction.  No facial expression.  Just staring.

I've been assured, that no, it's because what you're saying is so interesting.  I doubt that.  I know when I'm in a crowd, listening to someone up front, I'm usually figuring out what to make for supper, or going over a list of things to do.  I will tune in and out.  Now perhaps I'm just unable to sit still for any length of time, but I really think most people are like this.  

So anyway, I have a week left to try and read something else for the Librarians.  I know we'll have a great time, and they love to talk about books, and really care about providing titles that their patrons want.  It's all about getting kids into the library, and into reading.  So my small moments of being freaked out in front of a crowd are a sacrifice I'm willing to make, if it means a book I talk about will be on a library shelf, and soon in a kid's backpack after a visit to their local library.  

But, oh man, I am nail-biting nervous.  I think I have to go sit down and read for a bit.