Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Late September Sunday Salon

Time // 8:00 Sunday morning

Place //  my favorite chair

Drinking //  black coffee and trying to wake up

Reading //  I finished two books this week, The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. The Ivy Tree  was a good introduction to Stewart's work, but I loved The Age of Innocence  and can't stop thinking about it. Will share my thoughts soon.

Yesterday I started Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo for book club. We have been considering this for the past year, but the time is finally right. The author is giving a reading at Colgate University next month, so we'll all attend and then go out for dinner!

Listening //  I seem to be on a roll with nonfiction audiobooks. This week I finished (and thoroughly enjoyed) JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President by Thurston Clarke.

On impulse, I purchased Wheat Belly by William Davis when it was offered as an Audible Daily Deal last week. This book is quite compelling. Twin B has some GI issues and I'm considering a wheat-free trial for both of us.

Watching// Thanks to a twitter tip from Brona, I borrowed the 1993 movie adaptation of The Age of Innocence from the library. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer,  and Winona Ryder, it was a feast for the eyes and very true to the novel.

Making //  It was mussel week in the kitchen. I enjoy them in restaurants, but have never attempted to prepare them myself.... it may deserve a Weekend Cooking post.

Today I'm in charge of dessert for our family dinner and will try the Apple Pie Cake recipe Diane posted on Friday. It looks delicious and she promises it's very easy, too.

Blogging //  I've been experimenting with shorter, more journal-like book reviews and plan to continue this format at least until I've made it though my review backlog.

Enjoying// Extra-long walks... bright, sunny mornings, cool temperatures, changing leaves, and a good audiobook. It doesn't get much better than that!

Anticipating //  Trish is hosting an October Pin It and Do It Challenge and you all know how much I love Pinterest. Sure, there will be recipes, but there are plenty of book, movie, travel, and home decor pins I'd like to try. Who knows... I may branch out into fitness, too, and finally figure out what to do with this kettlebell!

Happy Sunday, friends!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The View From Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman

The View From Penthouse B
by Elinor Lipman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
272 pages
Source: borrowed from the library

Motivation:  Recommended by Audrey

One line summary (from amazon):
Two sisters recover from widowhood, divorce, and Bernie Madoff as unexpected roommates in a Manhattan apartment

Brief thoughts:
I really enjoyed this novel! Set so firmly in 21st century Manhattan, it even had me googling various restaurants and adding them to my NYC list. Lipman's characters are strong and well-developed; their dialogue is smart, true, and, at times, very funny. I look forward to reading more of her work and think The Inn at Lake Devine  may be next.

My rating:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday Intro: Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe

Chapter 1
The bottom drawers of Baronda Bradley's dresser are filled to overflowing with kid gloves, ballet slippers, stockings, feathers, lace collars, nineteenth-century coins, smelling salts, period playing cards, drawstring reticules, a vintage sewing kit - all the accessories with which she augments the breathtaking Regency outfits she wears to each year's Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America. A walk-in closet holds her thirty size 6 gowns - the green-and-orange with striped silk overlay, which premiered in Seattle in 2001; the flowered silk brocade day dress, from Los Angeles in 2004; the square-necked pale-pink georgette with hand-embroidered bodice; the dark red with cutout sleeves and matching long velvet coat; the lace and silk confection so daringly low-cut that, at the Vancouver ball in 2007, she armed her friends with a code word ("Shakespeare!") to deploy if they noticed a hint of areola peeking out.

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom
by Deborah Yaffe
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
277 pages

Today I'm featuring a review book I plan to begin later this week. Even though I don't dress in costume or attend JASNA events (yet), I still consider myself a Janeite and identify with the publisher's target audience:
For anyone who has ever loved a Jane Austen novel, a warm and witty look at the passionate, thriving world of Austen fandom. 
They walk among us in their bonnets and Empire-waist gowns, clutching their souvenir tote bags and battered paperbacks: the Janeites, Jane Austen’s legion of devoted fans. Who are these obsessed admirers, whose passion has transformed Austen from classic novelist to pop-culture phenomenon? Deborah Yaffe, journalist and Janeite, sets out to answer this question, exploring the remarkable endurance of Austen’s stories, the unusual zeal that their author inspires, and the striking cross-section of lives she has touched. 
Along the way, Yaffe meets a Florida lawyer with a byzantine theory about hidden subtexts in the novels, a writer of Austen fan fiction who found her own Mr. Darcy while reimagining Pride and Prejudice, and a lit professor whose roller-derby nom de skate is Stone Cold Jane Austen. Yaffe goes where Janeites gather, joining a pilgrimage to historic sites in Britain, chatting online with fellow fans, and attending the annual ball of the Jane Austen Society of North America—in period costume. Part chronicle of a vibrant literary community, part memoir of a lifelong love, Among the Janeites is a funny, touching meditation on the nature of fandom.
Do you consider yourself a Janeite? Does the opening paragraph appeal to you? I think this book sounds like a lot of fun.

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

Hotel du Lac
by Anita Brookner
192 pages
Vintage, 1995
(originally published in 1984)

Source: personal copy

Ali's  Brookner Reading Month
I actually finished just under the wire on July 28, but never managed a post.

Quick thoughts:

Patience is a virtue (at least that's what my mother always says), and that virtue was certainly rewarded during this reading experience. Switzerland's  Hotel du Lac was "known as a place which was unlikely to attract unfavourable attention, a place guaranteed to provide a restorative sojourn for those whom life had mistreated or merely fatigued."  As the novel slowly unfolds, the history and circumstances of each guest at this luxury hotel is gradually revealed as they go about their daily routines and interactions with one another.

The writing is lovely and full of insight. This is my second Brookner novel... I wonder if all are so well- suited to a contemplative mood.

Hotel du Lac  is a quiet gem!

Favorite Quotes:

"The beautiful day had within it the seeds of its own fragility: it was the last day of summer."

"Good women always think it is their fault when someone else is being offensive. Bad women never take the blame for anything."

"In her last months, she lay in bed, wearing the silk peignoir my father bought her on their honeymoon in Venice, not caring, perhaps not noticing, that the lace was torn, the pale blue faded to grey, and when she raised her eyes from her book, her eyes too were faded from blue to grey, and full of dreams, longings, disenchantment. My mother's fantasies, which remained unchanged all her life, taught me about reality. And although I keep reality in the forefront of my mind, and refer to it with grim constancy, I sometimes wonder if it serves me any better than it served my mother."

"She knew from the outset what some unfortunates never learn; she knew that the best is there to be taken, although there may not be enough to go round."

My rating:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

This Week in the Kitchen #1

It's been a strange week weather-wise. Monday and Tuesday's cool days and downright chilly evenings forced my book club meeting indoors, but by Friday we had the windows open and were dining on the patio again.

During the brief cold snap, I was craving more Salsa Chicken and Black Bean Soup, but Wegmans was out of boneless chicken thighs. I bought the bone-in variety with every intention of doing the de-boning myself, but by the time I got home that seemed like too much work and I decided to search for an alternate recipe.

Slow Cooker Latin Chicken from looked pretty good. I didn't have quite enough chicken, but slow cooker recipes are pretty loose so that didn't deter me. Everything else was prepared strictly by the recipe... except for the cooking temperature. I didn't think the sweet potatoes would be fully cooked after four hours on low, so I set my crock pot to HIGH.

We were pleased with the outcome. The chicken disappeared quickly (we only had four small pieces) and there was enough leftover black bean/sweet potato mixture to use in another meal. My daughter suggested serving ground turkey or beef over rice and topping it with the warmed leftovers. I think that's a great idea!

Since I forgot to take a picture, the above photo is from the allrecipes website. We did not serve the Latin Chicken over rice. I made a green salad instead.

This morning I was still craving soup and decided to try Quick and Easy Tortellini Soup from the baker chick,  a recipe I pinned earlier in the week. I followed the recipe exactly as written and chose to use Wegmans fresh beef-stuffed tortellini. My sample was delicious. I can't wait to serve it up with fresh grated Parmesan cheese and Italian bread for lunch!

What's cooking in your kitchen this week?

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

A Hundred Summers
by Beatriz Williams
ebook, 396 pages
Penguin Group USA, 2013
source: purchased

Quick Thoughts:

An utterly perfect, totally engaging summer read!

I loved this book from the opening paragraph to the  very last line. The setting (1930's Manhattan and coastal Rhode Island), characters, story, and structure added up to my most satisfying reading experience of the summer. I was surprised when amazon offered such a new release as a "kindle daily deal" - this book is worth the full price.

Read the plot summary and more reviews at goodreads.

My rating:

Note: Amazon is offering the kindle book for $2.99 again today.... not sure how long this deal will last.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday Intro: The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart

I might have been alone in a painted landscape. The sky was still and blue, and the high cauliflower clouds over towards the south seemed to hang without movement. Against their curded bases the fells curved and folded, blue foothills of the Pennines giving way to the misty green of pasture, where, small in the distance as hedge-parsley, trees showed in the less, wide landscape, I could see no sign of man's hand, except the lines - as old as the ridge and furrow of the pasture below me - of the dry stone walls, and the arrogant stride of the great Wall which Hadrian had driven across Northumberland, nearly two thousand years ago.
The Ivy Tree
by Mary Stewart

This intro paragraph is certainly heavy on description. It had me wondering what I was getting myself into, but dialogue, plot, and intrigue followed quickly. The first two chapters have me hooked. Still, I like the image of "cauliflower clouds".

I'm reading The Ivy Tree  for Anybolyn's Mary Stewart Reading Week. Have you read Mary Stewart? Would this opening paragraph convince you to keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Mid-September Sunday Salon

Time // 10:00 PM Saturday evening

Place // the family room couch

Eating // Nothing, I'm still full from dinner.

Drinking // Hook & Ladder chardonnay :)

Reading //  After almost no reading time last week,  I started The Ivy Tree for Anbolyn's Mary Stewart  Reading Week. A large inheritance, an impersonation, and a dark, handsome hero should make for an interesting story. I'm still reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, too, and loving the Old New York setting. Edith had such a keen sense of society and style. Despite my slow progress, I'm really enjoying this book!

Listening //  I'm on the eighth (of twelve) CD of JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President by Thurston Clarke and inventing reasons to spend time in the car.

Making// The house look like fall... seasonal decorations are on my baker's rack and a sweet cinnamon pumpkin candle is burning in the kitchen. Now if I could only get motivated for some serious fall house cleaning.

Blogging // Unfortunately, not much happened on the blog last week, but I'm working on a post with three or four mini-reviews.

Enjoying// Time spent with my parents. They moved in for a week while their hardwood floors were refinished. I hated to see them leave on Friday.

Celebrating// Twin B finally got her driver's license!

Anticipating //  My book club meeting on Tuesday  evening. I'm hosting a wine and dessert discussion of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.

Traveling// We're off to swap cars with Twin A today. She can't wait to get the Jeep back (Twin B used it for her road test) because driving a minivan around campus is just embarrassing!  Zelda is coming along for the ride and Daughter #1 will take a short train ride up from NYC to join us for the afternoon, too... a quick family reunion!

What are you up to today? We should be home in time for some evening blog hopping. I'll catch up with you then!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bon Appétit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland

by Jessie Hartland
48 pages
Schwartz & Wade, 2012

I love the idea of graphic nonfiction, especially biographies. They make so many subjects more accessible to children and more fun for adults. Just look at these wonderful illustrations... and who can resist Julia Child, France, and cooking? Whether you buy a copy for yourself or borrow it from the local library like I did, Bon Appétit!  is simply delightful. It made me want to reread  My Life in France, or pick up a copy of Dearie.

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday Intro: The Age of Innocence

On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York. 
Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitan distances "above the forties", of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and splendor with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy. Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus keeping out the "new people" whom New York was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historic associations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always so problematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music.
The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton

I've considered myself an Edith Wharton fan for years, but have somehow put off reading her masterpiece until now. The Age of Innocence, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, has swept me away into the glamorous world of Old New York. I'm happy to be reading with Audrey and hope we can coordinate a visit to The Mount sometime this fall.

What do you think of the opening paragraphs? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Soup's On!

At last.  The days are finally cooler, and the nights have been downright chilly. Yesterday morning, with the temperature under 40 degrees, I knew soup weather had finally arrived. The only question was whether to make an old favorite or try something new.

I opted for the latter and pulled out one of my favorite slow cooker cookbooks, Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O'Dea. Salsa Chicken and Black Bean Soup sounded appealing and, since all the ingredients were on hand, I decided to give it a try. Here's the recipe as it appears in the cookbook, but you can also find it here on Stephanie's blog, A Year of Slow Cooking.


The Ingredients:

--1 cup dried black beans (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)
--1 pound boneless, skinless chicken pieces
--4 cups chicken broth
--1 (16 ounce) jar prepared salsa
--1 cup frozen corn
--1 cup sliced mushrooms
--1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
--1/2 cup sour cream (to stir in at the end)
--shredded cheddar cheese, avocado slices, cilantro (optional garnishes)

The Directions:

Use a 4 quart slow cooker. If you're using dry beans, soak them overnight. Drain and rinse the beans, and put into the stoneware. Add chicken, broth, and salsa, then add the corn, mushrooms, and cumin. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or high for 5 to 6 hours.  If you'd like to thicken the broth (I did), you can use an immersion blender (I love that thing!) to blend a bit of the beans and chicken. If you don't have one, scoop out 2 cups of the soup and carefully blend in a traditional blender. Stir the mixture back into the soup. Mix in the sour cream before serving, and garnish with shredded cheese, avocado slices, and cilantro if desired.

My notes:
I used a larger slow cooker.
I love black beans, and added 3 cans instead of 2.
I used fresh, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces.
I used Tostitos medium salsa.
Reduced fat sour cream worked fine.
To mix in the sour cream, slowly add a cup or two of hot liquid to the sour cream in a bowl. Then gradually add that mixture back into the crock pot filled with hot soup, stirring constantly. This will help prevent the sour cream from curdling.

Our verdict:
We loved this soup! I'll be making it on a regular basis this fall and winter.

While looking around Stephanie's blog, I noticed that she has a new cookbook coming out later this month, 365 Slow Cooker Suppers. It will be her first cookbook to include color photographs and will surely be my next cookbook purchase. I won't even bother to preview and test a library copy.

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Author Birthday: Alice Sebold

From today's Writer's Almanac:
It's the birthday of writer Alice Sebold (books by this author), born in Madison, Wisconsin (1963). She grew up near Philadelphia — and she says that she was the "weird" one in an otherwise normal, suburban, middle-class family. Her older sister was smart and talented, but Alice fell between the cracks. She was turned down by the University of Pennsylvania even though her father was a professor there. 
She ended up at Syracuse, and during her first semester of college, she was attacked and raped near campus. Sebold tried to piece her life back together — she helped bring her rapist to trial and got him convicted with a maximum sentence; and she went back to college, where she was mentored by Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher in the creative writing program. But after graduation, she floated around all over the country, did too many drugs, worked a series of jobs, and made halfhearted attempts to write but never finished anything. When she was in her 30s, she got a job as the caretaker of an arts colony in California. It was there, in a cinderblock house in the woods with no electricity, that she finally started to write seriously. She applied to graduate school and wrote a memoir, Lucky (1999). 
Her breakthrough was her first novel, The Lovely Bones (2002), the story of a 14-year-old girl who is raped and murdered and narrates the whole novel from heaven while looking down on her family and murderer. It remained on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year.  
Sebold has said in interviews that she was as surprised by the book's success as anyone. She said, "It's very weird to succeed at thirty-nine years old and realize that in the midst of your failure, you were slowly building the life that you wanted anyway." 
Her most recent novel is The Almost Moon (2007).

A decade ago, it seemed like you couldn't turn around without bumping into The Lovely Bones.  The book was everywhere and probably read by nearly every book club in the country! I read it with both online and in-person groups and, while I didn't love it, found it fresh, creative, and disturbing.  Many members of the groups went on to read Lucky,  but I decided against it ... not my type of memoir.

Several years later, I listened to The Almost Moon.  It was engrossing, dark, and, again, disturbing. I wonder if she has a new book in progress. Have you read Alice Sebold?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mini-review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner 
by Herman Koch
e-book, 306 pages
Random House LLC, 2013
source: borrowed from library

Quick thoughts:
Unreliable narrators and unlikable characters are everywhere lately, and both figure prominently in The Dinner.  The entire novel takes place over the course (pun intended) of a single dinner in a posh Amsterdam restaurant. But make no mistake, although the meal is described in some detail, this is no foodie novel.

As two families dine, they struggle to make the toughest decision of their lives. It's dark, it's disturbing, and you'll turn pages quickly in order to ingest this tortuous meal. I finished the book in just a few days, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

To learn more, check out this summary from goodreads.

My rating:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

R.I.P. VIII is Underway!

It's R.I.P. time again! From now through the end of October, Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings  encourages us to read...
Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above. That is what embodies the stories, written and visual, that we celebrate with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event. 
There are just two simple rules:
1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.
Carl offers many levels of participation - just pick the "peril" that's right for you.
I've chosen Peril the Second: read two books of any length that you believe fit within the R.I.P. categories.

The possibilities include:

Lady Audley's Secret by M.E. Braddon  - ready to go on my kindle

Wilkie Collins - possibly The Haunted Hotel  or  The Dead Secret 

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Dracula by Bram Stoker -  perhaps a read/listen combination?

The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart - for Anbolyn's Mary Stewart Reading Week September 15-22. This quiz helped me select the perfect title.

The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer  - because I've been meaning to reader Heyer and this one is Lisa's favorite.

The Likeness by Tana French  - I enjoyed Into the Woods  on audio earlier this year.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson - because I don't want to be the last person on earth to read it!

Laura Lippmann - Her stand-alones are great, but maybe I should start at the beginning with the Tess Monaghan series.

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear - it's high time I returned to the Maisie Dobbs series!

Night Film by Marisha Pessl -  Ti's review convinced me, but it's doubtful I'll reach the top of the library hold list in the next two months.

Let the Perils Begin!!

Monday, September 2, 2013

One DNF and A Couple More Reason to Love Audible

I don't usually write about DNF (did not finish) books on this blog, but must make an exception for TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. Let the Great World Spin,  McCann's previous novel, was a favorite in 2010, so I had high hopes for this one. The fact that it recently appeared on the Mann Booker longlist further heightened my expectations.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded the audio version of TransAtlantic from McCann's beautiful prose is again apparent from the opening passage.  After the first few pages, we are drawn back in time. The structure appears similar to that of Let the Great World Spin - seemingly unrelated stories eventually connect for, what I hoped would be, a fabulous conclusion. Unfortunately, I never got that far.

The first thread of the narrative, set in 1919, tells the story of two aviators attempting the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, the second thread (1845-46) focuses on Frederick Douglass in Ireland, and the third features Sen. George Mitchell in 1998. Unfortunately, I did not fully engage with any of the stories. The audiobook narrator, Geraldine Hughes, was perfectly acceptable, so the production itself was not the problem. I borrowed a print copy from the library hoping it would help me become more involved but, after 100 pages, I simply did not care. However, I soldiered on a little longer, rather than "waste" one of my audible credits.

I mentioned my growing disappointment in a Sunday Salon post and received several comments about audible's generous return policy. Basically, you can return a book for any reason up to one year from the purchase date.

Now I've been an member for a decade, yet have never tried to return a book. In fact, it almost seems wrong to return one for no other reason than "I just couldn't get into it". But audible is committed to providing the best listening experience possible and TransAtlantic  was really a double disappointment for me -  first in not caring enough to finish a book I expected to love and second for wasting a precious listening credit.

So, I sent an email to customer service and within a couple of hours received both a polite reply and a credit. How's can you not love this company?

This is also a good time to mention that I'm finally experimenting with the new(ish) Whispersync for Voice feature on The Age of Innocence  by Edith Wharton. With the Audible App on my iPhone, I listen on the treadmill or while walking the dog, then when I open my kindle to read, it syncs to the spot where I stopped listening. This is ideal for readers like me who enjoy the experience of a read/listen combination.

Audible is currently offering the Whispersync for Voice Classic Collection for just 99 cents. You can download one of 108 free classics to your kindle and then get the audio version 99 cents. This is truly a classics lover's dream!

Have I mentioned how much I love

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Sentence: The Age of Innocence

Sunday Sentence highlights the best sentence(s) I've read this past week, out of context and without commentary.

"What could he and she really know of each other, since it was his duty, as a "decent" fellow, to conceal his past from her, and hers, as a marriageable girl, to have no past to conceal?'

The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton
page 40


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