Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Top 10 Tuesday: My Auto-Buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're asked to list the top ten authors on our auto-buy list (or basically authors we love enough to buy anything they write regardless of genre or subject matter).

I love classics so, unfortunately, many of my favorite authors are long dead. However, there are still plenty of contemporary authors whose work I will purchase and read automatically.

1. Jonathan Franzen - People either love him or hate him; I'm one of the former.

2. Amor Towles - After Rules of Civility, I will  read anything this man ever writes.

3. Jhumpah Lahiri - She is the queen of contemporary short stories.

4. Anna Quindlen - A personal favorite for nearly 30 years, her latest nonfiction, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, should be required reading for every woman over 50.

5. Elizabeth Strout - Two words: Olive Kitteridge. I loved her earlier novels, too, and can't wait for the upcoming release of The Burgess Boys.

6. Wally Lamb can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned, but it's been far too long since we've heard from him.

7. Stewart O'Nan - My relationship with O'Nan has been well-documented here, here, here, and here.

8. Richard Russo - I love Russo's fiction (especially Bridge of Sighs and Empire Falls) and plan to read his new memoir, Elsewhere, soon.

9. Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns were both favorites. Now I'm counting the days until And the Mountains Echoed is released.

10. Ann Patchett - I've read all of Patchett's work and will continue do to so. I also love the fact that when Nashville lost its in-town bookstores, she stepped up and opened one herself.

Do you have an auto-buy author list?
Visit The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten Tuesday posts.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Pin It and Do It: Four Crockpot Chicken Successes

As February draws to a close, it's time to wrap up my latest  "Pin It and Do It" effort. This month I've been focusing on slow cooker chicken recipes. You already know how much I love my crockpot and, since chicken is always a popular family dinner, combining the two seemed like a win-win proposition. These four recipes were the clear favorites.

Chicken Tikka Masala
I selected this pin from Real Simple  magazine because it called for garam masala, an Indian spice blend I recently purchased for another recipe. The cucumber relish perfectly balanced the chicken spices. (my pin)

Crockpot Chicken Fajitas
This recipe from Stacy Makes Cents was almost too simple! Just put everything in the crockpot and shred the chicken before serving - that's it. Adding a little less chicken broth (I used the full half cup) is the only change I'll make next time. The photo is from Pinterest - I didn't have time to get one of my own. (my pin)

Crockpot Italian Chicken
This is actually a Weight Watchers recipe I found at LaaLoosh. It requires a little stovetop prep, but is well worth the extra effort. The chicken was delicious, but be sure you have fresh parsley on hand. The color really adds to the presentation. Also, I used all baby portabella mushrooms instead of a mix. My photo was too dark, so I'm using one from Pinterest. (my pin)

Crockpot Indonesian Chicken
Here is another Weight Watchers recipe from LaaLoosh. I love coconut milk, lime, and coriander, and knew this would be a hit. I used a combination of chicken parts instead of all drumsticks. Yum. Again, the photo is from Pinterest. I'm convinced food photography is an art! (my pin)

There's nothing like having a meal nearly prepared by dinnertime. Just steam some fresh vegies, and you're good to go. I could happily use my crockpot every night, especially during the winter. Do you have a favorite slow cooker recipe to share?

Thanks again for hosting, Trish. My family loves this challenge!

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Washington Square by Henry James

Washington Square
by Henry James
originally published in 1880
Modern Library, 2002 edition
288 pages

Book description (from amazon):
Washington Square follows the coming-of-age of its plain-faced, kindhearted heroine, Catherine Sloper. Much to her father’s vexation, a handsome opportunist named Morris Townsend woos the long-suffering heiress, intent on claiming her fortune. When Catherine stubbornly refuses to call off her engagement, Dr. Sloper forces Catherine to choose between her inheritance and the only man she will ever truly love. Cynthia Ozick, in her Introduction to what she calls Henry James’s “most American fiction,” writes that “every line, every paragraph, every chapter [of Washington Square] is a fleet-footed light brigade, an engine of irony.” Precise and understated, this charming novel endures as a matchless study of New York in the mid-nineteenth century.

My thoughts:
After seeing The Heiress  on Broadway (starring Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame!), I felt compelled to read the novel behind the play. I'm not sure how long the book has been on my shelf, but the measure is in years rather than months.

My love of the show certainly influenced my reaction to the book, and it often felt like I was watching the play again as I read. As far as Henry James novels go, this seems to be among the most readable. He is famous for long, convoluted sentences, especially in later works, but there was very little of that here. Washington Square is relatively straight-forward and easy to follow.

A description of Catherine:
"She was a healthy, well-grown child, without a trace of her mother's beauty. She was not ugly; she had simply a plain, dull, gentle countenance. The most that had ever been said for her was that she had a "nice" face; and, though she was an heiress, no one had ever thought of regarding her as a belle. Her father's opinion of her moral purity was abundantly justified; she was excellently, imperturbably good; affectionate, docile, obedient, and much addicted to speaking the truth. In her younger years she was a good deal of a romp, and though it is an awkward confession to make about one's heroine, I must add that she was something of a glutton. She never, that I know of, stole raisins out of the pantry, but she devoted her pocket money to the purchase of creme cakes..."  p. 12
and on her character awakening:
"Catherine meanwhile had made a discovery of a very different sort; it had become vivid to her that there was a great excitement in trying to be a good daughter. She had an entirely new feeling, which may be described as a state of expectant suspense about her own actions. She watched herself as she would have watched another person, and wondered what she would do. It was as if this other person who was both herself and not herself, had suddenly sprung into being, inspiring her with a natural curiosity as to the performance of untested functions." p. 104
My rating:

Bottom line:
 Overall, a very readable and enjoyable Henry James novel, but The Portrait of a Lady is still my favorite. The play, however, is highly recommended!

Washington Square is available as a free kindle download.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday Intro: A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym

"I suppose it must have been the shock of hearing the telephone ring, apparently in the church, that made me turn my head and see Piers Longridge in one of the side aisles behind me. It sounded shrill and particularly urgent against the music of the organ, and it was probably because I had never before heard a telephone ringing in church that my thoughts were immediately distracted, so that I found myself wondering where it could be and whether anyone would answer it. I imagined the little bent woman in the peacock blue hat who acted as verger going into the vestry and picking up the receiver gingerly, if only to put an end to the loud unsuitable ringing. She might say that Father Thames was engaged at the moment and not available; but surely the caller ought to have known that, for it was St. Luke's day, the patronal festival of the church, and this lunchtime Mass was one of the services held for people who worked in the offices near by or perhaps for the idle ones like myself who had been too lazy to get up for an earlier service."
A Glass of Blessings
by Barbara Pym

With a style immediately recognizable as Barbara Pym, I quickly settled into her 1958 novel, A Glass of Blessings. Open Road Media recently released several of Pym's novels in ebook format to celebrate her upcoming centenary. I received a review copy through NetGalley.

Have you read Barbara Pym? What do you think of this intro?

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, February 18, 2013

In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods
by Tana French
Narrated by Steven Crossley
Dublin Murder Squad, Book 1
Penguin Audiobooks, 2007
20 hours and 23 minutes
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a 12-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox (his partner and closest friend) find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

My thoughts:
I am Tana French's newest fan. She has been on my 'authors to read' list forever, and our recent trip to Florida seemed like the perfect time to follow multiple recommendations (Staci's, most recently) and get started. Mystery is not usually my genre of choice, but with two under my belt by mid-February, I've now equaled last year's final tally. Perhaps a new reading trend is developing.

As for the novel itself, the plot is riveting, the writing solid, and I especially enjoyed the strong psychological component. Some of these characters have serious issues! The twists kept me guessing right up until the end. Yet even then, the case is not wrapped up neatly and filed away.

I will be reading all of French's novels.

A note on the audio production:
Steven Crossley, narrating from Rob Ryan's point of view, was pitch perfect - slow, deliberate, and at times, almost wistful. Although he has nearly one hundred credits to his name, including many of Ian McEwan's novels (which seems like a perfect match to me), this was my first time listening to him. I was disappointed to learn that he does not narrate French's other books.

My rating:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

In Which I Take a Turn About the Room

After more than a little hesitation, I've decided to take the The Classics Spin.

Here's how it works:
- Go to your blog.
- Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List. Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)
- Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday. (2/18)
- Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
- The challenge is to read that book by April 1, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading! (No fair not listing any scary ones!)

Sounds like fun, right? We'll see. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that numbers 6 -10 will not be chosen. After starting a Vanity Fair read-along this week,  another chunksters by April 1 may be too much to handle. Here's my list:

Pick Me, Pick Me (books I want to read now)
1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
2. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
3. Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
4. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier
5. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Chunksters (nearly 500 pages or more)
6. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
7. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
8. A Light in August by William Faulkner
9. Them by Joyce Carol Oates
10. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

Quickies (books under 300 pages)
11. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
12. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
13. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
14. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
15. The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Favorite Authors
16. The Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton
17. Cranford by Eizabeth Gaskell
18. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple
19. The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck
20. Imperial Women by Pearl S. Buck

So let's spin...or, take turn about the room!

The spin number is 14. I will read The Picture of Dorian Gray by April 1.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Beginning Vanity Fair

The Vanity Fair Read-along hosted by Trish and Melissa is officially underway. I started early and listened to the first couple of chapters yesterday morning.

Vanity Fair, subtitled A Novel without a Hero, by William Makepeace Thackeray was first published in 1847–48 and satirized society in early 19th-century Britain. The title comes from John Bunyan's allegorical story The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) which was still widely read at that time. "Vanity Fair" refers to a stop along the pilgrim's progress: a never-ending fair in a town called Vanity, meant to represent man's sinful attachment to worldly things.

Book description (from amazon):
No one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and worldly success than the alluring and ruthless Becky Sharp, who defies her impoverished background to clamber up the class ladder. Her sentimental companion Amelia, however, longs only for caddish soldier George. As the two heroines make their way through the tawdry glamour of Regency society, battles—military and domestic—are fought, fortunes made and lost. The one steadfast and honourable figure in this corrupt world is Dobbin with his devotion to Amelia, bringing pathos and depth to Thackeray's gloriously satirical epic of love and social adventure.

Plan of attack:
Total immersion is my favorite approach to long classics these days, and involves a combination of reading and listening. I listen on my iPhone - in the car, on the treadmill, walking the dog, cleaning the house, etc. - and read at home in the evening.

This time I have chosen Tantor Audio's 2008 production narrated by Wanda McCaddon (28 hours and 45minutes)

and my old Penguin Classic paperback edition, 809 pages plus notes.

Initial impression:
After just two chapters, I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy this novel. The characters of Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley have been introduced and present quite a contrast.

This quote from chapter two makes me think Thackery has a few lessons to teach:
The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.  Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.
Follow the conversation on twitter: #YoureSoVain

Next post: Midpoint check-in around March 1

It's not too late... why not join us?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Famous Love Letters

From The Writer's Almanac, and just in time for Valentine's Day:

Poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning carried out one of the most famous romantic correspondences in literary history. They first introduced themselves by epistolary means, and fell in love even before they had met in person. The letter that began their relationship was written by Robert in January 1845; it was essentially a piece of fan mail to esteemed poet Elizabeth Barrett. He wrote:

"I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett — and this is no offhand complimentary letter that I shall write — whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning and turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me ..."

Barrett responded right away: "I thank you, dear Mr Browning, from the bottom of my heart. ... Such a letter from such a hand!"

They continued writing to each other, clandestinely, for a year and a half, and then they secretly got married in 1846. Right before the wedding, Robert mailed off to Elizabeth a letter that said: "Words can never tell you, however, — form them, transform them anyway, — how perfectly dear you are to me — perfectly dear to my heart and soul. I look back, and in every one point, every word and gesture, every letter, every silence — you have been entirely perfect to me — I would not change one word, one look. I am all gratitude — and all pride (under the proper feeling which ascribes pride to the right source) all pride that my life has been so crowned by you."

And then, the day after the wedding, she wrote to him:

"What could be better than [your] lifting me from the ground and carrying me into life and the sunshine? ... All that I am, I owe you — if I enjoy anything now and henceforth, it is through you."

During their courtship, she was composing sonnets for him, which she presented to him as a wedding gift. The sonnets were published in 1850 and include one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's most famous love poems ever:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Have you written a love letter today?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday Intro: Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford

"Camden, with its ring of mountains rising behind the white clapboard houses facing Penobscot Bay, made the most of its view. Nowhere else on the coast of Maine was there such dramatic natural beauty. The houses were like weathered faces turned to watch the sea. The upland meadows of ox-eyed daisies, timothy, and sweet fern, the dark green woods of balsam and fir swept to the gentle summit of Mount Megunticook, and the rock face of Mount Battie rose from the edge of the sea as if to hold it. But it was a far less generous time than the early days of shipbuilding, upon which the town's wealth had been founded. Now even the great woodsheds along the wharves were mostly abandoned, permanent reminders of the long death of shipbuilding. The wool mills looming behind the town offered scant wages and long hours. Later in her life Edna St. Vincent Millay would say she was "a girl  who had lived all her life at the very tide-line of the sea," but in the fall of 1904, she moved with her family into 100 Washington Street on the far edge of town, in a section called Millville because it was near the mills. It was the smallest house in the poorest part of town, but it was one their mother could afford when she brought her girls to Camden after her divorce."
Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay
by Nancy Milford

I've long appreciated Edna St. Vincent Millay's poetry, but only became curious about her life after discovering this marker on Mount Battie during a family trip to Camden, Maine in 2010.

Now, almost three years later, I've finally started her biography. My plan is to read it slowly over the next couple of months.

Our view of Camden from Mount Battie:

Have you read Millay's poetry? What do you think of the intro?

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 paragraph(s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Sunday Salon: Current Reading, A Read-Along, and the TBR Double Dog Dare

Good morning! It's a sunny winter wonderland in Central New York. We received just under a foot of snow from Nemo but, since wind was not a factor here, it was business as usual by Saturday morning. I hope all my east coast friends came through the storm unscathed.

February is off to a great start, especially when it comes to reading. I finished Mudbound by Hillary Jordan earlier this week and absolutely loved it. It's my first 5 star read of the year and will likely end up a 2013 favorite. My book club will discuss it later this month, so I'll post my thoughts and meeting notes together.

Now I'm enjoying Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford. Warning - a literary biography binge could be starting!

Have you heard about the Vanity Fair Read-along hosted by Trish and Melissa? Not only is the book is on my Classics Club list, it's also part of a personal bonus challenge. The month-long project officially begins on the 15th and I'm planning on a read/listen combination. If you're even vaguely interested, check out Melissa's Ten Reasons Why You Should Do It. The twitter hashtag #YoureSoVain convinced me!

Now, about the TBR Double Dog Dare...  I slipped up while on vacation last month. A copy of Fall of Giants was on the condo bookshelf and, because it was on my wish list, I started reading. (At that point, I could still rationalize that it was on somebody's tbr shelf.)  The story drew me in immediately, but the 1000 page hardcover was just too heavy and bulky to read comfortably. So, what was a new kindle owner to do? I downloaded the ebook and finished reading. It was so easy!

Having a kindle makes it pretty hard to concentrate on my 'to be read' shelves, especially when amazon keeps emailing me their daily deals, but I'm determined to put this transgression behind me and continue to read from my shelves until April. Wish me luck.

I doubt there will be time for reading today. We're going to see Syracuse Opera's production of Sweeney Todd  this afternoon (hope I can catch the end of the SU basketball game), and I understand there is a two-hour episode of Downton Abbey  tonight. I plan to catch up with my blog reading before it begins.

What are you up to today?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saturday Snapshot: One Last Christmas Gift

...or possibly an early Valentine? These lovely greyhound bookends, on back order during the holiday season, arrived Thursday. Somebody knows me very well!

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by:
Alyce from At Home With Books

Find details and more photos here.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy #1)
by Ken Follett
1008 pages
Penguin Group USA, 2010

Set in the early years of the 20th century, this sweeping saga carries us from battlefields to bedrooms across three continents. The characters, both historic and fictional, come from different countries, classes, and backgrounds, yet their lives intersect in the most plausible ways.

Fall of Giants had been on my wish list for some time when I discovered a copy on the condo bookshelf during our recent trip to Florida. Although I'd packed several vacation books, this seemed like a sign. I was immediately swept up in the drama of a tiny Welsh mining community and, before really deciding to 'commit', I'd read 100 pages. The 1000 page hardcover was far too heavy and bulky to read comfortably, so I ended up downloading the kindle version to my new paperwhite and breezed through the next 900 pages. {Unfortunately this means I have failed the TBR Double Dog Dare, but I'm still in until April.}

Fall of Giants turned out to be a perfect vacation book. Even though the character list is several pages long (and I referred to it frequently in the beginning), it's a fairly quick and easy read that held my interest for the entire thousand pages. I do enjoy a healthy dose of soap opera with my history!

Now the question is whether to download book 2 (Winter of the World) of the trilogy immediately or save it for my next vacation...

My rating:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday Intro: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

"Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood: Howdy boys! Remember me?  The thought of it kept us digging even after the blisters on our palms had burst, re-formed and burst again. Every shovelful was an agony - the old man, getting his last licks. Still, I was glad of the pain. It shoved away thought and memory."
by Hillary Jordan

Mudbound  by Hillary Jordan is my book club's February selection. I had a chance to read the first chapter over the weekend and, from the opening paragraph, the writing has totally captivated me. I can't wait to read more!

Have you read this book? What do you think of the opening?

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 paragraph(s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Those Fabulous Beekman Boys

While Beekman mania seems to be sweeping the county, my own personal Beekman obsession surfaced last Saturday when I had the opportunity to meet Josh and Brent at a local tasting/book signing event.

Before I get to that, let me back up a little. Early last fall Sandy (my ultimate audiobook recommendation source) posted a review of Josh Kilmer-Purcell's memoir The Bucolic Plague. Since Sandy is never wrong, I downloaded the title to my iPod and began listening.  I loved it just as much as Sandy and when I raved about it to my book club, they chose The Bucolic Plague for our December selection. After a lively discussion, we even made tentative plans for a spring road trip to Sharon Springs

However, thanks to a blogger debacle (I hit the "delete" button by mistake and could not recover my post), the review never published. I can't face writing it again, but I will tell you that I actually considered converting the garden shed to a barn and raising a few goats! My husband nixed that idea.

Fast forward to last Saturday. Josh, Brent, and over two hundred of their fans (including six members of my book club) gathered at a local Inn for a tasting event which featured five recipes from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook. Stations were scattered throughout the main rooms and displayed the recipe, along with a gorgeous floral arrangement, next to each dish. It was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

Both books were available to purchase and, at one point, the signing line extended out of the main dining room and into the lobby. Josh and Brent were wonderful, as expected... very friendly and witty. The Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Kale was pretty amazing, too.  I also have it on good authority that the recipe for Butternut Squash-filled Lasagna Rolls is excellent. I can't wait to try a few of these recipes for myself.

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend. 


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