Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Skeletons at the Feast

by Chris Bohjalian

I loved this book. It provided me with perspective. Previously when I thought of WWII, I thought of the horrible atrocities pronounced on the Jews by Hitler and the German people. I will always think of the wrongs done to the Jews, but my view has been expanded to include all people wronged by the evil actions of a relative few.

Skeletons at the Feast tells the story of a prosperous farming family who are forced to leave their home and make their way to the Allied lines to find safety from the invading Russian army at the end of the war. They have heard rumors of the ill treatment of the Jews by their beloved Fuhrer but find them hard to believe. They haven't witnessed the mass evacuations because of their removed location on the farm. My heart ached for their suffering. The mother especially revered Hitler and can't understand why the Russians were invading their country with such contempt and killing the Germans in such vile ways. She asked, "What have we done to make them hates us this much?" As the realization of the truth sinks in she is filled with shame.

The powerful stories of two other main characters are simultaneously told along with that of the Emmerich family. The first is Uri, a young Jewish man who escaped from a boxcar and has been posing as a German soldier for 3 years. The second is Cecile who is forced to march west with the rest of the women in her concentration camp as the Germans try to hide their atrocities from the eyes of the world. The woman are forced to work in a factory for awhile, but as the Russian forces draw closer they are marched further west.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Soup's On Challenge Completed

This fun and flavorful challenge was issued last year by Ex Libris. Since I love reading cookbooks and occasionally preparing a recipe I find, I decided to join this challenge.

The challenge was to read 6 cookbooks and make at least one recipe from each. The time period was from April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009. As you can see I'm getting in just under the wire! I did post about three cookbooks, The Best Family Cooker Recipes, Taste of Home's Light & Tasty annual Recipes 2003 and Making Memories: the Dairy Keen Cookbook earlier in the year. That leaves 3 more to write about today - actually I have 4 more.

If you are interested in seeing any of the recipes you can click on the links. I have a small blog for recipes and brief cooking experience notes. That blog is called A Food Journal. The books I listed above are linked back to my reviews of those books on this blog. There are links to recipes in those posts, too.

The Marshall Field's Cookbook - This is a beautiful cookbook that I bought when visiting Chicago. Dolce Bellezza told us we had to visit Macy's, the site of the original Marshall Field's store and while there we needed to buy some Frango mints. That was some pretty terrific advice that I pass on to anyone going to Chicago. Thanks Bellezza.

I only tried one recipe, Chicken Breasts with Tomato-Basil Sauce. I printed all recipes on my food blog, A Food Journal. Very tasty and quite easy and fast. I will definitely make this again. I love looking through this book because all the recipes have pictures. The next recipe I'm going to try is Coconut Shrimp with Mango-Pineapple Sauce. Doesn't that sound heavenly?

Kosher by Design Lightens Up - I was lucky enough to
receive this Jewish cookbook as a review copy. There are pages of helpful information in the front with wonderful picutres. There are definitions for some popular terms that are being tossed around, such as antioxidants, curcumin, lycopene and ellagic acid. A page lists several of the superfoods that are creating a buzz along with their potent properties and health benefits.

There's a picture of healthy grains along with a write about each, including quinoa, brown rice, spelt and farro. Also, pages devoted to oils, anoter for sugars, another for seeds and nuts, and gadgets for healthy cooking. This reference section is great and easy to read and I love having the pictures. Each recipe includes a full-page picture.

Author Susie Fishbein includes a paragraph or two with each recipe that includes interesting tidbits. One of the recipes I tried and absolutely loved was Roasted Beet Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons. Here's the paragraph included with the recipe:
Many beat woup recipes begin with boiling the beets. When you do that, you lose nutrients, color, and flavor. I prefer roasting the beets - and I always make extra. The natural sugars in the beet caramelize and the texture is wonderful. Beets contain a wealth of fiber and are rich in folic acid, essential for preventing some anemias and neural-tube birth defects.
I like this recipe so much that I am going to include beets in my garden this year. I also tried the Faux Potato Kugel, Brussels Sprouts Poppers, and Teriyaki Butternut Squash Rounds. I'm going to plant butternut squash, too!

Make-A-Mix Cookery - This is a cookbook I used when I was a young wife with 3 young children and needed to budget tightly. I regularly used the Quick Mix instead of buy Bisquick. I also used the Pancake Mix, Granola Mix, Hot Chocolate Mix.
And I adapted a lot of the mixes to fit some of my own recipes. I love this cookbook. I had to order a 2nd one because mine was nearly in shreds.

One of our family's favorite is Puff Oven Pancakes. I've been making these for over 25 years.

I've enjoyed having this cookbook back in my hands. There are so many mixes I want to make and recipes I want to try. The first part of the book has the recipes for all the money-saving mixes. This is followed by recipes for breads, main dishes, side dishes, desserts and other goodies. There's a more current edition, but I wanted THIS one.

Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Recipes for Two - I love using my
slow cooker. Nothing better than smelling those luscious aromas
all day and then putting it on the table hours after preparing it. I've only tried the Old-Fashioned Meatloaf. There are many more that I have marked. I just wish I cooked more.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Reaper Man

by Terry Pratchett

This is my second Discworld book that features Death as the main character. I enjoyed it and found myself chuckling serveral times but it didn't enthrall me like Mort did. In Mort Death decides he needs a vacation so he finds himself an apprentice.

In this one Death is forced to retire. His time is up and a new reaper man is to be hired soon. That was a bit startling since Death is one of my favorite Discworld characters. Before the new reaper man is hired and Death faces his demise there are some weird things that go on that the Wizards have to sort out. All-in-all a good story with humor guised insights. I definitely look forward to my next indulgence into Discworld, rather it features the Wizards, Death, the Witches or the Guards.

I like to refer to the Discworld reading guide. This reference shows the starter novels for each group, i.e Wizards, Witches, Death, etc. I have printed out the Microsoft Excel version and added numbers to the book titles that show the order the books were published (check the bottom of the page). When it comes to reading the novels, Pratchett wrote them all as stand-alones except for The Coulour of Magic which is followed by The Light Fantastic.
Part of the charm of these books is that they're not written in any main sequence, but rather in several interrelated series that follow the lives of many different characters and subplots. Each book does a pretty good job of standing alone, and they all incorporate major characters from other lines as minor characters in their own, which makes the whole thing very meaty and extra fun to read. ---
Whenever I review a Pratchett book I get asked which book do I recommend starting with. My answer is always Mort because it's my favorite. Keep in mind I've only read 4 of the adult novels and 3 of the Tiffany Aching YA novels. I was visiting with Framed recently and she started with Making Money and loved it. So I don't think it really matters where you start.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

As Shadows Fade

by Colleen Gleason

It just seems like a few months ago that Colleen's first book hit the blogosphere and already the Gardella Vampire Chronicles ends with book five, As Shadows Fade. Although I've been waiting with white knuckles for this book, it seems like the whole trip went just way too fast.

Most of you know that I'm not a romance reader and though these are found in the romance section of the bookstores they are so much more than romance. May I also insert that I think they are so much better than the Twilight series - better written and miles more interesting!

I'm sorry to see the story of Victoria, Sebastian and Max coming to an end. Others have reported that they liked how the series ends. I did too but I feel a little pang of sadness - for some of the characters, for the end of the series - probably both.

A comment concerning the cover: What is with that young, young boy standing behind Victoria? It can't be either Max or Sebastian! I picture those two as MEN, wiser and more self-assured than that BOY on the cover. That's my only complaint about this book. Oh, one more - it went too fast. Loved it!

Colleen so amply described a familiar feeling that I have never found the words to describe:
Victoria felt marginally better after her nap and a good meal, yet an angry, itchy sort of internal grumbling continued to nag at her.

Recognize this flower/plant?

We saw these flowers near Noddy Bay, Newfoundland. I'm hoping that someone can tell me the name.

I've searched for joint grass, snap grass and horsetail but haven't seen any pictures that look like these. I added a close-up of one blossom (click on picture to enlarge). It looks like the blossom is on a young joint grass stem.

If you have any suggestions I will be most grateful. Unfortunately I only own field guides for the western region of N. America.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

DNF - Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

I am obviously in the minority, but I am not enjoying this book in the least. I gave it 75 pages. That's enough!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Johhny and the Dead

by Terry Pratchett

I liked this second book in the series better than the first, Only You Can Save Mankind. The characters are quirky, interesting and most of them are dead. Pratchett's humor is always wonderful and usually insightful.

I liked this passage:
It occurred to Johnny again that the human mind, of which each of his friends was in possession of one almost standard sample, was like a compass. No matter how much you shook it up, no matter what happened to it, sooner or later it would end up pointing the same way.
If you are trying to encourage a young reader I think this book would be great. And I would go with this one rather than the first, it really doesn't need to be read in order. The suggested reading level is ages 9-12, but I think it can be appreciated by much older readers, too.

Monday, March 16, 2009

CanYou Identify This Place or Picture?

I am hoping that someone in the vast blogosphere will be able to help me identify where these pictures were taken. They are from our summer 2007 trip. I do know the general location, but I'm hoping I can be more specific in the photo book I'm making.

Picture 1: The lighthouse is located on the shore of Lake Superior, somewhere south of the Split Rock Lighthouse or along the northern shore of Wisconsin to the west of Bayfield.
Picture 2: This building (hotel?) is in a city along Hiway 2 in northern Wisconsin (east of Bayfield) or on Hiway 28 in the Upper Pennisula of Michigan.

Picture 3: Does anyone recognize this old-fashioned McDonald's? I'm quite sure it's in the Upper Pennisula of Michigan along Hiway 28/41. I'm hoping someone can tell me the town.

Picture 4: I think this church is in Marquette, Michigan or somewhere south of Marquette on Hiway 41. Can anyone verify that?

Hopefully someone will be able to help me. I tried to make notes of pictures taken, but my diary is very, very spotty!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stone Cold

by David Baldacci

This is book three in the wonderful Camel Club political thrillers. I have loved Oliver Stone's character from the first. He's complex, smart, skilled and he's an enigma. Oliver Stone isn't his real name - something the reader learns early in the first book. In this installment we learn his real name and quite a lot about who he was, we begin to understand what he's about and why.

Surprisingly, having answers to questions I've been asking with each book increases, not diminishes, my interest. I pulled up Baldacci's site upon completing Stone Cold to find out if there was a 4th book released. To my relief Divine Justice is waiting for me. Oh, yay-oh-yay!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast

by Bill Richardson

I read so many good reviews for this little gem that I either mooched it or bought it for one cent (plus shipping and handling - 3.99). I'm so glad I did. I enjoyed it so much that I'm going to hold onto it for a reread. Knowing that this was a keeper after only a few pages I highlighted and book-darted passages that struck my fancy. Richardson has a wonderful way with words.
Praise be, we have come to the end of a beautiful day. A day that was all the lovelier for being unexpected. A day that was a perfect pearl pulled from the bland, grey oyster we call November.
And speaking of words - I highlighted many that were unfamiliar, perhaps known only to Canadians or to people in that small community. There were also words I recognized but had never seen them used in the way Richardson did. I've italicized the terms in the few examples below.
It took me some time before I twigged to what they were . .

It pleases me so much to find odds and sods that have been left behind in books.

His house is chock-a-block with small monuments to the inventiveness of the species . . .
The twin brothers who run the B&B are in their 50's. They live on an island between Vancouver Island and the west coast of Canada. (I groaned when I read that because I wanted to pack my bags and head out immediately!) The book consists of letters written by the brothers and entries in the B&B's journal. In this manner we get to know the brothers, interesting tidbits about their mother, the family parrot and cat, some of the locals. There are fond, and often funny, memories shared.

I wonder if younger readers enjoy it as much as those of us that are on the downward slope? If you've read it and are under 40, let me know what you thought. I thought it was absolutely delightful.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mystery Gift Game

My niece, Julie, made this offer on her blog. It sounded like fun to me, although I haven't a clue what I'll be giving away. I'll figure out something.

Here are the rules:

The first three people to respond to this post will get something made by me! My choice. For you. This offer does have some restrictions and limitations:

1- I make no guarantees that you will like what I make!
2- What I create will be just for you.
3- It'll be done this year.
4- You have no clue what it's going to be.
5- I reserve the right to do something extremely strange.

The catch is that you must repost this on your blog and offer the same to the first 3 people who do the same on your blog. The first 3 people to do so and leave a comment telling me they did win a FAB-U-LOUS homemade gift by me! Oh, and be sure to post a picture of what you win when you get it!
Who's in?

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Senator's Wife

by Sue Miller

This is the story of Meri and Delia, women at opposite ends of marriage, motherhood and life and the relationship that develops as they share different apartments in the same New England house.

Meri is a beautiful, sexy young wife of a college professor. Delia is estranged from her husband, the charismatic retired senator and notorius philanderer Tom Naughton. Meri is intrigued with the elegant older woman and by the unusual relationship that exists between Delia and Tom.

My feelings about this book are mirky so I'm not even going to attempt to sort them out for this brief review. I like Miller's writing, her ability to make these women come to life, the way she develops and tells a story. The story itself is unsettling, which I'm sure is the author's intent. And that's where my feelings about the book are at this point - unsettled. I suspect time will not help me to clarify or sort them out. It's about the characters that I'm feeling so unsettled. How do I feel about them and their decisions?

Did I like this book? Mostly, yes.
Can I recommend it? Hmmmm . . . I'll get back to you on that.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Case Against My Brother

by Libby Sternberg

Orphaned and penniless in Boston after the death of their mother, two teenage brothers move to Portland, Oregon to live with their uncle. The year is 1922. WWI has ended but Americans have a great fear of the spread of Bolshevism.

The campaign for the Oregon School Question provides the backdrop for this Teen/YA mystery. The Ku Klux Klan and other unsavory groups add fuel to the referendum, an anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic movement which would outlaw parochial and non-public schools in Oregon. The law was passed but eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The brothers are Polish Catholics who have never experienced the hatred and bigotry they are faced with in Portland. The oldest brother, Adam, is charged with burglary. Fifteen-year-old Carl, who has always relied upon Adam, must take control of the situation and find a way to clear the charges against Adam.

I really enjoyed this book. Good writing, great characterization, and a mystery set against a little-known historical event made for a very good reading experience. I had no idea that the Klan ever operated anywhere but the South. I like a book that entertains as well as teaches. Most books do both, some of the lessons are quite as noticeable. Maybe I should say some teach historical facts and others teach us something about ourselves. Some do both. This one did both.

One passage that I noted:
Things happen so fast in life you don't realize something important is going by. Or maybe it's that things happen too slowly and we don't take notice because we expect the big moments to be accompanied by fireworks. Instead, they glide past us so peacefully that we're tricked into thinking everything's as easy as the passage of time itself.