Thursday, November 11, 2010

Library book sale

It's that time of year again - the library book sale! A few weeks ago I dropped off a few things that I had read and hadn't loved. Books I really enjoyed either find a home on my shelf, or I give away to friends or family members. This year's sale was huge; one of the librarians said that there's a new committee overseeing the sale. I say, bravo new committee! Lots of great stuff. As usual, I got carried away. $1 for trade paperbacks, $2 for hardbacks; I walked out with two big bags for $29.

Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating
Amy Bloom, Where the God of Love Hangs Out (hb)
Carl Hiaasen, Flush (I think we already own a copy of this...)
Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs (hb)
Jennifer Weiner, Best Friends Forever
Amy Bloom, Away (already read it, but wanted a copy)
Patricia Wells, The Food Lover's Guide to Paris
Minimus (children's Latin textbook...I already have one copy)
Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna (hb)
Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire (hb) (already read it, but wanted a copy)
Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (already read it, but wanted a copy)
Maiya Williams, The Golden Hour (looks like something Alex would like)
Blue Balliett, Chasing Vermeer (hoping to interest Tim)
J. Courtney Sullivan, Commencement
Mark Haddon, A Spot of Bother
Neil Gaiman, American Gods (loved it, wanted my own copy)
Michael Chabon, Summerland (loved it, wondered if Alex might be ready for it)

Plus a bunch of Garfield, Simpsons, and Foxtrot comics, a Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not book, etc. which will be revealed right before our 1.75 hour drive to a soccer tournament next weekend.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hunger Games, the movie??

I just read that The Hunger Games is going to be made into a movie. While I'm glad that one of my favorite recent books is getting so much attention, I shudder to imagine what will end up on the big screen.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


So, I'm about to dive into the new Artemis Fowl book, when I realize that I really can't remember what happened in the previous book. I strained my brain to remember something - anything - about the plot, but all I could think of were some random bits from some of the previous books in the series. I looked at my Goodreads review, which was pretty vague about the plot. (I avoid plot summary in those reviews to avoid spoilers, so that wasn't a big surprise.) I finally turned to Wikipedia to read a plot summary, and while it sounded familiar, I could barely follow the convolutions of the time travel story. Crossing my fingers about starting the new one...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How to read a good book

Question for you -- when you're reading a book you know is going to be excellent, do you:
1) read it as fast as you can
2) read it slowly so as to savor every word?

I just finished another Laurie King book.... I LOVE those books, so save them to read when I know I'll have long stretches of uninterrupted time. I almost hate to read them because then I won't have a new one to read for a long time. They are the kind of books you know you'll be incredibly sad to finish because you'll miss it. So, I'm torn between reading it as fast as I can because I love it, or purposely reading linger over the story, the words, the characters....

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lightning Round!

It's just been too long. I was thinking about all my old childhood summer faves while digging through the library bag.
Ready? Go!

Favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder:
The Long Winter
Favorite BTT:
Betsy and Joe
Favorite Anne book:
Anne of the Island (I wanted to live at Patty's Place)
Favorite Nancy Drew:
Password to Larkspur Lane
Favorite Phyllis Whitney YA mystery:
Mystery on the Isle of Skye
Favorite Trixie Belden:
The Secret of the Mansion
(they find Jim, how can you not like it?)

It was always so easy to head to my bookshelf or library and reread my summer away! Now, as I dig through the aforementioned library bag, there are too many good new books to spend much time re-reading!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Life Cycle of Basil

It's been quite awhile since I've posted but I thought I'd get back into the swing of blogging by featuring some pictures I took while making a huge batch of pesto a few days ago. I filled two plastic grocery bags with basil and the plants hardly look like I touched them. It's been quite a good month for basil and the tomatos are doing well too. I'll post some pictures of them later. The only drawback to the good plant weather is that the mosquitos are the size of small aircraft. Weeding and even watering often involves a lot of arm and leg slapping. Ah well.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I just finished rading two books: The Shanghai Girls by Lisa See and The Samuri's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. One was for bookclub, the other recommended by a friend.

And, completely by coincedence, they both revolve around the Second Sino-Japanese War, which began with an invasion of China in 1937.

While I had heard of this, I certainly didn't know anything about it. Not that I do now, but I do know a bit more and have gone looking for information.

I just find it strange that I'd read two books back -to-back that center around the same historical period (unintentionally -- of course I've done on purpose....)

And, it once again, reinforces the thesis of my Historical Methods class I took senior year (whatever it was called) that teaching history through fiction (well-researched fiction) is a valid, valuable method. The professor did NOT agree with me (or maybe it was my orange crew cut he didn't like....)

Friday, June 11, 2010

First Sentence Quiz

Following up on the First Sentence post below, have you seen the First Sentence Quiz on Goodreads??

Monday, May 31, 2010

Extra Curricular

This post has nothing to do with books or gardens. It's all about Dairy Queen.

Completely unintentionally, I have gotten myself quite involved with the preservation of the Roseville Dairy Queen. Who knew it was Minnesota's first DQ? (Or sort of...) It is an iconic tribute to 1950s car culture -- Roseville, Richfield and St. Louis Park are all totally 1950s suburbs. I have grown to find that first ring suburb stuff quite charming.

The DQ was named to the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota's 10 Most Endangered Buildings list for 2010. I was horrified to see my DQ on the list!

One of my friends built a Facebook page just to see what would happen. It was slow at first, but it has really taken off! We're up well over 400 "fans" and have generated a couple of newspaper articles.

We've got email conversations going with the Preservation Alliance on action steps. Not at all confident we'll be able to save the building, but geez, you gotta try!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I usually don't read cookbooks from cover to cover. In fact, I never do, but sometimes I enjoy browsing through some, looking at the various recipes. Most often I am looking for inspiration for cooking that night's dinner, since I'm rarely organized enough to plan a week's menu in advance.

Of course, some cookbooks are more suitable for this than others. Mark Bittman's cookbooks are some of my favorites for menu ideas, and I love his no-nonsense style with suggestions for variations and shortcuts. (There's also a "How to Cook Everything" iPhone app.) "The Best Recipe" (also known as "the recipe book" in my house), pulling together recipes and techniques from the magazine "Cook's Illustrated," includes large blocks of text with explanations for the specific proportions and timings for each recipe. This is especially helpful for learning what makes a dish turn out the way it does - thicker or crunchier or whatever. The same goes for the King Arthur cookbooks, with variations for specific recipes so you can make brownies, say, with similar flavor but fudgier, cakier, thicker, thinner, etc.

This morning I picked up a cookbook I received for Christmas. It, too, has plenty of text, plus some lovely color photographs, and I couldn't remember why I hadn't used it at all yet. Then I started skimming through it, and I remembered: the layout is infuriating. Almost every recipe runs two pages, but the ingredients are on the right-hand side, and you have to turn the page to see the directions. It might make for good reading, but I don't think I'll ever cook from it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I want Betsy's Life

OK, just finished the Betsy Tacy series. I seriously don't think I ever read the whole series as a kid - can you believe that??? I know I read probably the first four, but not the last few. I wonder if they were really even around when we were kids? Of course they were around, but they certainly weren't popular.

So, truly, wouldn't Betsy's life be about perfect?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

First lines

Well, Doc Jen and I may remember them better, but there were a couple professors who loved first lines of novels and always made me aware of them. Thought I'd share a couple of good ones of late.

The most magical thing happened on the morning of my grandmother's wedding in Tuscany. (Brava, Valentine)

Momma left her red satin shoes in the middle of the road. (Saving Ceecee Honeycutt)

"I'm Mary Magdalene" (Final Exam)

There comes a time in every girl's life when she realizes her father isn't perfect. (Truly, Madly)

They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that's not how is happened for me. (Before I Fall)

There were also those professors who really liked the last sentences of novels, but that's for another day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Power's back!

On Saturday, we had a record-setting snowfall, about 2 feet in one day. We dug out, the kids had a 2-hour delay on Monday, and things were back to normal on Tuesday. But then we had a second snowfall Tuesday night and all Wednesday; the kids and I both had snow days declared on Wednesday and Thursday, and I was looking forward to some snug days of reading in my favorite chair next to the radiator and baking all sorts of yummies. I stocked up on all the essentials - eggs, flour, sugar, books from the library - and felt smug in my preparations. Then our power went out at 3:30 on Wednesday. And it didn't come back on.

My king cake was rising on the counter, so when it got to be 6:00 and the power still wasn't back, we decided to go over to a friend's house for dinner and to bake the cake. It would've taken quite a while to shovel out our driveway, so we walked - Eric carrying the cookie sheet with the pan. (He slipped and fell once, but miraculously saved the cake.) Just as we got to Liz and Steve's house, sighing with relief - their power went out. Luckily dinner was still hot and we were able to have a hot meal by candlelight, and we played games by candlelight. Still no power at 10:00, so we trekked home in the snow with the cake.

There are a lot of evergreens here, and their needles hold a lot of snow. With a second 2-foot snowfall, a lot of branches and whole trees had broken off. It was amazingly bright outside, with all the snow reflecting light.

We bundled up and went to bed. Still no power when we went got up, so we dug out our driveway and went out for breakfast. When we came home, the power was back on. Thank goodness! I was having visions of Life As We Knew It as well as the movie "The Day Before Yesterday."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy crops

In one of the courses I'm teaching this semester, we're reading the Georgics, a set of four didactic poems by Vergil, a 1st-century BCE Roman poet. In the first one, he offers all sorts of advice about planting and sowing crops, and it includes the classic line "nudus ara, sere nudus" - "plant naked, sow naked." Now, I'm not advising this, but it would make our gardening efforts a little racier.

But to get to the real purpose of this post, I want to tell you about the word laetus in Latin. When applied to people, it is usually translated as happy. Vergil, however, uses it quite often in reference to plants and crops to mean fertile, but in doing so he also anthropomorphizes the plants somewhat. I digressed in class a bit about this word, and how I like to imagine happy crops. One of my students emailed me later to say that he liked that translation, and that it reminded him of a game called "Plants vs. Zombies." It looks like a good game - and how can you not like cartoon zombies? - so I've been tempted to get this, but I have to wait at least until I'm done with the chapter I'm writing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I am the Messenger

I decided to use I am the Messenger--a favorite of several of the Fertile Plots gang from last year--with my English 108 class, a class designed to prepare students for college level reading and writing. Here's a brief synopsis (courtesy of my Goodreads review):

Ed Kennedy is a 19-year-old cab driver, who hasn't done much with his life. Unlike his successful brothers and sisters, he still lives in his hometown and seems destined to take after his hapless (now dead) father. He plays cards with his friends, is hopelessly but fruitlessly in love with one of them (Audrey), and spends much of his time with his smelly, beer-drinking dog, Doorman. Then one day, he accidently foils a bank robbery and something changes. Not only does he get some press coverage but very soon after a playing card, the Ace of Diamonds, arrives in the mail. It has three addresses on it and each address has a time of day written after it. This card and the addresses it contains start Ed on a journey from which there is no going back.

I'm hoping the style and mystery will pull in reluctant readers and I'm hoping that no one will be put off by the PG-13 nature of it. I just re-read it last week and I suddenly became hyper aware of everytime Ed swears or references sex. Not sure what's up with that because my students are all adults but . . .

Anyway, I loved the book just as much the second time and I'm curious to see what my class will make of it. I actually just orderd a version of it on CD because I want to preview it for my students next week by playing the first chapter. It'll sound better read in an Australian accent.

I'll let you all know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Newbery 2010

When You Reach Me won the Newbery Medal! I'm very happy that Rebecca Stead received this honor for her wonderful book. I'm also pleased that the award validates one of my top-10 picks.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, another recent read that I really enjoyed, won a Newbery Honor (runner-up) award, too!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Another Top Ten!

Like JNJ said, there aren't a lot of surprises here that you couldn't have guessed from goodreads, but it is a lot of fun to look back and remember what really resonated in the past twelve months of reading. And I have you guys to thank for making it slightly more purposeful!
In no special order, my ten of '09:

Catching Fire
Collins hit this one out of the park. Who didn't want to know what happened the second Katniss got off the train at the end of The Hunger Games and now can't wait to learn about what may have really happened in District 12?

The Help
I've seen it on a lot of '09 lists, and it should be there. It's a beautifully narrated novel by three very distinct women viewing and living through a tumultuous time in the Deep South.

A Girl Named Zippy
Finally checked this gem out thanks to Doc Jen. I couldn't believe I had missed such a great memoir and how different Kimmel's life and time was to my own.

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
One of those great first novels, Bradley mixes a mystery in a small English community with a tween-aged detective who shines as though this was a Christie cozy. I love the picture in my head of her careening about the countryside on her trusty bike.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Another fabulous first novel, Ford's tale in WWII Seattle vividly described another side of Japanese internment and how some of the Chinese were impacted as well. Both the young and old Henry Lee's concern for his former classmate and friend Keiko was truly touching.

Going Bovine
I picked this over I Am The Messenger because although they both feature slacker teenaged young men, the lessons Cam learns on his cross-country trek are priceless. Especially when accompanied by a dwarf and a talking yard gnome.

Gregor and the Code of the Claw
Collins gets to have two "entries" because she really is just that darn good right now! I loved the end of this five book story arc and how Gregor and his family and friends "won" against the bad guys.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
I happened to read this in the fall, and really, is there any better time to read a semi-historical fiction book about a possible Salem witch?

Under This Unbroken Sky
The Oklahoma Dustbowl had nothing on the wilds of the Canadian prairie in the harsh years after the Depression. Immigrants Teodor and Maria struggle to make a go of their farm while battling family demons, discrimination and the elements in a heartbreaking tale.

The Girl Who Played With Fire
Lisbeth Salander becomes a much more rounded character in the second of Larsson's trilogy. For all of her troubles, Salander seems somewhat in control of the chaos in her life. I can't wait to see what's kicked up in the Hornet's Nest.

I decided my runners up would have a theme this year! They are all wonderful goodbyes to some very dear characters. It was nice to see the authors continue strong series to fitting conclusions.

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Are These My Bassoomas I see Before Me? by Louise Rennison
Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Top Reads of 2009

Well, here it is January 2, so it's high time that we start posting our top 10 lists! As we did last year, I'm including only books I read during the calendar year 2009, in no particular order. Since we all review books on Goodreads, there are no particular surprises, but I always enjoy going back through a year's worth of reading to decide which were real standouts and which, in retrospect, didn't stay with me as much. Here goes!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford
We see the events following Pearl Harbor through the eyes of Henry Lee, whose parents are determined that their son learn English, but still conform to Chinese tradition. When Keiko, a second-generation Japanese girl, transfers to his school, they are thrown together as the only non-whites. Then Japanese-Americans start being rounded up, and Henry is torn between his affection for Keiko and his compulsion to be a dutiful son.

People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
A 500-year-old haggadah has resurfaced in Sarajevo after the Bosnian war. The narrative interleaves the modern-day restoration of the codex with sections about its history. Each vignette is peopled by vivid characters living at times of unrest and danger; the thread that links them all is the unique haggadah, and the sacrifices that individuals made when they crossed religious lines to save it.

Un Lun Dun, China Mieville
This is a wonderfully imaginative book. Its structure is a familiar one: odd things happen, and suddenly Zanna finds herself with her friend, Deeba, in unLondon, an alternate world that is threatened by a malevolent force which she is expected to conquer. However, Mieville starts deconstructing the “chosen one” storyline partway through the book in entertaining and unexpected ways.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, Geraldine Brooks
When the bubonic plague breaks out in a small English village in 1665, they make a surprising decision: to avoid spreading the disease, they voluntarily shut off commerce with neighboring towns. Brooks focuses on Anna Frith, an uneducated miner’s widow, during this year of anguish and some surprising opportunities.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
For 3 generations, the Sawtelles have raised dogs that are famed for their training. Edgar is born mute, but he has an uncanny ability communicate with the dogs. When Edgar’s father dies and his uncle takes his place, Edgar withdraws more and more from human contact. The parallels with Hamlet are unmistakeable, and yet this is enough of its own story that I often felt surprised by the plot as it unfolded.

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
Gaiman’s Newbery Award-winning book begins with the murder of a family, leaving a toddler who finds safety amongst ghosts in a nearby graveyard. After the grim beginning, the story switches to the story of the boy growing up within the confines of the graveyard. Gaiman mixes up the grim and the humorous, and he avoids easy, neat answers to complicated questions.

Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
The world that Collins imagines is so real and so disturbing. The previous Hunger Games have provoked several districts to rebel, and the totalitarian government is cracking down harder than ever.

The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan
Percy and his fellow half-bloods have a final showdown with the Titan Kronos and his assorted monsters. There are a lot of funny lines and irreverent takes on myth, along with some monumental battles (including one based on the Iliad) and a satisfying conclusion to the series.

The Magicians, Lev Grossman
Quentin Coldwater is constantly disappointed by life. Even when he is offered admission into a school of magic, meets a great girl there, and finds out that the fantasy world in his favorite Narnia-like books is real, he sinks into disinterest and dissatisfaction. I really liked this dark side of the typical “magic-is-real” plot.

When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead
This slim novel, told in short chapters, beautifully narrates the mundane details of 12-year-old Miranda’s life in New York City, 1978. It is a wonderful combination of realism with time-travel fantasy, using A Wrinkle in Time as a touchstone.

Honorable Mentions:
The Immortal Fire, Anne Ursu
Sorcery and Cecelia, Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
The Latehomecomer, Kao Kalia Yang
Atonement, Ian McEwan