Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Elantris = Awesome

I'm not a sci-fi/fantasy junkie, but I'm not an elitist snob either. I hate that so many people look down on the genre, like it's not real literature. I was in a book group once that I made myself quite obnoxious in my defense of science fiction and fantasy. When everybody was talking about their favorite kind of book to read, there were shock waves when I said I probably loved murder mysteries best. Everyone was sure it was science fiction and fantasy that I loved since I was so adamant in its defense. But you won't find me at conventions or role-playing on the weekends.

If you've ever read Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" books, you know what an epic series that is. The plot lines are impossible to keep track of without a glossary, the essential characters numbering in the dozens, and the creation of this fantastical world so detailed and carefully crafted that you start to wonder if it's real. I have a love/hate relationship with his books because reading a new one in the series requires me to either re-read the books or read all the glossaries of all the books. That's work. I'm lazy. They are always worth reading, just intense.

Robert Jordan passed away not too long ago, fulfilling my secret fear that he would die before finishing his series. Well, it happens to be that his widow found someone to finish his series for him when he didn't live to finish it himself. Someone who could grasp his vision and incredible scope. And it happens to be Brandon Sanderson, author of "Elantris", an amazing book I just finished today. Amazing as in the "I can't seem to put this book down and pay attention to what my children are dismantling" kind of amazing. Other than my aversion to learning new vocabulary to read a book, I loved this book. The city of Elantris, once occupied by god-like beings whose powers fed and cured all the surrounding lands is now plagued with disease that no one knows what to do about. Now when someone becomes an Elantrian, instead of becoming a glowing being with amazing powers, their body decays with them still being alive. They get tossed through the city gates without even the door hitting them on the backside on the way out. When the crown prince becomes an Elantrian on the day of his marriage, everything changes. I loved the characters and how much you wanted to see them succeed. I loved the tortured villain and what Sanderson ended up doing with him. I loved the magical element of it and how it was dealt with to cure the sickness of Elantris. I loved that the Princess Sarene was six feet tall and kind of manipulative and obnxious and completely likable. The whole darn book was so good!

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that it's a stand-alone novel. No major epics here. Nothing I will have to wait in anticipation for to finish up a plot line. Ahhh. That's very rare in fantasy novels. I think part of that is that they are creating a whole different culture, planet, physics and sometimes language and that takes quite a few pages to establish. But Sanderson accomplished all that in one book. One fat book, but still just the one. He earned many points with me on that alone.

I'm saying this book is worth reading. Did I get that across effectively? Those of you with no interest in fantasy, I have nothing to say to you. Go read Pride and Prejudice for the fourteenth time or something.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Grip of the Shadow Plague

If you haven't yet started the Fablehaven series, I don't know what to tell you. Haven't you heard how much I like it? I've only mentioned it several times on this blog. Okay, three times might not qualify as several, but I like Brandon Mull's books. Ha! Look! Four links to Brandon Mull references. That's several, right?

I finished the latest of the Fablehaven books, "The Grip of the Shadow Plague" last week and it was fabulous. My best friend politely listened to me whine about having to wait for my turn with a copy from the library and then promptly sent me her copy in the mail. Isn't that what best friends are for? Putting up with whiners? Coincidentally, it arrived at the same time as my library copy did. Heh heh. Now my hubby and I could both read at the same time. Except he hasn't started yet. I might have to leave it on his pillow at night to encourage him. Read it, darnit!

Friday, June 20, 2008

King Arthur to the Rescue

I love to cook. I love putting together ingredients and making something yummy. I love the whole creative process of baking. It probably is such a novelty to me because I never made anything until I had a husband (who suffered much during my initial efforts) and then children (who have suffered less since I spent some time experimenting on my husband). I didn't bother to learn baking from my mother since it was seemed so terribly domestic and boring at the time and because my other sisters were interested enough to take the attention away from me. I was an artist. I was planning on starving and eating take-out for many years to come. Well, starving and taking-out got me through college, but it was a good thing I got married and had kids or else I never would have discovered King Arthur Flour.

I can't even remember how I came about looking at the King Arthur Flour website, but I did and tried their 100% whole wheat bread recipe and loved it. I was journeying into the realm of bread-making at the time and was not having much luck. I had gotten a bread machine for Christmas and was dying to make a successful loaf. Once I tasted success, I had to try more and more. Not a single recipe of the website failed me and I've tried several. Here's the shameful part. I'm too cheap to buy their flour. It's expensive! But I love the recipes. The website has oodles, but the books they publish are even better. I checked out three of them from the library almost a month ago and I am very reluctant to give them back.

The first cookbook King Arthur put out is the "The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion". It's a standard volume of all things baking. I'm a weirdo who reads every sentence of introduction and explanation and this volume does not disappoint in it's readability. The chapter on high-altitude baking was great, since I live at 6,000 feet, but I really haven't had too much trouble needing to adjust for altitude using their recipes. I love the science behind baking and the sourdough section of the book was fascinating to me. I've experimented with sourdough in the past, but I'm even more excited to try again now that I have a little more knowledge. The pound cakes and cobblers are calling to me and I don't think I can resist much longer. All in all, I would pay the $35 for this cookbook. Hopefully less on Amazon.

The second major baking volume they put out was "The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion." Oooh, cookies. Um, I love 'em. I don't care much for candy, but if you present me with a well-made cookie, I'm yours. What makes this book different from any other cookie cookbook is the Essential Recipe pages and the differing recipes whether you want a crunchy cookie or a chewy one. I always go for chewy. I hate bothering to make a cookie recipe with it to turn out crunchy or crisp when I wanted chewy. This cookbook is 500 pages long, so they obviously have a lot to say about cookies.

The third book is "King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking" and it was the most interesting just to read. There's a lot of food science in this cookbook and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I would love to learn how to make artisan breads and having them be whole grain breads is even better. They go to great lengths to explain their recipes and why they need to be made they way they do and I appreciate being informed. My neighbor was over to borrow my wheat grinder and saw this book on my counter. She borrowed it, made the lemon raspberry cake from the cover, then returned the book with a slice of cake. Yum. It was a bit dense, but I think she used a more coarsely ground flour than the recipe called for. The perk of having a wheat grinder is being able to grind your wheat as fine or coarse as you like it. Anyway, this book is awesome. It's going on the Amazon wish list.

If I had unlimited time and unlimited funds, I'd make everything from scratch. And if that day ever comes, I will own all three of these books and try all the recipes, from ciabatta to tortillas to neopolitans. In the meantime, I'll keep making my 100% whole wheat loaves and daydreaming about going to the King Arthur Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont. A week of intense baking sounds like so much fun!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Great and Terrible Beauty

This book was a great and terrible read that takes place in the great and terrible Victorian era where a sixteen-year-old girl living in India with her family witnesses the murder of her mother and is shipped off to England to attend a finishing school where she learns that she has great and terrible powers and learns great and terrible secrets about her mother's past and the goings on at that school. Sensing a theme here? I read that "A Great and Terrible Beauty" by Libba Bray was amazing and awesome and I should read it right away. So I did. It was pretty good. I like how the main character, Gemma, gets the better of the snobby girls at her school. I like how the mysterious young man who follows her from India keeps popping up. But the supernatural element of it was kind of unsatisfying. I expected something different, I guess, when one reviewer said that it was like a Victorian "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". It wasn't really and I kind of was excited about it being like "Buffy". Goes to show you shouldn't read reviews, I guess.

I'll probably read the other two books, "Rebel Angels" and "The Sweet Far Thing" because I'd like to see what happens with the characters, but not before some other books on my pile of to-be-read. Now that I think about it, "Beauty" was a lot like "Twilight" so if you liked that series, you'll probably like this one. Not exactly the same, but definitely the same genre. Give it a try.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Southern Sass, Faith-filled Imagery and English School Shenanigans

Sometimes I read a book that I honestly don't have much to say about. Write a whole post? Just a blurb? It's a quandary. Such is the case for "Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank: and other words of delicate Southern wisdom" by Celia Rivenbark. It was a collection of essays by a humor writer from North Carolina. It had its funny moments. She writes with a pretty hilarious twang and I could relate to some of the ridiculousness of hyper-mothers of this day and age. The essays on Southern Silliness were probably my favorite. But I can't really recommend it, especially with the newest Fablehaven out there waiting to be read. So don't bother.

The other book I read that I don't have much to say about is "Skellig" by David Almond. It's full of imagery, references to faith and is an uplifting lyrical read. It's about a boy who's premature baby sister's health is in danger, the strange man he finds in his garage and the friend he makes. It's a Young Adult book, which I usually love, and was a quick and lovely read. I can recommend it, but I just don't have that much to say.

The last book of my most recent stack is "What I Was" by Meg Rosoff and that I can definitely recommend with much enthusiasm. I made a big mistake, though. I started out reading it and was starting to wonder if this was going to be worth reading, so I skipped to the end and read a snippet. Huge mistake! Finding out the ending has colored the entire reading experience! I never read endings. I think it's a big fat cheat to do so, but I didn't want to waste time on this book that I didn't think was going to be all that great anyway when I had some other cool books waiting for me in my bag. I wish I could turn back time and not read the ending. Stupid me! As I got further along in my reading, I discovered what a really cool story it was. It's about a sixteen-year-old boy at a boarding school on the eastern shore of England. It's a dreary place and the boy has been sent there after being kicked out of other schools for the crime of making no effort. He settles into his life of non-conformity until he meets a boy who lives in a hut right on the ocean. He's fascinated by the boy's ability to live on his own, not go to school, and do as he wishes. He wishes he was that boy, and so begins his efforts to become more like his new friend, Finn. The whole story is about examining who you are and becoming something else. It was excellent writing and I think Meg Rosoff will make it onto my list of author's that need to be explored some more.

Well, I have the first Libby Bray novel waiting for me, so I'm off to the next literary conquest.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Sad, Sad Day

My library's website kicks the proverbial posterior. In addition to searching the catalog, I can see what I have checked out, renew if necessary, place a hold on books, or make lists of books I might want to request later. And the books don't have to be checked out for me to put a hold on them. I can request a book that's just sitting on a shelf gathering dust and some saintly librarian will go fetch it off the shelf, put a slip in it with my code printed on it and put it on a special shelf for me to come pick up. Then an e-mail will get sent to me telling me that my book is there waiting for me and after a week, they'll put it back on the shelf or send it on to the next person. Really, it's quite heavenly. I have yet to wander the stacks of my library and the only place I have been is the children's room for story time. I hate wandering stacks because my children wander along behind me competing with each other to see who can pull the most books off the shelves before I freak out and start yelling. Been there, done that.

Over the last several months, I have accumulated over 200 books on my list section of my online account. I had it divided by genre and filled each category to the max. I accumulated all the titles from reading book blogs, reading newsletters from bookstores and libraries and emptying out my entire Netflix queue. This gives you a little perspective of what I have lost.

Yes, lost. When I went to my account today to ponder what to request next, my lists were gone. GONE. As my hysteria mounted, I scoured my brain trying to think of where they might have moved them. Maybe they weren't gone after all. Nope. Gone. I found an e-mail address for the web manager and sent him a note that was said something like "My lists are all gone there were so many books on them I don't know what to do help me help me HELP ME!!!!!" When I went back and looked through the directions on how to use the list manager, I saw this:

"My List is a feature that lets you create a temporary list of items from your search results. You can view the list, sort the list, add or remove items from the list, or e-mail the list. If you have set up a user account, you can also save a list of items for future reference. From a saved list, you can move items to another list, rename the list, or delete it."

I added the bold and italic type there. Why oh why didn't I see this before? Why did I invest so much time and not even bother to save or e-mail the lists? I'm sick about it. Stupid internet. Making me so lazy and dependent. I'm seriously depressed about it. I can't even begin to start over. I have the lastest "Notes from the Horn Book" newsletter sitting in my inbox and I can't even look at it. It feels like too much to start over.

Moping around for a while is in order. Please, nobody give me any kind of perspective or tell me about illiterate children in Albania or whatever. I need to lick my wounds before I muster up the strength to start over. I might have to watch some "Bones" reruns and ignore reading for a day to soothe myself. Sigh.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

44 Scotland Street

I should know by now that Alexander McCall Smith will always deliver. I absolutely loved his "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series and decided to try out some of his other books. His book "44 Scotland Street" takes place in Scotland as opposed to Botswana, but other than that change, it was nearly as delightful, if not more so than his books starring Precious Ramotswe. A difference in "Scotland" is that it's more on an ensemble cast of characters instead of one person that is focused on. He takes turns telling the story from the point of view of the people who live at the address that the title comes from and has their paths intertwine. A fun concept very well done by Smith.

The coolest aspect of this book is that it was written as a serial for a newspaper. As a bonus, there are pen drawings to go with each installment. When I read the introduction explaining how it was written and for what audience, I was jealous. Why doesn't my paper do something like that? It would make me a devoted reader and subscriber. Of course, you can't guarantee it will be anything in the caliber of Alexander McCall Smith, but it would still be fun.

I love these characters. Pat, who is taking a break from university, moves into 44 Scotland Street and gets a job at an art gallery. Matthew, her employer, is a failure at everything he attempts and his father has purchased the gallery to give him something to do. Pat forces him to extend himself. Bruce is Pat's flatmate and is an unbearable narcissist. Yet, Pat finds herself attracted to him despite his abrasiveness. Domenica is the neighbor who used to be married to a Indian businessman and is now an anthropologist. She comforts Pat in her woes. Irene, Stuart and Bertie are the family downstairs and Irene is one of those mothers who controls every aspect of her child's life and determines that his intelligence makes him better than everyone else. The poor five-year-old plays the saxophone and speaks Italian. Bertie longs to play with trains and learn rugby, but alas, his mother won't ever allow it. These are the main cast of characters, but there are several other colorful side characters that are a treat to read about. Big Lou, the owner of the coffee shop and reader of Proust. Ramsey, member of the Conservative Party and lover of musicals. Angus, painter of portraits and owner of a dog with a gold tooth. And so on.

For me, this book was like eating guacamole. Deliciously tasty, feels good going down, makes you feel like you're eating something healthy and when it's all gone, you wish you had more.