Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's not too late for a little holiday spirit!

And in this case, I am talking about the kind that comes in a glass!  Whether you're wondering what to serve with your Christmas goose, or looking for a last minute gift for the food and beverage snob in your life (we all have at least one, right?), I've got a little help for you!

Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2011.  Not only is this cookbook full of great recipe ideas for all occasions, but it also includes wine pairings for every recipe, from appetizers to desserts and everything in between.  (And if ever you wondered what wine to serve to hung-over friends at your New Year's Day brunch that goes with stickybuns?  This is going to provide you with answers!  Just me who wondered?  Ok, then, moving on...)

North American Wine Routes: a travel guide to wines & vines, from Napa to Nova Scotia, consulting editors Dan Berger and Tony Aspler.  From local wineries to destination vineyards, this guide has everything from information about the history of the locations, to the grapes grown, to food pairings.  A great way to get to know your wines, and pick a great one for your holiday meal, or for giving.

And for those interested in homebrewing beer (it's becoming more and more common all the time, and is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the US), read up in The Complete Homebrew Beer Book: 200 easy recipes from ales & lagers to extreme beers & international favorites, by George Hummel.  Hummel provides thorough analysis of the flavor components of beer, and provides recipes not just by type of beverage, but also by level of difficulty, many of which require minimal special equipment. 

And now, before someone puts me in a 12-step program, happy holidays, happy reading, and I will be back with new recommendations in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday mysteries

If you're in the mood for something light and easy to page through between rounds of cookie baking, present wrapping and tree trimming, there's nothing like a cozy holiday mystery to keep you entertained.  More and more authors have hopped onto the holiday bandwagon, and in most cases, they are great additions to ongoing series.  Here are a few of my holiday favorites...

Plum Pudding Murder, by Joanne Fluke.  Fluke, whose Hannah Swensen bakery mysteries have kept mystery readers cozy for over a decade, outdoes herself when a local loony turns up dead and Hannah is on the case to find the homicidal Scrooge who is plotting her demise, as well!  Cute, fast, and a must for any mystery reader with a sweet tooth!

Holly Blues, by Susan Wittig Albert.  China Bayles is one busy amateur sleuth.  With an herb shop and a catering business/tea room to run, as well as a family to care for, she peeved when her husband's ex-wife, Sally, shows up around the holidays broke and with nowhere to go.  When Sally's dangerous past follows her to Pecan Springs, it's up to China to get to the bottomof things.  I've mentioned before, I'm a real fan of this series, so if you like this one, I highly recommend starting at the beginning of the series and reading them all!

Busy Body, by M.C. Beaton.  While Agatha Raisin herself has often been ambivalent about the holiday season, her little village of Carsely prides itself on its Christmas traditions.  When a member of the Health and Safety Board decrees the traditional decorations as unsafe and bans a number of long-held traditions, it's no surprise when someone gives the Scrooge his due. Whether he deserved it or not, Agatha and her agency mean to solve the case!

Happy reading!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Recent reads

I have to admit that, based on number of titles, I've been a slacker compared to September and October.  But in my defense, two of these titles were behemoths! 

In particular, Stephen King's latest, 11/22/63 took me the better part of November to finish.  That's not a comment on my feelings for it--I loved every single one of the 849 pages.  But that's a weighty tome, my friends!  Since most of my reading tends to happen on my lunch hour (or in my car on audio, but that wasn't the case here), it just took awhile longer than I might have liked.  Though if I'm being honest, I enjoyed it so much, I wanted it to last.  Writing about the butterfly effect and time travel, King not only did his homework, but also put a LOT of thought into every nuance of the age-old question, "What if?".  Mind-bending, deeply detailed, and with a rather haunting love story in the mix, this is one I look forward to rereading, because I have a feeling it will only get better.  Very highly recommended.

The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson.  This came as a recommendation of a book club friend, who handed me the audio book (19 hours on 16 discs--it kept me company through about 3 weeks of commuting) and said she thought I'd like it.  She was right.  That said, the plot isn't your run-of-the-mill fiction.  A man is reborn through fire, and goes from gorgeous to gargoyle.  But without his looks, profession, or money, he starts fresh and discovers life beyond materialism when a woman claiming to be over 700 years old takes him into her home, and helps him complete his recuperation.  Love story, history, folklore and fairy tale, this story may not be for everyone, but I absolutely loved it. 

The Lady and the Unicorn, by Tracy Chevalier.  I had originally read this when it was first published in 2004, but 8 years is a long time, and the story was surprisingly fresh upon second reading (this time for my book club).  Chevalier, best known for her best-selling book Girl with a Pearl Earring, does here what she does best--takes a work of art, and recreates (well-researched fiction) the creation of that art.  In this case, it follows the weaving of a set of tapestries from Paris patron to artist to a family of Brussels weavers and back again.  Richly detailed and quietly moving, it was just as good as I'd remembered.

And that was it!  Hard to believe it was such a slow month for me, title-wise.  But the holidays will do that to you!  Anyone else read anything they'd like to recommend?  I'd love to know--leave a comment!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reading Ahead: January, part 3

If you've missed Part 1 & Part 2, you might want to go back and check them out--there are so many new titles from best-selling authors coming out in the month of January, I've had to break up my normal Reading Ahead post into three!  And as I've been racing around like a crazy person trying to get all of my holiday whatnot accomplished (I can still finish sewing 3 throw pillows and a quilt between now and Christmas Eve, right?  I have time to bake brownies and two batches of cookies for my and my husband's co-workers, right??  Who needs sleep!?  *facepalm*), one of the thoughts keeping me going is that of curling up on a chilly night in January with a cup of tea and a great book.  My ideal form of relaxation!  If you're having similar thoughts, here are a few more new titles to look forward to relaxing with.

Covert Warriors, by W.E.B Griffin

Gideon’s Corpse, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

The Hunter, by John Lescroart

Gun Games, by Faye Kellerman
Deadline, by Fern Michaels

I'll be back on Thursday with an update on what I've been reading and listening to!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reading Ahead: January, part 2

As I mentioned last week, there are a veritable deluge of new fiction titles scheduled to be published in January, all of them likely candidates for the bestsellers lists.  So many, in fact, that I've had to break up our normal Reading Ahead post of the month into THREE posts!  Craziness, I tell you!  So in between shopping, decorating and wrapping, take a second to peruse the list, and see what might strike your fancy once all of the holiday mania has passed.

Lunatics, by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel

The Look of Love, by Mary Jane Clark

Taken, by Robert Crais

Breakdown, by Sara Paretsky

Need You Now, James Grippando

A Devil is Waiting, by Jack Higgins

I'll be back next week with the third and final installment of the list--don't miss it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tinsel and lights...

If you've been out for a drive after dark in the last few evenings, you'll have noticed that holiday decorations have hit your neighbors yards with a vengeance!  Blinking lights, glowing reindeer and Santas, candles in windows...the list goes on!  If you're feeling the need for a little holiday inspiration, or you're considering the creation for some new traditions this year, you've got to know that I've got a book (or three) to help you out.

If you're...

...considering a more eco-friendly holiday this year, try I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas, by Anna Getty.  Regardless of what holidays you celebrate, Getty has some great ideas for decorating your home inside and out, making and wrapping gifts, and even entertaining for less money and with less waste.  Really, who couldn't use a thrifty idea or two this season?

...stumped about what to serve your guests at a holiday party, take a look at Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden.  Award-winning chef Ogden pulls together classics new and old for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, giving tips for organizing and preparing to feed festive crowds.  Take out the guesswork, spend less time in the kitchen, and more time around the table with family this year.  Or, if you're looking to make some memories with the kids in the kitchen this year, grab Holiday Crafting and Baking with Kids by Jessica Strand.  Help the kids make gifts for their friends, babysitters or teachers with easy recipes and craft ideas. 

We all wish for a chance to slow down a bit and enjoy the holidays, so take a little inspiration where you can!  Have a favorite holiday memory or tradition?  Share it in the comments!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reading Ahead: January, part 1

I don't know about you, but I find that most of my hobbies go right out the window during the lead-up to the holidays.  No matter how hard I try to plan every year, there seems to be an annual scramble to get everything done.  And that doesn't leave an awful lot of time for reading, or anything else.

I think publishers have gotten wise to this, because once the holidays are over, there is a literal deluge of new titles coming in January.  So many new titles, in fact, that I'll be breaking up January's reading ahead into three parts over the course of December, because it's a little overwhelming. 

Now, let's see what we have to look forward to reading in the New Year!

How It All Began, by Penelope Lively

Love in a Nutshell, by Janet Evanovich & Dorien Kelly

Another Woman, by Penny Vincenzi

Private: #1 Suspect, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Copper Beach, by Jayne Ann Krentz

Believing the Lie, by Elizabeth George

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top 10 on Tuesday: Books I'm thankful for

Hope everyone's holiday was full of good things of all varieties!  I'm not done being thankful, though, so I thought I'd share a list of (some of) the books I am most thankful for.

Hard Times, by Charles Dickens.  I read this in college, and was astounded at my love of and enjoyment in reading a classic.  A valuable lesson.

Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood.  I also read this in college, in a modern Canadian literature course.  Thank you, Dr. Thacker, for showing me that you can have intense, deep discussion about modern authors, too.  (This lesson has served me very well in the last 10 years of book club reading!)

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.  My mind was blown the first time I read this book--Gaiman is a master of thinking outside of a box most of us never knew existed.  (Bonus: this title is being optioned by HBO to turn into a series sometime in 2013.  So excited!)

The Stand, by Stephen King.  One of two books I brought with me during a summer in France.  Little did I know I'd wind up reading it twice!  (Long story.  I'd have been lost without it, though.)

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.  I read a lot during my college years, most of it for my classes.  This title came to me in paperback form on a holiday break, a gift from a friend's dad.  It solidified my love of historical fiction, and reminded me why I love to read for entertainment.

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis.  A childhood favorite, this was one of the first "big" books that I read to myself.  I love it as much as an adult as I did as a kid.

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks and The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.  Books both, in part, about book lovers.  Both should be required reading by anyone who considers him/herself to be a bibliophile; these felt like epiphanies for this reader.  (Both are also quite excellent in audio format, too.)

How to Eat, by Nigella Lawson.  I admit, I love the Domestic Goddess, and have been watching her since her Nigella Bites first aired on E! here in the US about ten years ago.  This is my ultimate go-to cookbook for basics, and she has never let me down yet. 

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  Of all the things to be said (and I've said them here and in the library, at length) about this, I am most thankful for Stockett's ability to move me, even when I knew what was going to happen.  That's a gift.

What books are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reading ahead: Special edition

Sometimes, publishers make last minute decisions and push publication dates back, which is frustrating.  But then, sometimes, they bump those dates up, and that is a wonderful thing!  Here are a few books coming out next month that are happy surprises!

D.C. Dead, by Stuart Woods

Down the Darkest Road, by Tami Hoag

Death Benefit, by Robin Cook

Have a safe and happy holiday, and I'll be back with new recommendations next week!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A bit of history

It's no secret that I love historical fiction.  I'm not even terribly picky about when or where it's set, as long as the story is good.  Here are a few of the hidden gems I want to share with you...

If you like novels set in Russia, or are a fan of espionage thrillers, try Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith.  This is part homage to Mother Russia in the early part of last century, and part spine-tingling suspense novel.  In Stalin-era Russia, the workers are provided for in a society meant to be free of crime and fear.  Yet there is fear of the State, and MGB agent Leo Demidov is among the best and brightest in the State Security Force, protecting the system from the citizens.  When he is arrested, interrogated, and renounced by the State, he loses everything he has ever known, but must work under the radar in order to solve a string of murders occurring in the "crime-free" State.  I could not put this one down.

If you're an Anglophile, love English Tudor history, or are looking for something to match The Other Boleyn Girl, try Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell.  What was the infamous Anne Boleyn like as a child?  When her father is assigned a position spying at the French Court, the Boleyn family, including young Anne, accompanies him.  Coming of age in a powerful court rife with intrigue, deception, power and dangerous liaisons, Anne learns feminine wiles she will use to her own downfall later in life.  A beautifully researched, riveting piece of historical fiction.

What are some of your favorite historical novels?  I'd love to know!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cooking inspiration

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm having a really hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it's mid-November already and that next week is Thanksgiving.  Really?  How did this happen?  If you're new to hosting the holidays this year, looking for a little help to get you through, or you're just hoping for a little inspiration, these new cookbooks might be just what you need.

All About Roasting: a new approach to a classic art, by Molly Stevens.  Divided into segments by food type (chicken & poultry, fish & shellfish, vegetables, etc.), All About Roasting is filled with delicious photos and detailed recipes guaranteed to make your mouth water.  Not only does Stevens tell you how to make these gorgeous dishes, she also gives readers the reasoning behind why a recipe might call for low heat instead of high, giving insight into how the recipes were developed.  Interesting, informative, and inspiring!

Connecticut Farmer & Feast: harvesting local bounty, by Emily Brooks.  If you're into eating local, this is the cookbook for you.  Read up on sustainable agriculture, discover community supported farms right in your neighborhood, and get great recipes included with each farm's story.  If this doesn't make you want to get in the kitchen and try something new and delicious, I'm not sure what will.

And if you've been asked to bring a contribution to the feast, you can't go wrong with the new Good Housekeeping The Great Potluck Cookbook.  Full of great starters, sides, casseroles and desserts, this is a huge help to anyone stuck with "what to bring"-itis.  It's divided up by occasions, like Superbowl Shindig or Family Reunion picnic, but there's no reason you couldn't use any of these recipes anytime at all.  And there's certainly no time like the present!

Happy cooking, and I'll see everyone here on Thursday for a little escapist reading!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Best books of 2011?

On Tuesday, released its top picks for the best 100 books of 2011.  Does anyone else think that early November might be a wee bit early for releasing a list like this?  I mean, we've got nearly two months before the end of the year--so many books are slated for release between now and then!  Ah well, what can you do? 

What did I do?  I took a browse through the titles, of course!  I had to see what made their list, and of those, what I'd read or is on my "to read" list.  Color me delighted to see some of my recent favorites on their roster, including Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson; Bossypants by Tina Fey; Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton (I was inspired to pick this up upon seeing Anthony Bourdain's endorsement of it).  I was also happy to see Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks made the list--I loved it, and am an avid reader of Brooks' work.  And it was no surprise at all to see Ann Patchett's State of Wonder make the list.

And on my list of things to read?  Recent release Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie has generated some great buzz and is currently sitting on the corner of my desk (waiting for me to power my way through the new Stephen King, 11/22/63, which is no hardship--I want to drop everything else in my life and just read this to completion.  It is also on the list!).  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is becoming a favorite among the library staff, and has been pressed on me by several of them--I'll read it if I know what's good for me!  Alice Hoffman's newest, The Dovekeepers, is also on my radar--these are the days that I want to either add more hours, or quit sleeping, as there is so much to read and never enough hours to read it all (even with the help of audiobooks in the car!). 

What have you read from the list?  And what's there that you're hoping to read soon?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Finding more time

One of the laments I hear most often as a librarian is that people can't find the time to read.  And as a librarian, avid reader and lover of books, I can't think of anything sadder than a life without time to read.  Admittedly, I'm a fairly speedy reader, as you have seen from my lists of what I manage to read in the average month.  However, I'm not beyond taking a little help when and where I can to get my fix, and one of the ways I find more time to read is listening to audiobooks in the car.

Ok, I know, some people consider this cheating and tell me it doesn't count as "really reading."  And in a manner of speaking, they're right.  I'm not sitting with a physical book open in front of me, visually taking in text.  Then again, when I was little, my mom read to me all the time before I learned to read, and many of those stories still hold a special place in my heart even these many years later.  Sometimes, it's not about the format, but rather the impact of a story that makes all the difference.  To me, as long as I'm absorbing the story, I don't necessarily care how I'm getting it.

Now, think about how much time you spend in the car.  Personally, I have an hour round trip commute to work every day (longer if the traffic is bad), and I find it to be the perfect way to make the time pass quickly.  I would say I average two full-length (10+ disc/350 page) books a month this way.  That's twenty-four books a year, just during the drive between home and the library!

For those who say that they have tried audiobooks and don't like them, I would say, did you try a single book and decide you don't like any books?  Audiobooks aren't just about the content, of course--you also have the added element of the reader and how they read the story.  It's possible you've just tried one where you weren't happy with the reader's voice--it happens to me, too!  Actually, some of my favorite audiobooks have been ones read by their very distinct-voiced authors, like Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver and Bag of Bones by Stephen King--their loyalty to the accents of their characters adds great depth to the story.

If you find that you're too distracted by audiobooks while you drive, consider using them in other ways.  Do you knit or craft in the evenings in front of a tv you ignore?  Try listening to an audiobook while your hands are busy.  Do you go out for a walk during the day?  An audiobook can be a great companion.  They also make great distractions while doing mundane tasks like folding laundry, ironing, wrapping holiday presents, cleaning, etc.  You can also find downloadable audiobooks through our website using Overdrive (for Trumbull residents--other patrons should contact their individual libraries about availability) and IConn (for CT residents with a valid library card), perfect for your mp3 player or computer.

If you're new to audiobooks, or are inspired to give them another try, here are a few I recommend highly:

The Help, by Katheryn Stockett.  Read in parts by four different narrators, this is so moving and engrossing, I've recommended it to everyone I know, and lots of people I don't!

The Harry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale.  Dale, who has won a number of awards for his narrations as well as his work on stage, is absolutely phenomenal in his voicing of Rowling's myriad of characters in this series.  These are particularly great for longer rides with kids--give them a try on your next vacation!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson.  If you started the book and had trouble with all of the Swedish names and locations, the audio versions may be of great help to you.  Getting the pronunciations helped me keep places and characters straight, even as the plot twisted and turned!

Happy listening!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What I've been reading

In the face of shorter days (and a new round of power outages...), I've been reading up a storm.  So I thought I'd share what I've been reading lately.


A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin.  This is the fifth, and most recent, book in Martin's series, A Song of Ice and Fire.  It is a LONG one, too, at just over one thousand pages.  I have to 'fess up here, though.  I didn't finish it.  With so much demand on the title by other readers, I returned my copy after reading only two hundred pages or so.  Don't get me wrong--it's amazing.  I just couldn't read it fast enough!  I'm saving it for my next vacation, though!

Black and White, by Dani Shapiro.  My book club here at the library discussed this book for their October meeting, so while this might not have been one that I would ordinarily pick to read (the subject matter is a little uncomfortable, about parenting and boundaries, among other themes), it made for a fairly quick read and a fabulous book club discussion!

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett.  You know I've already talked about how eager I was to get my hands on this one, and it didn't disappoint.  Not even a tiny bit.  Patchett is a favorite of mine, and I found this to be so character-driven, I thought about it for days after I finished the book.  Really, really stellar--one of the best books I've read in a long time.

Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson.  This is another I've been talking about for awhile, and again, it lived up to expectations and then some.  A psychological thriller of the highest order, the plot on this one keeps you guessing right up to the end.  I loved it.


The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.  This was another book club read, and I lucked out and listened to it on audio during my commute for a week.  I had been looking forward to this for some time, and enjoyed every second of it.  It's what I would call a literary thriller--very referential to Victorian literature, and ultimately, quite timeless.  The narration on the audio version was superb, and I can't recommend it highly enough, and I'm looking forward to the discussion it generates at next week's book club meeting.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson.  You had to know that with all of the horror recommendations I was handing out last month, I'd have to dip into that candy jar, too.  This was a re-read for me, but I originally read it in college, so it's been awhile.  It was just as good and as twisted as I remembered.

New York to Dallas, by J.D. Robb.  If you haven't read Nora Roberts' Eve Dallas series, written under the pen name of J.D. Robb, you don't know what you're missing.  The series, set in the late 2050's, follows New York detective Eve Dallas as she solves murders, kicks ass, and takes name.  A little romance, a lot of humor, these are fast reads that I find to be great breaks between more serious reads.  If you like Roberts' regular fiction, you might give this series a try.

Seriously, I'm Kidding, by Ellen DeGeneres.  I find Ellen hysterical--I've been a fan of her stand-up comedy for years.  This slim book reads just like a stand-up routine--I spent an evening laughing out loud as I read.  If you're a fan of her humor, go snag this one.

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides.  This is another release I'd really been looking forward to, as I'm a huge fan of Eugenides other work.  However, with the bar set so high, I think I set myself up for disappointment.  Don't get me wrong, it's excellent.  But if you go into it expecting it to be on par with Middlesex (which won the Pulitzer in 2003), you might find yourself a bit let down.  Sadly, I did.

Snuff, by Terry Pratchett.  Blame it on the shortening days, but I seem to be gravitating toward humor lately.  Pratchett, one of England's most beloved authors (he's a knight, by the way), writes a very accessible brand of fantasy full of wry humor and utter absurdity.  Personally, I adore his work.  This latest entry in the Discworld novels following Commander Samuel Vimes didn't disappoint in the slightest. 

What have you been reading lately?