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