Two new books about food!!

Two wonderful new books about food came in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago, so I decided to do a special post about them.  The first is a cookbook–eat, The little book of fast food by Nigel Slater. 

A great little book with lots of ideas for quick and nutritious meals!

A great little book with lots of ideas for quick and nutritious meals!

This delightful cookbook is filled with ideas for simple, nutritious and quickly prepared meals.  For example, my favorite so far:  Salmon with Artichokes has five ingredients–salmon, marinated artichokes, parsley, dill, and lemon.  It is prepared in two pans.  Slater’s description at the end is my kind of recipe description–“For 2.  Light, clean, delicate.”  There are recipes galore for everything from appetizers (in the hand) to (on the stove) and desserts.  In the front of the book there is also a helpful guide to recipes listed by main ingredient.  There are some, to me, exotic ingredients with which I am not familiar, but that is part of the fun in learning something new!  For most of the recipes, Slater suggests modifications or alternate ingredients.  If you like to try new recipes and food combinations, this book is worth checking out! ( I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.)

A delightful compendium of culinary tidbits!

A delightful compendium of culinary tidbits!

The American Plate by Libby O’Connell, is subtitled:  A culinary history in 100 bites.  This book, written by the Chief Historian for the History Channel and A & E Networks,  would be an excellent gift for those who love food and the history behind many of our traditions and uniquely “American” foods.  Each chapter and each “Bite” (description of food) stand alone, so the book may be read front to back, or starting with a particular time period that interests the reader.  The chapters are organized by ten eras of our national history.  Who knew that serving celery was a symbol of wealth and a table decoration for a heavily laden Victorian table?  Need a recipe for Classic Mint Juleps?  That’s in the book, too, along with many others.  From venison to sushi, and all things in between–like jello, Spam, and salsa! If you like food, you will be entertained and informed by this book.

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From women posing as Civil War Soldiers to a new ‘read alike’ for Jodi Picoult fans!

We had another nice afternoon floating on our boat in the lake recently.  I was reading five daysFive Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer.  This thriller is a ‘read alike’ for fans of Jodi Picoult.  Timmer’s first novel is the kind of ‘edge of your seat’ reading that will appeal to those who can’t get enough of emotional suspense  like that written by Jodi Picoult.  Five Days Left examines the situation of a high achieving attorney’s struggle to come to terms with her diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease and its devastating symptoms.  This situation is juxtaposed with the tribulations of a middle class family fostering a young black boy from inner city Detroit, as the family is forced to return the child to his mother who has just been released from prison.  The story is heart wrenching.

OrangeI was compelled to read Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman after watching the Netflix series of the same name.  While I was interested to watch the series, I much more enjoyed the memoir.  It is an interesting expose of the womens’ prison system.  While the Netflix series was entertaining, it was obvious from the memoir that there were a lot of liberties taken in the video script–guess it was necessary to keep it entertaining rather than doing a documentary!   If you like nonfiction, this is a very informative read about a current and controversial topic.


feverFever by Megan Abbott is a Young Adult novel about a mysterious illness spreading through a school and community.  As more girls begin to experience bizarre symptoms,  contagion, hysteria, and misinformation abound.  There is a point where HPV immunizations are suspected.  This  book would  be appropriate for high school age and above, as it provides a  brutal portrait of teenage life today, replete with crushes, competing alliances and the immediacy of technology.


This one was released last spring.

This one was released last spring.

Within the space of a few months, I read two novels about women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War.  Both of the women in the books fought on the side of the Union Army–one along side her husband, the other left her husband at home to take care of the farm.  In I Shall Be Near To You by Erin McCabe, the young wife, Rosetta, doesn’t want her husband to enlist, but when he does–sneaking away the night before to avoid painful goodbyes, Rosetta cuts off her hair and takes off to find his regiment and becomes a soldier herself.   It is a compelling and heart rending tale.



Neverhome by Laird Hunt is getting early acclaim.  Its language is poetic and sparse, and he manages to convey the personage of this strong young woman who leaves her husband on the farm to take up arms in support of the Union army.    We are engaged in an engrossing journey in this portrayal of the tragedy of war.  This woman, who takes the name Ash Thompson, becomes a fierce

Neverhome is being released on Sept.9

Neverhome is being released on Sept.9

fighter, a traitor, and a legend. Both of these novels are based on the fact that  there were many females who served as soldiers in the Civil War.  Having recently watched the movie, Lincoln, brought to mind vivid mental pictures of the bloody gore and awful battles of that war.  Both novels had  a ‘cameo’ appearance of Clara Barton.

These were both great books.  If forced to choose one over the other, it would be I Shall Be Near to You.  It had a strong emotional appeal–it made me cry at the end.  Both were well-written, and I liked them both very much!

Historical fiction such as this  is a wonderful way to revisit history and rediscover our heritage.



let it burnLet It Burn, the latest Alex McKnight novel by Steve Hamilton, takes us to Paradise, Michigan in the U.P. and to current day Detroit which has been almost destroyed.  When Alex McKnight drives to Detroit to see his old sergeant and a certain female FBI agent, McKnight is drawn in to ‘detecting’ when a young man who McKnight had helped put away, is released from prison, and questions arise about the validity of his guilt.  Hamilton writes a great mystery novel which keeps the reader guessing, and the details about Michigan  may appeal to those who have lived or visited the locations.  Even if you’ve never been in Michigan, you may enjoy a good police procedural thriller.




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July-August 2014

Suddenly, July has ended and we’re partway into August, so I’m combining this issue and am hoping to quickly finish it with short comments about what I’ve been reading,


The library book club picnic in the park  was delightful!  There is a lovely park directly across the street from the library, and the weather was perfect–in the 70’s with sunshine and a soft breeze.  There were eight of us in attendance, and it was interesting to hear what book each person talked about.  They were to bring a favorite book, and the titles ran the gamut from young adult to mystery, travel , and theology!  It’s an interesting group with diverse reading tastes.

small blessings

My favorite book so far this summer will be released this month.    This is your ‘heads up’ to look for it!!  Small Blessings is by Martha Woodruff who writes for NPR.  It is a charming story set in a college town.  When the newest employee in the college bookshop comes to town, a romance  and mystery ensue, when one of the professors is told that he is the father of a son he never knew he had!


doll babyDoll-baby is a novel by Laura Lane McNeal which is set in New Orleans during the unrest of the 1960s.  It is a coming of age story seen through the eyes of a young girl.  The characters are well developed, and there is a twist at the end–a worthwhile read. It might be of interest to young adults.



the arsonistThe Arsonist is the latest book by Sue Miller who has always been one of my favorite authors.  Miller’s writing is wonderful–very descriptive, and it is an engaging account of the summer people and their interactions with the year round inhabitants of a New Hampshire village as they search for the arsonist who has been setting fire to numerous properties owned by summer people.  I was a bit unsatisfied with the ending, but it would certainly provoke an engaging discussion.


cats pajamas  Sorry to say, but I did not finish this one.  I’ve read many good reviews, but I just couldn’t seen to get into it.  It is a debut novel set in Philadelphia about a young girl who is an aspiring jazz singer.  Give it a try, if you wish–just was not my “cup of tea”.



EverythingEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a complex, suspenseful and engaging story of a Chinese American family’s grief upon the disappearance and death of the teenage daughter.  It is the story of the parents, brother, and those in their community who are affected and changed by the girl’s death.  It is also about race and what it means to live in two different worlds at the same time.  The parents had not realized that the daughter inside their family was an ‘outsider’ in the world she inhabited.  It is well written and engaging.


one hundred names  One Hundred Names by Cecilia Ahern was given such a rave review by one of my book club friends, I had to read it!  She said that she and family members had stayed up late to finish it.  Told from the perspective of a recently fired journalist, Kitty Logan, it is the riveting account of Kitty’s search to find the answer to her mentor’s last directives before the mentor, Constance, died.  As Constance was upon her deathbed, Kitty asked Constance “what is the one story you’ve always wanted to write?”  Before Constance answers the questions, she dies, and Kitty is left only with a list of one hundred names which Kitty starts pursuing name by name in a quest to unlock the mystery of their meaning.

ordinary graceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger is my other ‘not to be missed’ book for this issue.  I’ve read most of Krueger’s work, but this is a stand alone and  a departure from the Cork O’Connor series.  In language almost poetic, and with lyrical descriptive prose, Krueger sets this mystery in 1961, and relates it to the reader in the voice of 13 year old Frank Drum, son of Methodist minister Nathan Drum.  The book opens with the death of a young boy and becomes more intense when Frank’s older sister, Ariel disappears.  It’s a coming of age story, a mystery, and about ethics, the perils of gossip, and human foibles.  Krueger won the Edgar Award for Ordinary Grace, and after reading it, I completely agree with the committee’s choice.

oveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is a debut novel by a Swedish blogger and author.  It has received wide acclaim and sold over 500,000 copies in Sweden.  The novel, set in Sweden, is about a curmudgeonly man named Ove (pronounced with a long ‘O’vee) who lives alone following the death of his wife.  He is making plans to end his own life when ‘life happens’, and he is unwillingly brought into the  of activities of his neighborhood and its inhabitants.  It seemed rather slow at first but the action did pick up about halfway through, and it does have a satisfying conclusion.

hundred year houseI  had eagerly anticipated The Hundred Year House by Rebcca Makkai.  It is an interesting story line about an artist’s colony in an old estate house.  I did not find it as absorbing as I had hoped.  The story went back in forth in time.  Many authors use that technique, but I find it difficult to follow.  I loved Makkai’s previous book, The Borrower, and I will probably reread it, but not this one.


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June, Glorious June…

At last June is here–we are enjoying beautiful weather and only wish we could save some and bottle it up for winter!

This wonderful time known far and wide as Summer Reading is upon us.  This year I’m running a summer reading program for adults at the library.  It tickles the ‘grown-ups’ to think that they can participate like the kids.  I’ve had a lot on interest in a Brown Bag Picnic for Booklovers which is scheduled for July 9th.  All are invited to bring their own brown bag lunch and a favorite book to talk about.


  memory gardenThe Memory Garden by Mary Rickert is a new novel written by a Wisconsin author who lives in Cedarburg.  We have a lot of wonderful authors in our state and some promising new voices.  Mary Rickert is one of these.  Memory Garden is a whimsical story of an orphaned girl, Bay, who is raised by Nan, a woman old enough to be her grandmother, on whose doorstep she was left in a shoe box shortly after her birth.  Nan plants a magical garden in old discarded shoes which is admired by many a passer by  Each chapter in the book begins with a plant description which relates to events within that chapter. When Nan’s friends from her past arrive on her doorstep for a reunion, there are many secrets revealed and lives are changed.  I found this to be an enchanting and interesting story!

prayerPrayer by Philip Kerr is one of the scariest things I’ve read in a long time!  So–if you like a little bit of terror, this one is for you!  This is an intense psychological thriller about an FBI ‘domestic terrorism’ agent in Houston who is having a crisis of faith and problems in his marriage to a former attorney who is a devout member of a Texas megachurch.  When a serial killer terrorizing the morally righteous turns out to have religious motivation, the case becomes defined as domestic terrorism, and agent  Martins becomes involved.   Whether dealing with the Left or the Right, Martins can’t escape the power of God and murder.


summer houseSummer House With Swimming Pool, by Herman Koch, was a disappointment to me.  Koch lives in Amsterdam, and his widely acclaimed, The Dinner, was published in twenty five countries.  I looked forward to finding what all the fuss was about.  Swimming Pool is set in a vacation area of the Mediterranean where Dr. Marc Schlosser, his wife, and two beautiful teenage girls have gone on vacation.  They run into  the actor,Ralph Meier, one of Schlosser’s patients, and agree to share the Meier’s vacation space–the summer house with pool.  There are incidents of romantic intrigue, moral dilemmas, and in the end, one of the main characters ends up dead.  I felt unsatisfied with the ending, because too many issues were left unresolved.


Landline by Rainbow Powell was a bit of a disappointment to me.  It is at the top of the list from “Library Reads” which are recommendations chosen by librarians.  It does have a element of time travel, but it all seemed a little silly to me–sort of a romantic comedy.  If  you like that sort of story, this one might be appealing.




That Night, a newly released psychological thriller by Chevy Stevens, is quite a page turner!  It deals with the issue of bullying.  It is about a young woman and her boyfriend being accused and convicted of killing the young woman’s sister.  Many of the scenes take place in prison.  After many years in prison, Toni is released on parole and continues to be bullied.  She and her boyfriend set out to find out who really killed Nicole.  It may not be the greatest writing, but it kept my attention.  I think that it would appeal to those who liked Gone Girl. 

As I complete this post today, it’s hard to believe that June is almost over!  I hope that all you readers are enjoying a wonderful summer with lots of good summer reading!




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May 2014

messengerWelcome spring!   At last, the daffodils are in full bloom, and it is starting to warm up here in Wisconsin!  I just finished Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear.  We are discussing it this month in the library discussion group.  Most of those who attend are especially fond of mysteries.  I chose this one because I wanted to introduce the Maisie Dobbs series to the group.  I had not read this one before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!  I had forgotten how great a writer Winspear is.  Maisie is a savvy independent psychologist/investigator who uses meditation to help her solve her cases!  It is set in the 30’s post WWI and in the same era as Downton Abbey.  The case in this mystery involves the death of a war veteran artist.  In the course of the description of the investigation we learn about the effects of war, art and art history, and there is a social commentary to discuss, as well.

death stalks doorDeath Stalks Door County by Patricia Skalka is her first mystery, I think.  It passed through my hands at the library, and I was immediately intrigued by the setting:  Door County, WI.  It was recently published by University of Wisconsin Press (Terrace Books imprint), and they have a reputation for publishing quality work by authors in or near Wisconsin.  The flyleaf says that Skalka is a native of Chicago and spends time off at her cottage in Door County.  The story is a well crafted mystery with Dave Cubiak as the central character.  Apparently Sklaka intends to make this into a series, and I think it’s likely that they will succeed.  I enjoyed reading this one, and was kept guessing until the end.  Anyone who has visited Door County will recognize some of the settings and events.

The-GiverThe Giver by Lois Lowry is a young adult novel I’d always meant to read.  Recently when I read  an interview with with an author who  claimed it as their all time favorite, I was inspired to pick up and read the copy on my shelf.  It is Orwellian type fiction and is a very thought provoking story about what happens in a society where all is thought to be perfect, and what and who are not, are ‘released’.  All feelings and memories are supressed in favor of selection and control by committees.  When young Jonas approaches his adulthood and is chosen to become the new ‘Receiver’, he considers rebellion.  Readers who are educators and have taught at the 6-8th grade level are likely to be familiar with this YA novel.  The play based upon it is being produced at a university theater not far from here.

VintageVintage by Susan Gloss is a recently released novel by a Madison, WI author.  Anyone who has spent a bit of time in Madison will recognize many of the settings for events in this story about a vintage clothing shop on Johnson Street.  There are interesting situations as the main character, Violet, interacts with her customers.  Violet loves vintage apparel and likes to recount the story behind the items she buys and sells.  Violet becomes involved in the lives of several customers in surprising ways, and there is a vintage style show and romance which  add to the entertainment in  this delightful book.  It would be a great book for discussion by a women’s group.

west forkWest Fork by Tom McKay is published by a small university press–East Hall Press, located at a college in Rock Island, Illinois.  It was brought to me at the library by the author a few weeks ago.  It is a novel set against the changing rural culture in the last three decades of the 20th century.  It is a novel of love and loss which is set in about the same time period in which I grew up.  The author formerly worked for the State Historical Society of   Wisconsin.   He is now an historian and museum consultant.   I think he did a fine job in writing an engaging and interesting story.

As I close out this issue of my blog, I am happy to report that summer like temperatures have arrived in Wisconsin.  The flowers are blooming, and we’re off to a ‘Dairy Breakfast’ tomorrow with some of our kids and grandchildren!  


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fatal graceA Fatal Grace by Louise Penny is the second in Penny’s Inspector Gamache series.  These are all set in the tiny Canadian village of Three Pines, Quebec.   These mysteries are  somewhat reminiscent of the Agatha Christie tradition.  They are rich in detail, but they are modern in their setting, language, and situations.  In this one, I did think it was a little “wordy” at times and found myself skipping over some of the text.  I was kept guessing until the end, and am enjoying “getting to know” the inhabitants of Three Pines.

goldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt has been at, or near the top of the NYT bestseller list for many weeks.  It was recommended by a library patron as being a ‘worthwhile’ read.  I really had a difficult time with it.  The story is about the disappearance and theft of a priceless work of art.  I had to keep reading to see what happened, but along the way I skipped over a few parts and disliked the setting, abuse, violence, alcoholism, and drug use.  Yes, there were moral dilemmas, and I know much of the social context is a reality today, but very tough for me to read.  I know that I had read one of Tartt’s previously acclaimed novels.  It too, left me with a slightly ‘sick’ feeling about how social beings treat one another.  (Author’s note:  After I wrote the above comments, The Goldfinch was awarded the Pulitzer Prize!!  So, what do I know?)

rubyRuby by Cynthia Bond was new in April.  It has  been given much advance praise.  I ordered it for the library.  It has some very well written, descriptive prose, but another book that I found it difficult to finish.  It’s about slavery and the early mistreatment of blacks in our society–makes me wonder again how we can be so inhumane in our society.



The FreeThe Free by Willy Martin is a dark, yet compelling, drama about the American experience of three memorable characters living lives of quiet desperation.  These characters are confronting major issues of our time, including the high cost of health care, lack of economic opportunity, and the scars of serving in war.  The resiliency of the human heart is central to this work–hard to read, but stays with the reader.


this is the waterI anticipated enjoying This Is The Water by Yannick Murphy very much because I really liked her earlier book, The Call.  This one, set in suburban New England is about a young family with two girls on a swim team.  It details the trials and tribulations of being swim team parents, making the rounds of practices, meets, and training schedules.  There is a suspicious character and a nearby serial killer.  The surprise ending seemed a little bit unrealistic to me, but maybe you will like it.   I read an advance copy of it.  It is due out in August 2014.


bittersweetBittersweet, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is new in May 2014.  I ordered a copy for our library.  It is suspenseful and engaging.  Mabel Dagmar who is on scholarship to a prestigious East Coast college is invited to the summer home of her blue blood roommate, Genevra Winslow.  As Mabel becomes an insider, she has things she’s always wanted–wealth, friendship, and a boyfriend.  When Mabel makes a shocking discovery about the source of the Winslow fortune, she must choose between exposing the truth or being sent away from her new life.


house girlHouse Girl by Tara Conklin was the April book for discussion at the library where I facilitate the meetings.  We had a lively discussion about these interwoven stories of two women across time.   It goes back and forth between a runaway slave and a young lawyer in present day New York.  I like our book  discussions because it is always fascinating to see what insights others find when they read a novel!  The two stories were skillfully related, but near the end, I felt that the book was ended rather abruptly.  Overall the 13 people who talked about it seemed glad that we read the book.

BreadBread & Butter is by Michelle Wildgen, a Madison author who will be joining us for a book talk and signing this fall.  The story is about three brothers in a Pennsylvania town who are running competing restaurants.  Filled with insider detail Bread and Butter is both an incisive family novel and a fun romp in the inner workings of restaurant kitchens.  We are planning to serve bread and flavored butters for refreshments at the upcoming  event.


EuphoriaSaving the best for last I recently finished Euphoria by Lily King.  It will be  released in June,and I loved it!  The setting is New Guinea in the 1930’s and is about three young anthropologists–one woman and two men.  It is loosely based on Margaret Mead and her husband and Gregory Batesons’  lives and works.  I’d always been intrigued by Margaret Mead and enjoyed imagining her life and studies.  There is a love triangle and adventures galore in this book.  I enjoy learning about history through historical fiction.  Lily King mentions in her notes at the end of the book that she was inspired by something mentioned in Jane Howard’s 1984 biography of Margaret Mead.  Now I want to read that book!

Happy Reading!

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April 30, 2014 · 11:26am04

What I Read in February 2014

As this long, long winter drags on, only the increased hours of daylight give promise of spring here in Wisconsin.  Oh yes, and I did hear birds singing the other day!  There have been lots of hours for reading…often a good book is a real source of comfort while getting through the cold!

driftlessDriftless by Wisconsin author, David Rhodes, was the February selection for the library book discussion.  We had lively discussions in both the afternoon and evening sessions!  Although we’re all Wisconsin residents, several did not know about the “Driftless” area which has a different topography from much of the rest of WI because the glacier missed this area.  We all enjoyed the book and the discussion was great because we all discovered different meanings and allusions, such as why the area is called “drifltess”, and that many of the characters were driftless, as well.  The cast of quirky characters along with their sad and sometimes humorous adventures seemed to speak to everyone.  For me, it reminded me of many similar situations from my growing up years in rural Michigan.

widestarryskyUnder the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan is the love story of Robert Louis Stevenson and  Fanny van de Grift Osbourne.  This is the second novel by Horan, who wrote Loving Frank about Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney.  It took me awhile to get into this one, but I’d heard great things about it, and I did think it was very good.  I didn’t know much about Stevenson’s biography until I read this.  Their story was quite fascinating!

dutyAfter watching the movie, Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, I was very curious to know how much of the thrilling movie really happened.  So I read  A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips.  It was an interesting book, and it seems that most of the movie was an accurate representation of what happened.  There were some elements added to dramatize events, but the story line followed what really happened, and according to photos in the book, Hanks’ character looked much like Phillips.  I highly recommend this as a great non fiction thriller.

pioneer girlNext:  Another Laura Ingalls Wilder offshoot!  Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen is a fictional account of a modern day young woman who is struggling to keep her immigrant Vietnamese family and their expectations of her in the background.  Nguyen creates a literary mystery based upon the true fact that Laura Wilder’s daughter, Rose, actually visited and worked as a reporter in Saigon in 1965.  As Lee Lien struggles to explore her family’s possible connections, she travels take her on adventures across the country–from Madison, WI  and Chicago to San Francisco.  I didn’t find this as entertaining as The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure, but it was pretty good.  If you are a Wilder fan, you might enjoy it, too.

still lifeThis was my second time reading Still Life by Louise Penny.  I had read it some time ago, and of course, I couldn’t remember the ending.  I went back to it because I have enjoyed some of her later mysteries immensely, and they all include a similar cast of characters.  She has several books in the series now, and I wanted to start at the beginning and read through them as I have time.  How The Light Gets In came out last fall and had rave reviews, including mine!  I’m planning on it for the library group to discuss in late fall.  Penny is a  very intellectual writer and gives the reader much to think about while trying to figure out the solution to the mystery.

cold storage alaskaCold Storage Alaska by John Straley made me laugh out loud.   What a treat this was in this end of winter season!  If you remember and liked the Northern Exposure television series, you will love this book.  Even if you’ve never heard of Northern Exposure, this comedic story set in the fictional town of Cold Storage opens with Clive being released after a 7 year prison sentence for dealing coke.  His younger brother is a ‘medic’ for the community who served in Mogadishu with the Army Rangers and is now caring for their ailing mother.  There is an unusual dog, a bar, and a band who are just part of a cast of interesting characters making their way in small town Alaska.

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