Sunday, June 30, 2013

Weekend Cooking 6/30

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

 Summer is definitely here now. Our CSA pick-up this week was even bigger than it has been with kale, Boston lettuce, zucchini, broccoli, potatoes, spring onions, and bok choy with the summer crops starting to come in next week. Can't wait for those amazing tomatoes and green beans! Has anyone else noticed that green beans in the grocery store are just pathetic lately? They are one of our favorite vegetables, but I rarely buy them anymore because they never look good.

My teen sons have been complaining about too many new recipes and "weird stuff," so I went back to basics this week and made a lot of the simple kinds of meat-based dinners they like. So, we had things like BBQ chicken thighs, mini meat loaves, and grilled teriyaki pork chops. I did throw in a couple of weird things, too!

Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking post last week inspired me! I made the Sausage, White Bean, and Kale recipe she included in last week's post. Serving my kids kale is a risky move, but I used their favorite spicy Andouille sausage (Trader Joe's brand chicken sausage), told them the green stuff was spinach, and made it when my older son's girlfriend was here for dinner. She loves all kinds of foods - including kale! - so I had someone on my side. The dish was delicious and will definitely be added to our regular repertoire. I added some sauteed spring onions to it.

And on Friday, I made Asian Lettuce Cups. I cut the recipe out of a magazine years ago, so I can't link to it, but I modified it anyway, so here is a quick recap:
  • Brown ground chicken or turkey, with some minced garlic and fresh ginger.
  • Add Asian-style veggies (I used spring onions, finely chopped bok choy, shredded carrot, and shiitake mushrooms) and saute until tender.
  • Make sauce with soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, and Sirachi sauce.
  • Spoon meat and veggie mixture into clean Boston Bibb lettuce leaves and add sauce.
Super easy and very tasty! And great for those on a low-carb diet. We had some Trader Joe's Chinese dumplings on the side.

And best of all this week, our health food store had locally grown, unsprayed black raspberries - fabulous! I made Black Raspberry Shortcake for dessert one night (using this recipe for the shortcake, with white whole wheat flour instead of white flour, and topped with real whipped cream) and cooked the rest of the berries down for waffle topping this morning....mmmm!

Hope you are enjoying your own summer produce this week!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fiction Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

I normally only post a review on one of my book blogs, depending on whether it is for adults or for kids/teens/YA, but I am making an exception for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne because it is an engrossing, moving story perfect for both adults and teens/YA. I listened to this unique historical novel on audio and thought it was a teen book all along; I was surprised to get to the end and listen to a note from the author where he explained that the publisher had decided to market it to adults. Whether they’ve intended it for teens and YAs or not, it has become very popular with that age group, ranking as #6 in Historical Fiction for Teens on

It seems like every other book is set in World War II, but this one takes on a wholly unique perspective of the Holocaust: that of a young German boy whose father is in a high-level position within the Nazi party. Bruno is only nine years old, and author Boyne captures his point of view perfectly. He’s not a Nazi child during World War II; he is simply a child like any child in any other time and place in history. Bruno goes to school, enjoys playing with his friends, can’t understand why his older sister is acting differently lately, loves his parents, and is unaware of the larger world of politics and war.

When Bruno comes home from school one day to find that his family is moving from their big house in Berlin, he is upset, as any child would be, to leave his friends and his beloved home for someplace unknown. Their new home is far away, with no other houses near by, and Bruno complains about it to his mother, who tells him he must not complain because this move is important for his father’s career. There is a huge fence bordering Bruno’s new house, and through it, he can see hundreds of men, women, and children, all dressed alike in striped pajamas. Desperate for some company, Bruno sets off on a hike along the fence where he finally meets another boy, Schmuel. Though they are separated by the fence, the two nine-year old boys discover they have a lot in common and become friends.

The child’s voice in this novel is completely authentic and pulls you right into his world. He truly has no idea what is going on in the larger world. He thinks that the new place where they live is called Out-With and that his father’s important boss is nicknamed the Fury. Bruno’s innocence and naivety allow us a different kind of perspective on this horrific part of history. The audio production was excellent, with the narrator’s slight German accent  and childlike tone making Bruno’s perspective believable.

Boyne so perfectly captures Bruno’s simple little-boy world that at first, I actually thought this was a book for middle-grade readers. But there are some heart-rending developments in the story that would be distressing to younger readers, and in light of Bruno’s complete ignorance, it is necessary for the reader to have some basic understanding of what was happening in that part of the world in 1942 in order to fully grasp the events of the novel. It is a compelling, powerful, and haunting story that will stay with you long after you close the book or turn off your iPod.

Listening Library
Listen to an excerpt:


Monday, June 24, 2013

It's Monday 6/24! What Are You Reading?

Whew, summer has definitely arrived in Delaware. It is supposed to be in the 90's all week, and the humidity is sky-high already - you step outside and it feels like you've run into a brick wall. Not my favorite kind of weather. But it's a perfect day to stay in the air conditioning and read!

I had a busy week, taking care of my son who is recovering from knee surgery, hosting my mom for a few days, and going to my neighborhood book group, so I am running a bit behind on reviews. I am declaring this week catch-up week! Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh in plenty of time for book group. Like everyone else in my group, I loved this novel about a young woman who has grown up in the foster care system, with no love or support, and how she builds herself a life as an adult.
  • Now I am reading Arcadia by Lauren Groff for my other book group which meets this week. This is a novel about a boy who grows up on a commune in the 70's. It is engrossing so far, and I am looking forward to discussing it.
  • I am still listening to Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter on audio, though I didn't have much time for it last week with all that was going on. It's an engaging story that goes back and forth between 1960's Italy and modern-day Hollywood. Loving it so far!
  • I also squeezed in a middle-grade graphic novel last week, The Silver Six by A.J. Lieberman and Darren Rawlings. Graphic novels are a good choice when time is limited! I really liked this one and will try to write a review this week.
  • My husband finished The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson this weekend and agreed it was a compelling and fascinating book. Some of the second half of this novel set in North Korea is a bit confusing, but we enjoyed discussing it. The details of daily life in North Korea are horrifying.
  • Now, Ken is reading Gone for Good by Harlen Coben, a nice, small paperback for his business trip this week!
  • Jamie, 18, continues to enjoy his summer reading time and fly through books! He finished ALTDORF, a Historical Novel of Switzerland, by J.K. Swift (The Forest Knights, Book 1).
  • Now, he has moved onto another freebie on his Kindle, City of Rogues by Ty Johnston, Book 1 of The Kobalos Trilogy (The Ursian Chronicles). He's been on a major Medieval fantasy kick.
I didn't write any reviews last week - just a couple of posts:

 Gender Bias in Book Reviews - based on a fascinating study, with a look at my own reading habits.

Weekend Cooking, with a couple of our favorite summer recipes.

Don't forget, it's only the first week of summer, so there is still plenty of time to sign up for the Big Book Summer Challenge! It's super-easy and relaxed, as summer should be, and you only need to read one book of 400 pages or more to participate. So, join the fun!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)    

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Weekend Cooking 6/23

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

Well, now summer is in full swing, as was obvious from the size of our CSA pick-up this week! There were almost twice as many veggies as last week: several types of lettuce, spring onions, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, swiss chard, radishes, and sugar snap peas. Yum!

With all that fabulous, fresh lettuce, I tried another taco salad recipe this week, Southwestern-style Shrimp Taco Salad. I think I liked this one even better than the one we had last week with chicken. My mom was visiting and loved it! One of my sons liked it better than the other one (because he loves all seafood), and the other said he likes the more traditional one better. Both of them, of course, groaned, "Salad for dinner again?" but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Since they've been complaining about me trying too many new things lately (they prefer my winter style of cooking with soups, stews, roasts, etc.), I reverted to a few old favorites the rest of the week, with some of our lovely CSA veggies on the side. We had Spicy Crusted Chicken one night (a very simple baked crunchy chicken recipe) with orzo. My mother was very impressed with the orzo side dish, though all I did was add a can of chopped tomatoes and a quarter cup of jarred pesto!

And one night, we had plain old spaghetti with meat sauce, a kid favorite.

We went to a potluck dinner last night at a friend's house. I kept it super simple. We brought a bowl of watermelon chunks and blueberries and a Black and White Bean Salad, a classic Cooking Light recipe (so old that it's not online!). It's very easy - one can each of black beans and white beans, chopped red and yellow bell peppers, chopped fresh tomatoes, sliced scallions, 1/2 cup salsa, 1/4 cup red vinegar, salt, pepper, and chopped cilantro. It looks very colorful and tastes delicious! It's my go-to summer potluck recipe.

Hope you are enjoying food and cooking this week, too!

(P.S. Summer has just begun so there is still plenty of time to join my Big Book Summer Challenge! It is as easy-going as summer itself: you only need to read one big book (400 pages or more) by September to join the fun!)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Snapshot Saturday 6/22

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

Happy First Day of Summer! (yesterday)

There is still plenty of time to sign up for the Big Book Summer Challenge! It is super easy-going, as summer should be - you only need to read 1 big book (400 or more pages) between now and September to participate, so join in the fun!

I haven't had any time for taking photos lately, so I thought I'd share a few classic summer shots from the past. This is how we do summer:

My sons on the beach in Wildwood, NJ - August 2003

...And in the same spot in 2012!
My sons at Devil's Lake State Park, WI - 2005

Our traditional way to start the summer, playing in the creek (2005)
Every summer, we take a 3-week road trip out west (this one was 2006)...
...And we bring our camper (Shenandoah Natl Park, 2006)

One of our favorite places - Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, SD (2008)

...And Sylvan Lake in 2012!
Enjoy your weekend and your summer!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gender Bias in Book Reviews

A few months ago, I was listening to my favorite book podcast, Books on the Nightstand, and was intrigued when they talked about an annual survey conducted by an organization called VIDA on gender bias in book publishing and reviewing. The results of their 2012 annual count are interesting. They looked at different publications that review books and counted how many reviewers are female and how many male, as well as the gender of the authors they reviewed (and sometimes other data, depending on the publication).

Although a quick glance at the results might lead you to the conclusion that there is a significant gender bias in publishing, I noticed that in almost every case, the gender of the reviewers matches up pretty closely with the gender of the authors of books reviewed. In other words, female reviewers review more books written by women, and male reviewers tend to review more books written by men. This wouldn't be much of a problem, then, except that in the highest echelons of book reviews (The NYT, Harper, The Atlantic, etc.), the reviewers are almost always overwhelmingly male! That's the part of the survey I found interesting...and discouraging since I am a woman who writes book reviews and would love to be published in some of these prestigious publications. Also, I find it interesting that the vast majority of book bloggers are women. That means that, once again, the men are earning all the money and prestige in the field, while the women often work for peanuts (or nothing). No offense, guys - the data doesn't lie!

Books On the Nightstand took a look at the survey and at their own reviews and found they were pretty even between male and female authors. So, I decided to do my own count, with my list of books read in 2012. The results?

In 2012, I read 33 books written by female authors (52%) and 28 (44%) written by male authors (2 were uncertain due to initials or foreign names), lending credence to my theory that we tend to read more authors of our own gender. I also counted up the genders of the narrators or main characters of the books I read in 2012: 27 were female (43%), 19 were male (30%), and 17 (27%) had multiple points of view, with both male and female characters. So, again, my reading skewed slightly toward the female side. Though I was intrigued by how many books now present multiple points of view.

What do you think of all this? Do the most prestigious publications need to review more books by female authors? Hire more female reviewers?  Do you read more of one gender than another? Let me know what you think!

Monday, June 17, 2013

It's Monday 6/17! What Are You Reading?

Ah...I love the peace and quiet of Monday mornings, after the hectic weekend! I am out on the deck right now with my laptop, and all I can hear are birds. A little bunny just hopped through the backyard, enjoying a buffet breakfast on our lawn!

My older son just left for his college class, and my younger son is still asleep, so all is quiet for the moment. We had a nice family weekend together. And we read a lot last week:
  • I finished Book Two in the middle-grade series Infinity Ring, Divide and Conquer by Carrie Ryan. I am really enjoying this fast-paced middle-grade time travel series.
  • Now I am reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh for my neighborhood book group this week. Despite all the rave reviews, I wasn't sure I'd like it just because the topic didn't sound interesting to me, but it is a wonderful novel. I have been reading much too late every night!
  • I started a new audio book, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. I don't usually have much time for audio books during the summer because I'm never alone, but I put this one on my iPod and have been listening to it a lot (while walking, cooking, weeding, etc.) I'm completely hooked on this novel, too!
  • My husband, Ken, set aside Gone for Good by Harlen Coben (saving that small paperback for an upcoming trip) when The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson came back in at the library for us. Now, he can finish it.
  • My 18-year old son, Jamie, is having a blast finally having some time for pleasure reading! He flew through several books last week on his Kindle. He is on a Medieval kick at the moment. First, he read A Quest of Heroes, Book One in the Sorcerer's Ring series by Morgan Rice, and enjoyed it very much.
  • Next, he read A Circle of Iron by Greg Benage (Eldernost, Book 1), a free e-book he downloaded last winter (he loves the idea of free books!), and he liked that, too.
  • And now, he is reading another Medieval e-book, ALTDORF, a Historical Novel of Switzerland, by J.K. Swift (The Forest Knights, Book 1) - looks like kind of a Robin Hood type story.
  • Craig, 15, is recovering from knee surgery and playing Xbox games all day long! He does have some required summer reading, but for now, he is just enjoying no stress and no responsibilities. He's actually feeling pretty good (other than knee pain) and recovering more quickly than we'd anticipated.
Being home all last week taking care of my son gave me plenty of time for blogging (for a change!). I wrote the following posts:

Review of Blue Asylum, a unique historical novel by Kathy Hepinstall.

Review of Infinity Ring, Books 1 and 2, a middle-grade time travel series by multiple authors.

Books Read in May monthly summary.

Weekend Cooking post - CSA season has begun!

Young Book Bloggers, including a fun article from BEA, plus links to the highlighted blogs.

 Don't forget, it's only mid-June, so there is still plenty of time to sign up for the Big Book Summer Challenge! It's super-easy and relaxed, as summer should be, and you only need to read one book of 400 pages or more to participate. So, join the fun!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)    

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Weekend Cooking 6/16

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

Not a lot of time today for blogs, since it is Father's Day, but I haven't written a Weekend Cooking post in a couple of weeks and wanted to share my joy in the change of seasons. Specifically, it is now officially CSA season! That's Community Supported Agriculture, a wonderful program available all over the country (and maybe overseas, too?) where you buy a share of a local farm. Then, each week during the season, you stop by to pick up your share of that week's fabulous harvest. Our local CSA is an organic farm run by the local nature center, and you just can't beat those just-picked, super-fresh, organic veggies!

This was our second CSA week of the season - the shares are relatively small so far (we only get a half share) and heavy on leafy greens, which I love but my kids aren't thrilled about! My cooking style changes when it's CSA season. Instead of planning meals around the grocery store's weekly specials, I see what's in our CSA pick-up on Tuesday and then look for recipes to use the yummy fresh produce. This week, we got snow peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, spring onions, radishes, sorrel (still trying to figure out what to do with that one!), and even a few ripe strawberries. The fruit is a new addition.

So, with my non-green loving teens in mind, here are a few of our dinners from this week (I'm no fool - I sauteed the kale and ate it for lunch by myself one day!):

We had the snow peas (plus some from last week) alongside Pork Piccata and Whole Wheat Noodles. My whole family loves Chicken Piccata, but I had a pork tenderloin in the freezer, so I used this recipe with pork - it was delicious!

Lettuce is always a challenge because my kids are just not big salad eaters. I made another Cooking Light recipe, Black Bean Taco Salad with Lime Vinaigrette, which was a hit last summer. Of course, my sons still complained when they saw we were having salad as a main course, but even they had to admit this was good. Or in their words, "Well, if you have to eat salad, then this one isn't that bad." Believe me, that's high praise!

To make it up to them, I made one of their favorite meals the next night, Penne with White Beans, Sausage, and Spinach. This is one of my own creations - pretty much exactly how it sounds, a very simple dish with a base of sauteed onion, bell pepper, and spinach, with diced tomatoes added along with the whole wheat penne, beans and some sliced Trader Joe's sun-dried tomato chicken sausage. This is one of the few dishes with spinach in it that they actually love!

Tomorrow night, I will attempt to hide more spinach in an easy frittata, with shredded potato, pancetta, and spring onions along with finely chopped spinach. Wish me luck!

Hope you are enjoying your food and cooking this week!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Snapshot Saturday 6/15

Mid-June already - wow. But there is still plenty of time to sign up for my annual Big Book Summer Challenge! It's an easy-going challenge - you only need to read at least one book 400 pages or longer by September to participate. So, check it out and join in the fun!

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

I am normally terrible with houseplants. I have a couple of hardy ones that have survived for years but most die of neglect. For Mother's Day this year, my mom gave me this gorgeous pot of orchids. Why give someone with a black thumb such fragile and delicate flowers? She says these are fool-proof! You "water" them by putting 3 ice cubes on the soil once a week. Even I can handle that! So far, so good. They still look beautiful, and I've had them for a month now!

My gorgeous "Ice Cube Orchids"
 Hope you are enjoying this beautiful weekend!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fiction Review: Blue Asylum

 I belong to two book groups, but I also try to join in on book discussions at my local library when I have the time. This month’s pick was Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall, and since it was a short book, I decided to read it. I’m so glad I did! I’d never heard of the book or the author before, but the story was engaging and set against a fascinating historical setting.

During the Civil War, a young woman named Iris is convicted of insanity and sent to a mental institute on Sanibel Island, off the Gulf coast of Florida. Her crimes? Disobeying her cruel husband and having compassion for their slaves. The full story of the events that led to Iris’ committal is slowly revealed as the novel proceeds.

The doctor who runs the asylum has good intentions and fully believes that he is helping the patients there, but his ideas about insanity, treatment, and recovery align with those that were common at that time, as he explains to Iris:

“Do you know the definition of insanity? …It is a state of mind in which an excess of feeling – a hysteria if you will – causes a man or woman to fall out of step with their roles, their purpose, because without that purpose all of s are diminished. Sanity is the degree by which you serve your society, your community, and your household. I am of the opinion that with the right medicines, structure, counsel, and guidance, one can arrive upon, eventually, a cure. And a cure, in every sense, both is proved by and results in a reintegration.”

By that definition, I think that most modern women would be considered insane!

Against this backdrop, the novel follows Iris and her fellow patients as the doctor tries to “cure” them. Some of the patients clearly have serious mental illnesses, some have odd problems that serve to lighten the mood of the story, and some are soldiers suffering from what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. One of the latter (and more serious) is Ambrose Weller, whose story – like Iris’ – slowly comes to light as the novel evolves. Iris and Ambrose become friends, playing checkers together and sharing happy childhood memories as they slowly get to know each other and gradually become more comfortable sharing more recent (and more frightening) details of their lives with each other.

Besides the patients, other characters include the employees of the asylum – some kind and some cruel – and the doctor’s wife and young son, Wendell, who are almost as much prisoners on the island as the inmates. Wendell is an especially endearing character in the novel, as he yearns for his father’s attention, worries about his own boyish sins, and develops a bit of a crush on Iris.

This was a great book for discussion, with so many interesting facets to talk about: the historical background of the Civil War and the treatment of slaves, Iris’ and Ambrose’s slowly developing relationship and their individual nightmares of horrifying experiences, the doctor’s own problems with patients and his family, and the fascinating (though appalling) perspectives of that time with respect to women, their roles, and insanity. In addition, the island itself is more than just setting – it is like a living, breathing entity defined by wildness and isolation. All in all, everyone in our book discussion thoroughly enjoyed this historical novel and was intrigued by the questions and situations it presented.

270 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Books Read in May

May was a lovely but hectic month here. I read fewer books than usual but included a couple of long (and very good) novels. Here's what I read in May:

So, it was an all-fiction month - two adult novels and three middle-grade reads, one on audio. My favorite of the month - and maybe of the year so far! - was The Orphan Master's Son, a gripping, fascinating novel set in North Korea.

I added 3 new states and one country to my 2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge - making good progress there!  I read just one book off my TBR shelf (The Game of Sunken Places) for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge- lots of library and review books last month. I added one more audio book to my 2013 Audio Book Challenge, bringing me up to 4 for the year so far. And, finally, I added one more book (American Pastoral) to my Those Books I Should Have Read 2013 Challenge because I've been meaning to read a Roth novel for ages.

What was your favorite book read in May?

Monday, June 10, 2013

It's Monday 6/10! What Are You Reading?

I'm running late today - actually, just running around like crazy! My 15-year old son had knee surgery on Friday and can't move around much by himself yet, so my days are filled with fetching food, lifting his leg, helping him to the bathroom and back, bringing extra pillows, etc. Poor kid is in a lot of pain, but the good news is that he will have a shorter recovery time than first anticipated because the surgeon was able to use a simpler procedure than he'd originally planned. So, that's all good, but these first couple of weeks are the toughest.

Thank goodness for books and their ability to carry us away to distance places and times!
  • I finished Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall for my library's discussion group this week. It was interesting and engaging - about a woman during the Civil War who is committed to a mental institute on Sanibel Island. Her crimes were basically disobeying her husband and being compassionate toward the slaves on their plantation. I'm looking forward to the discussion - that's my treat to myself this week!
  • I also finished listening to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne on audio. I loved it - it is an amazing, heart-breaking story of friendship during the Holocaust. I haven't started a new audio yet because I have no time to myself for the foreseeable future! I will have to download one onto my iPod.
  • With the sleep deprivation and stress this weekend, I was looking for a quick, gripping read, and Book One of The Infinity Ring, A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner, fit the bill perfectly. A middle-grade book with under 200 pages, it quickly grabbed my attention. Besides, it's a time travel plot which is my favorite theme! I should be starting my next book group pick now, but I think I will squeeze in Book Two of The Infinity Ring first.
  • My husband, Ken, got about a quarter of the way through The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson (which I recommended), and we had to return it to the library. Looks like word finally caught on about how amazing this recent Pulitzer Prize winner is! I've requested it for him again so he can finish it.
  • In the meantime, Ken finished The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, another novel I recommended to him. I'm not sure he loved it as much as I did, but he did find the premise intriguing (the earth's rotation slows down, causing longer and longer days and nights).
  • Being in the same exhausted, stressed state of mind as me, Ken chose a fast-paced suspense novel next, Gone for Good by Harlan Coben.
  • Jamie, 18, spent the weekend with friends at the beach, so he didn't read much last week. He is still reading The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller.
  • Craig, 15, is done with school and on heavy painkillers right now, so he is spending his time watching TV and playing video games!
Not a lot of time for blogging last week, but I managed a few posts:

My Top Ten Travel-Related Books

Top Ten Travel-Related Books for Kids/Teens/YA

Review of American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Review of Tommysaurus Rex, a graphic novel by Doug TenNapel
(my reviews were written while waiting in the hospital, so I don't know how coherent they are!)

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)    

Friday, June 07, 2013

Fiction Review: American Pastoral

I have wanted to read a Philip Roth novel for years – after all, he is known as one of the great American authors of modern times – so I was glad when my book group chose American Pastoral for our selection last month. It took me a while to finish this Pulitzer Prize winner because Roth’s prose is so dense and full, but I enjoyed it overall. Not everyone in our book group agreed, though – this novel inspired one of our widest ranges of reactions ever!

Seymour “the Swede” Levov is the All-American boy who grows up and seems to have the perfect life. A triple sports hero in his high school, the Swede goes on to serve in the Marines, then returns to his New Jersey hometown to take over the family business (glove manufacturing) from his father and marry the former Miss New Jersey of 1959. From the point of view of his brother’s best friend, Nathan, who meets him for dinner 40 years after high school, the Swede is still the sports hero of old, living the perfect all-American life. But appearances can be deceiving.

The novel begins from Nathan’s outside perspective, reminiscing about his high school years and the Swede’s glory days. The rest of the book is a story within a story, as Nathan (who is an author) tries to piece together his best guess as to what the Swede’s life was really like, from the Swede’s own point of view, after he learns some startling facts from the Swede’s brother at their 45th high school reunion.

American Pastoral is all about the challenges inherent in every person’s life, behind the scenes. It’s about the differences between how the world perceives you and your life and what is really true, as Nathan explains here, after meeting the Swede for dinner:

“You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception.”

From this passage, you can see some of that dense prose I was talking about (this is only half of the paragraph!) but also some of the thought-provoking philosophical musings Roth provides through Nathan. Behind the façade of his perfect life, the Swede deals with some horrifying events, things related to children, politics, marriage, and war. We see his perfect life fall apart and know that he somehow tries to put it together again.

The people in my book group who didn’t like the book (or didn’t finish it) were mostly put off by the dense prose and lengthy descriptions. While I’m not a fan of page-long paragraphs – which are common in this novel – I found that the effort of reading and thinking about this in-depth story were worthwhile, as I found its themes thought-provoking and universal. The story certainly resulted in some good discussions in our group. It’s a novel about the minutiae of family life and the cultural and political revolutions of the 1960’s and 1970’s, about love and war, about real life, with all of its ups and downs.

423 pages, Houghton Mifflin


Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Top Ten Travel-Related Books

It's Tuesday and that means it's Top Ten Day over at The Broke and the Bookish. I haven't had much time for participating in Top Ten Tuesday lately, but I just had to jump in on this one because I love to travel and I love books that are about traveling. We usually take a long road trip each summer, and I absolutely love to read a book about a road trip while we are traveling.

So, here are My Top Ten Books with Travel Themes:

You can see that many of these are memoirs and some are not necessarily about traveling per se but have the ability to transport the reader to a different place as an armchair traveler.

I would love to hear about your favorite books with a travel theme - anyone know of other great roadtrip novels for me??

(I listed favorite kids/teen/YA travel-themed books over at Great Books for Kids and Teens.)

Monday, June 03, 2013

It's Monday 6/3! What Are You Reading?

Chaotic and busy here last week!  My college son came home from school, along with all of his friends, old and new. Our house has been filled with college kids all week (not that I mind). My high school son has final exams this week and is still trying to finish up make-up work from his last surgery by the end of the week...when he will have yet another (hopefully last) knee surgery. So, busy, busy here and no more alone time for mom!

And it's June already! So, be sure to check out my annual Big Book Summer Challenge so you can enjoy a book-ish summer. It's super low-key - you only have to read one (or more) books of 400 pages or more by September to participate. So join the fun!

I did a lot of blogging here last week due to Armchair BEA...but then had no time for writing reviews! Anyway, we all had a good reading week:
  • I just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (my second time) for my online family book group this month . It was just as amazing as I remembered - I cried as I read the last pages last night. It counts as my first Big Book of the summer
  • I am still listening to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne on audio (almost done now).  It's been weird reading/listening to two different books about children set during the Holocaust at the same time. This one is also excellent, told from the unique point of view of a young boy who is completely ignorant of the horrors that are going on around him.
  • Today, I will start Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall for my local library's book discussion next week.
  • My husband, Ken, finished reading A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin, book 3 in his A Song of Ice and Fire series.  Woohoo!  He deserves a round of applause for that one at 1200 pages! That's HIS first Big Book of the Summer.
  • He took my advice and is now reading The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson which blew me away. He says he's having trouble getting into it, so I hope he likes it.
  • Jamie, 18, is thrilled to be home for the summer and to finally have some time for fun reading! He finished Book 3 in the Heroes of Olympus, The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan. He and a college friend were reading the series together, and they both loved it!
  • Jamie is now reading The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller. He says it's great so far!
No reviews last week but lots of posts about books and more:

Armchair BEA Posts:
Snapshot Saturday - my purple irises.
Weekend Cooking - feeding hungry college students and a couple of Rachael Ray recipes.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)   

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Weekend Cooking 6/2

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

I haven't written a Weekend Cooking post in about a month - just too busy, especially on weekends!

Our house (and our kitchen table) has been filled all week with college students home for the summer! Our oldest son came home from his freshman year of college last week and has been getting together with old friends from high school, as well as new friends from college. So, I've been cooking in bulk all week! Last Monday, I made a quadruple batch of strawberry-chocolate chip pancakes for a group of hungry college students who'd spent the night, my son had a couple of old friends over on Tuesday who stayed for dinner, and we've hosted his new girlfriend for dinner twice. I'm having a blast seeing all these "kids" who've hung out at our house since they were kindergartners, now all (mostly) grown-up and also meeting his new friends from school.

And, for a change, I used a couple of Rachael Ray recipes this week, instead of all Cooking Light recipes as usual! Many of her recipes are too high in fat for my taste, plus she douses everything with cheese, and I am dairy-intolerant, but she has a few recipes that we love.

On Memorial Day, I made Rachael's Adirondack Red Wing Burgers (basically buffalo chicken burgers) which are a favorite here. They have all the flavors of buffalo chicken wings in a tasty burger. I just leave out the cheddar cheese on my burger.

Later this week, I made another of our favorite Rachael Ray recipes, Chorizo-Tortilla Tortilla. This is basically a Mexican-style frittata, very quick and easy to make for a weeknight dinner...and delicious! I mostly follow her recipe but cut back on the eggs and cheese (do you really need a dozen eggs to feed 4 people?).

Tonight, we are getting together with old friends, a group of friends we met when we all lived in New Orleans over 20 years ago. We were all young engineers and scientists then, most of us just out of college, living in New Orleans - we had a blast and bonded for life. Now we all live here in Delaware (not really a coincidence - we all met when we worked for DuPont and this is its headquarters), and we all have kids, and we are still close friends. My contribution tonight is one of our all-time favorites from Cooking Light, Mocha Pudding Cake. This is a super-easy dessert and oh-so-yummy! It's also like a magic trick - you pour hot water over the batter and in the oven it separates into cake on top and pudding on the bottom.

Well, I have another big batch of pancakes to make up (I'm thinking blueberry today)...whenever these late-nighters finally get up! Hope you have enjoyed your food and cooking this week.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Snapshot Saturday 6/1

Happy June!  I'm not actually thrilled that it's June. Summer here is hot and humid and uncomfortable (mid-90's already this week) - I much prefer spring and fall.

But, summer does mean it's time for my annual Big Book Summer Challenge! It's an easy-going challenge - you only need to read at least one book 400 pages or longer by September to participate. So, check it out and join in the fun!

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

My purple irises finally bloomed this week and were beautiful! The blooms don't last long, though, and they are now fading. I never got out to take a picture until yesterday, so they are a bit past their prime here but still pretty:

Hope you have a great weekend!