On My Shelves: New Book Releases – February 27 – March 5, 2011

On My Shelves

  • Dark Mirror: A Novel, by M.J. Putney – I read Dark Mirror a few weeks ago and I found it to be very enjoyable. It’s the first in a series, but even though you can see that there can be more to the story, it works very well by itself.
  • I Am J, by Chris Beam – I picked this up at BEA and have held off reading it because the release date was so far away, but I looking forward to reading it because it sounds so different.


  • Townie: A Memoir – by Andre Dubus III – The House of Sand and Fog may have been one of the most devastating works of fiction that I have read, and so frustrating to experience a situation where an inability to communicate devastates lives.  Dubus’ life seems equally fraught with violence and tension, so I admit to a little curiosity on how they have informed his work.
  • Cleaning Nabokov’s House: A Novel, by Leslie Daniels – Jen and I are always on the lookout for fiction re-telling a classic story or an author’s life. We also featured this one on our classic retelling preview show.
  • Rodin’s Debutante: A Novel, by Ward Just – Sweepin saga of a the graduate of a boy’s school circa WWI.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Wishlist: February 2011

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Lovers and Friends – Using Wooing Techniques From One To Find The Other

Friendship and finding and keeping friends is a very interesting thing, especially if you live in a medium sized to large city. In the small town where my mother was raised, it wasn’t so much of a problem as there wasn’t much variety of activity nor very many places to hang out. The community spaces in her area would more than likely be frequented by most people at one time or the another, and it didn’t hurt that you grew up with the people that you ran into.  Friendships were often decided in childhood and maintained throughout lifetimes.

When I first moved back to New York City after college, I was in the place of starting over in terms of making friends in the city.  A lot of the people I had grown up with had moved away and settled with sweethearts or where they went to college.  I was struck by how much finding new friends was somewhat of a full-time job and very similar to the process of dating. I had a few friend that I had met through work, but I also probably would have benefited from reading Rachel Bertsche’s blog MWF Seeking BFF. Rachel has taken finding friends seriously, and in addition to scouting out all the best new ways to meet friends, she also does a weekly feature called The Hard Facts where she rounds up and discusses all the latest research on friendship.

Rachel shared with me how she spent the biggest date night in the world with her BFFs and some tried and true ways she has used food as friendship bait!

Valentine’s Day is, in theory, for lovers. But this year I’m foregoing my husband in favor of some of my best friends across thecountry. I’ll be spending the world’s most romantic evening in San Francisco, more than 1,800 miles from my hometown of Chicago.

I’m pretty well versed in the love language of friendship. After moving to Chicago to be with my boyfriend (now husband), leaving all my best friends behind in New York, I quickly realized how hard it is to make new pals in an unknown city. I took up girl-dating like other women take up knitting, determined that eventually I would have something warm and cozy to show for it. For some that means a scarf, for me it meant the kind of best friendship that is natural and comfortable.

The food of friendship is tricky. The wooing goes in stages. The first stage is the “I don’t know you and I want to meet in a public place so I know you won’t kill me” stage. This stage is short-lived and involves plenty of, in my case, sushi. You can sub in burgers or salads or a hummus plate at will. Basically, you’re looking for food that can be eaten relatively quickly and cheaply.

Once you get to stage two, when you’ve met someone once or twice but want to turn the acquaintanceship to a friendship, you’ve got two options. 1) Wine. Lots of it. And more and more trips to sushi or burgers. This option can get expensive. Or 2) The dinner party. Having potential BFFs at your home makes the relationship feel more friendly and less date-y, like you’re old pals having a girls night.

My wooing method of choice is the make-your-own-dinner dinner party. You can catch up with new friends and also connect ladies who you think will hit it off. Having an activity breaks the ice and masks the awkward silences that so often arise in the early stages of friendship.

If food is the universal language, what better way to speak to new friends. Once everyone has taken off her apron, she has a delicious dinner and a contented sense of accomplishment. Now all she needs to do is eat, drink, gossip, and become your BFF.

Friend-wooing 101. It’s the oldest trick in the book.

I bought pizza dough from a local parlor and unfrosted cupcakes from my favorite bakery instead of making my own.

Pizza Sauce Makes about 2 cups sauce

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 can crushed tomatoes, or whole tomatoes pureed in a food processor
6 basil leaves, coarsely torn
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of red pepper flakes

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, saute the garlic in 1 tablespoon of oil until fragrant, about 1 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is reduced to about 2 1/2 cups. Add the basil, and season sauce with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes more, then turn off the heat and cool to room temperature. (You can make this 3-4 days in advance).

White Pizza with Ricotta, Sundried Tomato, and Scallion

1 ball pizza dough
1 1/2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 – 3/4 cup shredded whole milk mozzarella
1/2lb fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
3 scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup thinly sliced sundried tomatoes
1/2 cup pizza sauce (optional)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Spoon the ricotta over the pizza dough and spread with the back of your spoon. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top of the pizza. Arrange the fresh mozzarella, scallions, and sundried tomatoes on top. If using, dot the top of the pizza with small spoonfuls of tomato sauce.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crust has browned and the cheese is bubbling and brown in spots. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with salt, hot pepper, and grated parm if you like. Rest for a minute or two, then cut into slices and serve.

Pepperoni & Shallot Pizza

1 ball pizza dough
3/4 – 1 cup pizza sauce (see above)
6 oz (3/4 cup) shredded whole milk mozzarella
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
6 oz pepperoni, thinly sliced
1/4lb fresh mozzarella (optional)
red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Spoon the sauce over the pizza dough and spread with the back of your spoon. You want every inch to have some sauce, but not be overly saturated. Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the pizza. Arrange the shallot and pepperoni slices over the top. Add some coarsely torn fresh mozzarella (if using).

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crust has browned and the cheese is bubbling and brown in spots. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with salt and hot pepper or oregano if you like. Rest for a minute or two, then cut into slices and serve.

Margharita Pizza with Fresh Mozzarella & Basil

1 ball pizza dough
3/4 – 1 cup pizza sauce (see above)
1 lb fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
10 basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Spoon the sauce over the pizza dough and spread with the back of your spoon. You want every inch to have some sauce, but not be overly saturated. Arrange the fresh mozzarella and half of the basil leaves on top.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crust has browned and the cheese is bubbling and brown in spots. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with salt and hot pepper and the remaining basil leaves. Rest for a minute or two, then cut into slices and serve.

All recipes and photos reprinted with permission from BigGirlsSmallKitchen.com

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Current Reads   February 15, 2011

Rachel Bertsche is a Booklicity client, a publicity company owned by friend and collaborator Jen, of Devourer of Books.

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Current Reads – February 15, 2011

February has been a pretty chaotic month for me, so steady progress in my reading had been pretty much gone until tonight. I have been restless and flitting between a bunch of books that are good, but a little too real or too down for the mood that I have been in. The last couple of weeks, I have not wanted to deal in anything too close to reality.  True to the name of the blog, I have been looking for some comfort and security in my reading.

I just took a look at the four books that I have managed to finish this month and without exception they have been fantastical in nature. I started off the month finishing up the fantastic A Discovery of Witches: A Novel, by Deborah Harkness, and have since finished Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale, by Carolyn Turgeon, Dark Mirror: A Novel, by M.J. Putney and Christian Lacroix and the Tale of Sleeping Beauty: A Fashion Fairy Tale Memoir, by Camilla Morton. I found Mermaid to be the heaviest of the bunch. Anyone who has read The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian Anderson, or indeed many of his fairytales, know that he doesn’t mess around.

After reading A Discovery of Witches, I was in the mood for another such savory read, preferably one that included witches, vampires or both. Alma Katsu offered to send me an advance copy of her historical fiction/paranormal novel The Taker: A Novel, and much to my delight it arrived today. UK readers only have to wait until April 14th for this book to make it into stores, but us Americans are not so lucky.  It’s out here July 11.

Some books should come with a warning label that you should open them unless you want to risk pissing off family members (when you can’t put the book down) or sleep deprivation (again, because you can’t put the books down). I have already whizzed through 90 pages. Right away I was drawn to the lush descriptions of harsh Maine winters, Luke Findley’s dismal life as a country doctor and Lanny’s heartbreaking story. I love history and there is a lot here on the Puritans circa the 19th century. I’m sure that as I finish this post, I will be back into my book.

Another fascinating read that I have in the works is Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert. She has such a clear, relatable and compelling way of storytelling. It was partially due to those qualities in her writing that Eat, Pray, Love was such a resounding success. Eustace Conway’s upbringing and commitment to nature is like none that I have heard.  The things that this man is able to accomplish living completely off the land is an astounding feat, but some of the personal demons driving his accomplishments and evangelical nature regarding the environment makes for a read that for me requires some pacing.

Rounding out my list are Certain Women, by Madeleine L’Engle (did you know that she wrote for adults?) and The Last Brother, by Nathacha Appanah.  I am having a very hard time with L’Engle’s book. I’m not fond of the character the story revolves around, and I find a lot of the writing to be flat.  It’s been quite the struggle to read.  I have heard good things about The Last Brother, but I have also been warned that it is a heart breaker, so I am preparing myself for that!

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Wishlist: February 2011

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Wishlist: February 2011

In typical avid reader style, my eyes are bigger than my stomach and though my stacks are stuffed to the gills with books I want to read, there are still more that have managed to catch my attention.

Are you planning on reading any of these?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 On My Shelves – January 2011 Book Releases

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In Need Of A Bit of Heroine Love?

February is the month for lovers, but strict interpretations of love need not apply.  This month Erin Blakemore, the author of The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder has rounded up an inspired group of bloggers and authors to tell you all about the heroines that have captured their hearts.

Do you remember the first heroine that you fell in love with? I searched my heart and came up with none other than Half-Pint herself, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Laura and I had a lot in common. You can find out how she inspired me by visiting my love letter to LIW, and while you’re there, check out all the rest of the heroine love going on.  It’s contagious!

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The House on The Strand, by Daphne Du Maurier   Book Review

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The House on The Strand, by Daphne Du Maurier – Book Review

Dick Young has always had an uneven relationship with scientist friend, Magnus Lane – he basically does what Magnus says, no matter how much he might grumble. So when when Magnus offers him the use of his house in the English countryside and wants him to take a strange potion, Dick is quick to try the experiment which leads him to time travel into the lives of inhabitants of a 14th century village in Cornwall. The  potion has unforeseen side effects and each trip that he takes, leads to frightening consequences in the present.

I have only read Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier and I have to say that it is a shame that I hadn’t heard much about her other work. The House on the Strand piqued my curiosity with its time travel to 14th century Cornwall, and I was hooked from the start. Dick Young is a fascinating character. He is unhappily married, with the most bizarre set up imaginable. He has just ended his career in publishing and his American wife is urging him to join an American firm, and to come and live overseas, though he has no interest. He also has no interest in children and his wife has two boys from a previous marriage. Why these two have decided to marry is beyond anything that I could fathom, but it was a curious thing too see them both fret as much as they did over Dick’s relationship with Magnus Lane. (Hmm.  Draw what conclusions you will.)

Dick is hardly the most sympathetic character in the world. He is crotchety, peevish and can barely tolerate the wife who genuinely does seem to care about him, and though their life and Dick’s behavior toward her were a curious thing to consider, I was also fascinated by the science Du Maurier used to explore the time travel aspect, the escalating effects of the potion, and the richly rendered and complex lives of Richard, a 14th century steward in a lord’s household whom Dick follows on his travels, and smart cookie Lady Isolda and her married lover, among other people. Du Maurier definitely has the knack for constructing complex historical fiction that feels thoroughly researched, yet so vivid and real. I also loved that everything made sense according to her rules for the time travel world that she created.

Like Dick, I couldn’t wait to find out each piece of their story, and though Dick wasn’t as interested in his own life, I wanted to see how that would turn out as well. The House on the Strand is a compelling read to the last disturbing page.  I now know that I need to read all of Du Maurier’s books. She is just that good!  Highly recommended.

Read More Reviews At: She Reads NovelsChrisbookaramaCarla Nayland Historical FictionSpeak Its Name

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 A Discovery of Witches: A Novel, by Deborah Harkness   Book Review

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A Discovery of Witches: A Novel, by Deborah Harkness – Book Review

Diana Bishop is a witch, though after frightening experiences with magic, and the premature death of her parents, she has sworn off the use of her power. Diana is determined to live and function solely as a human being. In pursuit of that goal, she picks the most innocuous course of study available to her and becomes a respected historian specializing in the study of old alchemical texts. In order to prepare to present a paper at a prestigious conference, Diana travels to Oxford and the Bodleian Library to do some research. While there she discovers an old and long sought after alchemical text, Ashmole 782. She also becomes acquainted with ancient (though sexy!) vampire Matthew Clairmont, and finds herself  in a world of trouble as the creatures who are after Ashmole 782 to discover its true meaning to witches, vampires and demons, close in upon her.

A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness is one of those books that I won’t say much about because it is really an experience book. You have to curl up with it yourself and just let the story unfold for you. You’ll have questions, you’ll get some answers, you’ll love what characters are doing, you’ll think that they should have made different choices. It’s great. The book itself will make it physically easy for you to find a corner to curl up, as it is a hefty tome, and practically forces you to sit and give it your undivided attention. The reading of it is also a very sensory experience – Harkness is a wonderfully evocative writer, and I easily accepted the world she created.  In the savory sentences and creamy pages, I got lost in her version of Oxford where vampires, witches and demons inhabit the world, only slightly shielded from human notice.

A good chunk of the beginning takes place at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which is the most happening library in the world, what with all that research, and witches, demons and sexy vampires running around.  I loved it. Her characterization of the leads is deep and held my attention throughout. One of the things that always concerns me with vampires is that they are so old, and this is scarcely ever adequately addressed in plots. I was pleased to see that the long life that Matthew and other vampires have experienced shapes their individual personalities as well as their behavior as a group. The age issue isn’t glossed over. Neither is Diana slowly beginning to explore her powers as a witch, nor the consequences that come in trying to deny who you are.  A lot of this book is about dealing with things that are hidden – creatures that are openly hidden in human society, hidden fears which have to be uncovered and faced, and hidden feelings that have to be acknowledged and explored for survival.

If you are a lover of history and wine, old books and libraries, vampires and witches, and engaging love stories woven alongside intricate plots, then this is probably the book for you.  Though A Discovery of Witches is also the first in a planned trilogy, it ends in a way that makes you hunger for the next book, but with also with a feeling of satiety about what was already read. Highly recommended.

Read More Reviews At: S. Krishna’s Books Scribbles

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Jacket Copy Fatigue

Review copy.

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Jacket Copy Fatigue

In a perverse turn of events, I have grown weary of the jacket copy and blurbs on books.  I started reading back cover copy the other day in my search for some new books, and rejected every single thing.  Every thing seemed “meh”. Every thing seemed like something I had read before, and while surely the nuances and originality of each story are to be found within the cover of each book, not much lately has enticed me to try what is between the covers.

Although I am quite sure it’s a phase, it’s an interesting place to be for one who loves to read and acquire books. In some ways it severely restricts the decision making process for acquiring new books. I am left to consider three things. The cover, the publisher, the author. That works for authors and books already on my radar, but not so helpful for the new stuff. I haven’t found that I can judge books by their covers so much as to forgo other information.

When I go through a reading slump, it’s a simple enough thing to take a break and watch TV, and if I need a break from the blog, that’s pretty easily accomplished too, but I haven’t stopped being curious about books and what they might contain. It’s an odd thing when none of the jacket copy is appealing. I think it’s not helped by the fact that I also write summaries for book reviews. I’m tired of those too. Very interesting.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Girl In The Green Raincoat, by Laura Lippman   Book Review

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