Friday, April 29, 2011

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Master Butchers Singing Club



Fidelis walked home from the great war in twelve days and slept thirty-eight hours once he crawled into his childhood bed.

-- The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich.

That sentence grabbed me because family lore has it that my great uncle Georg also walked home to Germany when WWI finally ended. Poor Georg -- although he was too young to fight in WWI (only 14 when the war started), he was conscripted and, although to old to fight in WWII, was conscripted again. He walked home to his farm in Bavaria again after WWII.

So I am sucked into this story from the get go. And even deeper when Fidelis goes to America and finances his immigration by selling sausages to New Yorkers. Mmmmmmm . . . sausages . . .

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Favorite Author: Dorothy L. Sayers



Dorothy L. Sayers (1893 – 1957) was a renowned English author, best known for her series of mysteries featuring amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. She also wrote plays, essays, and poetry and translated classic works, including Dante's Divine Comedy


I am reading her LPW series and enjoying it very much.  Wimsey has a lot of Bertie Wooster in him and Sayers can be very funny.  I don't have plans to read her other books, but I do plan to read all the Wimsey books.

Those I have read are in red.  Those on my TBR shelf are in blue.

Whose Body? (1923)

Clouds of Witness (1926) (reviewed here)

Unnatural Death (1927).

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928) (reviewed here)

Lord Peter Views the Body (1928) (short stories)

Strong Poison (1930)

Five Red Herrings (1931)

Have His Carcase (1932)

Hangman's Holiday (1933) (short stories, 4 with Lord Peter)

Murder Must Advertise (1933)

The Nine Tailors (1934)

Gaudy Night (1935)

Busman's Honeymoon (1937)

In the Teeth of the Evidence (1939) (short stories, only 2 or 3 with Lord Peter)

Striding Folly (1972) (short stories)


NOTES

If anyone else is working on Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey series and would like related posts listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will make a list.

Last updated on February 17, 2015.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Opening Sentence of the Day: Clouds of Witness



Lord Peter Wimsey stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hotel Meurice.

-- Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers.

This is the second of her Lord Peter Wimsey series.  I like it much better than the first, although I liked that one well enough.  The characters have better developed personalities in this one and it is funnier.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: A Pelican at Blandings


And he was so young. . . .  She had no objection to some men being young -- waiters, for instance, or policemen or representatives of the country in Olympic Games -- but in a man whose walk in life was to delve into people's subconscious and make notes of what came up one expected something more elderly.
A Pelican at Blandings by P. G. Wodehouse.

I am always trying to figure out why Wodehouse is so funny.  It's the way he turns a phrase and the words he uses, but what about those things makes them funny?

Here, I think it is using "representatives of the country in Olympic Games" instead of "Olympic athletes" and "something" instead of "someone" more elderly.  Both relate the statement more closely to Constance, Lord Elmsworth's battle ax of a sister, by reflecting her personal point of view -- she likely doesn't care about athletes or athletics, but does care about who represents England in public events, and since it is the appearance of the psychiatrist she worries about, she considers him an object rather than a person.

So Wodehouse's word choices bring the reader right into Constance's brain in a way that makes the sentence funny.

Or I'm overthinking it.


Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.



Monday, April 25, 2011

Empty Mailbox Mondy



Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday! MM was created by Marcia at A girl and her books (fka The Printed Page), who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here).

Passages to the Past is hosting in April. Please visit Amy's entertaining and comprehensive blog devoted to historical fiction.

My mailbox was empty last week.  Not a single book came into my house all week.

Although disappointed, I consider this a blessing.  It is the rare week when I actually pay down some TBR principal and not add to my net TBR debt.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Opening Sentence of the Day: A Pelican at Blandings



The summer day was drawing to a close and dusk had fallen on Blandings Castle, shrouding from view the ancient battlements, dulling the silver surface of the lake and causing Lord Elmsworth's supreme Berkshire sow Empress of Blandings to leave the open air portion of her sty and withdraw into the covered shed where she did her sleeping.

A Pelican at Blandings by P. G. Wodehouse. Is that a great way to start a book, or what? It starts in the heavens and funnels down from the celestial grandeur of the dusk sky, to the architectural magnificence of the castle, to the ground-level beauty of the lake, to a pig shed. And with that soft landing, we are in the middle of the action at Blandings Castle.

I haven't read any of the other Blandings Castle books and this is penultimate book in the series.  But I don't think it is necessary to read them in publication order.  They are all funny.

This is one of my favorite Overlook Press "Collector Editions" of Wodehouse's books.  I treasure the ones I have and covet the rest of them.  I kind of wish Overlook had re-published it with its original American title, No Nudes is Good Nudes.  How hilarious!






Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review of the Day: Banker



Dick Francis is an all-time favorite of mine.  So when I say that he had a formula for his novels, I don't mean to deride the quality of his writing or the entertainment value of the books. He had a winning formula:

His novels seem to always involve a protagonist (usually a man) in a job not known for its pizazz (insurance, wine selling, horse training, or meteorology, for example), with some connection to British horse racing, and a mystery to solve. This general outline works because it brings in a huge part of the story that is independent of horse racing and, because the gentlemanly heroes always enjoy and take pride in their work, the reader is left with a greater appreciation for the profession involved.

Banker follows this formula with great success. Tim Ekaterin is a merchant banker in London, responsible for making loans and raising investments for all sorts of private business ventures. One of his deals is to finance a stud farm's purchase of a champion horse, but things go horribly wrong.

The story is complex, involving a charismatic horse healer who uses herbal remedies and laying on of hands; horse-buying swindles; teratogens; and a depressing love triangle with the hero, an older woman, and her husband, the hero's professional mentor.

This romantic storyline is the weak part of the book. It never feels integrated into the main story and its resolution is too quick and too pat, although this does not detract from the overall enjoyment of a terrifically satisfying mystery.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas



I was born in San Francisco, California.
 -- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein.

This is one of those books that I have always meant to read but never have. The title is misleading.  Obviously, it is not an "autobiography" because Toklas didn't write it, her partner Stein wrote it. It is about both of their lives, not just a biography of the one. And it may be partly fictional, I'm not sure.

I am only about 50 pages into it and I love it.  It's like falling down a rabbit hole and waking up in pre-WWII Paris -- Montmarte, to be exact.  Here's Picasso and Cezanne and Duffy and they are all gathering at Stein's atelier and looking at paintings at salons and having dinner parties.

This book is on several of the lists I am working on: Erica Jong's list of Top 100 Novels by Women, the Radcliffe list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, and my own French Connections list.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Banker



All the snooty teenage scorn I'd felt for "money-grubbing," all the supercilious disapproval of my student days, all the negative attitude bequeathed by my failure of a father, all had melted into comprehension, interest and finally delight. The art of money management now held me as addicted as any junkie, and my working life was as fulfilling as any mortal could expect.

--  Banker by Dick Francis.

This quote epitomizes what I enjoy about Francis's novels: he takes someone in a job no known for its pizazz (merchant banking in this case), creates a gentlemanly hero who enjoys and takes pride in his work, and weaves an exciting story around all of it, so that the reader comes to find the profession to be very interesting. 

I also like how he says the hero is as fulfilled by his work as any mortal "could expect" -- not going to to go overboard and say the guy is as fulfilled as any mortal could wish or hope. It is fiction, not fantasy.



Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.




Monday, April 18, 2011

Mailbox Monday



Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday! MM was created by Marcia at A girl and her books (fka The Printed Page), who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here).

Passages to the Past is hosting in April. Please visit Amy's entertaining and comprehensive blog devoted to historical fiction.

I went to Idaho last week for work and came back with a suitcase full of books.

First, the waiter at my dinner restaurant in Sandpoint turned out to be an author named Sandy Compton who has self-published several books. We had an interesting conversation about self-publishing and he gave me copies of his books:

Side Trips from Cowboy (his most recent book, a collection of personal essays, which looks very interesting)



Archer MacClehan & the Hungry Now (an earlier novel, sort of a contemporary Western adventure)



Jason's Passage: From the Blascomb Family Chronicles (his first book, a collection of three related short stories)



Second, I went to the main library in Coeur d'Alene where they had a great library book store:

The Group by Mary McCarthy (on Erica Jong's list of Top 100 novels by women)




The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (on the BBC Big Read list)



Overdrive by William F. Buckley, Jr. (an early memoir)




Corridors of Power by C. P. Snow (one of the Strangers and Brothers series)



Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cookbook Library: With a Jug of Wine



With a Jug of Wine: An Unusual Collection of Cooking Recipes by Morrison Wood, "well known food columnist" -- it says so right on the cover.

I added this book to my cookbook library several years ago, excited to have found it at the big San Francisco library book sale at Ft. Mason (my favorite book event of the year when I lived in SF).  It is vintage and kitschy and I am excited to finally read it.

The book is organized like a regular cookbook, but pulls heavily from Wood's newspaper columns, which seem to have been written in the 1940s.  It was first published in 1949.  Mine is a 1961 "printing," but I do not think the content changed.

The recipes are short and simple, but interesting.  These are not the typical church supper recipes so prevalent in vintage cookbooks.  They are recipes Wood gathered from famous restaurant chefs of the day, caged off his friends, or concocted himself.

Wood introduces each recipe with a short essay describing the history of the dish or an amusing anecdote about the recipe.  The essays are full of high spirits and WWII-era joviality.  For example:
I think most Americans would shudder at the thought of eating squid, although the meat is twice as sweet as lobster and as delicate as frogs' legs. Let me urge you to unshudder and take a chance on squids a l'Amoricaine.
I'm a big fan of squid myself, and frogs' legs for that matter.  So he caught my attention with this one.  I love fried calamari (of course -- it's fried) and grilled, and have tried both at home without much success.  Braising squid is a much easier way to prepare this creature at home.

I have a basic braised calamari recipe from Cucina Rustica by Viana La Place, that is very tasty and easy to make, but I wanted to try something new.  Wood's recipe is similar, but uses white wine, a little brandy, and calamari steaks instead of tubes and tentacles.

I cut the recipe in half.  Here it is as in the book. 

SQUIDS L'AMORICAINE 

3 lb. squids
4 tbsp. olive oil
3 ounces brandy
2 cloves garlic
1 onion
3 carrots
1/2 bay leaf
pinch thyme
pinch oregano
1 cup solid-pack tomoatos
salt
pepper
1 cup dry white wine

INSTRUCTIONS (paraphrased): Start with three pounds of cleaned squid. Cut into "small cubes or strips."  I cut the steaks into 2" squares that did a shrinky-dink thing when cooked -- they shrunk to 1" square but plumped up to about three times as thick.

Lightly brown the chopped garlic in olive oil, then add squid, cover, and saute for about 10 minutes. Uncover and pour the brandy over the squid.  Light the brandy, let it burn out, then simmer for about 3 minutes.

Add chopped onion, chopped carrot, herbs, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir in the wine, cover, and simmer until squid is tender when tested with a fork (30 to 45 minutes).

Serve over boiled rice. Although I think toasted Italian bread is also very good.

NOTES:  This was delicious.  The steaks worked better for me than rings.  The calamari was very tender and sweet.  Yummy!  The only thing I didn't care for was that I used dry vermouth for the wine because I didn't have any other white wine and it made the dish slightly bitter. Hubby didn't notice, but I did.


This is the second of the books I'm reading for the Foodie's Reading Challenge, hosted by Margot at Joyfully Retired.


Thanks go to Beth Fish Reads for hosting a very fun weekly event:


WEEKEND COOKING



Friday, April 15, 2011

Review of the Day: Cold Mountain

 

Charles Frazier won the National Book Award for Cold Mountain, his Civil war novel about a Confederate deserter and the woman waiting for his return.

Most of the book follows the two stories separately. Innman musters himself out of the army after he was injured in battle. Working his way home to Cold Mountain, he encounters Federal raiders terrorizing women and children, Home Guard vigilantes hunting deserters, remnants of families trying to survive the war, and a few misfits and eccentrics whose off-kilter lifestyles seem unaffected by the conflict. The damage inflicted on his soul and psyche as a result of these adventures is profound.

Playing Penelope to Innman’s Odysseus, Ada Monroe keeps the home fires burning back at her Cold Mountain farm. Left helpless by the death of her courtly father, Ada learns the value of hard work from her new companion, the no-nonsense Ruby. The story of the two women raising crops, making cider, trading for supplies, splitting firewood, and generally preparing for a long winter is deeply satisfying to anyone with a nesting instinct.

Both the characters and the themes are thorny, making the story one worth pondering. Frazier’s writing is graceful, even lyrical, and he has an ear for rural analogy that brings life to the setting. Part adventure story, part romance, and part moral treatise, Cold Mountain is an incredibly good book.


OTHER REVIEWS

If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.

NOTES

This was one of my National Book Award choices for the 2011 Battle of the Prizes, American Version, challenge.



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Opening Sentence of the Day: Cause Celeb



It used to seem extraordinary to me that someone like Henry could actually exist, extraordinary that a person could be transported into an environment so alien to his own, and remain so utterly unaffected by his surroundings.

-- Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding.

This was her first book, before Bridget Jones.  It was published in England in 1994, but not in America until 2001.

It is more serious than Bridget Jones.  It is still lighthearted and has funny bits, but it has, so far, a more substantive plot.  The heroine is a relief worker in Africa, facing a flood of new refugees because of a pending famine. But I suspect she is going to get her celebrity connections involved, and there will be much comic skewering of celebrity culture.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: With a Jug of Wine



I think most Americans would shudder at the thought of eating squid, although the meat is twice as sweet as lobster and as delicate as frogs' legs. Let me urge you to unshudder and take a chance on squids a l'Amoricaine.

--  With a Jug of Wine by Morrison Wood, "well known food columnist" -- it says so right on the cover.

Now that fried calamari is a pretty standard restaurant appetizer, I don't think squid causes the shudders Wood predicted when he wrote these words back in 1949.  However, the comparison to frogs' legs might raise some eyebrows now.

This is the second of the books I'm reading for the Foodie's Reading Challenge, hosted by Margot at Joyfully Retired.



Monday, April 11, 2011

Mailbox Monday



Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday! MM was created by Marcia at A girl and her books (fka The Printed Page), who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here).

Passages to the Past is hosting in April. Please visit Amy's entertaining and comprehensive blog devoted to historical fiction.
I got some great books last week:
The Thunder Tree: Lessons From an Urban Wildland by Robert Michael Pyle (from OSU Press)

Cimarron Rose by James Lee Burke (for which he won the Edgar Award)

The Private Patient by P. D. James (a very nice hardback I found at a book sale at the history museum in Shelton, WA)

Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen R. Covey (author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Rebus: The Lost Years by Ian Rankin (a three-novel omnibus that includes Let It Bleed, Black & Blue, and The Hanging Garden). I'm on a Rebus tear now that I finished listening (out of order) to Strip Jack and went back and read the first one, Knots and Crosses

What books came into your house last week?


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review of the Day: The Losing Role



The Losing Role is a WWII espionage story from the German point of view, based on an actual German spy mission in which English-speaking German soldiers were sent behind American lines.

Steve Anderson was drawn to the story because, although the operation took on legendary status, it was really a debacle. Most of the soldiers recruited for the effort had been actors, waiters, or sailors – exposed to some American English, maybe, but not really fluent and not capable of pulling off such an audacious campaign of wartime terrorism.

Max Kaspar gets plucked off the Eastern Front and into the operation because he is an actor who spent years in New York. As the official plans go awry, Max forms his own plan, one that finds him at cross-purposes with everyone he encounters.

Telling the story from Max's perspective gives it an edge not possible with an American narrator. The Nazis and their SS goons are the real bad guys. Max is stuck in the middle, with mixed feelings for America where he failed as an actor, and grieving for his country and its inevitable destruction. His is a story of thwarted ambition, personal identity, lost love, divided loyalty, and, above all, the striving for freedom.

Anderson's journalism background reveals itself in the clear way he tells the story, with descriptive details instead of leaden explanations. He understands the rule that it is better to show the reader than tell the reader.

He also has a great ear for dialog, which is crucial in a story about language and linguistic subterfuge. Again, without telling, simply by doing, Anderson subtly distinguishes between Germans with varying levels of fluency in English -- from those who have mastered American slang, to the hero who is fluent but too formal, to those who get it all wrong.  Much of the plot turns on these distinctions.

The Losing Role is a terrific book that deserves a wide audience. It is exciting and funny and keeps you thinking long after the action is over.

OTHER REVIEWS

Man of la Book (review, author interview)

If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


My interview with the author is here. You can read more about Steve Anderson and his other books on his website.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Opening Sentence of the Day: With a Jug of Wine



"Once upon a time there was a DELUXE young lad by the name of HORACE, who was classified 3F."

-- from the Introduction to With a Jug of Wine by Morrison Wood, "well known food columnist" -- it says so right on the cover. I have no idea where that story is going.

"It is, of course, possible to cook without wine."

-- from Chapter 1. I have a better idea what he's getting at here, especially when he goes on to compare cooking without wine to wearing clothes made out of gunny sacks -- possible, but not pleasant.

I added this book to my cookbook library several years ago, excited to have found it at the big San Francisco library book sale at Ft. Mason (my favorite book event of the year when I lived in SF).  It is vintage and kitschy and I am excited to finally read it.

This is the second of the books I'm reading for the Foodie's Reading Challenge, hosted by Margot at Joyfully Retired.



Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Opening Sentence of the Day: Cold Mountain



"At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring."

-- Cold Mountain by Charles Frasier.

This has been sitting on my TBR shelf since it won the National Book Award in 1997.  There are many reasons why I haven't read it -- none of them necessarily compelling.

First, my then husband was reading it while we were going through our divorce and he told me I wouldn't like it.  He was wrong about a lot of things, but he did know my taste in books.

Second, I saw the movie, which I thought was a little slow and boring.  So I wanted to wait to read the book until I had forgotten enough of the story that the book had a chance to grab my attention.

Finally, I've come to a point where I am just not interested in Civil War books.  As I discussed in my reviews of Geraldine Brooks’s Pulitzer-winning March (reviewed here) and Hallam’s War by Elizabeth Payne Rosen (reviewed here), I get tired of the hoop skirts, hollerin’, and hacksaws that make up most Civil War novels.

But the power of the list has finally motivated me to read this.  So far, I find it to be slow and a little boring, but it is keeping my attention.  It starts closer to the end of the war, so the hoop skirt and hollerin' phases were already over.  There were some gruesome battle and injury scenes and a story of progressive amputation, but not with a hacksaw at least.

It may grow on me.

This will count as one of my National picks for the 2011 Battle of the Prizes, American Version, challenge.  There is still LOTS of time to sign up.  Click the link or the picture to go to the main challenge post.

 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Losing Role



"Espinoza and a crowd of prisoners were waiting for Max, Zoock, Felix, and Braun in front of Barrack 13.  On the front steps were a bundle of baseball bats, a bucket of balls, and a duffel bag."

-- The Losing Role by Steve Anderson.  
 
Uh-oh.  Will the Germans pass a baseball test? This is a WWII espionage story from the German point of view -- an intriguing idea.
 
I am halfway through and enjoying this very much. English-speaking Germans are recruited for a secret mission behind American lines. It's exciting and funny and very interesting. 
Anderson has a great ear for the dialog, subtly distinguishing between Germans with varying levels of fluency in English -- from those who have mastered American slang, to the hero who is fluent but too formal, to those who get it all wrong. 
 
See my interview of the author here
 
Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.

 


Monday, April 4, 2011

Mailbox Monday



Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday! MM was created by Marcia at A girl and her books (fka The Printed Page), who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here).

Passages to the Past is hosting in April. Please visit Amy's entertaining and comprehensive blog devoted to historical fiction.

I got two books last week both from Second Hand Prose, one of my favorite library book stores:

Chasing Cezanne by Peter Mayle.  This one is on my French Connections list. I thought I already had it, maybe even read it, but apparently not.




In Their Wisdom by C. P. Snow. I started his Strangers and Brothers series (first book reviewed here), so thought I'd try this one which is not part of the series.



Sunday, April 3, 2011

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Losing Role



"Max lay flat on his back, in the mud."

-- The Losing Role by Steve Anderson.  This is a WWII espionage story from the German point of view -- an intriguing idea.

I got it for Hubby but am going to read it myself first. 

See my interview of the author here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Review of the Day: Started Early, Took My Dog


Started Early, Took My Dog is the fourth and latest in Kate Atkinson's series of super smart mysteries featuring Jackson Brodie. Like the other Brodie books, this one involves several disparate stories that more or less come together. Like the other Brodie books and her earlier literary fiction, Atkinson's droll commentary and crackling wit make every page a delight.

There is a theme throughout the books of the series (stemming from the murder of his own teen-aged sister when he was a child) of Jackson trying to rescue lost girls. This book narrows that idea to missing children – children kidnapped, sold, murdered, snatched by estranged parents, aborted, abandoned, or erased from the system.

The title may refer to Atkinson's process of writing this book: She started the story early, with the 1975 murder of a Leeds prostitute; and she brought along dog in the form of an abused little terrier Jackson rescues and sneaks into hotels in his rucksack.

The narrative moves back and forth between the earlier murder and Jackson's present-day efforts to locate the birth parents of his client – a woman adopted when she was a toddler. Running roughly parallel, with occasional intersections, is the story of Tracey Waterhouse, a newly retired Leeds police officer who finds herself on the lam with a four-year-old girl in a fairy costume.

The point of Atkinson's Brodie books is not to follow a linear string of clues to a logical solution to the mystery. Indeed, two of the main storylines in Started Early are left unresolved in the end, which is disconcerting, but hopefully signals a sequel in the works.

These are in no way conventional mysteries. They are – like all great novels – stories about people facing conflict, struggling with relationships, finding their place, and trying to understand life. That they have a few dead bodies thrown in make them "mysteries," but they are no less literature. Started Early, Took My Dog is a gobsmacker of a good book.

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Blog Theme

Every year about this time, I get an urge to make over my blog.  Maybe it is that Spring is in the air -- there is a spirit of rebirth all around me.  I want change.

So I have decided to follow my latest passion and am going to convert Rose City Reader to a blog about UNICORNS.


I am working now on a list of books about unicorns.  Must go get to work on that . . .

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...