Keeping up with my once-a-month-ish posting, here’s one I meant to write a while ago. Back in March I mentioned that I’ve been rereading a lot of Elizabeth Peters’ books, and the trend has definitely continued thanks to the ebooks available from Library2Go, Oregon’s source for library ebooks. Sadly, the collection of Amelia Peabody books is patchy, and I’d rather go through the series in order, so I’ve been reading her stand-alones and the Jacqueline Kirby series. Originally, I would read ebooks on my phone while nursing, and now I read less in the middle of the night (hurray for longer stretches of sleep!) and more while I’m pumping at work.

Since having the baby, I’ve read:

  • Naked Once More (Jacqueline Kirby #4)
  • The Dead Sea Cipher
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1)
  • Die for Love (Jacqueline Kirby #3)
  • The Copenhagen Connection
  • The Seventh Sinner (Jacqueline Kirby #1)
  • The Murders of Richard III (Jacqueline Kirby #2)

And I’m currently reading The Camelot Caper, which is a stand-alone but (spoiler!) includes the notorious John Smith, and favorite character from the Vicky Bliss series (I reread all the VB books in 2008, when a new one came out, so I haven’t been choosing them this time around – they’re favorites, though).

Elizabeth Peters is one of the first adult authors I remember feeling like I had to make other people read. I’m not sure if my mom started reading them first, or me, but I worked my way through all her books in high school – the ones published under Elizabeth Peters  (which are typically funny mysteries/capers) and the ones published as Barbara Michaels (more gothic/suspenseful), although of course her real name is Barbara Mertz.

Most of the books have held up pretty well – there are some dated bits, especially in the books with Americans traveling abroad, but the humor doesn’t date. I still love the way she works history and foreign locations into the stories – I think that was a big draw for me, originally.The characters in her stand-alones can be a bit flat, but the series characters are some of my favorites. If you’re ever looking for something diverting, with a mystery, typically a bit of archaeology or history, and some wit, I definitely recommend Elizabeth Peters.

A few posts ago, I mentioned that my goal has been to try at least one recipe from each cookbook that I get from the library. I have the habit of seeing a shiny new cookbook and putting it on hold, flipping through the recipes picking out ones that look tempting, and then never managing to try any of them before I have to return it to the library. Here’s my current batch:

So far I’ve made recipes from three (all except The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook), although I’ve checked out The Sprouted Kitchen twice, so I suppose I should make a second recipe. And, confession, I had to return The Science of Good Cooking because it had holds, and I barely even looked through it first.

Here’s what I’ve made.

Vintage Cakes: This is one that I requested my library buy, because it looked gorgeous and because I own and like Richardson’s other cookbook, Rustic Fruit Desserts (plus, she’s local). I had it out in the fall and made Pearl’s Chocolate Macaroon Cake (a yummy coconut layer inside a chocolate bundt cake – what’s not to like?) This time I made the Kentucky Bourbon Cake, since someone in my house is a big bourbon fan (and it’s not the baby). If you like the flavor of bourbon, this is a must-try. There’s some in the batter, and the cake itself is a nice moist, buttery bundt. Then you make a bourbon-sugar-butter glaze, poke holes in the flat side of the bundt, and pour half the glaze in. This gives you nice gooey, extra-boozy streaks in the cake. Then you flip the cake out of the pan and pour the rest over the top. Mine was unattractive (it stuck) but delicious.

The Sprouted KitchenI can’t remember where I saw this recommended, but I thought I needed something to balance out all the baking books. Lots of things look tasty, and so far I’ve made the Ranchero Breakfast Tostadas. It felt like a lot of steps and ingredients for a relatively humble meal, but it was worth it. You toast a corn tortilla and top it with a black bean mash, a fried egg, cheddar, avocado, cilantro and lime juice. We had them for dinner instead of breakfast, and the runny egg yolk really pulls it all together. I’d make this again – or at least use the basic concept once I have to return the cookbook.

The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: It turns out that I saw this on a list of 2012’s best cookbooks on NPR – along with The Sprouted Kitchen and The Science of Good Cooking. I haven’t made anything yet, but I’ve been eyeing some of the pies, like the Triple Coconut Cream Pie, although realistically I might manage some muffins or scones.

Super Natural Every Day: Some of these recipes have me drooling and some are less appealing, especially in my extremely carnivorous state. However, I made the Baked Oatmeal yesterday, reheated leftovers today, and think I’ve found a new breakfast standby. Not as quick and easy as our current favorite, a Dutch baby with a layer of sliced apples on the bottom (which I can make without referring to a recipe), but nice and hearty. And a worthy use of the last of the summer blueberries. I’d also like to try the White Beans and Cabbage, the Bran Muffins, or the Frittata.

I’ve found myself reading more ebooks than usual lately, mostly in the middle of the night when I don’t want to turn on a lamp to read any of my print books, but I’m awake feeding baby and getting him back to sleep. The Kindle app on my phone is perfect for the middle of the night, and I’ve been reading a combination of ebooks from the library and ARCs from Netgalley. Here are a few I’ve gotten from Netgalley – I think they’re all out now, or almost out.

In the Shadow of BlackbirdsIn the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Publication date: April 2, 2013

I’d recommend this to anyone who likes books about diseases, spiritualists, ghosts, World War I, or a creepy combination of the supernatural and historical fiction. The setting is particularly vivid, as well as the historical details about how people tried to protect themselves from the flu – sometimes the truth is as creepy as the fictional bits! It’s a dark story that might pull fans of the supernatural into the realm of historical fiction. Or, if you were intrigued by The Diviners but wanted it shorter, minus the humor and slang and flippant characters (for the record, I liked both books).

 

Being Henry DavidBeing Henry David by Cal Armistead

Publication date: March 1, 2013

The story of a boy who wakes up in a train station and doesn’t know who he is makes for an instant page turner. I loved never knowing quite where the story would go, or who he would turn out to be. Several side characters were nicely drawn and I liked the way Thoreau and his writing were worked into the story (except for the visions of Thoreau himself, which felt unnecessary). Unfortunately, the story takes a turn into lackluster high school drama with the battle of the bands plot line, which just felt like padding. Also, while the main character gets some resolution, several other characters are left hanging at key moments in their stories. I was particularly interested in the brother and sister characters and what would become of them. Unless Armistead is planning a companion that centers on them, leaving them mid-story was just mean.

 

Anything But Ordinary Anything But Ordinary by Lara Avery

Publication date: September 11, 2012

Bryce’s story was compelling and the whole thing was an interesting if fairly standard drama, somewhere in between a problem novel and something more original. Girl wakes up after being in a coma for several years, life has moved on without her, etc. But Avery throws in some elements that take the story out of realistic and into ‘her brain has been changed in mystical ways’ territory, and those pieces of the story didn’t work as well for me. I think I would’ve preferred to see Bryce deal with things in a strictly realistic way. I also have mixed feelings about the ending, and ultimately felt a little let down by the whole thing. Still, a story that I’d recommend to teen readers who are hooked by the whole premise and don’t need a 100% happy ending.
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Please excuse the silence on this end – all my reading has been one-handed for the last few weeks, and typing one-handed isn’t my favorite thing. Here’s my excuse:

baby

 

We seem to be getting into a bit of a routine, 5 weeks into it, and I’m in the curious position of feeling like my time isn’t my own and like I have all the time in the world (at least until I go back to work). I do have nice chunks of time to myself during the day, while he naps, and I’m just starting to figure out how to put them to my advantage. Depending on the previous night, there are naps to take myself, there are chores to be done, meals to be eaten, and projects to undertake.

So many projects!

Run errands while he won’t cause a fuss.

Take a walk if the weather’s nice.

Write a letter. A few friends and I, mourning the coming loss of Saturday mail service, decided to write 30 letters in 30 days – any type of mail counts, from postcards to packages – and I’m loving it, even when I’m a few letters behind. Right now I have three letters to reply to, which makes the whole project feel real.

Bake – I have a pile of newish cookbooks out of the library and I want to try at least one recipe from each before I have to return them. Right now I have The Sprouted Kitchen, The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, and The Science of Good Cooking. Meals are always iffy around here – the baby seems to sense that I’m hungry and work up an appetite himself – but I’ve managed some baking during his afternoon nap, and I might as well try some new things.

Read all those books that I kept thinking would be perfect for maternity leave. At the moment, I’m rereading the Elizabeth Peters books that I happen to own. Leila at Bookshelves of Doom is doing an Elizabeth Peters week, which I think is ending today, but it inspired me to pull out a tattered copy of Naked Once More and now Crocodile on the Sandbank – I haven’t read any of the Amelia Peabody books in years (I went on a reread through the Vicky Bliss books a few years ago) and I’m remembering why I loved them so much (even though they do get a bit repetitive as the series goes on…and on). I’m discovering that mass market paperbacks, which I usually dislike because they don’t lay flat – an important quality if you read while eating – are perfect for reading one-handed while nursing.

More soon, I hope. The creature is stirring.

I don’t tend to formally review picture books, but I’ve started adding more to my Goodreads tally, partly to keep track and partly because I’m having trouble reaching my reading goal for the year (well shy of my goal 200). Here are a few that I loved, sometimes just because they were my kind of quirky.

This is Not My HatThis is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen animals, what expressive eyes you have! I love the overall design of this book, the straightforward but so-funny text, the ending, and the tip of the hat (oh, I crack myself up) to I Want My Hat Back.

 

You Are StardustYou Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey

Part picture book, part science, part poetry. I can’t decide if the words or pictures are more wonderful – they coexist perfectly. It somehow manages to incorporate the big picture and the enticing details without feeling distracted. I’d recommend this to curious young minds and anyone who enjoys mesmerizing illustrations.

 

Step Gently OutStep Gently Out by Helen Frost

Gorgeous photographs and a lovely poem that complement each other nicely.

 

 

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (Olivia)Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer

Some picture book series become less inspired as they go on (I’m looking at you, Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes). Others, like Olivia, somehow manage to maintain their brilliance. Or is it just that I sympathize with Olivia a little too much? “If everyone’s a princess, then princesses aren’t special anymore! Why do they all want to be the same?” Exactly, Olivia. Exactly.

Bonus points for the inclusion of: The Little Match Girl, Martha Graham, non-sparkly princesses, matador pants, corporate malfeasance, and a warthog.

 

Big Little BrotherBig Little Brother by Kevin Kling

There are sweet, lovely, calming picture books…and then there are odd, quirky, bizarre ones. This one is definitely quirky, but also strangely sweet at the end. The pictures convey a lot of the humor here (speaking of quirky, it’s the same illustrator, Chris Monroe, as the Monkey with a Tool Belt books), but the text also cracked me up.

The narrator is a small but articulate kid who’s been outsized by his toddler brother. People are constantly assuming that the toddler is the older brother, but the younger guy also commits the usual crimes of touching his toys, following him, and dropping donut crumbs from his oversized fists.

The central action goes down at the Old Woman in the Shoe, “a place for kids to stay while moms shop.” Our narrator loves the play kitchen, where he can whip up a Thanksgiving dinner if he gets “straight to work.” When another kids tries to bully him out of his tasty plastic turkey, this affords our narrator opportunity to say things like “we are going to have Thanksgiving and we are going to enjoy it” while gritting his teeth. Fortunately, help is on the way and we’re off to our oddly endearing ending.

Recommended for preschoolers and up, especially if dry, quirky humor is your cup of tea.

 

Another BrotherAnother Brother by Matthew Cordell

If the thought of sheep in tight sweaters, suspenders, and 80s-style headbands cracks you up, or if you were ever an older sibling, this is a book for you.

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The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the problem with series. You get hooked on the characters and then you have to wait.

This one was all about the characters and atmosphere for me – it all felt very real and tangible, despite all the fantasy elements. There’s some suspense, and the romance elements felt relatively subdued, and there’s a bit of Welsh mythology thrown in, with a pleasantly Susan Cooper-ish feel to it. Also, I love Stiefvater’s sense of humor – the descriptions of the raven, for example, regularly cracked me up. But she slips the humor in without calling too much attention to it. I gobbled it up.

The only downside – the only thing that made it frustrating – is that lack of resolution that seems to come with series openers these days.

There’s some violence and swearing, and I don’t know where the rest of the series will go, but I’d hand this to sophisticated middle school readers and up (hey, if they start now they’ll grow into it).

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Son (The Giver, #4)Son by Lois Lowry

Perhaps it’s because this hit a more personal note than the previous companions/sequels, but I felt like this was an improvement over Gathering Blue and Messenger. I loved having a different view of the community that Jonas (and Claire) came from, especially all the little nods to things that major rereaders of The Giver would remember. When Claire felt apprehensive, I had an immediate flashback to the opening lines of The Giver, for example.

The structure is interesting – first we follow Claire as she becomes Gabe’s mother, then her life after she leaves the community, and then we switch to Gabe’s point of view as their stories come together. The three parts of the story feel distinct, and without having read the earlier companion books, the whole thing might feel disjointed and random. Actually, it does feel a little disjointed (especially the middle section, which I enjoyed anyway). I’m still not sure about the mechanics of the conclusion, although it did have a great emotional resonance. Overall, though, it was a satisfying conclusion that answered a lot of questions the earlier books left open. I’d definitely recommend it, especially to serious fans of The Giver and people who’ve read the companion books already (although you probably don’t need them fresh in your mind to enjoy this one).

Source: my public library

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The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)The Diviners by Libba Bray

This may be my favorite Libba Bray book yet! I’ve had mixed reactions to her earlier titles. I enjoyed A Great and Terrible Beauty, but had some issues with the fantasy aspect of the story (and that continued through the rest of the series, culminating in my 1 star review of The Sweet Far Thing). Then I thought that Going Bovine had some great things going for it, but didn’t quite work. Same thing for Beauty Queens, which was hilarious and biting but otherwise flawed. Here we go, though – here’s a happy medium between her tendency to go over the top and throw it ALL in, and her fantastic sense of characters and dialogue and setting.

Okay, maybe she goes a little over the top – there are an awful lot of characters, and there’s an awful lot of setting things up for the rest of the series. The set up is all marvelous, but the loose ends may bug some readers more than others (I was particularly interested in what would become of Theta and Memphis, who factor into the resolution but don’t play as large a part as I expected based on all the set up). Bray also goes a little over the top with Evie’s slang, but the saving grace here is that she’s the only character who speaks in slang, and the story is spread out over so many characters.

The book has got humor, suspense, a fantastically realized setting, and a decent pace despite the length. There’s a little romance, a bit of action, some genuinely creepy scenes – basically a little bit of everything.

I was curious to see how creepy and suspenseful the story felt on audio – perhaps a bit less than it would have on the page, reading in a dim room at bedtime. The narration is well done – the women’s voices slightly better than the men’s, but it’s fun to hear all the slang and accents and so on. This is one I’ll easily recommend to high schoolers.

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We are getting to crunch time. I woke up last night and couldn’t get back to sleep, thinking about all the things that need doing. And now instead of doing any of them (except laundry), I’m having a lazy Thursday morning (I work 12-9pm on Thursdays). This is quite possibly my last lazy Thursday morning EVER. For the next month or so, Thursday mornings will involve either a midwife appointment or a trip to pick up milk from the farm. At some point a baby will appear, and my Thursday mornings will still involve time spent in pajamas and puttering around the house, but I somehow doubt that the word “lazy” will apply to maternity leave.

This Thursday realization is as startling as that car seat sitting in the corner. Or the idea that my protruding midsection will lead to a real, live, human baby.

Speaking of real, live, human babies, I had my first weird pregnant encounter with a library patron yesterday. So far I’ve been impressed with how polite and kind people are – I get plenty of questions (when are you due, is it a boy or girl, what’s his name) but they’ve all felt well-intentioned. But yesterday, there was a woman browsing the kids’ DVDs who turned to me as I walked past and said something like “Is it a girl?” All I actually heard was “A girl?” Her attitude felt…weird…so all I said was, “no,” knowing what her next question would be. I REALLY wanted to say, “No, it’s an elephant.” Instead, I just said “yes” to “A boy?” and kept walking. After a minute, I wished I’d said, “What are you talking about? I’m not pregnant.” Even though I look like this now:

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Oh well, maybe I’ll get another weird comment and be able to use that line (although it would have to be really weird/rude for me to actually have the nerve to say that).

In other news, Merry Christmas! I had a relaxing day, made a chocolate tart, ate well, and (along with the rest of my extended family) spent a lot of time thinking about next Christmas with a baby. The youngest person in my extended family (here on the west coast, at least) is eleven, so it’s about time we had a youngster for holidays again.

And now, before I get too lazy, I’ll dig up some book ramblings I’ve been meaning to post. I update Goodreads regularly, even when I’m quiet here. I don’t always write reviews these days, but I do keep track of what I’m reading.

We’re getting settled into our new place, and can I just say how good it is to live in a house again? It’s not just having more living space (although that is wonderful). It’s be able to be silly and loud and not have anyone overhear you. It’s having a little space around yourself – a view of sky and trees outside the windows instead of just the neighboring house and the complex’s parking lot. Our neighboring houses are both a little ways away, and are vacant at the moment. From our living room windows we can see the lit up Christmas tree in front of City Hall. Our old apartment had 4 windows. Our new kitchen has 3 windows all by itself, plus 8 more in the rest of the house. This feels like such a luxury!

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8483/8238980195_3e067b9d53.jpg

The red couch returns

One of these days we’ll get around to clearing out the last of the boxes and setting up things for the baby. Our need for dressers and bookshelves and whatnot feels never-ending. Have we really already been here a month? Will the baby really be here in two months (give or take a few weeks)?

In the meantime, there are piles (and piles) of Cybils nominees to read, and our household has developed an urgent need for chocolate chip cookies (I swear, my husband is experiencing more food cravings than I am). There are letters to write and chickens to roast and babies to fatten up (the other day I heard words I never expected to hear in my life – my midwife told me to eat more! I guess my instinct to add more butter to everything is on target).

Back with more bookish things soon, hopefully, maybe.

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